The Amazing Grace #3
Be transformed. Let Jesus shine through you and in all you do. That’s a pretty tall order but for those of us seeking to serve God; for those of us seeking to “go onto perfection” as Wesley called it, we are called to let that Transformation take place. And not just to LET it take place but actively pursue it and facilitate it. And that takes work. That takes time. But every time we give ourselves to one of the spiritual disciplines or the Means of Grace as Wesley called them, we reFresh our spirit, we reFresh our soul and we are transformed a little more into the image of Christ.
So what are these spiritual disciplines? What are the Means of Grace by which we are transformed? That’s what we’re going to talk about today.
Before we go any further, I want to read two short passages which I think are part of the model for our own spiritual disciplines. For whatever reason I always think these two passages of first.
Mark 1:30-35 and Acts 2:42 (NRSV)
 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once.
 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
 That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.
 And the whole city was gathered around the door.
 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.
Acts 2:42 (NRSV)
 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
I never thought of it before but maybe Douglas Adams was right, the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything IS 42. Verse 42. It was the answer which the early church took and practiced.
I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed the Mark passage before. We have 4 verse which describe Jesus ministry. He healed Peter’s mother and the whole city of Capernaum gathered around him and he healed everyone of them. If you read further, from verse 36 on, Jesus jumps right back into the hard work of ministry and healing throughout all of Galilee.
But in middle of all that ministry there’s this curious little verse, verse 35, which most of us just skim over. But this verse is packed with power. It shows us how Jesus could continue day after day, healing and teaching. Listen once again. “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.”
Jesus had to focus his own spiritual life and draw on the power of God to be able to do what God had called him to do. If Jesus had to do that, think how much more each of us need to do that in our own lives, especially if we’re going to be transformed into the likeness of Christ.
A. We’ve been talking about the various aspects of God’s Amazing Grace. We’ve talked about Prevenient Grace or Preceding Grace, that grace that goes before us and calls us before we’re even aware of God. It’s God calling to us, inviting us to reStart the relationship broken by our sin. We described this as God reaching down to us.
Then we talked about Justifying Grace, that grace which leads us to say “Yes” to God. And in the very moment of that “Yes” God wipes the slate clean. God hits the delete button on all the sin in our life, empties out the recycle bin of our soul and erases everything that keeps us separated from God. We described this aspect of Grace as us Reaching up to God. And in the process of reaching up to God we are justified and receive the assurance that our sins are forgiven.
Now The Means of Grace is simply those spiritual disciplines to which we give ourselves, that reFresh our relationship and help us keep a tight grip on God’s hand. They are what give us the power to hold onto God who is holding on to us. They empower us to maintain our grip on God’s hand which is holding ours.
And that’s hard. Because we get distracted. We’re just like my grandkids. They spent five days with us for about month this summer. We went to Fossil Rim. We waiting for the bus to start our tour, we told told them all to stay with us and not touch anything they weren’t supposed to touch. Well, first rattle out of the bag, Evan let’s loose of my hand and before I can turn around I hear him say, “What’s that?” And the next thing I know there’s water running water everywhere. He’d found the only spiget in the waiting area and just couldn’t help himself. He had to see what it would do.
We get so easily distracted. I was so into writing that little illustration that I got distracted and forgot to be where I was supposed to be Friday morning. If Mike Ford hadn’t called I wouldn’t have made it.
We need something and someone to help us maintain that connection. And that’s where the Means of Grace come in. They help us reFresh that relationship.
B. So, what are they? How do we stay connected. Well “42” is the answer. Acts 2:42 describes a pattern of life which even Jesus followed. It’s a life of prayer and devotion. A life of taking time for Sabbath, of pulling away from the world which is calling us to conform and stepping into the presence of the one who can and will transform us and reFresh us.
Wesley called this “attending to the ordinances of God.” Bishop Rueben Job in his book “Three Simple Rules” reinterpreted that to “staying in love with God.” Wesley said we do this through works of piety and works of mercy. We do it through personal holiness and social holiness.
In other words. we do it through the disciplines of daily prayer and study, worship, taking the sacrament and doing acts of mercy or good works in the name of Christ, for the glory of God.
A. Now I know what some of you are thinking. “Great, the preacher’s going beat me up today because I forgot to pray or don’t study my Bible enough.”
I’m not trying to beat anybody up. What I want you to know are the benefits of these spiritual disciplines. I want you to maintain your grip on God’s hand. That’s basically what all of these do.
On his way home from the office, a man entered a flower shop and ordered two dozen pink roses. “They’re for my wife,” he told the clerk.
“Is it her birthday?” the clerk asked
“No,” he replied.
“Is it your wedding anniversary?”
As the man headed out the door, bouquet in hand, the clerk called out, “I hope she forgives you!”
Often times we treat God like that. Only time we come is when we need something. God doesn’t want us to just come flowers in hand when we need forgiveness or when our world is falling apart. God enjoys our company and wants a deeper relationship.
I love it when my grandkids run and jump in my lap and tell me all about what’s going on in their world at preschool or sports or whatever. I just enjoy the fact that they want to share.
