Most of the warmup jokes that Joel offers for his sermons are fairly standard ones that have been around a while. For whatever reason, though, the one from this sermon warrants a bit of applause:
I heard about these three guys that died and went to heaven - a Baptist, a Catholic, and a Charismatic. They died and went to heaven and upon arrival, St. Peter greeted them and said "Guys, I'm sorry, but your living quarters aren't available yet." He couldn't quite figure out what to do, so Peter called Satan up and asked if he could keep them for a while. Satan reluctantly agreed. A few hours later, Satan called back and said "Peter, you gotta come get these guys. The Catholic man is forgiving everybody. The Baptist man is saving everybody. And the Charismatic has already raised enough money for air conditioning."
As a slightly belated tribute to the Azusa Street Revival's 100th Anniversary, I suppose that serves as my nod to the movement.
Now, the sermon that followed was definitely one that soaked in deeply. The title, "Stir Up the Gift," is one that ties a bit more to a couple of bedrock sermons of Lisa's and Paul's that I keep coming back to (though Paul's is far more recent). Taken together, they all refer to how we recognize (Lisa), commit (Paul) and now motivate (Joel) the spiritual gifts within us. I could likely just as well transcribe the entire sermon and let it stand on it's own, but in the spirit of brevity, I'll offer the intro of the sermon as the strongest excerpt:
I want to talk to you tonight about stirring up the gift that's on the inside. Every one of you is full of incredible potential. God has put seeds of greatness in you. He's given you dreams and desires. You have something to offer that nobody else has. But too often, we allow disappointments, adversities, setbacks to push these things down. If we're not careful, we find that we're not pressing forward anymore. We're not stretching. We're not believing to rise any higher.
It's interesting, I've seen some of the most gifted, talented people around go through some of the most negative, unfortunate experiences - divorce, abuse, neglect, tragedy. It's easy to think "Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve any of this?" Well, here's what it is. It's because the Enemy knows what's on the inside of you. He knows what you're carrying. He's going to do everything he can to keep that seed from taking root. He doesn't want your gifts and talents to come out. He doesn't want you to accomplish your dreams. He wants us to just drag around living a very average, mediocre life.
But understand God did not create any person without putting something extremely valuable on the inside. And life may have tried to push you down through disappointment, through unfair situations, through divorce. In the natural, you may not see how you could ever rise higher, how you could ever be happy, how you could ever get out of debt. But you need to dig your heels in and say "No, I know what's on the inside of me. I am a child of the most high God. I am full of can do power. I'm going to rise up and become everything that God's created me to be.
See, Paul told Timothy to stir up the gift. You've got to stir up your gifts, stir up your talents, stir up your potential, stir up your dreams, It's up to you. Some of you, these dreams, desires, gifts, and talents - they are pressed down beneath discouragement and oppression, beneath negative voices - people telling you that you can't, beneath failure; beneath weaknesses. They're pressed down. But the good news is that their still in there. Now you've got to do your part and start digging them out.
The Scripture reference to this was Isaiah 43:19:
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the desert
and streams in the wasteland.
I think the trio of sermons offered now make a great set for anyone to listen to and dwell on. Joel's basically adds to it the motivation to keep our gifts, our talents, our God-given dreams energized, motivated, and active in our lives. Knowing our place in the Body of Christ is a key first step. Making a living sacrifice of our lives is the natural outgrowth of that. But inevitably, our efforts are met with challenges that press down on those gifts, talents, and dreams. Making an active effort to keep those dreams alive is an ongoing struggle.
Joel included in this sermon one of my favorite people from the Bible - Caleb. The root of Caleb's story is told in Numbers 13 & 14. Without retelling the whole darned thing, I'll capsulize it as a story of a man who took God at his word that the Israelites would be given the land of Canaan. But after the dream had been sidetracked by doubters among them, Caleb followed through on realizing the dream 40 years after God's promise. That's obviously a lot of time to keep a dream stirred up, to maintain faith in a promise, and to be bold enough to act on it in one's old age. From the results, it obviously worked in Caleb's case.
As I was killing time before service Saturday night (for some reason, the bookstore was shuttered till about 6pm), I wrote out the following from Romans 12:
1Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Cordell, in our Compass Class, gave a wonderful story from his family history (in a far far northern state). It turned out there was a family legend of every male family member walking on water for his 18th birthday. One family member takes this to heart and tries it, nearly dying in the process since he didn't know how to swim. Apparently, he also didn't know that his other brothers were born in the month of January and that his was in July - thereby giving a vastly different context to the tradition. Cordell's point was an excellent example of differentiating between faith, foolishness, and presumption.
Being transformed by the renewing of our minds, we're told in Romans, allows us to better test and approve what God's will is for us - as opposed to just taking things as offered by our foolish mankind ways. None of that indicates that once we're born again, we automatically realize our spiritual gifts, plug them in neatly with the Body of Christ, and chug along forever and a day. There's a growth process at work - in the discovery, testing, and execution mode. I was born again before I ever even saw myself devoting as much time to writing as I do today. So there's no way I might have seen this blog as one way that I might fit my own gifts within the Body of Christ. Even as I've developed as a writer (of whatever capacity blogging constitutes "being a writer"), I've struggled with how to fit in discussions of faith and my relationship with Jesus Christ. There's a side of anyone that says this should be kept personal. And there are still moments to this day where I find myself struggling over whether to blog something publicly or just to privately journal it. It'd be a lot easier, I suppose, if there was just a flash of light and then everything made perfectly clear sense. But then, there'd be nothing to kept stirred up ... would there?