Zis-N-Zat From Pastor Asher

God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; July 26, 2015

Scriptures for this Sunday: Romans 3:10-20; James 4:1-8

You can read these Scriptures here: NRSV / NIV2010

Hymns:

UMH 368 – My Hope is Built

UMH 378 – Amazing Grace

UMH 57 – O For a Thousand Tongues To Sing

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Two weeks ago we looked at what it means that we live in a fallen world. Last week we looked at what it means that we are created in the image of God. The obvious question is, “Why are we talking about things that most of us learned in Sunday School when we were knee high to a grasshopper?”

Our church does not live in a vacuum; we live in a community, and the men and women outside the walls of this building have questions of faith and struggle with them just like we do. When our neighbors come through these doors they are looking for God. They are looking for answers to tough questions of faith that they struggle with. That is why it is important for us to revisit the basic concepts of our faith from time to time so that we can better articulate our thoughts and experiences in today’s vernacular whenever the opportunity presents itself.

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Last year (July 30, 2014 to be exact), the Holy Father Francis published a short reflection with ten (10) rules for a happier life. Rule number nine is titled, “Don’t proselytize; respect others’ beliefs.”

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The Holy Father writes, “We can inspire others through witness so that one grows together in communicating. But the worst thing of all is religious proselytism, which paralyzes: ‘I am talking with you in order to persuade you,’ No. Each person dialogues, starting with his and her own identity. The church grows by attraction, not proselytizing” (Inqistr.com).

We all have to revisit the basic concepts of our faith from time to time so that we can stay rooted in Scripture and in the Traditions of our faith. We revisit the basic concepts to see how our personal Experiences reflect the Scriptures and how our Traditions infuse our lives with meaning. That helps us to face life and that helps us to be more effective [or to make rational decisions, to use our Reason and intellect] in helping our neighbors to see the presence of God in the world that we share, so that we can build meaningful relationships. Our hope is that EVENTUALLY these relationships will lead to church growth.

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In his letter to Hebrews, Chapter 11 verse 1, Paul taught that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence [or conviction] of things [felt and experienced, but] not seen” (Paraphrase, aft). Faith is belief in something that is not based on proof. Faith is NOT about knowledge; faith is about feelings that are felt and experienced on a visceral level. That is why it is so difficult to explain what it really means that we are created in the image of God. That is why it is difficult to explain how and why prayer works. That is why we can correctly use words like “Soul,” “Grace,” “Evil,” and “Heaven” in a sentence but most of us have a difficult time explaining what these words mean in a such a way that our unchurched neighbors, or even recent Christian converts, can relate to or understand.

Our faith is rooted in our relationship with God, and we gain our understanding of God based on the stories that are gleaned from the Bible and our personal experiences somewhere along our lives’ journeys. That is why all of us have complex and nuanced reasons for why we have faith and how we live our faith and devotion to God. Add to this the reality that our culture drowns our very souls in a cacophony of materialistic noise, and the result is that we are no longer challenged to think about our faith and our place in God’s creation. We have faith, we just don’t think about it much. Instead, we try to fit our infinite God into our finite brains.

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These are some of the reasons why God gave us God’s Grace, and that is what I want to talk about today. We tend to use {“} “God’s Grace” as a catchall when we don’t know what else to say; i.e. someone tells us about something that happened yesterday and we don’t know how to respond so we say, “God’s Grace was with you.” In reality maybe it was a miracle, or maybe it was sheer, dumb luck, or maybe God has plans for us, or maybe God is using what happened yesterday to shake us up and get us to start thinking about our lives and our relationship with God, NOT in superficial terms but in REAL, WELL THOUGHT OUT, REASONED AND REALISTIC terms.

{Illustration:  See this video referenced in a post on my blog – CLICK ME)

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So what is God’s Grace? Divine Grace is an ongoing, relationship-building energy that connects God and God’s Creation; that energy is at work everywhere and at all times; it is ALWAYS there. When we make a choice to accept God’s grace, when we make a conscious choice to plug into it; we consciously experience a connection to God, and through God, to each other. As a result communities grow stronger, lives are transformed, bad habits are resisted and there is harmony and tolerance in the community. Divine Grace is God’s empowering presence in the lives of God’s human children, enabling us to be the best version of what God imagined us to be when God created us. Divine Grace magnifies and illuminates for us God’s hopes for our lives as we live them. God’s Grace empowers us to be the best stewards of God’s Creation at the time and place where we live our earthly lives.

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God’s Grace manifests itself in our lives even prior to our knowing or accepting God’s existence. God’s Grace that guides our lives prior to our turning to God is usually called Prevenient Grace. Prevenient grace invites us to recognize that all of us are sinners and that Jesus paid for our sins and transgressions; prevenient grace prepares us to recognize and to become conscious of God’s presence in our lives (“Cloud of Witnesses” Hebrews 12:1).

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In the life of every individual there is at least one moment when we recognize our sinfulness, when we recognize God’s presence and God’s role in our lives (who among has not had our heart broken at least once).

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That is a “moment” of justifying grace; sometimes it is called the moment of conversion; sometimes it is called the moment when we are born again of the Spirit from above (John 3, Jesus’ heart-to-heart with Nicodemus). The “moment” of justifying grace is usually followed by a period of time (or a process) when we come to fully comprehend what the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ actually means to EACH ONE OF US as we live our lives and as we prepare to face eternity.

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Sanctifying grace results in our desire to foster an ever-growing, vibrant and productive relationship with God through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as we serve God in ALL aspects of our lives.

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Experiencing God’s Grace does change us.

{Illustration}

Story from Nicaragua

Story from Cuba — If God could use Balaam’s Donkey [Numbers 22:21-41], God can use a Santeria Priest

{//Illustration}

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These are just a couple of experiences when I looked straight into the face of God. In these experiences I saw God’s Grace. In these experiences I saw God’s Love and Energy flowing to God’s Creation, and by that Grace I am here to tell these stories.

Jesus came showing his love to his beloved people and to the Church as it was in his time. Jesus came to show that every generation needs new thinking and new blood to confront the future that it faces. That is what God’s Grace is about.

James 4:1-2a, 8 NRSV

4:1 Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you?  2 You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts.

6 But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

Where and when have you seen God’s Grace in your life? Is your heart full of God’s Grace? How has God’s Grace changed the way you live your life? What do you do with that wonderful knowledge?

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Divine grace is an ongoing, relationship-building energy that connects God and God’s Creation; that energy is at work everywhere and at all times; it is ALWAYS there. Are you plugged In?

Works Cited

Inqistr.com. “Pope Francis Lists His 10 Tips For Happiness Drawn From Personal Experience. No 9. Will Pleasantly Shock You .” 01 08 2014. Inqistr. http://www.inquisitr.com/1384969/pope-francis-lists-his-10-tips-for-happiness-drawn-from-personal-experience-no-9-will-pleasantly-shock-you/. 09 07 2015.

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