God’s Grace – Part 7

“Perhaps there is no word in the Bible more precious than Grace.”
~ Rick Countryman, Senior Pastor, Big Valley Grace Community Church
Modesto, Ca.

The Performance Trap – A

So far in this series on God’s Grace, we have looked at What Is God’s Grace and How Do We Appropriate God’s Grace. Before digging deeper into other aspects of God’s Grace, I want to cover what I consider is the primary stumbling block to appropriating God’s Grace ~ perfectionism.  I confess that this has been a major stumbling block for me and an issue that I still struggle with from time to time.  In his book “The Search for Significance: Seeing Your True Worth Through God’s Eyes,” Robert S. McGee labeled this stumbling block as the “Performance Trap.”

You may recall that in Part 1 of this series I quoted from Rabbi Sha’ul’s statement to the Believers in Ephesus: “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift – not from works, so that no one can boast” Ephesians 2:8-9 (HCSB).  As Believers, we know in our knowers that we can’t earn our way into God’s Kingdom; we can’t be saved by trying to obey all His commands – no one but Yeshua has been able to accomplish that; we can’t even do good all the time (see Romans 7:13-24), so why do we think that we have to be perfect this side of Glory?  Many of us strive to be perfectionists.  We delude ourselves into thinking that success in whatever we do will bring us fulfillment and happiness.  We usually base our self-worth on our ability to accomplish the goals we have set out for ourselves in our own strengths.  However, we eventually figure out that as Believers we should focus our walk on Yeshua, not on self-imposed regulations.  Our experience of His Lordship is dependent on our moment-by-moment attention to His instructions, not on our own regimented schedule or activity.  Our goal is to endeavor to become more and more like Yeshua in everything we think and do, recognizing that we will stumble and fall on the way.  But, we will always fall into His waiting arms.

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God’s Grace – Part 6

“Perhaps there is no word in the Bible more precious than Grace.”
~ Rick Countryman, Senior Pastor, Big Valley Grace Community Church
Modesto, Ca.

How Do We Appropriate God’s Grace ~ Part D

So far in this sub-series on appropriating God’s grace, we have discussed prayer, consuming the Word of God and being submissive to God. In this post, we will look at the fourth and final means of appropriating God’s grace through the ministry of other Believers.

Ministers of Grace

The Bible says by helping each other with our troubles, we obey the law of God, which is, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Vayikra 19:18 and Matthew 22:39)  God never meant for us to go through life on our own.  He puts weaknesses in our lives so we realize how much we need each other.  We need to accept support from God’s people.

The fourth means by which we can appropriate God grace is through the ministry of other Believers. This is a fundamental means God uses, because He has ordained that the Kehilah be such that “all the members care for each other.” (1 Corinthians 12:25 NLT)  Of course, this is to be a reciprocal ministry.  We should be channels of grace to one another.

However, the times when we need an extra measure of God’s grace are often the times when we are most reluctant to let other people know we need it. This leads to an important principle regarding the ministry of grace.  Each of us needs to cultivate a small group of friends with whom we can be transparent and vulnerable.  This might be on an individual or small group basis.  But we need a few people – including our spouse, if we have one – with whom we feel free to share our failures, hurts, and sorrows.

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God’s Grace – Part 5

“Perhaps there is no word in the Bible more precious than Grace.”
~ Rick Countryman, Senior Pastor, Big Valley Grace Community Church
Modesto, Ca.

How Do We Appropriate God’s Grace ~ Part C

So far in this sub-series on appropriating God’s grace, we have discussed prayer and consuming the Word of God. In this post, we will look at the third means of appropriating God’s grace through our submission to God.

Submission to God

The third means God uses to administer His grace to us is our submission to His providential working in our lives. Kefa said, “All of you should clothe yourselves in humility toward one another, because God opposes the arrogant, but to the humble He gives grace. Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, so that at the right time He may lift you up.” (1 Kefa 5:5-6)

God gives grace to those who humble themselves under His mighty hand of providence. Our tendency is not to humble ourselves but to resist the workings of His mighty hand.  However, if we are to appropriate God’s grace, we must humble ourselves, we must submit to His providential working in our lives.  To do this we must first see His mighty hand behind all the immediate causes of our adversities and heartaches.  We must believe the biblical teaching that God is in sovereign control of all our circumstances, and whatever or whoever is the immediate cause of our circumstances, God is behind them all.

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God’s Grace – Part 4

“Perhaps there is no word in the Bible more precious than Grace.”
~ Rick Countryman, Senior Pastor, Big Valley Community Church
Modesto, Ca.

