06/28/2015 – Ephesians 4:17-32 – “Giving Grace”

Today’s message was preached by Whitworth Fellow Adam Blyckert. Be blessed and challenged by this powerful message:

“Give Grace to Those Who Hear”

[Main thrust: We are commanded to give grace to one another. In order to do this, we must truly receive grace and allow it to break up the callous areas in our lives and make us care about other people. God’s grace makes this transformation, but we can pray for it, and seek it out. Two ways of giving grace to one another are a) speaking Truth one another b) forgiving one another]

Our scripture today comes from the letter to the Ephesians starting in chapter 4 verse 17 and reading through the end of the chapter. I encourage you to pull out your Bible and follow along. If you didn’t bring your Bible, feel free to use the red one in your pews. Hear now Ephesians 4 starting in verse 17: “”. I recommend keeping your finger there so you can refer back to it this morning. Please pray with me: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to you Oh Lord, our Rock and our Salvation, that our faith may not rest on my wisdom, but on the power of your Spirit. Amen.

The past few weeks, Pastor Mark has been teaching us what grace is: which I will sum up by quoting Eph 1:7 “In him we have the redemption through his blood the forgiveness of our trespasses according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us.” This morning we will look at how Paul tells us to give this grace to one another. In order to give grace away, we must first receive grace ourselves, not just nominally, but it must penetrate our hearts and transform us. We will start by examining what a hardened heart looks like, and then see a couple ways that we can give grace to one another.

To get a picture of what Paul describes, we are going to look at an excerpt from C.S. Lewis’ novel The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. This scene is about the character Eustace, who thus far is rude, selfish, and complains to all those around him. He wanders away from the group in the magical land Narnia and finds a dragon’s lair where he sleeps. The next morning, he has become a dragon himself! He soon realizes how awful he has been to his friends, and wants to be human again, but cannot change himself. Then one night, he meets Aslan, the God-figure who looks like a lion, and Aslan tells him to undress and wash in the pool. Here we pick up with Eustace telling the story. Close your eyes and try to picture the scene: “[p. 114-116]”. Eustace goes on to become a well-loved hero of the story.

While this scene is fictional, it really is my story… and it is your story. Look back at the passage where Paul describes the dragon-like existence that we come from. In verses 17-19 Paul urges us, on behalf of God, not to live a callous life characterized by ignorance and a hard heart. He says this to explain how we are to “walk in a manner worthy of our calling (from the beginning of the chapter.” What does a hard heart look like? Well, the Greek word for ‘hard’ carries the idea of being blind or stubborn. Blind or stubborn to what? To God’s grace. If you have a hard heart, you are not accepting God’s grace. Think of the Pharaoh in the Old Testament, he hardened his heart and would not hear what God was telling him. He chose his own desire over God’s desire. He had become callous to the suffering of the Israelites.

Think of a callous. Skin becomes hard so that we can no longer feel anything. My little sister is a gymnast and after years of doing bars, not only do the bars not hurt her, but she can hardly feel anything on her palms. This is what happens in our lives, we build up a tolerance so that we can no longer feel the pain of our own sin, or the pain of someone else’s suffering.

Are areas of your heart hardened? Are there people whose suffering doesn’t bother you? Neighbors? Family members? Friends? I know that I find myself saying things such as, “They are always complaining, why should I care?” or “I know he’s gay, and I disagree with his lifestyle, so I’m just not going to stick up for him, or even associate with him.” Or “That person is poor because of drugs and laziness, I don’t want to help them?” Is that love? Is that the life God has called me to? No. That is the callous way of living in which I build up my own wall of lies to insulate myself from the things God wants from me. The result of this callousness, according to Paul is “greed to practice every kind of impurity.”

