We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. 6 Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 7 But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you —see that you excel in this act of grace also. 2 Corinthians 8:1-7
The New Testament writers, inspired by the Holy Spirit, place emphasis upon the grace of God.
- In this passage, Paul features “the grace of God” as he urges us to excel in this “act of grace.” 2 Corinthians 8:1, 7
- James states,
- “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. James 1:16-18
- Matthew quotes Jesus,
- 5 These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. 9 Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. 11 And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.
God’s grace and God’s grace alone is responsible for existence and goodness.
This is true spiritually too.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10
As we move into the fast approaching holiday season, let’s place priority upon the exquisite joy of having received God’s grace and the accompanying delight of giving God’s grace.
We pledge to excel in giving God’s grace.
From God and through His grace we receive life, faith, hope and love.
- Having received God’s grace, I give life.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10
- Having received God’s grace, I give faith.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. Romans 12:3
- Having received God’s grace, I give hope.
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Romans 15:4
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Romans 15:13
- Having received God’s grace, I give love.
Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Romans 12:10
Notice the concept of excelling in three of these four passages.
- Jesus offers abundant
- Romans 15 speaks of abounding in hope.
- Romans 12 tells us to “outdo” one another in honoring.
In this way we are to truthfully be able to say:
- Having received God’s grace, I excel in giving life
- Having received God’s grace, I excel in giving faith.
- Having received God’s grace, I excel in giving hope.
- Having received God’s grace, I excel in giving love.
The best test of success is not external or internal in us but within those to whom we give this life, faith, hope and love.
Robert K. Greenleaf writes, in his impactful book, Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness,
“The best test is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?”
In the terms of this teaching, we might morph Mr. Greenleaf’s paragraph as follows:
The best test is: Do those who receive God’s grace through me grow as persons? Do they, while receiving, become more alive, faith-full, hope-full, love-full and more likely themselves to excel in giving God’s grace? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?
We give God’s grace by:
- Provision (actions)
The Bible urges us to excel in this grace.
- To superabound
- To be over and above
- To exceed the ordinary
- To go beyond the expected measure
- To surpass
As we approach the Lord’s Table, we remember God’s grand grace given to us. Ephesians 1:3-10
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Maybe you have heard it. The quote is almost everywhere, all the time.
“Preach the Gospel. If necessary, use words.”
Unfortunately, the famous guy to whom this quote is linked, apparently never said it. Most likely because it doesn’t truly capture the Biblical perspective of evangelism.
Preach, proclaim, tell, herald, teach and a host of other communication mechanisms are mostly verbal by definition.
“Faith comes by hearing,” The Bible doesn’t say, “Faith comes by seeing, touching, smelling or tasting.” Faith is communicated, primarily, by speakers to a hearers.
There are many ways to ‘speak’ the Gospel. Writing, for example, is a form of speech. Often I hear a word of faith while reading or listening to a faith filled song.
Maybe the smart guy of long ago actually said, “Preach the Gospel. It is necessary to use words.”
Use your words today and tell someone of God’s glorious, mysterious and gracious salvation.
Stories abound of help arriving just one moment too late. Often disaster lurks in delays.
A minister said (in my words), at the closing of his evangelistic sermon, “Please go home and think about this message. If you are ready to commit to Christ, come back tomorrow evening and we will lead you in making that commitment.”
That night the infamous Chicago fire burst into flames and people who had attended the evangelist’s service were eternally gone. Never again would the evangelist delay. He would call people to repentance immediately.
Look in everyone’s eyes that you see today. See them through the truth of their perishability.
Tell them quickly.
“We do our best work and live our best lives when we charge into the vast space between ourselves and others.” Joshua Wolf Shenk in Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs.
Why do we need to be encouraged to charge into the vast space between ourselves and others? Inertia, caution and disappointment must be overcome to effectively charge into this sacred space. To these obstacles we add:
- Suspicion of the other
- Awareness of lack of human graciousness
- I will be judged
- I will be excluded
- I will be punished or made to pay the price.
