Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Justifying Grace

Last Sunday, July 25, I preached on the second of the graces that John Wesley talks about. Remember that Wesley’s plan of salvation said that we are “saved by grace through faith” (Ephesians 2: 8-9). Of course, all of the reformers in church history have said this. The Protestant Reformation was, in part, all about a recovery of the notion that we are “justified by faith” and Luther, Wesley, and others added: alone.

Prevenient Grace is the grace of the Holy Spirit which is present in every person. It is free in all and for all. A person may in fact be “before Christ” but no person is “before grace”. This means, as I said earlier, that God acts first in our salvation. God loves first. Keep the order right. God loves; then, we love. Prevenient Grace is the grace that came to you before you were able to think or choose for yourself. God’s grace was preparing you for the day when you could step forward and receive Christ for yourself. God used, uses, every person, experience, gift at his disposal to bring you to himself.

Next is Justifying Grace. It is God’s grace that gives you the gift of being able to choose for yourself whether you will believe, trust, and follow Christ. God’s Spirit draws us to this point and then we are offered Christ and a choice. And, we say yes or no.

Sunday I said that God’s gives us saving faith as a gift. Saving faith is the knowledge that we are sinners, that no matter how much we try, we are self-obsessed. We seek God on the one hand and then turn around to take things in to our own hands. As one writer says, “we strut around as if we owned the place.” We have the knowledge of our own failures and sins and we turn to Christ for forgiveness. God came in Jesus Christ all the way to a cross to show us just how far he was willing to go to have us.

Saving faith is knowledge; it is also mental assent. I decide; I choose for myself. I cannot live on my mother’s faith, no matter how strong that was/is. I have to have faith for myself. So, in my mind/heart I come to give myself over to the God who knows me better than I know myself, who loves me, and who wants to bring me home.

Saving faith is also laying hold of Jesus by choice. It’s stepping forward and laying hold of Jesus as my hope of life and salvation in this world and in the world to come. It’s all about Jesus.

I was talking with a young woman as we worked together on a construction project in a United Methodist Youth Mission. She grew up Methodist but now was a member of the Unitarian Church (no offense to Unitarians, I hope). But, she said she missed her Methodist Church. I asked her what she missed most. She said: “I miss Jesus…”

We lay hold of the Jesus who comes to lay hold of us. Jesus is the embodiment, the incarnation, of the God of the universe. There, right there, right here, in Jesus of Nazareth is the God of all live.

When did you say “yes” to Jesus? When did you choose to follow Christ?

Dave Nichols

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Prevenient Grace

I am working through a series of sermons on Methodist Grace- not that Methodist grace is really any different from any other grace. It’s just that the great Methodist emphasis on grace is central to everything for us.

Grace is gift. And, of course, the grace of God is given to us in many ways but primarily through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, talked about grace as a process of salvation. So, beginning last Sunday I will preach on the three graces: Prevenient, Justifying, and Sanctifying.

Last Sunday we began by working with the notion of Prevenient Grace. This is the grace that comes long before we can think or choose for ourselves. From the first moment of our birth, God’s Holy Spirit is present to us and “wooing” us toward the time when we can choose to accept God’s grace for ourselves.

When we baptize a baby, a precious child of God, we are claiming that child for Christ, and acknowledging that that child has God’s grace already. So, we promise, we parents and congregation, to do all in our power to nurture and teach the child, cooperating with the Holy Spirit, toward the day when the child can accept Christ for him/herself. Baptism is entrance into the church for us, not salvation. Salvation comes as a result of the child’s decision to accept grace for him/herself. We generally call that time Confirmation.

John Wesley said that every human being born into the world has grace, prevenient grace, the presence of God. There is nothing that any person can do either to earn this grace or to lose this grace. It is a gift of God. A person might in fact be before Christ, but no person is ever before grace.

The old English word behind prevenient is the word “preventing” which means preparing.

Now, we Methodists know that none of us would ever be able to accept Christ for ourselves were it not for the preparing grace of God. We can suppress it or ignore or push it away, but grace is always pursuing us, wooing us, loving us, reaching out to us.

Of course, there would be no need for grace were it not for sin. Were not every human being a sinner, born into sin through the human family, and therefore hopelessly about going after our own salvation, and being our own god, then we would have no need for grace.

The grace of God comes to us when we are most helpless and lost, before we can think or choose for ourselves.

St. Augustine says that when you look back over your life it at first appears that the patterns of your life are like the footprints of chickens in a chicken yard, going in all directions at once. But, if you look again, you can discern a pattern, a direction, a guidance, a wooing.

Look back over your life. Can you see prevenient grace moving you to where you are now? Next week: Justifying grace.

Dave Nichols

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Being a Methodist in Summer

Summer is always a time when we are coming and going around here. And, we all need to do that. Vacation is a very good thing. For many of us, it's a time to step out of nine months of routine and find some relaxation. Schedules are put aside and we find some rest. During July I will working with the congregation on three themes of Methodism. Beginning July 18, I will preach on grace, beginning with Prevenient Grace.

As we get ready to think and work our way through the meaning of grace again, I offer these questions from John Wesley, founder of Methodism. He asked all Methodists to ask these questions every day. I give them to you as a gift. Ask them about your own faith? They are:

* Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
*Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?
* Do I confidentially pass on to another what was told to me in confidence?
* Can I be trusted?
* Am I a slave to dress, friends, work, or habits?
* Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
* Did the Bible live in me today?
* Do I give the Bible time to speak to me each day?
* Am I enjoying prayer?
* When did I last speak to someone else about my faith?
* Do I pray about the money I spend?
* Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
* Do I disobey God in anything?
* Do I insist upon doing something about why my conscience is uneasy?
* Am I defeated in any part of my life?
* Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy, or distrustful?
* How do I spend my spare time?
* Am I proud?
* Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisees who despised the Publican?
* Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold a resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I doing about it?
* Do I grumble or complain constantly?
* Is Christ real to me?

See you in Church!
Dave Nichols

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