Last week we began looking at the subject of God’s GRACE by trying to understand what grace is and why it’s so important – vital. Then we took a brief look at Prevenient Grace – that grace that goes before us… drawing us to God before we’re even aware of God or aware of our need for him.
Well, this morning we’re going to study a second understanding of GRACE, called Justifying or Converting or Saving Grace. One thing to remember this morning, as I said last week: These are not three different kinds of grace starting and stopping at distinct points in our lives. Remember the quote I shared with you: “Grace is Grace.” These fancy words that we’re using just help us to get a handle on how God works his grace in our lives.
[Read Luke 18:9-14]
Back in the early 1960’s, the U.S. Bureau of the Census came out with what they called the “Index of Leading Economic Indicators.” They chose 11 indicators of the American economy and used them to interpret current business developments and to predict future economic trends.
In 1993, William Bennett came out with what he called the “Index of Leading Cultural Indicators.” His goal was to examine the moral, social and behavioral conditions of modern America. It showed, for example, that in 1960 there were 288,000 violent crimes committed. And in 1991, there were 1,900,000 violent crimes committed. He showed that the average SAT score in 1960 was 975, and in 1992, the average score was 899. Those are just a couple of things he looked at.
Well, back in 1996, another index came out. This one was done by George Barna, who is the “Gallop Poll” of religious statistics. His little book was called: “The Index of Leading Spiritual Indicators.” In fact, he still puts out an email once or twice a month that helps to give us an idea of where America is spiritually.
Here were some of Barna’s findings 13 years ago:
But perhaps one of the most disturbing statistics was this: Barna said,
“that most Americans believe that …salvation is an outcome to be earned through their good character or behavior. …Six out of ten people (57%) believe that ‘if a person is generally good, or does enough good things for others during their lives, they will earn a place in heaven.'”
He then said that, “this perspective has remained constant throughout the 90’s.” His present research is telling us that this statistic hasn’t changed much. This statistic means that at least 57% of Americans are relying on “themselves” for their eternal life. And yet, as staggering as that figure is, it’s really not new. It really isn’t all that different from what Jesus experienced in his day. In fact, it was because of this kind of mindset that Jesus told the parable in our Scripture lesson for today.
Next time we’ll dig into the text and discover what Jesus taught about this.
From a sermon I preached on July 19, 2009
Most gracious God, you crown the year with your goodness. We praise you that you have ever fulfilled your promise that, while the earth remains, seedtime and harvest shall not cease. We bless you for the order and constancy of nature, for the beauty of earth and sky and sea, and for the providence that year by year supplies our need.
We thank you for your blessing on the work of those who plowed the soil and sowed the seed, and have now gathered in the fruits of the earth. And with our thanksgiving for these blessings, accept our praise, O God, for the eternal riches of your grace in Christ our Lord; to whom, with you, O Father, and the Holy Spirit, be all glory and honor and worship, for ever and ever. Amen.
Taken from The United Methodist Book of Worship
One of the things that I love about Oden is that not only is he biblical, but that he doesn’t write as though he is the first (or only) person to have ever read the Bible. He draws (very thoroughly) from Christian history, especially the early Church. He understands what it means to read the Bible in community.
His three volume set on systematic theology is arranged in a Trinitarian fashion: Book 1: The Living God, Book 2: The Word of Life, and Book 3: Life in the Spirit. It’s not necessarily an easy read, but it is thorough and comes from a deep and abiding faith.
Oden is a United Methodist, but in this work his emphasis is focused more on what all (or at least “most”) Christians can and should agree on if we would call ourselves Christian.
Here’s a description of the series from Christianbook.com…
Covering the nature of God, the person of Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit, Oden’s masterful study emphasizes the ecumenical common ground of theological doctrine. Faithful to biblical teaching and classical tradition, his direct, provocative approach articulates the concerns of pastors, teachers, seminarians, and thoughtful laypersons. An indispensable reference at an irresistible price! 1561 pages total, three hardcovers from Hendrickson.
Click here to learn more about it or to order it.
Well, this Wednesday is July 4th – or what we know as Independence Day. It’s the day that we remember the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It’s that time of year when we make more of an effort to remember our country asserting its freedom from the kingdom of Great Britain.