“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties . . . but right through every human heart.” (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago: 1958)
What is in this vast space of the human heart? Colossians 3:5-17
|5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you:
||I might feel
|· Sexual immorality
||You will take advantage of me
||I might lose purity
||I might lose sight of wisdom
|· Evil desire
||You see me through the lens of evil desire
||I am a means to an end rather than a person
||I exist to serve you and your false gods
|On account of these the wrath of God is coming vs. 6
||This is not minor. God’s wrath is coming on account of these!
|In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.
||These may have been in our past when we were living in them. Not any longer. We live a new life in Christ!
|But now you must put them all away:
||I might feel
||I am the recipient of your outburst of emotion
||I am the recipient of your emotion with vindictive action.
||I am the recipient of your desire to inflict harm and suffering
||My character is verbally defamed and my reputation damaged
|· Obscene talk
||I am the recipient of talk that is offensive to morality and decency.
|· Do not lie to one another
||I never know the truth or what is being said about me
Without a spectacular work of God in the vast space between one another, can we imagine the danger of navigating the space between (Colossians 3:11)
- Greek and Jew? The other is of a different nation, ethnicity, language etc.
- Circumcised and uncircumcised? The other is of a different religious
- Barbarian and Scythian? The other is of a different civility.
- Slave and free? The other is of a different social or economic
Something AMAZING happens when two people respond to Jesus’ charge into the space of our hearts. Colossians 3:11
“but Christ is all, and in all.”
|12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
||I might feel
|· Compassionate hearts,
||My best interest is being considered
||I am the recipient of grace in action
||My low estate isn’t looked down upon
||I am being treated gently
||You have time for me to grow and develop
|· Bearing with one another
||You are lifting me and holding me up
|· Forgiving each other as the Lord has forgiven
||You extend to me the forgiveness you received from the Lord
|And above all these, put on love which binds everything together in perfect harmony
||Above all……I am loved by you and we are bound together in perfect harmony
|Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts
|Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly
|· Teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom
|· Singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God
|Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus
|Giving thanks to God the Father through Jesus.
Burkina Faso is populated by amazing, kind, gentle, honest, loyal, polite and loving people. Into this delightful and peaceful mix of animists, Muslims and Christians, religious persecution has intruded.
Extremists hell bent on maiming and killing anyone who holds views different from their radical Islamic beliefs are methodically, intentionally, and ruthlessly being killed.
I am just one of many deeply concerned fans of the Burkinabe. But I am one. I have voice. With God’s grace I can shout this injustice from my internet rooftop.
My prayer is for information to lead to transformation.
Burkina Faso, having no significant natural resources, minimal GDP (123 of 186 according to the 2018 report of the International Monetary Fund) and very little for which more powerful nations lust, is often ignored at best and abused at worst.
Will you join me in praying, communicating and giving to bring an end to the senseless slaughter of these our sisters and brothers?
To become a person of fully realized potential I must develop and maintain a positive faith attitude.
Pastor Neale Sheneman, founding pastor of MCA Church, read Norman Vincent Peale’s “The Power of Positive Thinking” every year.
The following comparison between negative self talk and positive thinking is from “Positive Thinking: Stop Negative Self Talk to Reduce Stress” on the Mayo Clinic Healthy Lifestyle web site.
Negative Self Talk
I’ve never done it before.
|It is an opportunity to learn something new.
|It’s too complicated.
I’ll tackle it from a different angle.
|I don’t have the resources.
Necessity is the mother of invention.
There is no way this will work.
|I can try to make it work.
It’s too radical a change.
|Let’s take a chance.
Our founder loved positive thinking. Yet he stated regularly, “Positive thinking isn’t enough! You must develop a positive faith attitude.”
There are similarities between Pastor Peale’s positive thinking and Pastor Sheneman’s positive faith attitude.
First, both feature the power and effectiveness of one’s thoughts and attitudes.
- Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Proverbs 4:23
- 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8-9
Second, both feature positivity and optimism.
Optimism is a mental attitude reflecting a belief or hope that the outcome of some specific endeavor, or outcomes in general, will be positive, favorable, and desirable. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Optimism
Optimistic people (from the Latin word optimum) are always looking on the bright side.
There are significant differences between positive thinking and a positive faith attitude.
- Positive thinking alone is temporary. A positive faith attitude anchored in saving faith is eternal.
- 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 1 John 2:17
- Positive thinking begins and ends in the human mind. A positive faith attitude begins and ends with God.
- 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. James 2:22-24
- Positive thinking relies on the capacity of the human brain. A positive faith attitude relies on the capacities of the Almighty God.
- 20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us… Ephesians 3:20
- Positive thinking is something you hold. A positive faith attitude holds
- 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39
We can learn much about Hope (the Christian’s positive faith attitude) in Romans 15:13.
| May the God of hope
with all joy and peace
so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
|This hope is sourced in God.
