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God Gives the Very Best Gifts

Nice GiftAre you a child of God? Then He has gifted you! There are no superhero saints who leap tall buildings in single bounds. Instead, there are believers who become super servants because they value the gifts God has given them. The Bible says,

It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.

– 1 Corinthians 12:11 (NLT)

Spiritual gifts are a subject that the church has ignored at times and sensationalized at others. For some reason, they’ve even become a source of unnecessary controversy. Here are the facts, as I interpret them from the New Testament…

  • Every believer has been gifted for ministry by the Holy Spirit.
  • A spiritual gift is not a talent that comes naturally but an ability that comes supernaturally.
  • We don’t choose our gift – our sovereign God does.
  • Our gifts are intended for the benefit of the whole body of Christ.
  • His gifts bring unity rather than division and peace rather than confusion.

How do you discover your spiritual gifts? There are tests and surveys, but most are flawed. The best way is to serve and get involved. Your giftedness will become apparent to you and others if you’re willing to love people with your gifts.

Don’t ignore your gifts, and don’t sensationalize your gifts. Instead, serve others and allow your giftedness to become clear as you do. And remember, God gives the very best gifts!

photo credit: minxlj

Defining the Favor of God

Kindness of StrangersThe phrase “favor of God” seems to be growing in popularity, and I’m glad. It’s a biblical phrase – a good phrase. But it’s often misunderstood. I once heard a guy talk about finding a parking spot right up front on a busy shopping day because of the “favor of God.” I pictured in my mind the pregnant lady with triplets who had to park a football field away because of the favor of God upon this Pastor.

A recent story from LarkNews (satire, by the way – don’t start an email rumor mill – it’s fake) highlights our western view of God’s favor…

Christian family blessed through others’ misfortune

NEW CASTLE, Del. — Sam and Victoria Gutman have always been smart shoppers, but they have gone to another level during the recent recession, buying automobiles, computers and more from distressed owners.

“God continues to bless us,” says Sam. “All things really do work for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. We’re living proof.”

Last week they bought a Lexus coupe from a man who lost his job — and pension — when his employer collapsed.

“He was weeping when he gave me the keys,” Sam says. “I got that car for a third of what it’s worth. Beautiful leather seats, new tires. God is so good.”

Victoria fondly recalls buying a bedroom suite from a couple going through an acrimonious divorce.

“That was one of our best deals yet,” she says. “They drove the price down just to spite each other. That lovely set adorns our bedroom and is a lasting testimony to God’s provision.”

Even the home they live in was purchased as a foreclosure after weeks of aggressive counter-offering.

“God helped us negotiate that one down until we were practically stealing it from them,” Victoria says. “It belonged to a guy who was laid off and had to get a job at McDonald’s. The tilework is unbelievable.”

“…God continues to bless.”

via LarkNews

Scripture, however, presents a different understanding of the favor of God, and it comes out in the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!… Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God!”

~ Luke 1:28-30 NLT

Mary and Joseph certainly didn’t enjoy rich circumstances. Situationally, they seemed anything but blessed. Joseph worked as a carpenter to earn the family’s daily bread. The trek to Bethlehem was challenging because of Mary’s pregnancy and we all know that there was found no room for them in the inn in such a small town. But she still enjoyed the favor of God like few in history had.

If the favor of God isn’t necessarily material or financial, then what is it? It’s simply the undeserved kindness of God. God, in His sovereignty and His good will toward His children, chooses at His own initiative to show undeserved kindness to people.

I don’t know why Mary was chosen for this role, but I do know that it wasn’t on the basis of how good she was. She, like the rest of us, was a sinner, saved by the grace of God. While I do believe we can live in such a way that we are more ready recipients of His favor, I still believe His favor is granted in His sovereignty, which makes it all the more beautiful when we see it.

We can identify God’s favor when we see three things happening…

  1. God has sovereignly chosen a recipient of His grace.
  2. God has blessed that recipient in one way or another.
  3. God has intentions that His blessing be shared with others.

I don’t see, in Scripture, God’s favor granted to people simply for their own enjoyment, but rather so that the lives of others can be changed and God can be glorified. Our enjoyment of His blessings brings Him pleasure and glory in the eyes of others.

