Posts Tagged ‘whatever gifts’

This week on social media, a friend posted a great quote:

“The true purpose of arts education is not necessarily to create more professional dancers or artists. [It’s] to create more complete human beings who are critical thinkers, who have curious minds, who can lead productive lives.’ Kelly Pollock

While I agree with everything written here, I wish more had been said. I used to work for an arts education organization and there was one thing that bothered me. It seemed there was an unwritten pressure from schools to prove that studying the arts would make students better at things deemed “more important,” like math. What a shame! You see, I believe the arts bring beauty and meaning to our world. Further, it is in creating that human beings manifest part of the image of God we are here to bear. The arts also help us to express the complex things that are going on inside us and helps us to get those things out. My friends who teach in the arts, are not just making kids good at math, they are making the world a better, more beautiful place by virtue of teaching kids to make art. The arts for art’s sake do a lot of good in our world and they should not be reduced in importance to how good they make us at other things.

As I was thinking about this, though, I hit a struggle. You see, I use art in my ministry and if you asked me, I would freely tell you that the arts are a tool I use to communicate the Gospel. Is that really any different from what others might say about the arts? I’ve decided it is and to really help you understand, I’m going to tell you a story.

Once when my son Chris was little, we had a family birthday party for him. Someone in our family got him one of those toys that requires a lot of batteries. This relative decided to have mercy on my son and us, and also bought him the king sized pack of batteries and they gift wrapped them as well. Normally we would give the gift first, and then the batteries, but somehow the packages got shifted and he opened the batteries first. He was such a kind and grateful child, that upon seeing what was in the package, he said with all the glee a small child can muster, “BATTERIEEEEEES!” I was so happy to see him react in such a way. To him batteries were a big deal, even before he had something to put them in.

As I was thinking of this story (which Chris has never lived down), it all came together. Batteries are not a great gift on their own, but the “real gift” was powerless without them. With my ministry, for some people the art is the battery that empowers the story. For others the story empowers the art, but both the art and the story are the gift. Likewise in your creative pursuits, for some people, your God-given gift will be the big thing and for others it will empower the big thing to do it’s work on their hearts. I think that’s why the Bible says, “Each one should use whatever gifts…”  The role your gift plays is in the hand of the Father and the heart of the recipient. Our job is to give the gift, whether it’s the gift, or “just” the BATTERIEEEEEES.

Assignment: What are your batteries and how do you charge them? How can your gift “charge” someone else?

When it comes to serving in the church, I think this is a very common fear. “What if they won’t let me serve?” or maybe “What if they don’t like what I do?” or “What if I’m not good enough?” The first thing I’m always tempted to ask is, “yes, but what if you are? or “What if they do?” The point is, you’ll never know if you don’t ask. The Bible even says “You have not, because you ask not.” and while some may question whether I used that in content, the point is true. If you “self-reject” by never trying, you’ll never know.

In offering your gifts, there are a few things to be considered. The first is to remember there is a trust level here. When a church leader puts someone before his congregation, or the public at large, he or she is trusting that you will bring your best and represent him and the church well. For this reason, we must come under authority and serve faithfully. That means you do what was asked of you, and you deliver the best you can, when you said you were going to have it done. Faithfulness demands this.

Secondly, you need to trust and sometimes work your way up. When you offer your gift and are given an opportunity, take it, even if it feels beneath you. We serve a God who washed His disciples feet. There is humility involved in serving the Lord. In most churches, there is a lack of people willing to serve. Be one of those people, and there is a likelihood that more and better opportunities will open. With any opportunity, bring your best to it.


Further, be open to constructive criticism. You may not yet be at the level where you need to be and we’re often not quite as good as we think we are. Wise counsel can build us and make us better. Also sometimes people can see an area of greater gifting in us, so be willing to try new things.

Keep developing your gift. Keep working at and work hard to keep improving. The Bible says, “Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank.” (Proverbs 22:29) We can always improve and gain new skills, so keep at it.

Finally remember who you are serving. Ultimately your service is about the glory of God. So serve humbly, faithfully and often. God knows what you have because He gave it to you. Live and serve in a way that honors Him. If God has given you a gift, He has a way for you to use it. Put yourself and your gift out there, and then trust, one and give it all you’ve got.

