07/26/2015 – Romans 12:3-13 – “Gracefull Gifts”

Romans 12:3-13

Gracefull Gifts

Adam Blyckert, Whitworth Summer Fellow

I recently heard a news story from this past May: a woman in the Silicon Valley, California cleaned out her garage after her husband died. She brought a bunch of electronics to a donation center and left them there without taking any sort of receipt or even giving them a name. A few weeks later, when volunteers were going through the box, they found a first generation Apple computer that is now collectible and valued around $200,00! (That’s no bad-apple) She had literally discarded this valuable possession. If she had known, it could have been a huge benefit to her, and probably to those closest to her with whom she could shared the proceeds.

Today, we are going to talk about something far more valuable than forgotten electronics. In our series on grace, I would like to focus this morning on gifts from the spirit. We’ll talk a little about the nature of their differences, discovering our gifts, and finally using our gifts. If you brought your Bible, I invite you to open up to Romans 12; if you left your Bible at home today, feel free to open up a red bible in pew in front of you and follow along on page 803. I would also encourage you to keep it open so you can refer back to the text this morning.

Hear now Romans 12 beginning in verse 3: [Rom 12:3-13]. Please pray with me: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to you O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer, that our faith may not rest on wise or persuasive words, but on the power of Your Spirit. Amen.

Before we dive into our text for today, I want to set the scene for the chapter that we are in. Paul is writing a letter to the church in Rome that he did not plant, and had not yet visited. He is expressing that he would like to visit the church there, and go from there on to Spain. In order to build some rapport with them, he writes this long letter where he outlines and teaches his Christian faith. Rather than addressing a specific situation like most of his letters, he is writing generally for all Christians. Among other concepts, Paul addresses the universal problem of sin, moves to salvation in Christ, and explains the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in the Christian faith. Now, here in Chapter 12, Paul transitions from theological exposition to practical moral teaching. Much like my sermon a month ago, Paul urges his audience to give their lives as a living sacrifice to God and allow God to renew their minds—the whole way that they think and interact with the world.

He then moves to this portion on diverse gifts from the spirit and how they should interact in the church body. His main point is that God has a different ministry role for each person, thus we receive His grace in different ways. Using these various gifts is God’s design for a healthy Church.

I have known generally of this idea for some time, but it became clear to me in a new way in the past few weeks. As many of you know, I am engaged to Kristin, my lovely fiancée. One of the many things we are doing to prepare for marriage is to continue to talk about our spiritual lives, and the ways we are encountering God. One thing has become clear, that we hear from God in different ways. As for me, the closest I come to hearing from God is when I have really solid conversations with people of faith, or when I’m studying scripture and learn something new. I feel that I discover a new aspect of my Lord. Kristin, though she reads scripture and talks to people seems to perceive things directly from God. She has had instances where she has learned something from God in the form of vision or some other specific message. Recently, when I heard one of these instances, I became jealous. “Why doesn’t God talk to me that way?” “I feel so frustrated that I can’t hear from God, yet he speaks clearly to her. That’s not fair!” Then I remembered today’s text, and understood it in a different way.

In verse 4, Paul says we should think about our differences like we think of a body. We have many members with different functions, but are united in our common faith in Christ. In addition, Paul adds that we are also members of one another! In fact, this unity is only made possible by the fact that we are each united to Christ in His death and resurrection. By uniting to him, we also receive one another. Though the image of the body of Christ is old-hat for many of you, stick with me, and maybe you will learn something new.

If an eye sees something alarming, it communicates to the feet and they stop to avoid danger. Individually, the eyes and the feet are members of one another because they are a part of the whole. This is the same with us. In my case with Kristin, although God may be communicating something to Kristin in a tangible way, He is also communicating it to me through Kristin! Likewise, if I learn something new in scripture and tell it to Kristin, or to Mark, or to you, God may be using me to speak. How silly would it be if we were all ears? Or if we were all feet? Or if we were all mouths? Here’s what really struck me anew though: to go with our different roles, we receive grace in different ways.