This hope is God’s and He pours it into you.
This hope is characterized by God’s joy and His peace.
This hope is God’s response to your believing.
You abound in this hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Place your faith in Jesus Christ for salvation.
- Determine to live each moment with the God of hope filling you with all joy and peace.
- Remind yourself many times each day, “Like Abraham, I believe God.”
- Several times each day state, “I am abounding in hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.”
The Kazakhs people are both an ethnic group and a nation. Most Kazakhs live in Kazakhstan, the world’s largest land-locked country.
Though traditionally referring only to ethnic Kazakhs, including those living in China, Russia, Turkey, Uzbekistan and other neighbouring countries, the term “Kazakh” is increasingly being used to refer to any inhabitant of Kazakhstan, including non-Kazakhs. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kazakhstan
We pray for the growing number of Kazakhs Christians to be strengthened in faith, empowered in ministry and united in relationships.
Bosnia and Herzegovina would be blessed by a giant dose of God’s reconciling love. Following extreme difficulties in 1990, many people there are polarized in cultural/religious groups. Muslims, Catholics and Orthodox have deep roots and there is plenty of room for misunderstanding.
Let us pray for the gracious gift of God’s love to rule in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Jesus is Lord in Bosnia and Herzegovina!
As we seek to become people of fully realized potential, we ask a most vital question, “Is God committed to me and to the realization of my fullest potential?”
From Heidi Reeder, author of Commit to Win: How to Harness the Four Elements of Commitment to Reach Your Goals, we understand her perspective of the scientific equation of commitment.
(Treasure – Troubles) + Contributions – Choices = Commitment
When we consider God’s relationship with us through the framework of Heidi Reeder’s commitment equation will we find that He is committed to us?
In a previous presentation we determined those who actively trust in Jesus for salvation are treasured by God.
I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. Jeremiah 31:3
Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine. Exodus 19:5
“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” Deuteronomy 7:6
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2:9, 10
The commitment equation requires us to subtract from the treasure quotient the degree to which the entity is troublesome.
Therefore, in determining God’s commitment to me, it is urgent for me to consider:
- Are human beings trouble for God?
- If so, how does the trouble I cause Him impact His commitment to me?
Our Resurrection Sunday teaching highlighted “The Impossible Possibility” as a moniker for Jesus. Being fully human and fully God, Jesus was both impossible and possible.
- Man can’t be God, but Jesus is.
- God can’t be human, but Jesus is.
In what we might call a Divine Paradox, opposites are both equally true in God.
“A paradox is a statement that, despite apparently valid reasoning from true premises, leads to an apparently-self-contradictory or logically unacceptable conclusion. A paradox involves contradictory-yet-interrelated elements that exist simultaneously and persist over time.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradox
True Premise One
God cannot be troubled.
True Premise Two
God is troubled by human beings.
Christians who are uncomfortable with paradox create ways to remove tension from the Biblical record. In understanding today’s Old Testament text (Genesis 6:5-8), for example, their belief requires them to remove the tension created by the troubling of God by humans.
“The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”
Notice what is happening in the heart of God in verse 6 and 7.
- The Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth,
- And it grieved him to his heart.
- For I am sorry that I have made them.
God’s response to “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” was “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land.”
God’s response is not in anger but from His heart of great compassion that was grieved and sorrowful.
The vengeance of God is the other side of His great compassion.
Since God is totally committed to His creation He must take action against that which destroys it.
Since God loves humanity, He must take action against that which destroys humanity.
In the Genesis flood, mankind experienced the other side of God’s compassion; His vengeance.
Humanity today is no better than the humanity of Noah’s day. Their rebellion is our rebellion. Their wickedness is our wickedness.
It is truly a paradox, an impossible possibility. Although God cannot be troubled, you and I trouble the heart of God.
Notice the shift in the heart of God following the flood. Genesis 8:21-22
“And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. 22 While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”
Walter Brueggemann states this change beautifully.
What has happened is a change wrought in the heart of God, who will no longer take vengeance. The move in God’s heart from 6:5-7 to 8:21 suggests that instead of humankind suffering, God takes the suffering as “his” own. God resolves to turn the grief in on “himself” rather than to rage against “his” creation. God bears the vengeance of God in order that “his” creation can have compassion. Praying the Psalms, page 77
Since my sin (like Noah’s generation) is troubling for God, how then will I experience the other side of God’s great compassion (vengeance)?
