Friday, June 8, 2012

What is Your Spiritual Gift?

What is your spiritual gift?  I think we often make this question harder than it really should be.  If God gifted you uniquely to minister to his body, I think it is safe to assume that this gifting should be easy to discern.

Back when I was a young lad still in college, I was a Sunday school teacher, and on one particular Sunday morning we were talking about spiritual gifting.  In my head I thought, "What good is it to just talk about spiritual gifting?  I want them to know and use their own spiritual gift!"  So, I searched on-line and found one of those nifty spiritual gift tests and used that time as an opportunity for those individuals to discover their gift.

I quickly realized the flaws of a test.  The person to my right who was humble and gentle and lowly of heart, rated herself 1 out of 5 on almost every question, and according to her, she had not a single spiritual gift.  On my left side was a loud, arrogant, blow hard, and as I watched him take his test he put down a 5 out of 5 on almost every question.  According to him, he had every single spiritual gift there ever was and more!  I learned that taking a spiritual gift test requires a level of self awareness that many don't have.

Is there a better way?  One good guideline is to follow your passion.  If you really enjoy ministering in a particular way, that is probably your gift.  I have noticed, though, that sometimes I think a person is really gifted at something, and they have absolutely no passion for it.  At other times I have seen people whose passion is overflowing, but they don't have the gift set to match it, but I do think following your passion is a good start to discovering your spiritual gift(s).

I think the key, though, is to just lay back a little, and take the pressure off.  Don't over-think it.  Try a lot of things.  Find what you like and what people respond to, and ask others who might see you in a different light what they see as your spiritual gifts. It is alright to take time.

I also think that if it truly is your spiritual gift, then you have most likely been doing it all along.

I believe my main gifting is "pastor/shepherd."  As I look back at my life, I see that I was a pastor long before I was actually a paid pastor.  All the way back to my junior high and high school days I found myself caring about those around me and wanting to see them grow spiritually.  Whether that was visiting shut ins or looking for younger kids to mentor, I was pastoring my whole spiritual life, because it it is who I am.

What type of ministry do you already do?  That is probably your gifting.  If you don't do anything, then start putting your toes in the water.  If you are a believer, then God has given you a unique gift to help others.  The body isn't complete until you are using it!

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Battle of the Viruses: Law Vs. License

Have you ever had a boss that you thought was way too lenient?  I know that might be an oxymoron in your mind.  How can a boss be too lenient?  I had a boss who let people get away with murder.  He let them break dress code, get away without greeting customers, and stood idly by as they used their phones and laptops at work.  Basically, he let them take advantage of him and his good nature.

. . . until . . . He got fed up!

Once he got fed up, it was too late.  He brought every employee a list of new laws / rules that had to be followed, and if you stepped across the line once, it was the axe. It was the first time I didn't feel safe in keeping my job, and I quickly learned that I was going to have to watch my steps. 

I have been studying Jude for the past few weeks.  Jude wanted to write about the grace of God, but he couldn't.  He wasn't able to talk about the gospel and the forgiveness and the compassion of God, because there were people in the churches that were abusing the very thing he wanted to write about, GRACE.  We have the same types today.

. . . grace abusers . . .

These are people who argue like this:  I have been forgiven of my sins past, present, and future because of the good work of Jesus.  If my future sins are forgiven already, then I might as well live in any way that I choose.  I can do what I like, go where I like, and say what I like.  They have no concern for how God would want them to live, instead they only have concern for how THEY want to live.  The big theological term for these guys is "antinomians."  They are literally "anti-law!'  

Now . . . here is the rub; we have these types today.  People who abuse the grace of God!  How do we deal with them?  I think there is a biblical way of dealing with them, and then there are the ways that we often deal with them.  On the one hand we ignore them.  I think this is a problem in the mainline churches.  They focus on grace, which is awesome, but they kind of brush truth under the rug, and  if done long enough, it can leave the impression that God's grace is a license to sin it up, to do what we like, to go where we like, and to say what we like.  

In fact, as I was researching, I went to the website, which is a more mainline / roman catholic site.  I went there to see what they had to say about Jude and his antinomians, and I was disappointed.  They didn't even have Jude listed in their Scripture index.  Sometimes we ignore antinomians in our midst, and that is not the right way to deal with them

Other times we try to do what my former boss did.  We combat antinomianism with legalism / moralism.  We rightly focus on truth and ignore the wonderful grace of Jesus.  We just throw law at people, hoping that law with solve the problem of license, and this is not biblical either.  Legalism is just as much a problem as license.  In fact, the New Testament is filled with diatribes against the virus of legalism in the church, especially as it regards circumcision!  Legalism is not the right way to deal with the problem of license.  You might get outward behavior to conform to your standards, but law misses the heart.  Jude says instead we need to go on a rescue mission.  He wants us to show mercy and compassion to those who doubt and to snatch those who are being persuaded by this line of thinking from the fire.

