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Discussion of I John 3:3 – 3:15

We began our discussion with a great discussion about HOPE. What does hope look like and how is it different from faith? We talked about the future-ness of hope and, unlike faith which feels like it is more in the now, hope depends on something that trust will happen. Hope is change. Sometimes, we undermine our hope because of our fear of change. Hope has expectations, but it should not include our own definition/description of the outcome. Our hope must be in Christ alone, not in “healing” per se or whatever it is that we dream for our future. Hope lives in the light and flourishes.

Other aspects that build hope or readiness (as in the parable of the wise & foolish virgins in Matthew 25:1-13), risk (as in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30), and action (as in the parable of the sheep & goats in Matthew 25:31-46).

We then discussed the differences between lawlessness and “breaking the law.” It’s a small difference but the point for me is that lawlessness is ongoing willful breaking of the law to the point when the law is no longer relevant versus the “breaking of a law” on occasion or with knowledge of sin and eventual confession & repentance. We must recognize sin before we can confess it.

But, if we do know about sin and Jesus came/died to “take away our sin,” why are we still sinning? Many reasons: denial, willfulness, lack of motivation, childishness, fear, to name a few. This is all part of the process and ultimately sanctification.

There was some serious heart searching as we wrestled with 3:6, 8-10. It is so easy to allow the voice of condemnation to wash over us and to allow Satan to beat us up with these words. “You’re not a child of God, you still sin, you aren’t worthy, etc.” But I don’t believe Jesus uses this voice. All I can say is that “while we sin” we are opening the door to relationship with evil. And in those moments, we are stepping away from the safety of the Father. However, because God is loving and kind and forgiving, the light can shine in that place as we confess. Again and again and again. And our hope (remember hope?) is that the times between darkness and light become shorter as we are strengthened within by the presence of the Holy Spirit.

That is God’s see within us that is growing a tree of righteousness — sometimes slower, sometimes faster. Our hidden sins are being brought to the light. Our flaws being repaired. Our roots grow deeper, our branches grow stronger. How can we know how we are doing? An inner compass… pointing to True North.

As we live and grow and become more like Christ, the pressures from without (the world) actually may become more stronger. Right living points up the other other. But, if our actions are indiscernible from others who do not know the Christ, there is no “tension.”

We know that love is described in I Cor 13:4-8 … but it’s such a long “punch list.” It feels overwhelming. How do I keep in mind to be “patient” today (in love) and then kind while I am not envying, boasting, or acting prideful. Oh, and don’t forget, no rudeness today and stop being so self-engaged and downright angry or keeping a long list of grievances.

And yet, we know that we know that we know… love is probably THE most powerful force in the universe. Can we try it? Can we love someone this week and make a difference?

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In our previous session we focused on achieving a clear conscience by putting a spotlight on our offenses toward others, but this week, the topic is forgiveness, with the spotlight on the offenses of others toward us…. and the grave responsibility and mandate we have to forgive. When we withhold forgiveness, we literally plant a seed of bitterness that grows slowly but steadily, ready to consume our hearts and souls. And as a result, our situation becomes worse.

This week, as a result of the video discussion, we spent some special time in ministry. I think it’s important to be responsive to these moments… particularly in the area of forgiveness and spiritual ‘captivity.’ So often, we allow unholy connections from former relationships … like the strands of a spider web… to remain attached to our spirits. These strands can only be broken by the sword of truth… Christ Jesus. This cutting is a very specific prayer… for the cutting and the setting free.

After our ministry time, we returned to the workbook and talked about realizing that forgiveness is not done alone, but through Christ. Someone reminded us of the Corrie Ten Boom story again, when Corrie had to face the reality of forgiving one of the brutal Nazi guards from her concentration camp. We also talked about the difficulty in extending forgiveness in the face of a cruel parent or abuser. Truly, only the presence of the Holy Spirit can bring that kind of courage and freedom.

Each person then gave their 2-minute “elevator” testimonies. All were powerful as we saw the unique way God touched our lives in order to bring us into relationship with Him. It was amazing, of the 9 or 10 of us there that night, that 6 were raised Catholic but only found their true relationship with Christ later in life. For some, the discovery of Christ came through a traumatic experience like the death of a child, for others, it was the dropping of a veil in the mind, for another, an altar call at a Billy Graham crusade, and still another through the reading of God’s word. I was humbled by the depth and breadth of God’s love with each one of the stories… some with joy and some with tears. For some, the memories of who they were before knowing the Lord was difficult. But I say again, as I said that night, each of us has that part of God’s story that only we can tell. Our lives have value to him. Our tears, He collects in a bottle. Our pain is part of the story because of its power to impact someone else’s story. We should never be ashamed of our story nor fear the pain. God is speaking.

