Tag Archives: grace

We really need grace

17 May

Image result for we all need grace

Do you or anyone you know go by a nickname?  I love the band U2, and both the lead singer Bono and lead guitarist, The Edge, go by the nicknames.  Bono has said on numerous occasions that even The Edge’s mom calls him “The Edge”.

But I wonder how many people with a nickname refer to themselves by their nickname?

As we learned last week, Saint Peter, whose first letter we are studying at Faith Church, had a nickname,   The Rock. Check our 1st Peter 1:1, and look how Peter starts the letter.  With his nickname!  The Rock.  Fair warning…you won’t see the words “The Rock.”  You’ll see the name “Peter”, but in Greek that name means “Rock.”  Peter’s actual name was “Simon”.  Does anyone else find it interesting that Peter used his nickname rather than his actual name?

Sometimes nicknames stick!  After 30 years of Peter being the leader of the church, he was The Rock.

Peter also calls himself an Apostle of Jesus Christ.

So far I have called Peter a disciple of Jesus.  What is this word “apostle”?  It refers to someone who is carrying a special message.  Generally, the 12 disciples became known as the 12 apostles.  These guys who followed Jesus became special messengers of Jesus.  The word we would more commonly use in English for an apostle is ____________.  Can you guess it?  Missionary.  That’s what Peter was. You can read about his mission trips in the book of the Bible called Acts.  Peter was a missionary, a special messenger, an apostle of Jesus Christ.

But who is he writing to?  Look at verse 1 and 2. He uses numerous phrases to describe the recipients of the letter:

To God’s elect, Strangers in the world, Scattered throughout Asia, Chosen according to the foreknowledge of God, Through the sanctifying work of the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood.

In that short description of these people, Peter packs a lot in.  Did you feel you just jumped into the deep end of the theological pool?  Geesh.

Remember how last week the religious establishment guys in Jerusalem looked down on Peter calling him an unschooled man?  Now listen to Peter.  He is starts off his letter laying on some thick theology.

And what’s more, Peter gets into one of the most divisive theological issues of our time.  Do we choose God or does God choose us?

For Peter that question is easy to answer.  God chooses.  “Chosen according to the foreknowledge of God.”  That’s pretty clear.  “God’s elect” means God elects them.  God chooses them.  What is not so easy to understand is what Peter meant by all this talk of choosing and electing.  There are two main ways that Christians through the ages have used to help us understand.

One is the deterministic way.  God determines everything and we don’t.  We might think we are choosing him, but determinists say that our feeling of choice is basically a mirage.  God gives faith to some and not to others.  That is the deterministic view.

The other way is the free will view.  God gives us free will to either choose him or not.  We think we are choosing him, free will says, because we actually are.

Each method has its difficulties.  Take the deterministic view.  If God chooses us, then how can he punish those he didn’t choose?  Doesn’t seem fair, right?  And it also really doesn’t seem like my act of choosing is a mirage.  I feel like I am making my own free choices.  I see very little evidence of God controlling everything.

The free will view seems to answer those problems nicely.  If God gives free will, it makes a lot more sense for him to punish sin, right?  Because the sinner doesn’t have to sin.  The sinner can choose God.  Also, free will seems to fit our common experience of life, right?  We feel like we are doing the choosing.  But free will has a problem too.  Peter just said God chooses, God elects.  Peter did not say God gave us free will so we could choose.  And Peter is not the only writer of Scripture to teach this.  The problem free will has is that it seems like the Biblical writers teach God as doing the choosing, not us.

So what do we do?  Do we choose God or does he choose us?

I am going to give you the wonderfully satisfying answer of: “I don’t know.”  That’s just a horrible answer, isn’t it?  You want to me to take a side, right?  At least give my opinion, right?

Well, okay, if you say so.

I think Peter is teaching both actually.  I think the other writers of Scripture are teaching both.  What I mean is this.  God gives us free will and he chooses us. That seem impossible?  A logical fallacy?

Here’s what I believe is the best way to make sense of this:

God chooses corporately, not individually.  Usually the determinists, those who hold to God as chooser, God as elector, believe that God is choosing individuals.  God chooses one person to be saved and go to heaven.  And he decides not to choose the next person, so that person will go to hell.

