What are my spiritual gifts? A conversation with Dr. Ryan Denison

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What are my spiritual gifts? A conversation with Dr. Ryan Denison

August 15, 2022 -

In tandem with the release of Denison Forum’s latest book, What Are My Spiritual Gifts?, Dr. Ryan Denison and Dr. Mark Turman discuss spiritual gifts, how they are powered by the Holy Spirit, how we can know our spiritual gifts, the difference between talents and gifts, and how the Lord uses them.

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Show notes:

Dr. Ryan Denison and Dr. Mark Turman discuss Dr. Ryan Denison’s new book, What Are My Spiritual Gifts: How to Discover, Understand, and Apply Your Spiritual Gifts (2:11).

They talk about what spiritual gifts are, how the Bible talks about them, the motivation behind using them, and how they’re used in the church. They talk about how the Spirit uses our talents, personality, and experience to develop our gifts (10:06).

They turn to discuss the spiritual gifts inventory we’ve developed at whataremyspirituagifts.com.

Denison also discusses how to use the test, how it’s not the final say, and why you might want a friend to fill it out for you (22:46).

They also consider why Dr. Ryan Denison divided them up with his categories of “Public, Personal, and Paradigm.” (31:49) They hone in on music as a more unique gift that Dr. Denison identifies (37:31).

They end on specifically thinking about the gift of giving (55:40).

Resources and further reading:

About the hosts

Jim Denison, Ph.D., is an author, speaker, and the CEO of Denison Ministries, which is transforming 6.8 million lives through meaningful digital content.

Dr. Mark Turman is the executive director of Denison Forum. He received his DMin from Truett at Baylor and previously served as lead pastor of Crosspoint Church.

About the guest

Dr. Ryan Denison is the Senior Editor for Theology at Denison Forum. He holds a Ph.D. in church history from B.H. Carroll Theological Institute. He’s written four hundred articles for the Denison Forum in addition to other works, including How to Bless God by Blessing Others and the recently released What Are My Spiritual Gifts? Dr. Ryan Denison is Dr. Jim Denison’s son. He is married to his wife Candice; they have two children and live in East Texas.


Transcribed by Otter.ai

Mark Turman  00:02

Welcome back to the Denison Forum Podcast. I’m Dr. Mark Turman, Executive Director of Denison Forum. Thank you for joining us for another conversation today, we are talking about spiritual gifts, how God has equipped us and wants to equip us to be involved with him in the redemptive work that he’s doing in the world. I’m joined today by Dr. Ryan Dennison, son of Dr. Jim Dennison, our CEO. Ryan has been on our ministry team for quite a while he is Senior Fellow of theology and church history recently got his PhD in church history and is releasing a book through our ministry that is called What are my spiritual gifts? How to discover, understand and apply your spiritual gifts. Ryan, welcome to the podcast this morning.

Ryan Denison  00:52

Thank you so much for having me. I’m looking forward to the conversation.

Mark Turman  00:56

All right. Ryan writes prolifically for our website, more than 400 articles. As I said, he’s also married to Kansas, and has two children. And they live in East Texas. And we’re just privileged to have him as a partner on our team. And he’s made me feel welcome. In the recent days that I’ve joined the ministry. So looking forward to this first podcast conversation. Our ministry wants to mobilize believers to be salt and light in their context and to be catalysts for spiritual awakening. And the great thing is, is that as Ryan and I were talking just before the podcast, God doesn’t just want to forgive us and adopt us and make us His children. He also wants us to be as the Bible says, in various places, co workers with him co laborers in the work that he’s doing. And not only does he invite us to come alongside him and be a part of the work that he’s doing, He equips us for that to be effective, so that we can find meaning and purpose, but also really make a difference in the work that he’s doing. And that’s just incredible. In my opinion, it just one of the astounding things about being a Christian is a god involves us in that way. Ryan, some of your initial thoughts about God’s calling an invitation into shared service with him and with other believers and kind of the what’s the underpinning of the motivation for your book?

Ryan Denison  02:24

Thank you. Um, well, a big part of it was that I feel like, I don’t know about you. But I know I’ve experienced burnout at times in the past when I’ve been working in, in ministry. And I think, looking back on that a lot of those times had been because I was working in an area that was outside of my giftings. And so as I was trying to understand how the spiritual gifts work, how they play into our role, and part of God’s calling, one of my strongest motivations was just trying to understand that myself and help other people understand that as well. Because while we’re not called to work solely within our giftings, I think there’s ample room for wherever you’re just called to meet needs, as we see needs develop, I do think, if you can understand how God has wired you, and the gifts that he’s given you, and use those and ask for him to help guide you to ways that you can use those in the course of your ministry. There’s just a level of joy and a sense of purpose to it, that I think is often lacking, if you’re just serving out more of a sense of obligation.

Mark Turman  03:31

Yeah, and I think you’re exactly right, that, you know, every Christian ought to have that broad based kind of what I would call good samaritan attitude, you see a need, you try to step in and meet that need. But then understanding that we’re all interdependent upon both the Lord and each other that, you know, one of the things that, that you can learn very early on about being involved in the family of God is that you don’t have to do it all. And in fact, you can’t do it all. And shouldn’t take up that position. And that God does have some specific things that he wants you to be involved with. But that doesn’t mean you have to have to do everything. And you need to be involved with other believers. I know as a pastor for 35 years. I was always eager and sometimes even desperate to help people understand their gifting and God’s call that God doesn’t just want us to be worshipers of him. That’s where our relationship starts. But we’re worshippers and we’re people of fellowship, and we’re people who are hopefully pursuing discipleship and holiness, but it doesn’t stop there. It is also about being servants and witnesses. And that a big part of the reason why we’re still here on Earth after our salvation, is so that we can serve and serve, like I said, effectively and joyfully, as we discover God’s calling in God’s gifting I know early on in my Christian Life when I became a Christian as a teenager, I started hearing very early on God has a plan for your life, God has a plan for your life. And that started to unfold not only in, like I said in things like holiness and fellowship, but then, okay, what does God want me to do in the world? What is my, what’s my purpose in life? Which is one of the fundamental questions that that all of us need to answer and, and from a pastor’s perspective. Every pastor I know is like, there’s just stuff that needs to be done in this ministry, at church and in the world. And I just wish more people would figure out there partying, it is, right?

