What Moves Your Mountain?
Romans 12:8: I Corinthians 12:9
May 20, 1990
Listen to this Sermon
I’m sure you’ve heard this definition of a football game: It’s an event where 50,000 people who desperately need exercise sit in the stands watching 22 men on the field who desperately need rest. Unfortunately, that definition fits more than a football game. It also fit the typical 20th-century American church. In the average congregation, there are a host of spectators watching a handful of performers.
The experts tell us that most churches operate by the 20/80 rule—20% of the people do 80% of the work. It’s probably true that there is no church in all the world where all the people do an equal share of the work. It’s also probably true that the churches that consistently grow operate at a higher level than 20%. For that matter, if 20% is the average, then 30% would be a vast improvement.
That’s why we’re looking at the various spiritual gifts. I’m not sure what our percentage of workers is, but what it is, it’s bound to go higher when more and more people discover their spiritual gifts and begin to use them. That’s the key to the New Testament teaching on this subject. When we find out how God has gifted us, it’s much easier to find out where we fit in in the body of Christ.
Two Overlooked Verses
Let’s begin by looking at two verses which are almost never discussed when we talk about spiritual gifts. That’s unfortunate because these verses bring a vital perspective to this whole area.
The first verse is I Timothy 4:14. As you know, Timothy was Paul’s son in the ministry. After person-ally selecting and training him, Paul sent him to Ephesus to minister. While he was there, Paul wrote two letters to him—the letters we know as I and II Timothy. They are filled with practical advice about the ins and outs of working in the local church. In I Timothy 4, Paul encourages Timothy not to feel timid because of his youth, but instead to show himself a model among the believers. In particular, Paul told him to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.” (13) Then he said, “Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.” (14) Timothy’s gift was the one Paul just mentioned—preaching and teaching. Evidently he was tempted to set it aside because he felt intimidated by his youthfulness.
That kind of thing can happen to any of us. We can always find a reason not to use the gifts God has given us. Perhaps we’re too busy, or perhaps we’re not fully trained, or perhaps we feel pressured to work in another area, or perhaps we just not sure what our gifts are. In any case, whenever we neglect our spiritual gifts, three things happen: First, there is wasted energy as we work in areas for which we are not gifted. Second, there is unused potential as we fail to develop in the areas of our giftedness. Third, there is growing frustration as we wonder why God’s work seem so difficult. Those three things leads eventually to spiritual atrophy and a crip-pled church.
Can a person lose his spiritual gifts? As far as I know, the answer to that question is no. But it is very possible for a person to neglect his gifts.
Fanning The Flame
The second verse is II Timothy 1:6. “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” The picture is of a campfire where the coals have almost (but not quite) gone out. The only way to get the fire burning again is to blow on the coals and fan them into a flame. Paul’s advice implies that Timothy need to take some decisive action. Maybe he had become a spiritual couch potato. In any case, it was time for Timothy to get off his duff and get moving.
How do you fan your spiritual gifts into flame? First, you clarify what you gifts are, then you pray for guid-ance, then you discuss the matter with your friends, then you begin to look for small opportunities to use your gifts, then you begin to use your gifts every chance you get.
A spiritual gift is potential for service in a given area—nothing more and nothing less. That means that discov-ering your gifts is only the first step. You still have to develop your gifts, and then you have to deploy them in some area of ministry. This sermon series is meant to help you get started. The rest is up to you.
It is not widely known that I played the trombone in high school. Actually, I learned to play when I was in the 4th grade and began marching with the high school band in the 5th grade. By the time I graduated I was first chair, first trombone. (That’s not as big as it sounds. There were only 4 or 5 people who played trombone in the band.) For many years after high school, I kept my battered old trombone up in the attic. I even played it once in a church service many years ago. I’d hate to think what I would sound like on the trombone now. I could still play a little bit, but not very well. That’s what I mean by neglecting your gifts. You lose your edge, your proficiency, your skill, your confidence. The potential is still there, but it has to be fanned into flame.
Wanted: More Liberals In The Church
This morning we’re going to look at two spiritual gifts. The first is a gift that may not be familiar to you—the gift of giving. That is, we all know about giving as a command of Scripture, but we may not know that there is also a gift of giving. The only reference to this gift is found in Romans 12:8, “If it (a person’s gift) is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously.” The word translated “generously” is the Greek word haplotes. It literally means “without folds.” The picture is of a garment stretched out and unfolded. When applied to giving, it means to give without any folded-up motivations in your mind—such as giving in order to get something in return or giving in order to make yourself look good in the eyes of others. Instead, our giving should be done generously, gladly, freely. Some translations use the word “liberally.” That’s a good word for a conservative church like ours. While we are conservative in our theology and in our practice, there is one kind of liberalism we heartily support—liberal giving.