My denomination, the EC Church comes from a wing of the Christian Church that views God, not as choosing individuals, but God as choosing corporately.  In the Old Testament, God chose a whole people group, the nation of Israel, to be his chosen people.  People from outside Israel could choose to become part of Israel.  In fact, from the very beginning, in his covenant with Abraham, the grandfather of the nation of Israel, God said to Abraham, “I have a mission for your family.  I want you to be a blessing to the whole world.”  God envisioned Abraham’s family, part of which would become the nation of Israel, to be a missionary nation, a nation that actively sought out the rest of the world to join Israel in following God.  Sadly, Israel would go on to do an incredibly poor job of fulfilling that mission.

God gave Israel many, many chances to do better, and after eventually God decided to create a new covenant with a new group of people.  But the mission stayed the same for the new group: reach the whole world with the message of God’s good news.

Who is the new group of people that God chose?  The new group is all those who are in Christ. I believe that is what Peter is talking about here.  God chooses not individuals, but instead he gives us free will to choose to be in Christ.  We cannot choose to be outside of Christ and still expect to be in God’s family.  Why?  Because God chooses only those who are in Christ.  One way to put it is that God does not choose individuals, instead he chooses the method by which individuals of their own free will choose him.  And that method is in Christ alone.

Here’s where Peter’s greeting and conclusion are really powerful.  Just because we have free will to choose Christ, it doesn’t mean that God is totally standoffish, wondering what we will do.

Peter talks about another key factor at work helping us to understand this.  Grace.  Look at verse 3, and Peter’s first message in his letter is this: Grace and Peace.  Keep your finger in 1 Peter 1, and flip a few pages to the end of the book, to 1 Peter 5:12, and notice some of his final words of the letter: “stand fast in God’s grace.”  Peter bookends his letter by referring to God’s grace.  Why?  Because God’s grace is at work in the world and in our lives.

The official word for this is Prevenient Grace.  Prevenient simply means “that which comes before.”  Use it as an adjective to explain grace, and Prevenient Grace means “grace that comes before.”  But what in the world is “grace that comes before?”

The United Methodist Church summarizes well when it says that our evangelical forefather John Wesley, “understood grace as God’s active presence in our lives. This presence is not dependent on human actions or human response. It is a gift — a gift that is always available, but a gift that can be refused. God’s grace stirs up within us a desire to know God and empowers us to respond to God’s invitation to be in relationship with God. God’s grace enables us to discern differences between good and evil and makes it possible for us to choose the good. God takes the initiative in relating to humanity. We do not have to beg and plead for God’s love and grace. God actively seeks us!”

So we don’t have a standoffish God.  We have a God that seeks us, that woos us, that desires to be in relationship with us.  That is grace.  Grace is undeserved favor.  We don’t deserve a God who so actively chases after we who turn away from him.  And yet, Peter says, look at what God did in Jesus!  Jesus gave his life so that the sin that made it impossible for us to be in relationship with God could be dealt with.  God made things right, out of his gracious desire to be with us.  That is amazing.

We can bank on that, Peter says. More on that in just a minute.  Because I have skipped over something important.

Who is Peter writing to?

Look at verse 1, he calls them strangers, scattered people from many places.  With this opening description, Peter begins a theme that will be very important for him.  Christians need to see themselves as strangers who were scattered.  Peter wrote this letter not to one person or one church, but to Christians at the time who had been scattered around the world.  They were Christians living their lives as strangers in foreign countries, scattered away from their homeland.  Many were refugees.

Why? Because it was a difficult time for the church.

As we will see throughout our study, Peter addresses the fact that the Christians are being persecuted.

Peter is their leader. He lives in Rome. The Roman Emperor Nero lives in Rome.  The historians tell us that Nero, at the end of his life, persecuted Christians.  It is likely that both Peter and the apostle Paul died at Nero’s bidding.  But what we don’t see in the time period Peter is writing is Empire-wide state-sponsored persecution of Christians.  Our best guess is that Nero did not try to wipe out Christianity.  So the persecution that Peter refers to throughout his letter is more likely happening to Christians in the localities where they are scattered. The persecution is not in every town and city.  And it is not like they are all being burned at the stake. The persecution varies.  But it is still persecution.  Many Christians have been disenfranchised or displaced.