Suzanne and I used to have four small prints by Norman Rockwell that captured the very essence of what our founders had in mind by such a Declaration of Independence. They’re perhaps Rockwell’s most famous paintings and are called The Four Freedoms.
1.) The First is called Freedom of Speech. It’s a scene of one ordinary man standing up in a great assembly hall with all sorts of folks present. The idea is that in our country, that man has just as much a right to be heard – to speak his mind – as anyone else in the room.
2.) The Second is called, Freedom of Worship. This is a painting of folks praying reverently and freely before God… without fearing for their safety. In much the same way that we have no worries or fears that at any moment, the secret police are going to break into our worship service and cart us off to prison for assembling together.
3.) The Third is called, Freedom from Want. This scene shows what looks like a beautifully prepared Thanksgiving Dinner Table… with all the family present. Ideally, in our country, you can pursue your dreams and calling and sufficiently provide for your family without the fear of having it taken from you unjustly.
4.) The Fourth and Last painting is called, Freedom from Fear. This is a touching picture of a mother and father tucking their children into bed. It brings to mind that the children are being put to bed in the security and love of their home without either the children or the parents riddled with fear.
These four paintings by Rockwell made such an impact that President Roosevelt spoke of them in his State of the Union Address in 1941. In that speech he referred to them as four essential human rights that should be universally protected. He said they should also serve as a reminder of the American motivation of fighting in World War 2. Roosevelt later said, “In the future days which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.” (from Wikipedia)
And so, let this be a reminder to us that July 4th is more than a day of hotdogs and pool parties and fireworks. (Don’t get me wrong… I love each of these parts of our celebration!) Instead, as we gather for these things, let us do so in remembrance of what our precious American freedoms really mean… and let’s express gratitude to God for them. Because they really are gifts… and not everyone around the world has them.
I think the desire for human freedom runs deep within every person. No one wants to be enslaved and in bondage to other people, governments, ideologies, personal problems, or anything else for that matter. I think that’s one of the reasons a movie like Braveheart spoke to so many people. It was a story primarily about a desire… and consequently a fight… for freedom.
I think one of the reasons we want freedom is because very few folks feel like they really have it. And the Bible confirms that feeling by reminding us that we’re all born into slavery. We’re born into the bondage of a cruel taskmaster called SIN.
And it was in response to that taskmaster… that human condition, that God sent our Lord Jesus Christ… to deliver us from this slavery… just as he delivered Israel from her Egyptian oppressors. This is one of the primary reasons why the Apostle Paul wrote his Letter to the Galatians. It’s often been called the Charter of Christian Freedom. It’s called this because in the pages of this letter, the Apostle reminds us of the freedom that was won for us by
The Apostle reminds us of the freedom that is ours as children of God. And you could say that our Scripture this morning is the theme not only for the whole book of Galatians, but for the whole of the Christian life…
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)
Paul packs an extraordinary amount into this one verse. He shares with us a statement of freedom as well as the implications of that freedom.
We’ll take at what Paul understood that freedom to mean… and what it did not mean… next time.
Grace and Truth,
The following was preached on Sunday, July 1, 2012 at Southside UMC.
I’m a bit of a late bloomer. I’m convinced that it was God’s grace moving in and through my call to ordained ministry that empowered and encouraged me to become someone who enjoys reading. Prior to that… all the way through college (to my parent’s horror) I seldom picked up a book (my grades reflected this fact).
Yet, even in college, when I was interested in something, such as politics, I would actually pick up a book and read it. It was after I graduated from college that I found myself reading books, mostly on theology. It was partly through reading that God ignited my heart and mind for him and for ministry. I’ve been a fairly active and consistent reader ever since.
However, to my frustration, there are just too many good books worth reading and not nearly enough time. Therefore, the discernment process is key… which books to read and when. This process is a work in progress for me. I have been helped by folks, such as Albert Mohler, for their wisdom on the subject.
One thing that has been very helpful for me is reading book summaries and reviews. I once heard Os Guinness say that you can’t possibly read everything you want to, so why not benefit from others who’ve read and summarized (and even evaluated) some of the books that you’ve been meaning to read. If the summary of the book really excites you, you can always buy the book for yourself.
