God’ Amazing and Far-Reaching Grace

The New Testament teaches there are two kinds of people who are saved: Those who are saved know it, and appreciate it; and those who are saved, but do not yet know it.

The first group of people know that they are saved. In 1st Timothy 4:10 we read that “God is the savior of all, especially those who believe.” Whatever else this verse means, it means at least this: Those who know that they belong to God possess a special blessing. They invariably confess that they have been somehow pursued, surprised, and apprehended by God’s amazing and far-reaching grace. Thus, in Ephesians 2: 8-9 the apostle writes:

“By grace you are saved, through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not because of works lest anyone should boast.”

Herein the apostle plainly states that we are saved “by grace, through faith,” and “not because of works.” He then adds that we cannot boast of our “work of faith” because even our faith is “the gift of God.” Continue reading

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John 14:6: Exclusive or Inclusive?

In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Next to John 3:16, this is the most used text in the New Testament. You hear it from my lips; I hear it from yours.” It also shows on billboards along the highway and on banners at baseball games.

• There are those who believe this text is exclusive. That it serves as a handy divider between the sheep and the goats, the saved and the unsaved. They say the text excludes everyone from God except believing and baptized Christians.

• There are those who believe this text is inclusive. That its primary purpose is not to separate the sheep from the goats and sort ou the saved from the unsaved. Rather it is about the unique relationship between God the Father and God the Son and the unlimited atonement (at-one-ment) between God and humankind that God accomplished in his Son, Jesus Christ.

What do you think? Perhaps I can help you to refine your thinking by introducing to you a few of the many questions that have come to me over the years. Continue reading

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Leaving the Fold—Only to Return

This morning I want to talk about the two halves of life, and the faith we need for each. The sermon is partly inspired and informed Fr. Richard Rohr’s book, “Falling Upward: a Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life.” This book enabled me to see a much-neglected part of Scripture and to pick-out important elements in our Gospel lesson. Let’s talk about life as we know it.

The first half of life includes our all of our childhood and early adult years. It usually extends well into our middle years. Some of you think of the middle years as “the old age of youth,” others describe them as “the youth of old age.” I call it history. All work.

In the first half of life, we learn to live by the rules. Rules fence us in and give us a sense of safety and security. As children and even as adults, we prefer to live by laws like the Ten Commandments, and we love keeping the rules. If I may evoke the language of John 10, “We like living in the fold.” And we rejoice that the most common one-liner in Scripture is “Do not be afraid.” It occurs 365 times, one for each day of the year.

In his book, “The Art of Loving,” Erik Fromm the noted psychiatrist and psychologist says that the healthiest people he has known are those who have grown up with two strong parents, or parental figures. One of them offers unconditional love and acceptance. The other offers conditional and demanding love. Unconditional love and acceptance gives us confidence. It gives us the strength stand-up, speak-up, and, when necessary, stand-out. Conditional and demanding love keeps us on the straight and narrow and enables us to function in a society based on rules. Teachers, preachers, and other authority figures continue this creative tension; but we only help if the parents have done their job. Continue reading

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A Living Hope: 1st Peter 1:3-9

In the early 1980s I was flying from Greensboro to Newark and sat next to a delightful little grandmother.  In those days, the airlines served food even on short flights, and the stewardess came by to ask if we wanted a sandwich.

My seatmate said, “I am hungry. What do you have?”

The stewardess said, “Ham and cheese.”

My seatmate declined the offer, but I accepted. As I ate my sandwich, between well-chewed bites, I turned to her and said, “You turned down the ham and cheese. Are you Jewish?”

She smiled and said that she was, immediately adding, “I survived the holocaust!”

She then told me the story of how she  and her family was taken prisoner by the SS and shipped off to one of the work camps. Her mother, father, and younger brother all perished in the camps, but by some miracle—and sheer determination, she survived.

I said, “In the midst of all that horror, what did you hope for?”

She said, “I hoped to be alive at the end of the war.”

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Dealing with Difficulty

This morning we are talking about “Dealing with Difficulty.” This is one of those Sundays when all the lessons raise this question or attempt an answer.

We begin with the oracle of the prophet Habakkuk.  After looking full upon the disaster that was to come upon his nation and its people the prophet cried out saying:

O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?  Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.

 It is tempting to put ourselves in one place and Habakkuk and his troubles in another. For some, this will work, for a time; but as Saul’s Bellow reminds us, “You don’t know what is coming if you think you can get (through life) with laughing and eating peach pie.” Continue reading

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