Gift of Salvation

The date was July 17, 2001. Up until this date, I had always thought I was a person who followed Jesus Christ. This day, something changed my life, for the better. Six to eight months beforehand, I had been having lunch with a friend of mine and his pastor. This lunch turned into a weekly Bible study. During this study, I began to sense a desire to say “Yes” to Jesus Christ and have him save me from my sin. What I have later learned is there have been people God has placed in my path my entire life to show me and teach me about God. I have also had people show me what it means to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. Many people have their own story of how they came to faith. I have learned, though, it is not the “coming to faith” that is the crucial thing. I have learned it is what happens after we come to faith in God through Jesus Christ because of the movement of the Holy Spirit.
When a person speaks about being saved, they are communicating they have been set free from sin and have been given life everlasting by the grace of God. It is the hope, desire, and longing of every person to live for something greater than themselves in this physical life. When John Wesley died, “His last words served to not only capture the quality of life he lived but also the kind of life he wished for others. He died saying, ‘The best of all is, God is with us.’” (Harper 13) Wesley was considered a practical theologian. As Wesley was teaching and preaching and organizing new converts into groups, he learned a process for salvation. This is not something new, but he did organize the thinking into what we know as the order of salvation.
How does a person come to be saved and receive life everlasting? Why would a person desire to be saved? Oden writes, “The benefits of salvation are summarized as justification (receiving the pardon of God), regeneration (receiving new life in the Spirit and participation in the family of God), and sanctification (receiving the growth-enabling, completing, maturing, perfecting grace of God that leads toward holiness of heart and life).” (Oden 607) The Apostle Paul writes in the letter to Titus, “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7 NIV) Salvation is a gift of God, it is because of God’s grace we have been saved. (Ephesians 2:8)
The first step in the order of salvation is “realizing that something is wrong with the human race.” (Harper 21) In the beginning, God created male and female in his image (Genesis 1:26-27). Then, in Genesis 1:31, it says “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31 NIV) But then, a brief time later, the humans decided to listen to the voice of the serpent and evil/sin entered the heart and lives of the people from that point forward. Humanity was more interested in themselves, from then on, than they were/are about listening to God.
When a person realizes there is something inherently wrong, there is nothing we can do on our own. “We cannot pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Grace is essential.” (Harper 28) One can look back on their life and see that God has been working and moving in many ways. Even before people have an idea about God, God is pouring out his grace. Wesley called this “prevenient grace.” This is the act and movement of God to work in our lives to bring us out of a place of hopelessness. Prevenient grace is seeking ways to break through into peoples’ lives to show God has been there all along. Romans 1 demonstrates this, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen.” (Romans 1:20 NIV) The Apostle Paul is showing that God is making himself known even before the people realize it.
A person comes to the realization God has been working in their life and has felt a strong sense of conviction about their life in sin. For some, this realization can happen at an instant. For others, it can occur over time. This is the point of justification. “Justification is the acceptance of the sinner, united in Christ by faith, precisely while it remains clear that he or she has done wrong…openly declaring his guilt that acquittal is announced.” (Oden 588) The person has been set free from the slavery of sin and has been given new life in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Christ has justified. Christ has made right the person through grace by faith. The person now belongs to Jesus Christ. Repentance has taken place, and a new life begins to unfold for the new believer. “When the New Testament speaks of repentance, it uses the basic idea of change. Wesley called it, ‘a change of heart from all sin to all holiness.’” (Harper 44) The idea is the person now desires to live for Christ and has forsaken all sin. A new way of life is now beginning. John Wesley called this converting grace.
The work of the Spirit is not done in the life of the person. The process of being made holy, of being made into the likeness of Jesus Christ is beginning. At this point, the person is being made new. We call this new birth. Wesley called this process sanctifying grace because this is the process of being sanctified, being made holy, and it takes time. We also know this as regeneration. “Wesley called it God’s activity of ‘renewing our fallen nature.’” (Harper 56) Oden says, “Regeneration is the work of the Spirit by which new life in Christ is imparted to one dead in sin. It implies a change in the inward person by which a disposition to the holy life is originated, and in which life begins. It is the acts of God by which the governing disposition of the person begins to be responsive to the reconciling God.” (Oden 612) The person is in the process of being made new, living into a new will, receiving a new heart.
God’s grace has done incredible work in the person and is working to change the person from the inside out. Oden helps to define grace. “Grace means unmerited favor. To affirm that God is gracious is to affirm that God does not deal with creatures on the basis of their works, merit, or deserving but rather out of abundant divine compassion. It is through grace that God’s mercy is free given precisely to repentant sinners.” (Oden 73) Salvation is God’s gift because of his grace.
The gift of salvation means the person has the opportunity to live in the presence of God, here and now and in the life to come. “[T]he kingdom of God is here now. We do not have to put emphasis on some future climatic event outside the bounds of time and space as we know it. As Christians, we affirm and look to the existence of eternity, but we live in the present.” (Harper 95) We have been given the opportunity, here and now, to live in the presence of God and allow God’s grace, through the working of the Holy Spirit to refine us from the inside out. “
The final aspect of the salvation process occurs when this earthly life is complete. Wesley called this glorification. This is when we enter, fully, into the life to come and live in life everlasting with God in paradise. This is the benefit of living knowing and following Christ here and now. The goal of salvation is to save us from ourselves (sin nature) and to align our lives with the ever living God who desires to be in relationship with all people. The goal of the Christian life is to become perfect in love.
The order of salvation is not as cut and dry as it may seem. People take their own path, the path God’s grace leads them. The point is so one can experience incredible love, grace, mercy, forgiveness and live in God’s presence through the power of the Holy Spirit. Whenever a person is going through the salvation process, God desires we bring people along with us. We were meant to be in community with one another and what better way to live out God’s love than with others. We are saved from ourselves (sin nature) and we are saved so we can work with God for the redemption and transformation of the world.

