Guidance for Spiritual Gifts: part 6 – the Spirit is giving your life away

spiritual gifts logo-imageLife is given to be given away and grace-giftings are God’s beautiful way to pour out your life — for you. Let me phrase it another way. If you are born from above, the Holy Spirit has made you such a new human being (and continues to make you more and more like Jesus) that to continue his mission he not only gives you new life but gives your new life away to his purposes in the world. In the Holy Spirit, we are the walking temples of God where “Spirit-ual” things happen. Look at how Paul wrote it in 1 Corinthians 6:19 when church members were justifying sexual deviancy as an act of worship! “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own…

So, for me and you to experience anything spiritual, we have to allow that the Spirit saved us, to dwell in us, to fix the world through us, and glorify the Father because of us. We don’t own our lives; He does.

To see grace-giftings in action, we need to look at how and where the Spirit is bringing this world to see the majesty of Jesus Christ. Here are some examples. Literally, the Spirit of God is stepping into situations of disorder and bringing gifts through his church of organization and administration. Where the fog of ignorance hinders his children from hearing his truth, God sends teaching which leads men to worship him. Where illness seems to conquer, the Spirit arrives with merciful hands to show he is the ever-present Help in time of need. When the suffering of lack and oppression take place, the Spirit releases a wave of generosity through his children. We can continue on like this with prayer, faith, discernment, hope, and many more. In fact, I believe that as many different needs which you can identify, there is One Solution with the right gift for each one of them.

Therefore, God is gracing us beyond our own means to accomplish his will. He is giving evidence and signs of the Kingdom which is here but must be accepted by faith. We can say that the Spirit is operating in a way that “rights” a world gone wrong, and he is doing it so that it reveals the truth and presence of Jesus. Through the spiritual gifts, God the Spirit is gifting the message of God the Son around the world through a gracious invasion.

Yes, yes, I know we really like the spectacular stuff. It is quite tempting to want to see the miraculous for its own sake. And as a Christian journeys through the years with Jesus, we will definitely see some surprising things which only God can do. On the other hand, we should be thankful God has ordered his world so that each of us can participate in it. To enjoy the grace-giftings of God does not mean that we each need to perform miracles. It may simply mean we are giving our availability to God and serving others in simple, unseen ways.

Is it right, then, to demand that if a gift is not spectacular, then it must not be of the Spirit? I have had people come to our church “looking” only for the showiness of the gifts only to leave after spending less than a couple hours with us saying our church doesn’t “have” the Holy Spirit. However, the more obvious thing missing and unmentioned in their research was if the Gospel was being proclaimed and lived in our church. Simultaneously with their dismissal and departure, the Holy Spirit was always working through many grace-giftings. The reality is the desire for the seen and the spectacular was more important to them than the working out of the Gospel through humble service without a spotlight.

Take careful note of how Jesus was washing feet the night before he was unjustly murdered. There was nothing spectacular about that. No power-show was happening there. It was all quite ordinary and yet extraordinary at the very same time. Jesus left them the example of loving service for how he operates in his world. Apostle Paul follows this up with, “You can do the spectacular with angels and lightning bolts included, but if you don’t have love, you’ve only lit-up fireworks.” (my paraphrase, 1 Cor. 13:1-3). The Italian words for “fireworks” are fuochi artificiali meaning “artificial fires” and are apt here. They might be spectacular like fireworks, but they’re beneficial per niente (two other Italian words meaning “for nothing”).

So, we might test a “gifting” with a few helpful questions — Does the gift in operation serve specific needs and heal the world to Jesus through the Gospel? Does the gift bring glory to God more than the person through whom the Spirit is operating? Is the gifting evident through a person’s self-giving service?

The point is there are hundreds of kinds of needs (ways in which the world just doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to). And corresponding to those needs, there are hundreds of opportunities for the Spirit to work through me and you by placing Jesus right into the middle of each one of them. Let’s not overcomplicate the beautiful simplicity of gifts. Also, we must be careful not to overemphasize one, singular “gifting” at the expense of declaring one, singular Christ. Needs abound, but there is one, generous, gift-giving Solution.

