May 2018 Streams of Thought
Our sermon series "Embrace the Grace" continues this month and I
hope it has been helpful to your faith. God's grace, as Ephesians 2:8-10 says, is pure GIFT, received freely through faith in Christ. God gives it so freely we easily take it for granted. Without grace we would not be able to respond to God, let alone sense Him calling us or trying to get our attention.
In his book What's So Amazing About Grace? Philip Yancey shares Ernest Hemingway's story about a Spanish father who longed to reconcile with his
estranged son. He put an ad in a local paper
that read: "PACO MEET ME AT HOTEL MONTANA AT NOON
TUESDAY ALL IS FORGIVEN PAPA." Arriving at the spot on the appointed day the father found nearly 800 young men named Paco seeking reconciliation and forgiveness from their fathers.
We're starved for grace--for total, unconditional love, mercy, and forgiveness. Why? Because we live in a graceless world and often experience what Yancey calls "ungrace." Much of life is performance-based and we get caught on an endless treadmill of trying to hit the mark, live up to expectations, or meet standards.
The problem is when we don't we're often told, in so many words, that we've failed. And that's where it stops; no encouragement to try again or learn or know we're not alone, that it happens to everyone and it's ok.
We're so unfamiliar with grace we don't know any other way of responding or reacting. This dynamic often keeps us from embracing or showing grace. This is the "power of ungrace" (Yancey, p. 37). Breaking that power starts with "embracing grace."
Yancey explores Jesus' parable about workers who were paid for fieldwork. The ones who worked all day got the same wages as the ones who worked an hour or two. The ones who worked all day were incensed but the landowner basically said "I can pay whoever I want what I want and I chose to pay you all a day's wages."
Among other points Yancey makes is this one: if God operated out of fairness, mathematics, or merit alone we'd "all end up in hell." But God doesn't do that; instead "God dispenses gifts, not wages" (Yancey, p. 62). And the greatest of those gifts is His grace in Jesus Christ.
Living into God's grace can break the cycle of "ungrace" so prevalent in our world. As we continue to "embrace the grace" of God let it change and transform us so when people speak of us they recognize the grace we show in our daily lives.
Grace and Peace,
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,
Grow as you are led
Serve as you are able