Stand Firm in Grace

Click here to read today’s scripture Acts 4:1-22.

Peter and John have been on the move proclaiming the gospel truth of Jesus Christ. There have been many lives who have accepted the message and many more that were infuriated with the message they proclaimed. Is this something you can relate to?

How would you do if you were called in front of a ruling class and had to answer for your faith? What would be your reaction if you were told you would have to stop professing faith in Christ? The truth is, many people around the world are still facing this kind of opposition. Whenever we proclaim the truth of Christ, there will be many who are excited and experience his presence and his grace and their life is transformed from the inside out. Still others, when faced with the truth of Christ, get nervous and hard-hearted because their way of life is being challenged. So, the message will fall on deaf ears and hearts.

There will be times when we do need to speak up about our faith. 1 Peter 3:15 says, “Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it.” So now the question becomes not “how would you react if asked to answer to your faith;” but rather, “what will you say when people ask you about your hope in Jesus Christ?” See the difference? It changes from a reaction to being confident with the message you have been entrusted with.

One thing to be sure of is making sure the message you have to tell aligns with the teachings and life of Jesus Christ. Otherwise it is spoken without grace and causes hostility rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to bring people to faith in Christ.

The first thing we should do is be confident with the message. Your life is a message of grace when it is lived with Jesus Christ. God’s grace has been given to you so we do not have to worry or be afraid to speak. It is not about having just the right words; but rather knowing God and just speaking from your experience. All believers in Christ are called to be ministers of the gospel (1 Peter 2:9-10); and this means we have a great message to tell. We have been entrusted to share this message of grace wherever we are. God has entrusted us so we can be bold and be confident.

We do not do this alone. It is the Holy Spirit guiding us and giving us the words to speak when it is necessary. As stated above, as long as our intention is to be authentic and have a message aligned with the teachings and life of Jesus Christ, there is a good chance the message will be heard more, especially to those who are knowingly hurting. If we simply have to tell what we know and it doesn’t matter to us what the other person thinks. Then we are most likely speaking from our own guidance and not really listening to the Spirit’s guidance. Please let that sink in. We should always speak to exude grace, building people up and leading them to the throne of Christ, rather than tearing them down and saying what they’re doing wrong (Ephesians 4:29-32).

Finally above all, trust God. Believing in and following Christ does not make our life automatically easier; but we do have more joy, peace, and love within us. If we are lead to be in a particular place or speak with a particular person, trust that the Holy Spirit is guiding and will equip you.

Now, I invite you to process this. Ask yourself these questions and speak with God about them.

  1. Where do I rather trust myself and what I want to do instead of leaning on the grace God has given?
  2. What is the story of grace God is telling through my life?
  3. Who do I believe God is leading me to speak with about grace and life transformation?

REDEEMED: The Prodigal Father

What is your first impression on the story of the “Prodigal Son”? Most of us have probably focused on the wayward son that came back home and the father welcoming him back with a big party. We probably also have focused on the attitude of the older son. Have you been counted among the “prodigals” and been told it’s time to come back home?

This season of lent, we are being challenged by two concepts. The main one is to practice lent as a spiritual discipline so when Easter comes it is experienced with more joy and rejoicing because Jesus the Christ has won the victory. Sin has been defeated and we are able to have our relationship with God, our Creator restored and reconciled. This is incredible news that we can miss if we do not take the time to allow everything that happened up to and including the cross to impact our hearts and lives.

The second concept we are challenged and invited to meditate on is the truth of what it means to be redeemed. Last week, we talked about God having an incredible love for us that He would pay any price to redeem us. This was done on the cross with the death of Jesus Christ. God redeemed us by paying the price for our sin and “buying” us back with His blood. What a gift this is! And we can miss how incredible this really is if we just go straight to the resurrection without the events, including the death, that lead up to the victorious resurrection.

Click here to read this week’s passage from Luke 15.  One of the first things we have to consider what prodigal means. The way most of us have heard about prodigal is as a wayward, lost person. When we look up prodigal in the dictionary, it means “extravagantly wasteful.” This makes complete sense when we think about the son who left and returned humble and remorseful. But, have you considered the father as prodigal?

In our society, it really does not make sense for the father to spend that much money or give that kind of reception for a child who squandered his part of the inheritance and was not smart with his money. It is customary to see people get left out of the family or treated in a way where the person has to learn a lesson from the school of hard knocks. This is the type of society we tend to live in.

The father in this passage is just like God. In fact, he is meant to point us to the ravishing love that God, our Father, has for us. It does not make sense; but God treats us in ways, and gives us things that we would consider wasteful. There is no reason that God should treat us this way; except for the truth that He loves us which such complete love that we cannot fully comprehend.