There are two lines in our scripture today that express this, the second instance is verse 6 that says, “having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us…” Paul is suggesting that not only our gifts differ, but the grace given to us differs. I do not receive or understand God’s grace the same way the Loreen does, or that Linda does, or that CJ does, and that’s God’s design— to have diversity within His body.

The first line that expresses this idea is a little more challenging, but I think it is valuable to unpack it. Look in verse 3 at the phrase “each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” Measure of faith? What is he talking about? Does he mean that I have a quarter cup of faith, and Ken has a half cup? That wouldn’t make sense to me; Jesus says faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains. This can’t be about a quantity of faith, so what does it mean?

I’m going to present the interpretation that makes the most sense of this passage to me. I just want to be upfront and clear that it is not the majority interpretation among scholars, and I’d be happy to talk about it later with you… I think this phrase is better translated “each according to the measure God assigned, namely a trusteeship.” ‘Measure’ in this case refers to a portion, an amount doled out, like the parable from the children’s sermon, it would is 10 talents, or 5 talents or 1 talent. Then the word, normally used for ‘faith,’ here means a trusteeship. In secular usage of the time, this same Greek word, or its derivative, was used to refer to an official office that was given or appointed to someone. You might think ‘given in faith’ if you want to connect the words. With this sense, we are called not to think too highly of ourselves, but to think soberly aware that God has given different trusteeships. We should not think highly of some gifts, or lowly of others, but recognize that we all have been entrusted with something for God’s purpose, and every something is valuable. Notice I said all. That’s what Paul says in v. 3 he emphasizes both ‘every one of you’ at the beginning and again ‘each’ at the end.

From this we can conclude that God has purpose and gifting for all of us. So what about you? Do you feel that you have a spiritual gift? If so do you know what it is? What if you don’t know? Does that mean you don’t have any gifts? Personally, I’ve had a hard time discerning my spiritual gifts, and am just recently becoming aware and embracing some of them. So, if you don’t know your gift, don’t fret, maybe you have an Apple 1 computer gathering dust in your garage. Maybe it’s time to do some soul-searching. While I cannot tell you what your gifts are, I’d love to give you a starting place for your own self-discerning process.

Let’s start with how you get a spiritual gift. It is a prerequisite that you believe that Jesus is the Christ who was crucified and died for the sake of our sins. If you haven’t given your life to Jesus as your savior, you won’t receive a spiritual gift. Other than that, there is no way to earn a spiritual gift, it is, as the name implies, given. In fact it’s given freely; the Greek word for ‘spiritual gifts’ as it’s used both here and in 1 Cor. 12, is χαρισματα, which has the same root as χαρις the word for ‘grace.’ This indicates that they are gifts that are a freely given outpouring of God’s grace; they are not earned. So, if you think that you can achieve a certain level marked by gifts, or that you are extra righteous because you have gifts, then think again. God gives out His gifts to serve His purpose, and not because we unlock a new level.

“Great Adam, the gifts are freely given but that’s not particularly helpful in understanding what they are.”

You’re right, that’s still pretty vague, so let’s look at the examples that Paul gives in our text. He specifies prophecy, teaching, exhorting, serving, giving and acts of mercy. Notice that Paul puts teaching on par with generous giving and lowly serving. This is not just Mark’s ministry, but our ministry, and it’s all important. This list is not exhaustive. Elsewhere, Paul uses this term, χαρισματα, to describe utterances of wisdom, working miracles, distinguishing spirits and speaking in tongues.

Do you feel like you need to teach someone the things you learn? You might have the gift of teaching. Do you feel like God speaks to you in an unmediated way, even through visions? You might have the gift of prophecy. Do you feel that you are capable of selflessly serving beyond expectations without recognition? You might have the gift of lowly serving. Can you speak wisdom beyond your experience? You may have the gift of wisdom. The list goes on and on! These lists are merely a starting place, so rather than think of gifting as ‘it must be one of these,’ think of these rather as examples of spiritual gifts. If you don’t think you have any, then I encourage you to pray, and to pray hard. In 1 Cor. 14, Paul instructs the Corinthians to earnestly desire spiritual gifts. We can pray for them, and God may give them to us, but I encourage you to desire it not for your glory but for God’s.