So . . . The solution is simple.  A correct understanding of grace.  Think about the parable that Jesus told in Matthew 18.  The one about the guy who owed a huge debt.  He went before the king and the king forgave him his debt because he couldn't pay it back. He showed him 

. . . GRACE . . . 

Then, that same guy went out and demanded another individual who owed him a small amount to pay up.  WHAT!!!?  Jesus says to us that this is not the proper response to GRACE.  The proper response to grace is an inside out righteousness.  If I truly understand what Jesus did for me, it will compel me to righteousness.  When I understand how much I have been forgiven, I will want to forgive.  When I understand how much was sacrificed for me, I will want to sacrifice.  When I understand how much compassion I have been shown, I will want to show compassion.  When I understand how pure my gracious God is, I will want to be pure.  When I understand how much grace I have been shown, I will want to be, GRACE.  This is the grace equation.  

I don't know much about math, but I do know that two sides of an equation should balance.  So . . . the solution to license is not legalism; it is GRACE.  The solution to legalism is not license; it is GRACE.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Is It Wrong To Doubt?

Our church services and our Sunday schools are not planned to co-ordinate.  Every once in awhile they do anyway.  One of those times was this past Easter Sunday.  In Sunday School we were discussing Jesus calling Nathanael in the book of John.  He doesn't just get up and follow Jesus, he has a couple of questions that he wants answered first. 

Nathanael doubted.

In the sunrise service I preached about how Jesus and the John the Baptist were part of God's story and how each one of them fit into God's Old Testament promises.  About halfway through the sermon, I began to talk about a strange story from Luke 7.  John the Baptist sends some of his disciples to Jesus with a strange question, "Are you the one to come or not?"  John the Baptist knew that he was sent by God to prepare the way for the "one to come."  He thought it was Jesus, but he began to doubt.  

John doubted.

Doubt was the theme that ran through both services.  Do we doubt?  If we do, is it wrong?  James seems to suggest in James 1 that if we doubt (God's goodness), then we should not expect to receive anything from him.  That verse is often use to say that those who have any doubts are not very good Christians.  Is that what that passage is saying?  Was Philip better than Nathanael because he followed Jesus without question, while Nathanael had some reservations?  Was John wrong to doubt?  I don't think so.  There are just different types of people out there with different types of personalities.  Some trust immediately, others trust, but it takes some time because they have questions that need answered, and still others trust, but circumstances lead them to doubt.

John doubted because he was in hot water.  He was in prison, most likely facing execution for calling out Herod Antipas and his relationship with his brother's wife, Herodias.  He was sinking.  And in his pain, he doubted.  I call this type of doubt situational doubt.  He wasn't able to see beyond his own pain and look at the big picture.  John, in his suffering, could only see his own personal picture and that led him doubt.  

If this guy really is the Messiah and our deliverer, than why isn't he delivering me.  Jesus responds by lifting up his eyes to the big picture.  Look John.  The blind see.  The deaf hear.  The lame walk.  Lepers are cleansed.  The dead are raised.  The good news is being preached to the poor.  I am the one to come.  I will make all things right.  You just need to wait and be patient while I work the solution into history.

I don't think there is anything wrong with situational doubt as long as we direct our questions to God, and ask him for answers (like John did).  I am preaching through Habakkuk on Sunday, and Habakkuk does this very thing.  He cries out to God and questions his actions and his motives, not once, but twice!

Habakkuk doubts.

We just need to take those doubts to God, and pray for him to help us to see the big picture.  Most of my doubts are also born out of of suffering.  If God is so good, then why did this happen to me?  In those time, i am focused on my own personal picture.  

I doubt.

God wants us to understand that his plan is big!  He has already dealt sin, death, and the devil a death blow (through his death and resurrection), and he is working toward their complete eradication (new heavens and earth).  We just need to keep that big picture in our mind as we continue to struggle in a broken down world.

Doubt CAN be wrong when it busts our faith.  But it doesn't have to be!  As long as we let doubt drive us to look to God and to remember his past faithfulness in our lives.  Thomas' doubt led to one of the greatest confessions in the Bible, "My Lord and My God!!"  Often it is in moments where we are pushed down by situational doubt that we really learn the most about Jesus and his kept promises.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Toothless Warnings - Perseverance and Apostasy

If you don't clean your room, I am going to sell you to the Indians.  That was a threat I used to use with my kids when they were little.  Yes, I know I am depraved.  I understand.  It doesn't work anymore, because I have older kids that know its not true.  If I use that threat, one of the older kids will whisper in the younger kid's ear, "He is just kidding.  He wouldn't sell you to the Indians."  So, my warning loses its bite.  It loses its persuasive push, because the consequence has been shown to be illusory, not real.  