Don’t you find it amazing how God, the Creator of the universe sees us living lives that are so against what He designed us to live and still accepts us back when we return to Him? You and I are invited to experience grace in this way. We do not deserve all of what God desires to give us; but we still get to receive. We have the freedom to choose whether we’ll live a life without God; but He rejoices greatly when we choose to follow Him and choose His life. In Christ, we have real life and real freedom.

I invite you to meditate on, not just what wayward people we can be at times; but rather on the truth of how generous our God is. Even though it seems wasteful to us to throw an extravagant reception and to lavish true unconditional love on the lost and waywards (us), this is what God our Father does.

As we approach Easter and celebrating the resurrection, let’s take serious time to reflect on the incredible love of the Father and allow this to draw us close to the cross and the life of Jesus Christ. God has so much that He wants us to experience this side of eternity.

NOTE: This is a sermon series concept posted on www.seedbed.com called “Redemption.”

I Believe in the Presence of God

Ancient Creed, Living Faith Blog Series Part 4

I invite you to take time to read the scriptures today.

John 14:6

Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Luke 24:49

Look, I’m sending to you what my Father promised, but you are to stay in the city until you have been furnished with heavenly power.”

 

 

We have been on this journey of looking at the Apostle’s Creed to see what meaning it still has for our lives. I believe we get into the habit of simply reciting this, or any other creed, scripture, or even saying “I love you” to our spouse and can forget or not even think about what it is we are saying.

I believe in the Holy Spirit.

When you read these words, what do you think about. For many of us, the Holy Spirit has become the “Cousin It” of the Trinity simply because we don’t know what to make of this person of the Trinity.

I think the book, The Shack, gives an interesting viewpoint and picture of the Holy Spirit for us: a blurry, fast moving, colorful person.

One of my favorite questions to ask is “where have you experienced God this past week (today)?” God’s presence is all around us and is with us everywhere we go and in everything we are doing. When we ask this kind of question, we invite the Holy Spirit within us to show us were and how God is part of our life and giving us new life each day.

The attribute most commonly connected with the Holy Spirit is comforter. We get to experience God’s peaceful presence and his comfort especially in times of grief, tragedy, or even the in most devastating situations and circumstances of our lives. But this is not all the Holy Spirit gives or does. This person of the Trinity also convicts us when we have strayed from God and have sinned against him and other people, draws us back to God to once again experience grace and forgiveness, convinces us in the reality of God through Jesus Christ and his resurrection from the dead, converts and gives us the gift of faith, consecrates us and sets us apart as God’s children, and even calls us to a higher purpose in life (giving glory to God in everything and calls people into vocational ministry).

Think of the life you are living. It is the Holy Spirit whom Jesus Christ has sent that empowers us to live our life, to be on mission, to be in ministry. I believe the one of greatest callings everyone has on their lives is to tell of God’s presence and activity in and through our lives. The Holy Spirit reminds us and even helps to give us words when we need to speak.

There is so much about God’s presence in our lives and the work of the Holy Spirit than we can fit in this post. I pray you get to experience or continue to experience the reality of God’s presence in our lives through the gift of the Holy Spirit that is given to us.

Where or how have you experienced the presence of God through Jesus Christ this past week?

You are invited to print this out, place this creed in a spot you’ll see every day and recite daily.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;*
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic** church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

 *Adapted from a sermon series idea “Ancient Creed, Living Faith” on www.seedbed.com

Sin & Redemption 

Sin. Sin is a condition that many people do not take serious enough. Humankind has had to live with and experience the effects of sin throughout human history. In the creation story of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, we can see that God created the world, and it was good. There was an intimacy between God and humans with God “walking in the garden in the cool of the day to be with Adam and Eve personally (Genesis 3:8). God was looking for Adam and Eve after they had tasted and eaten of the forbidden fruit. From this time forward, sin has left a mark of humanity and creation. The intimate relationship between God and humans was broken.
As we begin to look at sin, the Hebrew and Greek words used in scripture help to understand what sin is. One of the Hebrew words is chata (khan-taw’). The New Testament Greek has a word with a similar meaning as the Hebrew word. Hamartia (ham-ar-tee’-ah). Both words basically mean to “miss the mark,” or “failure to hit the mark.” Looking at sin with these two words could make it seem like sin is no big deal. These words show there is a “mark,” a bullseye we are all striving for to hit. Our next question would have to be “what is the mark we are supposed to hit?”

