Can you remember when God carried you through something very difficult?
Every week, members of New World United Methodist Church come around a table at a local family shelter for an evening of fellowship, prayer and creating art. Residents in the shelter are there for many different reasons – job losses, deaths in the family, fleeing domestic violence, unexpected illnesses or other expenses.
Art brings people together. The act of creating art has a powerful way of bringing about calm, healing and empowerment. We choose to create art with residents of a local shelter because many of the families are in desperate need of space for calm, connection, dignity and love.
Each week we have a different project and a different theme. In the picture, we are creating very special prayer beads, “ebenezer beads.” You might recognize the word “ebenezer” from the hymn “Come, Thou Font of Every Blessing.” My favorite verse goes like this:
Here I raise my Ebenezer Here there by Thy help I come
And I hope by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home
What in the world is an ebenezer, you ask, and why are we raising one? The Hebrew word literally means “stone of help.” The song is a reference to the book of 1 Samuel:
Samuel took a stone and set it up . . . and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.” 1 Samuel 7:12
In the story, Samuel is raising a special monument in gratitude for God’s faithfulness as the Israelites defeated the powerful Philistines. Samuel wants to make sure that all who come to this place remember what God has done for God’s people. We are called to remember.
In our prayer bead project, each participant was invited to include a few handmade beads made the week before. As they pray with their beads, these special beads serve as a reminder that God will faithfully bring each family through life’s difficult times of transition.
May we all remember that God is faithful.
Prayer: Dear God, we remember the times in our life when you brought us through difficult circumstances and we thank you. We pray for people in our community who are experiencing homelessness. Lead us to be messengers of your mercy, love and grace. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
I’m grateful to God, whom I serve with a good conscience as my ancestors did. I constantly remember you in my prayers day and night.When I remember your tears, I long to see you so that I can be filled with happiness.I’m reminded of your authentic faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice. I’m sure that this faith is also inside you.Because of this, I’m reminding you to revive God’s gift that is in you through the laying on of my hands.God didn’t give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled.
2 Timothy 1:3-7
Remember a time you went through something difficult. How did God bring you through that? How can you thank God for God’s faithfulness?
However, God is rich in mercy. He brought us to life with Christ while we were dead as a result of those things that we did wrong. He did this because of the great love that he has for us. You are saved by God’s grace!And God raised us up and seated us in the heavens with Christ Jesus.God did this to show future generations the greatness of his grace by the goodness that God has shown us in Christ Jesus.
You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed.It’s not something you did that you can be proud of.Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives. – Ephesians 2:4-10
(Followed Scripture reading with the above video “Grace” from Igniter Media)
I love that: “God has us right where God wants us – to shower us with God’s grace.”
As a mom, I can only imagine what fun it was for those boys to get the assignment to cover themselves in mud first thing in the morning! And how beautiful to go from that moment of knowing they are in big, big trouble, to realizing they were forgiven, loved, and baptized in grace.
You are saved by God’s grace.
One of the privileges of being a pastor is the gift of making hospital visits. As members of our congregation, friends and family are in the hospital, I get to visit with patients, listen for a while, and pray with them.
Sometimes I get called in to rooms of people who are not part of our church.
Several months ago was one of those occasions. I came to visit a patient named Steve before he faced a serious heart surgery. Steve had been in and out of the hospital several years with health issues, and this surgery was a final medical effort to help him. This particular surgery was risky, and Steve was given about a 50% chance of surviving the procedure. (pause)
While there are classes in Pastoral Care in seminary, nothing really prepares you for what to say in these moments. What would you say? I don’t know the “right answer,” but here is what I said.
As I met with Steve in this sacred, pre-surgery space, Steve was very quiet. I could sense that Steve had been spending a lot of time reflecting on his prognosis, on his life and on his choices. I asked him how he was doing, what he was thinking. What I learned was that Steve had made some questionable choices throughout his years and lived kind of a wild life. He struggled with various addictions and hurt a lot of people. Because of his choices, he was estranged from his fairly religious family. He had been rejected from his church and from his family for decades.
What I learned as Steve was possibly facing the end of his life, was that he was afraid he had done so many bad things in his life, was so far away from God, that he really believed there was no way he could be forgiven.
He believed he had just messed up too much to be saved. For Steve, this was a message that was reinforced by the church he grew up in, a church that labeled him a “sinner” and kicked him out of the faith. Maybe there have been times when you felt like that too.
As I sat with this man who had been suffering for so long, it struck me in our conversation how important the messages we teach as a church are, and the amount of emotional and spiritual damage we can do with a harmful, judgmental theology.
