Today I am pleased to share a guest blog written by David Crawford. David is the talented music minister at Pleasant Grove UMC in Dalton. David has a great attitude and humble servant's heart. He loves his family and his church and serves the Lord faithfully.
Well it’s been about three weeks since Christmas. Everyone has had a chance to evaluate the gifts they received and make that decision. Are you going to ‘love it” or “leave it”? Yes, my wife watches Hilary and David, so occasionally I hear their catch phrase as I walk through the living room, don’t judge me. I’m sure we all got plenty of gifts that we had hoped for, and perhaps a few surprises that made hiding the puzzling look on our faces difficult as the revealing piece of wrapping paper was torn away from the present. Whether your presents took you to elation or consternation, gift giving is a big part of the Christmas season and that is in large part because of the wonderful gift God gave us. Romans 8:32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
When I read that I had to do a double take. Did Paul say give us ALL things? Because Steven Wright, the comedian has clearly pointed out, “You can’t have everything, where would you put it?” Of course I don’t believe it means that I, personally, will have all tangible items ever made or ever to be made and all intangible qualities of all of humanity; and I’m sure if we asked Bill Caylor if he had enough stuff, he’d probably say, “More than I deserve.” God gave His Son. That was way more than we deserved, it was and is a gift that we can never repay. So what else does God graciously give us? I’m glad you asked.
According to Paul, in his letter to the Romans, we are all given gifts, Romans 12:6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us... Now, it doesn’t say, “Some of you have been given gifts…” We have all been given gifts, and while we are all given gifts, I don’t believe we are given the same gifts. A pink Hello Kitty sweater might be great for 9 year old Samantha, but not so hot for 23 year old Jonathan. God is a lot better at giving gifts than we are, and the gifts we receive from God are a little different. They are spiritual gifts. I used to think of our spiritual gifts as our talents or skills, and until I started looking at this message today had not really thought much more about it. I thought, if you have a talent or skill you should use it for the realization of God’s kingdom here on earth, and I still believe that, but I found a section on the UMC website dedicated to spiritual gifts, and I found some interesting ideas that made me dive a little deeper into spiritual gifts.
According to the United Methodist Church’s Website, “our spiritual gifts are NOT our talents or skills, but the grace of God at work within us, empowering us to match our deep passion with the world’s deep needs.” As I read this and saw the word talents, my mind went to this story from Mathew 25: 14-30 (Watch it on YouTube). At first, I must admit, I had a lot of sympathy for the man given 1 talent. What can you do with 1 talent? It seemed a bit unfair, so I looked up what a talent was worth, and, as usual, when I delve deeper into the scriptures, I was surprised. Of course this story took place a long time ago, and naturally there is some disagreement on the value of a talent during this story’s time setting, but I found the lowest estimates to be from about $1000 to $30,00 (today’s value), while the larger estimates put the value between $300,000 and $500,000. The story began to take on a different light when I realized the value of one talent. If we look at this story as it is traditionally taught, we see a parallel between the gifts God gives us and the way we use them; and the investments made by the servants on behalf of their master. And when I discovered the value of the talent, it became sort of a “duh” moment. I mean, what was I thinking, is God going to send me out on His behalf with less than what I need to represent Him and His kingdom well? No. Always No. God will not send you out on His behalf ill equipped to represent Him and His kingdom. Doubt me? Let me drop a few names, like Esther, Noah, Moses, Mary, Joshua, Daniel, all 12 apostles, and you and me here today. All of these were called by God to further His kingdom, and all were given the necessary gifts to accomplish God’s goal.
And so the connection between the spiritual gifts and the talents in this parable became more clear to me, even the 1 talent, which I originally thought was not enough to make a fuss over, was more than enough to be invested in the will of the Master. Whatever spiritual gifts you have been given, they are more than enough to be further the kingdom of God here on earth.