God’s gracious kindness is His to give, and He gives it when, to whom, and how He chooses. But Scripture also invites all of us to be partakers – to come by faith and receive the gift of Jesus Christ, freely offered for all the world. In other words, while none of us can demand or expect God’s favor, we can claim it on the basis of grace – on the basis of the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

The favor of God isn’t about having more money or easier circumstances. It’s about enjoying the kindness of God, sovereignly, yet freely offered to all who will receive Jesus Christ and the life He has to offer.

What I Really Deserve

Nice FruitThis week, I’m staying in a nice hotel in Ocala, Florida, driving around in a rented Camaro, and eating fresh fruit – all sweet gifts from The Church at the Springs where Pastor Ron Sylvia and others are hosting Nuts & Bolts, a conference for church planters. I feel very blessed to be here. I don’t deserve it.

What I do deserve is the full weight of the wrath of God toward sin for my rebellion against God. I learned a huge lesson a long time ago from my friend, Bobby Conway. I walked into a nice hotel with Bobby where we were hosting him while he preached a revival at our church. He looked up at his beautiful surroundings and exclaimed, “I deserve hell, and I’m staying here?” That line deeply impacted me. I am not entitled to any of the good and gracious gifts of God.

I don’t deserve nice surroundings. I don’t deserve my awesome, loving wife. I don’t deserve my precious kids that make me smile daily. Life, for most of us, especially in America, is cushy. If we ever get the impression we deserve any of it, we’re sorely mistaken. Instead, we need to understand that each next breath is a gracious gift of a very forgiving God.

Not only have I been spared from ever seeing the wrath of God toward sin, I also get to enjoy the bounty of the goodness of God. Why? Because of what the prophet Isaiah foretold about Jesus: “But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.” (Isaiah 53:5 NLT)

I’m not saying at all that we should refuse to enjoy good things. That would demonstrate ingratitude toward the Creator and Savior of the world. What I am saying is that every time we enjoy even the smallest of gifts, our hearts should be reminded of the price Jesus paid on the cross so that we might enjoy the freedom and promise of eternal, abundant life.

The old phrase is “never forget where you came from.” That’s a good starting place, but I like the way the apostle Paul put it even better…

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world… All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else… But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!

~ Ephesians 2:1-5 NLT

Look around, and be thankful. You and I deserve hell, but the offer is freely on the table for anyone in all the earth to receive complete forgiveness of sin because of the price Jesus paid for us when He died on the cross. If you aren’t sure what to make of that, let’s talk.

How To Discover Your Spiritual Gifts

ShapedEvery believer in Jesus has been granted abilities that are empowered by the Holy Spirit. We are all born with various talents, but spiritual gifts are given to us when we become a Christian. The seeds of those gifts are often evident from birth, but the Holy Spirit empowers believers for ministry in supernatural ways.

In one sense, spiritual gifts are overrated. What I mean is that we often fail to examine the other aspects of how God has shaped us for His purposes. He has also given us passions, talents, a unique personality, and both positive and negative experiences from which to draw. In another sense, spiritual gifts are underrated in the sense that we allow our feelings of personal inadequacy to convince us that we couldn’t possibly be “gifted” even though the Scriptures explicitly state that we are.

Spiritual gifts are by no means a simple subject. There are plenty of beliefs and opinions about the subject. Cessationists believe that certain “sign gifts” (such as speaking in tongues) were for a season of the early church only, and now have ceased. Continuationists believe that all of the gifts named in the Bible continue today. Then there are different evaluations of the various “lists” of gifts named in Scripture.

Romans 12:6-8 1 Corinthians 12:29-30 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 Ephesians 4 1 Corinthians 12:28
prophecy  apostles  word of wisdom  apostles  apostles 
ministry  prophecy  word of knowledge  prophets  prophets 
teaching  teaching  faith  evangelists  teachers 
exhortation  miracles  healing  pastor-teacher  miracles 
giving  healing  miracles  healings 
ruling  tongues  prophecy  helping 
showing mercy  interpreting tongues  discerning of spirits  governing 
kinds of tongues  diverse tongues 
interpreting tongues 

Let me point out an important word of clarification about the above lists. I’ve included all of them for the sake of being thorough, but some of the “gifts,” such as apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher are actually gifted people given to the church, not gifts given to people.

