Pastor Shannon welcomed us warmly with his usual good cheer. He then briefly introduced his new theme for the next several weeks: grace. He noted that when we first encounter God's grace it really is amazing grace. But over time, we get accustomed to it and even take it for granted. With heart overflowing he affirmed, "Shouldn't it always be amazing grace?
During the announcements Leonard noted that the Sweetheart Banquet will be on Feburary 13th this year. Be sure to mark your calendars.
Darlene's introit was followed by a time of worship led by Brad, Pearl and Ellie.
Duayne Anderson then read to the children a book by Max Lucado called You Are Special. The story affirms that our worth comes not from the opinions of others but from our Maker.
After the Scripture reading from Romans 5:6-8 we had a time of prayer for the many needs in our church family as well as those in Haiti at this time. If you are desirous to contribute to Haitian relief efforts, a special offering basket will be available for this purpose after the service to be used for Covenant World Relief.
There is no where a more comprehensive look at grace than in the Book of Romans, Brad noted, and so for the next few weeks we will take up this theme and this book, focusing primarily on chapters 5, 6, 7 and 8. He encouraged us to read these chapter during this time we're studying them.
"I am because of grace," Brad stated. This is the truth. It's the only reason.
Someone said justice is getting what we deserve. Mercy is getting what we don't deserve. And grace is receiving what we could never ever deserve. It is something amazing, and Brad said never ceases to be amazed by the truth "that God would save a wretch like me."
Brad hasn't always felt this way. He grew up going to church and sometimes "played church" and didn't really know about friendship with God. But as a pastor he has grown in his understanding of God's grace, and how this grace is extended to everybody.
He told us about a place called Prince Albert, a dirty city in central Canada with the reputation of being a Little Chicago. "I called it the city of grace, because where sin abounds grace abounds that much more," he said. It reminded him of the parable Jesus told about a man who upon finding a treasure buried in a field goes and sells everything he had to buy this field. That's the way these people embraced God when they experienced His grace. It was like the greatest thing ever, like they had finally hit the jackpot.
In his travels and experiences in various places, Brad discovered how multicolored and multifaceted God's grace really is. "I am, you are, because of grace."
Before getting to the heart of Romans, Brad felt it needful to review the beginnings of this significant book. Chapter one lays out the realities of how much we are in a pretty rough state, not only in our behaviors but also our ideas, ultimately cutting God out of our lives. In chapter two, Paul talks about how religious attempts to keep all the rules always fall short, or end up in a self-righteousness that is little more than filthy rags. Chapter three leads to the conclusion that we are all under the power of sin. There is no one who does good, not even one.
In Ephesians Paul goes so far as to say that we were dead in our sins, cut off from God altogether. Brad described death with amusing images. No matter how you dress it up, death is death and isn't ever the same as life. Take a flower that's been cut off from the stem and you have... a dead flower. You can try to save it by sticking it in soil, or duct taping it back in place, but the flower is not going to live again.
But now, we have been shown us a different way of being right with God. Grace through faith, trusting Jesus to take away our sins, declaring us not guilty. We have been justified, because of grace. Just as if I'd never sinned.
Our former identity was as sinners. In our new identity we are saints. This isn't something earned. It is a title for those who have been set aside for God.
"I know some of you are probably thinking that is not for me. I have gone too far." But Brad assured is that what we have done does not determine who we are. No one is too far gone to receive grace.
He reminded us of Rahab, a prostitute, who is cited in the famous "Heroes of Faith" passage of Hebrews 11. God's grace came to her while she was still a sinner, before Rahab went to rehab. She is mentioned several times in Scripture, and always as "Rahab the prostitute." Her faith and God's grace combined to change her life.
In point of fact, God used her significantly. She married an awesome person and raised an awesome son named Boaz, the same Boaz who we read about in the Book of Ruth in the Old Testament. She goes on to be listed in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1. Here is this painted woman whom God gave such dignity and honor. God's grace is truly amazing. Where man fails, God excels.
Listen to these Scripture references. Because of grace I am completely accepted by God. In fact, I am God's child. I have been justified, I am Christ's friend, I have been bought with a price, I am a member of Christ's body, I have direct access to God through the Holy Spirit. I have been redeemed and forgiven of all my sins, I am complete in Christ.... Because of grace I am totally secure, I am assured that God works all things for good, I am forever free from condemnation, I am confident I cannot be separated from the love of God and that God will finish the work He has started in me, I am a citizen of Heaven, I can find mercy and grace to help in time of need, I am born of God and the evil one cannot touch me. Because of grace I am deeply, deeply significant.
Check this out. God says I am the salt of the earth. And the light of the world. I'm a branch on the true vine. I am a temple of the living God, I am a minister of reconciliation for God. I am God's co-worker, I am seated with Christ in the heavenly realm, and God's workmanship created for good works. I may approach God with a freedom and confidence and I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Because of grace.
Remember this. You are not defined by what you do, but by His grace.