As I preach, I constantly come across warning passages in the Bible.  I call them the "if" passages.  IF you continue in the faith, then you will be saved.  A clear one comes in Colossians 1:22-23, "But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation  -  IF you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel."  Notice the "if."  These passages crop up all the time, all over the Bible, not just a few times in Hebrews.

They are warnings meant to stimulate us to do the right thing which is to persevere and to hold onto Jesus no matter what happens.  They are warnings with some bite to them.  IF you don't persevere in the faith and you abandon Jesus, you had better watch out.  The consequences are real and intended to motivate people to "persevere" or to "overcome" as John puts it. 

So, what's the problem then?  Just issue the warning with its consequence and leave it at that!  It's not that easy.  Theologically, I believe that the Bible teaches that a true believer cannot lose their salvation.  So, for years, whenever I would come across an "if" passage, I would immediately give a 3 minute discussion on "once saved always saved".  I was defending my theological conviction (which I still hold firmly), but at the same time I was taking the bite out of the warning.  I was reading Shreiner's commentary on Jude the other day, and was heartened when I saw him do the same thing.  He was looking at an "if" passage and immediately set forth a defense of an eternal security type of teaching.  I know I am not the only one who struggles with this, because it is a tension inherent in the New Testament itself.

Paul can emphatically say that "He who began a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus," and then he can issue an "if" passages like the Colossians one above.  So, here is how I see it at this point, and here is how I tend to frame it today.  D. A. Carson put it like this, "Perseverance is the test of reality."  In other words, theologically and logically speaking, those who persevere in the faith are by definition true believers.  Those who do not persevere in the faith and apostatize never were true believers in the first place.  This logical construct helps me make sense out of the Scriptural data.  It also helps me to maintain my belief that true believers cannot lose their salvation, while at the same time keeping the bite to the warning.  A Christian is one who perseveres in the faith.  True believers cannot lose their salvation, but church members and those who have made outward professions of faith and appear to be saved can be lost.

John says in 1 John 2:19, “They went out from us, but they were not of us, for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us (perseverance), but they went out from us so that it might be made clear that they were never part of us to begin with.”

Jesus says something similar, "He who endures to the end will be saved" (Matthew 10:22).  The author of Hebrews says, “We share in Christ, IF we hold our first confidence firm until the end (Hebrews 3:14).  Salvation is tied to us persevering in the faith.  Those with the Spirit will persevere and not depart from the faith.  Those who do leave prove that their commitment never existed in the first place.

So, all of these "if" passages are really warnings calling us to persevere, to stand strong in the truth of the gospel.  They are a call to commitment.  I understand that this is a logical systematic construct, but it is one that helps me in the pulpit keep the bite in the warnings of Scripture and at the same time not deny what in my mind is a clear teaching of Scripture.  What do you think?

Monday, April 2, 2012

"Why is Paul So Pushy?"

I have a 3 year old, so I know pushy.  The other day Sarah would have nothing to do with me.  It was an "I Love Mommy" day.  Then, all at once, everything changed.  I sat down on the couch for the evening, turned on a favorite show, and popped the top of a delicious mouthwatering can of Mountain Dew.  

The next thing I know my breath was knocked out of me as Sarah ran and jumped on my gut.  She took her two grubby paws and grabbed my cheeks and she said, "Dad . . . you my best friend."  I knew what that meant!  It meant, "Dad . . . that Mountain Dew looks good; give me some!!"  But . . . how can you say, "No," to your 3 year old best friend?

I am just wrapping up preaching through Philemon, and I still have one question that is nagging at me. I haven't answered it for myself satisfactorily.  Is Paul's pushiness something that we should imitate today or not?  Let me take a moment to clarify. 


The first word that actually comes to my mind is manipulative, but I have since discarded that word as too much for how Paul is acting here. You might still like that word and I wouldn't blame you. 

Paul is urging his friend, Philemon, to forgive his runaway slave and perhaps even to free him.  He gives him 8 reasons why he should do it:

Welcome And Forgive Onesimus (17) . . . BECAUSE . . . 