Bibliography

Harper, Steve. (2003). The Way to Heaven: The Gospel According to John Wesley. Grand Rapids: Zondervan

Oden, T. C. (2009). Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology. New York: HarperOne.

Why Study the Old Testament?

Does the Old Testament have any authority for the Christian believer today? Why should we even try to study the Old Testament?

This is actually something I have dealt with in a couple of my contexts. Some of the people say they only want to talk about that God is love and this is all you need to know. Others say they are “Red Letter Christians” meaning they only hold to and pay attention to the words of Jesus (red words) and this is what shapes their faith. We do have to pay attention to the “red letters” but we also have to understand the context they are written in.

One of the helpful things I have come to learn is the Old Testament is actually our story. When we read through the Old Testament, even the difficult passages, we can see how God related to the people, which is the same way God would relate to us today. God, especially through Jesus, is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So, as Christians we have to understand what it looks like to live out our lives in faithfulness.

Jesus says many times, “You have heard it said…but I say…” What does this mean unless we go back to see what he was talking about? Eye for an eye, as an example, is not just a saying in our culture; but it is a phrase that was used, for a specific reason, in the Old Testament. In essence, Jesus is giving more meaning to the words the people have heard and lived by all their lives, and therefore making them go deeper in their meaning to help the people see the seriousness of sin. In other words, Jesus is trying to show we do not have to be legalistic about our faith, just live it out of the heart—this, after all, is where our true motivations come from anyway.

Jesus gave the teachings and writings of the Old Testament authority, because he is God incarnate and therefore said the words. This is the first thing we have to pay attention to. Because of this, we see the apostles and early church give authority back to the Old Testament. Paul said that all scripture is God-breathed, God-inspired and he was talking about the Old Testament. But, without the Old Testament, we miss out on seeing the bigger picture God has in mind for being sent out to all the nations.

Through the Old Testament, we understand that Yahweh is the God who created the universe, and therefore is completely “other” from the universe, yet is also constantly active and personal in all of creation, especially through the lives of the people. We see how Yahweh has been set above the other “gods” of the world Because God is active in the world, we can better understand the mission Jesus sent his followers on by looking back at the calling of Abraham, even look back further to see how the world was set in order and how people were supposed to live with each other from the very beginning.

Back to the Old Testament is our story. Many people say that “our lives are the only Bible people will read.” This is true. I can also see how our lives tell the story the Bible tells. We are created out of love (whether or not this is true from a human perspective, we are created from the love of God). Because we are created out of love, we have been set to live this life in this particular time, this particular culture, with this particular personality, and gifts/talents/motivations, etc. We have been placed here to tend to and cultivate what God has given us, and go into the world. We have been created for a purpose.

We also see how we have been given teacher, preachers, books, other people to guide us and teach us the “rules of life” so we can learn what it means to be a “good/decent person”. The Lord did this with Israel with the Sinai Covenant. God gave the people the law to show what it means to live a holy/set apart people. But, we learn we still have this desire to do what we want and disregard what God said (blessing and curse of free will). This helps us understand there is something in us we cannot take out or get rid of on our own—something that seems to be ingrained in us to do things we know we shouldn’t do. We see this through the continual living faithfully and calling of Israel to repent by the Prophets.