Sometimes it takes walking through sin, pain, or difficulties in our lives to fully appreciate the depth of Woman who washed Jesus\' feet; Special thanks to Daniel GerhartzHis grace… when we are forgiven much, we are more willing to forgive (and love) others as He loved us. (Luke 7:47) I often add to my own testimony that “I am the woman at the well…,” I am the woman who “washed Jesus’ feet with her hair.” In my life, God has forgiven much… how can I do less?

And lastly, we talked about the servant who begged a King to be forgiven of a great debt. The King agreed to do so, but then, the servant turned around and treated someone badly who owed him money. When the King heard of it, he cast that servant into jail. (Matthew 18:23-35) There are many truths to be gleaned from this passage, but the one the Lord laid on my heart is that forgiveness is not cheap. God does not treat our forgiveness of others lightly. There is a cost as well as a freedom. The King who forgave the servant lost millions… but he was willing to do it. When we forgive someone who does not deserve it, we do bear a cost as well. But the freedom is immeasurable. And in the end, it is our forgiveness… our letting go… that really matters. God will avenge the rest.

Next week, we will be discussing sexual purity … and although this message alone has value… I encourage everyone to expand the topic to include other sins of the flesh… what else seduces us? What seduces women today? Is it just men… or something else as well?

We will hold the rest of the testimonies (those who were missing last week) until the following week when we study the “spirit-filled” life. See you then. We’re almost to the end of our journey!

For more prints like the one in this post, see Daniel Gerhartz site. (used by permission)

“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Hebrews 12:14.

This was an interesting and challenging evening for me, particularly after we viewed the video by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. I guess, I was a little surprised as I didn’t find the video to match up with what I expected based on the workbook. Nonetheless, it did bring out lots of discussion and I think that is always healthy as long as we hold each other lovingly when we disagree. 🙂

In this video segment, DeMoss put a lot of emphasis on sins that block our journey toward holiness (which is true, of course), but particulary “worldly entertainments” – a phrase she uses in the workbook. In particular, she zeroed in on R rated movies, music, television, and the like. This is a bit tough for me, and I confessed this to the group, because I don’t lump all R rated movies into a “do not watch” zone. I just never have, probably because of my theatrical background and love for all forms of production and theater craft. Several people shared their own views, many confirming that they felt DeMoss was right on target. I will only share a caution here, that none of us judge too quickly, and allow our sovereign God to work His will and way with each person. May we all hold fast to our previous lesson that “grace is sufficient” and that there is “no condemnation in Christ Jesus.” Sin is sin … there is no sin more powerful, really, than another. We “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That’s why we are on a journey.

We then touched most of the questions, my favorite being the first one in which I encouraged folks to talk about the people they know and love who they perceive as living holy lives. I love personal storieds and many of these were very encouraging. I was so reminded of the previous lesson on honest and transparency because most of the examples confirmed that element as a key.

There are two types of holiness that we learned about this week:

  1. positional holiness – comes with our initial salvation and is based on Christ’s sacrifice and the covering of his blood. This is our “spiritual position.”
  2. personal holiness – comes with the walking out of positional holiness, also known as sanctification. This is how we think and live. It is in this area that we make daily choices.

From the “faith builder” story we learned the importance of authentic confession in the face of sin and the freedom and power that comes as a result. By our transparency and trust in God’s forgiveness, God can, not only heal us, but make us like a pebble thrown in a pond, the ripples affecting and changing those around us.

Are you ready? We could all relate to the story and word picture of the “bride of Christ” who shows up at the wedding in hair curlers and sweat pants. Is this us? Have we lost our way? Have we lost sight of the goal? I think, sometimes, we get the vision for something, but then get caught up in the doing and forget why we’re doing it in the first place. It is important to remember to “keep our eyes on the prize.” I Cor 9:24

Also, I Peter 1:13-16 and other scriptures remind us that this journey is an “active” one… in other words, the pursuit of holiness, is a VERB! There are actions we can take…. choices we can make. Ultimately, we are back to the mind… the decision to do … to change… to go… to work.