You can bet Peter hears the talk wafting through the Christian community.  Christianity is only 30 years old at this point.  That’s not a lot of time to develop a rock solid foundation.  If the persecution continues or gets worse, people could easily turn away.  Peter knows he needs to write the Christians who might be feeling like this Christianity thing is no longer worth it.  And that leads to the letter we are reading now.

Peter is not writing to people who are citizens of one national country or city. Peter wants to give them a higher vision.  He says they are strangers in a strange land.  Why?  Strangers?  They are citizens in heaven, and they should live for a purpose, which he describes in verse 2.  Their purpose is “for obedience to Jesus Christ” no matter what is going on.

That is our purpose.  Are we ready for obedience to Christ?  To get ready, we need to see ourselves not as citizens of a country on earth, but as strangers here.  We need to see our citizenship in heaven.  Our citizenship in heaven is the true citizenship, and we are actually strangers in a nation here on earth.  That can be a very hard reality for Christians to grasp.  We are strangers here.

As strangers here, though we aren’t facing persecution like the people Peter was writing to, we need to be ready.  Jesus talked a lot about this.  Be ready for his return.  Persecution may never arrive.  I hope it never does.  But Jesus taught, and the book of Revelation reminds us, that Jesus’ return could be preceded by persecution.  I know many teachers teach that there will be a rapture, meaning that all Christians will be removed from the earth and escape persecution.  Maybe.  But maybe not. Scholars are VERY divided in how to interpret that.  Persecution could come.  And we need to be ready.  We are called to follow Jesus no matter if life is going really well or if life is terrible.

I also encourage you to remember that there are many Christians being persecuted NOW.  The church is being persecuted around the world. And we need to remember that, pray.

In our church fellowship hall, we have copies of Persecuted magazine.  They send five copies every month.  I encourage you to pick it up and read it.

In my prayer time, I use an app called Prayer Mate, and one of its features you can choose is to bring in a new prayer request each day for someone around the world who is being persecuted for their faith.  I love that.  Imagine thousands of Prayer Mate users praying for the person.  How that must feel to be that person?  I hope and pray they can feel God at work answering the prayer of his people, encouraging that person by his Holy Spirit.

And we return to what Peter’s first message is 1:2 “Grace and peace to you.”  And then we look at how he repeats that message in 5:12-14 when he says “Stand fast in the grace of God…[and]…Peace to all of you who are in Christ.”

Grace and peace.

God’s prevenient grace is at work in the world, wooing us to find peace in him.  We can’t control God’s grace, and we don’t want to!  It is his loving choice to shower grace on us, that we might find peace in him.

And what Peter says is that our response is to obey and stand firm in that grace.  Peter, The Rock, knows who the real firm foundation is.  Not him.  He surely knew that.  Peter, the Rock, found a firm foundation in God’s grace.

If you feel like life is anything but firm, I get it.  I talked about my own struggles with anxiety a few weeks ago.  When anxiety hits, when stress rises, when life gets complicated and difficult, it feels like our lives are built on quicksand.

We all seek a firm foundation in life. If our core relationships are not solid, we can be so tempted to betray those core relationships and find other ones that are rock solid.  If we feel an unsettledness, a dissatisfaction, a struggle, with work, with our homes, with our finances, we often go looking for other things in life that we feel rock solid.

Peter, The Rock, says we have a rock solid firm foundation in the grace of God.  The pursuing, loving Grace of God.

This past week I had an anxiety day on Thursday, and as I walked back the hallway of the church, I saw one of the signs the kids made.  I have walked by that sign hundreds of times.  Never struck me before. You know what it says?  Be still and know that I am God.  Psalm 46:10.  I hadn’t been still.  The previous few days were filled and busy and I hadn’t spent time with God, basking in his grace, knowing that his grace is the solid foundation.  I needed that reminder.

Choose to rest in his grace.  That means actually opening up space and time in your life to be with God.  To rest in him.  To be quiet before him.  It might take practice.  To be silent before God is super hard, especially when it feels like life is falling apart all around you.  In those moments the last thing we want to do is stop and be quiet and listen for God.

Standing firm in God’s grace, no doubt about it, is an act of faith in God, right smack in the moment of our struggle, when it seems like God is not there.  Standing firm in God’s grace in that moment means believing that God is who he says he is, and then choosing an action, or more likely a persistent ongoing series of actions, that show we are placing our faith in him.  That is the obedience that Paul is talking about in verse 2.

