Gifted for the Kingdom

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  1Corinthians 12:7

What’s your spiritual gift?

Everybody gets one. When they use it, God is revealed.  They are showing off the power of God living inside them.  We use our gifts not for our aggrandizement, but for the common good.  God gives us gifts to build His Kingdom.  He reveals Himself through us so that folks will be drawn to Him–  His goodness, His power, His love.

Ignorance is not an excuse. If you don’t know your gift, you need to deliberately spend some time in discernment.  The best way to figure out your gift is to get with some people who know you well (your Restoration small group is a great place to start) and ask them.  What do you notice about me?  When do I ‘come alive’?  What do I seem passionate about?  When do you notice Christ in me or at work through me? These answers are great catalysts for prayer.  Pray by yourself.  Pray with others.  Ask your Father in heaven:  how have you gifted me?  How do you manifest yourself through me?

Once you know, you can direct more of your energy towards opportunities to use that gift–  for the common good and the building of God’s Kingdom.

I’m not sure of my gift.  Can you help me get the conversation started?

Sure.

Read over the various ‘gift lists’ in the New Testament. Remember they aren’t intended to be exhaustive, just illustrative of the myriad ways God can manifest Himself.

  1. 1 Corinthians 12  (especially verses 8-11, 27-31)
  2. Romans 12 (specifically verses 3-8)

For some of you, taking a ‘spiritual gifts inventory’ might help prime the pump. These tests are useful to get you thinking, to give you categories to think about, and to give you data to bring to prayer and conversations with friends. They are only a tool and they are best used in conjunction with community discernment.  Here are a few that are on-line:

MinTools.com (Focusing primarily on Romans 12 gifts)

a little bit longer one from the ELCA

I hope the message and the tests inspire lots of prayer and great conversations.  That’s where the gift becomes clear.

so what if you fail?

I’m very sad this morning about this.

My first response:  ‘Are you kidding, me?’  Not because he is a particularly great guy or because he is a ‘Christian’.  I don’t know him.  And I’m enough out of the loop that I wouldn’t even recognize him on the street.

I’m just sad and frustrated that another family gets devastated and another marriage gets blown up.

He’s right about this:  MY COMFORT IS THAT GOD IS A GRACIOUS AND FORGIVING GOD TO THOSE WHO SINCERELY SEEK HIS FORGIVENESS AS I DO.

And he’s right about this:  BUT I AM SO ASHAMED TO HAVE HURT THOSE I LOVE.

I’m very disappointed.

On Sunday

I talked about sexual immorality.

Let me emphasize 3 things:

1.  Sexuality is hard no matter your demographic.  It is difficult to be outside of a marriage covenant and to have sexual desires (ie, to be single and to choose the discipline of self-denial).  It is difficult to be inside a marriage covenant and be faithful to one person forever and to grow deeper in intimacy and serving each other (see 1Cor 7: 1-5).  This is why it matters first and foremost what you believe about Jesus, the resurrection, and the Holy Spirit living in you.  We can only approach sexuality the way the Bible describes if we are fully convinced about what God has done in us and for us through His Son.  If you are not fully convinced, the behavior is merely rigid moralism.  But even with the Holy Spirit, the teaching of 1 Cor 6 is challenging (to be clear, it’s not confusing, not culturally mitigated, not obtuse– it’s challenging. It’s difficult.)  It really is hard to follow Jesus and it really is choosing to lay down your rights and it really is letting parts of you be put to death (pruned!) so that real life can happen.

2.  ALL of us have a ‘past’.  We all have stuff we have done that brings shame and condemnation. What do we do with our guilt and shame? There really is no condemnation for those who are in Christ.  Ps 32.5 says that God even forgives the ‘guilt’ of our sin.  He can wash away guilty feelings and shame.  Only God takes seriously the depth of our wrong.  He doesn’t flinch at what we have done.  And only God moves commensurately to provide forgiveness and new life.

3.  Many of us have a ‘present‘.  We have stuff we are doing, stuff we are mired in, that feels like it has a real hold on us.  We might like to stop it or do something differently, but we don’t know how.  We just feel despair.  In two weeks (May 30) we will look at Galatians 5 and think about the freedom that Christ brings for those who are in Him, for those who have the Spirit.

There is hope.

A little week-end reading

If you want to read ahead for Sunday and then small group, take a look at these links.

Reviewing a new biography of E. M. Forster

Time to throw out virginity and tactical nukes

Girls, hooking up, Taylor Swift, Glee, and true love

porn, devastation, it’s as bad as you think

And while you’re at it, friend me so you can see the conversation taking place on my facebook page.

Just trying to keep it real.  See you on Sunday.

Experiencing Life

On April 25, we thought about being Spiritually dead… this week we took off after life. Experiencing life! How does the Holy Spirit bring those who are dead to life, wake ’em up?