Instead, verse 23, we are to “be renewed in the spirit of our minds.” Oh yeah, spirit of our mind, that sounds nice and…biblical. I don’t know about you, but that’s not a term I use every day. What is it that Paul is talking about? Think back to the story of Eustace the dragon, he first tried to renew himself, he scratched against a tree and shed a layer of skin. It felt good, but it was not enough. Three times he did it, but to no avail. We are just like that: we cannot renew ourselves! The spirit of our minds is our very essence, the core of our being, the way we think and interact with the world. Any self-renewal will not be the spirit of our mind, it will only be surface level. True renewal is passive, like the dragon laying on his back and Aslan going to work. God is the active renewer, and we receive it. That is grace.

I challenge you this week to pray about a callous area in your life. Either ask God to reveal one to you, or to renew your mind in an area you know is callous.

At this point, you may be asking, “Adam, this is all good and well, but what about giving grace to one another? I don’t see how all of this relates.” This transformation by receiving the powerful grace of God is necessary in order to give grace to others, not that you must be totally transformed in order to give any grace, but that we should seek to be continually renewed into the image of Christ so we may lavish grace on others. In this passage, Paul specifies two ways that we can share God’s grace with other people and we will address both in turn, the first way is by speaking Truth to one another, and the second is by forgiving one another.

Look at Verse 25: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.” The exhortation to speak truth is a quote from Zech 8:16. In that chapter, God is promising to be with his people and this is one sign of his dwelling among them. In both the time that Paul wrote, and now, this very moment, we have Jesus, God with us, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

One way that we speak truth is by speaking Christ. Look back at V. 20, Paul tells the Ephesians that they have been taught Christ, not just about Christ, but Christ himself is the content. Paul says this is not just for the pastors or teachers, but for “each one of us.” We are to speak the Truth of Christ. Is there someone in your life to whom you can speak the Truth about God’s saving grace? This is the Truth for both believers and non-believers who need to hear it. Invite the Spirit to bring someone to mind. If you think of a name or two, jot it down.

What about the part where we throw off deceit to speak truth? A second way we can speak truth is by being honest with each other about both sins and joys in our lives. Rachel Dolezal is still in the news here and there. Her big problem is that she put on deceithood and did not speak truth. She lied about her identity upon learning the truth it shocked the nation. She lied about her race in a job where it was crucial Many of us come like this to church or with friends. Some people think church is a place for holy people, and we need to put up a front that everything is all right. But I tell you, the Church is not a hotel for the holy, but a hospital for sinners. Throw off falsehood, and speak truth. Other people think the whole point of church is to be vulnerable. In many ways it is, but some people falsely dramatize their lives with a weeping heart about how everything is falling apart to gain sympathy. We must not do this! Instead, speak truth, for the good of building one another up. Sometimes people need to hear a hard truth that you can see from your perspective to build them up. Building one another up, gives grace to those who hear. Hear the words from Heb 3:13 “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Speak Truth, and point one another towards Christ, even as they point you towards Christ.

One last note concerning Truth: it is imperative that, as verse 15, just before our reading, Paul urges the Ephesians to speak truth in love. The truth without love, often separates rather than unites. We must seek to remain together as one body in Christ, so when we speak hard truths or are told hard truths, let us do so with all of the sensitivity and compassion that Jesus revealed to us, and gives to us.

The other way Paul speaks of giving grace to one another is in verse 32 “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Notice here, Paul contrasts the callous, hard heart with the new, tenderheart. Just like our call to worship today, we speak the words from Ezekiel asking God to remove our heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh. We are capable of feeling for other people, of suffering with people (which is the meaning of compassion). Do you want to give grace to someone? Great! In order to do that, you need to be willing to listen to them, to be affected by them, to suffer with them! That ability is made possible through God peeling off the callous areas of our heart. One way that takes place is through the ministry of forgiveness.

