Means of Grace

14th Day in Lent (Thursday) Read Ephesians 1:3-10

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” Ephesians 1:7-8 (NIV) ‘By the ‘Means of Grace’ are meant those things by which God offers and gives His gifts of forgiveness of sins, life and salvation’ ~ Luther’s Small Catechism Broadly speaking, a ‘Means of Grace’ refers to all the ways by which Christians grow stronger in their faith and grow in the grace of Christ. They are the ways that God brings us forgiveness through our faith, which was gained for us when Jesus died for our sins. For Lutherans the ‘Means of Grace’ come through Baptism, Holy Communion, Absolution (Forgiveness) and God’s Word in the Bible. The Holy Spirit works through all these ‘Means of Grace’ to bring us understanding, guidance and comfort. I really enjoy baking and cooking. At special times of the year, I like to bake my special slices for family and visitors to enjoy and have a special little something with a coffee. One that I only make at special times is my peppermint log slice. It really is not hard to make and only has four ingredients: malt biscuits, crown mints, condensed milk and desiccated coconut. Each of these things by themselves work fine and you could eat happily (though you may feel sick after too much condensed milk), but together – just yummy! God gives us so many things which by themselves still leads us to our future hope and salvation, but He has also given us other ways to receive God’s grace which when put all together brings us into a closer relationship with our Heavenly Father. In our Baptism we are washed clean from all our sins and God’s grace comes personally to us. When we receive Holy Communion, we commune with Jesus as He offers us His body and blood granting us forgiveness from all our sins. When Absolution is given in worship, we can know that all is forgiven and forgotten, and we can go forward with a clean slate for the week. Every time we read God’s Word, God’s love, grace and forgiveness just flow out of it and the Holy Spirit then works. God’s recipe for our continued growth comes through the ‘Means of Grace’! Prayer: You come to me continually through the ‘Means of Grace’ which you have made available to me. May your Holy Spirit work in my life to help me grow and bring others to you. Amen.

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Even Though

13th Day in Lent (Wednesday)

Read John 11:25-26

“… for all have and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:23-24 (NIV). ‘In His grace, God is willing to forgive us and bless us, even though we fall short of living righteously.’ I remember when my children were smaller, and even not so small, asking them to do things – pick up toys, pack away homework books, pick up shoes and clothing, tidy your room, etc. I am sure that every family can relate to this. At times there may have been cajoling or rewards offered, I’m sure there were even privileges revoked. Were these things asked done? Were they done willingly and without complaining? I know for sure that they were not always completed in the timeframe nor always done joyfully, but even though things weren’t completed as asked my love for my children never changed and privileges always returned. Imagine our loving God. He asks us to obey ten things (Ten Commandments), the greatest is to love God above anyone or anything else. Do we do this? Ok, we try. We may even get through an hour or two without getting any one of the ten things wrong. But ultimately, we get it wrong, we disobey, we sin! Even though we can’t get things right in God’s eyes, He is prepared to forgive us over and over and tell us how much He loves us. That is a loving, grace-filled God! Day after day we are offered the gifts of forgiveness and love and the grace of a loving Saviour. God doesn’t withdraw His love from us every time we sin, rather He extends His blessing further into our lives and tells us how much we are loved. God loves us so much that He sent His beloved Son into the world to live a human life, die a horrible death and be raised victoriously. This was done out of love for you and me! So, even though we sin we will live eternally with God. Do you believe this? Can you answer with Martha in John 11:27 – “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” Even though we sin, we are forgiven! Prayer: Thank you, my loving God, for forgiving me over and over again. Even though I mess up constantly, your love for me never changes or wavers. Your grace is amazing! Amen.

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Alive in God’s Grace

12th Day in Lent (Tuesday)

Read: 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

“May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and by God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 (NIV)

‘We live in a world of earning, deserving and merit, which result in judgement. That is why everyone wants and needs grace. Judgement kills. Only grace makes us alive.’