To get after that, I talked about the process of moving from death to life from three vantage points: the mechanical, the volitional, the experiential. For each category there was a prayer response and an image. Here they are:

  1. Mechanical:  It is the Holy Spirit that brings people to life so they can respond to the claims of Christ and His call on their life.  It is like a computer coming out of sleep mode–  the screen just goes from dark to an image, but lots of things are going on in the background that get it ready for input and instruction.  That’s what it is like when spiritually dead people wake up…  prayer point:  put a list of people next to your computer monitor and every time your computer ‘wakes’ up, pray that God would wake somebody up.  “God, please wake up____ to your goodness and love.”
  2. Volitional:  The Holy Spirit wakes us up, makes us alive, so that when the opportunity comes for us to hear words and see signs that point us to our need for a Savior in Jesus, we will respond.  It’s like turning on a light switch.  prayer poing:  ‘Name’ your light switches.  Every time you flip one on, pray that God connects the dots for someone who is curious and seeking.  Put the right words, the right signs at the right moment.
  3. Experiential:  2 NT images of coming into a relationship with God:  The Holy Spirit washes us and the Holy Spirit adopts us into God’s family.  prayer point:  random idea–  every time you brush your teeth, pray that you would ‘experience’ being spiritually washed:  forgiven, without guilt or shame, at peace with God.

One of the primary Holy Spirit gifts for those who are following Jesus is that we would EXPERIENCE Him–  that a relationship with God would not just be cognitive, or disciplined, but an experience of life.  We’ll talk a lot more about life in the Spirit in the weeks to come.

And for those who are over-achievers…  in the past 2 weeks, I have gone back to one of my favorite and most influenced by books:  Redemption Accomplished and Applied. Probably the most succinct and careful treatment of the process/order of salvation.  You should read it at some point in this lifetime.

April 25 Reflections

Restoration is taking the post-Easter, ‘getting ready for Pentecost’ season to study, explore, and engage the person of the Holy Spirit.  In order to provide a benchmark and introduction, I talked about what life WITHOUT the Spirit is like.  Here are my thoughts on what it means to be  Spiritually Dead.  (BTW, special thanks to Corrin Chambers who helped me with spanish…)

Here’s the point:

Spiritually dead people are only the product of their environment and sensibilities.  They are facing pain, trying to cope, coming up with life strategies, and using whatever behavior they can get away with.  Sometimes they are very successful.  Sometimes they are harmfully destructive.  Spiritually Dead People are completely blind [2Cor 4.4], unaware, clueless, and even hostile [John 10.31-33] towards spiritual things because the Spirit is not in them [1 Cor 2. 11,14]  This is so important because if we are spiritually alive, we often mistakenly expect people who are spiritually dead to behave, or think, or act the way we do.
And Here’s a Controversial Thought:
As your pastor, I want us to tread cautiously when we try to legislate or control people’s coping strategies…  We treat people like they are spiritually alive, when they are spiritually dead.  I’m not saying don’t work for justice.  I’m saying there is a reason there is a raging culture war about behavior:  it’s because Christians expect people who are dead to the things of God to understand or embrace the freedom, purity, wholeness that can ONLY come from the presence of the Spirit of God.  Attacking with scorn and derision the coping strategy that lets spiritually dead people face the pain of life will be fruitless…  Or maybe just bear the fruit of self-righteousness. May I humbly suggest that you pray? Ask the Holy Spirit to come on them and make them alive.
I got several really good questions (thanks @ajgibbs and @dg_rad) after the service.  Specifically, how should Spirit-filled people respond to the choices and coping strategies of spiritually-dead people?  What if their coping strategy affects my life?  These are extremely complex and I would love to hear your thoughts.  Listen to the sermon, talk about it with friends, push back in the comments below.  We’re wrestling with this together.

Keep Inviting.

Laurel just said:

“What are you doing? I LOVE GETTING INVITATIONS!”

And for the record I do too. The point of that illustration this morning was NOT– don’t invite the Hankes to anything. The point was that invitations demand a response– you can’t ignore them. You have to decide.

That’s a good thing. We all (me included) need to be making choices with our time that reflect what we value most. Sometimes, it is hard to choose between 2 great things.

So keep inviting us to stuff. We love being in your life. Invitations are a way God helps me stay dependent on Him…

Weekend Wrap-up

What a great weekend! We had lots of people shoveling snow from Quincy Street to the backyard of the church. We had a strong team moving Erin to her new place. We had a group of people praying for the needs and opportunities that are outside our church. We tried our new parking plan. (Many thanks to everyone who is beginning to walk from the Washington-Lee Parking Garage).

During Lent, I will be preaching through 6 of Jesus’ parables about Life in the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is one that is already but not yet. We get tastes of what it is like that mostly seem to fuel anticipation and longing for when it comes in its fullness. We will see during this series that Life in the Kingdom can be captured in 11 words:

Scatter Widely. Expect Rejection. Love Anyway. Pray Like Crazy. Anticipate Grace.

You can hear the first sermon here.

When Jesus tells the parable of the soils, he is explaining why he tells parables and what effect His Words have on those who hear them.  I said,

Parables seem like easy stories to understand–  and in many ways they were.  But Jesus says, I don’t tell them because they are easy.  I use parables to talk about my Kingdom because I don’t want people to get it.  Quoting from the prophet Isaiah, “I want them to see but not see and hear but not understand…”  Jesus tells parables to create a barrier between those on the inside and those on the outside.  It’s a permeable barrier, but it separates those who get the secrets of the Kingdom and those who just parables.

