LIVING OUT GOD’S GRACE IN OUR CHURCH COMMUNITY

 

Kathy Larkman

Kathy Larkman, contributor for today’s blog post

 

In our Living Out God’s Grace Bible study series, we have been exploring the grace of the gospel which brings us to faith in Christ and motivates and enables us to live out our salvation.

In the second half of our series we are considering the “means of grace” by which our Triune God gives us as blessings to not only grow us in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus, but to know and enjoy Jesus more and more. We looked at listening to God in His Word and talking to God in prayer. The next study is the grace habit of belonging to His body in fellowship within our church community. Why is this so important as we grow in Christ?

If Corsham Baptist Church and Church on the Green are to be gospel churches, it must not only receive the gospel and pass it on, but also embody it in a community life of mutual love. Nothing but the grace of Christ can accomplish this.
The Christian community is to be a living example of God’s transforming power, because this is what the world outside needs to see. Our witness in an increasingly fragmented society is that in Christ we’re finding a way to make relationships work, and the power to turn theory into practice. This is the HORIZONTAL dimension of the gospel: reconciled to one another. It is not without effort – relationships need working at. The difference Christ makes is that our labour is not in vain.
BUT our witness to the world is that we’re also rightly related to God: the VERTICAL dimension. The life of God should be visible in our gatherings.

Pastor Eddie Larkman: “The danger is always that we’ll become lop-sided, emphasising one aspect of the gospel at the expense of another:
some churches are big on healing human relationships, yet seem to have lost sight of a holy God to whom we need to be reconciled. Other churches are strong on honouring God by their pure doctrine and verbally correct worship, yet seem to lack the life-changing power that produces mature human beings. They leave people narrow and constricted; they crush people beneath the mighty juggernaut of their correct theology.”

The gospel church that God desires is the church that is growing in both dimensions: horizontally and vertically – where human relationships are being healed and people are growing to maturity – where God is loved and honoured, celebrated and obeyed. These things are not in opposition to one another, but are brought into partnership in Christ. The church that reflects these things is the church that truly shows Christ to the world. And that’s what we’re called to be. I believe we are on that trajectory. And Lord willing, sisters, we can be instrumental as God’s girls in this process!Picture1

 

 

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GRACE FOR THE UN-PLUCKED THORN

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16

Living out the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ manifests itself on many different levels and dynamics. We all face mundane, tedious situations where we need His grace- I.E., when picking up someone else’s dirty socks and then actually washing them for said sock person; listening to a person who may be getting on your nerves with repetitive squabble; sorting other people’s stuff and dairies-AGAIN AND AGAIN; when you just want to say to your children, “okay, I give up. You call the shots. I am too weary to be a parent to you in this situation;” when you want to withdraw because someone you love has hurt you; or you want to respond with passive aggressive behaviour toward someone you are angry with. And these are just a few examples of everyday living stuff.

What about those deep, deep hurts or pain or circumstances that may never be sorted in this lifetime?

We each have a story. Some of you are trying to overcome habitual sin that has a stronghold in your life. Some of you are trying to forgive someone who has devastated you. Some of you are trying to share the gospel with someone who remains indifferent. Some of you are trying to endure chronic physical pain. Some of you are trying to survive the crushing circumstances of life. Some of you are trying to crawl out of the pit of damaged emotions or past “stuff” that is impacting on your life today in a negative way. Or you are trying to comfort or encourage someone who has lost a loved one from disease, an accident, estrangement.

Paul tells us that there was a time in his life when he repeatedly cried out to God to take his pain away. And God’s reply surprised him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9.

BUT the weakness or pain is still there. Some things that make us groan never go away.

thornWhat was God’s purpose in giving Paul this thorn? To keep him from being conceited (2 Cor 12:7) – our sufferings often do that. The great enemy in Paul’s life was not stonings, beatings, shipwrecks – or anything to do with his circumstances – but PRIDE. This “thorn in the flesh” wasn’t punishment, it was prevention, and frankly, salvation. It was God’s way of rescuing Paul from himself.

Which is always one of the things God is doing through our un-plucked thorns.

The Lord makes us conscious of our weakness – it comes to us in many forms: physical, intellectual, temperamental; emotional; circumstantial …
So we cry out to Him in prayer: “I can’t handle this – take it from me.” Sometimes He does – but sometimes He replies to us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” There will always be “grace to help us in our time of need.”

grace is sufficientAnd this was the lesson Paul learned. He doesn’t merely give grudging acceptance to what he can’t change, but yielded to God for Christ’s sake. And in so doing has proved the power of God’s overflowing grace. Now he has stopped praying for the removal of the thorn, not because it has stopped hurting, but because the power of God is seen most fully when it works through a weak and broken instrument. Paul has learned that the thorn didn’t, after all, prevent him from making Christ’s cross-shaped love known to a broken world. The thorn actually kept him on course, because of God’s grace.

