Jan. 14, 2001 A.M.
Miles City Wesleyan Church
Miles City, MT
Out Of The Comfort Zone Into The Wild
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Do you know the story about the city mouse and the country mouse? It’s a tale about a city mouse that decides to leave her home at the zoo and visit her untamed country mouse. The city mouse know just what to do --- in the city. She knew how to have exact change when she boarded the cross town bus. She knew which places to avoid. She knew how to cross the busy streets, where to shop and where to eat. She knew how to look tough and walk strong on the sidewalks so that others would leave her alone and she knew not to talk to strangers.
So one day, off she went to visit her country cousin’s home. It was a wooded and green place with all kinds of buzzing noises, whistling winds and the odd unsettling racket of hidden animals. There were hungry mosquitoes, darting dragonflies, peering hawks and silent hunting owls. At twilight, it got very, very dark – unlike the city mouse’s illuminated metropolis – which made the scary sounds even scarier.
Worst of all was the food. It was terrible and she had to gather it herself, as if she knew anything about gathering wild food – grass grains, flower seeds and pokeweed berries for breakfast. Nasty stuff! And of course there were plenty of predators breathing down her neck as well. The city mouse could not wait to go home for fear that she would be invited to dinner . . . as the meal.
But the mouse out of her house is a mouse out of place. She’s long since lost her instincts to feel comfortable in the wilderness. She is safest in her home in the big city zoo.
No surprise here. Most mice, and plenty of people, feel more comfortable and safer in familiar surroundings. No one likes to be in a situation for which he is unprepared . . . especially if he might end up as someone else’s dinner.
It’s not unlike how we feel sometimes when we leave the safety and sanctity of our worship place and return to the workplace; we often don’t quite know how to be a witness, how to use our spiritual instincts in an environment that is sometimes hostile to our faith.
It’s a principle biologists are beginning to appreciate. For some time now, natural scientists have been forcing animals to act out the story of the city mouse and the country mouse – in an effort to save endangered species. Researchers are taking captivity – raised endangered animals, releasing them into their native habitat and hoping for successful survival in the wild.
With few exceptions, the project is not going well. “Zoos are becoming latter-day Noah’s arks for endangered species,” writes one scholar. He goes on to say, “Animals born in captivity and then released into nature often have trouble finding food, fleeing predators and selecting mates.”
Animals learn their behaviors from older, more experienced members of their own species, young captive-bred animals are at a major disadvantage. They are like children raised with culture or tradition. They don’t know how to be wild in the wild. And as many as 80 percent may be eaten by other animals when they are released back into the wild.
I know, you’re sitting thinking, well that’s great, but what does this have to do with the church and with Christians? Everything! You see, its not much different from the question we ask when we step out of the church door and into the world: How are we going to survive out there? Well, Paul has the answer – let’s read 1 Cor. 12:1-11.
Paul starts out by telling the Corinthians that he does not want them to be ignorant about spiritual gifts. We have to remember that the Corinthians had been brought up in the pagan Greek mystery-religions, in which spiritual experiences were the norm. They had grown accustomed to being moved or lead by some kind of supernatural or demonic force. But Paul was saying that there are spiritual gifts given by God and we need to know His are the real thing.
Again, notice he says, “I do not want you to be ignorant.” There are three ways a person can be ignorant about spiritual gifts. First, a person can be ignorant that there is such a thing as spiritual gifts. Second, a person may know that God gifts His people, but he may not know what special gifts God has given him. And thirdly, a person may know what his spiritual gifts are, but may not know how to properly use them. The solution to ignorance – is the same we use in society – study. Believers must study the Word of God and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit to learn about spiritual gifts and how to use them.
Paul understood that before we become Christians we were easily lead astray and were even influenced by mute idols. Going back to the Corinthians, it has been found in the statue of Isis at Pompeii, where the ruined temple shows the secret stair by which the priest mounted to the back of the statue; and the head of the statue (which is now in a museum) shows the tube which went from the back of the head to the parted lips. Through this tube the priest concealed behind the statue spoke the answers of Isis.
Instead of studying this, the people just gave into what they were seeing and hearing without question.
Paul goes on to tell us the power of the Holy Spirit – no one speaking by this Spirit can say, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. He wasn’t saying that we can not utter this words, but it is truly impossible to say, “Jesus is Lord,” publicly, with all your heart and soul, unless the Holy Spirit is with you.
Look again at verses 4-6 (READ) Paul says, that there are different kinds of gifts, different kinds of service, and different kinds of working --- but they are all given by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It can be summed up in verse 7 – “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” The common good of what? For the common good of the church and God’s kingdom. You see, this is where we pick back up with our story of the city mouse and the country mouse and how they relate to the church. We have all been given different gifts, mine are different than yours – are they better? Of course not! Each one by itself is good, but when we combine them together, they become great!! They are to be used to help lift each other up, to encourage each other and to glorify the kingdom of God.
We must exercise our gifts, says Paul, or there’s little chance of changing the culture. Use’ em or lose’ em. Unfortunately, the transforming gospel often gets hidden away inside the church building and seldom gets carried by Christians into the wild world where it’s needed most.
