Great Power, Great Grace, Great Church
32 And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.
33 And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.
You might belong to a redneck church if:
The finance committee refuses to provide funds for the purchase of a chandelier because none of the members know how to play one.
When they learn that Jesus fed the 5000, the first question they ask is whether the fish were bass or catfish, and what bait was used to catch them.
When the pastor says, "I'd like to ask Bubba to help take up the offering", five guys and two women stand up.
Opening day of deer season is recognized as an official church holiday.
A member of the church requests to be buried in his 4-wheel-drive truck because "It ain't never been in a hole it couldn't get out of,"
The choir is known as the "OK Chorale."
Boone's Farm "Tickle Pink" is the favorite wine for communion.
In a congregation of 500 members, there are only seven last names in the church directory.
Baptism is referred to as "branding."
There is a special fund raiser for a new church septic tank.
Finding and returning lost sheep isn't just a parable.
High notes on the organ set the dogs to howling.
People think "rapture" is what you get when you lift something too heavy.
The baptismal font is a #2 galvanized livestock watering trough.
The collection plates are really hub caps from a '56 Chevy.
The Call to Worship is ,"Y’all come on in!"
Lest you misunderstand, I do not think that we are a redneck church. I think that we are a great church. What makes a great church. Well, the first church in Jerusalem was a great church. Let me share with you two things that made that church great.
First, they had great power. The power the HS gave them on the day of Pentecost was the same divine power that created the universe; so the church is endowed with the power of stars and galaxies. This is the same power that divided the Red Sea, that kept Daniel safe in the lions’ den, that rescued the three Hebrew children from the fiery furnace. This is also the same power that turned the water to wine, healed multitudes, fed the five thousand, gave sight to the blind man and raised Lazarus from the dead. This great power is available to every person who is willing to seek God. This power is prayer. Great power comes through great prayer.
(11) What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent;
(12) or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?
(13) If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" Luke 11:11-13 ESV
So ask! Ask in prayer. Pray earnestly, pray sincerely.
It is said of David that he was a man after God's own heart. God loved him. Why? David was morally challenged. He was not in any sense a perfect person. Why did God love him? Because whatever David's failings, he still turned to God in prayer. Read the psalms. David had great power because he had great prayers.
The story is told of a rich farmer in Greece who was about to die. He told both of his sons that he had buried his treasures in the fields. Before he could tell which field, he passed away. The boys began to dig and turn the soil. For weeks they worked, seeking treasures. At last, near exhaustion, they realized that planting time was upon them. Since they had literally plowed the fields with their digging, they agreed to plant and wait until after the harvest to dig again. The harvest came forth, in great abundance, because of the deep turning of the soil. It was then that they awoke to the wisdom of their father. He had inspired them to work and labor in the fields, and they had found a great treasure of wealth there.
Some people regard prayer as a great labor, that is why they do not do much of it, but if you will labor in the fields of prayer, you will find hidden treasures.
I read about a huge barge loaded with brick and rock that sank in a New York harbor. As the years went by, it sank deeper and deeper, until finally it was half covered with mud. The engineers, attempting to build a large bridge across the body of water, were hindered by this barge because they needed to plant a foundation in that very spot, but all of their efforts to move the barge were of no avail. Finally, a young engineer came up with an idea. Several big barges were chained together and floated into the area at low tide. Several chains were hooked to the sunken barge, and then everyone waited. As the tide began to rise, there was a creaking, groaning and stretching of chains. Then the sunken barge broke free from the mud and was pulled farther out in the bay. The power of the Atlantic Ocean was used to raise the barge. God’s mighty power is like the power of the ocean, it can do the impossible.
Sometimes our situation appears hopeless to us. We are discouraged; we are about to give up, but God can make a way. As Job said, “I know that thou canst do everything.” (42:2). Jeremiah, 32:17, “Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.” We tend to qualify what God can do. We say Yes, I know God is powerful, but my situation is so bad, but my family has such problems, but my job is so awful. No “buts.” God is able.
God specializes in resurrections. He can bring life to dead relationships. God is the Creator; He can cause loving feelings and attitudes to be created out of nothing. He can transform people and situations in ways that we are unable to foresee. God can do it. If your situation seems hopeless, if it seems that nothing short of a miracle can save you, then you are in luck. God is able to do miracles.
So the first great church in Jerusalem had great power. They also had great grace. Grace is simply a word for the love and favor of God. It has been said that Christianity is supremely a religion of grace, and that is certainly true; but, even so, grace is not well understood and often not really believed. We use the word a great deal but rarely think about what it means.
Part of our problem is in the astonishing nature of grace. Grace is scandalous. It is hard to accept, hard to believe, and hard to receive. Grace shocks us in what it offers. It is truly not of this world. It frightens us with what it does for sinners.