David Watson, an English pastor who helped usher in spiritual revival in his church community, wrote a book on the Church back in the 80’s. In that book, he suggests that all spiritual gifts need to meet two criteria: First, they must glorify Christ. If your gift only glorifies you, it is not a spiritual gift. In fact, if you think of your gift as truly yours that belongs to you, you may need to readjust your thinking. This is a gift purely from God that we are entrusted with. It is the measure of grace given to us to invest.

The second descriptor is that it must edify (or serve) the body of Christ. If your gift only serves you and your own purposes, it’s either not a spiritual gift, or you aren’t using it for its intended purpose. Remember, God gives out these gifts achieve His kingdom work in the world. Look at the example of Christ. He had all of the gifts, and everything he did pointed built up or taught those around him.

Finally, we get to the same point that Paul is expressing: we must use our gifts to their full purpose to serve the body of Christ, and beyond. (pause) was anyone just reminded of Buzz Lightyear’s mission in Toy Story? He wanted to go ‘to infinity and beyond.’ Maybe we should think of that being the mission of our own ministries roles and gifts “To the body of Christ, and beyond!” They should have mission and purpose and be put to use.

Think back to the children’s sermon: the servants that did well were those who used the talents entrusted to them. They invested, and took risks. They had to be courageous to use their master’s money, but it paid off. And what of the one who didn’t use his talent? He was afraid and hid it away. Using your gift may be out of your comfort zone. Maybe you feel gifting in teaching, but are afraid to say anything about it. Now is your chance! Mark is looking for people to lead the Sunday Bible study this coming fall. That takes courage, and you risk that you may fail…but maybe God will use your gift to edify the body.

When we each use our gifts, it helps others to use their gifts, and we function better as a whole. We are members of one another, and need everyone to be doing something. Not only that, but we are dependent on others to communicate God’s grace or teaching to us in a new way. This all reminds me of bees. Yes, the kind that buzz. I was recently watching a documentary on bees, and became fascinated with these creatures! These insects all function together in the dark of their hive to produce honey, and raise up new bees. One of the incredible things about bees is that they communicate to each other about new food sources. When a bee comes to the hive with a new source, it starts doing a wiggling dance that spins in circles. Scientists call it the Waggle Dance. In this way, bees share their food sources. This little jive helps the whole hive thrive. We need to be like bees and share our gifts, share the outpouring of God’s grace on us, so that God can use us to spread his grace.

One challenging note to this idea of using our gifts: it is my understanding that using our spiritual gifts is more than checking something off the list for the week. It is a way of living. It is not fully using my gift to show up once a week to a bible study, or to do one thing here at the church building. Using our spiritual gifts should flow out of our everyday life. This is hard, and I know that I often don’t use my gifting in all, or even most, areas of my life, but I strive to, and hope that as I grow in the knowledge of Christ that it may become more natural.

I want to leave you encouragement from David Watson (the English pastor/author). He says that each church community is not The Church, but does represent it, fully. Christ is here fully among this congregation. Then he specifically addresses smaller churches saying,

“The temptation will always be to look enviously, and maybe despairingly at larger and seemingly thriving churches in the area. Why don’t they send some of their many gifted workers to help these smaller churches? Sometimes, perhaps, that is right and necessary; but each local church needs to realise the immense potential that exists within the body of Christ in that place. If those Christians can be genuinely open to God, deeply committed to Christ, and filled with His Spirit, all that is necessary for building up that body into Spiritual maturity is there already.”

God’s Spirit is powerful, and if we are open and willing to receive His gifts, I honestly believe He will do far more than we ask or imagine. Amen.

May the Lord renew your mind that you may discern His perfect will

07/19/2015 – Isaiah 30:18-29 – “Brace for Grace”

Mark Wheeler

Isaiah 30:19-29

“Brace for Grace”

July 19, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

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. 

