Thursday, May 22, 2008

Eagles and Idols, Gifts and Glory

I have a proclivity for getting things backwards. Simple things. I know the sage counsel about the cart and the horse and the correct ordering of the same. I know that when it comes to chickens, hatching ought to precede counting. Still, I get things backwards even though I know better.

I know we pray because God is good. But I still make the mistake of thinking that God is good because he hears and answers my prayers.

I’m learning again that the point of “church” is being sent and scattered into the world. But I persist in thinking that it would be great if the world suddenly started coming to church.

My latest foray into backwards thinking has to do with what Scripture calls “spiritual gifts.” The bible is quite clear that gifts are given as God determines and given for the building up of God’s people. Somehow, just beneath the level of my awareness, I started thinking that gifts were given for my sense of fulfillment and even my glory. How did I get this wrong? Maybe a tale of two Wednesdays will shed some light on my error.

On Wednesday of this week I watched with millions of others as David Cook was proclaimed the American Idol for 2008. Seeing Cook win was less interesting to me than seeing the two Davids – along with the other ten – display their talent during the final episode. They are all good. Some of them are very good. Two of them are fantastic and one of them emerged as a remarkable talent.

Funny thing. I remember that early in the season Simon told David Cook that he (Cook) had no charisma. I don’t remember that because of what Cook sang, but because of the word Simon used: Charisma. The word embodies the Greek word for “gift.” Well, he clearly does have a gift and the gift elevated him to the top of the idol heap. Gift and glory seem to go together.

On Wednesday of last week I saw the Eagles in concert. Their performance was extraordinary. By that I don’t mean that the concert was fun (which it was). What I mean is that these musicians demonstrated the talent that allows them to keep doing what they do as they move into their 60s. They’ve been making music for more than 30 years. They’re still at it and they’re still stunning in their craft. Vocally, instrumentally, they seem to keep getting better at what they do. These are gifted people. I walked away from that concert thinking that in my lifetime I’d love to do something that well.

I don’t want to parse the distinctions between a talent and a spiritual gift. I’m simply observing that in a culture of celebrity those who do something well get noticed. Doing something well is a way of getting noticed. Get good grades, make the honor society. Master the instrument, win the contest. As an old saying puts it, “the cream rises to the top.”

And so this culture of celebrity seeps into the church. The large crowds show up to hear the gifted communicators. The truly gifted writers will publish the books and articles. The gifted voices will get the recording contracts and be heard on the radio. Again, even among God’s people, the gift and the glory are linked. The gift leads to glory and the glory points to the presence of the gift.

Our culture of celebrity makes this possible, but there’s a problem. It’s backwards. Biblically informed thinking understands that no one receives a gift as a launching pad to public acclaim. If there’s any glory to be had at all it belongs to the giver of the gift. Gifts deflect attention to the God who gives all good things; gifts don’t draw attention. The truly gifted have every reason to be truly humble. Whatever they possess wasn’t deserved or earned. And it wasn’t given for their sake. The gift belongs to the people of God.

Here’s the tension we live with. To serve God and God’s people well means doing the work required to hone our craft. Involving God in whatever we do isn’t permission to coast. We must develop the gift we’ve been given. Paul told Timothy to fan it into a flame, to take the flickering gift that God had placed in his life and blow on it until it burns bright. If Eagles and Idols are willing to work that hard, so should those who serve the church.

And yet, be ever vigilant against the craving for approval and applause. This is hard. When we do something well we’ll want others to notice, and sometimes they will. That makes the need for vigilance even more urgent. The praise of people who notice the gift is addictive.

To be truly gifted is to be truly humble. We can work at the gift. We pray for the humility.

1 comment:

Robin & Casey said...

You are such a good writer! I am also catching up on old posts so congrats to Marnie too - that is great! And I will gladly accept your parenting advice anyday.