Thursday, August 28, 2008

From the Mouth of Babes...

Okay, I know I’m a grump. Big surprise right? But in my defense I am also passionate, lovable, caring, a willing hug giver and not the least bit afraid to admit that I rather enjoy giggling. It’s also no surprise, if you know me or have read this blog, that I think we as Christians, and the church as a whole, have lost our collective minds on a lot of things. It’s also no surprise that I don’t think there are enough voices in the church calling people back to God and the scripture. But you know what? This isn’t about the myriad of things that I see wrong in our churches and our lives. No, this is about what I see that is right. Those glimpses that God offers us, that let us know that while things can often seem dire, discouraging, and seemingly impossible, He is in control and His spirit still thrives amongst us. Much like my Abram moment that I wrote about in “God and McDonalds”, I got a clear glimpse of God, His Grace, and what is beautiful and right about our Christianity.

I was leading “God’s Backyard” this past Sunday, which is my church’s version of “children’s church”. With that said, I really must preface this story with the fact, that pretty much any time you visit GBY you come away refreshed and reinvigorated. You see God at work, you feel His presence, and you are reminded, in these children, that there is always hope. As I told the director, the kids just “get it”. I suppose that’s probably why Jesus said in Matthew 18:3, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter in the kingdom of heaven.”

Anyhow, back to the story. I was teaching on the concept of “Hope”. Not really the easiest of things to teach children, plus I was on the backside of what had been a pretty tough couple of weeks. And as I was teaching, I used a picture of Daniel and the lions. I asked the kids if they knew what was going on in the picture. Several hands went up (great sign right there, by the way) But there was one little girl in particular that was bouncing up and down in her chair, just absolutely glowing. If I had to guess, she couldn’t have been more than 6, maybe seven years old at the absolute most. How could I not call on her?

So, I called on her and she just absolutely exploded. She didn’t just tell me and the class about Daniel and the lions, she began with the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (by name no less). She was so genuinely excited to be sharing this with the class, that it was truly amazing. She went point-by-point, hitting them all, at a hundred mile an hour, grinning from ear-to-ear, bouncing up and down in her chair. How awesome is that!?

The excitement! The joy! The passion! When was the last time we saw this from an adult? That wasn’t in the process of using scripture as a weapon? Man, talk about being convicted. Kids get it, pure and simple. And in this little girl, I saw Christ’s words fulfilled, I saw precisely what He meant when He said the words I quoted earlier, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter in the kingdom of heaven.”

Where is our wonder? Where is our ability to believe, despite the world? Despite science? Despite what we perceive to be impossible? Is it possible that Jesus knew the day was going to come where even the most devout believer was going to have to overcome the doubts and cynicism we face today? Never before in the history of the world have we been so educated, so grounded, so steeped in reality. We have libraries upon libraries of information at our fingertips. Our world, so full of information, facts, and studies demands proof for everything.

What proof did this little girl need? The Bible and therefore God had said this, so it is true. Have we truly lost ability to get excited about what we purport to believe? Who cares what the world believes? Who cares what the world tells us is impossible? Who cares what the world considers fairy tales or arcane beliefs of a simpler time and people?

Did not this God that we purport to believe and follow make the impossible, improbable, and unbelievable routine? Did not our Savior after laying dead in a tomb for three days, rise again, having forever defeated death and sin? Do we believe this or not? Or are we just paying lip service. If we truly believe these things for which we claim to follow, then where is our excitement? Where is our devotion? Where is our inability to sit still as we share God’s story?

You know, I for one, am not where this child was, but you can bet that I am setting out to find my way there. I think God wants that same passion, that same excitement, and that same dedication from us. Matter of fact, I think He demands it. How can we be so blasé about something so remarkable, so incredible? Harder to fathom than even a talking, burning bush or a Jewish carpenter rising from the dead.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Is Cantankerousness a Spiritual Gift?

If you are or have been in a small group or Bible study with me, first and foremost, I do sincerely apologize, you poor, poor soul. Secondly, you know that it doesn’t take long to learn about those things that get my cantankerous nature all revved up. For instance…Rob Bell. Brian McLaren. The Emergent Church. The Emerging Church. The fact that they claim there is a difference between Emergent and Emerging. Prosperity Gospel. Soft, fuzzy, pick and choose, no responsibility taking, no risk taking, fear of offending; everybody absolutely, positively must be happy and comfortable, cherry picking scripture, hell doesn’t exist, the devil is a scary bedtime story, hypocritical Christianity. Oh, and spiritual gift inventories.

So, why do I have such cantankerous feelings towards spiritual gift inventories? Well, there are a couple of reasons. I see Christianity and my faith as something that should most of the time be wild, free, and passionate. It should be something without constraints or restraints put on it by myself or man. It should be something that is free to take chances, fearless to take risks in the name of Jesus Christ. It should be something of limitless possibilities in Christ.