Adam and Eve has a perfect communion with God in the beginning. After the fruit was eaten, we can now begin to look through the scriptures to see how sin impacted and affected every part of creation. This is what is known as “original sin.” Throughout the centuries there have been different understandings and teachings on what original sin is and how we are effected by it today.

In the book, Responsible Grace, Randy Maddox describes a western viewpoint and an eastern viewpoint on original sin. “This term was used to refer to both the event of Adam and Eve using their self-determining power to turn away from God, and to the effects of this ‘Fall’ upon subsequent humanity.” (Maddox 74)

For most people within the Western Church, the teaching has predominantly been 1) all humans have “inherited” the guilt from the original sin and 2) God’s judgement will be upon us because we are depraved to the point that we can do little more than to sin. (MADDOX 74). Eastern churches have had a different understanding and teaching about original sin. Their teaching has been “the true significance of the Fall was our loss of the Spirit’s immediate Presence, resulting in the introduction of mortality into human life.” (MADDOX 74) John Wesley tended to favor the eastern church’s teaching on original sin, thus he began teaching about prevenient grace, grace that God gives to humanity even before we realize God’s presence with us and around us.

Now it is important to examine a couple reasons why people sin today. Two ideas seem to give good reasons why people sin and they come from two different people who lived roughly 150 years apart, Saint Augustine and Iranaeus. These two views also display the differences in the Western and Eastern Church teachings.

Justo Gonzalez and Zaida Maldonado Perez write about the differences in these two early church fathers. “The most common way of interpreting the story of the first temptation is that Adam and Eve allowed themselves to be carried away by ambition when the serpent promised they would be ‘like God.’ In that case, pride is at the very root of evil.” (Gonzalez 69) This teaching is very much in line with the understanding of the Western Church today. This has been a dominate teaching since the time of Saint Augustine (AD 354-430)

Iranaeus (AD 200s) taught something that is in line with the Eastern Church’s understanding on sin. “Adam and Eve were already like God, who had made them after the divine image and likeness. Therefore, sin, is not in ambition, but rather in the lack of faith, in not believing what was already a reality, that they were “like God.” (Gonzales 69)

These two understandings and teachings help show how sin can come about in our day and age. If the root of all sin is pride, then the poor and oppressed people should stay exactly in the state they are in and should not aspire to have or be more. If the root of sin is forgetting the image of God in us, the poor and oppressed should demand respect and justice because they are like everyone else, made in the image of God. (Gonzalez 69)

In either case, the effects of sin are prevalent throughout all of creation. We see this throughout the Old Testament book of Genesis all the way through the last book of the New Testament, Revelation. The very next chapter after the Fall, in Genesis 3, we see the damage sin can do. “Missing the mark” for God’s perfect will for our lives can and does lead people down a path that they would not have gone. Pride and forgetting the image of God in humans is clearly evident when Cain murdered Abel over the offering sacrifice. Throughout the genealogical lines listed beginning in Genesis 4 through chapter 5, we see sin taking a stronger and stronger hold on the people.

The effect from original sin do not take away the free will Adam and Eve had in the beginning. People have had the choice to follow God or take their own path whether based on pride, or forgetting they are made in the image of God. The choice to follow God is evident within the story of Noah and is evident all the way through the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. With each story we read, God is gracious enough to find ways to cleanse the sin and give people chances to follow and know the One True God as their Creator.

The Grace of God came into full fruition through the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God made flesh and dwelling among us. It was his life, death, and resurrection that shows us how serious sin is and how loving and gracious God is that our sin would be paid for through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV)

His was the perfect life that we should all aspire to live. Jesus lived and loved as God intended us to live and love like from the beginning. Lest we think this life was easy for Jesus, we can read of his life in the Gospels and remember the writer of Hebrews who wrote, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15 NIV)

Sin does have lasting and damaging effects in our world. All we have to do is turn on the television to witness that. But, the beauty of it is, we do not have the last word on sin, God has the last word. God has defeated and broken the chains of sin and death that enslaved humans and makes us think we lack the freedom to not sin. Because of grace, we have the freedom to follow Jesus Christ and allow his grace and love to transform us.

Bibliography

Campbell, Ted. Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials. Nashville: Abingdon, 2011. Print.

González, Justo L., and Zaida Maldonado Pérez. An Introduction to Christian Theology. Nashville: Abingdon, 2002. Print. 

Maddox, Randy L. Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology. Nashville, TN: Kingswood, 1994. Print.

The Holy Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005. Print.

Rejoice!

Christmastime is such a joyous time of year for so many people. This is the time we celebrate families with gift giving, parties, travel, and much more. We can see the good things in life, when we get together.

