Friday, October 30, 2015

Pragmatic Grace -- Sunday sermon devotional -- 3

      It's no secret that "grace" is the primary message of today's evangelical church. It is certainly a message that has been received with many open arms and accompanying sighs of relief. This message of grace, rightly or wrongly, has made a good many Christians feel quite a bit better about themselves.
       But as I have said before, grace works. It does not stop at salvation by merely bringing us into the body of Christ, but it goes on to work in and through us into that body for its good and growth. Grace must be expressed in the church in ways that are profitable and practical. It must be used, not merely admired. When we use grace to bring about the betterment of others, we will find that everyone will benefit, for grace imparted is grace received, which, in turn, is grace empowered, something that is unstoppable.
     Our first task in making grace work it to embrace it fully, and, consequently, to live it out. Grace demands more than a passing interest or a warm feeling. Grace, because it is a gift of God, always pushes its way to the forefront of our lives. It touches everything we do and factors in to everything we feel. If we turn away from grace, try to ignore it or keep it in a special spiritual corner or our lives, we will find that we are powerless to deal with many of the negative forces that press in on us daily. Embracing grace is literally like giving a hug; we hold it close to our souls with feelings of joy and contentment. We know that it is good and precious because love has proven it to be valuable. Grace must be taken to heart. It must become our most prized possession.
      Like any thing or relationship that is worthwhile, we need to work to make it better. Our understanding of grace must be developed and deepened. Prayer and Bible study are two powerful tools we can use to familiarize ourselves with the ways of grace. Getting to know Christians who are or have been shining examples of gracious behaviour will teach us how to apply grace to everyday life at home and in the church. Anyone who receives grace will show their understanding of it by being gracious, and this is the way of life that truly makes a difference.
     Just as the grace we received from Christ, the saving grace of God, gave us many benefits, grace in our lives bestows benefits on others. The writer of Hebrews instructs us: "Therefore strengthen your tired hands and weakened knees...Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness...Make sure that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no root of bitterness springs up, causing trouble and by it, defiling many." (12:12-15) Gracious living requires hard work and dedication. It means persevering even when we are tired or worn out by something or even someone. While doing the work of grace, we must keep our eyes fixed on God, for if we are distracted by the chaos in which grace labours, it will be easy for us to become negative, bitter and discouraged. When that happens our good efforts are tainted with selfishness, turning a good thing into "trouble" for all concerned.
     In 2Tim. 2, the Apostle Paul reminds us to look to Jesus as our perfect example of a life of grace: " strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus." But he is not referring to "fuzzy-feeling" grace.  He is talking about the grace that shines through suffering, hard times and even rejection. Jesus suffered so that we might be saved by "grace through faith." Bringing the good news of salvation to others often includes times of suffering. Paul says we need to be as self-disciplined in our christian life as soldiers and athletes are in their pursuits. This requires constant attention and detailed vigilance. He says we need to be like a "hardworking farmer" who not only labors long and hard, but exhibits steady patience while waiting for his goals to be realized. Grace will not allow others to fail, even if that demands strenuous work.
     Grace that works, that looks after others, that cares about and encourages another person, is a hard and even messy business. But it is immeasurably worth it. Once again, Christ is our example -- "...who for the joy that was lay before him endured a cross..." Whenever we feel that we are done or even fed up with living and acting graciously, God gives us the strength to go on. He gives us "grace upon grace" that proves to be strong and resilient. This strong grace, acting through unconditional love, truly makes a difference in our lives, in the lives of others and in the church, who has been called, received, and commissioned by love without limits, with grace beyond measure.  (sermons from Aug. 23 and Aug. 30)

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