FINDING YOUR SWEET SPOT

March 25, 2001

What do a tennis racket, a baseball bat, and a golf club have in common? (OVERHEAD UP)

They all have a sweet spot.  (OVERHEAD UP)

There is a place on them that allows you the opportunity to make the type of contact with the respective balls they are designed to hit that will allow them to go farther than if you were to hit off their ‘edge.’

Think about some of the leading tennis players today. Players like Venus and Serena Williams sisters, Andre Agassi, and Steffi Graf. While they have learned to use all areas of their racket head, I have no doubt that they know where the sweet spot is on their racket and are able to use that spot when they need to.

Then there is Tiger Woods. I love that Nike TV commercial where he stands there with his club and a golf ball and does this number (try bouncing the golf ball off the club.) Golf clubs have sweet spots on them. The bigger the spot, the better we can hit the ball.

Finally, in acknowledging my favorite sport, baseball, there is Sammy and Mark and Junior and a whole host of players who know how to use the sweet spot on their bats and really give opposing pitchers trouble with their hitting. One of my favorite sounds is the crack of a bat that has hit a baseball on its sweet spot. By the way what do you, or some else say, when that happens? “That was so sweet.”

One of my favorite entertainers is the late Victor Borge. It is very easy for me to start laughing when I see him on a TV special. His great sense of humor coupled with his great musical ability at the piano is evidenced to me of a person who found and stayed in his sweet spot. In fact, his quick wit is revealed in the conversation he had with someone who asked him if he played any other musical instruments. Borge answered, ‘Well, yes, I have another piano.”

Now I want us to reflect on what I have just said. Think about the people I have mentioned – Venus and Serena Williams, Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf, Tiger Woods, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGuire, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Victor Borge. How do we know about them? They are famous. They are celebrities. We watch them on TV, the ball field, the stage, and the tennis court. We do not interact with them. We do not play with them on the court, or on the field. We are passive participants in their lives. (OVERHEAD UP)

I say this to illustrate an important point – when it comes to living out our commitment to God, you and I have our own sweet spots, a place of service, of mission of maximum effectiveness in our lives that allows us to live like we were created to live. And that requires us to be active participants in the mission, in the cause, that God has called us to both congregationally and individually. (OVERHEAD UP)

There are two aspects, to sides of the coin; to this tool, this “sweet spot” of God we call talent -ability and giftedness. Ability is the quality of being able, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Other names for ability are power and skill.

Gifted is being defined as talented. Talented is defined as the natural endowments of a person. There is a difference between ability and giftedness.

Pro athletes are a case in point. I recently went to a Bulls game and was reminded of this issue when I looked up into the rafters of the United Center and saw all of the championship banners and the retired numbers hanging above me.

The one that drew my attention almost immediately was one with a big red 23 on it – Michael Jordan’s number. I have no doubt that Jordan influenced professional basketball in many ways.

But, if my memory serves me correctly, Michael Jordan had to work at making his high school basketball team. In fact, if I remember correctly, he was cut from the team his sophomore year. He had to practice and develop his skill to play. Would he be considered a gifted athlete? Some might think so and some may not.

But, there are gifted people in many different areas. They have this natural endowment that allows them to pick up a ball bat, a musical instrument, or a test in school, and just swing it, play it, or pass it without a lot of effort. Somewhat disgusting isn’t it?

During my college days, I moved to the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. and, as part of my education, spent a semester in an internship at a church.

The pastor of that church was one of these gifted persons. Not long after I got there we went to Southern Pennsylvania and skied.

Bob had only good eye, but great balance and ability. I never conquered the intermediate slope. It was one of those straight downhill runs. The bunny, or beginner slope, was iced up and I had trouble even with the ski lift on that one. Well by the end of the day, I had given up on becoming a member of the US Olympic ski team and Bob, he was on the advanced slopes, and this was the first time that he had snow skied.

One of the downsides to this issue of talents is that it creates a lot of tension in our relationships with people and Satan loves to get us all tied up in knots with jealousy and envy. And too often, way too often, we let our natural, God given talents and abilities, be the guidelines for our service in the church. That is not Biblical. Yes, I think that God expects us to use our natural talents and abilities to honor and obey Him, but not to the extent that they are the sole avenues of our service. “What do you mean Jim?”

