Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Top Ten Questions God Asks Us

A couple of weeks ago I started a series of sermons based on the book Questions God Asks Us by Trevor Hudson. The first week we worked on the question of God to Adam: “Where Are You?” (Genesis 3) Ashamed after their sin, Adam and Eve are separated from God. They cover up themselves. They hide. God comes looking for them in the cool of the day and calls out to them: “Where are you?” It is an invitation to come out of hiding to this God.

Last Sunday, we worked on the second question: “Where is your brother?” It’s the question that God asks Cain after Cain has murdered his brother Abel. You remember the lesson. Cain is a farmer; Abel a shepherd. Both bring an offering to God. For some reason, Cain’s offered is not “regarded” by God.

The text is not really clear as to why Cain’s offering is not “regarded”. Some say that it is because Cain did not bring his best, the first fruits. The text doesn’t bear this out. Cain and Abel bring their best to offer to God. We live in a therapeutic age. So, some say that Cain’s heart was not right. He had the wrong attitude. Explain it how you will; it’s just not clear in the text.

What is clear is that Cain immediately gets angry with God and kills his brother. Cain focuses on himself (sin) and asks God: “What about me? What about me?” But, in the text, God changes the focus to his question: “Where is your brother?”

Of course, God knows that Cain has killed Abel. Cain then is afraid. Now, whoever comes upon Cain will kill him. But, God gives him the “mark”, a protection against any who would do further harm by killing Cain.

Notice that sin is contagious. Often we say that if we sin that it doesn’t affect anyone but us. But, the consequences of sin often go for generations. The separation from God and each other in Adam and Eve moves to Cain and Abel to the structures of society (Genesis 11).

In the Genesis narrative, God even wonders whether this whole creation thing is redeemable. So, in Chapter six there’s a flood.

The top ten questions of the Bible that God asks us is an effort to help us think of the Bible in a new way, maybe. Often we think of the Bible as a book of answers, and it is. But, what if we go to the Bible over these next few weeks in a new way? Instead, let’s go to the Bible listening to God’s questions of us.

God asks questions, maybe, to help us focus our priorities and our agenda. God’s questions move us to put our lives in perspective and to see the world as God’s creation all over again. Stand before God, and listen to God’s questions for a change.

Dave Nichols

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Sanctifying Grace

On Sunday August 1, we came to the last in our series of sermons on “Methodist Grace”. You remember that for three Sundays we worked on grace as John Wesley outlined it. First, we worked and worshiped around Prevenient Grace. I used Psalm 139 as the scripture which describes the God from whom we cannot escape, who knows us from birth. Prevenient grace means that long before I could think or decide for myself, God’s Holy Spirit came to me preparing me for that day when I could choose grace for myself. Prevenient grace reminds us that God takes the initiative. God loves us first; then, we love. Get the order right.

Justifying grace is the grace that gives us the ability to choose for ourselves. We are justified, made right, put to rights, with God through the gift of Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus came among us, healed, ate with sinners, taught, lived, died and was raised for us. God sent Jesus to death on a cross to show us just how far he would go to have us.

Last Sunday, we came to Sanctifying grace. Some have called it “growing” grace. When we are justified, saved, made right with God, then we are called to be disciples, to move forward, to move in our lives from utter selfishness to utter selflessness in Christ.

John Wesley asked early Methodist lay people to answer the questions: Are you going on to perfection? Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life? Now, we ask these questions of those who seek the high calling of ordained ministry. Sheepishly, we stand in front of the bishop who asks us these questions. The answer is supplied and we say: “Yes, the Lord being my helper.”

Of course, in our world and culture, we are taught to spurn the very notion of perfection. Some tell of parents who expected them to be perfect, as in “make no mistakes”. That’s not what we mean here. Here perfection means “maturing”. John Wesley says that as Christians we are called to be formed by the Spirit of God.

When we are justified, God has more in store for us. So, we place ourselves in God’s presence in worship, Bible searching, prayer, fasting, service, Holy Communion. Through these means of grace, as we place ourselves under God’s grace, putting our bodies and lives at his disposal, we are inviting God to form/shape us anew in love. Every Christian should be able to say that I know more about love today than when I first started out.

A couple standing at the altar to be married makes all kinds of rash promises to each other. They cannot possibly know the meaning of love on that day. Sure, they know it’s beginnings, but give them ten years, twenty years, and they will say: “We thought we understood love, but now after all this time together, to explore the meaning of love, to make mistakes, to grow up, now we know more about love than ever before.”

I do not know as much about love today as I hope to know tomorrow and five years from now, if God’s Holy Spirit is shaping me. I cannot do this thing alone; I need God’s Spirit, God’s grace.

Breathe on me breath (spirit) of God
Fill me with life anew
Make me to love what thou dost love
And do what thou wouldst do

Dave Nichols


Thanks for checking out my blog. I'm new to this, as you can probably see. But, I, like you, have convictions and ideas worth sharing. I hope this will be an opportunity to connect with others who are Christian and/or religious. I am happily United Methodist. I am committed to the basic teachings of our church, and to the compassionate outreach to the world.

I hope these pastoral ponderings will generate something in you that is hopeful.

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About Me

A graduate of Newberry College and Duke University Divinity School.  I have served as a pastor in the United Methodist Church since 1975.

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