I have been United Methodist my entire life. I’m curious, are there any others in this room who would consider themselves lifelong United Methodists?
If my grandmother were still alive, she would tell you that I was “born Methodist.” I tell you this upfront because it’s probably fair for you to know that United Methodism runs deep for me. My aunt and uncle were United Methodist pastors. United Methodism is the lens through which I see the world. It is how I have always experienced and processed my faith.
And, maybe it sounds corny, or maybe it’s what you’d expect from a pastor, but I love being United Methodist.
I am telling you this first because, in the interest of transparency, you need to know that you are not about to get a three week sermon series on United Methodism from an unbiased source.
Just the same, as a pastor, some of the questions I hear often are: “What does it even mean to be United Methodist?” “How is it different than other types of churches?” “If we are all Christians, why does it matter?” Those are fair questions.
In the next three weeks I hope to share with you some of the most meaningful distinctive characteristics of United Methodism. I believe that our Wesleyan theology (called that because Methodism’s founder was John Wesley) is powerful and beautiful. I also have seen the pain and damage that even well-meaning churches can do to people labeled as sinners.
Today I will talk about our unique understanding of Wesleyan Grace – in particular the three-fold kind of grace that John Wesley called prevenient, justifying and sanctifying (Hang in there! I’ll explain those words as we go along).
My encounter with Steve made me appreciate the theology of grace I’ve always learned about – the knowledge that God’s grace is available for me no matter how messed up I might find myself. I tried my best to share this grace with Steve…and I am so thankful for that heritage of hope, and the blessed assurance that comes from experiencing God’s grace.
Like the kids in the video that opened this message, like Steve, sometimes we may feel like we have gotten ourselves in such a mess that we are beyond redemption. And that’s where grace steps in.
So what is Grace?
Grace is the love and mercy that God gives us because God wants us to have it, not because we have earned it.
It is an undeserved gift and loving action from God through the Holy Spirit. Because God loves us so much, God wants us to experience God’s grace.
John Wesley preached about different types of Grace.
The first type of Grace Wesley called Prevenient Grace, or literally, “the grace that comes before” we are even aware of it. It’s a term most people don’t know, but it just means all of the ways in which God comes into our lives before our conversion.
God is actively present in our entire lives, whether or not we even notice.
Imagine God has the gift of grace just sitting there, ready for us to notice it. We have the option of refusing to accept the gift, but it’s still there waiting for our discovery.
Prevenient grace has a way of preparing you to respond to God when the time is right. Before you even realize God’s grace for you, you may have a sense of how to choose good over evil. God is actively seeking you, wooing you to notice the gift.
Prevenient grace looks like a longing for God in our lives.
In my faith journey, I mentioned that I was “born Methodist.” This means I was baptized as a small child, I grew up going to church and Sunday school. Even though I was going through all of these practices to prepare me, I wasn’t fully aware of God’s grace, or of the importance of that Grace in my life.
We have a tradition in our church of baptizing infants, and this practice is a great illustration of prevenient grace. In infant baptism, we recognize the grace that God has for the baptized, even though the child may not yet understand. The grace is already there.
In the video, it’s the patient dad figure with the garden hose waiting to be noticed.
The second type of Wesleyan grace is “Justifying Grace.” With Justifying grace, or justification, we realize that our sins are forgiven and we can have a restored relationship with God. Everyone’s experience is different, you can think of this as the moment or moments when you realized that Christ’s love for you is real and, in response, you began to live differently.
This can be a grace experienced over a lifetime, or a grace that happens in a sudden moment. With justifying grace, we face a time of conversion or a new beginning in our relationship with God.
In my faith story, I point to a moment at a Christian rock concert when I was 14 years old as my key moment of justifying grace. Although I had the gift of learning about God’s grace my entire life, up until that point I was being prepared for a moment when I would have said “I accepted Christ.” It was a change of heart that was prompted by grace and guided by the Holy Spirit.
In John Wesley’s story, he was raised in a Christian family and had been around church his entire life. His moment of justification was on May 24, 1738 on Aldersgate Street in London when he felt his heart strangely warmed and sensed that he was saved through the Holy Spirit.
In the lives of many, justifying grace happens without all the fanfare – it’s a sense of assurance that God loves you, forgives you and leads you to transformation…to a sense of healing and wholeness.
In the video, it’s the precious moment when the kids realize they are not going to be punished for their mischief. They are forgiven and loved.
Have you experienced this kind of grace? When did you first know that Christ was real in your life?
Finally, the third type of Wesleyan grace is called sanctifying grace.
The word “sanctify” means to make something holy, set apart. It means to make something clean.