Ryan Denison  05:38

Absolutely. One of my favorite things about the church that my family and I attend here in East Texas is that kind of the church’s motto, I guess, you could say is that every member is a minister. And it’s, they really try and try and live that out where they encourage people to find your area where you can plug in and serve. And another, one of the things I talk about in the book is just this idea that, because if God has called you to worship in a certain community of faith, he’s led you there for a reason. And that reason is not just that you can be filled on Sunday mornings, it’s because he has a place for you to work for you to worship, but also for you to work. And he has areas and knees that you can fill that no one else could fill in the same way. And so if you really feel like you have been called to sing to a particular church, then you have a ministry there. And so much of it is just trying to figure out what that is in a line. And so often, I think one of the issues I think people have is, so often we see a need, and we just assume that, okay, since the need exists, I’m called to fill that. And often, oftentimes, it ends up being the same people that have that mindset. And there’s the old kind of truism that 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people. And I think that can be the case in churches as well. And it’s, it’s just so much it works so much better when you can have a majority of that congregation serving within their gifting and serving within their needs and meeting those needs as they they arise. And I know it makes it easier for the church staff, one of the biggest blessings you can give to a church staff is to ask them, these are my is to go to them and say, These are my giftings Where do you think I can help? And then just be open? So what they say in return?

Mark Turman  07:22

Yeah, absolutely. And I, I know every pastor, you know, we used to at the church I pastored. In the North Dallas area, we we had what we called Luke 10, to prayers where Jesus tells us to pray that God would send out more laborers into the harvest. And we were always trying to look for that next person who could step in and, and develop a ministry or strengthen it in some way, start something new. And so even put it on our calendar, where we just would, you know, Jesus gives us only a small number, actually a very specific prayer requests. And that’s one that has always stood out to me as a pastor of, hey, we just need more workers in the work. Because there’s so much that we can do and should be doing with God and as the people of God and, and just such an urgent need. And like said, you, you talked about it as being work or service, but it’s actually the most fulfilling kind of thing that we can be doing. When we know that we’re in tune with God, we know that we’re working out of the abilities and the gifting that he gave us, there’s an enormous amount of joy and satisfaction that comes in that kind of experience with God. That happens absolutely inside the congregation, but also happens out in the world, as we use those gifts in those various places. And it’s just, you know, when you start getting clarity around that, so much encouragement, so much confidence that can come from that. So let’s let’s talk a little bit more. The Bible speaks in a couple of places, particularly through the inspired pen of the Apostle Paul, not only there but particularly through the apostle Paul, about spiritual gifts. Paul is one of the writers who sometimes piles up a lot of lists. And he does that with spiritual gifts in places like First Corinthians 12 through 14 and Romans chapter 12. A couple of other allusions to that as well. And those kinds of give us a really good understanding, or at least a good example of what some of the gifting might be. I used to always tell my church that when you read about spiritual gifts in the Bible, there’s not an exhaustive list. There’s an exemplary list. So you can be gifted in a way that’s not specifically talked about in the Bible. But there are some very clear passages about spiritual gifts as well. So, Ryan, if you could give us a definition, what are spiritual gifts And when and how does a person acquire that? Maybe we start there.

Ryan Denison  10:06

Thank you. And I love that distinction that you make between an exhaustive list and an exemplary exemplary list. I think that’s very important. Because God is bigger than our ideas of him. And the way that he so often and the way that he gives us the way that he uses us, I think, is there were given examples, but and in the book, we go through several the examples that we find in Scripture, and but so often, I think, what we can lose sight of if we begin thinking, Okay, well, this is what Paul talked about. So where do I fit within Paul’s list is, we can leave aside the fact that each of our gifting even within that list is unique to who we are, because so much of it goes back to just the way that God created us. Oftentimes, I think there’s a temptation to think of our spiritual gifts. It’s something that’s imparted to us at our at our point of salvation. And I think what Scripture teaches is that they are optimized and activated by the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives. And so that the spiritual gifts can never fulfill their purpose, apart from God, the way that they could when they’re powered by the Holy Spirit. But they’re also tied into our personality. Oftentimes, they’re tied into the way that God made us. And as the Bible talks about the way that God knitted us together in our mother’s womb, I mean, so from the start, God is developing these, these characteristics, these traits in our lives that he wants to then empower with His Holy Spirit and use and I think, some of the spiritual gifts go, I think, hand in glove with that idea of just who God made you to be as a person.

Mark Turman  11:43

Yeah, so I know that the very popular Pastor Rick Warren, out in California, who just retired, used to speak about this, I’ve heard him teach on it before. You know, sometimes we get a little bit too wrapped up in saying, Okay, well, these are my talents that I was born with as a person. But when I became a Christian at the point of my conversion, that I received these spiritual gifts. And I know, in my own life, it’s it was never that clear in terms of a line of demarcation between those things. And as you said, My, my, my personality always seemed to be kind of wound up in there as well. And then Rick Warren would always add to that, well, what are your experiences as well? And you know, love the line, he would all say, God never wastes a hurt. And so, you know, how is that all of that spun together? We’re not really sure. We just know that we can, you know, for clarity sake, sometimes we can kind of categorize those things in terms of personality, and, and talent or aptitude, spiritual gifts, experiences, and then even your passions and your interest in desires, all of that kind of goes into this conversation. But where does the where does the biblical part in the biblical passages, how do you see those as being most helpful to believers?

Ryan Denison  13:11

Thank you. And yeah, I, along those same lines I got, I think, it’s also why it’s good, periodically come back to this test, and retake the spiritual gifts test. Because just because God has gifted you and is using those gifts in a specific way, at one point in your life doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s always how he will use them, or that those are necessarily the gifts he will prioritize over others. I agree with what Rick Warren said regarding the role that experience plays as well, and that it is a development where, and I think it goes back to what the Bible says that God gives us these gifts, to build up the body of Christ and to advance the mission of the kingdom. And so he gives them in ways that go towards those ends. And I think that’s part of why they can develop over time is that just our role within them, that kingdom mission can evolve over time as well. One of my favorite passages in Scripture is in John three, where John is having a thriving ministry. He’s doing God’s work. And then when Jesus kind of begins his ministry, more people start following him and John’s disciples are very worried about this. But John’s responses, all right, he must become greater, I must become less. And it’s that idea that just because you’ve been caught has been blessing, what you’ve been doing doesn’t mean that’s always what he’s going to bless. And his calling it our lives can evolve and change. We need to be flexible enough to change with it. I think treating holding our spiritual gifts loosely enough to evolve along with God’s calling is an important part of that. Because the role that he calls us to play within the body of Christ to build up the body of Christ can change and evolve over time. But at the end of the day, that’s what I think is most important to keep coming back to is just when the Bible talks about spiritual guests, especially when Paul talks about spiritual gifts and First Corinthians, it is very clear that these gifts are given to build up the body If Christ, you are not the endpoint for these gifts, they’re not something that God gave to you to give to be used only in your life. They’re meant for a larger purpose. And I think we need to keep that in mind as well. And that’s absolutely one of Paul’s guiding principles when it comes to spiritual gifts.