The Statue of Liberty (titled: ‘Liberty Enlightening the World’) was dedicated on October

28, 1886. This monument was designed, built and presented to the people of the United States by the French people to celebrate the abolishment of slavery. In the 1860’s, Édouard René de Laboulaye proposed this gift to the United States on behalf of France, in hope that by calling attention to the recent achievements of the US the French people would also be inspired to form their own democracy from a controlling monarchy. After its dedication, this statue became an icon of freedom/newness, a time to begin again with the past forgotten.

That is what has happened to each of us with the gift of Jesus Christ. Through this gift, God abolished our sin and gave us the gift of new life – the gift of God’s grace. With this gift we can begin again and be strengthened in all that we do. Consider the following scenario: We have hurt a good friend by thoughtless words, and we carry this guilt around. Whenever we see this friend, the guilt weighs us down so much that we no longer find we want to spend time together and so estrangement happens. Then, one day the friend comes around and wants to begin again – to put the past behind and remember the hurt no more! How alive we feel, the weight has been removed and the relationship is restored and made new.

Jesus did that for us! We have been weighed down by all our wrongdoings. We no longer want to talk to God, go to church or be a part of His community. We feel so inadequate. But, God, through the dying of Jesus for our wrongdoings has pronounced us best friends again. Everything has been forgiven. The cross is that symbol of freedom, of God’s grace that points us to the beginning of a new life.

Live in the grace that makes us alive.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, you died to forgive the wrongs that I have done, that separated me from my loving God. Thank you for the gift of grace that you have given me and made me alive. Amen.

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Forgiveness Assured

11th Day in Lent (Monday)

Read Psalm 51:1-12 “Let me hear you say, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ That will bring me joy and gladness. Let the body you have broken be glad. Take away all my sins. Wipe away all the evil things I’ve done. God, create a pure heart in me. Give me a new spirit that is faithful to you.” Psalm 51:8-10 (NIRV) ‘We receive forgiveness according to the riches of God’s grace.’ Forgiveness: easy to say, hard to accept, but harder to ask for. Friendships are tricky. Growing up I remember having great friendships until something was said or someone did something and that was the end of that friendship. As a child, it was just easier to move on to another group of friends than to try to mend the friendship with an apology or accepting forgiveness. As I grew older true friendships became less disposable and more important, so it became necessary to swallow pride, ask for forgiveness and also accept forgiveness when something caused grief or harm to me. Granting and asking for forgiveness is not a natural response, it is only through God’s love and grace that true forgiveness is received. In true forgiveness, wrongs and sins are also forgotten. We never need to fear when asking for God’s forgiveness as He will always forgive. Our part comes in then seeking help from God not to keep repeating the offences. If we are forgiven over and over for the same issue without ever trying to correct our judgement – that is what is called ‘cheap grace’; believing that we don’t need to change any of our living or actions because we know God will always forgive. Yes, He will, and we can be assured of that, but… let’s not cheapen God’s mercy. David, in Psalm 51 knew what it was to ask for forgiveness. This Psalm was written in response to God’s judgement of him through the prophet Samuel in committing the crime of adultery and murder. He was sorry for all that he had done and begged God to forgive him and wash him clean. That was done through God’s mercy and grace and David became God’s faithful King. God in His mercy and love forgives us too! God’s grace covers all our wrongs – live in forgiveness! Prayer: Dear forgiving Father, for the sake of your Son Jesus, do not hold my sins against me, but forgive me and renew me every day so that I can live free in your grace and love. Amen.