Unfortunately, many people do not have this same experience of this time of year. So many have felt loss and this time of year reminds them of this. There are also people who feel they are being punished in life by God.

The first two and a half chapters of the book of Zephaniah speak of pronouncing and impending judgement. His prophecies seem very similar to the prophet Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. But then, the tone completely shifts at the end with a message of hope and joy.

Click here to read Zephaniah 3:14-20.

When I read this short book in the Bible, I am reminded that we should not focus on the difficulties and disasters in our life.

“Rejoice and exult with all your heart…”

“The Lord has removed your judgement…”

“The Lord, the king of Israel, is in your midst;..”

“Don’t fear…”

Then God promises to “deliver,” “gather,” “change their shame into praise,” “bring all of you back,” “gather you,” “restore.”

God was speaking these to the Israelites; but this also speaks to us today. How? Jesus Christ.

We rejoice because God is in our midst through Jesus Christ. He has removed our sin and shame because of the cross and His resurrection. Jesus, our good shepherd, is gathering us in and leading us. We are filled with the Spirit of the Living God.

Christ coming in the world, changes everything. Will we allow Him in to change us once again?

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

John the Baptist

John the Baptist is one of my favorite biblical characters because he definitely stands out and people take notice of him. He is memorable, not only of his message, but of his clothing and food choices.

Though the Gospel of Luke does not mention him wearing camel’s hair and eating locusts and wild honey, Matthew and Mark do. This is still the image we can have of John as we read his proclamation to “Prepare the way of the Lord!”

Click here to read this week’s scripture passage.

Mark Twain said, “the two greatest days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.” I imagine John felt excitement when his time had come to deliver God’s message to the people the Messiah is coming.

What joy! What exhilaration! He was finally able to go and do what he was born to do! He went out to preach a sermon that no one really wanted to hear; but needed to hear: prepare for the Lord’s Messiah, seek forgiveness and repent. I would imagine the people did not want to hear they have to change their hearts, their lives, their will. I imagine the people only wanted to hear their lives will be better and that God will com in to take care of the “real” problem: the Romans.

What message is it you want to hear at Christmas? The sweet story of a baby being born and the angels and shepherds giving God glory and praise? Or, are we preparing ourselves fully for the complete gift of God through Jesus Christ and realize His life, His death, AND His resurrection are the reason we are reconciled to God.

To fully see the beautiful picture of Christ at Christmas, we have to be different from our culture and see the gruesome death that is coming.

How do you stand out to show the full meaning of Christmas?

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Prayer of the Righteous

James 5:15-16 “Prayer that comes from faith will heal the sick, for the Lord will restore them to health. And if they have sinned, they will be forgiven. For this reason, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve.”

Do you believe in the power to be healed by faith? I do. Before someone tries to counter this, let me explain. First of all, we have to consider what “sick” means. I believe this can affect so many aspects of our life (physical, mental, emotional, relational, spiritual).

Physical healing can be done by God, and there are cases this has happened. Most of the time, I believe God works through doctors and medical professionals. It is amazing the work they do and I believe it is a gift of God they have the wisdom, giftedness and the calling to do that work. I say calling because I think it is a calling that someone answers whether or not they know it is God. Through the prayers of the community, it is amazing what God can and does in and through people who are physically sick.

Now, physical healing can take place instantly; but it can take time too. Sometimes complete healing comes after this life. But there is a kind of healing that can take place instantaneously. These verses can and should take us back to the healings Jesus did. Most of the time when Jesus healed a person physically, he also forgave their sins.

A question we should ask is, “does sickness come from sin?” The answer is yes and no. Not all sickness or diseases come from sin. We live in a fallen world, so diseases are prevalent among us. There are sins that do cause diseases. If we knowingly do something that is bad for our health, then we live with the consequences.

When Jesus forgave sins, he was doing something that happens instantaneously. The condition of the soul can manifest itself physically. For Jesus to forgive sins, he was healing the person from the inside out, not just the outside appearance. This kind of healing can and does happen instantaneously.

When we are forgiven of our sins, we no longer are bound by the sin that held us down. We have been given the chance to leave a way of life that was not healthy for us and move into a new way of life, one that is filled with joy (even though life is tough at times), filled with peace (even among the turmoil around us), filled with love (even though we don’t see people acting out of love).

This is why it is important to confess our sins to one another. A simple reminder that we are not in this life alone and that our actions do have consequences that affect more than just us. Confessing our sins puts us back on the path that God intends for us. Not only that, we have people to walk alongside us!

This can happen all at once and it is amazing the power of God at work in and through a community of faith.