Does that mean that I have all the gifts? In a certain sense, yes. If you have the one Spirit of God who operates to meet needs and you’re like me with a thousand weaknesses to operate through, the Spirit may gift you away to all kinds of Gospel settings. In fact, Paul calls us to desire all the gifts, which, if our lives are Christ-centered is a healthy desire (1 Cor. 14:1). However, no single person has all of the gifts exclusively. The Father distributes them throughout the Body that we might bring him glory together. If you had all of the gifts, then you simply wouldn’t need me or anyone else. One evidence of humility in a Christian’s life is how considerate they are toward other believers because they acknowledge how the Father is operating through others for their good. Humble believers desire and search for the way God is directing and blessing other members in the Christian family.

In closing, I would like to encourage and challenge each of us to not make church all about ourselves. Rather, let us give our availability each day to the Holy Spirit and ask of him, “Holy Spirit, would you give my life away today for your delight?” Then, just watch what he does to restore his world. I believe at that point, we will start to see how much grace he is imparting through his gifts to us and how much God wants us to enjoy him in our churches.

Note: please click here if you would like to read the earlier articles on guidance for spiritual gifts.

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Refugees: Personhood and Politics

Whatever your views on the subject of immigration, do you at least see migrants as human beings? Whenever you hear the word “refugee” what do you think of first? Do you permit the fact that each human being has been formed in the glory of the Imago Dei? Or do you sense judgment like Jonah toward the Ninevites or worse, disgust like Pharaoh toward the Israelites? As I contribute my thoughts and experiences on this vast subject, the undercurrent which daily sweeps over my soul is that the Gospel for the Christ-follower must be the basis, the conditioning “first-thought” which governs all other questions and solutions pertaining to other human beings.

refugee boat

It must be stressed that I am not advocating to throw open borders, ignore national sovereignties, and invite freeloaders and terrorists to enjoy consuming and destroying our cities. I do believe that a Christian’s witness is enhanced or it is hindered by how they treat civil law. On the other hand, I am not advocating that the many foreigners arriving in our land are only a political problem and are not worthy of welcome, care, and the Christian Gospel.

Rather, as I’ve outlined this series of articles, I think the call and the urgency of the Gospel compels believers to go deeper than the news and popular, cultural opinion which tends to rest solely in the political arena. At the outset, what we face is a regular, daily tension of whether we will put our politics aside for their personhood or their personhood aside for our political narratives.

It is much easier to remain in the socio-political arena; there, everyone believes they are entitled to an opinion without many consequences, if any at all. However, we have found when someone begins to work directly with people whose lives have been ravaged and traumatized by war, famine, poverty, slavery, and maltreatment their socio-political opinions are greatly challenged. So, what happens to people between the Facebook wall and the walls of the camps where large groups of human beings are sequestered? My answer is the impact of “personhood” is happening. People are sensing both the dignity of personhood in the Imago Dei and the significance of the pain of human need. It’s the simple practice of personal contact which changes everything.

The Great Samaritan

We can see this plainly applied in the parable of the Good Samaritan. When the Hebrew traveller is mugged and left to die, the two surprising aspects of those who pass by are who they are and the distance they keep. The fellow Jews (who would have had a moral and societal obligation to care) kept their distance and masked both their fears and their disdain for the man-in-need behind their societal robes and roles. In shocking contrast, the Samaritan comes close and personalizes the situation at his own expense. As Jesus recounts the parable, it seems as if proximity to the brokenness caused an immediate melting of any prejudice that the Samaritan could “rightly” claim.

good-samaritan-sculpture

Jesus told this parable to answer the question, “So who really is my neighbor?” At face value, we can discern that our neighbors are human, in need, people along our path, often different than we are, and can also be our socio-political opposites. The question came from an attorney, an interpreter of the law, and it was designed to force Jesus to reduce Heaven’s compassion to man’s comforts. Little did the attorney realize he was trapping himself by putting his politics before personhood — and it takes the invasion of Jesus himself to liberate the lawyer. Indeed, it takes Jesus himself to liberate our sacrifice from our opinions. I cannot overstate how challenging and uncomfortable this practice is for us. Nothing short of the resurrection power of Christ can bring us even close to what Jesus called us to in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

This is a good starting point to advocate for the challenge of our own hearts in how we view humanity — humans who are different than us, messier, and often more broken. It ought to grieve Christians first when another human is in difficulty or suffering before we quickly judge whether they deserve it or not. Ninevites can repent, and God looks forward to their repentance. Did we listen to Prophet Jonah in our Bible classes or did we only color the picture of the fish with a belly full of bitter prophet?  Imagine what the Gospel could do in the hands of energetic, young men who have risked their lives and faced death for much lower causes. Can you visualize how many missionaries and church planters could return to the shores of their homelands from today’s incoming waves? Just imagine how the Gospel could shine and show the upside-down and right-side up story of Jesus Christ among the nations. For this I advocate — the Gospel to humans first and foremost.

