Thursday, June 24, 2010

But Wait....There's More

I had to prepare a sermon to give for a class I took in May. It was based on Romans 5:1-11 NRSV

I am a sinner. I have no problem admitting this, because it’s just who I am. I know where I’ve been, I know what I’ve done and I know that I don’t deserve any of the blessings that God has put into my life.

About 8 years ago I decided that I was going to help out with the VBS at the Church I had recently started attending with my family. I figured that was something that a “good mom” who wanted to raise her children in the Church in the summer did. Let me tell you, I was so lost and confused! I had NO CLUE what was going on. I had no clue what I was doing. I was relieved to have been given the preschool aged children and even more thrilled that there were only a couple of them. It would be easier to fake my way through the lesson that way, I thought. On the evening of closing we were getting ready to walk down the aisle of the sanctuary with the kids and we were all given little flash lights and told to sing “This Little Light of Mine”. Again I was lost. I did no know this song. It wasn’t one that we had sung during our week at VBS WHY were we singing it now?? So, again, I faked it….I figured I’d just move my lips and hope no one noticed that I didn’t know the words.

Over the course of the next four years, God continued to nudge me into opportunities to grow in my faith and each time I was able to have a little more confidence in what I was doing and I began to fake it less and less.

Then God brought me the fork in the road of my life. I needed to decide if I was I going to continue to be the driver or hand the wheel over to My Creator.
We’ve each been at that fork in the road where we’ve had to decide which direction we were going to travel. For some of us it was an easy decision, others it was a little harder. Some of us may have gone in circles only to come to the fork again and again until the decision was made. But when we make that choice to choose life over death, the blessings from that begin immediately.

The life-saving moment of choosing the path in which we become justified, or made right with God is just the beginning. If I were trying to sell a relationship with God when I got to the selling point of justification, I’d say, “But wait….there’s more!!” There is so much more. This scripture from Romans tells us of all the good things that are to come after you have been made right with God.

It took me 29 years to get to that point and I kind of feel like I really missed out on some good things that I really could have used earlier in life and that I’m playing catch up. But I rejoice in the fact that I am where I am.
Being made right with God not only brings us the gift of salvation but we also find ourselves at peace with God, we find ourselves standing in His Grace and we are filled with the hope that God will not disappoint. All of these fruits are what make life now a little bit sweeter.

The scripture says, “Since we are justified by faith we have peace with God” Peace WITH God….We are no longer pushing God aside, we are no longer ignoring God ; the battle to save us is finished and God has won because God has won us. We no longer live in fear of death and judgment because at the very moment we were made right with God we were completely forgiven. That fear has been replaced with an intimate loving relationship with God that we are to nurture. Being in relationship with God helps us to know God; when we know God we can’t help but love God. When we are at peace with God, we will be at peace with ourselves when we are at peace with ourselves it is easier to be at peace with others.

Paul does not say that at the very moment we accept Christ as our Savior that we are made sinless. We are still only human and we will still continue to struggle with sin. But, since we are at peace with God we now can grow His grace.
“We have obtained access to this grace in which we stand” The grace that we are privileged to stand in is more abundant than we could ever imagine. One of the lyrics in the song “How He Loves” which is performed by the David Crowder Band helps to give a visual of just how vast God’s grace really is ….it says, “If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking”

Since being justified by faith, we have an unending supply of God’s grace, available to us at all times. We don’t have to prove that we are worthy of God’s love….He just loves us. We don’t have to earn his grace by doing good works…..His grace is freely given. We don’t have to worry about a tally sheet with our name on it of all our faults and failures….the slate has been wiped clean.

When we have access to God’s abundant grace, it is so much easier to extend that grace to people around us. Don’t be quick to judge, because God isn’t going to be quick to judge you. Forgive people, because God has already forgiven you. Smile at a stranger, hold the door open for the person behind you, don’t make assumptions about your family, friends or even strangers that could tailspin into an out of control, unnecessarily sense of anger in you. Offer grace instead, even if you don’t think those around you deserve it. God has given this to us and we don’t deserve it either.

When we are able to not worry about ourselves and not worry about others because grace is at work it leaves so much more time in our lives to put towards nurturing and growing in our personal relationship with Jesus.

Even though we have peace with God and are standing in God’s abundant grace, life still goes on. We don’t have peace with the world. We don’t have peace with flesh and we don’t have peace with sin. Our justification has not made us immune to the trials, pain and suffering that may surround us. Having access to God’s abundant grace and being at peace with God does give us hope. This hope gives us the comfort in God’s sustaining presence during the moments in life where the road becomes bumpy or broken.

