Sunday February 7, 2021  Getting into S.H.A.P.E.

          We’re in that season of the church between Christmas and Lent known as Epiphany.  Epiphany that fancy Greek word meaning “revelation,” specifically a time where our scriptures focus on how Jesus reveals he is God’s son. As he does that through his baptism at the Jordan, his preaching to 5,000, or teaching in the synagogue, or healing, or performing miracles of feeding 5,000 or calling disciples, more and more people have an Epiphany “AH HAH he is the messiah!!”

          And with this Epiphany regarding who God is and how God is at work through Jesus, Jesus invites folks that have had this epiphany to join him, follow him, serve with him.  So, I’ve seen this Epiphany theme of not just insight to who Jesus is but also inspiration to join Jesus as a time to say Christians who have had this epiphany of who Jesus is have a reason to smile despite hard times.  We’ve been invited off the sidelines and into the game.  We have an opportunity, a role to play on Christ’s team. 

A few years ago, Rev. Eric Swanson a former leader in Campus Crusade for Christ and now the chairperson for Leadership Network for Christ surveyed churches to see if people saw a relationship between ministering to others and spiritual growth.

When asked, “To what extent has your ministry or service to others affected your spiritual growth?,” 92% answered “Positive,” 8% answered “Neutral,” and 0% responded that ministry had a negative effect. Ministry to others overwhelmingly enhanced their spiritual growth.  Sixty-three percent indicated that active involvement in ministry was equally significant in their spiritual growth compared to other typical spiritual disciplines, such as Bible study and prayer. And 24% responded that active involvement in ministry to others had been “a more significant factor” to their spiritual growth than Bible study or prayer.  Nearly two thirds (58%) of those who were not actively ministering to others felt either “not satisfied” or only “somewhat satisfied” with their level of spiritual growth.

If you have been claimed by Christ, you want to grow and mature as a Christian. You want to grow in your love for God. You want to become more like your Savior, Jesus Christ. And one of the ways to do so, is by getting actively involved in ministry. Swanson discovered that experiential serving in ministry was perhaps THE MOST significant factor in the spiritual growth of Christians. 

For all the moaning and groaning of older generations against the millennial generation for their many faults, one thing I see as a big positive is millennial’s want a spirituality- that is experiential.  Actually, its more of a need!  They need more than just worship opportunities from their church. They want experiential hands-on ways of serving Christ through their churches. They value serving Christ as their key to spiritual growth.  Just the ceremony, the ritual, the celebration of worship isn’t enough unless its tied to personally making a difference in Christ’s name.

I basically agree with the millennials.  When I consider nurturing and growing my relationship to Christ, I tend to think of four things.  The first is worship, the second is being in God’s presence through studying his word, the third is talking to him in prayer, and the fourth is service. Of those things the first three: worship, bible study, prayer they feed my spirit. Great but its that fourth part: service that rapidly grows my spirit, and multiplies it. 

Worship feeds our spirit because it draws our focus up to God. Bible Study enhances our knowledge of God and deepens our faith in God.  Praying nurtures our soul since it puts us in conversation with God.  Those are the things that make up a healthy diet, but Christians service is what translates that good diet for the internal organs of heart and mind into spiritual muscles and healthy lungs for the proclamation of the gospel. 

When we actively serve others in Christ’s name we grow in spirit; the size and strength of our spiritual muscles increases.  When we name Christ in our serving, the volume of our lung capacity to proclaim the good news expands. It all bulks up when we serve properly. 

I say properly because sometimes we try to be a weightlifter when God has created us (shaped us) to be a sprinter.  That doesn’t mean a weightlifter can’t do some running to help become a better weightlifter.  It doesn’t mean a sprinter can’t do some specific weightlifting to help become a better sprinter. But if you don’t recognize what your focus is, …your shape of ministry, you can work really hard at something and only produce frustration.

I think one of the ways we do a disservice to our children is the “Disney Dream dilemma”.   We tell kids they can be anything they want to be, do anything they set their hearts to, all you got to have is a dream and a drive.  It sounds great but its false.  If you don’t pay attention to your God given SHAPE you may just be hitting your head against a wall. 

Mike Rowe famous for the reality show Dirty Jobs has a great video about how thankful he was to his grandfather who told him early on that’s his dream of being a carpenter was “stinkin thinkin.”  He could have spent big dollars and years in training in following his “passion” learning to become an incompetent carpenter. Mike’s thankful his grandfather sent him a different direction.

Sometimes a dream and a drive does not add up to good things.  It’s like the idea that you can spend your way out of debt.  Which by the way more folks should be telling our government that’s stinking thinking!

I’m not saying kids shouldn’t be encouraged to dream or be urged to develop a drive within themselves.  What I’m saying is kids (and adults) shouldn’t go making plans without consulting the owner’s manual. Youth should be encouraged to dream about who God created and shaped them uniquely to be.  They should be urged to have the drive to discover God’s call and shape for their serving in life.  Too many folks are consulting societal standards to find their purpose and social media’s manual for finding meaning in life instead of seeking out God and God’s plan for their life. 

Now before you get the idea that consulting God first for our dreams is just a Christian idea of getting everybody in a spiritual straitjacket, of enforcing uniformity… think again.  Have you looked at God’s creation?  God loves diversity!  Think about the platypus, kangaroos, ostriches, flying squirrels, the Mexican walking fish, and the list goes on.  My point is if we only think about what we want, regardless of who God shaped us to be, we can get way off target and extremely frustrated.