Here’s the definition for the gift of giving from the Spiritual Gifts Inventory: The special ability God gives to certain members of the body of Christ to earn money and manage it wisely in order to give to the work of the Lord generously and cheerfully. We also add a statement to that definition: “Every Christian, however, is to give of his material resources to the Lord’s work ’not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver.’” The reason is obvious. It would be wrong for someone to say, “I don’t want to give because I don’t have the gift of giving.”
We might say it this way: The person with the gift of giving will usually have a greater desire to give, a greater ability to discern financial needs, a greater insight into where his money can best be used, a greater joy in giving, and will often see a greater result.
In reading Peter Wagner’s book on spiritual gifts, I ran across a distinction that helps us pinpoint the people with this gift. Most of us when we give subconsciously ask ourselves, “How much of my money should I give to the Lord?” That’s a perfectly normal question and there is nothing wrong with it. The person with the gift of giving sees things in a different light. He asks, “How much of God’s money can I keep for myself?” These people actually go around looking for needs to meet and searching for appropriate ways to give their money away. Giving to them is fun, not a burden, and they don’t seek publicity for the money they give away.
That leads me to make a crucial observation. There is no correlation between having money and having the gift of giving. None whatsoever. I’ve known a lot of rich Christians who evidently don’t have this gift and I’ve known a lot of poor Christians who do.
R. G. LeTourneau
But there are some wealthy Christians who clearly have this gift. One of the greatest examples is R. G. LeTourneau. Mr. LeTourneau became world-famous for his huge earthmoving machines. An excellent businessman and a fervent Christian, Mr. LeTourneau’s great machines were used during World War II to lay an airstrip in Normandy after D-Day. Later his machines blasted a path through the wilderness for the Alaskan Highway. He also cleared out the marshland for what would become Kennedy International Airport in New York City.
Early in his business career Mr. LeTourneau became convinced that the Lord wanted godly businessmen just as much as he wanted godly pastors and he felt that a factory could be truly dedicated to the Lord. So in 1935 he created the LeTourneau Foundation and irrevocably signed over 90% of his company’s profits to the Foundation. Over the years the Foundation has given multiplied millions of dollars to Christian work around the world. At one point he and his wife decided to give 9 of the remaining 10 per cent in cash back to God. They lived on one per cent and did just fine. That’s the gift of giving in action.
His biographer summarized his attitude toward money this way:
He does not view money as something to be accumulated for the satisfaction of looking at it, counting each day to check its increase, nor as a measure of man’s worth. He sees it only as a means to produce the machine his mind has conceived or as a means to bring men to God… . Although he has made and spent millions, he is remarkably detached from money as such; he is only concerned about what it can accomplish. He often says, “The question is not how much of my money I give to God, but rather how much of God’s money I keep for myself.” (From Mover of Men and Mountains, pp. 279-280, quoted in Rick Yohn, Discover Your Spiritual Gift and Use It, p. 15)
Miracle In May
As I write these words, we are only a few days away from the conclusion of our Miracle in May campaign. We are asking God to help us raise $37,500 over and above our regular offerings in order to match two large gifts which have been offered to us. So far just over $19,000 has been given in the campaign.
Where has the $19,000 come from? Is there a millionaire out there bankrolling this whole campaign? The answer is no. Our largest gift has been a single $1,000 check. The rest have been $500 or less. And 90% of the gifts have been less than $100. In fact, the first three gifts to the campaign came from three children who put their nickels and quarters and faded dollars bills together and gave a total of $16.
That was the beginning of the Miracle in May. And now, in just three weeks, that $16 has grown to over $19,000. We are believing God that in the next few days that amount will double again, to well over $37,500. (After all was said and done, over $45,000 came in through the Miracle in May campaign.)
Let me say it plainly. The miracle is not the money. The miracle is ordinary people sharing their resources freely, gladly, and yes, liberally. That’s the real miracle.
Please don’t think that a church like Calvary relies on the super-rich for its existence. If we relied on mega-gifts from the big bucks crowd, we would go out of business tomorrow. No, this church is built on the faithful giving of men and women of average means who write average-sized checks week after week so the work of God can go forward.
We thank God for the rich and the not-so-rich and for everyone in between. And we thank God for those with the gift of giving who take great joy in finding ways to invest in the kingdom of God. We could hardly go on without you.