So, I still had a question lingering in my mind, what about this statement that our skills and our talents are not spiritual gifts? According to the United Methodist Church’s Website, “our spiritual gifts are not our talents or skills, but the grace of God at work within us, empowering us to match our deep passion with the world’s deep needs.” What were they saying? All my life people have referred to skills and talents as gifts. A craftsman has the skill to build, an artist the skill to inspire, a writer the skill to communicate, musician the skill to speak through sound, engineers design, doctors heal, mothers and fathers nurture, and the list goes on. I think the distinction comes from the last two thirds of the statement. “...the grace of God at work within us, empowering us to match our deep passion with the world’s deep needs.” All humans have an aptitude for and eventual develop skills and talents. But not all humans have invited the Holy Spirit into their lives to work within them to match their skills and talents with the world’s deep needs. You might have the gift of administration, and you might manage a large company to great success making many people, including yourself, lot’s of money, but if you don’t have the grace of God working within you to take that skill and use it to meet the world’s deep needs, then you have simply exercised a survival skill, not used the spiritual gift of administration. This doesn’t mean you can’t use your skills and talents to survive and thrive here on earth. Of course you can and should, but what you do beyond that which is necessary to survive, what you do as a result of the conviction of the Holy Spirit, what you do as a response to the great gift of love and your own love for the giver of that gift, what you do with your skill or talent that addresses the world’s deep needs, that is the exercising of your spiritual gifts. That is the investment of the talents in the parable we heard earlier.
You have spiritual gifts. If you are not sure what they are, you might try taking the survey on the UMC website, or you could discuss this with pastor Chris, or a Christian brother or sister, definitely pray about it, and ask the the Holy Spirit to reveal your gifts to you and motivate you to use your skills and talents to meet the world’s deep needs.
Now, as I was typing this up I kept thinking that, “The world’s deep needs” seems like an ominous task, an impossible mission, a ridiculous goal for just me here at Pleasant Grove UMC. So start here. In the church, in your family, in the community. In case you didn’t know, PGUMC does exist in this world, as does Pleasant Grove, Varnell, Cohutta, Dawnville, Dalton, etc. And there are deep needs in our community. Start here. Make it manageable.
A friend of mine made a ceramic mug for me and gave it to me as a gift for Christmas a few years ago. I thanked her, and among the many other coffee vessels I carry around, naturally hers was one of them. One day as I was using the mug she gave me, she came up to me and said,”It always makes me feel so good when I see you drinking from the cup I made for you.” And it wasn’t in a, “I’m so good and wonderful, boastful braggish, manner”, it was genuine joy in realizing she had created something for me that I was enjoying and using. Well, God gave us spiritual gifts. Don’t you think it makes Him happy when we used the gifts He gave us? Can’t you see Him smiling as He witnesses us using the gifts He gave us, knowing that by doing so we will be broadening the kingdom of God on earth, thereby making even more people happy as they encounter the all saving grace of our merciful God? And I’ll tell you something else. That mug she made me, well, if I have failed to shave, as I often do, and if I sip from the mug at just the right place and in just the right angle, it’ll grab ahold to one of my pseudo beard hairs, and I won’t know it til I pull the mug away from my face. And yes, then it stings. But I still love using that mug! It was made for me, by someone who cared enough to create it and give it to me, and that makes me feel good! One of the greatest pleasure we get from receiving gifts is…..USING THE GIFT. How crazy is it that God gave us gifts, and using gifts makes us happy, and using the gifts God gave us makes Him happy too? Folks, this is almost too good to be true. You need to get in on this deal. Discover your gifts if you haven’t already. Use your gifts if you haven’t been. And find new and creative ways to keep using your gifts if you have been using them.
Almost every Sunday we say the Apostle’s Creed as our Affirmation Of Faith, and there is line in the Creed that reads: “There He shall judge the quick and the dead.” That means that Jesus is sitting at the right hand of God judging the quick, which is the living, which as far as I can tell is me and you right now, and the dead. When we go home to our Master and He asks us how we fared with the talents He gave us, will we be able to show a return on His investment. Or will hand Him a dust covered cloth filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit that have been buried in our bodies because we were afraid to use them.