Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Best Gifts

ASK - Who in your family gives the best gifts?
(me: Lowell used to give the best mixed CDs, a little 'old school' for today's world of streaming music and mp3 files on flash drives, but I still love my old cds labeled ”Xmas Mix for Mom")

ASK: What was the BIGGEST gift you’ve ever received. (you define biggest in your own way)

Jesus gifted the newlyweds with Jars of wine taller than I am, certainly those rank as a superior wedding gift. In the context of John’s story where there are always at least 2 levels of meaning. What might Jesus be telling US about a gift to come?

Paul is talking about a different kind of gift.
ASK: What is a spiritual gift?

Paul is mainly referring to the gift called, "Speaking in tongues" 
(ASK what is known about it?)
Before getting to his point, Paul tells his listeners that there are MANY GIFTS but ....(Ask) "same spirit". We just sang it. AND he says that there is a way to tell if the gift is from God. 
ASK: What is it? - (whether the gift points to God's glory, or is used to enlarge the Kingdom in some way.) 
Paul is likely being a bit sarcastic when he says, anyone who says “Jesus is cursed,” isn't being given words from the Holy Spirit, but certainly it is true. If one speaks and uses their gift in ways opposite to the way of Jesus, it can hardly be a spiritual gift.

.. . .We have to get used to spirit language when we read Paul. We said a couple weeks ago that Arlington COB's name for God is love. We also don't have a strong name for Holy Spirit. Maybe just 'Spirit', maybe we use “God" rather than talk about spirits, because we aren't a place that tosses around spirit-language easily. (There is Good and Bad in that, but not today's point.) We have to get used to Paul's language because he is QUITE comfortable with spirit-language.

When Paul says, "No one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit. He is referring to the standard Xian confession. In other words, you can't BE a Christian unless the Holy Spirit is in you and working in you and speaking thru you. 
ASK: How do you feel about that?
Do you feel that the Holy Spirit is in you? and speaking thru you?
(Scary?  A hint of what is to come in his letter.)

Before Paul lists a sampling of gifts (it is, a sampling, & not meant to be the complete list, if there even is such a thing) he says 
"Gifts are given to each person for the common good." THIS is at the heart of our message today. So let it simmer in you a little while we continue to seek Paul's gems of wisdom.

Let’s look at another aspect of Spiritual Gifts. Congregations are gifted in certain ways, just like individuals are.

Congregations have different gifts as a whole..
ASK: name some… Can you name a particular congregation that has a particular spiritual gift that is obvious?
Fellowship COB - Debbie's 'home church'
In the December DunkerPunksPodcast, (if you haven't heard, the DPP is one of our new ministries that reach far beyond the walls of this church and city!)
In the... Pastor Shayne Petty talked about congregations that have a passion. He said, “The typical Black Christian congregational  experience and the progressive Christian congregation interested in social justice seem to stand separate. 
While conservative evangelical congregations have the gift of being filled with the spirit and are fired up for Christ and 
progressive congregations are passionate for social justice, 
we have trouble finding Christian congregations who hold both passions; for Christ AND Justice.

Have you noticed that to be true?

Do you know about the Arlington Assembly of God? What do you usually think about when you hear about an Assemblies congregation? 
. . . Tongues, ecstatic experiences, come to mind.
These are the specific Gifts of charasmata that concerned Paul when he wrote this letter to the Corinthians.
Assemblies congregations are usually those that are ‘fired up for Christ’ as Pastor Shayne termed it.
Arl. Assembly of God offers a hot meal 5 nights/week for homeless people or anyone who needs it. Think about the work involved in that endeavor… every week.
They also teach entry level computer skills and I think they have a retirement community they sponsor. Perhaps they are the congregational type that Shayne was searching for. -- fired up for X AND justice!

We don't need to do what Arl Assembly does, they are right up the road and serving our area. But we DO need to do what God is calling us to do. We do need to use the gifts God has given us. 

ASK: What is OUR gift as a congregation?
.  .  .
maybe we need to think on this for a little while, but not too long because action is required. 
We “SIFTED” ideas this weekend that fit into the priorities we named as most important for our congregation.
Those priorities are clues to where our gifts lie because they are our passions.

In Corinth, (recall?) people evidently got side-tracked from their mission with a problem of RANKING of spiritual gifts (and therefore people) Certain people got higher status based on what gift they had. (Status was SO important in 1st century world.)
ASK: What Spiritual gifts would you rank highest?
NONE? - his point is no spiritual gift is higher than any other.

While some in Corinth were ranking the tongue speakers highest, he says NO, Tongue-speaking is not highest and doesn’t even stand-alone, but must be paired with the gift of interpretation for it to have meaning.