Mark Turman  15:18

And as in going back to that passage, right, actually, three chapters of First Corinthians 1213, and 14, that’s really where the Corinthians were getting it wrong. Right. And that is kind of what gives rise to the conversation in the Corinthian letters is that they understood a significant amount, apparently about spiritual gifts and about abilities and about being called into partnership and activity with God. But they had really kind of lost sight of what the purpose of those gifts were all about. They had turned it into something that was self promoting, rather than Kingdom promoting, and the building up of the church, am I am I right, in that?

Ryan Denison  16:05

I think you’re 100%. Right. And so much of those chapters. And I think that’s why it’s important to when we think about spiritual guests to understand that. Oftentimes, when Paul talks about them, he uses them as tools in a larger conversation. And rather than taking these passages, it’s like, okay, this is the only thing Paul is talking about here. And I think the Listen, First Corinthians is a big part of that, especially when it gets an assigned guests, which we’ve addressed on a larger article on the website. I think so often, those end up being a divisive subject, when the reality is that it gets back to this idea that all of our gifts are meant to build up the body of Christ and advance God’s purpose, and to the extent that they’re powered by the Holy Spirit, and will always be for that. And I think it’s just it’s so important to remember that, even though our guests are unique to us, they’re not for us, necessarily.

Mark Turman  17:03

Yeah. And they certainly will bring us like we said earlier, a great sense of joy, peace, contentment, and meaning, but that that should never become the thing that we’re addicted to. Right. And, you know, the and Peter says something very similar later in the Bible, in his letters about using your gifts for the building up of the Body of Christ, and everybody being interconnected in that way for, like I said, strengthening the church, but also serving the world. But it’s really easy. Think about that part of scripture we mentioned in Corinthians, First Corinthians 11, sometimes kind of gets left out of this conversation about spiritual giftings. But what’s really going on in several different ways in the letter is that the Corinthians had turned their their spiritual life, their religious life into something very selfish and self promoting. And Paul has some pretty hard things to say to them about how they’re being selfish in worship, which is what First Corinthians 11 is about, and then how they’re being self promoting, when it comes to their, their use of gifts and abilities. And, you know, so many people have the 13th chapter, read at their wedding, and, you know, put up in a plaque on their wall, because it’s this beautiful chapter about love, as the thing that is preeminent even over your abilities. Talk about that a minute. As we talk about the motivation, and the purpose of these gifts, right in the middle of this big conversation about serving God together through these gifts, there’s this long, beautiful point about love. What is Why does Paul do that? Do you think?

Ryan Denison  18:47

I think it’s part to just give perspective, because I think it’s so easy for like, like you said, he was fighting this, this movement within the Corinthian church to where they had just become very inwardly focused, and a lot of aspects of their lives. And even when it came to the spiritual gifts, they, I think, chapter 12 kind of hints at the idea that they were beginning to categorize them in into sort of a hierarchy where these are the use of the really good spiritual gifts if you have these than your one level. And if you don’t, then maybe you’re a lesser Christian, if you haven’t been given these gifts. And I think what Paul’s saying is, that’s just wrong. And the best way to understand that and maintain a proper balance when it comes to spiritual gifts is to remember that the most important thing is love. And the most lasting thing is love. And he talks about how the spiritual gifts will cease when Christ returns. Because we only have them in part and when we get to heaven, like we’re not going to need the same spiritual gifts the way that we do here, when the kingdom mission is accomplished, in large part but even then love will not fade and love will endure. And I think it’s that’s his way of just helping the Corinthians. reorient their lives to understand that there is not a single The last aspect of their calling in which love towards one another and love towards the last around them should not be a hobby, perhaps the guiding principle.

Mark Turman  20:10

Yeah, and with, yeah, and with that as the foundation, you know, we can move forward in a lot of ways to be effective both in bringing God glory and in helping other people. With our gifts you mentioned the website. So our goal is to kind of be multi dimensional, in our help in this area of getting people to both discover, develop and deploy their gifts. As you know, preachers love to obliterate. And I appreciate there are some alliteration in the book. But you know, I always like to talk to my church, and that way, hey, you need to discover what it means to be involved with God in the world and what it means to discover your spiritual gifts for doing that. But then understand they don’t come fully develop, you have to partner with God through the Holy Spirit, as you said earlier, it evolves there could be things that God would would manifest in your life in a very significant way in a season of your life. And that might change later on. And that doesn’t necessarily mean the gift went away, it might just take a different form. Or there might be other gifts that emerge as the Holy Spirit in your relationship to God through the Spirit continues to come out. So it has to be developed. Because the most important thing to God is not what your gifts are and what you can do for him, but the fact that you’re working with him. One of the most profound moments in my life was when I, I had a kind of a crisis of faith, and I realized God doesn’t care what I can do for him, he is only interested in what I can do with him. And, and when I see it, in that different light, all kinds of partnership and ministry and service. And if we want to call it work, it becomes something totally different when you’re doing it with God instead of for God. And so it has to develop through your relationship with Christ. And and then you get to work with him about where does it get deployed? Where does God want me to be using this kind of gift inside the church, outside the church and in those various contexts, but you mentioned that, in addition to the book, and to the podcast conversation today, we have a website that we’re putting out there in a brand new way, the website I want to mention it several times is what are my spiritual gifts.com? All of that together? No spaces, what are my spiritual gifts.com You’ll see an explanation of the guests, there is a tool. Ryan, let’s talk a little bit before we talk about some of the specific gifts. I’ve kind of scratched my head for a long time wondering what the Apostle Paul or Peter or Jesus or any of those leaders might think about. Okay, there is a test that people do around these, I guess, kind of wonder if they ever thought that that’s the way we would approach this. You know, as Americans, particularly, we love to kind of measure and quantify and, and take test on different things to see where we quote unquote, rate, explain the idea of what we mean by taking a spiritual gift inventory or test. That mayor, we could argue against a long time about whether or not that’s what Paul intended us to do with this. But talk about the reasons why we approach it that way.

