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Free Gifts!
August 22, 1993

ROMANS 12:1-8

Step right up and get your free gifts! No, you don't have to listen to a presentation on time-shares. No, you don't have to send in money at the end of a 15 or 30-day period. No, these gifts are free with only one stipulation. Use them or lose them. Develop them, nurture them, and use them to do God's work. The gifts are given to you, not for your own pleasure and enjoyment, but for God's glory and the ministry of the church. However, using the gifts does bring rewards of accomplishment, fulfillment, and fun!

Do you sometimes feel empty, unfulfilled, under utilized, lost, bewildered? Do you sometimes wonder why you are here on this earth, and what you are called to do? Do you wonder who you are, and for what purpose God put you here at this time and in this place? If so, you probably have not opened your gift. Or, if you did, did you let someone stifle it, suppress it? Perhaps someone laughed. Perhaps someone told you your gift was inappropriate in our church. The Holy Spirit is waiting to give you a gift, a free gift, a gift to use for God's glory and the ministry of our church.

I'm not talking about fruits of the Spirit. Fruits of the Spirit are different from gifts of the Spirit. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul listed fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When you are blessed by the Holy Spirit, when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, fruits of the Spirit become increasingly evident in your life. Fruits of the Holy Spirit are given to all Christians as they grow in their walk with Christ.

But, spiritual gifts, gifts of the Holy Spirit, are different from fruits of the Spirit. Gifts of the Holy Spirit are uniquely and specially bestowed. Your gift is not necessarily my gift, and my gift is unique to me. Because each person receives a unique gift, everyone's gifts are needed in the body of Christ. Paul liked to compare the church with a body. As the body has many parts, so the church has many members. As the body needs each part to function, so the church needs each member to function, each member to use his/her gift and do ministry. When you do not open, nurture and use your gift, the church loses part of its functioning; the church is crippled, handicapped.

What are some gifts of the Holy Spirit? As I read these, apply them to yourself. Do some of these jump out at you and say, "Hey, he's talking to me!" Paul listed these gifts in the Scripture lesson read this morning, Romans 12:6-8:

Prophecy: prophecy in the Bible is not usually foretelling, but forthtelling; the gift of wisdom and discernment, the gift of telling it like it is, the gift of speaking the truth, the gift of seeing down the road and projecting what the consequences of a particular decision or action will be.

Ministry: the gift of ministering, counseling, spreading love, the gift of taking flowers and cookies, and praying with people and for people

Teaching: the gift of being able to help others learn for themselves, the gift of enabling others to grow in the faith by conducting classes formally, or informally leading Bible studies.

Exhortation: an old word which means to encourage, the gift of encouraging others, praising, affirming, giving strokes and thanks, the gift of nudging, "Sure, you can do that; you can handle that."

Generous giving: some have been given more financial resources than others, so they can give more. But, whatever we have been given, the gift of generously giving to God and to his church is a blessing most of us can enjoy. Most of us here are financially blessed, and to stifle our giving is to stifle God's gifts.

Leading: leading in diligence, says Paul; the gift of leading others, chairing committees, organizing projects, getting others together to do a task.

Compassion: the gift of showing compassion and cheerfulness, the gift of feeling the pain of others, sharing their journey, and giving them strength and hope.

Aren't these wonderful gifts! The church needs these gifts. Which gift is yours to share with the rest of us? Or, didn't any of these speak to you? There are more. In 1 Corinthians 12:9-10, Paul lists some more spiritual gifts. We have been taught by our timid denomination to cover up these gifts, hide them under a bushel! Listen to these gifts: Healing, working of miracles, and speaking in tongues.

Have you opened any of those gifts lately? If you did, you probably closed the box quickly! You might be a closet healer, or a closet miracle worker, or a closet speaker in tongues! Mainstream denominations have relegated these unique spiritual gifts to the charismatic, Pentecostal denominations, where they have all the fun! The dramatic show stoppers like healing, prophesying and tongues are looked at with suspicion, ridicule, and disbelief by many churches. To our common loss, I might add. When we deny them and discount them, we are limiting the richness of our common experience.