The Gift of Moving Mountains
We are also looking at a second gift this morning, a gift that somehow seems to go hand in hand with the gift of giving. I Corinthians 12:9 speaks of “faith by the same Spirit.” Here is how we define the gift of faith in the Spiritual Gifts Inventory: The special ability God gives to certain members of the body of Christ which enables them to trust God in order to meet specific needs that seem impossible to others or to discern with unusual confidence the will of God for the future of his work.
The point is made clearer when you think of the different kinds of faith in the New Testament. There is saving faith. (Ephesians 2:8-9) That is the faith which all believers exercise when they trust Christ as Savior. There is walking by faith. (II Corinthians 5:7) That is the faith which sustains us in our day-by-day Christian life. There is the fruit of faith. (Galatians 5:22) That is the quality of faithfulness which the Holy Spirit produces as we rely on him. There is the faith that pleases God. (Hebrews 11:6) That is the faith we need to face the trials and difficulties of life. All of these things are a genuine kind of faith which every believer can manifest.
But there is a special gift of faith given to certain believers. In our definition, we stress two elements:
1. Faith for impossible situations and 2. Faith for discerning the will of God. With regard to the first element, we need only to think of I Corinthians 13:2 to see that Paul was evidently thinking along the same line: “And if I have faith and can move mountains.” The gift of faith is evidently connected in some way with the unusual, the miraculous and the extraordinary events of life.
How To Spot This Gift
You often see this gift in two specific areas. First, the people with this gift are usually strong in intercessory prayer. They know how to get through to God. When they pray—though it may not be with big words or fancy phrases—you know God has heard them. You might ask yourself, “If I were in a life and death emergency, and if I could have only two or three people praying for me, who would they be?” The names that come to mind are usually those with the gift of faith. Second, the people with this gift are often great starters. That is, they have the vision necessary to get a ministry going. When everyone else sees only the problems, they see the possibilities. When everyone else has given up, they are still going strong. By faith they “see” what others can’t. It is reminiscent of what Robert Kennedy said about his brother, President John Kennedy: “Some men see things as they are and ask, ’Why?’ Other men see things as they could be and ask, ’Why not?’” That’s exactly how the gift of faith operates. It sees things that could be and asks, “Why not?”
Nearly every ministry has been started by men of faith. You have only to think of Hudson Taylor of China, George Muller of Bristol, D. L. Moody of Chicago, Jim Rayburn of Young Life, Bill Bright of Campus Crusade, Torrey Johnson of Youth for Christ, Bob Pierce of World Vision, Dawson Trotman of the Navigators and Jack Wyrtzen of Word of Life. All of them are great men, mighty men, men with the gift of faith.
And you can think of a young man named Cam Townsend who graduated from Compton High School in Cali-fornia in 1914. His classmates predicted that he would someday become a United States Senator. Instead he went to Guatemala as a missionary to the Cakchiqel Indians. When he got there he found there were no Bibles in the native language of that tribe. He gave them Spanish language Bibles but the Indians couldn’t read them. One day, an Indian asked a question which would change his life forever: “If your God is so great, why can’t he speak my language?”
Then and there he laid aside his Spanish Bible and determined to learn Cakchiqel and translate the Bible into the language of the people. And a burden was born, a burden which became a vision—a vision of translating the Bible into every language of the world. When he shared the vision with his superiors, they said it was impos-sible. It couldn’t be done. The job was too big. The task too hard. No one even knew how many languages there were. It would take decades even if it could be done.
So Cam Townsend decided to start by himself. He went back to the Cakchiqel Indians and began the work of translation. He took with him the promise of Matthew 9:29, “According to your faith, be it unto you.” And he took the words of a little chorus—”Faith, mighty faith, the promise sees and looks to God alone. Laughs at impossibilities and cries, ’It shall be done.’”
From that small beginning came the greatest translation organization in history—the Wycliffe Bible Trans-lators. When Uncle Cam died a few years ago, the New Testament had been translated into 161 languages and 4500 missionaries were working in 761 other languages.
All that from one man’s dream. A man who heard God’s call, stepped out in faith when others doubted, and never gave up.
The Hardest Part Of Moving A Mountain
Many times we read the prayer promises of the Bible and they seem overwhelming. We read where Jesus said, “Have faith in God. If anyone says to this mountain, ’Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes what he says will happen, it will be done for him.” (Mark 11:22-23) That sounds so impossible that we think it doesn’t apply to us. We think that maybe there’s a catch somewhere we don’t know about. That whole notion sounds preposterous.