Stunned with anxiety. Overwhelmed with wonder and worry. Paralyzed with panic. Maybe it was a paper or a presentation (or a sermon) that was due the next day; maybe it was waiting for test results; or for a treatment plan after the results came back; maybe it was in regards to joblessness, or some financial investment.

I remember when I was 19-years old my Dad told me something about being a drama-queen over what I thought was a big decision – and then he came back and apologized because (his actual words were that “the world was not going to come to an end”), in reality, the world I knew was coming to an end. Everything was about to change. What is world-ending for one person might be very different from what is world-ending for another. But his first comment left me feeling alone, abandoned in my time of need.

Has anyone here ever felt that sense of fear, followed by that feeling of “there’s-no-one-to-help”?

When we first moved to Spokane we looked and looked for the right home, in the right kind of neighborhood, at the right price, etc.; and it seemed to take forever. We actually made several trips to Spokane, from Tacoma, for the sole purpose of house-shopping – and Loreen kindly let this family of five (including two who were still in diapers) stay in her basement while we went house-hunting. When we finally moved to Spokane, with no home to move into yet (and a home in Tacoma not yet sold!), we rented a house near where the Winningham’s live now. We took a cut in pay, to move and pay rent on top of still paying a ballooning mortgage. Stunned, overwhelmed, and just a little bit panicky.

I read a true-story this week about a medical missionary who was accidentally wounded and exposed to the AIDS virus so his team treated him with some meds, but they needed to fly him home to the States as quickly as possible. His grown daughter was with him. His temperature rose to over 104`, and his heart started beating irregularly, and his breathing became erratic. She prayed that there might be another doctor on the plane that could help her take care of him – she was stunned, overwhelmed, and paralyzed.

We have been investing this Summer in an extended sermon series on God’s amazing Grace – how it is so far more than we deserve, and so far greater what we imagine. Listen with me to God’s Word, from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, chapter 30. This chapter is in a section where God speaks thru the prophet against His own people who have ignored His Word and gone their own way. But even with their obstinacy, and now their desperation, their stunned, overwhelming paralysis, listen to God’s Word with them. Isaiah 30:18-29 …. —-

18 Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;     therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.     Blessed are all who wait for him!

19 People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you.20 Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them.21 Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” 22 Then you will desecrate your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them, “Away with you!”

23 He will also send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful. In that day your cattle will graze in broad meadows. 24 The oxen and donkeys that work the soil will eat fodder and mash, spread out with fork and shovel. 25 In the day of great slaughter, when the towers fall, streams of water will flow on every high mountain and every lofty hill. 26 The moon will shine like the sun, and the sunlight will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven full days, when the Lord binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted.

27 See, the Name of the Lord comes from afar,     with burning anger and dense clouds of smoke;
his lips are full of wrath,     and his tongue is a consuming fire.
28 His breath is like a rushing torrent,     rising up to the neck.
He shakes the nations in the sieve of destruction;     he places in the jaws of the peoples     a bit that leads them astray.
29 And you will sing     as on the night you celebrate a holy festival; your hearts will rejoice
as when people playing pipes go up   to the mountain of the Lord,     to the Rock of Israel.

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

How many of you have ever been to the beach, maybe along the coast of the Pacific Ocean? Who can remember the first time you stepped into the cold salty water, with the cold waves splashing against your ankles? And then you remember wading deeper into the water, where the waves are a bit bigger and you’re wondering, “should I jump over it, or dive under it?” And, that one-second delay, in your deer-in-the-headlights moment, the wave hits and you have no ability to stand against its force. Your feet are swept out from underneath you, and your head is knocked into the hard surface; and before you can get your bearings – the next wave comes – and then the next.

Anyone remember that day?

Now replace the cold, salt-water, waves of death with an even more overwhelming force of God’s comforting and totally surprising Grace – and that’s what Isaiah is describing.