Let’s take a closer look at this last line, which I think is crucial. “forgiving one another as Christ forgave you.” What you don’t see in the English is that the Greek word for “forgive” here has the same root as the word for “grace,” and has the notion of giving freely. God, in Christ, freely gave us reconciliation; he lavished his grace upon us! Just like the king from the parable in the children’s sermon, God has canceled our debt! Not because we were holy enough, or because we deserved it, or even because we asked forgiveness. God forgives us freely out of His un-imaginable love. But here’s the question: Has it sunk in? Has it pierced your heart? Has God’s incredible outpouring of love through Jesus changed your life? I assure you, it has the power to.

“But Adam, you’re young, you don’t know the way I’ve been hurt. You don’t know what he did to me. You don’t know how she betrayed me. They haven’t apologized; they haven’t acknowledged how they hurt me. I just can’t do it.”

You’re right. I don’t know how you have been hurt. I haven’t had the challenge of forgiving some of the situations you face…but I know the one who does, and who has forgiven more. Jesus knows where you are at, and he gives you the power to forgive.
“While we were still sinners Christ died for us.” Not when we were holy, but when we were at our worst. If Christ has done that for you, can he not also give you the power to forgive? We can speak grace to one another by freely extending grace, even if they don’t deserve it, or ask for it, or even know about it.

If you’re sitting here thinking, “I’m good Adam, I speak truth and don’t need to forgive anyone.” I challenge you to pray the words of psalm 139 this week: “Search me O God, and know my heart…see if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” No matter how young or old, we all need to be more like Jesus.

If you are in the other category and are feeling guilty about something, resolve to act, to pray, to let God take control of that area, but also hear the gospel: If you know Jesus as your Lord and savior, he has already broken the power of sin in your life. You are forgiven! That is the good news of grace. I encourage you to let it pierce your heart, to let God’s grace transform the spirit of your mind. I know in my life, so often I live like I’m ignorant of God’s grace, and I would be willing to bet that some of you do too. Invite God to soften your heart, to break up the callouses, to let you know the meaning of his grace. Amen.

Go now and be who you are in Christ: not an old, callous person, but a new creation formed after the likeness of God: tenderhearted, speaking grace to one another in Truth and Forgiveness. Amen.

06/21/2015 – Romans 4:13-17 – “Grace Guaranteed!”

Mark Wheeler

Romans 4:13-17

“Grace Guaranteed!”

June 21, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

This worship time began with a moment of silence in memory of and prayer for the victims at Mother Emmanuel AME Church, Charleston, SC.

Remove, O Lord, any tension or anxiety, any stress or worry, anything, which may keep us from fulfilling Your wishes of who we could be. Fill us with the grace of the Father, the strength of the Son, and the hope of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

18 months ago, November 2013, I was in utter reliance on someone else for my health and well-being. After a stupid decision that it was more important for me to get to work “right now” rather than wait for 45 minutes for a ride, I got on my Yamaha on an icy-street day. As a result, I was forced to wait for someone for a ride to work for the next several weeks!

On that day in early November I shattered my tibia plateau (the top of my shin-bone right behind my kneecap). Two-days later I was out for the count, and under the surgeon’s knife and tool-kit, and then spent the next 18 months (and still counting) recovering.

This was a situation where I was helpless to help myself. I was totally dependent on my surgeon – who knew what to do, how to do it, and had the equipment to do it well. If this surgery had relied on me to make it happen – I’d still be crying in my sleep – or I just wouldn’t be around anymore to tell this story….

I am not the only one in this room who has a story like this to tell. Every single one of us has been, for a time, totally dependent on someone else – our mothers when we were infants, for instance.

Does anyone here remember the story from Chile 5 years ago? 33 men trapped 2,000 feet below ground when the mine they were working in collapsed. They had rations, but no way out. Something like 60 days underground – surviving on two-spoonsful of tuna, a sip of milk, and a morsel of canned peach – every other day – for 60 days! And all they could do was wait … and pray. And that’s what they did.

