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Saturday, February 23, 2019

God's Grace is on the Porch, at the Doorway, and with us on our Journey

God’s Grace is on the Porch, at the Doorway, and with us on our Journey
We have heard about God’s grace, but what it is?  Of course, no human can begin to understand the mystery of God’s amazing grace that He showers onto us. But Christians find it exciting when they see God working in their lives.  According to the Wesleyan Methodist Book of Discipline, Grace is God’s presence with us, working in our lives to create, heal, forgive, reconcile, comfort and transform human hearts, communities and the entire creation.”  
In his sermon, published in 1765, John Wesley describes three ways he believes God’s grace is given to us humans.  These three ways are: (1) Prevenient Grace (2) Justifying Grace and (3) Sanctifying Grace.  And to illustrate this, John Wesley pictured a “House” with a porch and a doorway, to help describe God’s all- encompassing grace. 
Prevenient grace is present in all creation – in the natural order.  It is sometimes called “Common Grace” as it is given to everyone.  The Bible says: grace is the “true light that the Son of God lights every soul coming into the world with” (John 1:9) Scripture says that God gives gifts of grace and a conscience to know right from wrong to every person on earth.
 According to John Wesley, prevenient grace is God’s grace drawing us up on the porch. Gently nudging and calling each person to do the right and just thing, to follow kindness and love and to come nearer to Him. To believe in Christ as Savior and Lord. We can accept or ignore God’s grace – the grace that draws us along to Him.  Just as God has free will, He has created us with free will. And we are free to say “no” to God’s grace. Free to say “no” to the invitation to follow Christ. We are not robots and we have a choice. 
 Prevenient Grace is the Good Shepherd (Christ) out in the cold dark night searching and calling for His lost sheep.  Wesley describes “Prevenient Grace” as the grace that finds us and urges us to come up on the “Porch” and over to the door. The porch is where we make our decision to either go through the door or stay out. God’s grace in our lives has drawn us to want to follow Him when we are near the door and on the porch. Only God knows how to urge us on.   
The porch can be where we linger and decide we don’t want to go inside after all.  Or the porch can be where we prepare to enter the house and begin the journey of following Christ. It’s decision time.  Do we walk through the door or stay outside? God will not force us to love Him. We must say “Yes” to God’s gracious invitation and step through the door in order to begin the Christian journey!  It’s our call!
“Prevenient Grace” prepares us for “Justifying Grace.”  And “Justification Grace” is the door we walk through into a whole new existence! The door is open with a “Whosoever will” sign over the doorpost.  (Revelation 22:17) Wesley says that “Justification” is another word for God’s “pardon.” It is the forgiveness of our sins and our acceptance with God.”  It happens when we  repent and believe in Christ as our Savior and Lord.
 Justifying Grace is the doorway into the house of God’s salvation! This grace is the open doorway and our faith in Christ is the process of walking through it.  Scripture says: “For by grace you are saved through faith, and not of yourselves, it is a gift of God, not of works lest any person boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)   If “Justifying Grace” is like a journey, where the one who has walked through the door now turns toward a new future, packs his or her bags, joins the guide and sets out toward the destination.  Justifying Grace is called conversion or coming to faith. 
But God’s saving work and grace is not the end of God giving us gifts and graces. God’s grace continues to nurture and bless and guide and heal and teach and comfort us all through our lives.  God’s presence in our lives is an ongoing experience. Through the power of the Holy Spirit as we go through life we are enabled to increase in the knowledge and love of God and our neighbor. “Sanctifying Grace” represents the grace God continues to give us all our lives as we walk with Him.   
Sanctifying grace continuously forms us into the likeness of Christ. Scripture says: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6) We are constantly in need of being spiritually renewed and refreshed. 
Our Christian faith is a social faith.  Faith always includes a social dimension.  We cannot be solitary Christians.  Our faith must grow through our participation in a church community where we are nourished and equipped for mission and service. As the body of Christ we pray together, sing and praise God together, repent, share the Sacraments, study the Scriptures and listen to sermons all together.  These are some of the means of God’s grace, blessing us through other believers and blessing them through us. God often gives us His grace through fellowship with other believers. And God uses us to bless others. Scripture says: “Do not neglect or forsake the fellowship of meeting with other believers” (Hebrews 10:25) We are not meant to be lonely individuals.  We are stronger in the Lord when we are together.