Ryan Denison  23:42

Well, thank you and I, I agree, like there’s short of God, just telling you, these are your gifts, there is no perfect way to assess them. And the our hope with the test with the assessment was that it would, at the very least help you to think about the way that God is using your gifts and the way that God has gifted you just by reflecting on your practical experiences. And then another thing we mentioned in the book is that we encourage people not to be the to ask a loved one, whether it’s your spouse, or a really good friend, to take the test with you in mind as well. Because I think one of the ways that these tests ended up becoming less and less effective to put it kindly, is when we ended up taking them as okay, this is we end up taking them as the idealized version of ourselves versus who we actually are. And I think that’s one of the ways that these can fall short is if if you take it saying, going in saying okay, I want the gifts of evangelism, teaching and discernment, then you can absolutely answer the questions in a way that will make those your top three gifts. And that no way means that they actually are. And so one of the things that we really encourage people to do is to take it honestly spend some time praying and reflecting before you take the assessment just ask God to almost speak through the questions to Let you you know, to let you see your own gifting and your own your own calling in a new light maybe. And then by asking someone else to do it as well with you in mind, the idea is that it gives you a greater, it gives you something else to compare it. And because if you if your top gifts are not necessarily what someone else would say that they are, then that doesn’t mean that you’re wrong. But I think it does mean that there’s perhaps the need for a bit more reflection, then you’ve given maybe just a bit more time in prayer a bit more time reflection, asking God to help you understand. But like you said, no test is perfect. We don’t pretend that this one is. But our goal is just that God can use it to help you maybe even just think about your gifts in any way.

Mark Turman  25:43

Yeah, I love that I you know, I love the idea of an inventory or a test. But I really love what you suggested in you know, getting somebody that knows you well, to do this on your behalf, you know, how would they see you as well. And the idea that you don’t take an instrument like this from an aspirational standpoint, you take it from an honest, what actual standpoint, which goes to another element of this really, which is everything we can do in a reasonable fashion to understand ourselves and to become emotionally intelligent about ourselves, I think is helpful. That’s why I’ve always encouraged people, I enjoy doing things like personality profiles, the DISC profile, there’s a number of really good things out there, the Myers Briggs and other significant instruments that help us to see ourselves they kind of hold up a mirror to us. And that’s kind of what this instrument that we have at what are my spiritual gifts.com is about, it’s about holding up a little bit of a mirror so that you can understand who God has made you to be. And then you can move in that direction. And like I said, I think something like this spiritual gift inventory does that I think these other personality tools, do that so that you learn who you are, and how God has again, as you said, wired you up for ministry. But I love that. And I also you know, I will always tell my people in church, yes, go do this, go study the spiritual gifts, go learn their definitions, and take an inventory and learn about yourself. But I, you know, we also know in Scripture, as far as we can tell, in Scripture, Jesus never sat down the 12 apostles and said, Okay, you’re good, you’ve got this gift, and you’ve got that gift, and you’ve got this gift. Maybe he did that. But if he did, it’s not recorded by any of them in scripture. But Jesus really did, in some ways, kind of throw them out in the deep end and say, I want you to experience some things, and you’re going to learn some things about the Kingdom of God, you’re going to learn about me, you’re going to learn about the need to depend upon the spirit, you’re going to learn about yourself and each other. So what I was telling you this look, yes, go and study and do those kinds of things. But remember, Jesus was a master at on the job training. You know, he would, he would put people into experiences, and let them discover what it was like to be a partner with him and also what they were good at. Right?

Ryan Denison  28:26

Absolutely. And the other thing is just because you test like two people could test could have the exact same results on this test. Unlikely, I guess, but it’s possible. And even then the way that God calls and uses those gifts in their lives can be completely different. And I think one of the dangers with taking these tests is that you can get your results and then go looking for like, try and model your application of those gifts off of what you see in someone else. But like you said, so much of it is just saying, going into the ministry experiences God calls you to do with, with an awareness of the fact that, okay, these are the ways that God has gifted me. And these are the tools that God might use, and, but looking for just how God might use those in your day to day life as you go along. Because there is so much to be gained by just experiencing ministry, and giving God the chance to teach you and especially stretching yourself in ways where you’re not gifted and having those experiences. Because things like evangelism, for example, evangelism is not one of my top spiritual gifts. But that by no means gives me an excuse to not share the gospel with people. Right, because you don’t have these gifts doesn’t mean that you’re never going to be called to use and so understanding understanding all of the gifts and understanding okay even but at the same time, I may not be be gifted in evangelism, but when I am sharing the gospel, chances are the way that I do that is going to be more in accordance with my with my gifting That’s because that’s just who I am. And that’s going to be my testimony to share and the way that God’s going to use me in those callings. So I think I’m treating the spiritual gifts assessment. And the results of that as more just tools in God’s toolbox versus the definitive way that he’s going to do ministry through you, is a very important perspective.

Mark Turman  30:20

Right? So it’s, it’s not so important that if your Sunday School teacher or your pastor walks up and says, What are your spiritual gifts, it’s not so critical that you can articulate a short list with great clarity. It’s great if you can, but you don’t necessarily have to be able to do that. And like you said, even if you test it in exactly the same way, or very similar way, it still wouldn’t be the same because it would be coming through your personality, and it would be lived out in your context. And so those two things are going to change the expression in a significant way, as well. Right?

Ryan Denison  30:59

Absolutely. And I mean, when you think about it, God’s call for all of our lives at the end of the day, is to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them, and teaching them all that I’ve commanded you. Like, that’s, that calling is universal to every believer, whether it regardless of what your spiritual gifts are, but the way that you go about fulfilling that calling, I think will be related to the spiritual gifts that God has given you the way that he’s wired you and the way that he wants to use those in your lives. And so someone once told my father that God has a strange affinity for the train mind. And I think that principle plays I think applies here as well. Where know, the more you know about your gifts, the more you know about how God has used them in the past, just, you’re giving God more to work with. And that’s never a bad thing. The Holy Spirit’s not gonna waste them.

