"You Are Called and Capable"
October 10, 2021 Speaker: Mitchel Kirchmeyer Series: Connected: a series about how to connect with others
Passage: Genesis 1:26–1:28, Psalm 139:14, Ephesians 2:10, Philippians 4:8
God has a purpose for your life and he has made you capable of fulfilling it.
Frank Abagnale, Jr. became a conman early in his life. He passed bad checks and created fake payroll checks. He impersonated airline pilots several times in his life. In 1975 he approached a bank, offering to show them how to catch other people defrauding banks. In 1976, he created a consulting firm to advise companies on fraud issues. A book called Catch Me If You Can was published to tell his life story. Since its publication, many of the stories of his scams, especially the most significant ones, have been found to be either exaggerated or totally made-up.
But this hasn’t stopped people from telling his story. In 2002, the movie Catch Me If You Can starring Leonard DiCaprio and Tom Hanks was released. In the book, Abagnale claimed to have become friends with the FBI agent who was hunting him and then to have been hired to help the FBI. DiCaprio plays Abagnale in the movie and Hanks plays the agent who hunts him.
There has also been a TV show inspired by the story of Frank Abganale, Jr. called White Collar. In this show, Neal Caffrey is a master con artist and forger who is hunted and caught by FBI agent Peter Burke who recruits Neal as a consultant for the FBI and they form a complicated friendship.
What I find interesting about this story, regardless of how much is real or made-up, is our interest in it. There’s a Wikipedia page about Frank Abagnale. He’s spoken at conferences. He has been on The Tonight Show three times. A movie has been made about him (and they asked Leonardo DiCaprio to play him so I’d imagine that could make you feel pretty good about yourself). A TV show that ran for six seasons was inspired by his life. We are fascinated with a guy who became famous because of how much he broke the law.
This story isn’t unique though. There are countless movies about criminals committing crimes: The Italian Job, Oceans 11, Oceans 12, Oceans 13, Now You See Me Now You Don’t, just to name a few. We are fascinated with watching people plan out how to commit a crime.
Today we are continuing our seven-week sermon series on how to better connect in our relationships. For the past two weeks, we have been learning about four messages everyone longs to hear (created by an organization called Connected Families which I am using with their permission). The first message is, “You are safe with me”, which lays a foundation of grace in the relationship. Last week, the message was, “You are loved no matter what”, which teaches us to show empathy and affection even when the person is hard to love. The message this week is, “You are called and capable.”
Here’s what we see from these movies and shows about committing crimes: it takes talent to pull off a good crime. It takes talent to break the law and not get caught. In movies like The Italian Job or Oceans 11, there’s usually a scene where they bring together the team that they need in order to pull off the job. In Oceans 11, Danny Ocean puts together a team of eleven to rob three casinos. Each person brings a valuable skill set needed to pull it off: planning, people skills, explosives, acrobatics, technology, etc.
It takes talent to pull off a good crime. This is an adaptation from a statement that Connected Families says about kids: “It takes talent to misbehave.” They explain that when a child is trying to get what they want, they access their strengths, not their weaknesses. They rely upon what they are good at in order to get or do what they want: creativity, reading people, persuasion, persistence, perseverance, determination, assertiveness, sense of justice (“that’s not fair!”), bargaining, deal making, and so forth.
What we also see from stories, like the one inspired by Frank Abagnale, Jr.’s life in the TV series White Collar, is that the same strengths, gifts, talents, and skills used to do harm can be redirected to do good. In White Collar, you could look at Neal Caffrey and only see a criminal. But with a change of perspective, you can see someone with amazing strengths, gifts, talents, and skills. He’s just using them for the wrong purposes.
Today’s message is “You are called and capable”, and to be honest, of the four messages in this framework, this has been the hardest for me to implement in my parenting. I’ll share more about that later. Let’s get into what it means.
