You have a superpower
We all love a good superhero. And thanks to all the Marvel movies, we get to enjoy a bunch of them: Spider Man, the Avengers, and more. What is it that makes for a good superhero? It’s that each of them has a gift, a special power, a superpower.
Captain America has his super strength and shield. Thor has his hammer that only he can wield. Iron Man has his armor and ability to fly. Wolverine can heal from almost anything. Spider-Man has his spidey sense and the ability to wrap up bad guys in webs. Batman has oodles of gadgets.
What if I tell you that if you have received Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, he has given you a special superpower? It’s true.
Welcome to week 4 in our 5-part series on why church, on the benefits of connecting deeply with a local church. We started week one with the blessings of belonging. Week two built on that with the strength that comes from fellowship, from doing life with others who share your faith. And then last week was a deep dive into why we worship, the unique ways that God moves when we devote ourselves to gathering with fellow believers in worship.
Today we delve into the special gifting that God gives each person who belongs to Christ’s church. The Holy Spirit gives each Christian a superpower for ministering in Jesus’ name, with Jesus’ power, for God’s glory: I’m talking about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, your spiritual gift. Building on work done by James Emery White, I want to call you to God’s vision for using your spiritual gifts, in Christlike ways, for the good of the local church. That has always been God’s plan, and it has always been the source of Christians having the power to advance God’s good plan.
Let’s begin with how people can see Jesus today.
How people can see Jesus today
Paul writes this to the local church in Rome:
“Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.”
The image there is that the church is the visible manifestation of Jesus Christ in the world today. Like his body, his physical presence, each Christian has a part to play in making Christ known to those around us.
And just like the human body, the local church is healthy and productive when each part understands our part and carries it out.
Pastors have long said the church is not a building. The pandemic simply pushed that into sharper focus. We are the church; it’s the people of God. And so we together are how people get a shot at seeing Jesus today—seeing his character in action, his truth in our choices, and his priorities as our own. The members of Christ’s Church are God’s plan A for making Christ known. Each of us has a part to play in that great mission. That’s how people can see Jesus today. Let’s build on that by talking about…
How we can walk in the power of Jesus today
Paul writes to the local church in Rome…
“If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.”
There are several lists of spiritual gifts in the New Testament, each of them emphasizing that every Christian is given one of these unique abilities by God, something that you uniquely contribute to the group. When you asked Christ to come into your life, he gave you his Spirit. And with the coming of the Holy Spirit comes a spiritual gift to be used for what God is doing in this world through his church.
The spiritual gifts are supernatural abilities to make a difference with your life through the church. There are speaking gifts, such as teaching. There are people gifts, such as counseling, encouragement, hospitality, leadership, and mercy. There are service gifts, such as administration, giving, and helps. And more.
There is no one gift that everyone is supposed to have. And no one spiritual gift is superior or more spiritual than any other. They all are special, because whatever gift you have was chosen for you by God.
It’s important that you discover what gifts God has given you. And it’s just as important that you use your gifts. The popular approach to church as passive consumers is the farthest thing possible from God’s intent for his church.
If God has gifted you as a leader, lead in the church. We have a great need for gifted leaders in the church.
If God has given you the gift of teaching, then teach. Jump in on our kids’ ministry. Start a small group. But use your spiritual gift.
If your spiritual gift is administration, bring that superpower to the church.
If your gift is giving, give generously so that the church’s mission advances without hindrance.
If your gift is evangelism, sharing the good news message of salvation through faith in Jesus, then share your faith boldly, including here in the YMCA.
If your gift is mercy, go after people who seem to be hurting or who drop off the radar.
The whole picture is like a healthy body with each part assigned a unique and important role: discover what your role is, and do it!
As the apostle Paul says to the local church in Colosse,
“Pay attention to the ministry you have received in the Lord, so that you can accomplish it” (Colossians 4:17).
He urges his protégé Timothy,
“Do not neglect your gift .… Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress” (1 Timothy 4:14-15).
And Peter adds,
“God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.” (1 Peter 4:10)
So discover your superpower, the spiritual gift God has given you, and use it to strengthen the church and reach the spiritually lost.
Every contact leaves a trace
Here’s an image of how it works when you discover and consistently use your spiritual gifts. There’s a fascinating TEDx talk by John Sutherland, an officer in London’s police department. In it, he explains a principle in forensic science known as Locard’s exchange principle. Developed by Dr. Edmond Locard, called the Sherlock Holmes of France, the principle has a simple premise: every contact leaves a trace.
Every contact you make as you navigate this morning, and the coming days of this week, leaves a trace. The only question is, what kind? What effect are you leaving in each place you go, with each person you interact with?
One forensic expert put it this way, speaking of criminals:
“Wherever he steps, whatever he touches, whatever he leaves, even unconsciously, will serve as a silent witness against him. Not only his fingerprints or his footprints, but his hair, the fibers from his clothes, the glass he breaks … the paint he scratches, the blood … he deposits or collects … This is evidence that does not forget.”