What will it look like for to stand firm in God’s grace today?  This week?  I encourage you to have someone like Peter, The Rock, in your life.  Someone who has seen firsthand through the years that they can build their life on Jesus.  Sure, Peter was nicknamed The Rock.  But he knew that Jesus was the real  rock of his life.  Who will that be for you?  Who will help you build your life on The Rock of Jesus?

How to become more gracious

6 Oct

Image result for responding graciouslyHave you ever had an encounter with someone who was less than gracious?  Have you been accused?  Confronted?

Or maybe you’re in the store, waiting in line at checkout, and right in front of you is a family with young children.  Just then one of the kids start freaking out because the parent won’t let them have candy.  Is it hard for you to be gracious?

What if the parent is you and the kid is yours?  Are you able to graciously stand firm while your offspring is throwing a tantrum?  What if the other customers around you start acting frustrated with you, as if it is your fault your child is losing it?  So you’re being hit with your child’s poor behavior on one hand, and the poor behavior of adults on the other.  Are you gracious then?

What if your boss cuts your hours?  Gives you a poor performance review?  It can be very hard to be gracious.

I use the app IFTTT on my phone.  “If this, then that.”  It is an app that automates your phone to do tasks.  I have found it to be amazing.  For example, IFTTT helped me set up my phone so that I send myself a text message reminding myself to take out the trash on Thursday nights.  It sends me a text each 1st of the month to remind me that the mortgage is due.  IFTTT can do so much.  One interesting feature it can do is a rescue call.  And by “rescue”, I don’t mean rescue from danger.  Instead IFTTT will rescue me from one of those conversations when I badly need to go, but the other person won’t stop talking.  Or maybe they’re talking about something awkward, maybe politics, and I want to get away, but I don’t know how to do so graciously.  All I need to do now is tap the IFTTT phone icon on my home screen, and within seconds, IFTTT makes an automated phone call to me.  All I have to do at that point is say to my conversation partner “I’m so sorry, I need to go and take this call.”  Gracious!

There is hope!  Not only can we use technology to graciously rescue us in difficult situations, we can learn to become more gracious.  If you know there is bitterness or a habit of poor responses coming out of you, then you can be changed from the inside out.  You can become a more gracious person.  Read on!

This week we’ve been talking about grace.  When we accept God’s gracious gift, we are not only taking on a whole new family name, but we are also saying that we will live like a child of grace, to live like Jesus lived.

If you want to know how to live a life of grace, study Jesus.  In 1 John 2:6 one of Jesus closest friends, John, says “Whoever claims to live in Jesus must walk or live as Jesus did.”  Accepting God’s gracious gift, then, is not just saying “I believe in and receive the gift of God’s grace”.  It is living a life that looks more and more like the gracious life of Jesus.

But a life of grace is not always easy.  In fact, when calling us to a life of grace, God calls us to something that can be difficult.

I recently read the book, Messy Grace, by Caleb Kaltenbach, and I highly encourage you to read it as well.  Caleb is a pastor who parents are gay.  They were married, divorcing when he was 2yrs old.  Soon after the divorce, his mom started a lesbian lifestyle, and she raised Caleb in that community.  To him, therefore, it was normal.  His dad remained single, though years later Caleb learned that his dad was gay.  So Caleb grew up in a family environment, mostly with his mom and her partner, that normalized the lesbian lifestyle and felt the pain of hate and discrimination from less-than-gracious Christians.

But something unexpected happened.  Caleb, through friends, a youth group, and reading the Bible, learned about and received the gift of God’s grace.  As he studied the Bible, he changed his mind about same-sex relations.  Caleb then had to come out to his parents.  But it was a very different coming out.  Instead of announcing to his Christian family that he was coming out as gay, Caleb announced to his gay parents that he was coming out as a Christian and he no longer agree with their lifestyle.  It was brutally difficult for Caleb to live out the gracious life of Christ in his family.

Living in families is like that.  We all know this.  Sharing life together as a church family is like this.

Grace is not easy.  Grace can be very difficult when people are unkind to you.  Grace can be difficult when people make bad choices that affect you.  Grace can be difficult because people can be difficult. But as we learn from Jesus how to live the gracious life, we’ll notice how, time and time again, he chose grace when people were being extremely difficult to him and others.