To say someone is called and capable means that God has called them to do something with their life (they have a calling) and that God has made them capable of carrying out that calling. If we go back to our second message, we said that “You are made to be loved by God, to love God, and to love like God.” First John 4:19-21 says this:
19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:19-21)
That sums up our calling. Jesus said the two greatest commandments are to love God above all else and to love others as ourselves. We only love God and we only love others because God first loved us. And whoever loves God must also love others, which is a primary way we show our love for God.
Our Capability: Made in God’s Image and Likeness
So here we have our calling in life: to love God by loving others. Our calling is to bless others, to do good to others, to build others up, to care for others, to add value to their life. And God has made us capable of fulfilling this calling. How do we know God has given us what we need in order to fulfill our calling? Well, let’s look back at the first pages of the Bible in Genesis 1:26-28. This account of the creation of human beings tells us we were made in God’s image and likeness, which means we reflect what God is like. And God commissioned us to fill the earth, which means that all of creation is to be filled with reflections of God.
What does all this tell us about our calling and capability? Well, we saw in a previous message that God is love (1 Jn 4:8). What it means to be God is to give and receive love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Love is part of the essence of who God is. (God is a loving unity of three equally divine persons.) So what it means to be made in the image and likeness of this God is that we also are capable of giving and receiving love. This is what it means to be human. This is how God made us. We were created to connect and with the capability to connect with God and one another. We were created for relationships.
What does that capability look like? Christian author Gary Chapman has become famous for his 5 Love Languages books. The premise is that different people with different personalities give and receive love in different ways. The five love languages he’s identified are: acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, physical touch. You could say that these are ways God has made us capable of giving and receiving love.
But what has happened? If God has called us to love others and has given us the capability to give and receive love, why do we have such a hard time with it? If we were created to connect, why is there so much disconnection? The problem starts in Genesis 3 where Satan convinced Adam and Eve that God didn’t really love them. And if they wanted to be all they could be, they needed to practice some self-love: do what’s good for you. And so they did and that self-focused love killed their love for God and their love for each other.
We are called to love and we are created capable of loving. The problem is that our capability to love has been redirected toward loving ourselves and so we fail at our calling. But those same capabilities that we use for self-love can be redirected toward loving others like they were intended. Our capabilities to love others still remain. The image and likeness of God in us has been corrupted and tainted but not destroyed. It’s misdirected but not missing.
This is very important to the message “You are called and capable”: every single person is made in the image and likeness of God and that image has not gone away. We see this truth expressed in Psalm 139. This psalm was written by Israel’s king David and you can see how he feels very known by God. He talks about how God was even there when he was being formed in the womb and in fact God was knitting him together and intricately weaving his frame. David knows God as one who is very involved with his creation and who is personally involved in David’s life.
The key verse I want to look at is verse 14. David writes:
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well. (Psalm 139:14)
Every single person in your life, every single person you have ever met or will meet, can say this about themselves: “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” The CSB translation says, “I have been remarkably and wondrously made.” When you look at a mountain or the fall leaves or a bright sunset, you get this sense of awe and wonder. “Wow, that’s awesome! Wow, that’s amazing!” That’s the reaction that David has when he looks at himself as one of God’s wonderful creations.
Every single person created in the image of God can say this about themselves no matter who they are. Think about this: every murderer, every dictator, every pedophile, every human trafficker can say this about themselves. Adolf Hitler could say this about himself. The 9/11 terrorists could say this about themselves. Larry Nassar could say this about himself.
And what’s also true is that the victims who suffered at the hands of these people can say it about themselves. No one can take this away no matter how much others have used or abused them. Every human being is made in the image and likeness of God and can say, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Let’s get even more personal: you can say this about yourself. You can look in the mirror every morning and say, “I am made in the image of God. I am fearfully and wonderfully made by God.” One scholar said this sentence could be legitimately translated as “I praise thee, for I am awesomely wonderful” (Kidner). Are you able to do that? Do you believe that about yourself? When you look in the mirror, do you see someone who is a masterpiece made by God himself? This is a psalm of thanksgiving and praise for God’s goodness. And one of the places that David sees God’s goodness is in himself. Perhaps that’s even more radical to you than an evil person being able to say it.