Assignment: Make a list of all the ways you could possibly serve with your gift. Then begin to explore possibilities in your church and community.

Let’s face it, creative people are not always the best at fitting in, and sometimes (most of the time) that’s okay. Standing out is often better, with in the creative world and the Christian life. There is a time though when fitting in is really, really, urgent. (Don’t worry you can still stand out, while fitting in.)

Here’s what I mean. I had been speaking to a young man, who had started to use his gift for his church. He was a comic artist, and the church had agreed to run his comic in the church newsletter. At first, he was elated, but before long, his elation turned to pain. The church decided to stop running the comic. His statement to me, was his church had rejected his gift. Now as an artist, I wanted to sympathize, but something else was also coming to bear. You see by that point, I was already in church leadership, and as a church leader, you learn pretty quickly there are two sides to every story. Rather than immediately sympathizing, I asked him to show me the comic. I understood the church’s position immediately.

The comic was biblical, so no issues there. The comic was well drawn and written, no issues there either. Here was the issue. He had chosen to tell the crucifixion story, which again is not an issue. The problem was stylistic. He went for extreme realism, which meant the piece was quite gory. It simply didn’t fit. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the work, but it did not fit the venue. When you get an opportunity to serve the church, you have to make sure that your contribution fits the environment in which it will be presented. Were his piece placed in a comic in a comic book store, it would have been an excellent evangelistic piece. It certainly would have fit in with the rest of the work there.

When we get the opportunity to serve with our work we have to make sure it fits the venue. Remember, when we do work, especially for the church, the people who call upon us to do that work are taking a risk. We need to honor their faith in us, by giving them something they can use. Sometimes it’s important to fit in.

Assignment: Look at the project or projects to which you are feeling led. Then consider what venues might be a fit for them. Look into how you might serve that venue with your work.

There was a time in my life, when I was highly compartmentalized. If you had asked me I would have told you I was a Christian, and I was, but that my faith life and my art career were two separate things. To say that I was majorly conflicted would be a major understatement and that conflict almost ruined me. The Bible is pretty clear that we cannot serve two masters, or we will serve the one and despise the other, and while I will never say I despised God, it was pretty easy to push Him to the back burner. Learn from my mistake, I was in idolatry and I praise God that He left me fail at all my pursuits until I surrendered to Him. I once heard someone say something that may be germane to this conversation. If Jesus isn’t Lord of ALL, He isn’t Lord AT ALL. I wonder if that was the case to this day, but God freed me of that, I think…

You see recently I have been really drawn to making some work in a style some call “Low Brow Art.” It’s actually the kind of art that got me started as an artist when I was a child. It’s very cartoony, with monster-like characters sticking through the roofs of cars usually with huge engines and spinning tires. These were some of the first things I drew as a kid and I have always enjoyed that style. I love making these things, but I was a little conflicted. These things don’t fit with my ministry work stylistically. They’re frankly a little weird. As a matter of fact they were so far away from my ministry art that I knew they didn’t go together, so I restarted an old page on which to post them. This led to a couple of questions. I continued to feel drawn to making that kind of art, but were they taking away from my ministry? Was this wasting time? and worst of all, “Was I getting compartmentalized again?”

It was as I considered this, that I had what I think is a revelation. My heart is in ministry. I love what I do. I have also been fairly successful at being an artist in the Christian world and God has really blessed that ministry, but there was something that was missing. As a pastor I often talk to my congregation about being in the world but not of the world. I think this is essential to the Christian life and to obedience to our call. The problem was between my pastorate and my speaking ministry, I spend the vast majority of my time in the church, among believers. Yes I’ve been an artist in the Christian world, but what I have not been was a Christian in the art world. Maybe the reason I am being drawn to making this kind of work, is to be in the world, while not being of it. One of the things I love about Low Brow Art is it’s art for the masses. You don’t have to be a genius to understand it, nor do you have to psychoanalyze it, it’s just fun, and lots of people like it. I create something, share it, and people get to know me. Then sometimes I share something faith based that points to why I do what I do. I slowly began to realize this is not compartmentalized, it’s me going into the world while not being of it. I realize I will always have to guard against crossing lines, but something about making these weird creatures, feels strangely obedient. I will always be an artist in the Christian world, unless God says otherwise. Pray that God will use me in both spheres.

