I trust that springtime has found you all well. We enjoyed another great Sunday School lesson this past weekend and discussed the community project that is occurring this coming Sunday.
Whether you missed last week, or did not participate in the “Knock on Nine” event, and even if you haven’t attended Sunday School in a long time, you can still come and join our class in helping to make 2 homes in our “Mile of Grace” better places. The Mary Virginia Thomas Sunday School Class volunteered to clean up two yards this Sunday. The more help we have the less time it will take us – however, we have been assured of being done by 10:45 am. Afterwhich we will enjoy a nice church picnic.
WE ARE NOT MEETING AT THE CHURCH. To help us, come to Helping Hands at 8:45 am. We will have some brief instruction and then head over to our 2 projects. Wear yard clothes, bring gloves, clippers, weed eaters and the like, plus a little picnic food and join us. Many hands make light work!
For more information, please read the letter below and/or call the church.
There won’t be a Sunday School Class this weekend. Hope to see you at Helping Hands.
Today’s discussion took in two topics of particular interest: both of them have vexed the Church since that first day. First, let’s take a look at today’s scripture:
3 His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.
4 Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature.
5 For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge,
6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness,
7 and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love.
8 For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
9 For anyone who lacks these things is nearsighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins.
10 Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble.
11 For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.
12 Therefore I intend to keep on reminding you of these things, though you know them already and are established in the truth that has come to you.
13 I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to refresh your memory,
14 since I know that my death will come soon, as indeed our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me.
15 And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.
We agree that faith in God’s grace is the means of justification – of being in right relationship with God. Salvation is a gift of God and it is through God’s grace, not through our own works, that we are saved. This is central to not only our understanding of God’s covenantal love for his creation, but of the very reason for the incarnation, the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Then we read a passage such as today’s lesson scripture or James 2:14-17 and we wonder, “Is faith alone sufficient?”
The other question goes to the heart of our beliefs as well. It came up in the context of living a life of good works, of doing justice to the command to love our neighbors as ourselves. In discussing the “divine nature”, we talked of examples such as Mother Teresa and other saints. Some mentioned the example of a soldier being willing to give up his life for his comrades. Some brought up Gandhi and others wondered about the peasant who has never heard of the Gospel, but lives its essence every day. So, who is saved? Those who have faith in Christ and Christ alone? Those whose faith is backed up by works? Those who are participants in the “divine nature” by whatever means and by whatever path?
My belief is that we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone. This should manifest itself in good works – in those virtues listed in verses 5-7 of today’s lesson scripture, but this is a personal matter between each repentant and God. What is manifest for one person, may not be manifest for another. My concern is for my own works, my own struggle to particpate in God’s divine nature and, in doing so, to serve my fellow beings. As for those who are not Christians, I only know this: that the Good News is that Christ came, lived as God in human form, died and returned from the dead and will come again. That God did this out of love for all of humankind, so that everyone should have access to eternal life. This is what I know through faith. This is what I am instructed to share with all the world at all times – when necessary using words.
Danny pointed me toward Karen Sudduth’s wonderful site today. If you subscribe to our church’s daily devotional, you’re familiar with some of Karen’s writing. When I read the devotional that our church emailed us today, I knew who the author was within the first few sentences. There’s not many people that I can recognize through their writing that quickly – but she’s that good (and her artwork is too). I could share more with you about Karen’s journey, but I’ll let others who know her comment here. Better yet, take a trip to her site and learn for yourself.
Anyway, thanks to Danny for pointing us to Karen’s site. It is a blessing.
I’ve had people ask me from time to time, “Why do you suppose God chose Israel?” It’s an understandable question. Why did God choose this particular people – descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? It’s funny, the people of Israel probably asked themselves the same question from time to time. When we ask the question about Israel, we are probably forgetting that God ultimately chose us as well. That’s the point that Peter is making when he says that we are now God’s chosen people. Just as the people of Israel asked the question, so might we ask, “Why has God bestowed his favor on us?” But asking the question this way misses the point. God didn’t choose Abraham for anything he had done. He didn’t choose and love Israel to reward them for their righteousness or out of compassion for their bondage. God doesn’t choose us and grant us his grace because we are deserving. He chooses us because he loves us. If Israel’s problem-filled history doesn’t teach us anything else, it is that God loves us despite our faults.
Moses didn’t bother with the “why” – he simply stated that God had chosen Israel and then answered the question, “What does being chosen require of you?” The answer, echoed by Micah some centuries later, is simple.
10 I stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights, as I had done the first time. And once again the Lord listened to me. The Lord was unwilling to destroy you.
11 The Lord said to me, “Get up, go on your journey at the head of the people, that they may go in and occupy the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them.”
12 So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul,
13 and to keep the commandments of the Lord your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being.
14 Although heaven and the heaven of heavens belong to the Lord your God, the earth with all that is in it,
15 yet the Lord set his heart in love on your ancestors alone and chose you, their descendants after them, out of all the peoples, as it is today. Deut 10:10-15 (NRSV)
God doesn’t choose us for what we’ve done – he chooses us out of love and we can repay that love by what we do.
I’ve added a link under the “Prayerlist” in the left hand column – “Consarnit“. It’s Andy Nelson’s blog about dealing with this father’s fight with cancer. Andy and his brothers, Bud and Tom, have been friends of mine for years, and I ask for your thoughts and prayers as they and their father (and their families) cope with this struggle.
I’ve been off for a while. That is, I haven’t blogged, although I’ve kept up with reading the daily verses. Part of the reason is that I’ve been leading a group this fall studying N. T. Wright’s Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense. It’s an excellent little book with some really deep ideas and we have a good group that really enjoys discussion (which makes it an easy class to lead).
So, I’ve missed some blogging about some of my favorite passages during the past couple of weeks. Probably just as well, because I don’t know that I was up to doing them justice with trying to do everything else. It seemed appropriate to blog on the passages this week, including today’s passage, given the discussion we had in our Wright study this week on the chapter on Israel. We sometimes forget that we are the inheritors of a tradition rooted in Judaism and the Old Testament. Rejoicing in God’s gift of grace, we sometimes forget the gift of God’s law. This is one of the things we discussed this week – the blessing that God’s law was for Israel – and through Israel, the world. The law is all about relationships – with God and with one another. I’m also reading a book by James Reston, Jr., Dogs of God: Columbus, the Inquisition, and the Defeat of the Moors, that deals in part with the shameful way that Christians treated Jews in Spain (a failing that, unfortunately, is not limited either geographically or in time). How easy it is to forget that Israel, the “Suffering Servant” is meant, as was foretold to Abraham, a blessing to all the nations.
18 For I know their works and their thoughts, and I am coming to gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and shall see my glory,
19 and I will set a sign among them. From them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Put, and Lud—which draw the bow—to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the nations.
20 They shall bring all your kindred from all the nations as an offering to the Lord, on horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and on mules, and on dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the Lord, just as the Israelites bring a grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. Isaiah 66:18-20 (NRSV)
We need to remember that we are a part of this heritage – that we are to be a blessing to all the nations – that we have our part to play in fulfilling the words of the prophet.
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