Saturday, February 16, 2019

We are the Bride of Christ

We are the Bride of Christ
In Scripture, Jesus is called our “bridegroom” or “husband” (Isaiah 54:5) and those who follow Him are called His “bride”, or the “bride of Christ”.  The “Church” is another name for all the followers of Christ. So, the Christian Church – all of the believers, now and down through the ages, are referred to in the Bible as the “bride of Christ.” And we Christians – the Church - are also called “the body of Christ” as we are all members of one body.  (1 Corinthians 12:27)  
Scripture says: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for her.  That He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the Word.  That He (Jesus) might present her (the Church) to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.”  (Ephesians 5:25-27)  
Scripture says that God created the bride of Christ.  (Matthew 16:18) and she was chosen before the foundation of the world.  (Ephesians 1:4) The Father created her and paid a large dowry for His bride.  She was “bought with a price.” The blood of Christ was shed for her.  (1 Corinthians 6:20, 1 Peter 1:18-19) And the Father gave her to His only Son, Jesus Christ. (John 17:6) She is truly beloved. 
When a person believes in Christ, he or she is given the Holy Spirit to guide, comfort, and teach, and live in her or his heart.  And the Bible says that this same Holy Spirit we receive also seals us for eternity.  So, our bridegroom puts a “seal” on us to show that we belong to Him.  The Bible says: “He who establishes us with Christ and anoints us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.”  (2 Corinthians 21b-22)
Christ also pledges to His bride that He is preparing a place for her (us) in heaven and that He will return to earth for her that she may be with Him.  (John 14:3) And, as His bride, we will long for His return.  And His banner over us is love. (Song of Solomon 3:1; 2:4 and 6:3) Christ is faithful to us (His bride) so we should be faithful to Him. 
Christ washes and cleanses His bride and makes her eternal and alive and beautiful.  And He gives her His righteousness. (Jeremiah 23:6, Isaiah 53:6 and Romans 3:24-25) He rejoices over His bride (Isaiah 62:5) (John 3:29) The Bible also records the bride rejoicing over Him: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord. My soul shall be joyful in my God:  For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation.  He has covered me with His robe of righteousness.”  (Isaiah 61:10).
The Church, the bride of Christ, is described as glorious.  The Bible says: “And I, John saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as the bride adorned for her husband.”  And the marriage of the Lamb (Christ) takes place with the bride covered in righteousness (white linen) (Revelations 19:7-9) And the groom’s “banner over her is love”. “He brings me to His banqueting table and His banner over me is love.” (Song of Solomon 2:4)
We don’t understand this “mystery” – the mystery of Christ being our bridegroom and of us becoming His glorious sinless powerful bride!  We can only vaguely imagine and wonder at what it might all mean or what it will be like when we see Jesus face to face!  But we realize that it will be glorious beyond anything we could imagine! 
Scripture says: “Beloved, we are the children of God, and it has not yet been revealed to us what we shall be, but we know that when He (Jesus) is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”  (1 John 3:2) “We now see as through a glass darkly, but then face to face.  We now know in part, but then we shall know as we are known.”  (1 Corinthians 13:12)

All are invited to come join the ranks of the Saints who will someday soon go marching into heaven.  Scripture says: “And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come”!  And let the person who hears say, “Come”!  And let the person who thirsts come.  Whoever desires, let that person take the water of life freely.”  (Revelations 22:17) And the Bible also says: “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”  (Romans 10:9) Have you accepted your invitation?  Have you tasted of the water of life?  When the Saints go marching into heaven, will you be in that number? 