The passage Jesus quotes is this:  Isaiah 6: 9-10  God said to Isaiah, “Go, and say to this people:   “‘Keep on hearing,  but do not understand;   keep on seeing,  but do not perceive.’  Make the heart of this people  dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes;    lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

Isaiah asks the logical next question…  how long do I have to do this, Lord? This doesn’t sound very fun.  God says, “Until the cities are gone and everyone has moved away.”  Isaiah’s task was to preach to a people who would never respond, who would ignore him, and ultimately completely turn away.  What a hard calling!

But this was to prepare the way for the Messiah, to test people’s hearts, to create in them longing for redemption and restoration.  Because Isaiah also foretold of One who would come to bring Good News, who would bind up the brokenhearted, and proclaim liberty to the captive. (Isaiah 61)

Jesus used parables to probe people’s hearts.  You see, you can be curious about God or Jesus and never really get to a place where you yield. Jesus wanted people who wanted Him, not just the cool tricks He could do or the clever way He had with words.  Parables got people curious.  Parables were also a means for people to respond and become convinced.  My hope is that during this season, we would be people who take the words we hear and ‘hold them fast in an honest and good heart.’

Lets peer forward to see the King.

Do you fast?


Do you fast?

We will be talking about another pillar of Islam this week: the fast. Jesus had several things to say about fasting and whether it should be a spiritual practice for those who follow Him.  Richard Foster has been a helpful instructor to me as I think about spiritual formation.  Here is insightful instruction from his book, The Celebration of Discipline.


One issue that understandably concerns many people is whether or not Scripture makes fasting obligatory upon all Christians…  One of the most helpful passages is Jesus’ startling teaching on this in the Sermon on the Mount.

Two factors bear directly on the issue at hand.  First, his teaching on fasting is directly in the context of his teaching on giving and praying.  It is as if there is an almost unconscious assumption that giving, praying, and fasting are all part of Christian devotion.  We have no more reason to exclude fasting from the teaching than we do giving or praying.  Second, Jesus states, “When you fast…” (Matt 6:16).  He seems to make the assumption that people will fast, and is giving instruction on how to do it properly.

Having said this, however, we must realize that these words of Jesus do not constitute a command.  Jesus was giving instruction on the proper exercise of a common practice of his day.  He did not speak a work about whether it was a right practice or if it should be continued.  So, although Jesus does not say “If you fast,” neither does he say “You must fast.”  His word is, very simply, “when you fast.”

The other helpful passage from Jesus about fasting is the one we are talking about on Sunday.  Come wrestle through it with us.

Do you fast?

Why not? For what end?

Deeper thoughts on the Trinity

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Credit: http://janknegt.eccwireless.com/

We have begun our 5 week series on The Gospel and Islam.  Yesterday I gave a lot of background on Islam and talked about Muslim and Christian understanding of the Trinity.  Specifically what is the difference that Jesus makes.  I found this video series from The Buxton Initiative really helpful.  I’ll stick it at the bottom of the post.  The speakers are insightful, charitable, and passionate about truth.  Thank you Buxton for posting this!!

I hope you are in a small group this trimester wrestling with Scripture, getting to know people, and enjoying the opportunity to live life with others.  Say no to isolation!!

I hope you got a copy of this free book on Sunday. We gave a copy to every person who came.  If we ran out before you got yours, let us know in the comments and we’ll order another round.  I love how the author talks about Jesus.  He gives us a picture of how we should talk about our faith with anybody–  with charity, sincerity, love…

Loved singing God of this City. (Thanks Matt and Bethany)  “Greater things have yet to come and greater things are still to be done in this city.” This so vividly captures my heart and passion for what we are building at Restoration.  Hope you come along for the ride.

Buxton Initiative Videos on the Trinity

The Hedging of the Bets

Picture 21

We are getting ready to start a 5 week series on The Gospel and Islam. Here are all of my caveats and disclaimers…

  1. I am not an Islamic scholar. I am a pastor and a Christian leader. I do not for a second propose that I fully understand or can even grasp all the geo-political consequences of the profound tension between the Abrahamic faiths. My focus is not geo-political. My focus is how Muslims and Christians answer this question: How can I be close to God?
  2. Christianity is personal but not private. This truth is absolutely fundamental to understanding Jesus, the mission of the church, and the existence of Restoration. We believe that Christianity has a mandated place in the marketplace of ideas. We must lovingly, faithfully, reasonably, passionately engage our neighbors, co-workers, friends, and family with the fundamental questions of life. This series is one more shot at doing just that.
  3. There are profound differences in religions, world-views, and faith traditions. This might seem obvious, but I want to be clear that although Islam and Christianity often talk about similar ideas and practice, they always end at different conclusions about who God is. I am very comfortable with that difference. I am not seeking to reconcile those differences. In fact, my goal is to lovingly and graciously highlight those differences so that people can make an informed choice about to whom they will give their life and allegiance.
  4. Talking monolithically about a world religion is fraught with opportunities for misunderstanding. Yep, that’s right.
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