There comes a time when God says the people have done their own thing for so long before stepping in to take over. God has always been present in our lives and there comes a point when we realize we need God to be the One leading us and changing us. We need God to step in to the world/our world, and show us how we are being transformed and make us into something even more than we could have ever imagined. This is where Jesus comes in.

Jesus comes, and we finally realize we need only him, he is the only One who can do what we need. Now, because of the Old Testament, we can better see how God has been working in the world to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven. The Savior we have been hoping for has come, is changing our lives, and taking us to a place where we can work with him to change the world and see the world redeemed because of his grace. Because of Jesus (Yahweh in flesh), we can go from the chaos of our world (the world) and move into a life of order, peace, and true faithfulness.

Why study the Old Testament? A scholarly answer would be so we can understand the entire message of the Bible and to understand what is really going on. A theological answer would be so we can understand what the New Testament is actually saying and how it is applied to our lives. A personal answer, at least to me, would be so we can better understand our purpose and how we are supposed to live. More importantly, so we can better understand our lives and see how we sin and fall short of God, we constantly go back and forth from doing what we are supposed to do/not do, we see God (through Jesus Christ) coming to change our lives, and we see us moving toward a future with a hope because God has it already in the palm of his hands and has an ultimate plan for the future.

We study the Old Testament because it is our story. It is the story God tells so we can understand our mission to be in a holy community, and to be lights to the world to take the message of salvation to all the nations. If we can take this time to study and understand the importance of the Old Testament, we can better see how God through Jesus Christ is reshaping the world back the original intent.

Because people, by fallen nature, are self-absorbed, bringing us to a place to see we are also in the story of ancient Israel could make it seem like reading about your own family history and given better understanding to why we live like we live. This could also give people the motivation to learn more, on their own and in groups, to study the complexity, yet simplicity, of the message of the Old Testament and see more clearly how Jesus is really fulfilling (not obliterating) the law and words in the Old Testament which should give greater clarity and purpose to our lives and reason for living as a mission community to the rest of the world so God’s plan is completed.

NEW BOOK: “Jesus Is…”

Kindle & Paperback Editions

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Ryan+Stratton+jesus+is&ref=nb_sb_noss

“Who do you say Jesus is? Some say he was just a good person. Some say he was a prophet. Others say he didn’t exist. CS Lewis says, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said wouldn’t be a great moral teacher. He’d be either a lunatic on a level with a man who says he’s a poached egg or else he’d be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.” It is important for us to know who Jesus is because this is who we are being formed into. We are not forming Jesus into ourselves, but rather he is recreating us to make us into his image.

This 8 chapter book goes over the big moments of Jesus’ life to help us see how the life of Jesus is still impacting our life today. The next time you’re asked “Who is Jesus?” you can have some answers to help people understand the power of the Risen Christ that is with us always and who is giving us our identity.”

Victory Over Goliath

We all have “giants” in our life that attempt to hold us back from the life God has designed for us. Some of our giants include fear, anger, rejection, comfort, addiction. Join us for this 7-week sermon series as we understand some of the “giants” in our lives and how they can be overcome because of Jesus Christ.

This series takes us through an in-depth study of 1 Samuel 17: the story of David and Goliath.

“Goliath Will Fall” (1 Samuel 17:45-47)

“Giant of Fear Will Fall” (1 Samuel 17:1-11)

“Giant of Rejection Will Fall” (1 Samuel 17:26-33)

“Giant of Comfort Will Fall” (1 Samuel 17:16,25)

“Giant of Anger Will Fall” (1 Samuel 16:7, 17:28)

“Giant of Addiction Will Fall” (1 Samuel 17:33-40)

“Living in Freedom” (Galatians 5:1)

SERMONS ON THE GO! Click here to listen to and subscribe to the weekly sermon on iTunes!

“Doing More” & Church Growth

If you ever wanted to know the strategies about how to grow a church, there are many resources available to help pastors and church leaders. These resources will tell exactly what you should do to grow your church.

On the other hand, I hear many people with a similar question presented, and also a statement which says what we should do in order to gain more members. The statement was simply that we, church members need to “do more.” And the question was, is the church doing anything wrong because visitors do not seem to be coming?

WHO’S CHURCH?

I have an idea to help answer to the question and the statement; but we have to look at something very important first. We have to settle the notion of who the church belongs to. If we continue to use “my church” or something similar, we can be caught into the trap of not allowing new ideas or people to come in because it is not “their” church. Think about that for a minute.