Another difficult aspect of living a gracious life is that it doesn’t mean you get to do whatever you want because, “God is gracious, and he’ll forgive me.  His grace covers it all anyway!”  One of the writers of the New Testament, Paul, referred to this thought process in Romans 6.  There he asked, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace will abound?”  Have you ever thought something like that?  That you can do something sinful “just this once” because God will forgive you anyway?  If we’re honest, I suspect most of us have thought that about God’s grace.  Guess how Paul answers his question.  “Should we go on sinning so that grace will abound?  By no means!”  Accepting God’s gift of grace means that we surrender to our way of doing things, and we give our lives to do things God’s way.

In another writing, Paul says to Titus who was a pastor friend of his, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”

What this means is that we respond to God’s gift of grace by living lives of grace.  A graceful life is one that pursues self-control, purity, and treating others with grace.  That’s where this grace thing gets messy.  Imagine what it is like for God to be gracious to us when we are regularly thinking, doing, and saying things that are not self-controlled and pure. Imagine how he feels. He was so gracious to us, to the point of sending his son to give his life for us.  And how do we respond to that grace?  We choose to ignore it by sinning.

And just as we can messy to God, others can be messy to us.

So what will it look like to be gracious to people in your life? Sola Gratia means that we are children of grace, and we should be known not only for receiving God’s grace, but also for showering that grace on those around us.

I want you to think.  Who do you have a hard time being gracious to?  Remember that grace is undeserved favor.  Who rubs you the wrong way?  Who do you need to be actively gracious to?  Have you allowed yourself to develop a less than gracious attitude to people in your church family?  What about in your own family?  Is there anyone for whom grace is very messy for you?

What will you do to show more grace?  What will you do to demonstrate that you are a child of grace?

  1. Evaluate yourself. Have people ever told you that you are less than gracious?  That you are intimidating or difficult or argumentative?  Have someone who is able to speak the truth in love to you evaluate you.  Don’t trust yourself to give yourself an accurate accounting.  Some of us are too hard on ourselves.  Some of us are too easy.  Get a true perception of whether or not you are living as a child of grace.
  2. Learn to live graciously. Study Jesus’ life in the Gospels (the four accounts of Jesus’ life, recorded in the Bible), Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  And as you are reading, ask God to help you to learn to be gracious from Jesus.  Write down the ways you see Jesus being gracious.  Then seek out someone in your life who is known for being gracious, and ask them to teach you.  Get the book Messy Grace.  It is excellent.
  3. Practice. Are their people in your life who you have been less than gracious to?  Do you need to go to them and ask forgiveness?  And to show that you are seeking a new gracious pattern with them, what is a gracious act you can to do to start treating them differently?  Maybe a small gift, maybe a nice card, maybe a compliment?

God wants to adopt you

5 Oct

Image result for courtroom and adoptionI have been inside a courtroom for actual proceedings five times in my life.  The first time was my fault, and it was scary. The second time was a school field trip, and it was a relief…it wasn’t about me this time!  Those last three times? Well, they have been astoundingly beautiful.

In each of those last three times I sat in the courtroom, I heard the judge declare that a child was now part of a new family.  I cried tears of joy as my brother, sister and close friends each welcomed those children into their lives, adopting them.

Perhaps surprisingly, the beautiful New Testament teaching about grace that I have been talking about this week is summed up in this picture of adoption.  God, we are told, in his grace, adopts us as his sons and daughters, through the work that Jesus did in his life, death and resurrection.

A scholar I found describes it like this, “Grace is not God’s way of helping us to become obedient children; it is rather God adopting us; unworthy though we are.”

We who did not have a family, because of our sinfulness, can become part of God’s family, because of what Jesus did for us.  Think about that. We are all orphans because of our sin.  Separated from family.  Across that chasm of separation God says, “I want you in my family, but there is something keeping us apart, your sin. But I have good news for you! I love you so much, I’m going to fix that.”  And he did fix that, through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Now all who place their faith on Christ can receive the gift of God’s grace.  When you receive that gift, God adopts you into his family.

I love how Ephesians 1:4-5 depicts God saying to us “I chose you to be adopted into my family.” Have you received the gift of God’s grace to be adopted into his family?

There is something important to bring up here.  We can also choose not to accept the gift.  God doesn’t force us to be in his family.  We have to hold out our arms with open hands, and receive the gift of grace.  When we receive the gift, we are saying that we want to be a part of God’s family.  And not just in name only.  It is not just a label.  “Christian”.

