LentBlog 2015, Day 8: On the Means of Grace

Ephesians 2:1-10

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ[a]—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

NRSV


Second post for tonight because  had to catch up on missing last night’s post. I may blog about this passage again tomorrow, we’ll see. What’s speaking to me tonight, though, is Paul’s emphasis that salvation comes by grace. Now, this is an obvious theme of Paul and one of the 2 foundational doctrines of the Christian faith (the other is Trinity). Salvation by grace through faith is obvious to everyone within 10 feet of othodox Christian faith…

… and yet….

….we tend to de-emphasize the Means of Grace in the life of the church.

I’m 100% convinced, I think, that helping facilitate the connection between out people and the means of grace is the most important thing we pastors can do.

Think about it- If we’re saved by grace, and in our churches we aren’t paying attention to the ways in and though which grace moves in and out of the lives of our people, then we are missing out on the very ways the result of which our people are saved, made new, and formed into Christlikeness. If that’s true, then we are in danger of becoming the very thing the average atheist views the church as: just another human-made system designed to help people cope, feel better about themselves, control morality and ethics, and exert power, many times inappropriately.  IF we neglect the means of grace… IF our people never really connect with grace… then we are basically practical atheists. Such a church can do a lot of stuff, even in Jesus’ name, and never really see anyone truly changed.

I think that’s one of the things I like about Lent. Among other things, it offers us the chance to examine how the means of grace are working in our lives, and what patterns of living may we delete from or add to our lives in order to be better aligned toward the flow of God’s grace.

Blessings,

Mark

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LentBlog 2015 Day 4: On the salvation of all things…

Ephesians 1:8b-14

With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance,[c]having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will,12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this[d] is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

NRSV


 I’ll cut right to it tonight because it’s late and I’m bushed.

Verse 10 is hitting on something I’ve been thinking more about lately, especially since I am currently teaching a Theology course for the District Nazarene School of Ministry that deals with soteriology. God’s plan in Christ is “to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” 

Verses like this and others throughout scripture point to the idea that salvation is cosmic in nature. In Christ, the whole of creation is redeemed as he gathers everything to himself. We live in the country, far enough from a city that we can actually see stars at night. The other night arriving home from teaching, I looked up, saw the amazing view, and thought, “Lord, I sure hope you do redeem everything, because this is a pretty cool place you’ve made.”

What would it mean for all things to be included in what God is redeeming in Christ? For the “New Jerusalem” to descend from heaven to earth?

I think it might mean:

  • The universe is a good place, not a bad one (See Genesis 1).
  • The universe is headed in an overall good direction (as Christ will gather all things to himself) not a bad one.
  • Stewardship of the earth is important…
  • May the Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven… the dynamic here again is heaven coming to earth, not the residents of earth escaping to disembodied heavenly blessedness.
  • Gnosticism is for the birds…. though not really for real birds, because they tend to smell and be dirty, which is much too fleshly for a Gnostic.
  • If the Kingdom comes in its fullness to earth, I’m moving to Florida. 🙂

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog Day 16: On Salvation.

Romans 5:1-11.

I’m officiating a funeral tomorrow for a man I have never met. Sometimes that happens as a pastor. He and his family don’t have much affiliation with the church world, yet now that his time has come, they’re looking for faith to be a part of the memorial. I’m honored and blessed to help.

Here’s the deal: Everyone in the family I’ve talked to this week– sisters, brothers, children, Imagenieces and nephews– has told me the same story. When he received his cancer diagnosis in the fall, this man reacted in a totally unexpected way. They each described a peace, grace, and calm that came over him. He had a total peace with what was happening that they described as otherworldly. It had a profound impact on his family. Several of the family mentioned the peace was so obvious that they had no doubt God was really helping him.

In one conversation his sister, who is a professing Christian, said she will be feeling a lot better when she knows he’s in heaven.

And that got me thinking again. What is it, brothers and sisters, what makes us Christian? Is it praying the “sinner’s prayer?” Is it having a definable “conversion” experience or “praying through?” While I believe every journey has a beginning, and some folks’ journey has moments of crisis where they make a conscious decision to confess their sins and enter into relationship with Christ, I’ve been thinking for a long time now that the Billy Graham sinner’s prayer is not the only entrance into the kingdom.

Then I re-read Romans 5:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11 But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

And hearing his family’s testimonies of the change they saw in their father/uncle/brother, I’m feeling his sister has her answer.

Keeping my eyes open for places where the Kingdom breaks-in unexpectedly and surprisingly,

Mark