Saturday, February 9, 2019

Come to Me and I Will Give You Rest

Come to Me and I Will Give You Rest
We are tired. Overworked. Stretched thin. We rush around with long lists of things to do.  So many people to please and so many jobs to perform.  We never catch up.  Never get everything right.  Always things left undone. And there’s always someone around wanting more from us.  Adding more burdens onto our already overburdened life. 
We stay away from church because we think that even God will expect too much from us.  Give us more burdens to carry.  And more rules and laws to keep.  It would be too much work trying to be good. But we have to be good to get into heaven, don’t we?   
 But how good is good enough? What do we have to do to be good enough?  Be moral?  Pray all day? Be honest?  Work harder? Pay our taxes? Keep the Sabbath? Keep our promises?  Pay ten percent to the church?  Stay sober? What level of good is good enough?  Good enough to get into heaven? Seems like no one can answer that question! Sounds like a lot of work and we are already tired.
But Jesus comes in and breaks all the rules.  Changes everything.  Jesus calls to us saying: “Come unto Me all you who are tired and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  (Matthew 11:28) And then He tells us that we don’t have to work or earn our way or do anything to go to heaven!  That salvation of the soul is unearned!  A free gift for us to take.  We do nothing and He does everything! “For by grace are you saved through faith and not of yourselves, it is a gift of God, not of works, lest any person boast.”  (Ephesians 2:8-9)  
God offers us a free gift. God’s grace is poured out onto us. This grace of God spoken of throughout Scripture is greater than we could ever imagine.  We don’t need to earn God’s love or grace.  We already have it.  We don’t have to perform for God or struggle to get His grace. He gives it to us freely.  The only thing we must do is take it through faith.  Faith’s only job is to receive what Grace offers.  If you don’t believe you have a gift, then you won’t reach out and take it.  But Scripture says: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:31)   It’s simple enough for a child to understand. Faith and believing are the same thing.
But some folks stumble because receiving salvation is so simple.  They want to make it more complicated! We sometimes find it hard to trust the miracle of God’s amazing grace!  We are a proud people, so used to believing that we must make our own way.  At least make part of it.  We want to run our own life and make our own choices. We tell God to get out.  We want to do our own thing without God’s interference.  He might get in our way.  We want His help but not His interference.  No strings attached.  We are special and we want it all on our own terms!
But we find we can’t do it all on our own. Our own way doesn’t seem to work very long. We are stuck fast in our sins and prejudices and pride.  No matter how hard we try we can’t wiggle out and save ourselves. And things aren’t going right in our lives either!  We struggle along through life anxious, fearful, angry and frustrated.  Where is the rest and peace and joy that we hear about in the Scriptures?  Shouldn’t God just be our bellboy in the sky handing us everything we want or demand while we do our thing and run our own life?  
Scripture says we must humbly come to God and believe in Christ as our Savior and Lord?  The Church calls it “justification by faith”.  Why does the whole Bible insist that “faith” or “believing” is so important?  Why did God command Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, to enjoy all of the fruits in the Garden of Eden or Paradise, but not to eat the fruit of just one tree?  Why was that one little thing so important?  Is God telling us humans that He will give us salvation, rest and peace and joy, that He will give us Paradise, but only if we belong to Him?  For Adam and Eve – if they only obeyed and didn’t eat that one fruit.  And for us, if we only believe in Christ!  Simple trust ties us to God.
We find we can’t run our lives on our own.  We must have God’s amazing grace! So, we stop believing we can do it all and humbly ask God to help us.  And we step out in faith and believe in Christ. And then God, in His gracious kindness declares us not guilty.  He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins.  (Romans 3:24-25)
“God didn’t overlook your sins, lest He endorse them.  He didn’t punish you, lest He destroy you.  Instead He found a way to punish the sin and preserve the sinner.  Jesus took your punishment and the sin, and preserves the sinner, giving you credit for Jesus’ perfection.  It’s a sweet exchange, your sins for His righteousness. (See Max Lucado’s book, “Grace”, p.36)
But God’s grace doesn’t just give us eternal salvation.  God’s grace also gives us rest and peace and joy while we are living our lives here on earth.  Christians are called to rest in His grace.  Give our problems to Him and trust Him to take care of them.  Scripture says: “Casting all your cares on Him, for He cares for you.”  (1 Peter 5:7)  
We become “citizens of the Kingdom of God” when we believed in Christ.  And the Bible tells us that the Kingdom of God is “righteousness, peace and joy.” (Romans 14:17)   In other words, it is a Paradise!  As followers of Christ that is our heritage and our inheritance.  Scripture says: “For we who have trusted in God and relied on Him do enter that rest….” (Hebrews 4:3)
God tells those who believe in Christ to ask and we shall receive, seek and we shall find, and knock and it shall be opened to us. (Matthew 7:7-8, Luke 11:9) That sounds like Paradise to me! When we pray and ask God for something, we often expect our prayer to be answered quickly and in a certain way.  But God often takes a different route in answering our prayers. That’s when we need to trust God and rely on His grace.
God may not work the problem out the way we thought He would. But He knows the way through the wilderness.  He knows our problems and He will answer our prayers and work out things for the best, and in His time frame.  He gives us the precious promise – the grace - that He will answer all of our prayers if they are in His will and if we will trust Him enough to allow Him to do that.  (Romans 8:28)
So, you don’t have to be afraid and you don’t have to worry or be anxious. Scripture says: “Be anxious in nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication, make your requests known unto God, and the peace that passes understanding will keep your minds and hearts in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 4:6-8) The Holy Spirit is our “Comforter”. (John 14:26) We can rest and have the peace that God has all of our problems and requests in His Hands.  We can relax and let grace happen. What can I say!  It doesn’t get any better than that! 

Some of the ideas in this blog were taken from Max Lucado’s book, “Grace” and from Joyce Meyer’s book, “Grace of God”.