There is a change that begins to take place in us when we receive the gift of God’s grace.  So what happens when we receive that gift of grace?  What do our new lives look like as children in God’s family?  More on that tomorrow!

 

How God feels about sinners…even the worst ones!

31 Jan

Image result for how god feels about you

Can God save the worst sinner ever?  Would he want to?  You and I might not feel like the worst sinners ever in history, but we can often feel pretty guilty about our bad choices.  In the middle of the guilt, we wonder, “How does God feel about us when we have screwed up?”

As I mentioned last week in the intro post, our continuing study in 1st Timothy brings us to chapter 1, verses 12-17.  In that section, the writer of this letter, Paul, declares that he was the worst sinner.  He calls himself a blasphemer and persecutor, a man who arrogantly insulted God.  If you want, you can read all about it in Acts 7-9.  Paul is not exaggerating.  He was part of the same religious establishment that opposed Jesus, and now a few years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Paul was leading the charge to round up Jesus’ followers and crush their movement.

Why wouldn’t God just eliminate Paul?  Instead, Paul tells us in 1st Timothy 1:12-17 that God considered Paul faithful.  Faithful?  That seems incredulous.  How could God see Paul as faithful when Paul was on the brink of destroying God’s new movement to save the world?  The reason is that while Paul had not placed his faith in Jesus, Paul was very passionate about what he considered to be the truth about God, the Old Covenant that God had with Israel.  Therefore Paul considered the Christians a cult, a threat to the truth.

So Jesus stepped in, as you can read in Acts 9, when Paul was headed to imprison more Christians.  Literally breaking out of heaven in a bright light, Jesus revealed himself to Paul, totally changing the course of Paul’s life.   In 1 Timothy 1, at the end of verse 13 Paul looks back on that momentous event when God changed his life, and Paul says he was shown mercy because he acted in ignorance and unbelief.

The word here that Paul uses to describe how much grace and faith and love God gave him is quite vivid.  The NIV uses the image of pouring, but I would argue that there is a better image.  The word is actually a compound word “over fill”.  It is the image of a cup into which a liquid is poured not just to the top, not to the brim, but overflowing.  The liquid pours out over the edges.  The container cannot contain that much!

I love that.  That’s how much grace and faith and love God gives to us!  More than we can handle.  You are the container, and God is filling you with his grace and faith and love, and he is giving you more of his goodness that you can hold!

That’s how amazing God is.

Paul continues talking about this in verse 15 where he refers to the mission of Jesus to save sinners.  Paul was the worst. Paul is using himself as an illustration of how far-reaching God’s grace is.  He was the worst of sinners.  Everyone in the early church knew this.

He was ISIS.  He was their worst enemy.  And how do you think they felt when they heard that their worst enemy supposedly changed into their strongest advocate?

No way, buddy!

How would you feel if a top ISIS leader started saying that he was now a Christian?

No one would believe him!  That’s what Paul was going through.

But the change in Paul was true, and in due time, Paul showed them that it was true.  We see clearly in Paul that Jesus has the power to save anyone and to change anyone’s life.  Even the worst of sinners.

I hear Paul saying in this passage that he was the worst of sinners, and I think “I don’t know if you were actually the worst of sinners even in your own time, Paul, but I can pretty much guarantee that with all the horrible stuff that has happened in the last 2000 years since you wrote this, you aren’t even close to the worst.”

The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized it doesn’t matter who is actually the worst sinner, or whether or not Paul was the worst sinner.  What matters is that Paul saw himself as the worst sinner.

And when you can be honest about how sinful you really are, then you start to see how amazing God’s grace and mercy are.  Christian pastor and author Tim Keller has said “We only fully grasp the gospel when we understand, as Paul did, that we are the worst sinner we know.”

I’ll never forget a sight I saw at EC National Conference a few years ago.  We were all singing praise to God, a normal part of our sessions of conference.  One particular song emphasized this theme of brokenness before God, of taking our sin seriously, and a man in the crowd, without any prodding from the worship leader, got up from his seat, walked down the aisle, and got down on his knees in front of the whole assembly.  He was clearly broken up inside about his sin.

Do we let ourselves off the hook?  I wonder if we haven’t fully grasped the Gospel because we haven’t taken our sin seriously?

