June 2021

God is on the Move

“God is on the Move” is the name of a song, yes, but for my wife, Terri, and me, it became an anthem. As the lead pastor at Connect Church in a small community of Northern Oklahoma, I gladly tell this story.

On July 11, 1999, my wife and I moved to Ponca City, Oklahoma. We were both only a few years out of college. This was my first senior pastor assignment, and I was excited. I preached my first sermon to 20 people who might have been at least two decades older than Terri and me.

My thought was, “Wow! It’s empty out there.”

A Peek Into Divinity

What is God like? Countless books on this subject line library shelves, written by scholars in multiple languages from diverse cultures around the world. Speculation abounds with possible answers. Jesus Christ answered that question plainly for all to understand during His earthly ministry. He often spoke in parables: stories with word pictures that describe spiritual truths in practical ways. One of my favorite parables, offering a word-picture peek into divine realities, is found in Luke 15:3-7.

Providence and Prevenience

There is a difference between providential grace and prevenient grace. Providence is how God provides for the sustenance and provision of his creation.1 God “sees to” (Gen. 22:8, 14) what is needed to sustain the world and to provide for individual persons. How God’s providence affects each person’s life is profoundly mysterious. When and where and into what family one is born is a question of providence. Why one person is born into a Hindu family in India in 1765, while another person is born into a Christian family in Canada in 2015 are matters of providence.

John Wesley on Prevenient Grace

Prevenient grace has a foundational place in John Wesley’s theology. Why is this so? Because salvation is central to the Christian faith. Wesley stated, “salvation begins with what is usually termed (and very properly) ‘preventing grace.’”1 Prevenient grace, as a crucial aspect of Wesley’s doctrine of grace, needs to be set in the larger context of that doctrine and his theology as a whole.2 This enables us to have a clear view of prevenient grace and its functions in Wesley’s theology and, hopefully, to avoid misunderstandings.

A Community Called by Grace

Interwoven throughout the fabric of the Old Testament is the life-giving and hope-filled confession of faith: “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 145:8, ESV). From narratives (Exodus 34:6-7; Numbers 14:18) to prophets (Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2), from psalms (Psalm 103:8 145:8-9) to sermons (Nehemiah 9:17, 31), this testimony to God’s grace undergirds the faith of the Old Testament. The Lord’s freely-given, non-coerced favor was no mere afterthought in the testimony of our biblical ancestors.

The Good News

Is “Prevenient Grace” Biblical?

The task of establishing the idea of “prevenient grace” from a New Testament perspective may be challenging because the term itself does not appear in the New Testament or in the whole Bible for that matter. The term is theological and presents a Wesleyan understanding of God’s grace that goes before, enabling (but not forcing) sinners to respond to faith. In other words, while Christians generally believe in God’s initiative of grace, Wesley opposes the idea that prevenient grace irresistibly brings a person to faith in Christ.

Means of Grace

John Wesley affirmed the place of Baptism and Eucharist (Lord’s Supper) as instituted means of grace, among other practices like prayer, study of Scripture, and Christian fellowship. In all of these practices, the cause of grace is reflected in the work of Christ. While there is no inherent benefit or power in the sacraments, God chooses to use them as means to convey His grace.

An Undeserved Grace

God’s grace, and only this grace, can offer salvation to humanity. “So God created mankind in his own image…male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Humankind disobeyed and corrupted their original relationship with God. In our fallen state, we can do nothing by ourselves to recover this image and our original relationship with our Creator. No effort we make can restore the image of God in us. Only grace can restore us to a new relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Everything begins and ends with grace.

A Call to Worship

My wife, Debbie, gave her life to Christ on the second Sunday of November in 1988. She had just graduated with a degree in communications, was working an exciting new television job in Seattle, and was preparing to marry her college boyfriend. For a 22-year-old, the pieces of life were falling into place quite nicely. Yet something was still missing.

The Pursuing Power of Grace

Almost three decades ago, I had not understood God’s grace the way I recognize its power on my life now. The pursuing, transforming, enduring, yet mysterious and hovering presence of this unmerited favor of God is both capturing and captivating. In addition to the Word of God being the primary channel to a foundational understanding of God’s grace and its mysterious workings, my familiarity with literary works has brought a level of erudite awareness about the workings of grace.

Christ's Mission, Our Commission

In March 1972, my family moved from Fort Wayne, Indiana, to Merriam, Kansas. I had just turned 1 year old. My parents had had a rocky start in their marriage. For my mother, a new Christian, and my father, still running from God, our move to Kansas City was both a new start and a last chance. Three weeks from the day we moved in, we received a knock on the door.

Neighbors Mike and Cindy Couch had walked across the street!

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