So what does this mean for you and me? Let’s learn from Paul. The truth revealed at the cross is not that we’re mighty but that we’re needy; not that we’re strong and self-sufficient, but that we need rescuing. And God’s rescue comes through the weakness of the cross. So our weakness, and God’s power working through our weaknesses, perfectly displays the cross.

The grace that God gives for our un-plucked thorns is about shaping our character as well as making us fruitful in other ways. Our Father God can minister just fine through your weakness; my weakness- to cry out to Him for grace which makes us useful and brings Him glory.

GOD’S THRONE OF GRACE

 

LESLEY NEW PHOTO

Lesley Grindrod, contributor of today’s blog post

There’s a glorious verse in Hebrews that encourages us to “…. approach God’s throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16) I love the term ‘throne of grace.’ A throne is the place from which a sovereign rules – the unique seat and symbol of royal authority. The Bible says the throne upon which the King of Kings sits to receive our praise and worship, to hear our prayers of petition, intercession and even our complaints – the greatest throne that ever has been or ever will be – is a throne formed and filled entirely with grace!
In his book “The Power of Prayer” Charles Spurgeon says “It is a throne set up on purpose for the dispensation of grace ….from which every utterance is grace….the decrees proclaimed from it are purposes of grace … He who sits upon the throne is Grace itself.”
Yes, it’s true that one day our King will pronounce His judgement upon the living and the dead from a throne of justice, but right now – today –unfathomable mercy and amazing grace are motivating His every response to the prayers we bring Him.
Our enemy, the devil, hates it when we approach God’s throne of grace. How many of you are like me? I decide to pray … and suddenly, I remember all those ‘important jobs’ that need to be done ‘right now.’ The phone rings … someone knocks at the door …. a SQ_MercyGrace_750x750child or partner calls our name …. the list is endless! And am I the only one whose mind starts to wander within seconds of starting to pray? Yes, he will do anything to keep us away from the throne of grace, because he knows if he can distract us from praying he can prevent or delay the grace-filled responses Father so wants to give us. And not only does he seek to distract us from prayer, but he goes on to heap condemnation and guilt on our heads for failing to pray ‘properly.’
I’m so glad the Bible says “There remains no accusing voice of condemnation against those who are joined in life-union with Jesus.” (Rom 8:1 TPT) Once we recognise the enemy’s attempts to keep us from prayer we can stand our ground, using the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God to defeat him.
Is my mind wandering as I’m trying to pray? The Bible says: “We capture, like prisoners of war, every thought and insist that it bow in obedience …” (2 Cor 10:5 TPT) There are jobs that must be done? Well then, I’ll pray as I work. Prayer isn’t a religious exercise that can only be done while kneeling with ‘hands together and eyes closed.’ Prayer is a life-style. Prayer is constant two-way conversation with my Heavenly Father – spirit to Spirit.
Do I need His mercy? Do I need His grace? Is someone I know or a situation I’m aware of, in need of these things? Praise God, His mercy and grace are available, in abundance, for those who determine to ignore the enemy and exercise their right as His children to confidently approach His throne in prayer today.

 

THE SPEAKING GOD WHO LISTENS

habits-of-grace“First sounds His voice. By his Word, He reveals Himself and expresses His heart, and unveils His Son as the culmination of His speaking. By His Word, He creates (Genesis 1:3) and re-creates (2 Cor. 4:4), not just individual members, but a body called the church.

And wonder of wonders, not only does He express Himself and bid us hear His voice, but He wants to hear ours. The speaking God not only has spoken, but He also listens- He stops, He stoops, He wants to hear from you. He stands ready to hear your voice.

Christian, you have the ear of God. We call it prayer.” David Mathis from Habits of Grace. God listening

PAINTING THE MORNING WITH PRAISE

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Hannah Spruijt, contributor of today’s post

Time alone is not something I have in abundance these days. I am blessed with a son who likes to follow me everywhere, all the time! I can’t even go upstairs alone to fetch something without hearing him trailing after me! I tend to find prayer and reading my Bible difficult with any form of distraction, so I’ve had to adapt our morning schedule so that I can have a few moments peace alone, in order to connect with my Father before the day begins.