Grace teaches us that God does for others what we would never do for them. If we were God, we would save the not-so-bad, but we would certainly never save bad people. Grace says, turn everything upside down, put the “bad” on top, and that is where God starts with salvation, and then God works down from there. Grace is a gift that costs everything to the giver and nothing to the receiver. Grace, God's favor and love, is given to those who do not deserve it, barely recognize it, and hardly appreciate it. In other words, grace is given to us.
In the end, grace means that no one is too bad to be saved. God specializes in saving really bad people. Do you have some things in your background that you would be ashamed to talk about in public? Fear not. God knows all about it, and God's grace is greater than your sin.
In Matthew 20, Jesus told a parable, the parable of the vineyard. Verses1-2, read, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.” This would have been a typical scene in ancient Palestine. Just as we have employment agencies today, in the first century, those seeking work would got down to the market in the morning. These folks were unskilled at any trade, near the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. We would call them day-laborers. The owner of the vineyard promised these men a denarius, which was the average day's wage for a worker, and for these workers, day laborers, probably a good wage.
Now, this particular landowner’s vineyard obviously was large, and he soon realized that he needed more laborers to get the job done; so about 9 o'clock he went down to the market again and hired some more and told them “I will pay you whatever is right.” and he went again to the market about noon, and again about 3 o'clock and told them the same thing, go work in my vineyard and I will pay whatever is right. Finally he came to the market at 5 o'clock found a few more workers and told them to go to his vineyard.
The workday in ancient times ended at about 6 o'clock and at the end of this day all these workmen came in to get their wages.
The owner paid them off last to first. That is a change from what we would have expected. The typical mode of payment was “first come first served.” Jesus turns it around to, “last come first served.” I am sure those who worked all day were a little offended about that.
And they all, every worker, no matter how many hours they worked, received the same wage, a denarius. The workers who worked one hour received a denarius, the workers who worked 12 hours received a denarius.
As you might imagine, the workers who worked all day were bitter about this. This is not right. If they received a denarius for working one hour, we, so they said, ought to receive 12 denarii for working 12 hours.
The owner's response blows our minds. He said to the complainers, you agreed to work for a denarius. Take your pay. If I want to give these others the same as you, that is none of your business. As usual, Jesus with this parable turns ordinary ways of thinking upside down. The owner is obviously God. The parable is not about working in a vineyard, it is about grace, great grace. Grace is not wages we work for in God's vineyard. Grace is a gift.
That means we cannot demand grace. We cannot earn grace. In the parable of the vineyard the workers tried to demand a reward they thought they deserved. In fact, as the owner points out, they do not deserve what they are asking for. Because someone else got something they thought they deserved more. Not so. In the kingdom of God, there is no such thing as merit. God’s grace is granted according to God's good pleasure.
As we think about this parable, many of us identify with the employees who put in a full day’s work. We like to think of ourselves as responsible workers and the employer’s strange behavior baffles us. But, let’s not miss the point of the story: the story is about God. God dispenses gifts, not wages.
That lead us to two astounding statements. Nothing you do will make God love you more. Nothing you do will make God love you less. That is grace.
Grace keeps us from looking down on others or ourselves. How many of you have ever struggled with feelings of incompetence? Have you ever experienced discontent? Feelings of inferiority? Lack of self-esteem?
Think with me for a minute about those workers in the parable who were not hired until 5:00 p.m. Where were they in the morning when the first workers were hired. Were they asleep? Slacking off somewhere? We do not know, and that is not the point. The point is God's grace. They did not deserve to be hired at 5 o'clock and get a full day's wage. That is correct. They did not deserve that. We do not deserve God favor and love, but God gives it to us anyway.
Thus, Grace makes us all equal. The all-day workers in the parable complained, “You have made them equal to us.” The all-day workers did not complain about their wages because they knew their pay was generous. They are upset because they wanted to be superior to these one-hour guys..
they grumbled and murmured. They were not only dissatisfied with what they had received; they were also envious of what had been given to others. They emphasize that they bore the burden of the work in the sweltering heat of the day. They picked grapes for 12 hours. Compared to these upstarts, who only worked an hour, these workers thought they were worth a lot more.
I want you to notice a tragic chain of events that took place in the hearts of these workers. They started by comparing themselves with others. This then led to coveting, which led to complaining, which led ultimately to criticizing. Do you struggle with comparing, coveting, complaining and criticizing? If so, stop it. Stop comparing yourself with others. God declares that in the economy of grace, we are all equal.
So we should be gracious with others. Cut them some slack. To put it bluntly, your sin does not smell any better than mine. Therefore we should treat each other the way we want to be treated because grace makes us equal to everyone else.
Grace offers us a fresh start. The Christian life is a series of new beginnings. That’s what grace is all about. No one is first, and no one is last. I’m not better than you and you are not better than me. We are all covered by the grace of Christ..
We are a great church—because we have great grace and great power.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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