How do you gospel you?

In a recent conference, I had the opportunity to share a workshop on developing one-to-one discipleship in your church. One of the questions in the seminar that we sought to answer was What does every believer need? We discovered at least 5 helpful answers to that question, and one of the foundational answers is – a healthy understanding of their identity in the Gospel. If you’re going to live by the Gospel, you have to know how to identify yourself in Christ, get back to the Gospel when facing various situations, marinate in it, and calibrate your every step to it.

Well, the above all sounds good, but for a new follower of Jesus it sounds daunting. So, how will a young or new believer really gain a healthy understanding of a life permeated by the Gospel? They “get it” in a one-to-one relationship; by asking, watching, and relating to more mature believers. Titus 2:4,6 says to “train the younger women… and urge the younger men…”

 

friendship is the key to discipleshipSo, the value of intentional discipleship relationships is that new and younger believers can feel safe enough to simply ask, How do you gospel you? In fact, whether they say it or not, each gathering which young believers attend (whether large or small) they are asking that very question. I think they are simply saying, I am here, so teach me the Gospel. Show me how to love and obey Christ.”

Yet, one of our current challenges in the church today is that many people who may attend our gatherings believe the length of time they have invested in attendance = maturity in the Gospel. Therefore, what is closer to reality is that we have many young believers who have been sitting a long time. I believe that maturity in Christ is understanding how to get back to, live in, and press forward in the Gospel. So, we need to take a healthy look around our ministries and inquire to see if we have ever asked others the question, “How do you Gospel you?”

If Luke Wrote About Your Church

In our small group leadership training plan, we ask the question, if Luke were alive today to write about the impact and effects of the Gospel in your community, what would he say?

Some Context

When Luke wrote the second chapter of the book of Acts, he began it with the spectacular inauguration of his new family. The Holy Spirit of God, full of divine delight, was freed to accomplish what he had ached to do for millennia past — to fall upon us and sweep us up into wedded bliss and power and union with Jesus. The church was consummated and what a celebration it was; complete with heavenly wind, fire, and good news proclamation in all languages. In fact, it was such a powerful and joyous occasion, some hardened onlookers thought Jesus’ bride was drunk!

Then, Luke writes in Acts 2:42-47 about the happiness of the bride and her honeymoon as it were in those first weeks of her union with Christ. Look at how filled-up she is with the mission and heartbeat of Jesus and look at some of the things Luke celebrates:

  • They eagerly devoted themselves to hearing and learning more about their groom with the apostles’ teaching.
  • They shared all that they could with each other and invested their earthly resources in each other.
  • They spent time together and invited others to join them.
  • They were in the marketplace telling the Good News message through selling items of value and property for the benefit of others. (quite possibly at inopportune times to sell their goods for the “highest value” for themselves just to be able to benefit others.)
  • They praised and adored God both publicly and privately. Worship became integral and contagious.
  • They ate meals together in Jesus’ name.
  • They were socially winsome and found favor among all the people.
  • They were welcoming in whatever they did in their homes (house-to-house). So, their homes became centers for community and moved away from being personal castles.
  • They saw answers to their prayers abounding as the Holy Spirit delighted to shower them with love through his special signs and wonders.
  • There was no line or barrier between “my church life” and “my regular life”.

Did you notice how different these things were from the first part of chapter 2? Married couples don’t have a wedding ceremony every day. Luke is highlighting how ordinary life with Jesus was filled-up with purpose and power that stretched into the spiritual and the eternal. The church is not dating Jesus in a paramour relationship. No, He is her everything.

Back to the Question

Now, how much do we recognize the integral and united nature we have with Christ while living in our communities? You see, our goal is not to replicate what the early church experienced in Luke’s list. If we do that, we turn our marriage relationship with Jesus into something mechanical and heavy by thinking that if we can just copy what they did, “church will work!”

Instead, Jesus will orchestrate all kinds of new gospel gestures, sacrifices, activities, and rewards to impact your community right where you are. So, imagine if Luke was walking around your church this month.

• How would he celebrate the gospel happening among you?

What might he write in his list to show how Jesus is orchestrating the impact of the gospel in YOUR everyday lives?