How Do We Appropriate God’s Grace ~ Part B

In my last post in this series, we left off discussing the first means of appropriating God’s grace is through prayer. In this post, we will look at the second means of appropriating God’s grace through consuming the Word of grace and holding onto God’s promises.

Consuming the Word of Grace

Let God’s Word comfort, strengthen, fill, soothe, and give you the energy to keep going. Get into God’s Word every single day of your life.  David prayed, “I lie prostrate in the dust; revive me, in keeping with your word.” (Psalm 119:25)  If the answer you were looking for to solve your problems was to look within yourself, you’d already be changed and the problem solved.  You need to look to God!  He’s the only one with sustaining strength.

The grace we receive from God, then, is the aid of the Holy Spirit. We do not understand just how the Holy Spirit interacts with our human spirit, but we do know He most often uses His Word.  That is, He brings to our mind some Scripture or Scriptures, particularly appropriate to the situation.  He may do this through one of our pastor’s sermons, through a Christian book we are reading, through the encouraging words of a friend, or through our own reading or study of Scripture.

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God’s Appointed Times – Part 4

Sukkot 2014 – The Ultimate Sukkah

In 2014, the festival of Sukkot – the Feast of Tabernacles, begins at sundown on Tuesday, October 7th. Sukkot is the third of the great annual pilgrimage festivals (Vayikra 23:33-43).  Each year, all adult Jewish males were required to go up to Jerusalem to celebrate the feasts of Matzah, Shavuot and Sukkot.   The festival is also called the “feast of ingathering” (Sh’mot 23:16; D’varim 16:13).  It is celebrated immediately after the harvest, in the month Tishri, and the celebration lasts for eight days (Vayikra 23:33-43).  During this period the people leave their homes and live in a sukkah, a temporary dwelling, formed of the branches of trees as a memorial of the wilderness wanderings, when the people dwelt in sukkot (Vayikra 23:43).

 Sukkah

Typical Backyard Sukkah

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God’s Grace – Part 3

“Perhaps there is no word in the Bible more precious than Grace.”
~ Rick Countryman, Senior Pastor, Big Valley Community Church
Modesto, Ca.

How Do We Appropriate God’s Grace ~ Part A

What do we do when we can’t fix a complex or even an unfixable problem? What do we do when we can’t solve an unsolvable situation?  What do we do when we can’t change an unchangeable circumstance?  What do we do when we can’t control something that hurts us deeply in our lives?

How do we repair a damaged relationship with a loved one who is no longer living? How do we live with ourselves when we have broken our sobriety?  We throw ourselves on the sustaining grace of God.

How do we appropriate God’s grace – His power – to enable us to respond to the various circumstances and challenges that constantly come to us? Perhaps the idea of appropriating the grace of God is a new thought to you, and you’re not quite sure what I mean.  The basic meaning of the word is “to take possession of,” and that is what we do when we appropriate God’s grace.  We take possession of the divine strength He has made available to us in Yeshua.  To use an analogy, we draw on an inexhaustible bank account of God’s grace.  His “checks” never bounce.

Now there are times when the Ruach works in a sovereign way in our lives, apart from any appropriating activity on our part, but more often He expects us to act to appropriate His grace. To this end, God has provided four principal means of appropriating His grace: prayer, His Word, submission to His providential workings in our lives, and the ministry of others.  In order to keep the posts on this topic of “How to Appropriate God’s Grace” at a reasonable length, I will address each principal individually.

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God’s Appointed Times – Part 3

 Yom Kippur 2014 – The Day of Atonement

In 2014, Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement begins at sundown on October 3rd.  The Tanakh says that the blood of the sacrifice is given to make atonement.   The Hebrew words translated as “atonement” in English are kippur (noun) and kapar (verb).   The root occurs about 150 times in the Tanakh, and is intimately linked with forgiveness of sin and with reconciliation to God.  What does “atonement” mean?

Atonement means making amends, blotting out the offense, and giving satisfaction for wrong done; thus reconciling to oneself the alienated other and restoring the disrupted relationship.

Vayikra (Leviticus) 16 gives detailed instructions for a special sacrifice to be offered once a year, on the tenth day of the seventh month – Tishri. On that day the whole community of Israel was to gather at the Tabernacle (and later, the Temple) to fast and to pray.  The high priest followed carefully prescribed steps and entered the Especially Holy Place (Holy of Holies), bringing the blood of the sacrificed animal.  There he sprinkled the blood on the mercy seat.  This animal was a sin offering for the people (16:15).  That sacrifice was an “atonement … to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites”.  Following that sacrifice, Israel was told, “You will be clean before Adonai from all your sins” (v. 30).