This is a word addressed to the people of Jerusalem, about 700 years before Christ, at a time when they were so caught up in living their lives apart from God – that they could do nothing more than scream and cry. Do we not live in just such a time?

And because the God who is addressing them is the same God who addresses us, we can hear His promise to them as a promise to us as well.

The Lord longs to be gracious to us – what might be the obstacle to His Grace reaching us?

Blessed are all who wait for Him – maybe our lack of patient trust in Him is the main obstacle? Can we trust Him enough to wait for His timing and circumstances? Can we trust God enough to endure the hardships while we wait?

How gracious He will be when we cry for help! As soon as He hears, He will answer us what help are we crying for? Is it some chronic, even terminal, medical diagnosis? Does it deal with addictions? Is there a broken relationship that haunts us? Are we afraid of our financial future? Do we face some legal warrants we don’t deserve? How gracious He will be when we cry for help!

Our ears will hear a voice behind us, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” what is God telling us today? What is He telling you right now?

Remember that medical missionary I mentioned? His daughter rushed him to an airplane headed back to the States, with a fever of 104`, heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, and she prayed that there might be another physician on board. When she finally turned to the passengers and asked, do you know what she found? This plane was filled with, more than 100, physicians returning to the States from their own overseas missionary ministries! Wave after wave of Grace.

They all prayed together, and they all knew what to do if more complications arose – and over time this very sick man recovered with no signs of the AIDS virus.

Remember the trouble Jennifer and I had in finding the house we believed the Lord might be leading us to? Our realtor finally took us to a house that was not yet on the market – it was a house he had once lived in 20 years earlier; it was a house our realtor had bought from Loreen’s son who was the first owner and resident of this house (Loreen, the PNC member’s basement we lived in all those weekends ago) and while we had a lease on the house we were renting, and still owned the house we had in Tacoma – in less than a week our Tacoma house sold (for exactly the same price this house cost us) and our lease was bought out at a reduced price; and, we learned a few months later, our new house had neighbors on either side of us, who were directly related to the pastor who baptized me as an infant in Arvada, CO, 34 years earlier!

Our ears had heard a voice behind us, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Wave after wave of Grace.

Isaiah 30 adds with these words: His breath is like a rushing torrent,     rising up to the neck….
And you will sing     as on the night you celebrate a holy festival; your hearts will rejoice    as when people playing pipes go up   to the mountain of the Lord,     to the Rock of Israel.

Like wave after wave, God’s Grace pummels us with love. John’s Gospel says that (John 1) 14 the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.15 (John [the Baptist] bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace [grace in place of grace, grace after grace, wave after wave of grace]. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

 

St. Paul confides in us his own anxiety and frustration (II Corinthians 12) when he says, “There was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, ‘My Grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.’

Look back at your own anxieties, wonderings, worries and panics. Can you see any forms of God’s Grace sustaining you through your turmoil? We fear His Grace will run out, be insufficient; but God’s supply of Grace is never exhausted! His bank of Grace always has sufficient funds. God’s offer of Grace never runs dry.

 

Wave after wave of Grace. Are you in need of a little extra Grace this morning? If you believe God loves you, get ready for a torrent of Grace. Brace yourself, for God’s Grace upon Grace to conquer your fear and overwhelm your wonder and pummel your panic.

Why would any of us allow anyone in our circles of influence to fall short of the grace of God? Hebrews 12:15 reminds us to “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; let’s invite them to experience the inundating GRACE of God – today! 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. 93-101.

07/12/2015 – I John 1:8-9 – “A New GPS: Grace Placement System”

Mark Wheeler

I John 1:5-10

“A New GPS: Grace Placement System”

July 12, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

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. 

This coming Friday evening is our church’s “faith night” at Avista Stadium – a group of us from LPC will cheer on the Spokane Indians as they battle it out with the Tri-City Dustdevils. One of the joys of Minor League Baseball is the games the audience gets to play – like “catch the T-shirt” where they shoot rolled-up T-shirts out of a cannon and the audience tries to be one of the few lucky winners. But catching a T-shirt, or for that matter a foul ball, consists of four things all converging: 1) you have to be at the game; 2) you need to be paying attention; 3) there has to be a T-shirt being shot out of a cannon (or a foul ball hit off a bat); and 4) you need to be in exactly the right place for the shirt/ball to land in your lap.