How it works is this:
Once we realize that God’s grace is a gift to us, once we accept that gift and are convinced to turn our ways toward Christ, we enter the lifelong process of sanctification. In simpler terms, once we know and experience God’s grace, we begin the process of learning to be more like Jesus. This is the ongoing experience of God’s graciousness transforming us into who God intends us to be.
There is so much good news in the theology of Grace. Grace means we are all welcome here. No matter what kind of messiness has taken you away from God, God’s grace is for you. We have the opportunity to grow together in our faith, learning together what it means to be Christ followers.
Today in our Back to Grace series, explored John Wesley’s view of Grace, including prevenient grace (the grace that comes before we realize it), justifying grace (the grace that happens when we are justified or converted), and sanctifying grace (the grace that we experience over a lifetime of growing in the faith.)
In the next two Sundays, we will take a closer look at personal and social holiness, the faith practices we can do in response to God’s grace in order to become more like Christ.
We all come in to this space on different parts of our faith journey. You may have always known about God’s love for you, God’s gift of grace and forgiveness for you. Or you may be in a place where you have been deeply wounded, you not only have felt rejected by the Church but you’re even rejecting yourself….keeping yourself from accepting God’s gift of grace.
There may be someone in here this morning who finds they are feeling lost and hurt like Steve I visited in the hospital. If you find yourself in a place of pain, needing to know God’s grace and forgiveness, I want you to really hear these words:
You are forgiven. You can find hope in knowing God’s grace is here for you. You are forgiven.
On the other hand, if you’re in this place and you really are feeling okay, blessed even, I would like to take this message in to a slightly different direction. This morning we have focused on God’s grace for us. Made in the image of God, we are called to accept God’s grace and then, in turn, extend grace to one another. I have a prayer and a challenge for you:
As we move forward as a community of grace, prayerfully seek out those who need to know God’s grace.
Who are your neighbors who desperately need to know about the hope and grace you have found?
Who do you need to invite to know God’s love for them?
My prayer is that each of us can be like the dad in the video. Get out the hose and shower others with God’s grace through your actions.
That is a relaunched vision I would love to see. Amen.
Will you pray with me?
God of grace,
We thank you for being a God who calls out to us, laying down the groundwork so we can discover the love and forgiveness, grace and acceptance you have always had for us. Open our hearts to realize who it is in our lives who needs to experience some of your grace. We pray for our friends and neighbors who are missing out on knowing the love you have for each of us. God, please forgive us when we neglect to show grace to one another, or refuse to even give our own self some grace. Soften our hearts toward all of your children. We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Questions to Consider:
How have you experienced God’s grace in your own life?
Thank you so much for your faithful prayers about our new ministry endeavor, Just One Starfish. This is such an exciting time!
A quick update: God has been opening doors left and right for this new ministry! We have our first team of 12 mentors (representing 3 different churches and 4 high schools) trained and ready to begin mentoring at our first elementary school, Blanton Elementary. (Thank you to Alley Cats of Arlington for donating a meeting space for our training!)
It was really special to tour the school with the mentors last week and to see the positive reaction faculty and staff had to the mentors. God is doing big things at this elementary school and it’s humbling to be part of His work.
Prayer Request: Will you take the time to pray specifically for these 10th-12th grade young adults and their 4th-5th grade elementary school mentees? The student pairs will meet for the first time starting next week. Here are their names:
Mentor and Mentee:
Lara K. and Emily M.
Will R. and Adrian R.
Morgan K. and Joana S.
Katie K. and Blessing N.
George T. and Edwin A.
Alex S. and Jose Jr.
Emily W. and Coraima V.
Bailey B. and Angela M.
Steven H. and Samuel V.
Kaitlyn J. and Angela O.
Hannah J. and Oralia M.
Landry P. and her unnamed 4th grade girl that God is selecting for us right now 🙂
Next steps/prayer requests:
Now that we’ve got our first team of 12 youth in place, we will begin talking to more youth ministries and schools about expanding the program.
I meet with the CEO of an incredible Student Ministry organization next Thursday about aligning our organization with theirs – please pray that God’s will be done in that conversation.
On October 26-28 we will be putting together our new website with the generous, talented help at Dallas GiveCamp. Please pray a special blessing on those volunteers.
I have full confidence that it is because of your prayerful support that we’ve been able to accomplish all that we’ve done so far. Knowing that you had been praying about our match-ups and letting the Holy Spirit do His work, we let the young adults select the mentee who’s name most spoke to them (a beautiful selection process.) I can hardly wait to see what God has in store next!
Thank you so much for your faithfulness. Can you help spread the word by sharing this post with your friends/Facebook contacts?