Monday, July 17, 2006

God Doesn't Give Neckties or What I Learned at Barnabas, Part 2

We spent a restorative week up north at Barnabas from July 2 - July 7. The speakers during the week we attended were Mark Warren, a pastor in Bellingham, WA, and Carolyn Arends, a singer/songwriter from British Columbia. Their theme was "Understanding Spiritual Gifts."

Please keep this in mind when I write of Camp Barnabas: Barnabas was Paul's mentor Joses's nickname. It means "son of encouragement."

We spent four days at Barnabas looking at Spiritual gifting from every conceivable angle. Mark Warren came armed with handouts -- packets, really -- over twenty pages thick. There were diagrams and fill-in-the-blanks and group discussions. There was a 125-question survey, designed to help the believer zero in on his or her Spiritual gifts. We read Scripture in-depth, looking at what Paul and Peter wrote about the gifts of the Spirit. After these intensive four days, Mark Warren concluded with this statement:

I'm wondering what Paul, who wrote the most about Spritual gifting, would say about these sessions. What would he say about the survey we took? Well, I think he would be both amused and baffled by our striving. He might say, "Why are you worrying about these things? Go and live out the love of the Gospel in your faith communities, and your Spiritual gifting will become apparent."


And that was what I took away from four days. Again, man tries to gussy up the simplicity of God, and God sweeps away our frills and lace and brings us back to His sublime purity.

Mark Warren had spoken a lot about how the church should be a grand laboratory, wherein each congregant can experiment in various capacities, until they find their niche. He seemed to say that most church-goers do not feel comfortable trying different roles in the body to find their fit. I guess that I was unusually blessed by the Lord, because I have never felt confined or pigeon-holed in my church. Calvary Chapel's roots are in the hippie, Jesus Movement of the 1970's, and it is an open, casual body of love and acceptance. I have tried out service roles and teaching roles and exhortation roles in our church, and have been blessed in every one, though some have been more comfortable than others. I had never really worried about Spiritual gifting until I attended these sessions at Barnabas. I had never felt that God would put me into a trap or give me a Spiritual necktie every Christmas. If my parents never gave me a stone when I asked for bread, I always believed, ever since I had believed, that my Heavenly Father would do better than that. So, from the bliss of ignorance, I began to feel the burden of knowledge as we dug further into Spiritual gifting.

Goodness me, I began to worry, I have no overarching theme in my Christian life. I'm a Spiritual jack-of-all-trades, master of none, I thought. I was feeling pretty low; in fact, I was loath even to take the gifting survey. I did take it, and "scored" highly in hospitality and mercy, which was nice, but kind of boring. So, I went into the last session, feeling out-of-sorts and weird. Then, the goodness of the Lord shone through in Mark Warren's contemplation of Paul's reaction, and my heart sang.

Live out the love of the Gospel in your faith community, and your Spiritual gifting will become apparent.

Of course.

Why do we, who believe that the Lord knew the days of our lives when as yet there were none, think for a moment that He would let us languish outside the blessings of our gifts? Why wouldn't obedience to Him necessarily put us in the way of using our gifts? Obedience is simply living out the love we were given by the only Giver of good things. Why would we need to add to this by making man-oriented, hubris-inducing surveys and curricula to learn what should be apparent in a life of Christian love? Why pigeon-hole ourselves, when the Lord will love us enough to use our lives for His glory in many different capacities?

So, I'm back to bliss, except now it is bliss grounded in knowledge and freedom instead of mere ignorance. It was almost as if Mark Warren went through all the hoopla to get us to the point where we would accept in gratitude the simplest message. It is kind of like the relief of Christ's grace when you realize the impossibility of living in perfection God's law. Again and again, the Lord will strip it down to the bare essentials: His grace, His love, our need, our sin, our opportunity to know Him, our imperative to live His love and share His grace, our failure, our redemption -- the same themes, over and over and over. And yet, we still want to make Him complicated and, paradoxically, less overwhelming. We still want, at some level, the control that comes from surveys and rituals and extra-Biblical doctrines and seminars. That imagined control of making Him something that can be understood and categorized must frustrate (and amuse) Him to no end. As Clive wrote, "He's not a tame lion."

Live out the love of the Gospel in your faith community, and your Spiritual gifting will become apparent.


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