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Message for 10-27-13 USING OUR GIFTS

“USING OUR GIFTS”

Romans 12:4-8

 

There is no thrill that can match the thrill of being used by God to do what God created us to do.  God has given each of us unique gifts and talents to be used for the glory of God, both inside and outside the church.  God has given each of us a job to do on this earth that only we can do.

God has made no one else on this earth exactly like you.  No one else has your brains.  No one else has your smile.  No one else has your ability, your creativity.  No one else can comfort a friend like you can.  No one else has all your good ideas.  God made you because God has a special job for you to do: to be yourself.  The church’s job is to help people find their place on God’s team, to give them the chance to do what God created them to do, both inside and outside the church.

We, the church, have made 2 major blunders in this area.  Some people have gifts they would love to offer to God, but nobody gives them a chance.  Either nobody asks, or nobody wants what they have to offer.  Such persons get the impression that nobody needs them, that their gifts are useless to the church.  In seminary, you won’t believe how many times I had to beg before they let me preach or teach even once.  More than once, I’ve had to beg for 2 years for a chance to serve on a presbytery committee.  We can’t afford to ignore or reject the talents that people have to offer to the Lord.

The other mistake we make in the church is that we try to arm-twist folks into jobs they were never made for: teachers who can’t relate to students, hospitality chairs who can’t cook, treasurers who can’t handle details.  Maybe it doesn’t happen here, but it does happen.  We scare a lot of younger folks away from getting involved in church because they’re afraid they’re going to get roped into propping up the church’s survival.  They’re afraid they’re going to get stuck doing jobs nobody else wants to do.  Serving in the wrong place is a sure recipe for burnout.

As we seek to reach people in today’s changing culture, we need to stop being so interested in what they can do for us, and a lot more interested in what we can do for them. Instead of trying to figure out how new people can meet our church’s needs (like teaching Sunday School or serving in the kitchen), we need to find out how we can help them do what God has given them the gifts and passion to do.  Instead of trying to squeeze people into where we need them, instead of trying to impose our agenda on them, the church should be asking people, “What are your unique gifts and talents?  What would you love to offer to the body of Christ?”

Pastor Tom Bandy tells about a street person who came to his church who said that he felt called by God to play the accordion in the park.  Bandy’s church asked, “How can we help you do what God has called you to do?”  They decided: 1. They would give him accordion lessons, so that he could do it well.  2. They would make him into a walking encyclopedia of information on how and where to get assistance, so that he could be their church’s presence on the street.  The church got a missionary out of the deal.  Imagine how many people’s gifts we miss out on when we fail to think in terms of how we can help people do what God has gifted and called them to do.

People serve with joy, when they are doing what God created them to do.

What has God created you to do?  We need to find ways we can help you put your gifts into action.

Perhaps God has given you the gift of managing details.  Maybe you’re one of those organized souls who is skilled at bringing order out of chaos, a person who is good at finding and tying up loose ends.  You’ve got the gift of administration.  In order to be a good secretary, accountant, or manager, you have to have this gift from God.

Perhaps God has given you the gift of motor skills.  Some of us are klutzes.  But some of us are skilled with our hands or feet.  If you are handy with tools, or if you have music or craft or artistic talent, or if you are good at sports, God may have given you the gift of motor skill.  God gave this skill to Bezalel son of Uri (Exodus 31), who did all the craftsmanship for the ark of the covenant and the tabernacle.  God also gave this skill to Hiram of Tyre (1 Kings 7:13), who did all the bronze work for the Temple.

Maybe you are skilled at providing for the needs of guests, making strangers feel welcome.  If so, you may have the gift of hospitality.  Maybe you enjoy working behind the scenes, so that others can be set free to use their gifts and abilities; we call that the gift of service.

Perhaps you’re the kind of person who easily empathizes with the pain of people who are hurting; you feel drawn to show them love in tangible ways.  You may have the gift of compassion.  Or maybe you have the gift of encouragement, the ability to give someone positive reinforcement, the kind of person who knows how to affirm and reward hard-working, unappreciated volunteers.

Maybe you’re the kind of person who can say, “My first impressions of people are accurate.  I can perceive the genuineness of a person’s motives.  I am a good judge of character.  I can see through and expose a person’s deception or phoniness before it becomes clear to others.”  If that’s you, it sounds like you have the gift of discernment.  You’re the kind of person they need on a hiring committee or Pastoral Nominating Committee.  Or maybe you have the gift of wisdom: you’re the kind who can help people think through their options and make the best possible choices.

