Friday, May 27, 2005

Elected By Grace

In last week’s topic “Elected by God” we heard that election can be the choice of a specific individual to some office or to perform some special service. We also heard that election is a dual process. God chose humanity to be just like Him; humanity had a choice; Adam’s choice was disobedience. We also heard that God can use anyone:

Like Moses who felt inadequate to speak to Pharaoh because of his stutter, Abram who was childless, yet God promised to build a nation and a people for Himself out of Abram’s descendants, Saul who was zealous but shooting baskets for the wrong team until he had an encounter with God during a game, and last but not least, Rivers in the Desert Community Church, small in number but charged to do large things for God.

We also heard that, as in the case of Abraham, sometimes the election by God calls us to separate ourselves from family members, family ties, emotional baggage or a train of thought inherited from our ancestors, in order to go where God would have us to go and to accomplish that which He would have us accomplish to His honor and glory. Kinda like Rivers in the Desert, we’ve left some stuff behind, and left a couple of places, to end up in the location we are in today, knowing that with God, timing and location are key.

Which brings us to this week’s topic, “Elected by Grace” and what it means to us as Christians.

I must admit…I searched my head for the perfect “hook” in continuing this series that Pastor so eloquently kicked off. That prideful side of me…the side that pushes me to want to measure up, be just as good as…or even come a little close, was working overtime during what has proven to be a stressful week.

Nevertheless…I came up with one…“Chosen: Now What?” Doesn’t that just grab you right off the bat? But somehow, no matter how I worked it, twitched it and tweaked it…it kept me focused exactly where I didn’t want to go. It kept the emphasis on the work of a Christian, when our topic is firmly about the state of Grace. So sadly…I retired the brilliant (in my opinion) hook…and reverted to the assigned title.

“Elected by Grace”—not splashy, but right on target.

Grace:-Favor or kindness shown without regard to the worth or merit of the one who receives it and in spite of what that person deserves.

The very definition of grace addresses those of us today, who as Christians have gotten into the habit of thinking that our doodoos or gases don’t stink. What do I mean by that? I’m talking about those of us who’ve served a dish or two during fellowship hour, maybe sang a song or two during service, swept a floor ever now and then, typed up a bulletin or two and/or contributed faithfully. Having done one of more of the above, we feel justified enough to look around, decide who’s not working at all, or maybe not working hard enough (in our estimation) and devise tasks in our minds that are perfect for their “gifting.” Some of us may have even been bold enough to address the person(s) directly or broached the topic with the Pastor, as though expecting applause or a medal for our “assistance.”

But this morning, I thank God for Grace. Not only is it humbling, it is also a great equalizer. For it makes us realize that no matter who we are, or what we do, it makes no difference to God, where election is concerned. Grace:-None of us deserve it, yet God chose to extend it…because He loves us.

We in turn, choose God because He calls us. How does He call us? Through the proclamation or preaching of the gospel of Jesus the Christ; through the witnessing of believers to those they interact with on a daily basis, through the scriptures made freely accessible by various organization and believe it or not, through the many hardships and disappointments we experience in our lives. We choose God because He first chose and called us to Himself. In all instances, God is the initiator.

When things are free, there is the tendency to rush to embrace it, then…after a while, it begins to lose value because it cost us nothing. We take it for granted. I want to suggest, or maybe I should say remind us this morning that, that free item, may have cost us nothing, but somewhere, somehow, sometime…someone had to pay a cost to provide us with that free item. In the case of Grace, the someone, was Jesus the Christ and the cost was His life. The book of Isaiah chapter 53 verse 5 tells us that He was wounded for our transgressions (wrongdoings), crushed for our iniquities (sins); upon Him was the punishment that made us whole, and by His bruises we are healed. We, you and I, exist because of His grace; we walk in health because we need not be crippled by emotional, spiritual and/or mental agonies caused by the weight of our sins. Therefore, we dare not be complacent of the gift of Grace that is our very lives.

Jesus never has nor will ever be a complacent God. When He said, “It is finished.” from the cross, had He been complacent, He could have stopped there. After all, as the sacrificial lamb, His blood had already been shed, He’d taken on our sins, suffered the anguish of being separated from His Dad in a way He’d never experienced before. The lines of communication were down and all He had was His faith that His Dad still loved Him, while He was away on assignment.

But no…although “It is finished.” seemed a fitting end; in actuality…it had just begun! “It is finished” was the public demonstration of our very election by God before the foundation of the earth. What was finished? The reign of Satan was finished; what was finished? The restoration of the relationship between God and mankind was finished. Jesus committed, entrusted, returned His Spirit to its source of origin, the Father, for safekeeping and went to the pits of hell. There He suffered untold agonies, but He was still on the job, taking back everything the devil stole from us. Our joy, our hope, our love, our ability to trust, our lost family members and He rose triumphant on the third day in all power and glory.
Having broken the chains of death and restored mankind to right relationship with God, He returned to sit at the right hand of the Father where He’s still on the job, whispering in His daddy’s ear intercessory words for you and I.

Jesus’ resurrection entailed ramifications that Satan doesn’t want you and I to fully realize. That’s why he’s on the job 24/7, trying to ensure that our focus becomes the disappointments we experience during the week, the heartache we suffer at the hands of our loved ones, (for no one can hurt us like the ones we love) the insecurities that beset us when facing the unknown, the loneliness that attacks us in the wee hours of the morn and on and on just to keep our heads spinning, so we won’t have a moment to stop and think.

‘Cause when you stop and think, you might think of Jesus hanging on the cross, just to pay a debt that you couldn’t pay. A sin debt…the wages of which were clearly death. But through His grace, He chose you and He elected me, not through any actions or deeds of our own, but because He loves us so much.