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. Today we’re going to talk about how those same four factors fit into our study on Grace.

1)   Are we “at the game”?

2)   Are we paying attention? What do we expect?

3)   Is Grace being shot out of a cannon?

4)   Are we in the right place to receive it?

This morning we are reading from the First New Testament Letter from the Apostle John, and then we will also look at the Old Testament book of Psalms #32.

The first 3 of the factors we just mentioned are going to be assumed – and yes, I know that’s always a mistake – but because we are here this morning, and notat the lake” or still in bed or off to the casino, let’s just pretend we are all “at the game”. (The whole spectator image is a troubling image to begin with, right? We should all be “in the game”, not just “at” it. But let’s go with this failed metaphor for now. We’re at the game – we recognize that the Christian faith, as described in the Bible and taught by Jesus, is the only right faith system to live under. We areat the game”!

Let’s also assume we are paying attention! That’s a huger assumption, but for the sake of today’s topic I am pretending that I am paying attention to the things of God as well as you are; and that together we are paying close enough attention to actually see where God is leading us.

And the 3rd factor-assumption is the truth that Grace is being shot out of the cannon! God shot that Grace at us on the day that Jesus was crucified on our behalf. Grace was shot out on that day when I heard the Gospel clearly for the first time. Grace was shot out when I was fired, or cheated on, or failed that test, or missed that bus – and God’s perfect revealed will brought me to my knees. Friends, Grace is shot out today, right now. Are you at the game and paying attention?

From I John 1:5-10 we read these words of truth …. —-

This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in darkness [if we claim to be “at the game” and paying attention, but are, in fact, either not really walking in faith at all, or maybe we have received Jesus as Lord and Savior, but today we have decided that it’s just not worth the struggle – if that’s the case], we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin. [Ahh, there’s the Grace shot out of the cannon!]

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His Word has no place in our lives.

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

The 4th factor is where we are concentrating today! Are we in the right place to receive the Grace that has been shot out? What does that reading from I John 1 tell us is the key to this 4th factor? If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Confession puts us in the right place to receive God’s Grace! Confession is the Grace Placement System! What does that mean? And how does that work?

The definition of the word “confession” includes the act or process of confessing, as in telling one’s life story as a series of failings or tribulations. We think of it as admitting when we’ve done wrong.

The root-word of “confession is the Latin word “fateri”, “to admit“, akin to “fari”, “speak“. And you add to that root the prefix “con which means “together” (congregate = gather together, commune = unite together). Therefore, confess = admit, tell, together.

When we confess our sins, we take off our masks, we reveal our-selves, we open our vulnerabilities, to God (and maybe to one another). And that act puts us in the right place to receive God’s perfect grace (and the grace that might be offered from the victim of our offense).

How many of you had a mom who told you something like: “Confession is good for the soul”? How is “confession good for the soul”? It puts us in the right seat to catch that T-shirt of God’s Grace! That’s the secret difference between going to the Indians baseball game and catching a foul ball or a T-shirt. Being in the right seat is just a matter of luck! Not true for catching God’s Grace. It’s not a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

But do not hear me say that there’s a way to earn God’s Grace. Confession does not make us worthy of God’s Grace. There is nothing we can do to make us more or less worthyGod’s perfect Grace is un-earnable. What confession does do is put us in the right placeconfession readies our soul to receive, confession softens our heart to consent, confession opens our spirit to accept the Grace God offers through His Son Jesus Christ, as Savior and as Lord!

Probably the most famous Bible confession is the Old Testament King David. You know the story: King David looked out over his kingdom and peeping-tommed a neighbor-lady named Bathsheba, whose husband was away serving in the military. So he invited her up for dinner, and before the night was over she was expecting a baby. The story gets much worse than that, but that’s the beginning.Later, David’s friend and adviser helps him see the error of his way – and he confesses, both to his friend and to the Lord.