Suffering can promote a chain reaction of spiritual growth in our lives if we endure it the right way. God doesn’t want us to suffer, but when we do, not only will He walk with us, but He’s going to use it as an opportunity to teach us about patient. Patient will lead to a stronger character and bring us hope. When we live with a strong sense of God’s hope on a daily basis, that can be our testimony to others of how important it is to be in relationship with God during the times in our life when the road is smooth. Rejoicing in our suffering will show those around us that God’s hope will not disappoint

The peace, grace and hope that are given to us once we are justified with God do not come to us without a price. We are all sinners in need of a Savior. Since God’s love for each of us is so much bigger then any sin, at the most perfect time, “God proved His love for us in that while we still were sinners, Christ died for us”
In the Old Testament, the word atonement meant “covering.” People would bring animals to the temple to be sacrificed and the blood was used to cover their sins. Jesus then made the final sacrifice for us. His atonement, His blood was used to cover all of our sins. Animals were no longer needed because Jesus covered everything for everyone.

Have you looked closely at the way atonement is spelled….A-T-O-N-E-M-E-N-T…..At One-Ment…..Christ’s death made it possible for us to be One with Him and for us to be reconciled to God.

These gifts that have been given to us through justification need to be used in our everyday lives. These gifts need to be shared with the world. We need to be at peace with others, we need to offer grace to others and we need to tell them of the hope that God brings to our lives. No one is going to want a relationship with Jesus if they can’t see a change in us. God has given us these tools to be used as part of our witnessing through our everyday actions and interactions with others. They are gifts that we should be using to show others the love that Jesus has for them too.

I am a sinner. I have no problem admitting this, because it’s just who I am. I know where I’ve been, I know what I’ve done and I know that I don’t deserve any of the blessings that God has put into my life.

But I do know that God has made me so much more than that.

I am a sinner who has been justified by faith, at peace with God, standing in God’s abundant grace filled with a hope that God will not disappoint. And so are you!!! So rejoice in the fruits of justification and give thanks for the peace, grace and hope that has been given to you freely and use them to bring glory to your Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Good Life

My Sweetie and I were invited to a Church to give the message on Wednesday May 5th. This is the sermon we wrote and gave together. My parts are highlighted, his are not.

Have you seen the “Life is good t-shirts” in the stores? I love these shirts. I don’t have one, but every time I see them in a store I enjoy taking a moment to read what they say. Some of my favorites include the ones with a picture of someone enjoying a bubble bath, a pair of flip flops, a beach, someone watching the sunset, and they say “life is good” underneath.

If you could design your own “Life is good” shirt what would the little graphics be?? Tell me….shout out your answers…..

My definition of Life is Good is simple. It could be summed up in the tee-shirts that I described, a bubble bath, sitting on a beach, flip flops. Life is also good when I am able to spend time with my family and friends. Sharing a meal, playing a game, hiking, car trips, bike rides. For me the stuff that’s in my life isn’t as important as the time I am able to spend with others.

I am blessed!

I am blessed.

I don’t have much money.

I don’t have anything.

But I am blessed!

(rolls eyes) But I am blessed.

God’s presence is always with me!

Yeah. God is with me. What good does that do me?

God has given me joy and peace and purpose!

(still very sarcastic) Does God ever give anything worth something?

Money and fame will fade away, but the gifts of God are forever

Forget forever, I want a new car!

God’s blessings go deeper

What? Is God giving out submarines now?

God blesses my heart, my soul, my deepest parts.

Getting that 54 inch 1080dp LCD TV that will bless my heart.

Taste and see that the Lord is good

pfwt, I don’t have to taste to know that God’s blessings are worthless

Taste and see that God’s blessings are better than you can imagine

I will stick with things I can see thank you

-short pause-

(very dismissive of the whole thing). I am blessed.

I am blessed!

We live in a culture of extravagance. New, Bigger, faster, higher, fast acting, instantaneous, easy, hands-free, automated, all equate to better don’t they? The things we have, the brands we buy and wear, and what we spend money on is an outward display of our “success”. We hope that in pursuing the latest greatest THING we will finally achieve happiness. If we don’t have the things that others have, we are lead to believe that we’ve failed in our pursuit of the good life. And that we are failures ourselves. Do you remember what you yelled out a few minutes ago? What was it that you would put on your T-Shirt? I took notes: Did you shout out what you were really thinking or what you though those around you wanted you to say? No one really yelled out a bigger house or shiny new car or a million dollars….who’s going to do that in Church right??? Where was God, Jesus in the things that make you happy??? How about serving others?

We realize that the pursuit of things isn’t an option for some. There are people who find themselves struggling to provide life’s basic necessities. Are people who are lacking life’s basics able to be truly happy??

Sure they are because the good life isn’t something that is determined by what you have or don’t have. It’s determined by where God is in your life.

As Jesus entered a village 10 lepers begged for him to heal them. The lepers were healed. Luke 17:15 says, “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.” The man threw himself at Jesus’ feet and gave him thanks for the miracle that had occurred. He was truly grateful. Jesus looked around and questioned where the other nine were and why they weren’t giving praise to God as well. The 9 had the expectation that Jesus would heal them and they no longer appreciated the gift of health or the gift of grace that had just been given to them. But the one whose faith in God played a role in his healing showed gratitude.