Assignment: Are you in the world but not of the world, or are you some other variation? Ask God to open doors for you to be salt and light in the world, pointing people to their creator.

No person is an island and that goes double for creatives. One of the things we always end up thinking was, “If only I was better at this, or better at that.” It’s frankly a little maddening and I am just as guilty as any other creative, but let’s go broader. I’ve joked a time or two with people complimenting my work, that you have no idea how many times I would have traded my art ability for the ability to fix my own car. And there have been moments of frustration, when that may have been the case, but that’s not really what I mean. I probably could spend the time and learn to be somewhat mechanical, but time is always in limited supply. For me to learn to fix my car, I would need to take time away from my areas of greater gifting. Far better for me to find the gifted mechanic, and pay him to do what he does best. That way I can spend my time doing what I do best, which will be infinitely more productive.

It’s the same in any area where we lack skill. You could probably learn to do what you want done, but at what expense. There’s got to be a better way, and there is. It’s called collaboration. Yes I know this is nothing new, so why do so few people do it? Basically what happens is a group of people come together and bring their best gifts to the table to do together what none of them could do alone. Think about it, this is how most great projects happen. No one is truly a one-man show, even one-man shows.

Collaboration helps to remove a lot of our limitations and allows us to break through to bigger and better things and by the way, it’s God’s design. If you look at 1 Corinthians 12, you will see the Bible comparing the church to a body in which each member has a part to play for the good of the whole. Our creative pursuits can work the same way.

Assignment: Look at your creative projects, dreams and/or ambitions. What are you lacking to finish them and bring them to reality? Write those things down. Then think about who you know who might be able to do the things you need done. Consider how you might set up a mutually beneficial collaboration.

One of the things that concerns me most in the church today, especially with regard to using our gifts in creative pursuits is the concept of God’s blessing. It is crucial that we get this point. I have heard many people over the years say something to the effect of “I tried that and God wasn’t in it.” or “God’s blessing wasn’t on it.” At times, I’ve felt the need to press in and find out why they thought this was the case and almost every time the response is some variation of, it wasn’t easy.

Oh that God would make everything that He wants us to do easy, but that is often not the case. More often the things He calls us to are anything but easy, and to see ease as a sign of God’s blessing, is to disregard the example of virtually every important person in Scripture, including Paul and especially Jesus.

Consider these words from Hebrews 12:1 and 2 (NIV) “…And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” Here we see Jesus, realizing there would be joy in the accomplishment of His goals, for Himself, for the Father and for us as well, and because He could see the joy that would come, He would endure the cross—perhaps the greatest difficulty faced by anyone, ever. Was crucifixion easy? Absolutely not! Was God’s blessing all over that situation? Beyond a doubt and so it is with us.

The writer of Hebrews relates this Christian life to a race. Races are likewise the antithesis of easy and so we are urged to perseverance. In other words, God is saying, He knows it’s hard, but we need to keep going, because the goal is worth pursuing.

I want to close this passage with a reminder from one of the most persevering people in all of Scripture. Paul wrote in Romans 5:2-5 (NIV) “…And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Struggle is part of this life in Christ, probably by design, because of what the struggle produces in the life of the believer. Perseverance and character are so urgently needed in our world today, and notice they bring a wonderful side effect, hope.

What God has called you to will most likely not be easy. Do it anyway. Persevere. Let God use the struggle to build you. As Churchill once said, “Never give up and never surrender.” Well maybe it’s better stated this way, “Surrender to God and never give up.”

Assignment: Look back over your life. Was there anything you gave up on because it was hard? What were the effects of your giving up? Any regrets? Now look at you current goal. What will be gained if you succeed. What will be lost if you quit.

There was a time in my career when I freelanced for a licensee of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It was one of those Charles Dickens/Tale of Two Cities/Best of Times/Worst of Times scenarios. The business end of working with this particular licensee was at times extremely difficult, but I was working on the hottest property in the world at that time, and even now decades later, when I tell people I did that, they will usually say, “Wow, that’s really cool!” But I’m not namedropping here. There is a point to this.