And then officer Sutherland explains how this principle applies not just to forensic science but to all human relationships, saying, “Every time two people come into contact with one another an exchange takes place. Whether between lifelong friends or passing strangers, we encourage, we ignore, we hold out a hand, or we withdraw it. We walk towards or we walk away. We bless or we curse… And every single contact leaves a trace. The way that we treat and regard one another matters. It really matters.”
That so clearly matches like a fingerprint with the New Testament witness of how our spiritual gifts are meant to function. You have at least one superpower, one spiritual gift given you by God. The only questions are, do you know what gift you have, and are you intentionally and consistently using it for others’ benefit?
An important qualifier
Let’s add an important qualifier about spiritual gifts. An attitude of serving where needed should always take priority over waiting to use your gift. So if you discover you’re gifted in leadership, don’t wait for a leadership position to present itself. When you see a need, jump in and serve. Your gift will be expressed in how you serve and meet that need. That’s important.
Your gift isn’t what is most important; serving is. The most important thing is to get into the game with an attitude of serving others, as Christ did. This is why you see gifted administrators jumping in on setup each Saturday evening, and gifted leaders serving on yChurch’s First Impressions team as you came in this morning. They come with a servant’s heart, whatever the need is at the moment.
So you may not have the spiritual gift of giving, but all of us are called to give. You may not have the gift of evangelism, but you’re still called and given opportunities to reach out to those around you for Christ and to invite them to church—online and in-person.
You may not have the gift of mercy, but you’re still called to be merciful toward those who are hurting. Make sense? Don’t wait to use your gifts when you see a ministry need where you can serve. Your gift will come out in how you serve.
The way of the world & the way of Christ
This attitude of serving others is something that set the early church apart, as it still does today. Historian Garret Fagan summarizes how the Romans—the culture surrounding the early church—viewed strength and weakness. Listen to this. He writes, “Ideas of universal human dignity were almost all but nonexistent, and large swathes of the population were seen as … inherently worthless. Weak members of society were objects not of compassion but of derision. More than most, Romans lionized strength over weakness, victory over defeat, dominion over obedience. Losers paid a harsh price and got what they deserved, and [resisters] were to be ruthlessly handled … Roman politics became a ruthless game of total winners and abject losers … The drive to dominate and not be forced to bow before a rival was paramount.”
This is the way of the world, friends. But it is not, and must never be, the way of the Christian, because it is not the way of Christ. Christ came to serve. And he calls us to do the same. Whatever superpowers he entrusts to us, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, are to be used in the manner of Jesus, reflecting the fruit of the Spirit—of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Anytime you use your spiritual gifts, be sure to use them in ways that reflect the fruit of the Spirit!
Let’s get practical and inspirational with this. The best superheroes inspire us to be better people, as in the Spider Man when Uncle Ben counsels Peter Parker, “With great power [say it with me if you know it: with great power] comes great responsibility.” We see the same in Jesus, our superhero role model par excellence.
How to use your spiritual superpower
Come with me back to a scene late in Jesus’ life. [KC1] It is his final evening with the disciples he has so invested in, before he knows that he will go to the cross. Jesus has told them several times about his suffering, death, and resurrection, but they can’t understand yet.
John chapter 13 opens with John remembering what Jesus did that, in John’s words, showed just how much he loved them.
“Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.”
That’s a curious expression that can be translated a couple of different ways. But given what follows, it seems clear that what Jesus then did was a powerful supernatural act of love. He washed their feet.
I don’t know if that sounds odd or not all that powerful to you. It does to a lot of people. It would be like saying, “On their 35th wedding anniversary, Jeff showed his wife the full extent of his love: he cleaned the toilet.”
But that’s not too off! Foot washing was a menial job. Somebody had to do it, but it was nasty. People back then took off their sandals when they came into your home. When you sat down to eat, everyone’s feet stuck out behind them in plain view—their dirty, dusty feet.
Roads were mostly dirt, and people wore open sandals. Donkeys and camels shared the roads, dropping manure as they went, as did herds of cattle or sheep being led by shepherds. So by dinnertime, your feet had a coating of dust, dirt, manure, and who knows what else from wherever you walked. And if it rained, it was worse.
So here’s what people would do. When you would be invited into a friend’s house for a meal or party, there would be someone at the door—usually a paid servant—with a basin of water and a towel, and they would wash and dry your feet. It was considered one of the lowliest jobs. But if by some chance there wasn’t a paid servant to do the job, the first person who had arrived was expected to do it until someone of lower position showed up. Then it was their unpleasant expectation.
But this night, no one grabbed a basin. No one looked for a towel. Not one of them. As they reclined around the table for dinner with their filthy feet sticking out, everyone knew the task that had to be done, but no one wanted to do it. And we already know from the gospels that the disciples were known to argue over which of them was the greatest.
The one person in the room who clearly should have been exempt from washing feet…was Jesus. He was the respected teacher or rabbi. There’s zero historical evidence in any ancient Jewish literature that ever describes a rabbi stooping to wash his disciple’s feet. None.
And furthermore, from a human perspective, Jesus was the neediest person in the room. He was the most hurting, the most in crisis, the most overwhelmed circumstantially. He was hours away from betrayal, mockery, mistreatment, and a cruel death.
