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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Help My Unbelief

"I believe; help my unbelief!" - Mark 9:24

A father cries out to Jesus to cure his child. He's not a perfect father. He's not a perfect person of faith. He doubts. He questions. He worries. He's not completely sure about Jesus. He just knows that his son needs help.

Everyone has doubts, questions, and worries. No one is completely sure about Jesus. We hope. We pray. Yet, we're afraid that our lack of total belief poisons the water and turns God against us. So not only do we have unbelief, we torture ourselves for having it. This is a vicious spiral that makes us secretly resentful of God. People will go to great lengths to hide their resentment.

The father in this story knows he believes. He also knows he has unbelief. He confesses that he has both belief and unbelief at the same time.

People are complicated. All of us hold conflicting, contradicting feelings. We feel hate, we feel love, often at the same time toward the same person. That doesn't make us hypocrites; it makes us human. We make ourselves hypocrites when we pretend one feeling or another doesn't exist, when we proclaim it doesn't, but we know in our hearts it does.

Take a few moments to sit quietly with your belief and your unbelief. What unbelief makes you uncomfortable? What belief comforts you? Ask God to help you sort them out. Listen to God's silent acceptance. Be amazed that you don't hear God's harsh judgment thundering. Like the father in the story, confess your belief, pray for your unbelief, and find healing.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Everybody's An Expert

2013-09-15 Everybody's An Expert

1 Corinthians 12:1-11
1 Corinthians 12:12-31


Everybody's an expert. 
How about you?
What are *you* an expert at?

Every now and then, I'll get asked to help with math homework. 
Usually at the beginning of the year. 
"Maybe Dad got smarter over summer." 
Hope springs eternal. 
After the first few weeks of school, I find my math assistance isn't needed so much. 
So far I'm still useful with Language Arts, but I know the clock is ticking. 

How about you? Are you an expert on something?
Of course you are.
Everybody's an expert on *something*. 

For instance, if you listen to SportsTalk radio, you know an amazing number of people are experts on Tennessee football. 

If you're a teenager, you know there's this infinite number of old people who are experts on every decision you make.

If you're driving and you innocently turn the wrong way down a very short one-way street, there's always an expert, maybe in another car, maybe in the seat next to you, with strong, expert advice on what you should do with your license.

It's easy to be an expert.
All it takes is a strongly held opinion and a mouth.
Or the Internet.
Doesn't matter if it's politics, or religion, or other people's children.
On a gut level, we all are experts.
In our own minds, our opinions are special.
Maybe you're special at more than one thing.
You're hetero-special.
We operate on the assumption that our opinions are right until proven otherwise.
And maybe not even then.

Everybody's an expert.
But - says the Bible - some people have spiritual gifts.
What's the difference?
If everybody's an expert, why are some people "gifted"?
Is it because the hand of God has blessed them?
"Thou shalt be able to run a post pattern faster than any defender."
Are some people gifted because God made them stronger, better, faster, smarter, prettier, handsome-er? Graceful-er? 
(That Language Arts expertise is fading by the second.)

What's the difference between your own personal expertise and a spiritual gift from God? How can you tell?


Paul's writing this letter to the church in Corinth.
On the surface, the Apostle Paul sounds so nice and cheerful and inclusive. 
Everybody's got a gift, he says. 
A gift from *God*.

Some are wise. 
Some are book smart. 
Some have great faith. 
Some are healers. 
Some can work miracles. 
Some can speak in tongues (obviously not Presbyterians).
All God's children got a place in the choir. 
(Isn't that true, Brother Hood?) 

It sounds like this is the kind of church that spontaneously bursts into group hugs and "Kum By Yah."
It's so NICE.

But you can also turn it around. 
If you read more of the letter, and if you read between the lines you might wonder why Paul's even bringing the subject up. 
Here's why.