Here begins the perspective shift that we need to make. We need to begin to see human beings as fearfully and wonderfully made by God for a purpose. And that perspective shift starts with us - with seeing ourselves as awesomely wonderful.
While it’s true that we are made in the image and likeness of God, what’s also true is that we do a very poor job being an image of God and reflection of his likeness. David, the man who wrote Psalm 139, was an adulterer, a murderer, and a thief. He did terrible things to hurt others. He had times when the only person he was loving was himself. And yet, Psalm 139:14 was still true of him.
The reality is that every human is made in the image of God with capabilities to love, but we so often use those capabilities to love ourselves instead of what they were designed to do. We have built-in functionality and features for loving others but we use them for the wrong purpose - the purpose of loving ourselves. This is what sin does to us - it twists us in on ourselves.
Author Paul Tripp calls 2 Corinthians 5:15 a diagnostic verse because it gives a diagnosis of our condition. It says, “and [Christ] died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” The human condition without Christ is that we live for ourselves. We make it all about us. Paul Tripp explains that “sin is essentially antisocial”. He says that cecause we live for ourselves, we prioritize loving ourselves and we see people either as a vehicle or an obstacle in the pursuit of that goal. This is what turning from God has done to us. This is what sin has done to us. We use our God-imaging capabilities for the wrong purpose. Our love is misdirected. We need a recalibration.
And this is exactly what salvation is all about. As 2 Corinthians 5:15, says, Jesus died so that we might no longer live for ourselves but for him. Jesus died to unbend us from only loving ourselves. Jesus died so that we may once again receive God’s love then give out God’s love to others. We were made to be loved by God, to love God, and to love like God. Jesus recalibrates our capability to love toward the right purposes.
I’m not much of a car guy, but I googled what the best cars to restore are. One of them is the 1964-66 Ford Mustang. It’s described as a classic that “set the standard for American muscle car design in the 1960s golden age” (https://citycollisioncenter.net/classic-car-restore/10-best-projects/). So let’s imagine you go to the junkyard and as you walk through the cars, you see a 1964 Ford Mustang. It’s in bad shape. It’s rusted. The windows are broken. The seats are ripped. It no longer even runs. So is it still a Ford Mustang or not? Yes. It’s in disrepair and needs to be restored, but it is still a Ford Mustang.
Every human is made in the image of God no matter what condition they are in. Psalm 139:14 is still true of them: they were awesome and wonderfully made. What’s also true is that we are in disrepair and need restoration. Our capabilities aren’t functioning correctly. To restore a 1964 Ford Mustang, you are going to need parts from the original maker in order to restore it to its original design. God is our original maker who restores us but he does not go back and make us like Adam before he sinned in the garden. God restores us using a new design.
Ephesians 2:1-10 explains how we were in bad shape. We were in disrepair. We were broken down. But God came into our lives because of his great love for us and he picked us up out of the junkyard. He saved us from the mess we had made of ourselves. And God does not only save us from something but for something. We have a calling - a new purpose. The last verse, Ephesians 2:10, says this:
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)
We are God’s workmanship. And he recreates us in Christ Jesus. Jesus is the blueprint for our restoration and God works all things for us to be conformed to his image (Rom 8:28-29). For what? For good works which God prepared beforehand. God has planned stuff for your life. He has prepared things for you to do. He has a calling for your life, and in Christ Jesus he has made you capable of fulfilling that calling. God bends our capabilities that have been turned in on ourselves to be turned outward once again. Instead of loving ourselves, we now receive love from him and give love out to others. You are the first person in your life who needs to hear the message that “You are called and capable.” God has a purpose for your life. And God has made you able to accomplish it.
What do you think about yourself? What do you think God thinks of you? When God looks at you, do you think God sees his wonderful workmanship? Or do you think God says, “You are such a screw-up. There’s nothing good about you. You just get it wrong all the time. Why can’t you just do what you are supposed to?” you need to be able to look in the mirror at yourself and say, “I am awesomely and wonderfully made by God for a purpose.”