And if you’re thinking “Man, Joel…this sin talk dire stuff.  Bleak.”  Get ready.  What comes next is a game changer.

In verse 16, Paul says something that many people think is crazy: God showed mercy to the worst of sinners!

God shows mercy to sinners, even to really bad sinners.  And more than that, why would God do this?  Paul says that God showed mercy to him so that Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.

God had unlimited patience for sinners.  That is crazy talk.  Unlimited?  On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is no patience and 10 is unlimited patience, where do you rank yourself?

God is a 10.  He is the only one who is a 10.

When you realize how God is so merciful, so patient with you, even when you feel like the worst of sinners, what do you do?  You do what Paul did!

In verse 17 he bursts forth in praise: “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever!”  Praise Him!  Paul is praising him as he thinks about how amazing God was to him.

This is who God is!  Paul is looking at the depths of evil that was in his heart and how God saved him.  And he bursts with praise.

Paul uses himself as an example of why we should praise the Lord.  But all of us have stories.

If God can save the worst of sinners, of course he can save the rest of us.

Paul is also an example for us in that he is sharing his story.  Likewise we should share our stories of God’s intervention in our lives.  And I’m not talking about only super dramatic stories.  Stories of God’s work in the non-dramatic moments are also amazing.  It is just as astounding for God to save us in a non-dramatic way as it is for God to break out of the clouds and save a Christian-killer like Paul.

All of us should have the words of praise found in verse 17 flooding our hearts and minds!

So if you grew up in a Christian family and you always believed in Jesus, that is just as awesome as if you didn’t grow up in a Christian family and have a more intense conversion experience.

Christians, be reminded of the grace, love and patience of God in saving you, pour out in praise, and tell the story!

Mercy and Grace – What we all need – Luke 1:57-80

18 Dec

Last week I asked: What do we all need?

The amazing message of Christmas is that God wants to shower us with his mercy and grace! That is our need!

graceandmercy2Zechariah’s song proclaims the good news of salvation that is found in Christ. That salvation is found nowhere else.

We need God’s grace and mercy.

Jerry Bridges, author of two books about grace, Transforming Grace, and The Discipline of Grace says that “our worst days are never beyond the reach of God’s grace and our best days are never beyond the need of God’s grace.” We always need God’s mercy and grace.

When we think about the message that God communicated through Zechariah’s song, through the birth of John, the forerunner to the Messiah, the entire story is dripping God’s mercy and grace.

It is astounding and beautiful. That God would go to such lengths to express his love to us.

Grace could be understood as unmerited favor. When you do get what you don’t deserve.

Mercy as unmerited pardon. When you don’t get what you do deserve.

They’re quite similar and related, and they are awesome.

In God’s grace Zechariah and Elizabeth were past child-bearing age. They didn’t deserve to have a child in their old age. But God had grace on them. And so John’s name means “God is gracious”.

Think of all the ways that you have been blessed though you haven’t deserved it.

We need to receive grace and mercy.

We need to show grace and mercy.

The ideas of grace and mercy are so wide, that I can only scratch the surface of their meaning and impact in a sermon like this.

As we live in community with one another here, with our families, with our neighbors how do we practically show grace and mercy?

When Christians Aren’t Gracious – 1st Corinthians 16:5-24, Part 1

29 Oct

Paul closes the letter where he began it. Grace.

Back in 1 Corinthians 1:3-4 he said “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.”

And now in 16:23 he says “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.” This is a fairly typical closing for Paul, but it is well worth out attention.  Even our close attention.  Here’s why:

Do you feel the grace of the Lord Jesus is with you? In you. Flowing through you?  Many don’t.

vanishing gracePhilip Yancey just came out with a new book, Vanishing Grace. I’m looking forward to reading it. I thought about it this week at our Ministerium Bible study when the pastor leading discussion was talking about the salt of the earth passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.”

So you and I are the salt of the earth. In our day and age, salt is primarily a flavoring. That is a good comparison to how Christians could be the flavor of Jesus in this world. But in Jesus’ day salt was also used for healing and preserving. It was very, very valuable. Soldiers in the Roman army were often paid in salt, and in Latin this practice was called salarium, which is where we get our English word salary. Salt could help heal wounds. It could preserve meat. So there we have some more parallel to how Christians in the name of Jesus can heal and preserve our world.