This is a great exercise to do right now personally and/or in a group of friends. If you sense that Luke wouldn’t have much to say, then you might be experiencing more of a cultural Christianity than a vibrant, communal, gospel-fueled Christianity. At that point, it would be wise to evaluate if you really understand the gospel and especially the Ascension of Jesus. And, it would be wise to deeply ask what has been radically transformed in your life and the lives of your church community. What can we celebrate as evidence of the gospel in action?

Life as Extraordinary

A little catch-up:

It has been a while since I have sat down and written here at HM. Some have asked me when I would start again. All I can say to that effect is that I have eagerly desired each and every day to write something I’ve newly discovered in this glorious gospel to share with you. However, over the last couple of years, ministry life and responsibilities have dramatically increased for me which has netted the result of a high desire to share and a low output rate. I hope to match the two a bit more this coming year and that all of it will be a blessing and encouragement to you.

Now for some cibo (food) in the gospel and community

There is a line of thought which is often expressed in our churches from well-intentioned Christians (at least in Europe) that goes something like this:

I can’t do very much for God, and I don’t have much to offer God:

  • I’m not wealthy.
  • I’m not a leader.
  • I’m not talented.
  • I am timid.
  • I don’t have time like others do.
  • I’m not as smart as others.
  • I’m more of a private person.
  • My career prohibits me.
  • Nobody listens to me.

What our friends are expressing is an exaggeration of the ordinary; living with the gospel at an unreachable distance. The main problem with allowing our inner voice to talk like this is twofold.

First, it is poor theology which puts pressure on the mind and heart to try to generate something useful for God. Grace does not work that way. We do not generate-up good works in the hope that they will be something profitable that will satisfy God. In fact, this kind of thinking causes us to feel like we are never doing enough. God is rarely, if ever, happy with me. Instead, a true Christian is provided every day with the fountain of grace and providential goodness to live in the glory of Christ who gives his child good works to walk in (Eph. 2:10). For example, yes, it may be that God opens the door for you to visit with a neighbor about Jesus and grace, but it is also a God-glorifying work to respond with patience when your children won’t get ready for school in time during a hurried morning. Both situations require the Gospel and both are an opportunity — not to generate-up something useful — but to give-up something glorious back to the Lord who guided you into that very situation.

Second, this negative response creates a sense of desperation or fatalism because it is a response based too much on the circumstance of today and not governed by the reality of Jesus over us now and for eternity. Simply, this kind of thinking is poor theology because it denies who we are in Christ Jesus now, and who we are becoming in Christ Jesus tomorrow.

Applying the extra to the ordinary

holy_spirit1Here is how we need to help each other “get back to” the gospel and live it. In Acts 2, we see the marriage ceremony of Jesus to his bride. He brings his church into himself and collocates her to himself in Heaven before the Father. This is the privileged position of being united together in Christ.  The temple veil was torn and God the Holy Spirit is rushing out to indwell his people from all over the world! The physical sign of this was the beautiful manifestation of the flaming tongues of fire and the good news invitation of Jesus shared across the languages. These fire-tongues were both sign and signal that his people were now in him, and if Jesus is the new temple then they are also representative temples with the specific presence of God in them.

The follow-on results in Acts 2:42-47 do not strike us as spectacularly as the first wonders do in the early verses with the rushing winds and hovering flames of fire. No, on the contrary, we see people are doing quite ordinary things but with a completely new position and perspective. Yes, there are signs and wonders, but Luke does not elaborate on those and seems to emphasize the Christians’ desire to know more about Jesus, to praise Jesus both publicly and privately, to share food by eating together in Jesus’ name, to sell their possessions for those in need, and to invest in caring gestures toward each other. It is still Jesus directing his church, but he is not doing it through human greatness or achievement. Rather, he is guiding his church through service and care.
And here is the delightful response of Jesus to his bride as they live this ordinary-extraordinary life of the gospel:

And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:47

So, the point for true Christians (I’m not speaking about cultural Christians) is that the reality of being married to Christ is the same for us today as it was for the early church. We are directly under and in the temple-reign of the Lord Jesus — right now.

Therefore, when we hear each other say that we can’t do much for God, we must be active to remind and challenge each other that — you say you cannot do much for God, but what you must see is that if you are in Christ, every thing you do is already done for God! Yes, each ordinary thing is given to you by Jesus. You think you have a powerless, ordinary life because of what you feel you can or cannot achieve. However, you have an extraordinary life not based on what you do, but based on who you are — on who Jesus has made you to be.

