Sneaky Grace

Thanks for joining us again this week. I usually say when we are in a sermon series that we are “on a journey.” Well this time it is overly intentional. The series is the Journey of Grace. We are discovering how discipleship isn’t a math problem to be solved, but rather a trail to be experienced. We will be looking at 5 different ways God’s grace shows itself to people. Take note: just because they are presented in a particular week-to-week order, doesn’t mean that is always how they present. Last week we looked at the compelling story. The story or the life example that influenced us to begin along this road with Jesus. Today we will talk about how Jesus was there even before we put on our walking shoes. Today we dive in on the topic of Prevenient Grace. 

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Let me just start off by illustrating prevenient grace.

The line below represents a person’s life. At a point they are born, the arrow pointing off and to the right to represent them living. But to the left, even before they were born – The Grace of God.

                                      {Birth}————————————————>

        {God’s Grace}        {Birth}—————{Conversion}—————->

“My frame was not hidden from you

    when I was made in the secret place,

    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw my unformed body;

    all the days ordained for me were written in your book

    before one of them came to be.”

Psalms 139:15-16 NIV

So we recognize that God is the God who goes before. He prepares for us. Lines start getting blurry when we talk about graciously providing resources for us. In the book, “Way Truth Life.” Dr. Busic talks about the difference between providence and prevenience. Providence deals with when and where you were born. Things large, complex and mysterious. Busic said,

“Providence is where God places us, prevenience describes the multifaceted ways that God meets us.

Prevenient is that grace that goes before our response. That enables us to have a response at all!

Let’s look at some parts of Acts 10. Again if you’ve not yet joined us for Sunday School, I highly recommend it. It gives us an opportunity to discuss these themes a bit more. So next week, 9:45  please come to Sunday School.

The Story

“At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. 2 He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. 3 One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, ‘Cornelius!’ ”

Acts 10:1-3 NIV

Have you ever had a vision of an angel? And don’t be silly, I don’t mean me or my family. I’m talking about a heavenly messenger. Or what about a clear word personally delivered to you. You know what you heard in your head, your heart. It was God speaking.

Well Cornelius of all people gets this extra special blessing. But hey, he wasn’t the top religious leader in town! He isn’t even in the top 20! Why did this come to Cornelius? It comes to Caesarea being a type of spiritual crossroads. His home town was a hotbed of Judaism and Roman governance. And where they overlap, there is tension. Like 4 Wisconsinites all coming to a 4-way stop at the same time. Noone knows who’s turn it is, so they try to be polite and wave to each other to “go,” but no one goes. Tension at the crossroads.

Crossroad

  • This was the unique place of life Cornelius was in, but perhaps it was set up for grace to have its way with him.
    • “He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.” (acts 10:2 NIV)
      • It seems amazing that a person born into a militant Gentile background would be generous and devout to God.
      • And perhaps that’s the problem with my viewpoint of people. I would expect a hardcore military man, one especially associated with the Roman Empire of this time to be bowing before his household gods, partying it up with whomever he wanted. 
      • I don’t expect him to be a family man who does his job, prays regularly and cares for the needy. 
    • To recap from our Sunday School Lesson this morning, Caesarea was where Cornelius was from and that area had a blend of Roman authority and Jewish religion.
  • Crossroads, where this deep faith and tradition meets the secular and governmental. Tension takes place at the crossroads. Something must change.
  • It was right there and then where something…someone drew Cornelius. Drew him closer and closer. Invaded his dreams which in turn, influenced his actions. He searched for a man he’s never heard of because of a message from an angel of God. 

Curiosity

Anyone who begins to turn toward God is already under the allure of grace. This pull is often demonstrated through curiosity. People ask questions. They show up in spaces they wouldn’t ordinarily. They hang out longer than they used to.

Kids are probably some of the BEST question askers. When they are just starting out, the main one is “Why?” Why do I have to where that? Why do we have to go there? Why is that what’s for dinner? But it can change to deeper topics.

  • Why did Jesus have to die?
  • Why do we “go to church?”
  • Why don’t I “feel” anything when I pray?

It can shift into matters of “How”

  • How can I know God’s talking to me?
  • How can God be good, and let bad stuff happen all over the world?

The most intriguing questions are the “what ifs?”

  • What if Adam and Eve never sinned?
  • Would we still have Jesus?
  • Could we be real close to wild animals and not get hurt?
  • Would we wear clothes?!

Curiosity shows a person of any age, is desiring to grow. In matters spiritual, they are reflecting and hopefully allowing what they discover to take root and shape the course of their lives. 

When these moments of curiosity show up, it’s because the person feels safe to ask. In regards to my kids, it’s usually right before bed. I’m sure it has nothing to do with delaying going to sleep. Safety. Comfort. The ability to quiet one’s self and reflect. That’s the scenario where folks open up.

Companionship

I think we can all agree that life is better when we do it together. We may get frustrated with other people, but the social shift-change during covid should have helped us realize how much we need each other and how much personal interaction is really required to thrive in life. 