An ostrich could look at its feathers and dream of soaring across the mountains like an eagle and spend their life in frustration attempting to achieve their dreams instead of enjoying being one of the few animals on God’s green earth that can run 45 miles per hour.  One of the things I think is so cool in ministry is to see when a believer discovers their God given S.H.A.P.E. Their spiritual gifts, heart, ability, personality, and experiences.

I’m just gonna a name a few examples of the amazing way I’ve seen Christians find their God given SHAPE. I’ve seen over 30 year of ministry of people just blossoming and growing when they acknowledge and claim their SHAPE.  I remember when a CPA discovered she was gifted in serving and leading a prayer chain.  There was the Horse Farmer who was dumbfounded and delighted to find out his God given SHAPE was to be a junior high confirmation teacher.  There was the time a Chief Financial Officer of a fortune five hundred company found his most inner joy was serving in a soup kitchen. Our God given S.H.A.P.E. is not always what we expect or predict.  But when you find it, when you plug into it, you discover fulfillment and joy because you are glorifying God through the gifts God uniquely gave you.

So what is it, that uniquely shapes you for ministry in God’s name. Today I want to look at a helpful acronym that Rev. Rick Warren and others have developed called SHAPE.  Spiritual gifts, Heart, Ability, Personality, Experiences. 

Spiritual gifts are many.  I’m not talking about the fruits of the Holy Spirit within us.  All Christians can enjoy and possess the gifts that come with having the Holy Spirit in our lives. Galatians 5:22 lists them as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.”  All believers in Christ have access to that what I’m talking about.  But each one has a way God’s Spirit specifically moves through them to build up the body of Christ.  Depending on what bible scholar you consult the various ways the Spirit moves through people to gift them in building up the body of Christ can be anywhere from 12 to 28 depending on whether you lump some together or spread them all out.  Here’s a short list:  Faith, Discernment, Wisdom, Knowledge, Evangelism, Prophecy, Teaching, Exhortation, Shepherding, Serving, Mercy, Giving, or Administration to build up the body of Christ.

My question is in what way has God gifted you to build up the body of Christ?  Most of us don’t know.  Most of us haven’t paid attention to the 
“owner’s manual” and yet we expect to have it seamlessly work.  To make matters more complex your giftedness is not the only factor that goes into figuring out in what way God has shaped you to make an impact on his world. There’s heart, and abilities, AND personality AND experiences. 

Your heart is your passions, what easily moves and motivates you… is it nature, sports, mechanics, art?  Your abilities are those skills you’ve accumulated and been born with: crunching numbers, fixing things, growing plants, singing.  They all influence your SHAPE in serving God’s mission in the world.

This isn’t how you plug into a committee at church- that’s typically why preachers talk about spiritual gifts- they want to fill holes on councils or committees. And while that can be a way to use your SHAPE its hardly the total picture.  Not everybody is shaped to be a church worker, but I heartily believe that every believer is shaped in some way or fashion to be a witness to their world- whether that’s in their school, business, family, trade union, whatever.

As I’ve been stressing this Epiphany season we, Christians, have a reason to smile even in difficult times, because we know the good news of God in Christ Jesus.  God’s invited us to share that smile with others.  God’s invited us in whatever SHAPE we are in, to get into the game of life. And yes, with Satan lurking about its often more of a battle than a simple game.  Yet, we don’t have to worry about winning every spiritual battle because we know who wins the war.  Remember those 20 Spiritual Truths from the past weeks.

“God’s got this!”  We’re never too old, and we aren’t too young to love our neighbor as ourselves.  It doesn’t matter whether we have experience or no experience, rich or poor we’re invited to be in the game.

The best way to play the game is to know the position you’ve been given.  Are you a guard on the basketball floor? A lineman on the football field? doubles player on the tennis court?  The best part of all this is you don’t have to be ashamed of your God given SHAPE just claim it and use it wisely.  I’ve put in your bulletin a website that for no fee helps identify that God given SHAPE. Once you’ve got the results you can keep it to yourself or it allows you to share the results with a friend or a pastor to further help direct you in using that SHAPE but you don’t have to.

I’m hoping that this Epiphany Season you’ve had the Eureka moment, or you remember that moment or moments when God has shown you his love and grace and power and mercy through Christ.  Wouldn’t it be awesome to be used by Christ to reveal that love and grace and mercy to someone who doesn’t know it? 

Amy Grant a contemporary Christian artist from Tennessee recalls taking her eight-year-old niece from the land locked hills of Tennessee where she was raised to her first visit to the Pacific Ocean.  Amy had her cover her eyes and take her hand as they climbed the last sand dune hill before the beach.  Then Amy had her sit down in the sand and told her go ahead and look.  The awe and wonder that went across her niece’s face in experiencing for the first time the vast beauty of God’s creation was something she’ll always remember.

We are specially designed by God to share what’s been revealed to us;  the vast beauty of God’s grace in Christ.  It’s not going to be the same way for every person because our SHAPES differ. That’s a good thing because with our differences we multiply God’s grace to the vast multitude of different people out there in need of God’s grace. You can’t look at our country today and honestly say “People don’t need to hear about God’s grace.  People all know about God’s love in Christ.” 

So, take the survey, and if you want, let’s talk.  But at least take a moment and ask God the question “God I know you – I’ve had the blessing of having your grace in Christ revealed to me and its as vast as the ocean.  How can I make you known?  How have you uniquely SHAPED me to serve you, to glorify you?” 

I can tell you this, there is a wonderful blessing in asking that question and discovering that answer.  In two weeks, we start lent and many of you will be looking for a way to draw closer to Christ by giving up something or by taking up something. For Lent.  Why not find out your shape and take the 40 days of Lent to build a healthy habit to better define that SHAPE.  You were shaped to serve the living Lord.  Go in peace serve the Lord. Amen.