Fairmeadow Community Church of The Nazarene
August 15, 2021
- Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)
- I Have Decided To Follow Jesus
- 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.Intro Many people set out to live a godly life. Of course there’s only one true starting point for such a life: confessing Jesus Christ as Lord. We can’t just snuggle up to other people who are following Jesus and hang around and try to act like them and expect our life to change. The barrier to our relationship with God is the problem of sin. Through prevenient grace God convicts us of our sin. That means we begin to feel uncomfortable about actions that fall short God’s ideal. The only way to respond is to admit our sin, confess to God what we’ve done wrong and make a clean break from it with God’s help.9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.Beyond this: we make commitments about who Jesus is and what our relationship to him will be:9 because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.Coming to grips with our own sin and coming to grips with who Jesus is gives us a whole new platform for building our lives. The Grace of God convicts us, saves us, and defines the goal of living: Love. There is an initial excitement. There is the feeling of joy when we first encounter the transforming grace of God. There are epic moments. There are powerful emotions. There are bold commitments and declarations.But all too often: boom suddenly we look around and people are gone. Why do people do this?Imagine a young man who had a rough beginning. Then he joined the military and learned some discipline. Then he experienced some traumatic experiences overseas. But he served his country and then entered a management training program for a big box store. He made a commitment to the company leadership and the company values. He puts his name tag on and begins working alongside an experienced manager. Finally, the day arrives and he receives word he will be given a job as the manager of very good store. It’s his last day of training. A few minutes later, he’s doing something so simple, something everyone in the department has done a dozen times. He’s selling someone a fishing license. $20 or less. He’s filling out the forms in triplicate. He’s documenting it with the print out in the register. He takes the cash the person pays with... and he sticks it in his pocket. A few minutes later, security comes around to change out the cash drawer. It comes up short. It’s in his pocket. Poof. He is escorted to the door and never seen again...Was it a mistake? Some say so. But maybe it was something different. The idea of taking on this new life was thrilling and gave purpose to a few months of his life. But when it came down to actually taking the job, well now it suddenly got very real. Something is required of us to begin a journey. Something else is required to keep going and fulfill our purpose. It’s true at a big box store. It’s true in the life of a disciple of Jesus.If people have failed to dig roots through steady, consistent practices of faith, they will often disappear when the emotions of faith and the novelty of grace wear off.No Reductions of GraceWe can’t reduce the Grace of God. It’s big. And we can’t try to squeeze it into a bottle we can control. We will stifle God’s grace and limit our growth.What sustains the grace at work in our lives? This can be tricky because to some this will feel like works righteousness. They need to understand there is a difference between working to try to earn grace and working the grace God has afforded us. Too often, we have reduced the practice of faith to that “one thing.” For some it’s an experience:These people say: worship needs to be a certain way so I can feel good feelings I associate with God or I can’t grow. Worship is important, but we can’t become addicted to experiences. We can’t hop from one worship experience or altar call to the next, waiting to ‘feel’ God. There will come a time when we face a situation where we don’t ‘feel’ God, and when that happens, it’s tempting to wonder if any of it was real. But our feelings don’t dictate or limit the grace of God. For some it’s behaviors: sure, we received grace as a gift, but now we need to put into place all the rules and behaviors. Grace was a freeing gift. Our rules become our constraints on sin- fulness, which often leads to legalism. Legalism can’t sustain a meaningful journey of grace. Obeying God is not about checking off a list of rules, especially if our hearts aren’t in it. This is another way to reduce grace, to reduce our relationship with God to something small and shallow.For some it’s about knowledge: we sustain our faith and grace by having the right knowledge. We spend our lives learning, defending, and arguing propositional truths. It’s about the right interpretation of the Bible, the right theological doctrines. Right knowledge without a genuine relationship will leave us wanting. Faith and grace can’t be reduced to set of ideas about God. Again that would be reducing or shrinking things down to a memorization trick. It’s about faith IN God. God wants to transform us and renew our minds and this does involve learning. But it’s seeking to apply that learning that releases its power. For others it’s about being super-spiritual: it’s about doing more and more. We attack our spirituality with the same vigor soldiers attack their training. We become obsessive about our quiet time. We beat ourselves up for perceived failures of discipline. Soon we’ll become defeated because we reduced grace to only human effort. God is the one who makes our effort possible by Grace.There’s nothing wrong with several of these things. Experiences are good. Rules can be used to create helpful boundaries, we need to know what we believe, and spiritual disciplines play an important role. But when we reduce God or reduce grace to one of these are are trusting in the wrong thing. Also, none of these alone is sufficient.Grace accepts us where we are but nudges us forward, giving us strength to cooperate as God calls us heavenward. We lean in with the strength God provides to cooperate with Grace. We pray, we read, we gather, we encourage, we serve, we love and God uses all that to form us in faith to his glory. But it’s alive, it’s dynamic, it’s authentic. We can’t fake it or make it happen.Means of GraceJohn Wesley spoke of two kinds of means of grace: works of piety and works of mercyWorks of piety include prayer, Scripture, communion, worship, fasting, etc...Works of mercy include holy fellowship, encouragement, serving the needs of others, using our spiritual gifts to serve the church family,The fruit of the Spirit being produced in our lives is the goal.22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.The means are the things we do to cooperate with this happening. It’s not just mystical or mega-spiritual how it happens. It’s in the repetition that character is formed. Wesley called them holy tempers or attitudes of the heart formed like Christ over time.Wesley wanted people connected in groups like Sunday School that follows church. Isolation will kill our growth.Now it doesn’t look identical in each life. Some people have an easier time by nature than others do by grace. But we see the progress in each life.Where before we come