The church actually does not belong to us. The church is God’s. The building we worship in is simply that, a building that is set apart for holy use. The church is the people that make up that particular community of faith. Since the church is God’s, we are always being called to step out of our comfort zone to “seek the lost” and bring them into the fold. We are also supposed to see people as God sees them. This is challenging work, but Jesus sent the Holy Spirit so we could be filled with his power and presence to do the impossible tasks we are called to do.

The church belongs to God. Since the church is not ours, the power of God will sustain and keep the church existing, even in the roughest times.

JUST DO MORE

Now, to the statement above, “we have to do more.” My thought on this is “Yes, kinda.” By that I mean, I think God is calling us to have the same kind of zeal and charisma we had when we first became believers. We had incredible passion for stepping out in faith and telling people how Jesus has come into the world to redeem the people. We have incredible energy for doing mission and outreach work as well. Somewhere along the way, many Christians have just run out of energy to continue the work they had done before.

I think a large part of this is we have not been refilled and refueled with the Holy Spirit and have allowed our zeal to dwindle down. So, we stopped doing the good works God called us to simply because we allowed our life to get in the way. This statement may sound a little harsh, but think about it.

When was the last time you remember being involved in work that was doing good for the Kingdom of Heaven, outside of the church building walls (volunteer at a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, local pregnancy center, etc.)? I know many people still do incredible work, but I am thinking about those who have become sideline Christians and pew potatoes. This can happen to any of us. So, the answer is YES, we do have to do more. But, we also have to ask who is the “we”. It is too easy to say “we have to do more,” and still assume someone else will do the work.

So, what did God call you to do when you first became a believer in Christ? Are you continuing that work? If you are not, why did you stop? Maybe God is calling you and I back to the work we were doing when we first became followers of Christ? Pray about it.

GROWING A CHURCH

Now, to a question that many people are seeking answers to, “how do you grow a church?” The reality is, we can have every gimmick in the book and do everything exactly right, but we could still be missing something. We could be missing out on what the community of faith is supposed to be involved in: relationship building.

This is much more than just inviting people to worship with us. This involves spending time with them in their messy, every day life so they can see the value God has for them. When was the last time you looked at someone and Sid something like this:

“I love you. Why? Because God loves you. I want you to hear how much value you have in the sight of God Almighty, the One who created every part of you. I know your life is not easy. I, too, have scars from life. But Jesus has helped to heal me. He has healed me through his power and presence (through the Holy Spirit) by bringing people alongside me to help me experience his love and grace in incredible ways. I would love for you to join us in worship this coming Sunday and we can talk more about how God may be working in your life.”

This is what we are called to do: share life with each other, especially the messy parts.

Another side to the question of church growth is thinking about what it is we are praying for. What do I mean by this? I mean, are we truly asking God for, and seeking, a real movement of the Holy Spirit? Or do we ask for a band aid fix by asking God to just fill the pews and the plates? Take time to assess what it is you’re praying for.

We should also see what we are controlling that is preventing a movement of the Spirit to occur. In other words, where do our preferences matter more than the presence and movement of the Holy Spirit?

I hear many people say the church is in trouble now. I think they are right, when we focus on just finding warm bodies instead of seeking to make disciples for Jesus Christ. Unless we take the time to revive and use the power of Christ, then everything we do will disappoint us and we will not see the desired results.

If we, however, seek the movement of the Holy Spirit, expect something powerful to happen. Also be patient becasue the Spirit may just be doing a powerful work in the people who may be blocking any movements God wants to do.

I firmly believe the best days of the church are still ahead of us. Let us hold firm and fast to the prompting and leading of the Spirit who will accomplish more than we could ever imagine. You just might see incredible miracles you never dreamed possible.

Let us pray Ephesians 3:20-21, everyday and watch God move:

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

Leaders Are Learners

We are well into the new year. How’s it going for you? Are you feeling productive, or do you feel as if you are in the same routine, the same way of thinking, feeling like nothing as changed except the numbers on the calendar?

I would like to offer this question, “If, for you, everything seems the same, what are you learning?”

What’s interesting to me is how many times I ask this question and get a similar response, “I don’t have time,” or my favorite, “I’m too old”/“I have a hard time learning new things.”

Many people have god intentions to follow through with new year resolutions. I know I have, in the past. But then something seems to happen. There seems to be a new stressor, a new amount of pressure, that is causing us to change or to follow through with what we said we wanted to do. Change is hard. After all, it is said the only people who like change are babies with a dirty diaper.