These gifts seem rare, but they are present. They may be endangered, but not extinct: The gifts are the gift of “the message of wisdom.” Wisdom here means the wisdom of God, so it’s the message of the wisdom of God. And the wisdom of God is the truth which God has now revealed to man; it is the whole system of truth revealed by God – the truth about God and man and the world. Often times it is the pastor or teacher that has been given this gift, and sometimes its not! Again, we need to study the word and listen to the Holy Spirit to know what our gifts are.
There is the gift of the “message of knowledge.” The message of knowledge is the gift to share with others how they should live; the ability to apply truth to their lives in day-to-day living; the ability to make practical application of truth to life. This can be seen in just about everything Jesus said and did – He taught others how they should live and how to apply the truth of God in their lives.
There is the “gift of faith.” This goes way beyond the usual faith that we mean when we speak about saving faith. It is a very special gift of faith: a mustard seed faith, a strong faith, a powerful faith, a wonder-working faith, a special gift of faith that enables a believer to do great things for God and His people.
Now look at the next one, he says that there are the “gifts of healing.” Did you catch that? There are GIFTS – plural, not just one type of healing, but many! What you don’t see in most translations is that fact that the word “healing” is also plural – so a more literal translation would be “gifts of healings.” Paul is encouraging us to expect many different ways in which God, in His sheer grace gives healings of all kinds, to different people, relationships and even situations. We can be healed from conflict, from lack of compassion, from lack of humility, and of course from illness. Many churches do not practice or use the gifts of healings. We in the holiness movement, I’m glad to say, do! Last week was an example of that. We gathered around Justin, and prayed for healing and protection. Then the same was done for me and I have to tell you – some of you have the gifts of healings!! I have had little to no pain this past week, the first time in year! I praise God for what He has done and I ask you to continue to pray for me!
We have to keep in mind that the Lord does not always bring physical healing. Physical healing is not ultimate wholeness. The Lord is the healer; and He distributes gifts of healing through members of the body of Christ to those who are sick. The gifts are for the sick, not for those chosen to receive the gifts.
In the book of James, he urges any member of the church who is sick in any way to call for elders, so that they may pray with faith. It is the Lord who heals. The means, the method, the moment, and the mystery all belong to Him. Of course for such a ministry to be available in any realistic way, we need to have basic units of pastoral care which are small enough for every member to have access to gifts of healing, through elders or in the body as a whole. This ministry does not necessarily have to be brought to the sick person at the hospital or at home. Much sickness is of the kind that we carry with us in our daily routine, our work and our worship. Why not call for those that are our prayer warriors, those with the gifts of healings, at each and every gathering of the church. Maybe its time that when someone comes up the alter to pray at our prayer time, that someone comes up to pray with them – even if that person comes up each and every week! Its time we use the gifts that God has given us for His glory!!
There is also the gift of “miraculous powers.” This world refer to miracles other than that of healings. There are times when circumstances and situations arise, and believers need a miraculous deliverance of some sort. Apparently, this is what the gift is. When it is in God’s will for a storm to cease – for an enemy to be temporarily blinded, for a fire to be turned or put out, or for an innumerable number of threats against believers to be altered – God will raise up some believer and gifts them to work the needed miracle.
There is the gift of “prophecy.” This is the gift of speaking under the inspiration of God’s Spirit. Does God still gift in this area? You bet He does – even though over the years this has been abused, by those who want to gain something from their lies. God does still use the gift of prophecy which includes both prediction and proclamation.
There is the gift of “discerning or distinguishing of spirits.” This is a gift that is desperately needed by believers of every generation, for there are always false prophets and teachers in their midst. In reality, some measure of the gift is needed by every believer in order t keep from being led astray.
There is the gift of “tongues.” Peter was gifted with tongues on the day of Pentecost. He spoke in a language that others could understand, though he did not know the language himself. There are religions that will tell you that this gift proves that you are saved – that is not true. It is A gift of the Holy Spirit, no greater and no less than the other gifts. And do go along with this gift Paul tells us that there is the gift of “interpretation of tongues.” If there is no one that is able to interpret the speaking then we are nothing more than a noise and should keep quite.
Unless the church is skillfully equipped, a premature release into the world will be a true disaster. Perhaps this is what Marin Luther King meant when he said: “Modern man is presently having a rendezvous with chaos, not merely because of human badness, but also because of human stupidity.”
That’s the downside. The upside is that the church is a sanctuary, a safe place to live, learn and grow in God and the Spirit. We have teachers who can instruct us. It is here that we are taught by those of our own kind.
Most great agents of change, as was Martin Luther King, sat literally or figuratively at the feet of others from whom they learned. Gandhi, although a Hindu, got his inspiration from the teachings of Jesus. Martin Luther King, in turn, regarded Gandhi as his spiritual leader. Jesus Himself mentored the disciples, who mentored or discipled others who discipled others. And so on.
We sharpen our spiritual skills in the company of those who have been there, done that. No wonder that Paul stresses the communal nature of the gifts of the Spirit. They were given of one Spirit, one Lord, one God. They are to be used for the common good. And the body, or community, that receives these various gifts is one.
King once said that “Evil is not driven out, but crowded out . . . through the expulsive power of something good.” That’s what spiritual gifts are all about. King also said, however, that “history will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”
Its past time for the church to make noise. To leave the church howling and growling.
We need not fear leaving the zoo today, and living in the wild tomorrow. The predators are out there, but we have the instincts to thrive and survive, and to tame the cultural wilderness for Jesus Christ.