Now throughout this series, I’ve asked you to have someone in mind with whom you want to have more connection. Last week I asked you to consider: What do they do that makes them difficult to love? So consider that: who is someone with whom you want to have more connection and what do they do that makes them difficult to love? Have it in mind.
When they are doing those things, we tend to be in enemy mode. The simple explanation of enemy mode is that you are focused on the pain or problems this person has caused. Instead of focusing on the person and keeping the relationship bigger than the problem or pain, you are focused on the problem or pain.
If you want to stay relational and get out of enemy mode, you first need to communicate the message “you are safe with me” by being for them and not against them. Then you need to show that you love them no matter what through empathy and affection.
Then you need to see their actions with a different lens. Imagine you are that FBI agent who caught Neal Caffrey in the show White Collar. You’ve perhaps spent years chasing this guy for the crimes he has committed. Then you finally catch him and put him in prison to serve out the sentence for his crimes. He’s a criminal who has done bad things and he deserves punishment. But then you begin looking at him in a different way. You realize, “Hey, this guy has a lot of skills. It took a lot of talent to do what he did. He has a ton of gifts and strengths. What if those skills, talents, gifts, and strengths were used for a different purpose - for a good purpose?
This is what it looks like to communicate the message, “You are called and capable.” You look beyond the actions of the person to the skills, talents, and strengths being used to do those actions. And what you see is someone who was made in the image of God, who is called to love others, and is very capable of doing so if they would just redirect their skills, talents, and strengths toward that purpose. Connected Families calls this “the gift gone awry” - they have a gift that has gone off course.
Let me share two stories from Connected Families so you can see it in action. One of the founders, Jim Jackson, tells the story of when he was working with high-risk youth. One teen girl had done graffiti art in the brand new van that had been donated to the organization. His first impulse was, “How dare they! We are going to make sure you are held accountable. You defiled our property! This is against the law!” It’s true that they should be held accountable, but then he looked at the art and it was really good. It was dark and devil-oriented art, but it was well done. The talent was on display for whoever sat in that seat. He recognized that there’s a gift here so he went to the student and said, “You’re really good at art, aren’t you? And I’ve seen some of your art on the back of the van and I’ve learned that you were the one who did it and I want you to know that God gave you that gift for a reason and it wasn’t this. So I’d love to work with you to make right what you’ve made wrong. To put those artistic talents to play to maybe earn some money to help make right what that poor choice made wrong.” They also went shopping for fabric paint and she picked the color mix that would be painted on the fabric to cover it up. (https://connectedfamilies.org/the-god-given-gifts-in-your-childs-misbehavior/)
I said at the beginning that this message has been one of the hardest for me to apply. One big reason why is that I tend to only see what’s wrong, what needs to be fixed, what needs to be corrected, what needs to be improved, where growth needs to happen. Jim explained in that story that we tend to see things as either all bad or all good, and that describes me. But usually there’s a mix of good and bad. But to communicate the message “You are called and capable” requires looking for and affirming what is good. It requires seeing good even in the middle of misbehavior, defiance, disrespect, lying, sin, and selfishness.
So how can we practically communicate this message?
1. Check your beliefs.
What do you believe about them? What you believe about them will determine your attitude toward them. If you believe they are all bad and that they are a problem, then you will be in enemy mode, focused on the problem or pain and not the person. We tend to have toxic beliefs about other people and we tend to have toxic beliefs about ourselves. The place to start in changing those beliefs is to know what God thinks about us. You first need to hear God saying to you, “You are awesomely and wonderfully made. You are my workmanship!” Then you need to consider: Is this what I think about the person I am dealing with? What do my attitude and actions say about what I believe about them?