I think God feels the same way. I think God just wants us to crawl up in His lap and share all the stuff that’s going on in our lives; or just sit there and relax and not say anything. God wants to listen as we wrestle with issues or struggle with confession.
And Bible Study; we need to immerse ourselves in Scripture every day. Why? Because we are immersed in the words of the world every day. Millions of words come to us through advertising, news, commentary, entertainment, music and the like. A few minutes with life changing, relationship building words a day isn’t much to ask.
And worship, to me that’s pulling up to God’s table, sitting down with Christ and sharing the blessings of the day. That’s especially true when we share the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
B. I know all the objections and excuses, I’ve used them all myself. This is about establishing a routine or a discipline which keeps us connected to the source. This is about tools to maintain our grip on God’s hand as He leads us through life.
We all have routines. We didn’t learn them overnight but over time they became habit and now if we don’t do them, everything seems off kilter. During the school year, I don’t dare keep Mary out past 9:00 pm on a weeknight. For me it’s Friday when I put all my sermon notes together. If something come up and interrupts that process, I get all jittery.
Tom Lounsberry has a detailed pre-flight checklist dealing with instruments and fuel, flight controls and the like that he goes through every time he steps into a cockpit. There’s another checklist for landing. Grant Kirby told me they have a detailed checklist they go through prior to surgery. He checks to make sure they have all the lab reports and xrays, the correct implant and instruments to perform the surgery They check and double check all the various paperwork that needs to be done. They mark the spot where the surgery is supposed to take place. They make sure the anesthesia is ready. And before the first incision is made the head nurse holds a “Time Out” to make sure everything is correct.
We all have routines. Adding another one or adding to the one we already have is important to our spiritual life. It’s part of that actively pursuing to transform ourselves into the image of Christ.
And why would we want to do that? So, we can finish the race well. So, with Paul we can, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Next week the youth and a number of others are going to see the new movie by the producers of Fireproof and Facing the Giants, Courageous. I’ve seen the trailer and a few clips and I think it’s going to be a great movie. It deals with dads and their families. In one scene, after one of the fathers comes under the conviction that he can do a better job, he goes out jogging with his son. Here’s what he says. WATCH
The simple purpose of the Means of Grace is to help us “Finish Well.” These routine acts of spiritual discipline help us keep our hand in God’s hand. These routine acts of spiritual discipline such as Prayer, Study, Worship, partaking of the Sacrament and the works of mercy and justice we do for our neighbors, friends and strangers keep our chair at God’s banquet table from getting filled with cobwebs.
Maybe I can explain like this. How many of you ever go to Sam’s or have been to the new HEB? If you go at the right time you’ll see all the stations where they’re cooking something and you get a sample. Sometimes the aroma is what entices you over.
Years ago went through Sam’s and passed one of tables which was giving out samples of an Asiago Cheese Spread. Asiago happens to be one of my favorites. I had no idea anything as good as that cheese spread existed. The taste made me want more. I immediately bought some. Ever since then, every time I’m in Sam’s I look for it. Sad thing is they don’t always have it, so it’s a craving that’s left unfulfilled.
Prevenient Grace gives us a taste, a foretaste, a sampling of the richness of God’s Kingdom to come; it points us in a direction, invites our souls to rest, allows us to see or taste or feel or hear the “drippings of grace” as someone put it. Those drippings, whether in the taste of bread, a witness of beauty and grandeur, a deed which stirs the heart because of its kindness or generosity, those drippings set loose a hunger within us. Prevenient Grace points out a hunger that we sometimes don’t realize is there.
Justfying Grace is saying “Yes” to God’s invitation to the banquet which can satisfy that hunger.
The Means of Grace is actually sitting at the table and joining in the banquet and so that we can quench our soul’s hunger and thirst. Through that banquet, we realize that what has been offered is something we have longed for and desired all along. And it becomes a part of our passion and the way we feed our souls and refresh our spirits. We want to come again and again and again.
Asiago Cheese Spread, while good, isn’t always available. Not only that but doesn’t reFresh my soul or reNew my relationship with God. It simply tickles my taste buds. In our lives in the world there are those things which give us a taste and promise us more but never really deliver, they just don’t fill us.
But in our spiritual lives at the Lord’s Table, in prayer, in Christian service, in Bible study we find everything we need to nourish and reFresh our relationship with God. It’s as if God said, “I knew you were coming so I set an extra place at the table.”
When we sit at that table our souls are nourished, our spirits are fed and our entire life is reFreshed. And the great news, the surprising news is that what appears to be a Banquet to us, is really just the sample table or the hors d’oeuvres in the Kingdom of God.
It is the promise of even more to come.
This morning during our time of reflection, think about how and when you can find that deserted place like Jesus. Maybe it’s getting up 15 minutes earlier or taking 10 minutes of your lunch hour to spend in devotions. Maybe it’s listening to Christian Music or the Bible on tape or CD on your commute to work. Maybe you do all that but the component you’re missing is serving. I don’t know what it is for you but take time to wrestle with how you can begin that spiritual discipline in your life.
Then submit it and yourself to God. Covenant with God and seek to actively pursue these Means of Grace os you can reFresh your soul and keep you hand in God’s hand.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.