Cornelius is bebopping around, honoring God, praying, being charitable. God has him go out and find a companion, a friend. Someone to advise him in the faith. That new friend is Peter.

If you are a believer, who was it for you? Who advised you as you began to seek God? ___________________________________

Conviction

Conviction sounds like a scary thing, but it is truly a freeing thing.

“Conviction is the grace that begins to align our lives to the kingdom of God before we’ve made that kingdom our home.”

Every time we’ve moved, there have been some folks who went out of their way to make us feel welcome. To make us feel more like permanent residents and less like temporary guests. We were Wisconsinites before we even had our first cheese curd.

This conviction, the Holy Spirit utilizes our conscience and drives our decision making, our hearts to choose the right and walk away from the wrong. To dive into the holy and discard the selfish and evil.

If that isn’t a pattern of a disciple in progress, I don’t know what is! Making us more and more like Jesus, The Christ.

Mandate – what are we called to do because of this?

  1. As Christians, it is our calling – like Peter – is to serve as guides, as shepherds for others along the journey.

But doesn’t that mean it’s all on me?! What if I screw up and say something wrong, unbiblical. Come off as harsh, pushy, needy, whatever (fill in your excuse in the line provided.)

_____________________________________________________

  1. If God is going before, who are you to feel guilty?
    1. 1 Corinthians 3:5-9
      1. Paul is talking to the Corinthians about their dedicated-ness to certain leaders: Paul, Apollos, (later, Cephas).
      2. “We’re only servants!”
    2. The Application is this: if we are following the Holy Spirit, listening and obeying Jesus, and remaining open to be used as God desires…then we are doing all we can. The Holy Spirit is the one working before us, drawing a person to Himself. We’re servants, guides, shepherds. 
    3. That being said, we ought not to heap guilt upon ourselves for things out of our control.
      1. We’ve talked about it before. Sometimes children who’ve been raised up in the church, prayed over by their parents, and shown godly examples throughout their lives sometimes don’t cling to the faith. Sometimes they reject it.
      2. This is not a problem for God, so it shouldn’t be one for us. We believe in free will, it is part of the grace that goes before prevenient grace. It enables a person to respond to grace with acceptance or rejection.

Think of it this way: as a husband and a wife love each other, they had the option to, not love each other. If one was forced into the relationship, it wouldn’t be love. It would be a business arrangement.

  1. Back to salvation and discipleship: as the Holy Spirit is wooing a person, it’s our shepherding job to point out where we see the Holy Spirit at work in a “not-yet-believer’s” life.”
  2. Again, we are an assistant…a supporting role. We don’t hit the spiritual Home Run. Our compelling life (as we talked about last time) and our ability to identify God at work in someone’s life, that’s our basic task.
    1. We don’t need to beat ourselves up, however we need to be faithful to follow the opportunities the Lord gives us. His grace works in us and through us.

Modern-day Caesarea?

You may disagree with this point and that’s perfectly fine, but it is my opinion that Vernon county is very much a modern-day Caesarea. It has its religious roots, its focus on family and agriculture. Older churches and organizations sprinkled throughout the community held much sway in the business and culture during their most influential years. However, in the last several decades the influence of faith has been overtaken by the influence of nature and humanism. A gentile revolution, if you will. 

But what humanism and nature worship doesn’t know is that God is not scared, he’s not intimidated. God has already gone before and continues to reach folks despite Christianity not holding the sway it once did. Where today we may feel sort of persecuted or mistreated, God doesn’t bat an eyelash. His work shows up evermore clearly against a dark backdrop. (Black paper, White chalk) 

And who’s grace went before the humanists to awaken them to their abilities to achieve, learn, prosper? God’s Grace. 

Who’s grace went before those whose religion is nature? And allow me to clarify: What you think about, talk about most – is most likely what you worship. So whose grace gave people the capacity to care about their environment? The grace to identify how to steward resources rather than just burning through them? It was God’s Grace.

These attributes are but a shadow of the call God has out on each and everyone of us. The grace that enables our response. Come and See. Follow Me. We looked at that last week. The flip side is this, Jesus was once talking about his sacrificial death and using the analogy of “Eating his flesh, drinking his blood.” He explains a bit further. Then John records Jesus saying the following in verse 65.

65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

John 6:65 NIV

How did people respond to that final piece of news?

“66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”

John 6:66 NIV

We are a crossroads. There is spiritual tension in our communities. Ignoring that does not help us one bit. What does help us is to recognize that it is at the crossroads where many folks decide to use the grace God has given them and say “Yes” or “No” to the offer to follow Jesus.

You and I? We are Shepherd. Tour Guides. Spiritual Parents, if you’d like. When we see someone curious, we make ourselves available. We open ourselves up to be fully used by the holy spirit to guide someone on their Journey of Grace. All of it was made possible because of God’s prevenient grace – that sneaky grace. You don’t notice it until later reflecting on it. “Oh yeah, that was God working in my life.”

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