1.   . . . He became a believer (8-10)
2.   . . . He served me (11)
3.   . . . I have grown to love him (12)
4.   . . . He took your place serving me (13-14)
5.   . . . He is now your brother (15-16)
6.   . . . You can charge his debts to my account (18-19a)
7.   . . . You owe me one (19b)
8.   . . . You have to keep up your reputation (20-22)

Paul uses every technique he can to twist Philemon's arm.  For instance, he not only writes this letter to Philemon, he also writes it to his wife (Apphia), his pastor (Archippus), and to the entire church that meets in their home!  That means that this little letter would not only be read by Philemon, but also his entire spiritual family.  Paul does that to put even more pressure on Philemon to make the right choice. 

He also tells Philemon that he could command him to forgive Onesimus, but he would rather Philemon choose to do so on his own. 

And . . . finally, he promises to pay any debt that Onesimus owes Philemon. However, he wants Philemon to remember that he owes Paul.  Paul reached beyond his comfort zone and shared the gospel with Philemon and his life was changed forever. He owes Paul his salvation. The least he could do was forgive Onesimus.

So . . . Paul grabs Philemon's arm and twists it almost to the point of breaking it.  By the end of this letter, there is no decision that Philemon could make except the right one.  

Now . . . I think Paul did the right thing.  Philemon apparently needed to be pushed.   I am just wondering if this is the style of persuasion that we should use today.  And by we . . . I of course mean me.  Should I push this hard on people to live out the gospel?  I am not going to lie.   I have been this pushy before, occasionally.  But, on average, I am not this pushy.  I try to persuade people to do the right thing and to live the kingdom, but I also try to give them the space to make the choice for themselves.  

The tentative conclusion I have come to is that this is just Paul's style.  Paul's style doesn't have to be my style.  I think we often hold up one person who has a certain personality and gift set and say that everyone should be just like this person.  I have the spiritual gifts of shepherding and teaching; others have the gifts of evangelism, still others have the gifts of service.  God has created and gifted each of us uniquely. 

It wouldn't be right for me to suggest to the evangelist that he is shallow and only focuses on the gospel and needs to begin to grow people better.  Neither would it be right for him to say to me that you are too inward focused and that I need to sharing my faith with my dental hygienist.  We are uniquely designed by God differently, each of us with our own gifts and personality.  It is when we work together through the Spirit's empowerment that the gospel's impact is maximized.

God uses all sorts of different types of people in all sorts of different types of ways.  Thank goodness I don't have to be Paul to be effective.  Because I know one thing for sure, I am no Paul.  :) 

Friday, March 30, 2012

Discernment vs. Censorship

I was talking to my pastor friend Tim once about a book.  A book I think both of us were supposed to think was BAD, but neither of us really did.  Well . . . we agreed that the author was wrong on many things, but other things we really liked.

Then he said something that struck a deep chord with me.  He said it as an apology.  He said it fearing what I might say.  He said it as if it was a bad thing.  He said, "I almost always find something in any book that I like."  I agreed.  My first instinct when I disagree with something is not to censor it, but to study it.  I try to look at things from the opposing point of view as best as I can.  Usually I see a nugget of truth there that I need to deal with and learn from.

I fear too many of us are in the censoring business (Harry Potter is from the devil; Twilight is satanic; the Hunger Games glorify violence, etc.).  I believe the Holy Spirit can speak through many avenues, including pop media   I watched a horrendous movie the other day.  It was the worst movie I think I had ever seen.  Yes . . . it was a Sundance award-winning movie.  That fact alone pretty much seals the deal for me.  I watched it, thought I was going to kill myself, and then wished I had those hours back when I was done.  BUT . . . I still was able to discern a good message.  EVEN from a pile of garbage (from my point of view).

The message was about not trading short term pleasure for long term happiness and satisfaction.  A woman didn't return to her home country when her student visa ran out, because she was in love.  But . . . that very act led her to not be able to come back and be with her loved one in the future.  Man does that speak to the Christian life or what.  How often do we trade the immediate pleasure of sin for its long term negative consequences.

I can even find redeeming things about Rob Bell's work (cue gasp)!  In "Love Wins" he is rightly trying to focus us on the blessings of the Kingdom of God in the present age and curses of disobeying God in this life.  Life in the kingdom of God is not just about holding a future fire insurance policy.  We can live heaven now through the Spirit, or we can live hell.  Now . . . there is the whole swinging the pendulum way in the other direction to the point of denying the clear biblical teaching on a future hell.  But . . . if we have open ears, we can still find truth that can cause us to grow, while rejecting the garbage. Discernment.

Maybe I am as wrong as rain!  I probably am!  I just believe that diamonds of God's truth can be found in even the most ordinary of places.  Are you looking for God's truth?