Furthermore, one reason why cessationists and continuationists can’t get along is because we feel we have to number the lists and define an exact set of gifts by those named in Scripture. But in the passages mentioned, it doesn’t seem to me that the Apostle Paul was trying to nail down an exhaustive list but rather was offering up examples of gifts. In other words, there could certainly be other gifts not included in the New Testament verbiage.


By the way, have you "liked" Grace Hills Church on Facebook yet?


Why I Don’t Care for Spiritual Gifts Tests

Call them tests, surveys, or assessments. I’m not font of most of the existing diagnostic tools available to help people determine their gifts. I have several reasons why…

  • Spiritual gifts tests will always be written according to the particular viewpoint of the test creator, using the lists of gifts defined in the author’s mind as definitive.
  • Explanations and definitions of gifts vary from one test to the next.
  • Questions written for gift tests are written against the backdrop of the modern church context and current ministry trends, which change from age to age.
  • We tend to take tests according to what we’re thinking and feeling at the moment. I’ve taken a dozen of these tests over the years and the results change each time, depending on what I’m passionate about.
  • We tend to want perfect knowledge about perfect gifts described in God’s perfect word by submitting to rather imperfect, man-made assessments.
  • And the biggest reason of all… spiritual gifts alone present an incomplete picture of the particular ministry ability God has given to a beleiver.

Is there a better way? How can you discover your spiritual gifts and put them into action? How in the world did any believer ever serve God before the first spiritual gifts test was produced a few decades ago?

Study the Scripture

Dig into the passages mentioned above and read the contexts of the gifts named so that you’ll understand the purpose and scope of spiritual gifts. Also study how gifted people served. You’ll probably notice that most of the apostolic-era believers jumped in and started ministering without much mention of any process of discovering their gifts beforehand.

Look at the Bigger Picture – Your God-given SHAPE

The SHAPE acronym has been around for a while now, and I think it’s a highly valuable piece of evangelicalism. SHAPE is an acronym that summarizes five aspects of how God has wired us to serve. It stands for:

  • S – Spiritual Gifts.
  • H – Heart, which refers to our God-given passions and interests.
  • A – Abilities, which can often include non-spiritual, natural gifts.
  • P – Personality – the unique ways we think and relate to the world around us.
  • E – Experiences, both positive and negative, that provide us a context from which to empathize with and minister to others.

If you look at spiritual gifts alone, you’ll probably conclude that only those with the gift of teaching should be teaching the Bible to anyone. But when you look at the bigger picture, you’ll realize that someone with the gift of mercy can certainly teach others, from their personal experience, how to be more merciful.

In other words, gifts alone don’t determine what we can do for God in a fulfilling way.

Talk to Wise Believers

Often the best way to determine how we are shaped to serve is to ask other believers who have had an opportunity to observe our lives and who can usually affirm things about us that we may not realize ourselves. I also think we serve best alongside others in a mutually-sharpening, discipling relationship.

Before I joined the staff of Saddleback Church, I went through a “theological interview” with Erik Rees, author of S.H.A.P.E.: Finding and Fulfilling Your Unique Purpose for Life. In fifteen minutes, Erik was able to spot tendencies in my own heart and make accurate predictions about how I would feel in my ministry role six months later. He was right, and it was a positive learning experience.

Answer the Big “What If” Question

If you could do anything for God knowing that resources wouldn’t be a problem and with a guaranteed of success, what would it be? Usually how we answer that question can propel us in the right direction. Don’t stress about what your gift is, jump into something that appeals to you.

Jump In and Get Your Feet Wet

In other words, begin serving. Many churches make it difficult to get out of a particular ministry role once we’re in it, which unfortunately usually leads to burnout, frustration, and confusion. We should be able to serve in a variety of areas on a short term basis until we discover that place that really fits with who we are. And we’ll grow through this process of “trial and error” as we understand ourselves better.

Perhaps this is the crux of the issue. God has shaped you for significance and service. So launch out today, get started, and be flexible along the way allowing God to tweak your plans until you find that sweet, satisfying, kingdom-expanding and Christ-exalting niche for which you are divinely wired.

Graphic by Marian Trinidad via CreationSwap

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