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Extravagance

2nd Sunday during Lent

Read Luke 15:11-32 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” Luke 15:22-24a (NIV) ‘Grace is about God: his uncoerced initiative and persuasive, extravagant demonstrations of care and favour.’ I love a good party, but even more than that, I love to host an extravagant party. For all of my children’s birthday parties I liked to make it a real event and something special. This in turn would make the children feel special and loved. The last event I hosted was my daughter’s 21st birthday where it was to be a ‘Coachella’ theme (you may need to look this up – I did). For months before, we were buying decorations, going to op-shops for themed scarves, fabric, and pillows, working out the menu, and working on the cake and its decorations – about 80 people were invited. Oh, so much fun! There was fruit punch and food galore – lots of leftovers, but would rather that than run out! Look now to the demonstration of the father in the story of the prodigal son. Grace abounds as he races out to his lost son who receives compassion, love and immediate acceptance. Before the returned child can barely get the words of confession out of his mouth, the father has already sent for the best robes to replace his tattered rags, sandals for his bare feet, and a ring of the restored relationship as his beloved son. This son is surprised by the love and grace that is far greater than he could imagine. It is all about the father. It is the father who extends his love and grace to an underserving, selfish child. This is the same with God. He extends His extravagant love and grace to a sinful race of humankind. Even though He created us, we reject His love so often and go off on our own to do it by ourselves. When we turn back asking for forgiveness, our lives are lavished with His incredible acts of care, love and grace. In God’s kingdom, all prodigals are restored to being the children of their loving Father. This kind of grace is all about God’s actions. Prayer: Thank you, Lord, that it is all about you and not me. I can never understand your incredible love for me, and I am so sorry when I disappoint you – please forgive me and restore me. Amen.

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A Strengthening Grace

10th Day in Lent (Saturday)

Read Luke 22:24-32 Jesus said: “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:32 (NIV) ‘God’s grace grounds and empowers everything in the Christian life.’ I thought I was fit. I had been walking for a couple of months around Europe with my backpack. I had been walking everywhere, but in Austria, some other travellers convinced me to climb a mountain in the Tirol Valley above Mayrhofen. It was a 3-hour climb up and then a 3-hour climb down with rain and mist to overcome. It was hard work – I thought I would have easily done it with my fitness level, but it was hard. We had to encourage each other to achieve our goals. The view made the climb so worth it. Peter was convinced that he was ready to face any trial, even death, in following Jesus. But, when it came to standing up for his faith in Jesus in the courtyard, he failed miserably three times. He denied any relationship with, or even knowledge of, Jesus. Despite this stinging rejection by one of His most trusted disciples, Jesus looked on Peter with grace and forgiveness. This action by Peter could have crushed Peter’s faith, but Jesus said He was praying for Peter. He was encouraging him up the mountain he was climbing. Jesus told Peter that he could ‘turn back’ (overcome) this event and it would make him stronger so that he could then strengthen others. After Jesus died and was raised, He would appear again to Peter and this time send him out, freed and forgiven, on a mission of grace for the world. The grace of Jesus does not disown us. Jesus comes to strengthen our weak faith and encourage us up our ‘mountains’ and problems that we face so that we can stand and marvel at our life and the ‘view’ that we have of our life with Jesus. In the same way, we can also strengthen others through the same grace that we have received through faith. Strengthen my faith, Lord. Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you that you didn’t leave me in my shame and sin, but you brought your grace and love to me to strengthen my faith and bring me peace. Help me to also encourage others. Amen.

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Everyday Grace

9th Day in Lent (Friday) Read: 1 Peter 3:18-22 “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

2 Peter 3:8-9 (NIV) ‘Christians live every day by the grace of God.’ “Yesterday is history; Tomorrow is a mystery; Today is a gift, which is why it is called ‘THE PRESENT!’” How many of us take time to just enjoy where we live and the work we do? How many times do we thank God for each and every blessing that comes our way during the day? When we moved to Noosa, Qld seven years ago, my husband and I decided that we wouldn’t take where we live for granted – we would spend time at the river, walk on the beach, and just soak in the Noosa culture. When we lived in Loxton, SA – we did the same thing – went to the river, enjoyed the town community, and explored the incredible places and unique scenery. In each place where we have lived, we live each day as a blessing from God with endless possibilities. God wants us to treat each new day as a gift with endless possibilities to share a word of encouragement, give comfort, listen to care, and maybe offer a prayer. There is a hurting world needing our little influences to bring joy and peace to lives needing grace. Each of these little things done with the Kingdom of God in mind allows the Holy Spirit to work in hearts and souls. God wants us to live each day as if it was our last with no regrets. In the 1 Peter 3 reading we read that Jesus died for each of us once and for all, both righteous and unrighteous – no one is excluded. This is God’s grace. His free gift is given to each of us. Let us then live every day with joy and peace and make the most of every opportunity. If we choose to ‘live in the past’, we may rely on experiences from years ago, rather than focussing on what God is doing for us in the here and now. Let God guide you today as He has promised He will. Live every day in God’s Grace! Prayer: Lord Jesus, your death covered all my wrongs and brings me joy and forgiveness today and every day. Let me choose to live each day in your grace and love. Amen

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Brokenness

8th Day in Lent (Thursday)

Read: Luke 18:9-14

Jesus said: “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble

themselves will be exalted.” Luke 18:14 (NIV)

‘Grace is most needed and best understood in the midst of sin, suffering and brokenness.’