I don’t want my faith and my relationship with Christ to be hindered in any way, but especially by some silly idea and adherence to what my spiritual gifts may or may not be. Or even more dangerous, what I WANT my spiritual gifts to be. I see and have seen so much of that amongst my fellow Christians. I have heard “spiritual gifts” used as an excuse or crutch too many times. “I can’t possibly do that, I’m not gifted in it.” Why? Because some survey said so? What does God have to say on the matter? “Sorry God, but this here survey says I can’t help you in this way. Now, if you want me to discern something…” And you know what? I’ve used that excuse as well, it usually goes a little something like this, “Sing? Me? Sorry, not my gift.”

And you know what else? If I’m being totally honest, I’m lying through my teeth. I can sing, fairly well when I want to, which is rare. I don’t like it. Now trust me, Bocelli or Pavarotti are in no danger and to say I’m gifted would be a huge stretch, but I can do it with proficiency and an occasional flourish. So what does that say? Does the fact that I don’t like to sing mean that I wasn’t gifted in it, even though I can do it? Or does the fact that I can and it could be used to glorify God mean that that gift should override my distaste for doing it in front of people? I think all too often we’re only NOT gifted in those things that we don’t want to do.

I've also seen people take these things so literally that they throw themselves so completely into their "gifts" that they seemingly close themselves off to the possibility that God may be calling them in other ways. Talk about limiting. And the sad thing is, these are usually extremely dedicated people with a deep desire to serve the Lord, but they can and often do miss out on other opportunities that God may be providing. Why? "Because I took this survey offered by my church, so it must be true and accurate."

Which leads me to the other side of the coin. We’re human. There are labels that we want. There are different labels that we want other people to see, and different ones appeal to different people. And that’s precisely what spiritual gift inventories are, LABELS. But here’s the real kicker, these things are so obvious and so easily manipulated, it’s virtually impossible to take them without thinking about what you want your results to be and what you want others to see your results as. It’s human nature. We want to impress our friends, our families, and our pastors. I’m not an especially intelligent person, but as I read through these inventories, I know with each question what category they’re addressing. With that, I know, whether subconsciously or consciously, what categories I want to score highly in and what ones I’d rather not. How is this an accurate representation of what our spiritual gifts are? Doesn’t it kind of defeat the purpose, not only of the inventory, but also of our true gifts?

In closing, I have two thoughts. First and foremost, why do we need an inventory to tell us what God has given us? Think about that for a second. If God has given us a gift, to use in service to Him, His church, and His people, are we so lacking in faith that we truly believe that He will not cultivate and reveal these gifts to each of us? They are GIFTS after all, given to us by God. To lay dormant? To be ignored? To be revealed because some survey said so? I’ve got to believe God is far more persistent, purposeful, intelligent, understanding, and capable than that. Can you imagine God giving you something, a blessing in many ways unique to you and then saying, “Go forth and allow the survey to reveal to you.”

I truly, honestly love giving gifts. And I cannot imagine giving someone something so personal , so special, so perfect that it is truly a gift completely and totally of my heart, a gift that truly could alter the life of the recipient, with the potential to affect numerous others, for them to receive it and to stare blankly at it. And to make matters worse, that they would feel the need to go to someone else, much less a stack of papers, to decipher what that gift was. Come to me, I’ll teach you, I’ll show you, I’ll show you how to truly take advantage of it (I guess in my case it would be the gift of making my super, special Monster Cookies which only get whipped out at Christmas). Can we not imagine God being much the same, albeit with far greater and more perfect gifts? Are we willing to place such limits on God?

Finally, look at the Bible and wonder how much different it and our very lives would be had spiritual gift inventories been all the rage back then. How many times were people called to do that which they were ill-equipped to do? How many times were they called to do something that they might not have wanted to do? How many times were they called to do something that they didn't think they could do? Do you think God would have taken this excuse, “Wow, you know God, I really, I mean honestly, I really appreciate the fact that you’ve called on me, but I’m just not gifted in boat building, animal care, or seafaring. I get blisters, I’m allergic to pretty much anything with fur, and I get seasick. But hey, this survey that my wife had me take, it says I’m gifted in discernment and hospitality. So, you know, if you want me to figure out the best place for an inn or party, give me a holler.”

Okay so I lied, I do have one more thought. I think there is one spiritual gift that we all share and it is the only one that matters, the gift of Christ. Put your faith and your heart squarely in Him, point your ears and your heart towards Him, and above all else, be prepared and ready to answer His call as it comes, whether you feel it is something you can do or whether it is something you think you are gifted in. He knows your limitations, but more importantly, He knows your potential. Take a chance, take a risk, step out of your own expectations and the expectations of others. Rely on Him to show you your gifts, you might just find you are far more gifted than you ever dreamed.