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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Guidance for Spiritual Gifts: part 5 – gifts meet needs

spiritual gifts logo-image

In this series on the Spirit-giftings, let’s take a step back and simply ask what the Holy Spirit is actually doing when he graces a gift to us?

At surface level, we can say that God is actively fixing stuff. Literally, the Spirit of God is stepping into disorder and bringing gifts through his people of organization and administration. Where the fog of ignorance hinders his children from hearing his truth, God sends teaching that 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 that you can identify, there is One Solution with the right gift for each one of them.

At a greater level, 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. Therefore, God the Spirit is gifting the message of God the Son around the world through a gracious invasion.

Yes, yes, but we really like the spectacular stuff. It is a very tempting desire to see “the cool of God” and the miraculous. If you have been around the work of God for any length of time and witnessed his power, you know that he trademarks some surprising things at times. On the other hand, let’s ask ourselves if that is normative in how God ordered his world? Is it right to demand that if it’s not spectacular, then it’s not of the Spirit?

Notice that Jesus was washing feet the night before he was unjustly murdered. Nothing spectacular about that. No power-show 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.” (paraphrase di Rob, 1 Cor. 13:1-3). The Italian word for fireworks is fuochi artificiali meaning “artificial fire” and aptly applies here. Spectacular yes, beneficial niente. So, we might test a “gifting” with this helpful question — Does the gift in operation meet needs and show the greater way of Jesus’ love?

The point is that there are hundreds of kinds of needs (ways the world just doesn’t work) and correspondingly, hundreds of opportunities for the Spirit to work through me and you by putting Jesus right into the middle of each one of them. Don’t overcomplicate the beautiful simplicity of gifts. Also, 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, you might experience all kinds of the works of Jesus as you serve. However, I would say that not one person has all the gifts exclusively. Then you wouldn’t need me and I wouldn’t need you. What kind of a holy minestrone is that?

Food and Ministry: Problem 3

Ghanaian_food

I don’t even know how to spell it, but it sounds like “watch-it” and our Ghanaian church family members were excited about it. I’ve had Fufu, tasted red-red, and enjoyed plantanes & rice but watch-it was new. For weeks, we had been talking about our inter-cultural meal (read: awesome potluck) that we were planning and they wanted me to try their favorite dish. The day came. Their enthusiasm was high along with my anticipation — and the first bite…. well … ya …  I had to watch-it. It was completely foreign to me; an acquired taste in the making.

As I was working my way through that first bite, one of the brothers said, “Pastor, I like it with piccante sauce.” My eyes lit up as I mumbled through my watch-it, “Hmm…ya… div-me-thum-o-that … hmm… lots…ya… kee-it-comin.” Then, our dear sisters asked me, “Pa-pa, do you like it?” To which we westerners all respond, “It’s different, a bit unexpected.” And then they had a good laugh. 

So, would I eat watch-it again? Yes, because I like my brothers and sisters much more than I like the dishes that appeal to me. You might be saying, “But, it didn’t appeal to you!?” And you’re right. The dish appealed to them, and so it is part of their joy and identity. If I don’t watch-it, I’ll miss the ministry to the Africans because I’m only comfortable with the food of the Italians. 

Problem #3: Culture Comfort

Culture comfort with our food basically says that I’m not willing to try food that isn’t what I’m used to. The point is not just to try different, international foods but to see who those foods are connected to. A good bit of a person’s identity is wrapped up in their food. It is like a chain of links. If you reject someone’s food or type of food, you reject their culture. If you reject their culture, then you reject a part of them. 

Ministry Impact

Over the years of eating and ministry, we have noticed that more of our African brethren struggle with this problem. What happens when we concentrate on eating only the foods that are comfortable to us is that we communicate that we are just fine with keeping exclusively to ourselves. We actually begin to close down our thinking toward other groups of people and we strive to maintain our own cultural identity even more. Through the different “tastes” of food that we don’t like, we start to think of the people in this way too. We will say things like, “I don’t understand them” and we will seek to avoid the awkward experiences again. Therefore, even how we eat and share our food will stop being missional. Once we build our comfort zone, we will see others as invaders in our lives and not included. Then, to protect our comfort zone and identity, we will have to sneer at the intrusions or sneak away from them. 

Recommended Solution:

Try different foods that people make and offer you. Try the plates for the people. Go missional with food and see those tastes as gateways into people groups. Train yourself to be open to others and their cultures through food. Watch-it on purpose.