So if anyone needed and deserved to be served that evening—to be loved and cared for—it was Jesus. But look at what happens:
“He [Jesus] got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that he poured water into a basin, and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”
It was such a shocking and embarrassing moment that Peter protested, “No, you shall never wash my feet!” He was uncomfortable. It didn’t seem right. But Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
We now understand that Jesus was foretelling his crucifixion and the cleansing of sin that would be accomplished there. Peter, like all of us, needed his sins washed away by what Christ accomplished on the cross. But Jesus used this moment to tell Peter and the rest of them—and us—something crucial: Unless you’re willing to serve like Jesus, to love like Jesus, you cannot be his disciple. Period.
The way of Christ is not the way of Rome. The way of Christ is not about power-plays or titles or expecting honor. The way of Christ is to humbly serve. Even in how you use the superpower that God entrusts to you, your spiritual gift, how you use it is far more important than the gift itself.
In the days ahead, Peter and the other disciples realized what it was that he did for them. And that servant’s heart changed them from a mixed bag of guys who couldn’t get along and didn’t necessarily want to, transforming them into a little community, a band of brothers, that would turn their world upside down, one act of service at a time.
The issue here is about having a servant’s heart. It’s about having a spirit, an attitude, where at a moment’s notice you grab a towel and a basin, and you humbly serve others. That’s the way of Jesus, whatever your spiritual gift, whatever your superpower.
Using our spiritual gifts in Christlike ways
The big news in Indiana recently is about thousands of war refugees from Afghanistan being brought to Camp Atterbury where for now they are to be housed and fed. I came across a story from earlier in the post-9/11 conflict that shows what Christ calls us to in serving wherever there’s a need.
In the days leading up to 9-11, fighting in Afghanistan between local groups and then the Taliban resulted in thousands of refugees pouring down into neighboring Pakistan. There they were squashed into tents and mud hovels in refugee camps in intense heat and poor sanitation. J. D. Woodberry and his wife Roberta were working in the refugee camps at the time. Woodbury describes what happened in the camps. He writes, “Conditions at one camp were harsher than at the others; so Roberta and her class took school supplies to the students so they had more than just blank slates with chalk. Another group of eight workers imported thousands of sandals for the children who ran around with bare feet on the rough parched ground. But they decided that they would also wash their feet as Jesus had. My daughter-in-law joined the group.”
“For a week they washed every foot with antibacterial soap, anointed with oil, and silently prayed for each child. Then they gave each of them new sandals, a quilt, and a shawl, plus a small bag of flour for every family.”
He recalls, “At first the sores, pus, pink eye, and dirt were revolting. But then our daughter-in-law felt a deep love as she silently prayed, ‘Father, this little girl looks like she does not have anyone to care for her. Let my touch feel to her as if you are touching her. May she remember how you touched her this day, and may she seek after you hereafter.’”
Now catch this. Sometime later a teacher in one of the tents used for a refugee school asked her class, “Who are the best Muslims?” A girl raised her hand and replied, “the kafirs” (a term meaning unbelievers or infidels that Muslims often use to describe Christians). After the teacher recovered from her shock, she asked, “Why? Why are the kafirs the best Muslims?” The young refugee replied, “The Muslim fighters killed my father, but the kafirs washed my feet.”
Adapted from Evelyne A. Reisacher, Joyful Witness in the Muslim World, (Baker Academic, 2016), pgs. 112-113.
The truth is that it doesn’t always work to serve. The way of Christ doesn’t always break through. But it’s still the right way. It’s the way of Jesus that we, like he, are called to use our God-given superpowers. Here’s how John concludes his memory of that evening:
When [Jesus] had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. John 13:12-15
Here’s the challenge, friends: jump in. Start serving somewhere, somehow, someway, regularly. This is God’s calling for us: to serve, to make a difference by serving the people around us like Christ. Take whatever you already understand about yourself—your spiritual gifts, your experiences, and whatever need presents itself—and serve in ways that reflect the character of Christ to those you serve.
Join me. Grab a basin. Pick up a towel. Discover and use your spiritual gifts intentionally. And watch what God can do with his superpower matched with a servant’s heart.
Would you pray with me right now?
Lord God, we thank you for giving us, along with Jesus, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, given to each one as you determine. We pray that you will grant us discernment for each one here to discover our spiritual gifts, and we pray that you will constantly draw us back to using our gifts as Jesus did, with the heart of serving others.
Lead us together to the good works you have prepared in advance for us as a church to do. Give us the gifts and abilities to accomplish all that you call us to. And through us, we pray, draw those who don’t know you to seek and find you through your Son.
For any listening who aren’t sure where they stand with you, I pray you will give them faith enough to call on you even now to come into their life with the cleansing forgiveness of Jesus Christ, the filling of your Spirit, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit that you have for them.
Hear our grateful prayer, Lord, in the mighty name of Jesus. Amen!
We’re so glad you joined us for yChurch online. And we would love to welcome you in person at yChurch in the Fishers YMCA next Sunday at 9:30 a.m., with masks recommended: 9012 E. 126th Street, Fishers, IN, 46038. God bless you and make you a blessing this week!