Monday, December 13, 2010

Powerful Grace

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You hear stories everyday of people who have performed heroically in moments before disaster strikes. The following day, newspaper headlines may read: “Man Saves Elderly Woman from Bus;” “Son Rescues Father by Lifting Tractor Up;” “Child Outsmarts House Robber.” When asked the famous question, “How’d you do it?” the hero often humbly and somewhat puzzled replies, “Something just came over me—I couldn’t help it! I just knew what I needed to do.” Science would tell you it’s an adrenaline rush; hormones influx in the body causing the heart rate to increase and blood vessels to dilate preparing the body for a quick response and perform an action that appears impossible. Physically it makes sense that the body would respond like that due to physiological factors, like hormones however, mentally--even though it may be considered ‘physical,’ there has to be more to the response. Who in their right mind would risk their life for another person?

In the Bible, the Apostle Paul is often writing from a jail cell or in chains. In a letter to the church of Colossae, he explains his purpose and ministry to the church (1:24-29). He says that he rejoices in sufferings for the sake of the church. His desire was to “proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” The he says something that somewhat stands-out as a key component to his reasoning of rejoicing in the midst of such opposition: “For this, I toil, struggling with all HIS energy that HE powerfully works within me.” (vs.29). Did you see the emphasis on “His” and “He?” Do you see how Paul did attribute his energy to some ‘adrenaline rush,’ or some surreal human level of love for others—he gave all of the credit for his energy to Christ. Yes, God may work through whomever he desires and He has designed the body to have remarkable reflexes but there is something much more powerful moving inside Paul than mere chemicals—the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:4-7 says this:
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. 7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good….All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”
In this text, the spiritual gifts include gifts of wisdom, knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, working with miracles, prophecy, the ability to distinguish the spirits, gifts of speaking in tongue and interpretation: not your everyday gifts. Notice a similar tribute to God as the giver of these gifts: “There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” The manifestation of the Spirit with the gifts being ‘empowered’ by the same Spirit is referring to the manifestation of the Holy Spirit of the Triune God. These spiritual gifts are also spoken of in Acts when the Church is first being established. The gifts were most certainly displayed among the disciples and apostles. Acts 4 says this:

Peter and John Before the Sanhedrin
1 The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. 2 They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. 3 They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. 4 But many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand.
5 The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. 6 Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family. 7 They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”
8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is
“‘the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the cornerstone.’
12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. 14 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. 15 So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. 16 “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it. 17 But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”
18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

And continuing on picking up at verse 31, after praying…

31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
The Believers Share Their Possessions
32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
I love, love, love verse 33: “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy person among them.”

Do you see that? Not only was power working among the apostles to perform miracles but GRACE. In fact, grace is what moved them to give to those who were needy around them.

With all this said, we are entering into a season of giving. You have a shopping list a mile long of gifts that you plan to get for people you care about—and maybe a few you don’t really care but it’s “part of the season,” right? Before you add another trinket, gismo or gadget to that list, could you do me a favor? Do you think you could sit down and think of all the people that have hurt you in the past—day, week, month, year, decade, lifetime: I know, I picture you squirming already as I type this, but do it anyways. Ok, having those individuals in your mind—feelings are starting to erupt ever-so slightly in your heart and it is as though needles are starting to jab into it growing stronger and stronger with every recognition of the person’s name. Here we go: disaster is upon us-- that bus is drawing closer to that little old lady; picture your father sinking under the tires of the tractor or the sudden realization that a robber has just entered your home: how do you react? What are you going to respond in the moment you are challenged not with a bus, not with a tractor or a robber: how do you respond with the challenge to forgive? The Bible is pretty clear on this: John 13 says this:

“12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

Whose feet did Christ wash? His disciples right? What are the names of those disciples? Peter…John…James…Philip…Andrew…Bartholomew…Matthew…Thomas… James son of Alphaeus…Simon who was called the Zealot….Judas son of James….and ….Who? Come again? Judas? Oh yah, and Judas Iscariot. What did Judas do to Christ? He became a traitor—he sold information to the police for the life of our Beloved Christ and yet, Christ not only washed his feet, but died for him. They say “timing is everything,” and if that is a true statement, then there is significance in the verse that says: “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us since therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:7-9). While we were yet sinners---while we were passing coins—committing adultery with the world, Christ died for us.

Later on this theme of grace is interwoven back in on the topic of “Death in Adam, Life in Christ” in saying this: “But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many” (Romans 5:14-15).

Running out into the street in front of a bus to save an innocent, old lady may appear to be much easier than forgiving someone who has wronged you. But if you would only recognize the death sentence your own sin gave Christ; the power of God’s grace in the light of it and the work of the Holy Spirit in your own life ---you may end up surprising yourself this Christmas when you give the gift of grace to someone on your ‘naughty list.’

Remember that dirty feet were washed by the unblemished yet soon to be scarred hands of Christ.

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