Mark Turman  31:49

Right? Absolutely. Well, let’s talk about how you’ve arranged the the gifts that are listed in Scripture. Really helpful definitions. I remember years ago, I somebody I was reading and trying to when I was trying to preach and teach on this subject, we talked about what were called the speaking gifts, the serving gifts. And the last category they gave were the spectacular gifts I think is the way they describe them in your book. You’ve arranged them into three categories broadly, the public gifts, the personal gifts, and the paradigm gifts, which is really unique and very Baptist. Again, it’s alliteration. I appreciate that.

Ryan Denison  32:37

unbaptized OCD would not have let me get away with There you go for that third category.

Mark Turman  32:42

There you go. And I’ll help me remember right. And I, it’s always been a useful tool for me, some of my friends give me a hard time about it. But it’s always been useful. Talk about what do you mean by public gifts? Why did you give it that name for this first group of six or seven gifts?

Ryan Denison  32:59

Oh, yeah. So the public guests and the guests we’ve included in this category, our administration, apostleship, leadership, music, prophecy and teaching. And it’s important to treat, like, I don’t think these categories are hard and fast, where, you know, there can’t be any argument that one gift belongs in a different category than another. But generally speaking, the public guests are just those that they’re meant to have applications that extend beyond yourself, while all the spiritual gifts do these, in particular, those that are often practiced among other people. So if your primary gifting is in this area, then it’s going to be important for you to really invest in your relationships of the people, it’s going to be important for you to invest in kind of the more public connotations of how these gifts are lived out, because a lot of them, for example, like apostleship, which was defined as adapting to a different culture to share the gospel or do ministry is not really something you can do by yourself in your home. You can maybe, I guess I say that now, you could probably go online. And there are multiple ways to do that. And with all these, there’s going to be multiple applications. But generally speaking, if you’re going to teach God’s word or share a prophetic word from the Lord, then that requires doing so in a more public context.

Mark Turman  34:19

Okay, so those would probably 10 especially in our kind of performance driven culture might be the ones where people say, Oh, I really want one of those. I really, really want to be able to, you know, preach or teach or to sing a song that that blesses others that type of thing. Leadership has been this, this big watchword in especially the last 30 or so years of ministry. Would you say that these public gifts are primarily focused in local congregations or Do they have application and expression outside of a local congregation as well?

Ryan Denison  35:06

I think it’s probably both. And again, I think it’ll depend on how the Holy Spirit wants to use you. And, and your calling, rather than as a hard and fast either or kind of thing. But I do think a lot of these, these gifts, especially in the public category, the things that make a person, perhaps well equipped to use them in a church setting will also make them well equipped to use them in an orchard and a more secular setting as well. And I think understanding that our gifts, while using them within our communities of faith is extremely important. That’s not the only place we’re called to do these. And oftentimes, like, again, it goes back to kind of how God has wired you as well, where a lot of the public guests are going to be among they are going to be, perhaps among those who are more outgoing by nature, at times, not always, like, teaching is one of my spiritual gifts. And I’m very much an introvert. But there It’s interesting though, that when I get up in front of the class to teach, I feel a sense of purpose and a sense of joy, that if I was just getting up in front of a similar sized group to do pretty much anything but teach the Bible, I would be terrified. And so it’s interesting how the Holy Spirit can kind of even within your sense of personality and the way that God has wired you, he can equip you and use your gifts, and in ways that can sort of transcend what we might view as limitations in ourselves. And I think going back to First Corinthians, one of the things Paul talks about there is not to not to lift up any of the any of the spiritual gifts is higher than others. You know, what would the body be like if everyone was an eye kind of, kind of thing? And I think with the public, yes, like you said, these are gifts that people tend, often to aspire to, because they are more visible. And more honestly, one of the shortcomings I think we have in a lot of communities of faith is that a lot of church settings is that we tend, even if we don’t do it explicitly, we tend to give more praise to those who have these public gifts, when we see them lift out, it’s just, it’s, it’s easier to identify times, they’re easier to praise at times. And we can sort of build up those expectations that if you have these gifts than you’re somehow a better Christian, which is by no means biblical, but it’s how it often plays out even on an implicit level.

Mark Turman  37:31

Yeah, and it just so hard for us to stay out of that mindset that this is somehow a competition, and that we’re competing with each with other Christians about who’s going to be the the greatest Christian, which is not unique to us, the apostles had some real problems around that too, as far as who’s the greatest, and that that temptation is still with us. And it does get played out. In this area around serving and spiritual gifts, you know, who’s the greatest because you have the most impressive gifts. And we we see that being manifested as a temptation and a struggle within the apostles as well. And it’s, it’s something we struggle with. And maybe when we use the term testing, even that, you know, hey, I scored higher than you is the wrong way to look at at this instrument. But I love what you said, you know, hey, they’re all important. One of the things in this group that we talked about a few weeks ago, and that is perhaps unique to the way that you have a symbol the gifts for people to learn about in this group of public gifts is the gift of music. Talk a little bit about that. You and I had some conversation about this, as I said a few weeks ago, do you is that really a spiritual gift? Is it more a talent? What do we mean by that? I know I’ve I’ve seen over the years, a few other similar type inventories and descriptions that don’t include specifically something like the gift of music, as you articulated here. What do you mean, what’s what’s distinctive about music in terms of it being a spiritual gifts at a spiritual gift as you talk about it in the book?

Ryan Denison  39:18

Thank you, because that is one of the more misunderstood spiritual gifts I think and not it’s the easiest to equate to talent. I have a horrible singing voice. And it takes 10 seconds to realize that I do not have the talent of music, and pretty much any way shape or form. But at the same time, there’s lots of people who do that may not have the spiritual gift of music, because when we think about it as a spiritual gift, it has to fit within that context of edifying the body of Christ. And while talented musicians can absolutely do that, the spiritual gifts those were the spiritual gifts and music have a way of leading people into a worshipful encounter with the Lord. That is, can not be described near them. way, but a God given gift. It’s not like you can hear someone sing and say, Oh, they had, they had an amazing voice, you can hear someone with a worse voice sing. And they can just, there’s something about the way that they just lead your heart into communion with God that just is different. And it’s can be difficult to describe at times. But it’s also about more than the talent. For example, you can have worship leaders that may not be the most musically talented, but when they get up there, they have a way of just encounter of leading people’s hearts to encounter God. And I think that’s, especially if it’s in a worship leader, distinguishing between the spiritual, get the music and then talent, that music is so important, because it’s it’s not meant to just be a concert on Sunday mornings. It’s meant to be your job as a worship leader is to lead people to worship the Lord. And that goes beyond instrumental ability, music, vocal ability, or any of that. And it can even extend the writing music. There’s lots of people who write beautiful poetry and write songs that just lead people into a personal encounter with God that may not be able to sing or play those songs themselves. But I would even qualify that as the spiritual gift of music, the ability to just create lyrics or create instrumentals that just help people encounter the heart of the Lord. And at the end of the day, that’s what I think the spiritual gift of music is about.