God has given us to us a far more important means to serve Him. They are our tools of the trade for service to Christ within the church as well as through the church. They are called spiritual gifts and if we have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ then we have been given, by God, spiritual gifts to be used to serve God and help fulfill His mission and purpose. (OVERHEAD UP)

What are spiritual gifts? Here is one definition: “A significant ability given to each believer by the Holy Spirit, who thus equips and moves members of the church to serve in special ways for Christ and his kingdom.”

There are two passages of Scripture that I am referring us to this morning. Both are in the New Testament. One deals with Spiritual Gifts and the other with the issue of talents. Both are important in understanding God’s perspective on these tools that He has given to us to use for His mission and purpose.

But, before we read these passages, I want to again share with you what is current thinking by ‘born-again’ Christians regarding spiritual gifts. This is from the Barna Organization: (OVERHEAD UP)

Among born again adults, the percentage that say they have heard of spiritual gifts but do not believe God has given them one jumped from 4% in 1995 to 21% in 2000. The number who say they are not sure if they have a gift, or what it might be, has declined slightly, from 28% five years ago to 20% today. George Barna makes a very important statement about this decline that I will share in a few moments.

I Corinthians 12 is the classic passage on Spiritual gifts and why they are important. But, we will look at only the first 7 verses of that chapter.

(READ THE PASSAGE)

What is Paul saying in this passage?

In order to be all God wants us to be, we need to understand some clear and correct thinking about the ‘special abilities’ give to us about the Holy Spirit.

The city of Corinth was a very ‘modern’ city in that day and age. Some have likened it to San Francisco. It was a city that was filled with a diverse population of people from many different nationalities.

Its location made it a natural seaport and stopping point for people from around the Mediterranean world. A. M. Hunter is quoted as saying, “’to Corinthianize’ was polite Greek for ‘go to the devil.’”

Corinth was also a center for the worship of the goddess Aphrodite from which we get the word aphrodisiac that means ‘an agent which excites sexual desire.’ Of course, you can imagine what worship might have involved.

In other words, the backgrounds that Corinthian Christians brought to their Christian experience was a familiarity with unusual forms and expressions of worship. Not just sexual, but as we would say today, “New Age.”

Paul wants to correct the misunderstanding about these ‘special abilities’ or spiritual gifts by helping the church at Corinth because they were viewed with eyes that were still learning to live out the Christian faith by seeing things from that perspective.

Paul indicates that their originator, their source is the Holy Spirit, not some goddess or god. And he links this truth with the confessional truth that “Jesus is Lord.”

To confess Jesus is Lord was to go against what would crucify many Christians in that day and age. There was only one Lord in the opinion of that day, and that was Caesar. So these gifts were affirmation of who Jesus was – the lord, the leader of their lives.

Paul states another important claim to counter a popular attitude, one that is a part of our mindset these days. He says in verse 7 that they were to be used, “as a means of helping the entire church.”

To the Corinthian Church, given their cultural environment, the attitude of ‘how these gifts benefit me’ is a very important probability. The same holds true for us. We live in a very similar mindset – how can they help me? What’s in it for me? I want what so-and-so has? Why can’t I have it?

That is not their purpose – they are not given to us for some ‘spiritual high.’ They are to help us serve; help us advance God’s work. Paul reminds both his audience and us that our gifts are to be used to serve, not be served.

Finally, Paul uses two opposite words to acknowledge a tension and also help us deal with a very common issue regarding places of ministry in the church – jealousy and envy.

Those two words are: ‘different’ and ‘same’ as we read in verses 4 – 7.

We are given different gifts, different abilities, different talents, if you will, to serve the same God in the same church at the same time. As Paul clearly states in verse 11, “It is the one and only Holy Spirit who distributes these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.” (OVERHEAD UP)

The focus must be on serving and not jealousy or envy of another person’s giftedness. We need one another. God has given to every one of us, as we accept and follow Him, a gift or talent if you want to call it that. We are a team and we need the tool of spiritual gifts to help us walk with God and serve Him.

The second passage that I want to have us examine this morning is Luke 19:11-27. It is the story of the ten servants and what they did with what they had been given. I am not going to read the entire passage but just a few verses, 16, 18, and 20.

(READ THE VERSES)

Two of the servants take what they had been given and invest it and are rewarded for their actions. The third does not. He hides, keeps safe, what had been given to him and does nothing with it. He too, is rewarded for his actions – with a stern rebuke and having his talent, his gift taken away from him.