So if it is change we really desire, what can we do to make it happen? The underlying truth we all have to realize is, if we are going to have a better life (a deeper life in Christ for those who are Christian), we have to seek and live into ways that help produce change.

How many of you have said you want to lead other people? I typically hear it like this, “I’m a good leader.” My question, then, is how many people do you have following you? Then we have to look at what makes a good leader. The truth is, real leaders are constantly learning something new, and improving what they already know and do.

I have heard that CEO’s of businesses read an average of 60+ books a year. Do you think this is something you can do? Why/Why not?

If the goal is to improve ourselves so we can do more, for our family, for the world, for our lives, then where can we begin?

I would recommend starting with something you already love. If you like to play golf, take a few lessons to help improve your swing. If you like to play other sports, play them more and ask people for pointers. If you speak for a living, ask people to constructively critique the messages. If you like to garden, seek someone who can give you some advice. If you have a desire to read, or say you don’t like reading, begin with a short audio book or podcast. This list can go on and on.

Part of the reason we do not follow through on our new year resolutions, I believe, is becasue we try to do more than we can manageably accomplish, then get frustrated when we do not get the desired results (if we have thought about results) within a week or two.

Leaders are learners. If we want to see our lives really change, and do great things, then we have to find ways to learn something, even if it is something we see as small. It is amazing how many things, business and world leaders can learn from attempting to master a golf swing.

Now, I am a pastor and I firmly believe that real change does not happen on our own. I believe we do not possess the power and ability to change within ourselves. We do have access to channel the Source of all Power and Grace in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit, given by Jesus Christ, and directed by God. So, if you are a believer, have you sought out how God is asking you to be different? Have you followed his voice to undergo the process of transformation?

If you are not a believer in Christ as Savior and Lord of your life, his mercy is available and ready to aid you in achieving so much more than you can ever imagine.

The point of all of this is, what are you learning? Start small. It is never too early nor too late to expand our minds and watch the power of God flow in and through us to make lasting change in the world.

Oh, and it never fails to have some people with you as you learn something new: people to share ideas with, and to help hold each other accountable. God works well in those relationships.

When Love Came Down

Since Christmas Day has come and gone, do you feel any different? Or do you feel the weight of cleaning everything, paying bills, or having to pack the gifts to come back home?

The time after Christmas can be really stressful for many people. The logistics of how everything will get done can be very complicated and frustrating. But, is this how we are supposed to live our lives, even after we practice being kind, loving, compassionate, even if for just a few days?

Something else gets to be stressful. The new year is quickly approaching. So, what new year resolutions are you going to make? How many are you actually going to be able to keep? How many are actually going to be beneficial for your life?

I have started to notice something at the holiday time frames, and at the start of something new – we always seem to over commit ourselves, which means we sacrifice something we all desperately need – TIME.

Does this seem like you?

As I was preparing for the Christmas season and studying the scriptures to preach, I noticed something I have never noticed before: the greatest gift God has given us.

Yes, God did give us the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. Through Jesus Christ, people are healed, fed, hopeful, peaceful. These are all incredible gifts God has given us. But I think we are missing something when we think about what God has given us.

God has given us the gift of His time. That’s something awesome and I am astonished at how I have missed this before.

We always talk about how spending time with the people we love is important. We also talk about how spending time with people changes their outlook and helps to put them on the right track. This is what I noticed God has done for us, in the gift, the person of Jesus Christ.

He has shown us what it means to give up the time we desire, to spend with the people who need our time the most. Jesus was always spending his time with other people who needed food, healing, miracles, teaching, love, grace. I wonder how many of us get worn out because we would rather be doing something else so we miss out on the joy that comes when we truly share the time we’ve been given with others?

Since God has come down to earth, the greatest power in the universe, Love, has been instilled in the people. God is still spending time with his people through the power of his Holy Spirit.

As we wind down from all of the festivities and activities and gift giving of Christmas, let us always remember to praise and thank God for the gift of his time he spends with us. Let us always look for ways to joyfully spend the time we have been given with others to help them experience the greatest force in the world.

If we really want to experience and witness real change in the world, pay attention to how much time you have been given and how the time is spent. Carefully, and prayfully using the time we’ve been given, wisely, will cause us to utilize God’s gift of time for the transformation of the world.

When Love came down, we learn how much God thinks about his people and creation. I pray we can all have eyes to see the world as he sees it and have the heart for the world as he has. May we use the gift of time we have been given to share his love with all we can. That is, after all, what God has done for us.