We also need to check our beliefs about ourselves. What do you think your role is in this person’s life? We can tend to take on the role of a judge, being the one who holds them accountable for their actions, and communicating that people are responsible for their actions is a part of it. But it starts with the first three messages, not jumping ahead to correction. Think coach, not commander. Be a coach coming alongside, honing skills, identifying strengths and building upon them, helping grow in weaknesses. Instead of seeing the person as the problem, see them as a partner in finding a solution to the problem.
2. Shift Your Focus.
The question for “you are safe with me” is: “what’s going on in me?” The question for “you are loved no matter what” is: “what’s going on in them?” The question for “you are called and capable” is: “what do I see in them?” This is looking for the good even when what they are doing is bad. Reframe their behavior by asking, “Wow would the skills, talents, and strengths behind this behavior bless others if used rightly?” This is like a treasure hunt, looking for the treasure buried beneath their behavior so that you can affirm good desires being sought and good strengths, skills, and talents used to seek them. You don’t just see the problem or pain but you affirm. I’ve heard it said that criticism weighs about ten times more than affirmation. So when we want to give a correction, we need to consider whether we have made deposits of affirmation in order to make that withdrawal.
You need to do the same thing with your own issues. Your sin struggles often reveal your strengths. Let me give you a personal example. Two of my character faults are perfectionism and anger. I want things and people to be perfect and if they aren’t, I get angry. This includes anger with myself. So one way to look at this is that I need to get rid of those two faults - to see them as all bad. But if I am made in the image of God, aren’t these in some ways an expression of what God is like? God is the ultimate perfector, the ultimate improver, and the ultimate transformer. So my capability to see what’s wrong and my desire to improve it are reflections of what God is like. Jesus was angry at things he saw that weren’t right. Ephesians 4:6 says “Be angry and do not sin”. So anger is not a sin. Desiring to improve things is not a sin. Even if I can do those things in a sinful and selfish way. But these are God-given capabilities for fulfilling my God-given calling to love others. I need to be angry about the right things and express it in the right way. I need to seek to improve things the way God does.
Philippians 4:8 says:
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)
This verse is given in the context of Paul telling two women to resolve their conflict. Focusing on what is honorable and lovely and commendable in someone can go a long way in preventing and resolving conflict.
Jesus connected with people who were far from living the life God called them to - sinful woman (Lk 7), Levi the tax collector, woman at the well, prostitute (John 8). He was a friend of sinners. We can follow his example by connecting with people who are not behaving in ways that are honoring to God but who are still made in God’s image and likeness.
I want to share a second story that Jim Jackson, the cofounder of Connected Families, tells: Here are his words:
“When I (Jim) was working with at-risk teens I had an encounter that I’ll never forget. Jared was covered with violent tattoos, had tattered dark clothes, a defiant countenance, and he wore multiple piercings in his ears, nose, eyebrows and lips which suggested a hard life. Jared was in our program for skipping school along with other poor choices. His veneer seemed to say, ‘Back off!’ but I dared to ask, ‘How do you get away with skipping school?’ He grinned a little and was proud when he explained how he and his friends would distract the door monitor for each other and then take turns about who gets to skip school that day.
‘So you’re a good planner, you treat your friends fairly, and you’re all willing to sacrifice for each other. Add to that list your creativity and a good memory when lying and I’d say you’re a pretty talented guy. Imagine what might happen if you used some of those talents in ways that were more helpful to you and others, and less trouble!’ My words were heartfelt.
So were Jared’s, as evidenced by the glint of a tear and soft tone. ‘No one has ever said anything like that to me before!’
When kids [people] like Jared get in trouble, they usually tap into their strengths and talents to accomplish what’s important to them. If parents’ [our] primary goal is to ‘straighten them out’, or fix the problems through punishment, these kids [people] often grow discouraged, believing they are trouble-makers, not talented people.
When kids [people] believe the message ‘You are CALLED and CAPABLE’ they hold onto the hope that they can use their gifts in positive ways, to impact the world around them.”
Consider this: Do you think you could connect with a terrorist? Could you connect with an abortion activist? Could you connect with a transgender drag queen? Could you connect with a serial killer? Jesus was a friend of people far from honoring God, and we can be too.