January 5, 2020
Rev. John Watts
Nampa First UMC
FAITH PRACTICES: SPIRITUAL GIFTS
I Corinthians 12:1-7
The first in a series of five.
Practice makes perfect. We all grew up on that one. That’s why I practice my sermons. But after a few years of preaching, you know what I have discovered? No matter how hard I practice, it is never perfect. Not yet anyway. This might be my first perfect sermon, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be.
The baseball world lost a great man on New Year’s Day. Don Larson pitched the one and only perfect game in World Series history. Perfection is rare.
Today, on this first Sunday of a New Year, we are going to
begin a series about practicing our faith. Not that practicing will
make us perfect. But the faith practices we are going to be looking
at will make us better. And that’s the point. Not perfection, but improvement.
Can you remember when you first learned to ride a bike? I sure can. There was blood involved. Blood and scabs and scars. It would be nice to hop on your bike and start riding perfectly the very first time. But that’s not the way it works. The only way to learn to ride a bike well is first to ride a bike badly. The only way you learn not to crash is to crash. I remember the crashes. But I remember even more that wonderful feeling when I finally rode that bike for the very first time without crashing. Like this little guy here.
(YouTube: Kid Gives Speech After Learning to Ride a Bike)
Did you hear what he said at the end? “Rock and roll!!!” So basically this series is about learning to rock and roll with our faith. It takes practice. The saying “practice makes perfect” might actually get in the way. The perfect can be the enemy of the good. The goal is improvement, not perfection.
In fact, going back to the perfect sermon example, if I ever did preach one – every word, every emphasis, every gesture exactly the way I had it planned – that in itself would guarantee that it would be a truly awful, cringeworthy sermon.
That lady in your cell phone who tells you where to turn left or right to reach your destination could probably be programmed to preach a perfect sermon. She wouldn’t make any mistakes, but I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be inspired. We want real, not perfect. We want human, not robotic. Which means an important part of practicing is failing.
If you are so afraid of failing that you don’t try, there is no way you will ever improve. Because the only way to learn to ride a bike well is to start by riding a bike badly; the only way to learn to drive a car well is to start by driving a car badly (which is why the insurance company charges so much for young drivers); the only way to learn to cook well is to start by cooking badly; the only way to learn to play a musical instrument well is to start by playing that musical instrument badly. Practice might not make us perfect, but practice will make us better. And that’s true of the faith practices we are going to be looking at in this series.
Jesus did not have perfect disciples, but he had disciples who were changing and growing and becoming better than they were before. How did they do that? Jesus gave them practices. He knew that through these practices God would be molding them into the people they could become.
We forget how practical a religion Christianity is. I’ve heard that people are drawn to Buddhism because they think it’s a religion of practices whereas Christianity is a religion of beliefs. I don’t know who defined Christianity that way, but it wasn’t Jesus. Faith for Jesus is not something we think about . It’s something we do. It’s something we put into practice.
So we are going to be looking at some practices, that will help us become better people, better followers of Jesus, and a better church. We begin today with spiritual gifts.
Here’s a definition:
Spiritual gifts are special spiritual abilities God gave each
of us at birth that are brought to life by the Holy Spirit for a specific purpose: to build up the body of Christ (Bill Easum, Discovering Our Place in God’s World, page 5).
We all have these gifts. But for some of us they are kind of like Christmas gifts still sitting under the tree unopened. So today’s spiritual practice involves two steps. First, opening your gift and discovering what it is. And second, putting that gift into practice.
I said “gift” singular. Does that mean you can only have one? No. You might have two. You might even have three. But I’m pretty sure you don’t have them all. No matter how talented and gifted you are. And that’s the point. None of us has all of the gifts, which why we have churches. Because the church is the body of Christ. A body is a body when it has many different parts all working together. The body that is the church has many different gifts all working together. Every one of you has at least one spiritual gift, and as we each offer that gift for the good of the body, the church comes alive and we see God doing amazing things.
We all have gifts. We don’t all have the same gifts.
There once was a school for animals. They had a great curriculum designed to improve the abilities of each of their students. This curriculum included swimming, running, climbing, and flying.
