I’ve been spending a lot of time pondering the phrase prevenient grace. It was Wesley who many credit with using this term, saying that God's prevenient grace was at work in the hearts of the unconverted.
Prevenient grace is God’s grace that goes before us. (Latin - pre: before, venire: to come) It runs ahead of us. It gets there before we arrive on the scene. It prepares the hearts of people so that when you arrive, the soil has been tilled and is ready to receive the seed about to be planted. It’s like an event coordinator who arrives a few days early before the event happens to work behind the scenes, preparing, coordinating, organizing and making sure things are set up before everyone arrives so that the event is effective, so everything works as it should. God, the provider of prevenient grace. God, the event coordinator. In an apostolic role like church planting this is a great comfort.
In ministry - whether officially vocationally or unofficially missional - it instills great confidence in a God who provides prevenient grace in our lives, going before us, preparing others for the message of the gospel to saturate, seep into and transform lives before we even arrive.
Can you recognize God’s prevenient grace in your life today? How can you be more aware of it tomorrow?
I talked with a pastor in the area recently who told me that as he was studying the book of John he noticed that John records Jesus continually mentioning the three main elements of what make a disciple, an apprentice of Jesus.
One who... (1) Holds to Jesus' teachings (2) Loves one another (3) Bears much fruit.
It's so simple, but so hard to live out - and yet it makes so much sense...
A few months ago a pastor-friend of mine introduced me to a new word I had never heard before: xenophobia.
Break the word down in Greek. xenos: stranger, foreigner, alien phobos: fear, anxiety Xenophobia: fear of the stranger. Or, to word it better: the fear of someone who is different than me.
Psychologists will tell you that we all have xenophobia to some level or another, whether its severe (racism, sexism, bigotry, etc), diagnosed (deep levels of paralyzing anxiety over people who dress a certain way, talk a certain way, look a certain way, etc) or mild (locking our car doors as we drive through dangerous neighborhoods late at night or avoiding our neighbors who are weird because they make us feel awkward and unsafe).
We can spot xenophobia because what we fear the most is what we distance ourselves from the furthest., whether its physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual proximity. What we are closest to in proximity is what we love the most.
I've wondered about my own xenophobia. What types of people am I afraid of interacting with? What - or who - do I hold at the furthest distance away from myself? What - or who - do I hold closely?
As I've thought about my own xenophobia for quite some time I'm not entirely sure my answer, but I can tell you generally that I am fearful of people who don't make me feel safe. This is not uncommon. I think most people would answer the question this way.
I've been wondering about xenophobia and the gospel. What are the implications of the gospel message when it comes to people who are different from us - religiously, socio-economically, geographically, linguistically, culturally - whether those people live across the street or across the world?
I'm chewing on the inclusivity of the gospel, the role of the Church in the world and how they relate to our fears of those different from us. I think what made Jesus a compelling figure is because of the presence of love he had no xenophobia. The more xenophobia we possess, the less love we will possess. The more love we possess, the less xenophobia we will possess. The gospel's power is so strong that it is capable of breaking down every xenophobic wall that we could ever erect.
I think of the words of Paul: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ." (Galatians 3:28)
Where is your xenophobia most evident? Why is that? And can I invite the Spirit to come in and break down my xenophobic tendencies in order to replace them with love?
I've been hanging out in Matthew chapters 5, 6 and 7 all summer long. I have immersed myself in the rich words of Jesus, the explanation of his rhythms and interpretations for how real life is lived called The Sermon on the Mount. In the midst of a summer of chaos, complexity and busyness, it has brought me back to the basics, reminded me of the foundational elements of following Jesus, the simplicity of faith. It's been challenging, refreshing, enlightening, frightening and encouraging. Probably the reason why I have stayed there and haven't been able to move on from it is because I have so much to learn from it and I am far from where I need to be to live out these values in my everyday, ordinary life.
I've also been re-reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's classic book The Cost of Discipleship, where he expounds on each saying of the Sermon on the Mount. It's rich and deep. My brain can only handle a few pages at a time before I have to put the book down in order to process it all. (If you've never read it, pick it up. It's worth its weigh in gold).
I've tried to outline these three chapters of Matthew, highlighting the values of the Kingdom of God that Jesus communicates to his listeners. Here's what I have come up with so far...
Jesus opens his teaching on the new way of life by sharing that the kingdom of God is inclusive, open to a wide variety of types of people (5:1-12).
He then goes on to talk about several important concepts of the kingdom:
Influencing for good (5:13-16)
Scripture and its practices (5:17-20)
Valuing Human Lie (5:21-26)
Purity in Marriage/Healthy relationships (5:27-32)
Truth-telling and Truth-living (5:33-37)
Generosity of our lives (5:38-42)
Generosity of our possessions (6:1-6)
Communicating with God (6:5-15)
Possessions and Priorities (6:19-24)
Trust, Freedom from worry, priorities (6:25-34)
Judging and passing judgment (7:1-6)
Asking God (7:7-12)
Jesus ends his teaching on the new way of life with three metaphors:
I read over the list of values above and I'm struck with this profoundly simple thought: if I am to be a faithful follower of Jesus then these rhythms will be clearly evident in my own life. Consequently, I'm struck with this profoundly simple realization: I have a long way to go to have Christ fully shaped in the rhythms of my everyday activities, thoughts and behaviors.
"We do not want you to copy or imitate us. We want to be like a ship that has crossed the ocean, leaving a wake of foam, which soon fades away. We want you to follow the Spirit, which we have sought to follow, but which must be sought anew in every generation."
-First generation Quakers at Balby, York, late 17th century
I've been thinking about this question the last several weeks.
If Jesus were to speak directly and clearly what would he say to...
-Barry Bonds -Lindsay Lohan -Hugh Hefner -Terrell Owens -our Senators and Congressmen in Washington -the Democratic and Republican Presidential front runners -Osama bin Laden -Howard Stern -Brittney Spears -Mahmoud Ahmadinehdah?
Would what Jesus would want to say to them be what I would want to say them...how different/similar would my reaction be to the reaction of Jesus?
In my seminary class, our professor talked a few weeks ago about "just because" theology. And I just can't get it out of my head.
Remember when you were a kid, he said, and you asked your parents why you had to do something they told you. You received one of two lines from your parents: either "because I told you so, that's why" or, if they were tired and were trying to avoid being long-winded, "just because."
God does that with us. If you asked God, 'why do you love me so much?' With a smile on his face, he would respond, by saying "just because." It's a part of His character to love you. Love is a part of His nature. He is not like love. Scripture says that He is love, the embodiment of love in all of its essence.
Aren't you glad that we serve a God that loves us just because. And, in terms of our identity, it's important to make sure that we have a "just because" theology - a theology that lives in grace and freedom and gratitude because we have a Poppa God who loves us just because He does.