You simply have a choice to make in every action and circumstance. You will have to decide whether you will acknowledge that, “…this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” and give it back to the Lord Jesus in honor for his glory or whether you will claim it for yourself. But if we can see that God’s mission is not simply “out there“, but rather, being providentially directed from “in Him in here“, it is truly extraordinary to think of what Jesus will do with our ordinary-extraordinary lives when we care for him and for each other in this gospel-centered way. The challenge is to realize and appropriate who you are in him — right here & right now.

When Kids Break My Stuff

Through the years of training people to open their homes as ministry, we have encountered different reactions to “changing” our life patterns for the gospel. For some, change is refreshing and welcome; for most, downright dreadful. The simple truth is this, changing my life to open it up for gospel ministry is often difficult to cope with.

One of the simple markers of this ministry change at living-room level is what happens to our precious home when children from other families arrive; not just the growing, hungry ones but the little “ISIS” ones. Seriously, how were they ever recruited to such violence at so young an age? 😉

Some families do really well with this. They throw their arms, cupboards, and refrigerators open and say, “La casa mia è la casa tua!” Other families, wellllll, not as much. Practically, we share that God is sanctifying your home from the ground up. If you have ever prayed the prayer, “Lord, we open our home to you,” or, “Lord, we want to bless others with our family” or possibly, “I surrender all…” Then, the Father has heard you from Heaven and is answering your prayers!!

kids and stuff comicYes, everything from waste-level and down in your home is being sanctified and put up on the altar for God. Community in Christ is one of the ways that Jesus simplifies our homes and shapes our hearts. When you hear the crash, the zap, the scream, or the shatter and you know instantly something irreplaceable has happened, it’s one of the Lord’s cute ways of saying, “I told you, you didn’t need that anyway. It’s mine. Just look to me in this moment.” It’s cute because the Father has lovingly placed a little human, belonging to other bigger and “not-paying-attention” humans, right into the middle of the situation. The decision in that very moment is radical; it’s either wrath or trust. Is it not?

I share all of this with a little “tongue-in-cheek” playfulness. However, what is working more deeply is the gospel against pride. Yes, this is hard. It is pride of stuff and pride of identity and pride of parenting and pride of independence which says I don’t need community (at least this one) anyway. I like my life cozy and nice and safe! It’s pride that places temporary treasures over eternal people; my treasures over God’s treasures. All those kinds of pride together begin to surface and boil over into one, bad minestrone. I know! I am good at making bad minestrone.

But it does get better with time and experience. In fact, it becomes more joyful. God will simply change our hearts until his treasure becomes our treasure and his joy becomes our joy. And what is his joy? It is when one sheep, coin, or son who was lost repents and is found (Luke 15 where God throws parties). Remember, we broke his stuff – badly – and he still wants us as his children. Our homes are being brought into mission and that mission exchanges stuff for joy which is priceless.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  – Philippians 2:3-11

Father Maestro

Do you know how to make time slow down? It works like this. An orchestra conductor extends his arms, suspending his white shirt cuffs and links above the laser-focused eyes of skilled musicians poised at the ready like warriors entering combat–and that is the moment time stretches. That ever-so-slight lift of the baton, when everyone inhales indefinitely, and a three centimeter movement seems to command the cosmos… you have been there. Time waits for him.

The majestic Maestro, similarly, orchestrates all of his purposes and mission. For those gazing and concentrated where all drown like Peter if they dare look away, He is known as Father.

When Father commands, children make music. Knowing that he is in command and coordinating my piece together with all others removes every disappointment, pressure, and tension. He has this. Mission is in his hand and so is my heart.

Knowing that he is Father, endears me to his music. Captivated, I refuse to play anything else.

The concerto rises — “Your Kingdom come!” and falls — “Your will be done.” In each movement, Father conducts his mission and weaves his glory.

I play in the Italian section. If found in Christ, you play in yours. Therefore, do play and don’t stop. Father Maestro does not wave needlessly. There is missional music to be made and we each have a part. From soaring melodies to subtle harmonies and the occasional touch of a triangle, all share in symphonic glory.

Watch him closely for every subtle and swift movement of his baton to not miss a single beat. Father Maestro orchestrates and orchestrates. Praise him. It is so comforting, so control-free, to know our lives are not wasted and time slows down, because we have been given lives to be spent and an eternity to play in the orchestra of the Father’s family.

 

Orchestration Design of the Father and Body of Christ (from the book, The Church Beyond the Congregation)