So the duck who was an excellent swimmer, was found to be deficient in running, climbing, and flying. He spent all his time trying to get better in those areas. He never got much better and as a result of all his efforts, he practically forgot how to swim. The rabbit was a very fast runner, but he lost much of that speed as he focused on what he couldn’t do so well. The squirrel was an A+ climber, but he slipped to C- because of all the time he spent trying to swim and to fly. And the eagle got detention for flying to the top of the tree he was supposed to be learning to climb (C. Peter Wagner, Your Spiritual Gifts, pages 107-108).
Do most what you do best. Use your gift.
The Bible speaks of spiritual gifts in at least three places. There is no one definitive list. I’m going to just quickly take you through 16 of them. I did say quickly. See if one of these fits you. And keep in mind, each of these and all of these are intended by God not for your own benefit but for the good of the church.
Spiritual gifts are special spiritual abilities God gave each of us at birth that are brought to life by the Holy Spirit for a specific purpose: to build up the body of Christ.
1) The gift of helps. Are you a helper? Do you enjoy doing work behind the scenes? Do you prefer to operate “beneath the radar”? Those who have this gift are often those who would rather not receive public recognition. They would just as soon someone else be named “Servant of the Month.” They get energized not by being the focus of attention, but by knowing that they are part of a team effort. It brings to mind the Harry Truman quote: “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.” This church would shrivel up and blow away without the many, many of you who generously put to use your gift of helps.
2) The gift of hospitality. Shirley Harrell has the gift of hospitality. I think she also has the gift of helps, so she will probably be embarrassed when she reads this in her room at Grace Assisted Living. Shirley was our church greeter for many years. We miss her. But we are so blessed now to have others emerge with this same
gift – Loren Honstead, Bob Mansfield, Kim Severns. Greeters are important. “People will forget what you said or did, but they will never forget the way you made them feel.” Maya Angelou said that. I’m pretty sure she had this gift.
Being a greeter is not the only way to exercise the gift of hospitality. You may be one who loves to have people over to your home. And having your home look perfect may or may not be a priority for you. What’s important is not that everything is lovely but that everyone is loved. You make people feel at home. You make people feel included. You are always the question: “Who is feeling left out?” And you don’t just ask the question. You do something about it.
3) The gift of shepherding. I’m not talking about taking care of sheep. This word “shepherd” in lists of spiritual gifts is often translated “pastor.” But don’t let that scare you. You can have the gift of shepherding and not be a pastor and there are a whole lot of pastors who don’t have the gift of shepherding. You may even have one!
People are shepherded best in small groups. We call them life groups. This is a step beyond hospitality. You don’t just make people feel welcome. You listen to them. You care about them. You share their sorrows. You share their joys. You help them grow, and they do the same for you.
4) The gift of encouragement. I’m pretty sure that little
boy who gave that speech about riding a bike has the gift of encouragement! This is such an important gift. And I know for a
fact many of you have it. Because you give it to me generously.
5) The gift of administration. This is the ability to bring order out of chaos. If this is you, you probably are known for being well organized. You love to plan things. You may even love to plan things for other people, which they may not even appreciate. But the point of good administration is not that it has any value in itself, but that it is the way to get things done that do have value.
The Greek word for this is the word for the helmsman who keeps the ship on course and brings it safely to its destination. Without the gift of administration we might be that ship that gets lost at sea.
6) The gift of leadership. You know you are a leader when you have people gladly doing what you are calling them to do. John Maxwell says, “If you think you are leading but no one is following, you are only taking a walk.” He wrote the best short book I have ever read on leadership. It’s called How Successful People Lead. He says the highest level of leadership is when people are following because of who you are and what you represent. Because of your inner character and also because it’s not all about you. You are a servant, not a master, as was Jesus, the ultimate leader.
7) The gift of evangelism. You probably don’t think you have this gift, but I promise way more of you do than realize you do. Here are some questions: Do you care about people? Do you enjoy getting to know people? Are you able to connect on a level that is deeper than small talk? Are you a good listener? Are you better at listening than you are at talking? Do you enjoy the company of people who are not Christians? Does it drive you crazy when all people want to talk about is their faith? If you answered yes to most of these, you might be a candidate for the gift of evangelism. And you are probably very surprised to hear that.