The story about Nicky Cruz is fascinating. He grew up in the slums of Puerto Rico, where his own mother called him the ‘Son of Satan’ and lived on the streets of New York City where he joined a gang and eventually became the gang leader. This was a man who has lived the worst and seen the worst of society. But due to the love and saving grace of God, Cruz gave his life to Jesus, studied the Bible and became an evangelist to the gangs in New York City. Nicky wanted to bring the love of God to others who were like him.

Nicky Cruz understood grace. He understood what it was to be a sinner who had committed the most dastardly acts and crimes through his life. Imagine how he felt being forgiven all these sins and being totally accepted and loved through God’s act of grace for him. In the Bible story above, Jesus told of the two men praying in the temple. One felt that he was so good that he didn’t need to be forgiven and the other felt that he was so bad that God really couldn’t forgive him. We have all sinned and done wrong things, but nothing is so bad that God in his mercy and grace won’t forgive us when we ask for forgiveness. It is only when we see and acknowledge our wrongs and sins that we can see and acknowledge how marvellous God’s saving grace is for us. Every one of us is broken. I like the analogy of the Japanese Kintsugi pottery. It involves putting broken pieces together and fusing them together with gold. It is built on the idea that through embracing the flaws and imperfections of the pottery, an even more beautiful creation can result and will be stronger and a piece of art. God is the potter who forgives all our imperfections and heals our brokenness with the gold of Heaven creating the most priceless person – you! Grace heals all brokenness! Prayer: Merciful God, thank you for healing me and forgiving me. I am a broken person and you have made me into a loved child of you. Give me courage to share this love. Amen.

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God’s Magnum Opus

7th Day in Lent (Wednesday)

Read: Luke 19:1-10

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Luke 19:10 (NIV)

“Grace is God’s best idea. His decision to ravage a people by love, to rescue passionately, and to restore justly – what rivals it? Of all his wondrous works grace,

in my estimation, is the magnum opus.’ ~ Max Lucado A ‘Magnum Opus’ is considered a masterpiece or a creation that has been given much critical acclaim and praise. It is a great work of art, literature, or music and is considered the greatest single piece of work by that artist. Michelangelo’s Sistine chapel ceiling, especially ‘The Creation of Adam’ is considered his magnum opus. ‘The Mona Lisa’ painting is considered Leonardo Da Vinci’s magnum opus even though it wasn’t produced for any great event or person. Beethoven’s magnum opus was his ‘Symphony No 9 in D minor’, known as Beethoven’s ninth. J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ is considered his magnum opus.

God’s magnum opus would be the giving of His one and only Son for the salvation of all of humankind – His gift of grace. God loves us so much that He was prepared to have His Son die the most horrible death, to beat Satan, and then to be raised victoriously just so we could be saved to live forever with our Heavenly Father. The whole of Jesus’ ministry was leading to this great event, and He taught about God’s Kingdom so that we could understand what God, His Father, had sent Him to do.

In the story in Luke 19, Jesus came to the sinner Zacchaeus and promised Him eternal life – for Jesus had come to “…to seek and save what was lost.” God’s work of grace for all of humankind – that He rescue us and forgive us all we have done wrong and above all love us unconditionally. To me, that is God’s masterpiece! Today God also seeks us in love, even when we are lost and ashamed and He restores us in His grace.

That truly is a magnum opus! What would you consider your magnum opus? Prayer: My loving Saviour, thank you for being prepared to come and save me and restore me through your love, grace and forgiveness – help me to live each day in thanksgiving to you. Amen.

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