Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Major League Grace

     This is from In the Grip of Grace by Max Lucado and and was called "Major League Grace." I put it in my own words. It was a great message for our Saturday evening service.     

     Think back to 1995 major league baseball season. Remember what baseball was like that year? That was the year the players all went on strike, major and minor league players.
          The owners were set on going ahead with the season so they invited anyone who knew anything about the game and could perform all the basic plays with energy and excitement to come and play.
          It was a different year. Batters hustled to the plate, some questionable calls were made but they went uncontested; umpires were actually being thanked after the game and fans returned the foul balls they caught.
          These guys weren't in condition and they huffed and puffed as they chased fly balls and ran the bases. But, boy did they have fun. They were playing ball because they loved playing ball.
          I read that in Cincinnati the general manager stepped out on the field to thank the fans for coming out to the game. The Phillies gave away free hotdogs and sodas. And the Cleveland Indians gave 5 players to the Cincinnati Reds for free!
          They weren't the most exciting games to watch but it was neat to see men playing for the sheer joy of playing a game they loved. They were living a dream, a life they didn't deserve. It was pure luck they were able to be there. They were chosen because they had a particular skill; they were picked because they were willing to play. And they knew it!
          Never did we read about any of them arguing over the poor pay they received. They wasn't any grossing over the fact their names weren't stitched on their jerseys. No strikes were threatened. No one was trying to get someone else's position. They were all just happy to be on the team.
          Now, in light of the passage we heard read from Romans, do we deserve to be here? No, but we don't want to trade the privilege for something else either. God's grace has given us a place on the “dream” team.
          Because of God's grace we've also received blessings. Blessings of peace, hope, joy, and love. Paul said, “Since we have been made right with God by our faith, we have peace with God.”
          Peace with God...just because we have faith! Imagine that! This isn't just peace with our neighbors or our family or even other countries, this is real peace...peace with God. Salvation brings peace...with God.
          Max Lucado told a story about a monk and his young apprentice traveled from their abbey to a nearby village. They parted for the evening and met again the next morning.
          The apprentice was unusually quiet the next morning so the monk asked if anything was wrong. The response was short and snappy, “What business is it of your?”
          The monk could tell that his brother was troubled but he held his tongue and continued the walk back to the abbey. The distance between them grew  greater and greater as the apprentice walked slower and slower. When the monk arrived at the gates of the abbey he stopped and waited for the apprentice to arrive.  He asked him, “Tell me, my son, what troubles your soul?”
          The boy started to snap back but stopped when he saw the warmth and compassion in the monks eyes.  “I have sinned greatly. Last night I stayed with a woman and abandoned my vows.” “I'm not worthy to enter the abbey at your side.”
          The teacher put his arm around the student and said, “We will enter the abbey together. And we will enter the cathedral together. And together we will confess your sin. No one but god will know which of the two of us fell.”
          Isn't that a good description of what God has done for us. We keep our sins silent. We withdraw from God. We see him as our enemy. We try to avoid being in his presence.
          But when we confess our sins, lay our faults at his feet, our perception is changed. God isn't our foe anymore, he's our friend. We are at peace with him. He did so much more than the monk did for his friend. He didn't just share in our sin, he was crushed for the evil we did. He accepted the shame. He leads us into the presence of God.
          Because of what God did for us through Jesus we have a place with God. Jesus has brought us into that blessing of God's grace that we now enjoy. In the Greek that is translated as being ushered into the presence of royalty.
          In Ephesians Paul said, “It is through Christ that all of us are able to come into the presence of the Father. Now we can come fearlessly right into God's presence...
          Christ meets us outside and takes our hand and walks right in with us into the presence of God. That's where we encounter pure grace, no condemnation, no punishment, just mercy. We wouldn't have been able to gain an audience with God with Jesus being by our side.
          When Jesus takes our hand and walks with us into God's presence it's a little bit like one our children walking in with a friend we've never met. We welcome them because our child has their hand. They're okay since they're with our child. If they just showed up at our door and wanted to come in for supper or to play we might not be so quick to let them in.
          When we become friends with Jesus we're able to gain access to God.  Because we're his friends we have access to the throne room in heaven.
          This isn't just a one time event but a permanent “access by faith into this grace by which we now stand.”
          This is where we're different than those baseball players. Their time playing on the field was only temporary where our privilege will last as long as God is faithful, and his faithfulness has never been questioned. Paul told Timothy, “If we aren't faithful, he will still be faithful, because he cannot be false to himself” (2 Tim. 2:13).  David said that the Lord's faithfulness “reaches to the heavens” (Ps. 36:5).
          Notice the sequence of these blessings. One is in the past; we have peace with God because he's forgiven our past errors. And the second deals with our present. We have a place with God because Jesus presents us to the Father.
          And the next blessing is our future. “We are happy because of the hope we have of sharing God's glory.”
          We were washed up but now we are called up and put in. How do we share in God's glory you ask. Friends, that will have to wait for another time.
          God loves you my friends and so do I. Thanks be to God for his grace. Amen.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Holy Spirit