He loved us so much that He left us an inheritance. What did we inherit? Let’s see:

 Salvation – He saved us from our sins
 Redemption – He bought back our sin IOU’s
 Justification – We now appear blameless before God
 Longevity – We can live forever
 Grace – Free unmerited favor
 Power – To cast down strongholds, to resist temptation, to praise, to forgive, to heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons...yes…all of that…and more

Aside from the six heavies I just mentioned, we also inherited a friend that put His life on the line for us, one who shares all knowledge with us, and the clincher…the ability to do all things in His strength.

Of course, as with anything freely given, there are stipulations. So attached to that inheritance is the responsibility to produce lasting fruit. Fruit? Did someone say fruit? So there’s food involved? Not quite. Fruit here refers to the people in our immediate circle, like our family, friends, (for the single among us) your significant other, co-workers and that person beside you on the bus or train every morning.

Fruit comes in all shapes and sizes and range in taste from sweet to downright tart! Some have prickly outsides some are smooth. Some have seeds that are edible, some not. Some are juicy some are dry. As many variations as there are to fruit, the same applies to the condition and/or state of mind of your average human being alive today. Both have something in common, without proper handling…they won’t last.

Even though some of us may have a hard time sharing our faith, and yes, some folk, like Pastor Ricketts, are gifted at it, the Bible clearly indicates that evangelism is for everyone, in fact it is considered to be a fruit of the spirit! Yes, that means that Pastor Ricketts, Min. Swangin and I, aren’t the only ones with the responsibility to say, Jesus loves you!
As someone chosen by Grace and set aside to do work for God, you’ve got something inside you that God wants you to share with someone who doesn’t know about or hasn’t experienced Him. What? How grace abounds in your life, how grace saved you, how grace keeps you. Think about it, you awaken every day…grace. You have the ability to walk, talk, think, hear and see…grace, grace, grace, grace and grace. You’ve got family and friends who love and look out for you…grace. You have a place to sleep at night…grace. The many little things you and I take for granted that others can’t do, don’t have or will never have are reason for us to be thankful for grace in our situation and mindful of our complaints and to whom we complain.

It is our responsibility to share the gospel of Jesus the Christ with those we come into contact with daily. A good thing to remember is that our actions and our attitude are as much or even more of a testament to what we say we believe. So we need to be gracious in our everyday dealings with others in the same way that God is gracious to us. Will any of this earn us any more or less grace? No. The fact is that we need only have faith in Jesus Christ to be afforded this Grace. However, since we had to hear…before we believed, our responsibility is to share this news with all who would listen. I know we sometimes have the desire to hug and hoard good things to ourselves, but the good news is: Grace is not like a one day sale at Macy’s where either the merchandise is gonna run out or the day will end…God’s grace is endless!

Someone might be thinking right now…but Sis Dee, that doesn’t seem like much of an inheritance, because I’ve got bills, I can’t seem to pay. To which God says, If you make yourself at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. In other words, your relationship with God and knowledge of His words, directs your prayer success rate. Your relationship with God, defines the “whatever” mentioned here. For example, if you and your earthly parent communicate about everything, you’ll know what they like or dislike as well as their financial circumstances and what they’ll be willing to give you. Same thing with God…closeness with Him (via the Word) enables you to know that praying for the car, the house, the money, doesn’t make sense because they are temporary. Now, if you pray for the help of the Lord, fullness of the Spirit, fullness of joy and/or wisdom and you do so in faith…not only will your prayer success rate improve in leaps and bounds…some of that other stuff will come as well.

But Sis Dee, I’m shy and no one listens to me anyway. To which God says, I did not give you a spirit of cowardice (fear), but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. In other words, don’t underestimate your God given ability to do. When faced with Satan’s projection of your insecurities, be proactive in your thinking. Start out with what you can do…and how many of you know that with God…all things are possible? Amen? Amen.

But Sis. Dee, I don’t know what to say. To which God says, You didn’t choose me, remember I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, He gives you. In other words, the Spirit will help you and three things to remember:

 He lived
 He died
 He rose

Tell them what those three things have meant in your life and how they too can experience it.

The key thing to remember is that God is the initiator in all things, and as the one who gave the assignment; He’ll also give you the words to say. All you have to do is be willing to open your mouth and trust He’ll be with you.

And there’s always someone literal in the crowd, so for you literal folk who are probably thinking about the fact that fruits are so expensive because they spoil so easily. I’m so glad you thought about that, because that gives me the opportunity to define “lasting fruit” and “fruit that spoils.”
Suppose we see the lasting fruit as the people we invite to church, tell about our experience with God who respond to God’s elective call by choosing to be saved as the lasting fruit. Then if we see the fruit that spoils easily as those people we hold on to that add nothing but a funky smell or rancid taste to our lives. Those would be the relationships with folk who’ve never had a positive thing to say to or about us in our entire lives, but still we associate ourselves. In our bid to be loved or maybe to love others as Jesus loved us, we need to be clear that in our loving, we can pray for them, be polite to them, but we need not spend excessive time with them.

Why? Did you ever notice how you can place two fruits beside each other, one healthy, one spoiled. To date, (and feel free to supply pictures and documentation if you’ve heard something to the contrary), in my almost forty years, I’ve never heard of the good apply rectifying, saving and/or restoring the whole bunch. But I sure did hear and sing that song about “One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch girl!”

Although I highly doubt anyone is going to be banging my door down with a report of an organically grown apple that managed to rectify, save and restore the whole bushel. But continuing the fruit analogy, I do hold in my hand, proof, that such an apple existed. Some call Him Yeshua, some call Him Savior, and this morning I call Him love.

And this morning He says to us:

I, God, am love. Before you existed, I chose you to be my ambassador…so that I can express my love through you.

Will you respond to His call?

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