In what ways will I experience the anger of God? The wrath of God? The judgement of God?
Some people will argue, “God is love and He cannot be grieved, filled with sorrow or anger. He never pours out wrath and judgement.”
Richard Niebuhr perceived this view in 1937. “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” The Kingdom of God in America, New York: Harper & Row, 1959 , p. 193.
God’s great compassion and the other side of His compassion are the same yesterday, today and forever. This isn’t a new day in which the God of the Old Testament somehow came to His senses and overcame a wrath problem.
Jesus’ death on the cross is the new flood.
The death of Jesus on the cross is the new ark.
I need not experience the vengeance and wrath of God because “Jesus, God’s son, took my place.”
On the cross God decisively demonstrated His great compassion for me. Because He loves me, He destroyed that which would destroy me.
On the cross God decisively demonstrated the other side of His great compassion, His vengeance. Because He loves me, He took His vengeance in upon Himself.
Notice the Bible’s revelation of the other side of God’s compassion for those who reject His provision on the cross.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.
but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.
The Gospel is GOOD NEWS! God is the Impossible Possibility.
On the cross He has given us His compassion and taken the other side of His compassion in upon Himself.
In trusting Jesus you and I are the recipients of God’s great compassion.
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
1 Thessalonians 5:9
For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,
Am I trouble for God? Yes, in every way.
Am I trouble for God? No, He took my trouble and His response to my trouble in upon Himself.
God is committed to me.
God treasures me.
God’s Son became my trouble.
God’s Son contributed His all for me in receiving God’s vengeance and wrath for my trouble.
What must I “take in upon myself” so that my closest friends and my tribe receive God’s compassion through me?
My fullest potential is only realized when I place my trust in Jesus’ ministry on the cross and extend this same love and grace to others. John 15:12, 13
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
MCA LIFE GROUP HOME WORK
Listen – My Story
- What is the most delightful recent addition to your life story?
- In what ways did you access Heaven’s Gates and Hell’s Flames for your evangelism ministry?
Learn – Digging Deeper
- How comfortable are you with Biblical revelation of God’s wrath, anger or judgement? Consider John 3:36
- How comfortable are you with the Biblical revelation that in trusting Jesus for salvation He takes our place? Read Romans 5:6-11 and talk through the various things Jesus has done for us.
Lift – Prayer
- How would you like your Life Group to pray for you today?
- Is there someone you hope receives the wrath of God? Ask God to change your heart. Pray for them.
- Do you carry condemnation from something you have already confessed to God in repentance? Pray to trust God’s promise of removing His wrath.
Life – Taking it Home
- What is the Holy Spirit asking you to add, delete or recalibrate in your life?
- God’s commitment to you is costly beyond measure. To whom must you reflect costly commitment this week?
The Psalms: Window and Mirrors
In the Psalter we have both windows and mirrors.
- Through them we observe humans in interconnectivity with the Creator and His creation.
- By them we see deeply into our own humanity.
Immersing ourselves in the Psalms we begin to ask, “Am I reading the Psalms or are the Psalms reading me?”
All the realities of human life are embraced in the Psalms.
To understand the Psalms, one must be interacting in real time with God, God’s creation, humans and the self.
The effectiveness of the Psalms is directly correlated to Biblical self-awareness.
Frederick Buechner accurately states, “The story of any one of us is in some measure the story of us all.”
“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”
― Frederick Buechner, Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation
In listening to the lives of others and our own, we might see a synthesis of Paul Ricoeur’s work as presented by Walter Brueggemann.
“Our life of faith consists in moving with God in terms of:
- Being securely oriented;
- Being painfully disoriented; and
- Being surprisingly reoriented.”
Praying the Psalms, Walter Brueggemann, page 2
|Being securely oriented
||Being painfully disoriented
||Being surprisingly reoriented
|Psalms of Praise
||Psalms of Protest
||Psalms of Thanksgiving
“But there are those (and this is our primary concern here) who have regular access to the psalms of high celebration but have been so numbed to their own experience that the words of the psalm have no counterpart in their own life experience.” Praying the Psalms, Walter Brueggemann, page 2
The Psalter is a window into the orientation, disorientation and reorientation of others.
The Psalter is a mirror into the orientation, disorientation and reorientation of our selves.
Thus we shake off any and all numbness to our own lives and fully embrace our own psalms of praise, protest and thanksgiving.