After two months of rescuers trying to dig into the solid rock and save these men, they were finally brought forth into fresh air and family-reunions! These men, a great-grandfather, a 19-year old boy, a 44-year old family-man, and 30 others, all trusted someone else to save them. After just a few days of staring into the stone-cold walls of what might be their tomb, they each realized the truth – they could not save themselves! They needed someone from outside to come down to their place of anguish and rescue them.

Have we, have you, come to this same conclusion? We are in a series which explores the depth and the height of God’s Grace – how it is more than we deserve and how it is greater than we can imagine. Our scripture today comes from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. This is from the chapter that describes how Abraham, the Father of the Hebrew people, and the founder of the Jewish race, had been justified by his faith and total trust in God as the only reasonable recipient of his worship and praise. Listen to these words from Romans 4:13-17…. —-

13 It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, 15 because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.

16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 17 As it is written [in Genesis 17:5]: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.

May God bless the reading, hearing, receiving of His Word which never fails.

 

What we see in this passage is God’s Word to you and me that we are stuck in our state of desperation – we are on the hospital operating room table and we cannot repair our own shattered tibia plateau (or perform our own triple bypass surgery, or do our own C-Section, or whatever…); we are crammed into a rock-hard tomb (or financial hole, or rocky relationship, or whatever…) with no escape; we are sinners who have broken the 10-Commandments (if not in deed, certainly in thought), and we cannot save ourselves!

We cannot save ourselves – we cannot do enough to earn that eternal reward; we cannot complete enough tasks; we cannot start enough new projects; we cannot make enough calls or serve enough hungry or clothe enough naked or visit enough homebound.

Why am I unable to do enough good to deserve a heavenly reward? Because the divine justice demand is not that our good outweigh our bad, but that there be no bad! That’s what Jesus emphasizes in His sermon on the mount in Matthew 5 when He says, “You have heard that it says, You shall not commit murder, but I say that even if you get angry you have committed murder in your heart!” No matter how much good the murderer does, the act of murder still insists on its proper consequences. That’s the whole deal with the Rachel Dolezal story – no matter how much good she has done for civil rights, her deceit requires consequences. Even more to the point, Dylann Roof, the young white man who shot and killed 9 church members in a prayer meeting at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC – no matter how much good he has done, he killed 9 people and that requires justice!

Friends, that is a major problem with every religion out there. The word “religion” comes from a medical term. A ligament is a connective tissue that unites two bones together. “Religion” means to re-attach, re-connect ourselves to God.

We think we do that by trying harder, being better, accomplishing more, being busier. While it is true that as followers of Jesus our lives should show improved moral standards and better ethics and nicer, more honest dealings with people – we simply are not able to do enough good to outweigh the consequences of the bad.

So, Paul reminds us that even Abraham’s Old Testament promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham.

In Ephesians 2:8 Paul says, “it is by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves. It is a gift of God!

This does not give us permission to be mean or lazy, or to do cruel or selfish things, or to stop loving and serving others. It does not mean that at all – but it does mean that our life’s behaviors will not earn us God’s favor, it is merely a reflection of the depth of God’s grace we have actually received! Did any of you see the family members of the victims in SC? They spoke words of hurt and pain and loss, and grace to their loved-ones’ killer. A reflection of the depth of God’s grace on them!

How good do you have to be to deserve God’s reward of heaven? I would say we have to be perfectly good, without flaw or failureno sin whatsoever, no self-serving ambition or experience of envy or pride or deception. And since we know that we do not qualify under those standards, what hope do we have?

The number of non-church-member funerals I have been invited to officiate where the family has tried to convince me how good their loved one was, how deserving of glory, is nearly uncountable! And I remind them of God’s perfect grace which, for everyone who receives His Good News, covers every imperfection we manage to muster – people start to relax about their loved-one’s secret sins.

Paul says in Ephesians 2:9, we are savednot by works, so that no one can boast!