          Jesus ascended to heaven. Before he went home to his Father he gave the disciples one last command. That was to, "...go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
          They didn’t get right too it until after this day that we heard read about today from Acts. They didn’t begin until they’d received and been empowered by the Holy Spirit.
          After they’d received the Holy Spirit many God-fearing Jews became believers in Jesus the Christ, the Messiah. If we’d have read further in the chapter we’d have discovered that about 3,000 were added to their number that day. Can you imagine 3,000 people came to believe in Jesus as the Christ?
          Let me ask you a question, “Did the disciples accomplish this all by themselves?” No, it only happened after they’d received the Holy Spirit.
          So, if the command that Jesus gave the disciples was also meant for us then shouldn’t it also mean that before we are able to make disciples and baptize people in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit we would need to receive the Holy Spirit?
          The point I want to make is this, we aren’t able to bring people to know Jesus as the Christ without help from the Holy Spirit. There’s just no way that we can accomplish this through our own willpower.
          But some of us think that’s what we’re to be about, leading people to Jesus so that they can be baptized, saved, and assured of eternal life. We don’t want anyone left behind so we want to make sure that all our friends and family are saved.
          That’s a good thing but sometimes we fail to talk with God about it. We fail to take the time to ask the Holy Spirit to guide us in this endeavor.
          When we forget that God is the one with the plan and that we are his servants, his workers, then what we’re trying to do could become a little chaotic because we’re trying to do it all on our own.
          I’m not saying that leading people to Jesus is wrong. What’s wrong is trying to do it without letting God be the One to lead the work of bringing salvation to people.
          When we don’t let God be the one in control it could become something like what happened at Babel, a whole lot of confusion and chaos. And who do we think we are anyway that we do this all by ourselves?
          Sometimes, I think, God just lets us go on our way and then he puts his finger into it and kind of stirs the pot in a different direction. And sometimes, Jesus, himself, gets involved. And then we begin to squirm and wiggle and are a little embarrassed because we didn’t leave room for that kind of thing, the excitement, the unpredictability.
          We think we’re in control but this is something we can’t control or manage. When God gets involved in the mix he threatens to overthrow everything we’ve worked so hard on. We don’t like it when our plans get changed or turned around or upset kind of like the merchants tables in the Temple.
          We’re afraid we could lose something if Jesus shows up because he reveals what we’re really worth. Face it we put a fence around this house of prayer sometimes and we narrow the field trying to keep the Holy Spirit within the bounds of our faith.
          We don’t like the risk. But that’s what Jesus asks us to do, take the risk to trust him and let him be the guide for this work of making disciples.
          We want order and God keeps messing it up by asking the Spirit to remind us again and again what Jesus taught. It was all about love and peace…and grace. Love of God, love all his children, and be open to receiving God’s abundant grace.
          All of that is risky stuff and it scares the pants off us. Friends, the lesson for us today is to be talking with God all the time and be open and aware of the working of God’s Spirit in and around us. The Spirit will provide just what we need at just the right time with the right folks.
          Friends, the disciples didn’t really know what to expect on that day that probably began like so many others and I’m sure that we aren’t too sure ourselves. The disciples waited… until God was ready and that’s what we should do to.
          God loves you my friends. Thanks be to God for his grace. Amen.