There are other gifts the Holy Spirit bestows to glorify God and enrich the ministry of the church There are other parts of the body which the church needs in order to function, but I've given enough for you to stretch your mind and begin to examine yourself to see which gifts the Holy Spirit has given you. How can you discover what is your gift? If you are sincere about finding who you are and why you are here, if you are sincere about finding a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment, here are some steps:

1) Pray. Ask God to give you the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Ask God to show you the gifts you have been given. Open yourself to the Holy Spirit. Don't shrivel up. Don't play the self-pity game, and look down on yourself. Don't put yourself down and claim you are not much good, and don't have any talents. Rubbish! Every person is valuable to God, and every person was put here to be a blessing. Dare to pray. A warning: prayer is dangerous. Asking God for the Holy Spirit, asking God for a gift of the Holy Spirit is dangerous! Who knows where it may lead; but, isn't it exciting!

2) Explore the possibilities, experiment. If one of the gifts I mentioned intrigues you, try it. Experiment in small ways. Get free. Quit being embarrassed or shy. Unstifle! I invented a wonderful word. It applies to many folks who have been stifled, squelched. A little boy went to school. He was so excited to go to school; nervous too, but excited.

One morning the teacher said, "Today we are going to make a picture."

"Good," thought the little boy. He liked to make pictures. He could draw lions, tigers, trains and boats. He took out his crayons and began to draw.

But the teacher said, "Wait." She waited until everyone looked ready. "Now," she said, "we are going to make flowers."

"Good," thought the little boy, "I like to make flowers!" And he began to make beautiful flowers--orange, pink, blue.

But the teacher said, "Wait." She went to the blackboard and drew a red flower with a green stem. "There, now you may begin."

The little guy looked at the teacher's flower. He liked his better, but he didn't say anything. He just turned the paper over and made a red flower with a green stem. Soon the little boy learned to wait and watch and make things just like the teacher's. And pretty soon he didn't make things of his own anymore.

Then it happened that the little boy and his family moved to another city, and the boy went to a new school. On the very first day, the teacher said, "Today we are going to make a picture." The little boy waited for the teacher to tell him what to do; but the teacher didn't say anything, she just walked around the room. When she came to him, she said, "Don't you want to make a picture?"

"Yes," said the boy, "what are we going to make?"

"Well, I don't know until you make it," said the teacher.

"How should I make it?"

"Why, any way you like!"

"And any color?"

"Any color," said the teacher. "Why, wouldn't it be boring if everyone made the same thing in the same color?"

So, the little boy made a flower. It was red with a green stem.

I imagine we all have been stifled at some time in our lives. Some of you have been so stifled you doubt whether you have any special, unique gifts. Some teachers stifle creativity. Some parents stifle individuality. Some churches stifle expression; they seem to think Christians should think alike, act alike, talk alike, look alike, and smell alike! Paul says a church is where we share our unique gifts, where we act on our dreams, and put our vivid flowers in a bouquet together, where the orange, purple, pink blossoms display the glory of God. Experiment, try out a gift. See if you have a talent for it.

3) Examine your feelings. As you experiment with a gift, and it is your gift, you will soon say, "This feels right." If you are not excited to continue with the experiment, it is probably not your gift.

4) Evaluate your effectiveness. If the gift is yours, you will soon be able to tell by the results. Results are gratifying. Don't expect necessarily earth shaking, world changing results, but you will know if you are effective.

5) Seek feedback from the church, seek feedback from other members of the body. Ask people you respect to evaluate your experiment. If you have the gift, they will recognize it and affirm it. A young man desperately wanted to be a minister. His church had reservations. When he was interviewed by the Staff-Parish Relations Committee, which is the first step in the process of becoming a United Methodist minister, he told the committee that one day he saw clouds in the sky form three letters, G P C, which he knew meant "Go Preach Christ." One wise farmer on the committee, one who had the gifts of prophecy and discernment, said, "Son, how do you know the letters don't mean Go Plow Corn? Seek feedback.

The Holy Spirit is waiting to give you gifts, gifts to glorify God, gifts that our church needs in order to be a whole body.

© 1993 Douglas I. Norris