With the joys and challenges of raising a tricky, spirited and wilful little boy daily bringing me to my knees, and sometimes to tears (!), this time in the morning has become SO precious and necessary. For the first time in my life, I feel I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Finding encouragement in God’s Word, imploring the Holy Spirit for his strength and enabling power, admitting how much I need Him just to get through the day and praising Him for his faithfulness and promises. This is now essential. I’m not trying to sound like a saint- it is the truth! I’m so aware of His grace helping me daily through this season of life.
In Matthew 6, Jesus is teaching the people how to pray. He warns against hypocrisy and showing off with our prayers, and tells us to ‘go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father’ (v6). I had a little chuckle to myself when I read this; I do try! I am very thankful that our sleep-training clock seems to work with my son, so as long as I make sure I’m done with praying before the ‘sun comes up’ I will (usually) be uninterrupted! Otherwise I hear a familiar little voice outside the half-open door “Mummy, are you still talking to Jeeesus?” Of course, I don’t have a problem with him joining me to pray then, but for my own sake, I value that time alone with the Lord so that I can pour out my heart to him (I pray aloud!).
I have recently been challenged by my devotional notes to use my prayer time to PRAISE as well as come to God with my list of needs. I’m going through a lovely book by Joni Eareckson Tada, and she pointed out how David made such a great life choice by deciding to reflect in the morning on the strength, love, goodness and protection of the Lord. In Psalm 59, David reveals there are men waiting outside his door wanting to kill him; I’d say that was pretty tricky situation! The Bible points out here how seeking God and praising Him in difficult times is special. Joni writes “when you begin the day singing about His strength, you’ll be less likely to ‘sing the blues’ when the day is over”. What a challenge for me! I often don’t feel like praising when I wake and think about all that needs to be done in the day, how tired I feel (ha, already!) and how I know I will need to be consistent and firm in boundary setting, yet showing the love of Jesus to my pickle… phew. But this is Joni’s prayer, and I make it mine too. Will you join me?
“How good it is, Father, to colour this day with praise before any other brushes paint it in dark shades of cynicism, negative talk, and despair. Thank you for meeting me in the quiet corners of the morning. With David I say, ‘You are my fortress, and my strong refuge. I sing of your strength and love because you share it so generously with me!’” AMEN

A PRAYING LIFE – A BOOK RECOMMENDATION

VICKY PHOTO

VICKY STEPHENSON, Contributor for today’s blog post

The foreword to this book opens with the phrase “It’s hard to pray”. This is often something I have felt, so I was challenged to read the book and reflect on my prayer life.

 

a praying life bookPaul Miller has a very open, easy to read style. The book starts by

looking at why we don’t pray. He hold up a mirror to our cynical frustrated hearts. Then he goes back to basics: Praying isn’t about the prayers but about relationship with God. The book is full of examples and very honest stories from the author’s own family life. There are moments of great joy but it also faces the hard reality of prayers not answered in the way we would like. He speaks of messy prayers; God knows we have messy life so why do we think that God expects to have perfect polished prayers? Just babble to God with whatever is in your head and after you have shared all of that it will be much easier to just sit and be still in His presence. There is a stress on the importance of time spent in prayer but not necessarily huge chunks at a time. Take baby steps, starting with five minutes maximum at a time but do it regularly. Use little prayers throughout the day to develop more awareness of the presence of God.

 

On this great foundation he builds the middle section which is a great biblical exposition of why we should pray and why we can trust God to answer. The end of the book draws it all together with very practical tips which I have found useful and encouraging: prayer journals and prayer cards for example.

 

I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who wants to reflect on where they are with their praying life. I look forward to chatting about to it to some of you.

 

IMPORTANT CANCELLATION NOTICE

This is from Anne Holmes, our Women’s Ministry leader at Corsham Baptist Church:
“Good morning, due to the severe weather conditions we are experiencing we are cancelling the Women’s Day of Prayer this evening. Thank you to all those who had offered to read and take part and come along. You have been a blessing and encouragement to me.”

As we spend time around the warmth of hearth and home, let’s take time to pray for our world.

On Christ the solid rock we stand, ALL other ground is sinking sand.

 

BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS

1cc19207f9a7be506aef9a6dac205b3bWe had a great time at our bible study on Monday focusing on 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is God-breathed, and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

The notes are now on this blog under the heading of Living Out God’s Grace bible study/notes.

While studying and reading for Living Out God’s Grace Bible study series, I have found great treasure in two books which I highly recommend.

habits-of-graceThe first is called Habits of Grace by David Mathis. It also has a study guide to accompany the book. David says this: “Three seemingly unremarkable principles shape and strengthen the Christian life: listening to God’s voice, speaking to him in prayer, and joining together with his people as the church. Though seemingly normal and routine, the everyday “habits of grace” we cultivate give us access to these God-designed channels through which his love and power flow — including the greatest joy of all: knowing and enjoying Jesus.”

It is an engaging and realistic focus on the grace channels God gives us to grow in Him.  You can download it free or to purchase a hard copy at:   https://www.desiringgod.org/books/habits-of-grace

 

Imperfect DiscipleThe second book is The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together by Jared Wilson. His writing style is witty, punchy, and real. I have found it to be very helpful to getting to the heart of my heart in following Christ more faithfully and realizing His joy. It can be purchased on Amazon or other similar websites.