Mark Turman  41:24

Yeah, I remember just thinking about that years ago, I was in a worship service. And this lady in her late 50s, who was asked to give her testimony. And so she shared about how she had come to know Christ and how she had been living her life in relationship with Christ. And, and as she kind of got to the end of this, she said, and you know, at this point, God led me to sing in the church as a part of the church choir, and then in other ways, and she made it very clear, she said, I, I have not been in any way formally trained in music. I’ve just tried to do this, to the best of my ability. And, and then she decided to sing a song for the congregation to enter testimony. And it was just unbelievably powerful and moving and, and even though it wasn’t using the gift of music to get people to sing, she sang this song to us. But it was an incredible expression in some ways of this spiritual gift you’re talking about, because through her song sung to us, we, the people all around me, were experiencing the same thing. We were encountering God, because her song kind of became an extension of her testimony that she had been giving verbally. And so like you said, it can have so many different expressions from writing music, writing lyrics, actually writing the notes that will be accompanying the lyrics to leading a congregation, to being a soloist or an instrumentalist. They can have a lot of different expressions, and still fall in this category of what it means to be spiritually gifted in music, even understanding how to arrange or produce a worship service might fit into this category, would you agree?

Ryan Denison  43:25

Absolutely. And even just the humility to approach approach, creating a worship service with a mindset of my primary job right now is to help people encounter the Lord. And I think that’s one way that making this distinction between the spiritual gifts music and musical talent is important is that there’s, it can be easy if you are talented, musically, to just assume that you’re talented, that you have the spiritual gifts of music as well. And taking that for granted, or, and this is also one of the gifts that I think the devil can most easily twist to where if God has given you this gift, using it in the power of the Holy Spirit is so important. Because in that way for most of the public gifts were because they are more public in nature. If we use them orally, then we’re being a negative influence on a larger portion of on a larger percentage of the people than if we were with maybe the personal gifts. And it’s just I think music is a great example of that.

Mark Turman  44:26

Yeah, absolutely. Well, let’s move to that second category. The personal gifts listed here are the gifts of discernment, exhortation, knowledge, shepherding and wisdom. Give us your definition of what you mean by personal gifts and how they’re distinct from the other categories.

Ryan Denison  44:45

Thanks and so, um, this category is those that are more kind of meant to be either personal in the sense that they’re gifts that God will use to develop your relationship with him on a on an individual basis. or with a smaller group of people. Shepherding for example, is oftentimes we think of shepherds, as you know, pastors of these huge congregations when, in reality, I don’t think the spiritual gifts of shepherding can be done with 1000 people at once. It’s more about kind of the smaller working with a smaller group or to help them encounter the Lord. And oftentimes, there’s a sense of ownership. And ownership is maybe not the best word, but just, you feel a sense of responsibility for the people that you’re shepherding. And those with the spiritual get the shepherding, they just have this desire to pour into a small group of individuals in a very purposeful and unique way. I think the same can be said for discernment, expectation, knowledge and wisdom, where so much of it is if you’re exhorting someone, you can exhort an entire group of people, but it’s not nearly as effective as if you’re exhorting one person going up to going up to someone you see at church because you feel like the Lord is giving you a word for them of encouragement, of conviction of comfort. Just because maybe there’s someone at church, maybe someone your Sunday school class, or maybe it’s just a neighbor down the street, where you if you have the spiritual gifts, then use theirs to manifest and manifest best when it’s in a one on one relationship, or it’s one with a small group. And really, at the end of the day, that’s what I mean by the personal gifts is those that are meant to be used in a smaller setting. And, and often with a greater level of individual intentionality than we see with some of the other kids.

Mark Turman  46:33

That reminds me, I was recently having a conversation with a minister in the Dallas area, who is trying to develop some fresh work in dealing with Gen Z, the folks that are basically between the ages of 10 and 25. Right now. And there is an urgent need, that that generation really needs significant mature mentoring, what he called Hero voices in their lives. And, you know, they have access through their technology, they can listen to just about any Bible teacher or preacher that they wanted to through their screen. But they are in desperate need of personal relationship with people who are somewhat older than they are, that can pour wisdom into their life through a relationship. And one things we were talking about in that conversation. He said, you know, wisdom is one of those things that doesn’t scale really well. You can’t, it’s hard as you say, it’s hard to scale wisdom or shepherding in the in the way that it’s best done into a relationship with 50 or 500 or 1000. People. Some of these things just don’t scale that well. And and, and that’s that’s a great insight, I think into even though we talked about it as a personal gift, it’s still not the end result or the end effect is not what does this do for you personally, as the person with this gift? It’s rather How can God use you to exercise this gift in in pretty intimate incarnation incarnational close relationship with other people? Right?

Ryan Denison  48:23

Absolutely. And even one of the other things I think about the spiritual gifts is that while we may be stronger in some than others, it’s kind of it’s we’re not just given one, and then said, like, okay, God’s like, this is your spiritual gift. This is what you do. Most of us are gifted to varying degrees in multiple categories. And a lot of the the gifting that can, one of the ways that I think God does take the personal gifts, and extend them beyond our individual relationship with Him with wisdom, knowledge and discernment, especially I think, is when he gives us insights and he gives us truth, and then calls us to share those with other people, or will give us opportunities to use those to where they’re not, they don’t end with us. Maybe if we’re gifted if you’re gifted and wisdom, like you said, it doesn’t scale up to a massive number all that well. But perhaps you can be gifted with someone gifted with prophecy could also be gifted with discernment. And that could those two could go hand in hand. Someone gifted with evangelism could be gifted with with exhortation. And And again, these are I just chose those because they happen to go together not because they always do or because they should. But just as an example of how the personal guests can often can often use the personal guest to better equip us to use our other guests as well.