One of the Reformation era points of doctrine – one of the religious teachings about which Martin Luther and John Calvin taught in opposition to the then-current Roman Catholic practiceteaches “Sola Gratia” – Grace ALONE! This teaches that there is absolutely nothing we can ever do to earn God’s grace. The truth is that I cannot do anything in this life to make God love me any less than He already loves me, and there’s nothing I can do to make Him love me more! He already already loves me perfectly! He wants me to continue to become more like Him – and I will, the closer I walk in His light! But He will not love me more, or less, because of what I do! And that’s true for you, too.

In 1999 even the Roman Catholic Church agreed that, by “grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping us and calling us to do good works.”*

With my shattered tibia plateau, I learned in Grace Alone! I could not possibly have helped my surgeon in any way!

The Chilean miners trapped in their tomb-tunnel learned Grace Alone. There was no way for them to help their rescuers do their job.

In regards to our salvation – do we really believe in Grace ALONE? Or do we sort of believe in Grace A LOT? Do we believe our salvation is dependent solely on God’s perfect grace? Or do we believe that God is mostly responsible, a lot responsible, for our salvation, but we’d better kick it up a notch if we expect to actually make it?

God helps those who help themselves” is true in as much as it means we shouldn’t be lazy – but God saves those who rely solely on Him and His grace!

In another week or so our Thursday morning Bible Study class will read in I John 3:23-24 where it says this: “… This is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them….” Our job? Believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ – and that will result in loving one another as He commanded us!

And friends, since the time of Abraham, 4,000 years ago (2,000 years before Jesus walked this planet), Paul tells us in Romans 4:16, we have a promise from the God who invented Promise Keeping, that this Grace is Guaranteed! What if I sin, and die before I have a chance to repent? Grace Guaranteed! What if I sin and die without taking the time to repent? Grace Guaranteed!

Does this mean we are invited to sin all the more? Of course not! But it does mean that God is bigger than our most outrageous sins.Does this weaken our faith, or make it less powerful? Just the opposite! And because that’s true, our life response will give evidence of God’s perfect Guaranteed Grace everywhere we go everyday!

And may we never forget the challenge of Hebrews 12:15: “Let no one fall SHORT of the grace of God.” Let’s pass God’s invitation on to our children, our grandchildren, our neighbors, our co-workers, our classmates, to come into contact with the GRACE of God! Amen. 

“Dear God, by Your transforming grace, help Your church point beyond itself through word and work to the Good News of Jesus Christ our Lord. Fill this room again, with Holy Spirit power take hold of each person that is open to Your spiritual gifts and anoint us in ways everyone will know is from You. Fill this place, ignite our faith, fan the flame, and burn brightly through Your people into our neighborhoods, by Your Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Resources:

Lucado, Max; Grace: More than We Deserve, Greater than We Imagine; Thomas Nelson; Nashville, TN; 2012; Pp. 43-49.

*Joint declaration on the doctrine of justification, by the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church on The Holy See.

06/14/2015 – Isaiah 52:13-53:12 – “Grace Pays Our Debt”

Mark Wheeler

Isaiah 52:13-53:12

“Grace Pays Our Debt”

June 14, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Remove, O Lord, any tension or anxiety, any stress or worry, which may keep us from fulfilling Your wishes of who we could be. Fill us with the grace of the Father, the strength of the Son, and the hope of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

For those of us who pay quarterly estimated taxes, due date is tomorrow. The June due date is only 2 months after the April due date, so it always sneaks up on me and I occasionally miss it. So when June 16 comes around it always reminds me of how Grace works.

Grace” and “taxes”? Yup. They always go together for me. Here’s why:

In the Spring of 1990, 6 months after my ordination, I was preparing to file my first Clergy Tax Returns – oh my goodness, I could not believe how complicated this is – Clergy file as self-employed employees of the church – yup, you heard right.

So we called a woman in our church who did taxes for a living – and asked for her help. What we learned was that I should have been filing these kinds of tax returns for the previous 3 years (I worked as a “Pastor’s Assistant” while in seminary). So, I owed some $4,000 – and we had $0 in our savings account!