I was thrilled with the Turtles, from the time I first heard of them. “Why?” Because the idea was so delightfully weird. Two buddies, who were comic fans, started drawing this goofy idea that was sort of a parody of everything in the genre. It could have faded before it ever made it to the public, but instead, they kept at it. They took their weird idea and they ran with it and as a result, reaped benefits that had to have exceeded their wildest dreams. That’s the answer, you know.

Ideas are incredibly valuable, and not just the good ones, or the safe ones, or the popular ones.

Ideas can reap benefits that are huge, but only if they connect with people. I don’t know how many times I have looked at a product and said, “I had that idea 20 years ago.” and I’ve known many other creatives with the same lamentation. But do you know the difference between my idea and the person who cashed in. I had an idea and I kept it to myself. They took their idea and shared it with the world. More than that, they took the idea and did the work to make it reality. Yes I could have beaten quite a few people to the punch, but I had a dream, they did the work. The ones who win are always the ones that have the courage to claim their idea before the world and do the work. My goal is to never lament another idea that found completion at the hands of someone else.

Your ideas are valuable and there has never been an easier time to get your ideas before people to find an audience. You just have to do it. Think about the Ninja Turtles one more time. A lot of people, I’m sure, thought it was a stupid idea, it might even be a stupid idea, but I’m also relatively sure that Eastman and Laird, couldn’t care a lick about the people who think it’s stupid. Why? Because they put their work out there and found legions of fans who thought it was the best thing ever.

Don’t create idea that you think everyone will like. Things that everyone likes are usually painfully boring. Instead look for the unusual, the remarkable, the unique, and then do the work and put it out there for the world to see.

Your ideas are valuable, but only if other people know about them.

Assignment: Look back over your life and think of as many of your ideas as you can remember. Look for one you can get behind and create a list of things you can do, right now, to make it a reality.


Up to this point in this stream of consciousness, I’ve devoted a fair amount of time talking about offering your best, and I think I may need to unpack that a bit. You see I hear a lot about “excellence” in the church, especially pertaining to creative ministry, and that’s great, but I have a question. What does it mean?

You see in some places, I think we almost idolize talent, to the point where the talented can get away with just about anything, because they’re gifted. In the world, that may be the case, but in the church, it should never be. Honestly, it can even be disastrous in the world, but that’s not the realm I’m exploring. Ask me which is more important, character or talent, and I’ll take character every time. We do ourselves a disservice in the Kingdom of God if we accept any less.

On the other hand, sometimes people minimize the importance of work done in and for the church. You know, “Well it’s not the best, but it’s god enough for church.” Perish the thought. All you need to do is go back to the Old Testament and the requirements for sacrifices to see that the Lord expects our best, and rightfully so, because He gave His best.

I hope you caught those two words in that last sentence, because they are crucial. The words, in case you missed them, were “our best.” This is the key to everything. When churches look for excellence, what they are often really looking for is people who are successful by the world’s standards. I find that a little tragic, because if we are looking for excellence by the world’s standards, the novice, the person developing their talents need not apply. The result is sometimes very glitzy and polished, but sometimes lacking heart and soul. But what if excellence was the best you can do today? What if we just expected people to work in their area of gifting, bringing the best they have today? To my mind this is key.

Look, the arts are subjective and so is excellence. Were this not the case, there would be a massive cleansing of museums tomorrow. Who’s to say what’s good or great or excellent? And in the church, who’s to say what will touch a heart or mind? What if excellence was defined as bringing our very bet to the table? What if we were genuinely seeking our calling, and gave our best at each and every opportunity? Truth is, if we did this, everyone would be learning and growing, and we’d have a lot more participants and a whole lot less spectators in the church.

Isn’t that what we want?

Assignment: Find something you did some time ago and compare it to what you’re doing now. Do you see growth? If not, how could you work toward growth?

Okay now that we’ve looked at seeking opportunities, we should probably take few moments to look at what to do if you get one. There’s a passage in the Bible that handles just such an eventuality. It’s Ephesians 5:15,16 “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Now in the broader sense, this passage deals with righteous living, but please notice it tells us to make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Talking about the evil days could be a whole book but for the sake of our discussion, let’s just day that the further the people slip from the Lord, the more glorifying Him is important, hence making the most of every opportunity to glorify Him we get.