Mark Turman  49:44

Yeah, and, you know, I, we could probably go off on a theological tinge in here about whether or not Jesus had all the gifts. You know, I don’t I don’t know if that would be useful for us or not, but from a just from a practical standpoint, we do see Jesus kind of moving back and forth between these public environments that involve hundreds or even 1000s of people. And then we also see him spending really large amounts of his time with a small group of 12, or even three from within the 12. And so you kind of see Jesus, moving back and forth between these environments. And you could even say he’s at times using public gifts. on a large scale, you know, the feeding of the 5000, which may have been actually the feeding of more like 20,000 people we don’t know. But that’s the only miracle in the Bible that’s recorded by all four of his biographers. But then, like I said, we see him moving into these personal environments, the upper room, and many, many teaching environments, where you can see him being a personal Shepherd and being a person of discernment and exhortation directly, particularly with, you know, the 12 disciples, the 12 apostles, sometimes it’s with his close friends, Lazarus, and Lazarus, two sisters, Mary and Martha, he’s in these very small environments where personal gifts are also being exercised. And you know, and maybe it is the case, I don’t know, if we have to really tease that out that, hey, God’s always going to give every person both a public gift and a personal, I don’t know that we want to go that far down the line. But there’s probably some real aspect of which ministry runs on both of those rails, right?

Ryan Denison  51:43

I think so. And that’s, and even within the paradigm gifts as well, I think. And it goes back to that idea that just because God has not gifted you with something specifically doesn’t mean he’s not going to call you to work within some of your lesser giftings. Some of the gifts that you don’t score quietly, quite as highly on as well. We use the example evangelism earlier. But I think even shepherding every parent has called the shepherd their, their children, whether they’re good at shepherding or not, whether they’ve been gifted to shepherd or not, they’re called to do that in a way that I think they’re stronger spiritual gifts will inform the way that they do that. But I do think treating these as distinct categories rather than rather than things that, that build up each other, I think is, would be a mistake, it’s so important to just see these as, as Jesus’s because like you said, we, we never really know much about Jesus musical ability. But I do think we see evidence of him using all the rest of these throughout his ministry, and granted, he’s Jesus, and we’re not. But at the same time, I think we see, we see multiple biblical figures, exemplify several of these gifts throughout their lives. And in the book, I kind of use a biblical figure to as an example for each of the gifts. And I did that so that it’s a clear example of what that gift looks like to be when it slipped out. But one of the downsides to that approach is, if it gives any idea that these biblical characters only had this gift, because I don’t think that’s true. And I use several biblical characters multiple times, within the chapters as they exemplified different gifts. I think you’re right, that it’s just so important to treat these somewhat fluidly in terms in terms of their categorization.

Mark Turman  53:30

Yeah, and I love that. That whole approach of tying the gift to somebody in Scripture kind of gives a face. Like I said, you don’t want to you don’t want to create too much of a box, but it gives a face and a an incarnate example of this gift being lived out in this person’s life. Let’s talk a little bit in the last few minutes here about the paradigm gifts. Why the word paradigm? And what do you mean these gifts being listed as evangelism, faith, giving hospitality mercy and serving? Why did you call them paradigm gifts?

Ryan Denison  54:08

I chose that, as I mentioned, in part because it has a P but more so because it just very much suits this category where these gifts more than the others are those that I think every Christian is called the practice. But just because we’re called to practice them doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ve been gifted in them. And as such, I think they are they’re the gifts where, if you’re a believer who has been gifting these areas, one of the ways that God is going to use your gifts is by showing the rest of us what that looks like to practice that well. For example, people who are gifted in evangelism, being able to learn from them about how to share, share your faith is an invaluable resource to the to the kingdom of God. It doesn’t mean that all of us are called to do it exactly as they are but there’s certain aspects of that hospitality I think is another one where The idea of opening your home to be used as a as a way of building community could be absolutely terrifying to some people, but the idea of if so if God kind of points out someone at church and says like, they look like they feel out of place, you should go talk to them. It’s like, that’s something that he can call any of us to do. But those with a spiritual gift of hospitality can help the rest of us kind of know what, how to do that well. And by paradigm guests, that’s kind of what I meant by that is that these are gifts, that a key function of them will not just be practicing your gifts, but doing so in a way that makes you an example to others of what it looks like to do that. Well,

Mark Turman  55:40

I think that that is so helpful, that just that whole concept, you know, when you were talking about hospitality, we had this couple in our church, just absolutely as faithful as they could possibly be. They were willing to do anything that could be helpful and faithful over decades of time. And I remember he was leading teaching a small group and, and they tried to not just simply teach the Bible, but also to build fellowship and relationship, they would at times open their home, and bring their small group into their home for a time of fellowship and, and just being together. And I remember, we were upstairs in his house one day, and we were having one of these gatherings. And he just said, you know, this part of the ministry is just super hard for me, I, I just really don’t do well with, you know, having 15 or 20 or 25 people in my house, I would, I would rather, you know, be in a classroom, teaching them something out of the Bible, but just to sit around and make small talk with them is really, really hard for me. But I know that is needed. And my wife’s a lot better at that part of it than I am. So we’re doing this together. But it’s what you know, this is really hard day for me. So he’s like it was his confession. God didn’t give me the gift of hospitality, right. But just in looking at this group for a minute, just wanted to get your thoughts in this group of Paradine gifts, you include the gift of giving. And I’m just wondering if as a paradigm gift, how would a person that and I’ve known some people in every church that I’ve pastored that really did have the gift of giving, whether that was financial giving or other forms of generosity, that type of thing. But just in this particular area where there’s such a sensitivity around financial matters within the church and that type of thing? How could a person that has the gift of giving and the gift of generosity? How could they be an example to others without it being self promoting?