This sweet tax preparer, Tamara, decided to not charge us for her work (she counted it as professional training, she become the firm’s clergy tax expert) – and then she paid our $4,000! Interest free!

Talk about Grace!

Have you ever received an unexpected, undeserved, gift of grace? Maybe not $4,000 worth, but something?More recently, I asked a friend who works in the auto industry for advice on some work on Caitlin’s car – he took the car for a few days and made almost every repair – for FREE! Grace? That’s a picture of grace! This Summer we are looking at different aspects of this theologically loaded word: Grace – more than we deserve, and greater than we imagine. Listen to today’s Old Testament reading from Isaiah 52 & 53…. —-

52 13 See, my servant will act wisely;    he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him    his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
and his form marred beyond human likeness—
15 so he will sprinkle many nations,     and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,    and what they have not heard, they will understand.

53 1 Who has believed our message    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,    and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain    and bore our suffering,

yet we considered him punished by God,  stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,    and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,    yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,    and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,    so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.    Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;    for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,    and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,    nor was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,    and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,    and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
11 After he has suffered,    he will see the light of life and be satisfied;

by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,    and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,    and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,    and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,    and made intercession for the transgressors.

May God bless the reading, hearing, receiving of His Word which never fails.

 

This passage of Isaiah was written some 600 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem – but is there any confusion among us whom God had in mind when Isaiah wrote this?

God’s plan of having His own Son, Jesus, become a human, and suffer and die on behalf of sinners like you and me, was no after-thought; this was no last-ditch effort to try to save humankind; this had been God’s plan since the beginning. Check out Genesis 3 where God talks about the offspring of Eve crushing the head of Satan, and in Genesis 12 where God promises Abraham that his offspring will be a Savior for all the world. Both Eve’s and Abraham’s salvific offspring is Jesus! Isaiah reminds the Israelites of this truth 600 years before this Savior is born.

On Good Friday, Pontius Pilate reminded the crowd that it was their custom to release one prisoner for the Passover holiday. He offered the crowd a choice: JESUS (against whom Pilate could find no criminal offense) or BARABBAS (who was a convicted murderous rebel).

Most of you know this story. Which of these men died for the other?

Pilate tried some 4 different times to get the crowd to let Jesus off the hook. Pilate said, in so many words, “I see no reason for Jesus to be condemned. He has done nothing deserving crucifixion.” He pled a lesser punishment – “How ‘bout a severe whipping?Nope, not good enough. Finally, Pilatewashed his hands” and sent Jesus back to the local magistrate, Herod.

It seems that Paul later says plainly what Pilate was thinking: “God made Him who had no SIN [Jesus] to be sin for us, so that in Him WE might become the righteousness of God.” (II Corinthians 5:21)

That is Grace! Jesus Christ, who was sinless – not that He was unable to sin, remember the temptations in the wilderness; but that He refused to sin – took on our sin, experienced the painful effects of my sin, extreme separation from His own Father, remember His “Why have You forsaken me?”. Isaiah says, “He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him!

That is Grace!

600 years before Christ, the prophet Isaiah knew who deserved what. Look at verse 6 on your Sermon Notes page: “We ALL, like sheep, have gone ASTRAY.” He goes on and says, “Each of us has turned to our own way.

And friends, we know that our ways are not God’s ways. In John’s Gospel Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth and the life – and no one comes to the Father except through/by me.

“We ALL, like sheep, have gone ASTRAY. Each of us has turned to our own way. … and the Lord has laid on Him (who is the “Him”?), and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all!

That is Grace! Say it with me, “That is Grace!” How have you “gone astray”? Is there a habit that is not God-honoring? Is there a choice you know is wrong? How about an attitude – of superiority, or disgruntledness, or worry, or pride?

How has our church “gone astray”? Are we as faithful in reaching beyond our doors as we should be? Do we feed the hungry like we might? Are there some kinds of people we just “don’t want around here”? Have we ignored God’s clear teaching and done our own thing?