to Christ we may struggle with pride, irreverence, sentimentality, distrust, disobedience, impenitence, vanity, arrogance, resentment, envy, covetousness, greed, gluttony, lust or sloth. Our basic makeup doesn’t change. We may still have certain struggles that follow us into the journey of grace. But now there is a plan to help us. Now there are steps to take to help us let go of the old and take hold of the new...And it becomes very practical and very uncomfortable at times if we are to make progress. Trying to forgive someone hurts whether it’s the first time or the 100th time. Working to restore a broken relationship is complicated and messy vs just walking away. If we are truly on the journey of grace we can say I’m sorry for my part and work toward healing and reconciliation. Saying no to temptation doesn’t get any easier, either. But there are some tricks to the trade of growing in grace. If you know you shouldn’t smoke, don’t place a carton nearby while you watch old movies… If lust is your struggle you can avoid placing yourself in a situation where its fires can be kindled.What you will find as a Christians is there are a lot of good and wonderful positive things to do. The experienced believer who is making progress simply doesn’t have time for small sins. So keeping yourself occupied with what God is asking you to do is a good way to avoid many a temptation.Also the Christian knows to stop and pray. Tell your mind to STOP going down that path. Write it on a card and shout it out loud if you have to. Then immediately fill your mind with positive thoughts from Scripture. As I’ve said before right it on the other side. Start the habit of weeding your mind of wandering thoughts.We can also phone a friend. Contact a family member or trusted mature Christian friend, probably of the same sex and ask them to pray with you right now. Obviously don’t call the person you should not call.And just in general have a plan for doing the right things and you may discover days have passed and you haven’t even thought about it. Keep that momentum going and soon you have some holy habits which will start replacing deadly sins with fruit of the spirit.28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”A yoke is from farming. It’s a piece of wood that keeps animals pulling together as they work. It’s still a yoke, right? It’s still guiding you where you should go… It’s still limiting you from doing some things the world will tell you you must do. But it’s not heavy like the devil would have you think. You’re learning from Jesus. You’re learning to live in new ways. Eventually these feel better than the old ways. Now your way of life is taking you somewhere good. You’ve got help because you’re part of God’s family, the church family. People help you and you are helping bring others along...God’s sustaining grace carries us through the challenges and into growing relationships and into maturity.Our hearts can be changed in an instant in salvation and then more deeply in sanctification. But actual character takes time.9 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.12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.Is what we do or what God does? Yes. Only God can save us, amen? Only God can make us holy, amen? But only we can say yes to God. Only we can do his will. God calls, God offers, we choose, God empowers, we engage in habits that form character. Maybe the reason old…I’ll make up a name— old Billy Ray is a jerk is because he comes from a long line of jerks. He comes by it honest as they say. But is there hope for old Billy Ray? Can he grow? Can he change? With the help of God and loving friends and new habits of thought and tongue, could he be 12% less jerky by this time next year? Would that change the world? It just might...God’s sustaining grace, keeps our momentum going in Him...The Practice of Nurturing GraceLook back to our Acts passage. From the earliest moments, the members of the early church instituted consistent communal practices that were necessary to shape and sustain their lives in Christ.They are together, not lone rangers. They experience God together. They meet regularly together. They are vulnerable together. They practice the faith together. They learn together. They witness together.Oh they had all the right instincts at first. They were tending to the things of God—works of piety. They were tending to each other—works of mercy. Just by being radically together in this they gave themselves such a great chance to succeed. By the grace of God and by their cooperating effort they did succeed in growing into a body of people who changed their world. The message about Jesus became the life of Jesus being lived out in community. People saw the fruit of the spirit and they wanted to taste of it, too.47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.Celebration I want you to close your eyes… I want you to focus your mind. This message is mostly for those already on the journey of grace. None of this works if you haven’t confessed your sins, confessed that Jesus is Lord, believed God raised him from the dead. Start there. To go on in grace keep surrendering your life. Keep consecrating your life to God. Ask him to sanctify you through and through...But if that’s where we are this morning, we still need God to form us more deeply, to change our character. It’s not a magic trick, it requires our response. We don’t have to satisfy someone else’s unkind standard for us. Let that go. But we are accountable to one another to be on the journey. So let that in. Nobody is perfect. Let that go. But God can fill your life with His perfect love. Let that in. If you’re tired and weary, come and find rest for your soul. But take on his yoke or his guiding hand and let him teach you, let him nudge you into new habits within and without, alone and with others.It can seem overwhelming when we think about all the ways we need to grow. So let the Spirit speak today. Is there one area of life where God is asking you to make a change? Do you need some new momentum to keep you growing? Is God showing you one way you contribute to the problem? Is God showing you one way you could be part of the solution? Trust that it’s God working in you both to will and to do his good pleasure. But also realize it’s up to you to let it happen. To do the new things that will lead to holy habits that form holy character...If you’re responding to God favorably, if you’re leaning in to new growth and new life, please acknowledge it this morning…Father, thank you for working in the lives of your people. May the faithfulness of Jesus be reproduced in our lives. The intersection of means of grace—acts of piety and acts of mercy, with your power produces a holy character in us. May we indeed take it seriously enough to work out our salvation as we cooperate with your great work in our lives. There is nothing more important we could do with our time and energy on earth in this generation. Make it so in our lives through Jesus’ name we ask. Amen.7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.What God is doing in you is truly a treasure. Value it highly. Don’t ignore it or take it for granted. May the life of Jesus be seen in all of us to his glory...
1 John 1:9NRSV
2 Corinthians 4:7–10NRSV
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