Ryan Denison  57:51

That is such a good question. And it is, especially on a financial side, it is hard to do that, because Jesus is very clear that we’re not meant to just toss our coins in the offering plate in a way that everyone else looks at and goes, Oh, they gave a lot like Jesus clear that that’s not something that honors God. I think the motivation for that was because in that, in that story, the person that was tossing their coins in was doing so to try and get the attention from everyone else. And I think so much of this is going to go back to again, especially with gifts of giving is about living that out. And under the guidance of the Holy Spirit versus in your own wisdom, and your own and your what you think would be best. Because so much of that is like if the Holy Spirit calls us to give and calls us to do so in a way that is public, then if we’re doing it, there may be some that misinterpret that. And at the end of the day, we can’t we can’t let the possible misinterpretation of others, like the fear that others will misunderstand what we’re trying to try to do limit what we’re willing to do for the Lord or the degree to which we’re willing to obey. But at the end, also, so much of giving, when it’s done in accordance with the Holy Spirit, then I think the Holy Spirit will empower that in a way that kind of guards our hearts against that being self promoting, and will help us do so in a way that anyone who really looks and really knows us will know that we’re not doing it for that reason. And I think that’s also why these guests are it is so important to live every day in the power of the Holy Spirit versus just when okay, my gift of giving is gonna be I feel like it’s gonna be required today. So, God, please help me to live with you today. When whereas if you’ve been selfish or you’ve been arrogant in the past, then it’s going to be very hard for God to use that gift well, because people are going to naturally assume the worst about you. But if you live every day, under the power of the Holy Spirit, and you’re humble and people know that you don’t give for the attention and tact you often try to avoid it, then it makes it easier for those times when you’re called to be an example, in that way, for people to not misinterpreted. But I think even more so The way that giving is meant to be a paradigm gift is when it comes to just a general attitude of generosity. And letting the Holy Spirit be the one that guides that whether it’s with our time, whether it’s with our, our emotional generosity, even where it’s if there’s someone hurting you go, and you know that they’re there. And again, this is another way that giving will work alongside your other guests, I think, for how God will inform this, and use it. But it is definitely one of the paradigm guests that we need to be most careful about. We need to be most careful about making sure that we’re using it in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Mark Turman  1:00:38

Right? That’s a good word. It’s a good word. You mentioned at the beginning of our conversation about what are sometimes called the spectacular gifts or the sign gifts, I should say, people will probably have some questions be possibly looking for that if they hopefully go to the website, what are my spiritual gifts.com Typically, things that fall into this category are described in the Bible as speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues, the gift of miracles, before we finish up a conversation today, talk about how, why they aren’t in this book, they’re in a supplemental resource that you’ve developed. But talk a little bit about those gifts, and how you see them and how you would want others to understand them in this context.

Ryan Denison  1:01:29

Absolutely, thank you, um, they, they’re not included in the book, because for a couple reasons, one is just, I don’t know, not to be too facetious with it. But if you have the gift of speaking in tongues of the gift of, of miracles, then chances are, you don’t need a spiritual gifts assessment to tell you that it’s kind of easier to know, the bigger issue, though, is that they have been something that historically has divided the church in a way that is not at all edifying to the body of Christ. Whether that’s been because people have abused those gifts and turn them inwardly, to you don’t need to, like there have been countless examples of faith healers on TV that claim to be have the gift of healing, that we’re just charlatans, and that has damaged a lot of people’s perception of what these gifts are saying, We’re speaking in tongues where it has been used at times. There was a resurgence in the early 1900s of those within the Pentecostal community, in the more charismatic community. And at times, those have been misused by people saying that if you can’t speak in tongues, and you don’t have the Holy Spirit, you’re not saved. And that’s clearly not a biblical concept either. And so they have been abused at times, to the point that there have been, there’s, there’s a greater hesitation to recognize these gifts, among many, especially in a Western setting, than there are most of the others. And so I wanted to treat those carefully. I feel like they needed a longer explanation that I can give them the book, I also understand that they’re this is one of those categories, like how you see this, the spectacular gifts of this buying gifts, is in no way related to issues of salvation. This is one of those issues where there is room for well meaning and honest Christians to disagree and still work together. And I didn’t want that to end up being something that could end with the larger resource on spiritual gifts to be something that people might not use, because it dives into a category that could cause division in their church or in their small group context. And so we do treat it, I go in depth on kind of some of the history behind the development of that. So between behind kind of the different points of view between the secessionist which is those who believe that the sign gifts were active and given in the apostolic period, which is, you know, when the New Testament was being written, but we’re not give, we’re not really given after that, versus the continuation is which believe that God does continue to give them. And I go into the history behind all of that, to hopefully kind of illustrate why, where a lot of the controversy comes from and why even today, it’s, it’s difficult to really say, definitively This is what the case is. But at the end of the day, I think what it mostly comes back to at the sign gifts is that how we keep going back to First Corinthians But where Paul said, the primary purpose, one of the primary purposes of the gifts is to build up the body of Christ. And if these guests are not going to do that God’s not going to give. And so I think one of the reasons that we don’t see them very as often the West as we might, in other parts of the world is just that they’re not going to be as effective for accomplishing God’s Kingdom mission here as they might be elsewhere, and different cultures and where people might have a different approach. Right. So that’s kind of those are the reasons that I treated them separately, but I do hope that y’all will go and do give them paper look. And again, whatever conclusion you reach about those, there is room to disagree and still get along, there’s room to disagree and still work with one another to advance the Kingdom. The the only way that this conversation can really be destructive as if it keeps us from, from working with one another and to serve the Lord. And that would be, I think that’s one of the ways that Satan is, has twisted the sign gifts in the past is by using them to divide the church rather than build it up,

Mark Turman  1:05:28

right comes back around to what we were talking about at the very beginning, right? It’s about humility, and it’s about love. And it’s about these gifts being used beyond ourselves, to build up others and to bring glory to God. And that’s regardless of what gift it is or whatever description we might give to it. That’s their purpose. And as long as we keep that fully in view, we’re going to do well with the various gifts. Well, Ryan, thank you for the book, most of all, thank you for putting it together and, and sharing it with us. The book is called What are my spiritual gifts, how to discover, understand and apply your spiritual gifts, you can find it at Denison forum.org. And you can find the spiritual gift inventory or test at what are my spiritual gifts.com We also plan to continue to develop this website not only with the spiritual gifts, inventory or tests, but also to provide ongoing resources there. So keep coming back periodically to not only review maybe even take the inventory a different a different time get other people that know you well, as we said to take the inventory and compare your answers to how they would see you that will give you greater clarity and discernment will also provide additional resources about spiritual gifting and about ministry at this website, and we hope that it will be useful to you what are my spiritual gifts.com Ryan again, thank you for your partnership and for spending some time with us today on this podcast.

Ryan Denison  1:07:05

Thank you so much. I’ve really enjoyed the conversation.

Mark Turman  1:07:09

God bless you. We’ll see you next time.

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