It was time to pack up the vans to head back to the hotel, and, as usual, we were missing Charlie. It was hard to get upset, though, because I knew right where I would find him. Sure enough, after walking around the construction site, I spotted him. He was sitting on the prayer bench talking with one of our church’s teens. Quick executive decision – we’ll wait; nothing wrong with being a few minutes late.
Sometime after I first announced the Costa Rica missions trip back in 2002, Charlie had come to me. I didn’t know him, except to say “hey” in the church hallways. He’d never been involved in any church ministry that I knew of. He was one of those guys who came to church on Sunday, served his time, then, once paroled by the final “amen”, headed straight home. So, when he told me that he felt that God was leading him to go on the trip, my response was an emphatic, “Hmmmm…” But as we continued to talk, excitement began to overtake my skepticism.
Charlie was a ministry blank slate. Other than using his power to drive in nails with one strike of the hammer and his ability to tie some wicked knots, I had no clue what I was going to do with him. Our time on the worksite was only going to last half a day, then came ministry time. Everyone else had an idea of how they could use the ministry gifts and skills that God had given to them. For Charlie, it was pretty much, “Let’s see what God does when we get down there.”
It wasn’t long after we arrived that God started working. Within the first few hours, someone got the idea to build a prayer bench – a place where adults and teens could go for some quiet time when things were getting a little stressed or when they felt that God needed to do some heavy work on them. Snatching up some scraps of wood, Charlie and a couple other guys cobbled together a private little prayer area. As soon as the first teen sat on that bench, Charlie found his calling.
I can’t tell you the number of nails Charlie hammered that week in Costa Rica. More importantly, I can’t tell you the number of lives – teens and adults – he impacted by listening on that prayer bench, praying on that prayer bench, weeping on that prayer bench, laughing on that prayer bench. That same desire to flood others with God’s love carried on to the night ministry as well, when it was like pulling teeth to drag Charlie away from the church small groups we were visiting and into the van. None of the Ticos wanted him to leave, and he definitely didn’t want to go. In fact, when the rest of the team went away for a couple days for some zip-lining and R&R up at Volcano Arenal – an active volcano with all the rumbling and lava you’d expect to see – Charlie refused. He didn’t want to miss an opportunity to meet with another small group.
Charlie came home a changed man. He’d seen God work. He knew what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. He knew why God had placed him on this earth. Less than two months later, I performed his funeral.
It’s easy to think, “What a tragedy! He had just discovered what God had called him to do with his life.” That’s not a tragedy. The tragedy would have been if he had never had a chance to discover whom God had made him to be. The tragedy would have been if he had never had an opportunity to “do [the] good works, which God prepared in advance for [him] to do.” (Ephesians 2:10) Charlie’s “Ephesians 2:10” list was shorter than most, but he accomplished it with passion and he left a powerful legacy in the hearts of many teens.
Charlie was an example of all three divine gifts that we talked about on Sunday. He had experienced the salvation gift of the Father, giving him eternal life. He had experienced the spiritual gifts from the Holy Spirit, never expecting that under his gruff exterior he oozed mercy and grace. And, finally, he was a gift of Christ to the Church, a precious and unexpected part of the Body that had a marvelously Charlie-shaped impact on the whole.
Ephesians 4:7-13 tells us that Jesus Christ gives wonderful gifts to His bride. These are not just sentimental gifts, but useful gifts – gifts designed to lead, equip, love, support, encourage, teach, spur, and serve His family. What are these precious gifts? People.
While verse 11 shows that Paul’s primary focus in this passage is on the gift of good leaders to the Church, the wider context of Scripture makes it clear that each person in a church is God’s gift to that Body (1 Corinthians 12:18,27). In other words, God has blessed your church with you.
On Sunday, we saw very clearly that there are useful gifts and not-so-useful gifts (think leather mini-dress – or, better yet, don’t think leather mini-dress). The question is what kind of gift are you being to your church?
Too often, we make serving the Lord into a much bigger deal than it is. We feel that we need to do big things with huge impact – things that are noticed and praised by others. God’s idea of usefulness has much less to do with size than calling. Cy Light was a perfect example of this.
Cy was already old when I met him. He volunteered a couple days a week at the church – fixing things, cleaning things, adjusting things, arranging things. If you weren’t physically at the building watching him work, you’d never know the myriad of little tasks he accomplished for the church family he loved. What an incredible gift that man was!
God looked at your church, and He looked at you. Then He said, “I’m going to do something special for my people,” and He wrapped you up in paper, put a bow on your head, and presented you as the perfect gift to His Bride. Now that your church has you, what are you going to do about it?
If you’re not sure how to be useful in your church, talk to a pastor or an elder or a ministry leader. I’ve never met any one of those men and women who don’t already love you and have a wonderful plan for your life. God has specifically put you in your church for a reason. Stop seeing yourself as “less than” and start recognizing in yourself the wonderful gift that God has made you to be.