April 2018 Streams of Thought
Our next sermon series will explore a big topic: God's grace. What is it? How does it work? How do we respond to or experience it?
One definition of grace I like is from Catholic theologian Karl Rahner: grace is "God's presence with us." God is with us even when we don't feel it; His presence is
grace, what the Greeks called charis (favor, kindness, or gratitude) often within the context of giving. God's grace, as the Apostle Paul says in
Ephesians 2:8-10, is pure GIFT, received freely through faith in Christ.
God gives it so freely; we easily take it for granted. But without grace we would not be able to respond to God let alone sense Him calling us or trying to get our attention. Methodist founder John Wesley understood grace as working three ways. The first is prevenient grace. Before we know God, before we have faith in Him, grace is working in us. "God-moments" happen but we don't recognize them; only after we come to faith and look back on what led us to God do we realize He was leading us to Him.
Justifying grace is trusting Christ for forgiveness of sin and salvation. This is the start of the Christian life but it doesn't stop there; justifying grace continues through our lives as we follow Christ. Then there's sanctifying grace; this is grace working in us as we grow in our faith. All three aspects of grace continue to work through our lives; God is always going before us, always justifying us through faith, always leading us further into His truth.
For Wesley, grace pushes us on to what he called "Christian perfection." By that he DID NOT mean absolute moral or spiritual perfection but a dynamic of grace so alive and active within us that any awareness of sin causes us to respond with prayer and
seeking God to forgive or avoid actions, words, or thoughts that displease God.
Our relationship with God is fueled not only by grace but by love, by God's love for us and our love for God and others. Wesley called this "perfect love;" again not absolutely flawless or faultless but love that seeks to please God and not harm or hurt others. All of it is by grace. Without grace, Wesley believed, and Scripture bears it out, we cannot come to God or know Him. But by the gift of grace we can know God and serve Him in this life. For His glory and the sake of others.
Grace and Peace,
March 2018 Streams of Thought
We all have times when we just crash; we go 100 mph in 10
different directions and we have nothing left to give. We have one nerve left and we pray no one steps on it. Or we experience
crushing disappointment, a devastating diagnosis, a tragedy that
sends us off an emotional cliff. We long to feel, really feel, God's
grace, mercy, and love, but all we feel is exhaustion and pain.
Well-meaning friends will say things like, "God won't give you
more than you can handle." Where is that in the Bible? There are
experiences that are more than anyone can "handle." I like a
song I've heard several times from MercyMe called "Even If." The
chorus says: "I know You're able and I know You can/Save
through the fire with Your mighty hand/But even if You don't/My
hope is You alone."
I think of Job whose devastating loss was simply beyond comprehending; at one point he says, "Even if He kills me I will still trust Him." Job had no idea God allowed Satan to test him; but I think even then His trust would still have been in God. The first part of the book establishes his strong faith and reputation as a man who trusted God. That trust was definitely tested as the magnitude of his grief and pain set in. Job wasn't always, contrary to popular proverbial wisdom, very patient with his friends, the situation, or God. But he still, despite everything, trusted God.
Another part of that MercyMe song says God might not choose to move the mountains in our way; we might, instead, have to climb over or even tunnel through (with God's gracious help). One truth we find in that song and in the book of Job (and through all of Scripture for that matter) is that no matter what, God is the one constant in our lives. He will never love or care for us less on one day than on another. He will never, as His Son Jesus said, "leave us or forsake us." Even if God doesn't remove obstacles or pain right away, our hope can still be Him alone.
As we approach Easter we can point to the Resurrected Christ as the reason we believe our hope is God alone. In that event, when death was defeated forever, all our suffering, pain, and trials were put under the grace, mercy, and judgment of God. The Resurrection said "NO!" to the distant possibility that pain and suffering were meant to define us. And the power of that event is in the life of every person who chooses to trust Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Grace and Peace,
February 2018 Streams of Thought
This is the time of the year we long for warmer days; we're ready for winter to be over and done with. It's a normal human reaction especially in the Midwest.
Sometimes we have long cold seasons in our inner lives; we just can't warm up to a new direction God wants us to go, a new co-worker, a new family situation, a new idea the Holy Spirit has shown us in God's Word.
We want to feel the warmth of grace, love, mercy, compassion, but it doesn't seem to happen. We pray, read Scripture, talk to trusted Christian friends.
Still we're cold inside. Sometimes it's willful, other times it might be we're just not ready; whatever it is God will help us. He's graciously patient, waiting for us to be ready, willing, and able to let Him bring the heat of His power into our lives.
He helps us overcome our resistance or help us be ready to embrace new ideas, things, or people (disclaimer: if a new idea, thing, or behavior [ours or someone else's] is clearly contrary to Scriptural teaching we should remain cold to it).
The thing we must not do is give up; we must continue to wait on God, ask for His help, be as open as possible to His grace and presence, let Him work even if it's uncomfortable.
When we reach the point of surrender to His grace we will wonder why we resisted or were apprehensive about His work in us. The coldness will melt, burn away, as the Holy Spirit enflames and bursts into fiery life within us.
When that happens we can know a holy spring has arrived that will bloom into new life.
Grace and peace,
January 2018 Streams of Thought
Another year has passed and we are in 2018; this year marks, among other things, the 100th anniversaries of the end of World War I and the start of the flu pandemic that swept the world in 1918-1919.
Other events that year included Mississippi being the first state to ratify the 18th Amendment (Prohibition), Russia became the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic British women over 30 were granted the right to vote, and the U.S. authorized time zones and daylight saving time.
Every year brings events that are experienced and remembered by those living at the time; some, to borrow a phrase, "live in infamy." Others are forgettable or slightly significant.
The event we just celebrated, the birth of Jesus, is THE EVENT OF ALL TIME; there was never an event like it before and there won't be another like it again. That could be said of the invention of the steam engine, the attack on Pearl Harbor, or the fall of the Berlin Wall, but the birth of Jesus is completely outside the box on so many levels.
Christians believe it's nothing less than the Living God coming to us in human form. It's hard to explain much of history since that moment without reference to it. Whether it's the use of AD (Anno Domini, Latin for Year of Our Lord), the multiple medical centers that bear religious names, the incredible artwork of Rembrandt, or the fact the Church is a global entity, there's no ignoring the birth of Jesus.
Skeptics (atheists, agnostics, etc.) can rebel against the idea of God's existence but they have to come up with a REALLY GOOD explanation for two things: Judaism/Israel and the celebration of Christ's birth. Either it's all fiction or, more incredibly (and plausibly)it's all true. As Adam Hamilton has pointed out, arguments and debates rarely win the skeptics over. What does win them or make them sit up and take notice is a life lived for Christ.
In this New Year let that be our continuing goal: living lives that honor Jesus and bring His grace to others.
Grace and Peace,
Grow as you are led
Serve as you are able