Psalm 51 contains some of the words of that confession; and Psalm 32 tells the story of that confession. Psalm 32, verse 5, is in your Sermon Notes page, but listen to verses 1-4 as well …. —-

Blessed is the one    whose transgressions are forgiven,     whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one    whose sin the Lord does not count against them    and in whose spirit is no deceit.

When I kept silent,    my bones wasted away    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night    your hand was heavy on me;   my strength was sapped    as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you    and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess    my transgressions to the Lord
.”   And you forgave     the guilt of my sin.

Did you catch the principles of confession in this psalm?

The beginning of verse 5 says:Then I acknowledged my sin to you    and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess    my transgressions to the Lord.”

ADMITTING that we have sinned. Admit it! Acknowledge the fact that what I did was a sin! It offended God’s sense of justice and love. It was against His Laws. I disobeyed my Lord! Admission of guilt! I am a sinner!

The end of verse 5 says:And you forgave     the guilt of my sin.BELIEVING that God actually forgives sinners.

He forgives my sins. God forgives your sins. Christ paid the debt our sin deserves when He died on the cross – and was raised to eternal life. The letter of I John, our Thursday class has been discovering, repeats 3 tests of Genuine Faith – the moral test (do you obey the Lord’s commands?), the love test (do you love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind? and do you love your neighbor as yourself?), and the belief test (do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He forgives your sins through His death and resurrection?).

I John 1:8-9, If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 

Confession becomes a new Grace Placement System – confessing our sin puts us in the right place to RECEIVE God’s grace.

 

The very bottom of your Sermon Notes page has a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from his WWII era book called Life Together, written for the underground Church in Germany during Hitler’s tyrannous regime. Listen to his words: “A man who confesses his sins in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person.

We Protestants get a little uncomfortable when we talk about “going to a confessional”. The Roman Catholics teach a doctrine about how forgiveness can only be achieved by confessing to the Father through a priest; and we Protestants believe that the Bible calls us directly to God, without the need of a human arbiter. But, there is something powerful about allowing our inmost fears and vulnerabilities be seen by a brother or sister in Christ. I have avoided this for most of my faith, except in general terms as we pray together in church. But for the last 15 years I have been meeting almost weekly with another pastor, a friend, a colleague, a brother, with whom we share our struggles and our fears and our sins, for the purpose of hearing a brother pray with and for us! I confess that I experience the presence of God in the reality of my friend Chris.

In just a moment we will go to the Lord in prayer, but let’s go there to sit in the right seat. Let’s be in the right place to receive God’s Grace.

Let us live into 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; let’s invite them to come into contact with the GRACE of God – maybe by confessing our sins with each other! 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:

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich; Life Together; Harper & Row; San Francisco, CA; 1954; P. 116.

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php.

Lucado, Max; Grace: More than We Deserve, Greater than We Imagine; Thomas Nelson; Nashville, TN; 2012; Pp. 79-89.

07/05/2015 – Ruth 4:13-17 – “Full of Grace and Ruth”

Mark Wheeler

Ruth 4:13-17

“Full of Grace and Ruth”

July 5, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

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. 

This past month has been one of those months when we realize how difficult following Jesus can be:

Hate-filled tragedy in Charleston, terrorist attacks, global financial instability (Greece), US Supreme Court decisions, legal and political posturing from candidates and government employees, at least 7 predominantly Black churches (from several denominations) burned to the ground in the last 10 days!, social media bombardment.

Many people outside the Church, and just as many inside the Church, feel discouraged, disheartened, and disoriented.

Some are feeling hopeless, helpless, vulnerable, and alone.

Can anyone here relate to any of that?

You are not all on your own!

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 the Old Testament story about a woman named Ruth. How many of you have read (or heard) this story before? This Old Testament story of Ruth is in the context of despair, depression and doom.