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God’s Grace – Part 2

“Perhaps there is no word in the Bible more precious than Grace.”
~ Rick Countryman, Senior Pastor, Big Valley Community Church
Modesto, Ca.

What Is God’s Grace (cont.)

In my last post in this series, we began a new series on the topic of God’s grace. We left off studying the word grace in both the Tanakh and the Brit Hadashah by looking at the Hebrew and Greek words used for grace in the Scriptures.  In this post, I want to finish looking at what God’s grace is from a definitional standpoint.

God’s Power Freely Given: Joyce Meyer’s defines grace as:  “God’s power to help us do whatever it is we need to do.”[1]  If you’ve been in the world very long, you’ve learned that there are very few days that go exactly the way we’d like them to go.  Thankfully, God is never going to put us in a situation without giving us the ability to be in it with joy.

You can have that dose of God’s power today, but you have to receive it, and the only way to receive it is by faith. The Bible says that “God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you.”  (Romans 12:3b CEB)

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God’s Appointed Times ~ Part 2

Rosh Hashanah – Be Ministers of Reconciliation

Rosh Hashanah:  The Key Is Repentance, Forgiveness And Reconciliation
Biblical References:  B’midbar (Numbers) 29:1 – 6 & Vayikra (Leviticus) 23:23 – 25 – Yom Teruah (The Feast of Trumpets) In 2014, the holiday begins at sundown on September 24th.

Rabbinic Change:  Since this is the first Shabbat of the Fall Holidays, it has been considered as the “spiritual” New Year.  Hence the name changed to Rosh Hashanah, “the head of the year.”  It is also considered the anniversary of creation; the sacrifice of Yitz’chak; the release of Yosef from Pharaoh’s prison; and, the birth of Samuel, the prophet.

The purpose and traditional observance of the Holy Day is summed up in one word – regathering. Since the fall holidays call us to regather to a pure faith in God, Rosh Hashanah has come to represent the day of repentance.  It is the day when people of Israel take stock of their spiritual condition and make the necessary changes to insure that the upcoming New Year will be pleasing to God. The shofar is sounded daily to alert the faithful that the time of repentance is near.  The observance takes on a somber character, yet always with a hint of hope because of God’s forgiveness. The traditional challah is shaped in a circle to symbolize God’s kingship and the coming of Messiah.  Sweet honey cakes and apples dipped in honey are a real treat and symbolize the hope of a new sweet year. Tradition tells of three books that are opened in the heavenly courts during the feast of Rosh Hashanah; one for the completely righteous, one for the completely wicked, and one for the average person.  The completely righteous are immediately inscribed in the book of life.  The completely wicked are immediately inscribed in the book of death.  The average person is kept in suspension from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).  If they deserve well, they are inscribed in the book of life; if they do not deserve well, they are inscribed in the book of death.  Consequently, the Ten Days of Awe are a time of solemn self-examination with time spent in seeking reconciliation and doing good works in the Jewish tradition.
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God’s Grace ~ Part 1

“Perhaps there is no word in the Bible more precious than Grace.”
~ Rick Countryman, Senior Pastor, Big Valley Community Church
Modesto, Ca.

Introduction to Series

We are starting a new series with this post on the topic of God’s grace. [As I indicated in my last post, I will be interrupting this series  over the next few weeks with postings on God's Appointed Times.]  The grace of God is one of the most important subjects in all of Scripture.  At the same time it is probably one of the least understood.  What is God’s grace?  How do we appropriate God’s grace?  How do we deal with perfectionism?  Is grace really amazing?  Is grace sufficient to meet all my needs?  Does grace really mean that we are forgiven?  We’ll look at each of these questions and more in the weeks to come.

By definition, all Believers believe in God’s grace. Many of us frequently quote Sha’ul’s well-known words in Ephesians 2:8-9 (HCSB): “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift – not from works, so that no one can boast.” John Newton’s beloved hymn “Amazing Grace” is said to be the all-time favorite hymn in the United States.

The Bible teaches we are not only saved by grace, but we also live by grace every day of our lives. However, most of us tend to base our personal relationship with God on our performance instead of on His grace.  In this sense, we live by works rather than by grace.  We are saved by grace, but we are living by the “sweat” of our own performance.  We give lip service to what Sha’ul said, “But by God’s grace I am what I am….” (1 Corinthians 15:10); but our unspoken motto is, “God helps those who help themselves.”  (You do know that statement or even concept is not in the Bible, correct?)

The realization that our daily relationship with God is based on the infinite merit of Yeshua instead of on our own performance is a very freeing and joyous experience. That is what this series is all about.
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