Think of it this way. What is the key word in that statement by Jesus? I submit that it’s the little word “says.” The hardest part of throwing a mountain into the sea is simply saying the words, “Go jump in the lake.” The rest of it is easy. The hard part is saying it. I mean, we can all think it. But to say it out loud—that really puts our faith to the test.
You’ve heard this before but let me share again my favorite definition of faith: Faith is belief plus unbelief and acting on the belief part. Sure, we all have doubts. Who doesn’t? Nothing in life is certain. We pray and pray but we’re not sure how things will turn out. If you wait for 100% certainty, you will wait forever. So how does faith work? God responds to those who partly believe, partly doubt, but take their heart in their hands and act on the belief part. It’s like Noah building the ark without ever seeing rain. It’s one thing to think about building an ark; it’s another thing to cut down the gopher wood and start laying the foundation.
“Harry, God Just Sold The Cattle”
Many years ago, in the early days of Dallas Theological Seminary, the seminary faced a severe financial crisis. Debts had mounted to the point that the creditors had fixed a certain day as the deadline. If the bills were not paid by noon on that day, they would foreclose and the seminary would cease to exist.
That morning Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder and first president of the seminary, met with the other leaders of the seminary in the president’s office. One of the men in attendance was Dr. Harry Ironside, a famous Bible teacher and later pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago. When Dr. Ironside’s turn came to pray, he said in his characteristic fashion, “Lord, you own the cattle on a thousand hills. Please sell a couple and send us the money.”
As they were praying, a tall Texan in boots and open collar came in to the business office at the seminary. He told the secretary a strange story. He said, “I just sold two car-loads of cattle over in Fort Worth. I was going to use the money to make a deal, but when the deal fell through, I felt like the Lord wanted me to give the money to the seminary. I don’t know if you need it, but if you do, here it is.”
The secretary, knowing the urgency of the hour, knocked on Dr. Chafer’s door and gave him the check. When he looked at it, he recognized the rancher’s name. Then he saw that the check was for the exact amount the seminary owed. He interrupted the prayer meeting and said, “Harry, God just sold the cattle.” (This story is taken from Rick Yohn’s book Discover Your Gift and Use It, pp. 48-49. He in turn took it from Dr. Hendrick’s book on Elijah—now called The Battle of the Gods, but the story itself is well-known to most Dallas alumni.)
In the twentieth century, we are surprised that that kind of thing happens anymore. Our whole emphasis is on self-reliance. Even in the church we turn to the arm of flesh for our finances, our buildings and our programs. But Zechariah 4:4 is still true, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts.”
Fifty Bucks In The Nick Of Time
But some will discount the story I’ve just told because it happened sixty years ago. All right, then, how about one that happened this week?
Most of you know that Dr. Terry Strandt, who is our minister of music, also serves on the faculty of Moody Bible Institute. He is an associate professor of music and the director of the Men’s Glee Club. In just a few days they are leaving for a 22 day tour of Alaska, the Yukon and British Columbia.
Well, one of the young men was having trouble getting the money he needed for his plane ticket home. As of last Monday, Matt Swartz, the new president of the Glee Club, needed $382 to pay for his ticket. It was a special situation because Matt is in the National Guard and has to leave the tour three days early in order to come back for his National Guard summer duty.
He didn’t have the money and he didn’t have any prospects for getting the money. To make matters more complicated, he had to buy the ticket by Friday morning because he was leaving on the bus to Alaska Friday afternoon.
So Matt told a friend about his need and together they prayed about it. Monday passed and no money came. Tuesday the same. Then on Wednesday money started coming in from everywhere. A little bit here, a little bit there, money in envelopes, money handed over from friends, and slowly the total rose.
Thursday night came and he still didn’t have all the money. He went out for a while and when he came back to his dorm room there was a fifty dollar bill pushed under his door. No note, just a fifty dollar bill. He picked up the bill and began counting his money. The total came to exactly $382.
The surprise is not that something like that happens. The surprise is that we are so surprised. After all, if there is a God, why shouldn’t he answer our prayers? Isn’t that what he promised to do?
He’s Looking For A Few Good Men
Here’s the bottom line: God is looking for some men and women who will dare to live by faith. He is looking for some men and women who will take him at his word and rely on him for everything they need. Is there anyone reading these words who feels like you could be doing more with your life than you are doing right now? Is there anyone who says, “I want more out of life than just making a living?” If there is, I invite you to join the long line of men and women who have decided to live by faith. Are you willing to be one of those men? Are you willing to be one of those women?