So does this mean we have to say yes to every opportunity? No. We need to use discernment, but it probably means we should pray before saying no to anything (or for that matter, yes), at least anything good and righteous and godly. Sometimes as creative people we can pigeonhole ourselves when God wants to expand us, and, frankly sometimes we can get a little prideful and think we are too good do something “humble.” Neither of these is beneficial.

For this conversation, let’s assume that you get an opportunity and everything works and you believe you have God’s “green light.”. What does it mean to make the most of the opportunity?

First, it means bringing your best to the task. Do the best you can do. We should always serve as if we were serving God, because if you are serving, you are serving God, and the One who gave His only Son for you deserves your best.

Second, do what you’ve been asked to do. Make sure whatever you do fits the parameters of the assignment. I’ve seen creatives who think they know best, giving something different than what as asked for. That’s not what we need to do. We need to fulfill the assignment to the best of our abilities.

Third, be responsible. Some folks think being creative is an excuse to be less than dependable, or even weird, and much of society accepts it as part of the “artists’ temperament.” Frankly, that’s a crock. God is not honored by a lack of dependability and honoring God is our ultimate goal. Deliver your best, on time, with as little stress as possible.

Finally, come under authority. This is important everywhere but it’s essential if your venue is the church. When a pastor puts you before his or her congregation, they are giving you an endorsement and they are taking a risk. Do what they ask, and make them look good. They have put tremendous trust in you. They are giving you the opportunity to stand before people they have sworn before God to serve, care for and protect. That is huge responsibility and one no Christian should ever take lightly. Romans 13:7 says “Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” A pastor putting you before his congregation is showing you an honor, be sure to return honor with honor.

Assignment: Look at any current opportunities that are before you and write down ways that you can make the most of them. Also look to see if there were times in the past where you did not handle opportunities well. How might you have handled them differently?

Finding your gift

I spend a lot of time traveling to churches, talking to congregations about serving God with their gifts. It’s a passion of mine, mostly because I am where I am today because someone showed me how to use my gift of art to serve the Lord. This ministry generates a recurring question:

How can I find my gift?

The question comes from the hearts of genuinely loving people who really want to serve the Lord, but who struggle with how to best serve the Lord. The good news is, there is an answer to their question. Actually there are two. The first is pray and ask God to reveal His gifts to you. There are also some ways to help you discern. I find that our gifts are usually found at the intersection of three things:

What do you do well/best? It would make sense that if God is going to be glorified in our gifts, then the majority of our gifts are probably going to be things God has given us a talent or a natural ability to do. Comparison is not helpful at this stage. Don’t look for something you do better than others, ask yourself “What is the best thing I do?” Chances are the things you do best are areas of gifting for you.

What do you love to do? It would further make sense that if God wants you to use a gift to His glory, it would be something you love to do. Now this is not always the case, but for the most part, your gifts tend to be things you love to do. The reason for this is simple—natural talent only takes you so far. The things we will excel at are generally the things we love to do enough to work and, develop and perfect.

What are your opportunities and experiences? Sometimes our gifts are more about opportunities than about abilities. Sometimes the things we experience uniquely qualify us to serve. For example, I was a bullied kid, and while I would not wish that experience on anyone, it was so helpful when I started working with youth. Romans 8:28 works!

Here’s my path in a nutshell. My art ability is natural, I was born with it. That being said, I have worked tirelessly at it and the reason I can do that is because I love it. Being a speaker/preacher was a much different path. When I was a small child, I loved to perform for family and friends, but the aforementioned bullying drove that desire into deep hiding. But the time I walked into the church I was terrified to speak in public. Art opened the door. My pastor asked me to pant a backdrop for vacation Bible school. That led to being in a skit in VBS, which led to other skits, which led to teaching, which led to preaching and speaking. That gift came about based on another opportunity and an experience.

Here’s what I know for sure: Everybody has at least one gift from God that can be used to his glory. I don’t believe He has left anyone empty-handed including you. First pray and ask God the question, then ask yourself the above questions and you should be well on your way to finding your gifts. Then, once you find them, put them to work and to God be the glory.

Pray and answer the above questions. When you have finished your list, look for places where they intersect. These will be clues to your gifts.