And the changes cannot just be “outward affectations” or “habitual practices.” We must stay present Beehive image of concentric circlesin the moment. Remember our earlier discussion of the movies… it is not enough to say whether you do or do not attend particular movies… what is first, is the heart. I did not get to share an image that God had given me about this… it was a beehive shape and the bottom part is the outer world and the top, narrow part is the interior world with God. Our journey towards holiness is a series of concentric circles. All are dependent on one another.

My last word picture for this week is from Isaiah 6:1-7. Just as the angel brought a “coal” to cleanse Isaiah’s “unclean lips,” there is a coal from heaven for each our sins. Oh, refiner’s fire… my heart’s one desire.

“Let us then, with confidence, draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need!” Hebrews 4:16

The first question of the night is “How would you define the concept of grace to a 6-year old?” It was fun to hear everyone’s stories… from a an extra slice of cake to new bicycle, the general sense captured the essence of grace being a “gift” and truly a gift that we don’t really deserve.

Rain of Grace I actually think everyone “understands” the concept of grace… the challenge is receiving grace. The Lord gave me an image of “receiving grace” as walking outside when it’s raining, lifting up my head and opening my mouth to allow all that rain to pour all over me and inside of me. Totally wet! But, instead, so many of us tend to wear raincoats! It was interesting to me that before I shared this word picture, Robin shared a similar expression of God’s grace as He calmed her spirit one night with the sound of the rain on her window.

When we discussed the “faith builder” story in the workbook, we all agreed that it was the minister’s authentic confession to his wife that opened the door to grace. Humility and honesty are keys to that door. It was then possible for God to really begin to move and to bring both the man and wife together in the next steps to clearing his conscience. Although the risks were high, God was faithful and protected both the minister and his family. I think that protection came from a truly “contrite heart.”

Because I find that word pictures are really powerful in class, we read Ephesians 2:1-9 with an emphasis on verses 4 & 5, “…But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions…” I wanted to know what it might look like to be alive in Christ… but before we went there… we talked about being dead in Christ… or perhaps, not so dramatic, but asleep. I believe many are merely asleep: disconnected, unfeeling, self-contained, not active, immovable, in their own dream world, uncommunicative, detached… and the list goes on. I shared further about the idea of a slumbering spirit… a concept I have investigated even more thoroughly through the Elijah House ministry. And the opposite? … to be alive in Christ is to be connected, feeling fully, outward focused, responsive, sensitive to others, open, communicative, willing to bond with others! All available to us through the power of grace!

Remember, justice is “getting what you deserve” while mercy is being “released from the punishment that you do deserve” and finally, grace is receiving mercy PLUS an extra blessing that you don’t deserve. On this holy day of Good Friday, how can we not realized that His sacrifice was the Great Grace.
And it is mercy and grace that open the doors to the very throne room of God, our Father!

We talked a lot about the question, “how can God’s grace help us overcome temptation and deal with sin?” How do we get that “power” to resist temptation… to resist sin? Some felt it was that direct indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Is that different than an outpouring of God’s grace? For me, I am leaning to a “new” way… at least new for me… and that is approaching the Throne with open arms and open heart, seeking only His Grace to fill me… that I might love the Lord with “heart, soul, and mind” … for here, there is no room for temptations to germinate. I think I have always thought of Grace as coming “after the sin”… coming hand in hand with forgiveness (and this is true), but I believe I am learning in this study that Grace is also “pro-active” and can be a hedge against sin.

Throne of Grace Lastly, we talked about Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” I encourage all of us to really investigate the fullness of what it means to “approach the throne” … this is a VERB! How do we do that? Let us not be locked in a “box” into thinking that there is only one way… we can pray, sing, dance, laugh! We can be in nature, in a closet, in church, or in the kitchen. We can approach alone, with a friend or in a group. And, as scripture says, when we approach, there is where we fill FIND grace… waiting for us. Oh, that’s so powerful!

Our last activity before praying in small groups was to share openly, one by one, an area where we specifically need God’s grace. That was such a tender time and I thank each one of the seekers who were willing to be transparent! Please, dear ones, remember, His Grace is Sufficient for You!

Happy Easter! Remember, no class next week. Take time to review the previous chapters as well as moving on to the next lesson. And… to those who have been absent… there is plenty of grace. You are warmly welcome to return to class. 🙂