In this story, Jesus makes an important point toward the end of verse 26, “to those who use well what they have been given, even more will be given. But, to those who are unfaithful, even what little have will be taken away.” At first reading these words are harsh and seemingly uncaring.

But, I don’t read in this passage anything about failing through trying. I don’t ready in this passage anything about getting back up again and again and again in trying to use one’s talent to determine and use one’s spiritual gifts.

The failure comes when we make excuses and complain and fail to take responsibility to use what abilities and talents God has given us to use and also accept our place in the mission of this church to do what He has called us to do.

Every one of us here this morning has a sweet spot; every one of us here this morning has at least one talent that we need to use as part of God’s team – the church; every one of us here this morning has at least one spiritual gift that we need to discover and place in service.

Remember the statistics I gave a few moments ago?  This is what George Barna said about them “The perception that God has prepared others for special service to His kingdom but has left them out of the process is not just inaccurate, but harmful to the Church. Some believers feel an acute sense of disappointment that they have been spiritually discriminated against, while others use the perception as an excuse to let the gifted believers serve.

“Imagine what might happen if nearly half of all believers had a clear and firm conviction that God has given them a supernatural ability to serve Him in a specific manner. If more believers understood the nature and potential of that special empowerment, the global impact of the Christian body would be multiplied substantially. One of the functions of the local church is to help believers understand who they are in Christ, and how to live the Christian life more fully. Focusing on spiritual gifts – what they are, who has them, how to discover one’s giftedness, and how to use gifts most appropriately – could ignite a movement of service and influence unlike anything we have experienced during our lifetime.”

This past week I received an e-mail from a friend who has been sending daily devotional e-mails. He is a schoolteacher in a small town like ours and is tremendously respected by that community. This particular e-mail asks some important questions that I think we need to ask ourselves when it comes to the issue of not just stewardship of our time, our treasures, or our talents, but of our entire life:

Who are you? Where are you going in life? Our goals and our objectives of life stem from our ideal. Who we are and our purpose for living will characterize our ideal. By the virtue that we have been born as intelligent persons, with freedoms, abilities, self-will, ability to apply logic, values, choices, plans, etc., we cannot live without an ideal.

Our ideals will shape and characterize our entire lives. It tells more about who we really are, rather than the accomplishments that we have succeeded at. An ideal is something that we haven’t reached yet. We aspire for it. We grow towards it. It involves a definite plan for our lives. Three things will determine our ideal: 1) our thoughts, 2) our free time, and 3) how we spend our money.

Now, here is the important part:

If someone followed you around for a week in your life, what would they learn about your ideal? Would your ideal reflect the ideal of Christ? Either we will involve God in our ideal or we will live without Him. What would your answer be today?

When I walk through a Christian bookstore or get brochures or catalogs in the mail featuring the latest in Christian publishing what I see are a lot of books that deal with, quite frankly, how much I can get from God.

Now granted God wants to bless us. I have no doubt about that. But there is more to the Christian life than getting. Giving and serving are also important parts of our faith and life in God. Which leads me to ask a key question, (OVERHEAD UP) “How much of you does God have?”

We have been talking the past three weeks about stewardship. Stewardship is a very important practice for us. It helps us to live a life that is balanced, real, and purposeful. Stewardship is about our lives and how we choose to live them. (OVERHEAD UP)

How much of you does God have?  God needs more than our time, He needs more than our treasures, He needs more than our talents – He needs us.

The future of our not just our church but our faith rests in our hands. It requires us to make a decision about whether or not we are going to give ourselves totally and without reservation to God.

I have asked you to place your watches on the altar. Last week I challenged you to place your wallet on the altar. But today I challenge you to place . . . yourself on the altar. God gave people, you and me, the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. He did not tell our time, or treasure, or talent to go and fulfill those directives. He told us to do so.

Our money does not celebrate Easter; our time does not celebrate Christmas; our talents do not seek forgiveness. WE, human beings, celebrate those wonderful events. But we have been given these tools to fulfill a life of service to and faith in God because that is what stewardship is all about.

“Father, shape and make us into the person who You intended us to be. You fashioned us from the start in our mother’s womb. May we never be anyone that you did not intend for us to be. Use us to accomplish your purpose. As we do that, may we constantly recall the attributes of Jesus Christ Himself as we follow Him, our spiritual model. Amen”

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