How has our church “gone astray”?  

What does Isaiah 53 say Jesus did for us? Does it not say, The Grace of Jesus paid off our debt of sin?! He paid it all! We are completely free to follow Him well and serve Him wholly!

That is Grace!

Who is someone in your life who does not deserve Grace? Seriously, who deserves retribution? Who deserves their comeuppance? Who deserves to be smacked, or at least shelved? Got that face in mind? (Why is everyone looking at me?)

Now, how will you show that person God’s Grace?

Hebrews 12:15 gives us the clear challenge to “let no one fall short of the GRACE of God.” How will you do this this week?

That, my friend, is Grace! 

“Dear God, by Your transforming grace, help Your church point beyond itself through word and work to the Good News of Jesus Christ our Lord. Fill this room again, with Holy Spirit power take hold of each person that is open to Your spiritual gifts and anoint us in ways everyone will know is from You. Fill this place, ignite our faith, fan the flame, and burn brightly through Your people into our neighborhoods, by Your Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Resources:

Lucado, Max; Grace: More than We Deserve, Greater than We Imagine; Thomas Nelson; Nashville, TN; 2012; Pp. 31-37.

06/07/2015 – Hebrews 10:22 – “Grace Draws Us Closer In”

Mark Wheeler

Hebrews 10:22

“Grace Draws Us Closer In”

June 7, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Remove, O Lord, any tension or anxiety, any stress or worry, which may keep us from fulfilling Your wishes of who we could be. Fill us with the grace of the Father, the strength of Christ, and the hope of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I was always in the top math group in my class in elementary schoolstraight A’s and head of my class. So when I entered Jr. Hi, I was already in Pre-Algebra in 7th grade and Algebra I in 8th grade. Here’s the thing, though. My dad was promoted and transferred to new offices, twice, while I was in Jr. Hi. And each time we moved, my new school used the same math books, but were a couple chapters ahead of my previous school. I was a math-whiz in elementary school – so when I fell behind in 7th grade, and then again in 8th grade, I was far too proud, and too humbled by my inability to keep up with the class, that I just struggled silently … and suffered the GPA results.

So when I was in 9th grade Geometry, and 10th grade Algebra II, I could no longer keep my head above the mathematical waters. I was drowning in numbers. My 9th grade Geometry teacher, Dr. Jenkins, felt so sorry for me, that even though I deserved a “D” in geometry, he gave me a C-. And I gladly took it. In 10th grade Algebra II, Mr. Frazier did the same thing … and advised me to not take trigonometry/precalculus.

I guess a D+ is still a passing grade, but I was so thankful for the C- (my first sub-superior grade ever – not my last)!

Dr. Jenkins and Mr. Frazier showed me real GRACE. They gave me a PASSING grade when I deserved to FAIL.

We are at the beginning of a new series which will explore the depth and the height of God’s Grace – how it is more than we deserve and how it is greater than we can imagine.

In his book with just such a title, Max Lucado invites us to hear the story in John’s Gospel of the woman caught in the act of ADULTERY, and to watch what Jesus does. You know the story, the Scribes and Pharisees are out to trap Jesus in some kind of bad theology or illegal interpretation and so they walk in on a couple in the very act of … you know. And they drag the woman out of bed, through the streets, and throw her down in front of Jesus, demanding Him to make some kind of pronouncement about best practices with street-walking hookers.

Listen to Max Lucado’s description of this scene: “The woman had no exit. Deny the accusation? She had been caught. Plead for mercy? From whom? From God? [It was] His spokesmen [the Scribes and the Pharisees, who] were squeezing the stones and snarling their lips.”

And then, in ways only Max Lucado can, he points out the obvious and profound truth:“No one would STAND for her. But someone would STOOP for her.”