Perhaps you have the gift of teaching: you have the talent for taking new ideas or new information and getting it across to students.  Or perhaps you have the uncanny ability to sell sand to a Bedouin or ice to an Eskimo.  Sales talent is a gift from God: the ability to identify a need in someone, and then convince them that you have what they need.  If you have that same kind of ability to help a person recognize their need for Christ, we call that kind of sales talent the gift of evangelism.  But evangelism can be as simple as being able to invite people to places where they can hear the Gospel.

Each of us is a unique combination of gifts and talents given to us by God.  (There are many more that I could list.)  God wants us to use those talents both inside and outside the church: comforting those in pain, listening, responding to needs, planning and organizing, managing details, music, art, crafts, sales, marketing, construction and repair, information technology, hospitality, teaching, even proclaiming God’s word.  Whatever you do, 1 Timothy 4:14 urges us, “Do not neglect the gift you have.”

Not only has God given us talent, God has also put within all of us a passion to use that talent in certain ways.  Ask yourself: What would I love to invest my life doing for God?  What do I do that gets me so excited that I lose track of time?  If I could create my own form of ministry, what would I do, and whom would I do it for?

Whom do you have a heart for?  Children?  Athletes?  Single moms?  Vietnam vets?  Cancer patients?  Foreign exchange students?  Senior citizens?  And what skill or service would you love to transform into a form of ministry?  In one church, some women who had the gift of compassion and a heart for young mothers started a cooking-and-cleaning ministry for mothers of newborns.  In another place, some guys with the gift of mechanical skill started a car repair ministry for single moms.  Or perhaps you’ve never though of fixing a roof or organizing a fun event for kids as a form of ministry.

What is your personal passion?  I have a passion for all forms of media.  I love to write.  I love to work with sound and pictures.  God has steered me to places where I can use that passion.  I also love to study.  I’m like Dale Bruner, the Bible scholar whose wife said he has an iron behind.  For other pastors, their passion is to visit the sick, or to be the chaplain at the local coffee shop.  What is your passion?  What do you love to do, and whom would you love to serve in the name of Christ?

Who knows what all sorts of ministry God has gifted this church to do, if only we knew the talents and passions that God has given to you, and if only we knew what God wants us to do with them?  The problem with churches is that, too much of the time, we got out looking for bodies to fill the jobs we want people to do, instead of asking, What would you love to do, if you had the chance?  What talent would you love to offer to God?  Sit down and write your own personal job description, putting together all the ways you believe God wants you to serve, both in the world, and as a part of the church.

We need to build our church’s ministry, not around what we want, but around what you have to offer.  If God has not given us many people with the gift of teaching or evangelism, then we should concentrate on using the talents God has given to our people.  We should stop blaming ourselves for not doing what God hasn’t given us the right people to do.  One of today’s most successful churches took the risk of waiting 4 years to start a junior high ministry until God gave them the right person.

Dr Paul Ford says that we in the church should spend no more than 1/3 of our time doing what we are not gifted for (some jobs in the church have to be done, no matter what).  We should spend 2/3 of our time doing what God has given us a passion for.

 We need to make sure we can offer everyone a chance to offer their talents to God.  We can’t afford to drop the ball when someone offers themselves to be used by God.   We need to make sure that no one can say, “I offered my talents to the Lord – nobody wanted them.”  We want to make sure that no one is left sitting on the bench.

However, I would urge you, don’t wait for the church to come to you.  Take the initiative!  Nobody asked me to write the book I just wrote.  Nobody asked me to write almost any of what I’ve written; it has been up to me to offer it where nobody asked for it.  Often people don’t ask, because they don’t know what they’re missing.

The Bible’s standard word for spiritual gift comes from the word for “grace” – favor that is unearned and undeserved.  None of us can boast or claim any credit for talents or abilities that come straight from God.  God gives us talents, not because we deserve them any more than anyone else, but only by God’s unexplainable mercy.  That frees us from the need to kick ourselves because someone else has talent that we don’t have.  God doesn’t expect us to compete with them.  All God cares about is how we are using the talent that God gave to us.

When the game of life comes to an end, God will ask us: What did you do with the talents and abilities I gave you?  Did you sit on the bench?  Or did you throw yourself into the action?  Did you use your gifts to make a difference for me?”  Today’s scripture urges us: “Having gifts that differ, let us use them.”  There is no better way to experience maximum fulfillment than the thrill of being used by God. When people are maximizing their God-given gifts, church can become an exciting place.

Let us pray.  Lord, help us to discover the gifts and talents you have blessed us with, and help us to put them into action, so that we can experience the joy for which we were created, so that we can know the thrill of being used by you.  We ask for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

 

 

 

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