I think of the country of Liberia and devastation that the long civil war has left their country in. Their roads are non-existent, houses destroyed; they have no clean water. There is a generation of young people who received no education because of the war and medical care is very limited as well. Yet as they try to recover and pick up the pieces, their faith is solid. We’ve heard many stories from friends who have served on mission trips in Liberia of the smiles on the Liberians faces and their willingness to sacrifice for and serve the missionaries who have come to help because they are so grateful for the work that is being done to help restore their country. We’ve heard stories of how they survived the war and rather than questioning why or blaming God, they praise God for being so good and bringing them hope. Many have said that they wouldn’t be where they are now without their faith. In terms of things and stuff, money, shelter, health care, they have NOTHING compared to what we have, yet they are a people who are living a Good Life because God is at the center. Perhaps this makes the people of Liberia richer than all of us.

In our home Church a father and son walked through our doors one Sunday in desperate need. He had no job, no car, was being evicted from his apartment and couldn’t afford to put food on the table. Through the love and generosity of the church a home was provide, food was served, a vehicle with insurance was provided along with lots of love and prayer. He was given the opportunity to start over and get on his feet. You would assume that a year later he would be a faithful attendee of our church. Honestly, we don’t know where life has taken him and his son or how they are doing. Even when freely given some of the basics in life you would hope that God’s free gift of grace would be acknowledge. While he was in our Church he appeared to be grateful. And only God knows if he truly was or is and only God deserves the praise for what was given.

When we live for God and respond to the needs of others, we do it for God not for ourselves. The people of Liberia continue to show their thanks to those who come to help. The family that came into our Church in much need didn’t necessarily respond with the same level of gratitude. But we didn’t do it for us, we didn’t even really do it for them, we did it for God. Because what we’ve been taught in Scripture, “Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.”

But if we look closer at our lives, are we truly grateful for the gifts that we have been given.

I realize my lack of appreciation for the gifts I have been given when I think of how big a baby I am when I am sick. I don’t know about you, but I absolutely hate that sore throat, hurts to swallow, breath, sleep, or even remain still. That feeling where having the ability to disconnect my head from the rest of my body for just a day or so would absolutely be wonderful. I beg and plead and pray that the feeling would just go away. I would give anything and try anything to make the discomfort go away. I spray some red stuff in my mouth, take a couple of antihistamines, shut all the shades and beg the children to be quiet. While in this most dire state, I think of all of those people in my life with oxygen tubes and breathing masks which keep them alive each day. In just a few days, I will return to my normal ability to breath and will not give it much thought or thanks for the ease in which I am able to breathe each day. I also too quickly forget those who continue to struggle with their ailments every day. So why is it only when I have such a great gift taken from me that I realize its value? What else am I forgetting to give thanks for? God doesn’t expect us to give him thanks, but when we acknowledge where our gifts come from and appreciate them, our understanding of God’s grace is strengthened. When our faith is stronger we are more open in learning more about the Good life God has to offer us.

The good life can come only from God. Jesus came and showed us through his teachings and miracles just how good God is. It doesn’t matter where we’ve come from or what our past was, God’s grace and love is enough.

While God’s gift of grace and love is in fact free, we can’t just sit there and expect to have the good life fall in our lap. Jesus was asked which of the laws was the most important one to follow. He responded with a scripture from the Old Testment saying the Greatest Commandment of all is to Love God and love others.

It seems so simple. But because we are such self-centered creatures trying to mark off one more item on our bucket list of life we just don’t have the time it takes to nurture a relationship with God. How can we love God if we don’t know God?

Benjamin Franklin said, “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that's the stuff life is made of.”

Here are some questions for you. What do you mostly think about?? What and where do you spend most of your money?? What do you spend most of your time doing?

Are you wasting your time on things that don’t really matter? Or are you investing your time in the Kingdom of God? Are you living the good life by living the God life???

Life is good when we are truly grateful for the gifts we have been given.

Life is good when we set time aside to read our Bibles, do devotion readings and pray so we can build that relationship.

Life is good when we are obedient to what God is calling us to do.

Life is good when we are able to love God first in our lives.

Life is good when we help the lost and the least.

Life is good when we show and share Christ with others

Life is good when we realize that it’s not about being religious but that it’s about being in a relationship with our creator.

I found another company that makes T-Shirt’s that look similar to the Life is good shirts….except they say they all say Life is God ……there’s one with a door that says “He’s Knocking” another with tennis balls that say “Serve” and one with a tractor that says “Harvest”

Life is Good

Life is God.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

14 Years.....

I'm not the girl that you married; and I know I'm the teenager you fell in love with.

But as I look back over these past 14 years I only hope that I have continued to grow into the wife that God wants you to have.

Despite the bumps early on, I think we have built a beautiful life together. Our boys are such a testimony of our love and faith.

I never thought I could love you more than I did 14 years ago, but I do.

Thank you for loving me for better and for worse, these past 14 years.

You are my best friend, my soul mate and the love of my life.

Happy Anniversary....I love you......