8) The gift of prophecy. If you have this gift I want to know who is going to win the Seahawks game this afternoon and by how many points. No actually, this gift is often misunderstood. It’s not the ability to predict the future. It is not fore-telling, it is forth-telling. It is telling forth the truth of God.
Isaiah was prophet when he was calling for justice. John the
Baptist was a prophet when he was calling for repentance. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a prophet when was calling for racial reconciliation.
One thing about prophets is they are seldom very popular. If you have a high need to be liked, you are probably not a prophet. Being a prophet comes at a cost. But a church without prophets is a church without a conscience. We need prophets, and when we hear them saying things that make us uncomfortable, we need to ask the hard question: Could it be that they are right and we are wrong?
9) The gift of mercy. If you have the gift of mercy, you might be the one to clean up the mess the gift of prophecy has caused. It is a very good thing to balance prophecy with mercy. Because mercy takes the next step. Not only are you filled with anger at injustice, but you are also filled with compassion for those who are hurt by that injustice. Compassion even for those responsible for the injustice.
Those with the gift of mercy are good with those who are sick or those who are grieving or those who are feeling hopeless. Not that you always know what to say, but that God knows how to use your words, your silence, your touch, your presence to help this person. You have no idea how God does it, but God does it through people like you.
10) The gift of knowledge. Do you love to learn? And not just learning for the sake of learning and filling your brain with a lot of information, but so you can use what you have learned to help people and build up the church.
11) The gift of faith. We all have faith, more or less. It ebbs and it flows. But here is the test if you have this spiritual gift: You can see what other people can’t see. Other people say, “I have to see it to believe it.” You say, “I believe it, so I know I’m going to see it.” I see this gift in several of you. It makes my faith stronger. Faith is contagious. It comes from God but we catch it from each other.
12) The gift of teaching. This is the God-given ability to make the Bible come alive. To make it understandable, to bring it home to our lives, and then to get out of the way so the Holy Spirit can go to work.
13) The gift of intercession. This is praying for others. We all need to be doing this, but there are certain people we call “prayer warriors” for a reason. They not only believe in prayer, they love to pray, they persevere in prayer, they pray without ceasing, they never give up. These are the unseen, unsung heroes of our church.
14) The gift of giving. Again, we all called to give. We are all called to be generous. I have a whole sermon on this later in this series. But those with this spiritual gift take it to another level. Sometimes these are people who have been blessed with a lot of money. But not always. The sign of this gift is not how much you give, but how good giving to God’s work makes you feel.
15) The gift of wisdom. This is not the same as the gift of knowledge. This is taking what we know and putting it to use. People with this gift help people without this gift to make better decisions. In fact, that’s how you know if you have this gift. If you think you have it, but the people around you say you don’t have it, you don’t have it.
16) The gift of serving. Again, there is a separate sermon on this coming up. We are all called to serve. But for some serving is not just what they do, it is who they are.
For example there is a woman named Dorcas that we read about in Acts. It says of her, “She was always doing good and helping the poor” (9:36). When she died, Peter was shown all the clothing she had made for the poor widows in her village. Then he raised her from the dead. When Peter died no one raised him from the dead, so apparently the church could get along better without Peter than without Dorcas and her gift to serve.
I was right. This has not been my first ever perfect sermon. Nobody preaches a sixteen-point sermon. It’s time to wrap things up. Past time.
But we’re not done with spiritual gifts. I have a test you can take. It’s called a “Spiritual Gifts Inventory.” We will send it to you. Just mark your connection card. It has a series of questions. 255 of them, so this will take some time. But these questions are designed to help you identify your spiritual gift.
Maybe both of them. Maybe even three. But it will also help you see that you don’t have them all. Only Jesus had them all. If you think you have them all, let me know and I’ll get you together with someone with the gift of wisdom who will set you straight.
God, we thank you for a church with every one of the spiritual gifts present in abundance. I pray that all those here today will
find their gift, and open it, and praise you for it, and most of all, put that gift to use to build up our church. There is a place for all of us in the Body of Christ. Because we all are gifted. And we all are called. And together – not separately but together – the work of Jesus will be done. In his name, Amen.