But how do we do this? One pastor at the Ministerium admitted that in his bi-vocation in the business world, his conversations about church, about sin, about Jesus, were not viewed as good salt. They were repulsive.

I wonder if that is because grace is missing. Is grace missing from your life? From your attitude? From your words?

Our world needs grace. We need grace. The message of Good News in Jesus is a wonderful message of grace. One way we are the Salt of the Earth is by being gracious!

Think about it: We live in a cutthroat world. A world where grace is oftentimes missing.

Our family has been watching old episodes of the reality TV Show Survivor. It is a game with lying, strategies of double-crossing, staying true to alliances only as long as they are self-serving. There is little grace.

About his book, Philip Yancey says something that might be hard for us to hear. I urge you now to prayerfully ask the Lord if you need to hear this. He says “One reason the broader world does not look to Christianity for guidance is that we Christians have not spoken with a credible voice. Churches in my childhood focused on lifestyle issues such as hair- and skirt-lengths, movies, dancing, smoking, and drinking. Meanwhile, conservative churches said little about poverty, racism, war, consumerism, immigration, the treatment of women, and the environment. With some significant exceptions, the church sat on the sidelines of movements that addressed these important causes.

He goes on: “Some further muddle the message of grace by piously casting judgment on society. I heard an all-too-typical example as I was writing this chapter. In the aftermath of historic floods in Colorado that damaged eighteen thousand houses, a Christian radio personality blamed the floods – and also our wildfires the same summer – on legislators who “encourage decadent homosexual activities, vote to kill as many babies as possible, and pass laws approving abominable idolatries such as marijuana.” Listening to those words as I watched water creep within inches of flooding my downstairs office, I easily understood how Christians alienate people. I could list scores of such moral pronouncements that foster an “us against the world” mentality rather than “us bringing grace to the world.”… How differently would the world view Christians if we focused on our own failings rather than on society’s?

Yancey asks the question: “Why does the church stir up such negative feelings?” As the promo material for the book says, “He has been asking this all his life as a journalist. His perennial question is more relevant now than ever: in a twenty-year span starting in the mid-nineties, research shows that favorable opinions of Christianity have plummeted drastically—and opinions of Evangelicals have taken even deeper dives.

“But people inside and outside the church are still thirsty for grace. What the church lacked in its heyday is now exactly what it needs to recover to thrive. Grace can bring together Christianity and our post-Christian culture, inviting outsiders as well as insiders to take a deep second look at why our faith matters and about what could reignite its appeal to future generations.

“How can Christians offer grace in a way that is compelling to a jaded society? And how can they make a difference in a world that cries out in need?”

When you’re appalled at the news coming out of Washington, out of the Supreme Court, will you ask God to fill you with grace?

When the results of the election next week come in, whether you are cheering or moaning, will you ask God to fill you with grace?

When your neighbor’s leaves blow onto your yard because he didn’t cover them, will you ask God to fill you with grace?

When that kid at school is acting like a jerk yet again, will you ask God to fill you with grace?

What does grace look like in a world without it?

Reach out to the person who is being bullied. Sit with them at lunch. Talk to the office gossip who everyone can’t stand.

As a church we show grace to our community especially by reaching out to those in need, even if they have made poor decisions, and it would be easy to say “Well they got themselves in this mess.”

We show grace by active and sustained involvement in Conestoga Valley Christian Community Services, where needy community people can come for food and clothing. Our CVCCS stand in the lobby can start to fade into the background and become part of the décor unless we actively seek to show grace.

We show grace by preaching the Gospel of grace in both word and deed.

  • If you know you are not filled with God’s grace, I encourage you to start doing gracious things: Forgive someone who doesn’t deserve it, remembering God forgave you.
  • Treat someone with kindness when they have treated you poorly, remembering that God treated you with amazing kindness though you have sinned against him.
  • Serve at CVCCS, a place oozing with grace for those who haven’t had a whole lot in their lives. Have you looked at all the opportunities to serve at CVCCS in the bulletin?
  • Help pack shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child on November 5th. Show grace to kids around that world that may have never experienced the grace of Christmas.
  • Fill Christmas stockings for the kids Joe Toy works with in Philly, and then join the group going to Philly on December 13 to interact with the kids.

Let us be a people that love God, love one another, filled with grace.

Feel free to listen to the whole sermon here.