The story starts with the news of a severe famine in southern Israel, surrounding the town of Bethlehem, a little more than 1,000 years before Jesus was born. The famine was so severe that families were packing up and moving into neighboring, semi-enemy, countries, including Naomi and her husband and two sons. But once they got settled, Naomi’s husband died; and her two sons married women from this enemy territory, and then her two sons also died! Naomi was suddenly a widowed mother with no living children!

So she decides to go back home, traveling by herself, to be with relatives who knew her customs and religion. Talk about despair and depression and doom; hopeless, helpless, vulnerable, and alone! Have you ever wondered if you might never escape the misery you were in? Darkness, fear, abandonment, estrangement … It is a terribly lonely experiencenobody, and it feels like no God!

But then this Old Testament story of Ruth also speaks of HOPE and GRACE.

One of her widowed daughters-in-law decides to go with her. Ruth was her name. She tells Naomi, “Your people will be my people (think how huge that would be – she left her own homeland and family to be with this strange mother-in-law and her extended family!), and your God will be my God (and this is even bigger than moving into a strange community – it’s a strange community and their stranger religion!).

So these two widowed women, unrelated except by marriage, move into town with no job, no family, no means of support, no children or grandchildren, no hope ….

And God provides a job, more food than they can eat, and the attention of a handsome, wealthy, land-owner, farm-manager who falls in love with Ruth and eventually wins her to himself. From the Jewish heritage in which they lived, his title was “kinsman redeemer”. He saved her, and her mother-in-law, from destitution, and he saved them for God’s plan of Redemption for humankind.

We read in Ruth 4:13-17 (almost the end of the book) where …. —-

13 … Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14 The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! 15 He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”

16 Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. 17 The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

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

Some of you will remember that way back in Genesis 12, God called Abram from the land of Ur and Promised him a new Land, and a Nation, and a people, and that one of his offspring would be a Savior for the world. And before that in Genesis 6, God promised a first salvation through Noah and that there would be a second salvation for God’s people. And before that in Genesis 3, God promised Adam and Eve that one of their offspring would crush the head of Satan and be a Savior for the people.

The story of this desperate foreigner woman named Ruth invites us into God’s perfect story of His perfect grace.

Almost without any regard for how valuable and important this information is, we are told, that “they named [their son] Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Who was David? Does anyone know? Yup, the second-greatest King Israel has ever had! Who was the first-greatest King? C’mon – someone say it: Jesus!

Are you ready for some hope and grace?

1,000 years after Ruth, her ultimate descendant is JESUS, the Savior who comes full of Grace and Truth.

John’s Gospel tells us this truth with poetic beautyJohn 1: (*read with breaks at the asterisks to explain some key points) “1In the beginning* was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God*. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made*; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind*…. 14The Word became flesh* and made His dwelling among us*. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and only Son, who came from the Father*, full of Grace and Truth*…. 17For the law was given through Moses; Grace and Truth came through Jesus Christ*!

I am going to close early this morning, because we are about to move into a time of prayer, where I know some of you are living with some sincere fears and worries, some anxieties about uncertainties, recovering from surgeries and preparing for treatments, and still hearing the national and local news reports about how people suffer at the hands of other people, by natural disaster, because of less-than-smart decisions – and some of those people are very close to our hearts.

We feel discouraged, disheartened, and disoriented; hopeless, helpless, vulnerable, and alone.

But follow the story of Ruth. Her story leads directly to Grace and Hope – we can live lives full of Grace and Ruth – simply by trusting in the One who is the Way and the Truth and the LifeGod’s perfect propitiation and expiation for our sins and our struggles.

Right after the prayer and our offering, we will be invited to the Lord’s Table where we might just experience God’s gift of Grace and where we might receive ruth-ful Hope.

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; let’s invite them 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:

Fellowship Community; 8134 New LaGrange Road; Suite 227; Louisville, KY; 40222; invite to Annual Conference in August 2015.

Lucado, Max; Grace: More than We Deserve, Greater than We Imagine; Thomas Nelson; Nashville, TN; 2012; Pp. 66-75.