The church in Corinth wasn't a super-nifty place where everybody got their own appreciation day. 
Corinth was not a *nice* church. 
Corinth was a **real** church. 
Churches are made of people and if you're an expert on people you know all of them will eventually do something stupid.
Churches are made of people and all churches will eventually disappoint you if you stick around long enough.
What was disappointing Paul about the church of Corinth was that these people really thought they were experts.
These people were more competitive than the SEC 
and about as self-aware as Lance Armstrong. 
"My gifts are better." "No, my gifts are better."
Their internal competition to be bigger, faster, stronger in the name of Jesus was making them dopey.

These self-proclaimed experts were tearing their church apart because you know what you get when you have a bunch of experts around a table: Cable TV news. 
It's not enriching; it's just loud.

Paul, in a very diplomatic way, says, "Yes! You're all experts, and that's good. But I will show you a more excellent way."

The excellent way is what we can do to turn almost any expertise into a gift.


I don't know if they still do this kind of thing in Science class. 
But "when I was a boy," 
(and I know that's the signal for anyone under 30 to stop listening, but hang on)…
When I was in Science class, we made models of the atom with styrofoam balls and coat hangers. 

"Here's the nucleus. 
"And here are the electrons circling like planets around the sun." 
Anyone else have to make those models? 
(Maybe that was a just a West Virginia thing.)

Anyway, the guy who came up with that model of the atom was Niels Bohr (really unfortunate last name). 
Bohr was a Nobel prize-winning physicist who changed the way people see the world. 
If Bohr's school had a Gifted and Talented Program, he would have been the #1 Gifted and Talented little nerd child. 

After the Nobel Prize, someone asked Bohr what it meant to be an expert, and he said this, which I love very much: 
He said, "An expert is a person who has made [every possible mistake] in a very narrow field."

And that, I think, is the nucleus of any spiritual gift. 
It's not that the hand of God has anointed you as better and shinier. 
It's that your experience - your mistakes and failures as well as your successes - has stripped away your illusions.

Anybody with an opinion can *think* she's an expert. 
Anyone with a mouth can *say* he's an expert. 
I'm siding with the Nobel Prize winner who remembers the humility of his mistakes. 
The expertise of experience over opinion.

Think of our failures are the seeds. 
What turns that hard-won expertise into a blooming spiritual gift?

Paul says, 

"Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone."

And then he says this: "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit  - [wait for it] - for the common good."

"…for the common good."

You know the old saying, "Opinions are like noses (or other parts of the body I can't say in church); Everybody has one."

If the difference between opinion and expert is the humility of mistakes, then the difference between expertise and a gift is the giving. 
But not just the giving, because anyone can hand out advice. 
The difference is in the giving… for the common good.

If your expertise isn't building up your community, if your knowledge isn't lifting up your family or your church, it isn't a spiritual gift. 
Not yet, at least. 
A gift becomes a gift when it's given, in humility, in hope, and - as Paul will say - in love. 

Without love, your personal Gifted and Talented program is just a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 
You're a hand, but not a helping hand. 
You're a leg, but not a leg up. 
You're a heart, but not a beat. 
Until whatever expertise you have is given for the common good, it's not a spiritual gift, not yet.

Maybe you're just naturally gifted in some area. 
You have a beautiful singing voice, or you're good with math, or you bake the world's most delicious barbecue. 
Good for you. 
You have a gift. 
It turns into a spiritual gift the second you give it away, for the common good.

The good news is, all it takes is the giving.

Everybody's an expert. 
Be just exceptional enough to turn your expertise into a spiritual gift that builds up the common good.


In a minute we're going to be ordaining and installing elders. 
These are people you elected to serve on session. 
Personally, I think they're all very gifted servants of Christ. 
But that's not the point. 
I'd like to think you chose them, not because they're special, but because they've got the courage and humility to take their personal expertise and turn it into a gift. 
A gift for our church, to help the church be an even better gift for the world.

Everybody's an expert. 
But not everybody turns it into a gift. 
All it takes is the giving.