Yet, Speaking in Tongues, or ranking it highest is not our problem
ASK: What is our problem related to spiritual gifts? (Prompt VV?)
(identifying our spiritual gifts)
knowing what they are, and CLAIMING our gifts.

ASK: How does it feel when someone names your gift(s)?

Since many of us saw the Vision and Vitality Team use their gifts to lead our Retreat, let me use them as an example. 
The Nominating Committee carefully choose people to call into service for the critical task of helping us discern where we are vital and what we are doing that can lead to new and renewed vision for this congregation.
They carefully picked those whom they believed fit the task at hand. You saw V&V work at the mid-November event and anymore us saw their gifts yesterday.  
in November, Their intentional choice of round tables facilitated our discussion and increased our sense of community. They made a simple lunch so we wouldn’t be distracted by too much food. Then each of them used their gifts for the best outcome for our whole congregation.

Mark facilitated that day. It was perfect. How many times have I seen Mark sit quiet then be able to say just the right thing at the right time. Certainly, this is a gift Mark has and as facilitator he is able to steer without dominating.

JoAnn - organized the room, kitchen and food that day so that everyone would feel most welcome and at ease. This is one of many gifts that JoAnn uses again and again. Not just to doing the work but also involving others in it, in meaningful ways. 
How many of us first felt a part of a congregation in the kitchen?
Yet her gifts also allowed her to be a great table facilitator. She knew when to share and when to encourage others to talk.

Suzanne had a different job that day. I know from our work together that she has the ability to take a plethora of ideas and distill them into 140 characters for the perfect Tweet. 
She has a real gift for listening and capturing key points in pictures and words. Then she “frames” what others see and hear after the event.
Suzanne documented what was said that day and those notes were key to the recommendations  V & V made to Congregational Council and later were turned into action items on yesterday's retreat.

Laura - has the amazing ability to stay quiet no matter WHAT is being said, then at just the right moment, speaks a calm and clear word. As a table facilitator, she used her gifts to help others listen creatively and respond with active listening.

Debbie - is a big picture organizer. She helped craft the discussion with key questions and process that allowed everyone to be heard while keeping the ‘work’ on task. Her own honest interest and passionate faith comes across in whatever she does. She continues to offer those gifts to us, her congregation. 

Those are just 5 people whose work has stood out in the last several months. We could sit here and do that for everyone with enough time. AND on Friday evening at retreat, we did worksheets that allowed us to name peoples’ gifts in a very creative way. 
I’m sure this information will be helpful to us as we begin working in function groups this year that include both Board member AND all of you. (That was a Plug: Be sure to fill out cards with areas of interest!)

ASK: What does it mean that spiritual gifts are given for the common good?? Is it as simple as it sounds?

You already know what this congregation is good at now. (And we will learn what other BOLD ideas God is calling us to.) 

From what you already know, tell me
ASK: what other gifts do we need to help us in our work, our “mission”? 
can you say what our mission is?

I believe the gifts God gives us is key to the mission God gives us.
A little while ago I asked how it feels when someone names your gifts? What did you say?

ASK: How can we name each other's gifts?

I encourage you to put Our congregation’s spiritual gifts on your prayer list. Pray for understanding your own gifts, pray for those you know, pray for us as a whole. and know that GOD has ALREADY given us all the gifts we need to do the missions God gives us.
All gifts are already here.. maybe our real job is unwrapping all the BIG, small and in-between gifts we already have. 

 Turn to each other now - if you can, name a gift you have seen in that person. You may not know the person near you well enough to do this, but observe, look at them right now, recall what you know, and name a gift. Look at them, what do you see? What have you noticed?
(Time: only 2 minutes)
Now turn to same person and say "I accept your ministry in the Body of Christ. Thank you."

This is just the beginning of teaching us to talk about our gifts. 
I trust that as we become more comfortable with Spiritual Gift language, we will be able to name all the gifts we see.

PLEASE stay EMPOWERED to name gifts when you see them. You may see something the individual has never noticed.

As we work together in new ways, 
within the functions of a church, 
seeking to follow God's call to A C O B, 
we WILL be given even more gifts of the Spirit.
God gives gifts that the community needs. (repeat)
God gives thegifts that the community needs
And if God gives them, we'd better use them!

While I don't have quotes this week, I rely on Feasting on The Word, Bartlett and Taylor, eds. for most inspiration. Pastor Shayne Petty can be heard on the DunkerPunksPodcast, found in podcast venues such as Stitcher, BeyondPod and on our website, arlingtoncob.org/DPP

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