While no one came to her defense, especially not the man who had been caught with her(!), Jesus stooped down beside her and started writing in the dirt. And while squatting by her side, Jesus made each stone-filled fist aware of their own sins, and everyone walked away realizing they each needed God’s Grace or they were all doomed to be damned.

Jesus asked the woman who was left to condemn her – and then He told her that He, too, offered His perfect Grace.

What did the law say this woman deserved? Total condemnation – to be stoned, to death! But Jesus showed her God’s Grace and told her that her responsibility was to go back home and sin no more!

What are we guilty of? What sin are you guilty of? And let’s not compare, because it really doesn’t matter which of us is the more grievous sinner – what matters is that we recognize that, in fact, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” – and that “all” includes me,,, and you….

So,,, what does the Bible say we deserve? When Adam and Eve sinned, God said that on that day they would surely die! Paul tells us that the wages of sin is … death. We deserve total and complete separation from the love and Grace of God!

But, what did Jesus do for us?

Romans 5:8 tells us, “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ DIED for us.”

If what we deserve is death, eternal damnation, separation from the God who created us and loves us enough to give His one and only Son for our sakesJesus Christ died for me while I am still in the very act of sinning who has the right to condemn me? Only God, but God sent His Son to die for me!

This is what our Hebrews 10:22 verse is all about…. —-“Let us draw near to God – not be separated from Him, let us sit in His lap, be held in His arms, be near His power – let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.

May God bless the reading, hearing, receiving of His Word which never fails.

The woman in John 8 was thrown at Jesus’ feet. Sometimes that’s the only way we’ll ever go to Him. But this Hebrews passage has a gentler plea. Let us draw near to God.

This is an invitation for us to rest in the majestic presence of our Mighty God.

In just a few minutes we’ll be gathered, at Jesus’ invitation, to the Lord’s Table – where even Peter the Deny-er and Judas the Betrayer were also invited. God’s Grace-filled presence. You are invited to draw near Him, too.

And the invitation comes via sprinkled hearts and washed bodies as the means of forgiveness and Grace. That’s a word-picture of our confession of sin, repentance from purposefully sinful choices, and Baptism into new life through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

So that even in, especially in, those scary, difficult days of tests and trials, of medical news and family feuds, of financial woes and frustrating foes, we are invited to draw near to and hold onto the hope we have through Jesus our Lord, not because we are just so good, but totally because God is just so faithful.

We deserve to be thrown into the Eternal Debtor’s Prison because we have sinned our way beyond God’s presence; but we are offered God’s perfect GRACE which restores our broken relationship with Him and invites us to sit at His Table.

Some of you may have learned the meaning of GRACE using the letters that spell that word as an acronym: GRACE is God’s RICHES At CHRIST’S Expense.

We deserve the opposite, but we are given the ultimate and unlimited Riches of God because God’s Son, Jesus Christ, paid our debt when He died on the cross.

A long time ago, probably in the days when I was failing Geometry, I learned to understand “mercy” as not getting what we do deserve (hell); and “Grace” was “getting what we DON’T deserve”: forgiveness, RECONCILIATION/RESTORATION with God.

Lucado says that God’s Grace Stoops down to offer His mercy. Friends, let’s draw near to God, and accept His invitation.

And let’s make sure we follow the author of the Message to the Hebrews as he commands us to: “Let NO ONE fall short of the GRACE of God….” Let’s pass on God’s invitation to our children, our grandchildren, our neighbors, our co-workers, our classmates, to come into contact with the GRACE of God! 

“Dear God, by Your transforming grace, help Your church point beyond itself through word and work to the Good News of Jesus Christ our Lord. Fill this room again, with Holy Spirit power take hold of each person that is open to Your spiritual gifts and anoint us in ways everyone will know is from You. Fill this place, ignite our faith, fan the flame, and burn brightly through Your people into our neighborhoods, by Your Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Resources:

Lucado, Max; Grace: More than We Deserve, Greater than We Imagine; Thomas Nelson; Nashville, TN; 2012; Pp. 17-25.