Food and Ministry: Problem 2

Jesus_feet_house_of_simon

“I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet…You gave me no kiss…You did not anoint my head with oil…he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Jesus (Luke 7:44-47)

How we conduct our meals and share our food does reflect on how we practice and give the Gospel. The passage above is from the account where Jesus is invited to Simon’s house. In the end, Simon does not have the good news of forgiveness (his meal conduct illustrated that), and Jesus does have the good news of love and forgiveness (his meal character revealed that). Both how we eat and who we eat with are ministry practices of grace.

Problem #2: Food-Pride

What’s the last meal that you sat down to that left you saying, “Hmm, that just wasn’t all that good?” The last meal like that which I can remember had chicken involved — I think it was chicken (kind of tasted like chicken). Now, I can whip up a great bowl of cereal or a tasty bag of chips, but cooking isn’t my forte. Eating is my forte. I’ve studied and practiced it for many hours over the course of many years. And, living in Italy is like eating in the big leagues. 

However, one hindrance in utilizing our food for ministry that I’ve encountered is that of a certain food-snobbery. The Italian kitchen does have bragging rights. Each region merits an appreciation for how it takes every-day ingredients to a whole new level. But when it is made evident at a meal that the pasta wasn’t cooked to the optimum consistency or a certain sauce lacks an ingredient or the after dinner coffee just doesn’t have the taste like mamma mia’s coffee — we are entering the realm of personal acceptance and gracelessness

Ministry Impact

Through the years of ministry, we have noticed that more of our Italian brethren have struggled with this problem. What happens when we concentrate on the standard of the food is we are communicating that we are just there for the superiority of our culture. Often, the message is subtle but it is there that you are not one of us. Anybody can practice this when they take too much pride in the food they have prepared and how they have prepared it. A meal that shares the ministry is one of inclusion. As Christians, we need to communicate that our table is open. Grace shows favor, welcome, appreciation, and forgiveness (pretty much like Jesus). Using food as an instrument of pride shows exclusivity, superiority, and how to be a jerk (pretty much like Simon).

Recommended Solution:

We should humble ourselves before others — through food. This means allowing the food to be what it is. If food becomes the focus, then simpler is better here or we will really close the doors on future opportunities to bring friends to Jesus because we want them to praise us first.

See the meal as a means of acceptance and of being equals at a table. The Christian church is greater than any one culture and our tables can model that. Talk more about the qualities of the persons at the meal than the qualities of the recipes and ingredients of the meal. Enjoy the people God has made more than the food or how it has been prepared.

 

Food and Ministry: Problem 1

Continuing on with this small series of food & grace

How we practice our meals, eat together, and share our food are all reflective of how we are striving to reach out to others and to cross-over to different cultures with the Gospel. Quite often, these efforts will also reveal where we are missing something in our understanding or lacking in a certain area of grace.

Problem #1: Slowing Down

I’ve had a breakthrough! Through the years, I’ve been criticized for being a slow-eater. But now! Now, I’ve realized that I’m a normal-eater being chided by hyper-fast eaters. It turns out, my eating pace is just right for where I live — viva l’Italia! Not only do I feel better; I feel vindicated. Food-justice has been served.

Four hours of cooking and fourteen minutes of eating. Ever experienced that? And, when there’s not time to cook, four minutes of cooking for the same fourteen minutes of eating. It’s called fast-food for a reason. Seriously, you can’t take or have communion in a drive-through. We might as well call it fast-fuel because that’s how we’re using it.

Ministry Impact

Through the years of ministry, we have noticed that more of our American brethren have struggled with this problem. What happens when we eat quickly is we are communicating that we are just there for the food. Relationships take time, and relationships can be forged through mealtimes. However, if we don’t utilize our food as a means of grace to bless others, we are communicating that we’re at the table for our own agenda and we need food to get that done. Slowing down will naturally keep us at the table for others.

When food is a gracious ministry tool, we strive to share in an experience with one another and to practice Christian community. If our habit is to eat-and-run (done with our shared experience within 30 minutes), we really miss out on a great deal of ministry opportunity that comes from spending more than an hour together.

Recommended Solution:

I highly recommend sharing meals together in courses. Italia has a great model for this: start with appetizers (antipasti), then firsts (i primi), seconds (i secondi), sides (contorni), and sweets (i dolci — don’t ever forget this one!). Variations are fine. Remember, it’s not about the quantity of food more than it is the quantity of time. Courses help to slow things down which will provide more opportunities to nurture things that last — our souls.

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Two more problems to come…I’ll try to spill the beans on cultural tendencies only and not mention anyone by name — maybe.

Spill_the_beans