There’s a very helpful post I came across a while back at Church Relevance on this point. I recommend that you read that as well.
Below are a few book summary providers that I’ve come across. Two of them I have already subscribed to. A couple of others I’m considering. If you have other recommendations, I’d love to hear from you. The first one, Christian Book Summaries, publishes on a variety of books. The other three focus on leadership, business, etc.
For books on theology, culture, worldview, etc., I usually read reviews from wherever and whomever I can. I have some great sources for them, such as WORLD Magazine, First Things, The Gospel Coalition, Christianity Today, Books & Culture, just to name a few.
Again, let me hear from you if you have some other good suggestions. I’m always looking for ways to read more (as well for ways to remember what I read).
Part of what I share with folks when they ask me about my call to ordained ministry goes something like this: When God called me I was already a Christian, but in and through that call to ordained ministry, I became a born-again student.
The word “squandered” aptly applies to what I did with four years of high school and four years of college. I cringe when I think back to wasted opportunities. In fact, I try not to bring that up around my parents too often as I can see their minds working to figure how much of their hard-earned money was put to disuse.
With my call to ordained ministry came clarity and passion to learn and grow… to develop into the man God called me to be. Certainly study is a key component of being a pastor as I’m called to teach God’s Word and all of its ramifications for every sphere of life. But my newfound love of learning (well, “newfound” as of 26 years ago) goes beyond that. I thoroughly enjoy reading about many topics as well as taking advantage of the increasing number of audio and video resources becoming available, not to mention all the FREE resources online.
My goal in the days to come via my website is to tell you about some of those resources and to encourage you to take advantage of the wonderful (and easy) opportunities to enjoy and grow from God’s special and general revelation.
By the way: I would LOVE it and be very grateful if you would also share resources that have served you well in your pursuit of lifelong learning. Let’s grow together!
Grace and Truth,
Matthew 13:44-46 - “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.  “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
Why aren’t people lined up at the doors of the church each and every Sunday morning? Why is it that only a fraction of the membership of the average church is involved in the life of its ministries? People stand in line for hours to purchase concert or football tickets. They tell all of their friends about the experience afterward. Why is there not the same passion for God and his Kingdom?
Jesus knew the answer to that question. Perhaps that’s why he finished so many of the parables with words such as, “Let him who has ears to hear, hear.” Humanly speaking, not everyone who hears the gospel of the Kingdom of God “gets it.” Light bulbs go off for some while others remain in the dark.
The Kingdom of heaven is in direct antithesis with the values and morals and thought-patterns of our fallen world. It just doesn’t make sense to those “of the world” (also known as, “worldlings”). They don’t see what the big deal is.
But when the light of grace breaks through and shines in the heart of such a worldling, something truly miraculous happens. (I know, for I was one.) Life appears where before there had only been a frozen and lifeless corpse. Spiritual synapses start firing. Blood starts flowing. The bulb comes on.
Suddenly, the treasure that is the Kingdom of God is discovered and seen for what it is. Joy saturates the soul. Whatever cost there is for this treasure is gladly paid in order to have it. No price is too high.
But I guess that’s the rub. For the price is your own life, your pride, your dependence upon yourself, your love of self, your commitment to gratify sinful desires, your love for the world and it’s way of thinking and living and a thousand other things besides. But at the end of the day, the cost of the Kingdom is your life – your very self. That has to die with Christ. And it hurts. Eustace discovered that his many scaly skins had to be peeled away by Aslan’s powerful and sharp claws. There was no other way.
But just as we die with Christ, we are also raised anew with Christ. We share in new life through his resurrection. Behold, he makes everything new.
Everything new looks different. Colors are vibrant. Scents smell fresher than ever before and remind you of a home you have never visited – your real home. Sounds are clear and beautiful. The veil has been lifted and you see life as it was intended – life in the Kingdom – life of the Kingdom.
What a treasure! What a pearl of great price! And it only costs you your life. A small price to pay if you have eyes to see and ears to hear.
Grace and Truth,