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Grace is God's Constant Loving Presence....

Posted by Guest Author Rev. Kevin Witt

Jun 19, 2014 8:04:00 AM

Back in September of 2013, Kevin Witt wrote this blog on the topic of "Grace". I found it very helpful. We have shared some of Kevin's writings before. Learn more about him below. Thanks Kevin for your permission to run this article.

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Grace is God’s constant loving presence in our lives actively engaged for the good of all. The Wesleyan spiritual tradition offers three helpful windows into the nature of grace all of which were integral aspects of 1chapel_duwrgympwhat inspired and motivated me as a camper and a growing leader.

Preceding Grace (Prevenient Grace) focuses on the way God showers us with love in many forms and actively works on behalf of our greatest good before we fully recognize that God is involved, before we fully embrace God in various aspects of our lives, and before we have an abiding trust in God’s love as the foundation for our decisions, priorities and actions.  God is present and drawing near to us.  The wideness of this love recognizes that no one is outside the care of God.  We are called to honor the divine spark within ourselves and each person, which draws us all to our Creator.

We never withhold our love and respect until we feel others have earned it, recognized it, or until someone fully conforms to our expectations or theological understandings, because God does not withhold grace.  God loves us first (prevenient means “comes before”) and so we love as a natural response to being loved.  Without a doubt, such a level of acceptance and genuine concern for the good of individuals and the good of all is healing and helps persons experience and identify God’s companionship in their lives.

Accepting Grace (Justifying Grace) is the love of God assuring us that all this is a gift.  Our oneness with God and God’s love for us is not something that depends upon our ability to do the good and right without fail.  Once we recognize the nature of God’s love for us and the world, we begin to understand who we are meant to be and what will give our life its greatest joy and purpose.  We can feel a deep separation from God, however, if we base our relationship with God on our own ability to live flawlessly.
If we make an honest assessment of our lives, we see that we have sometimes done and do things that cause harm to ourselves and to others either by our action or inaction.  We have not always been attentive to loving God either.  The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ speaks definitively about God’s answer in the face of this reality.  Accepting Grace involves our acceptance of God’s acceptance of us, which is a generous, forgiving love.  As teachers and leaders, part of our role is to build people’s faith, trust and confidence in this enormous love and to invite them to embrace God who embraces them as they navigate the ups and downs of life.  As leaders it is our privilege to also extend Accepting Grace to those in our groups on behalf of God and to encourage them to do the same for each other.

Transforming Grace (Sanctifying Grace) is God’s loving empowerment and involvement in our lives that enables us to grow more like Christ. Christian discipleship involves many transformations of thought and action.  Sanctifying grace invites us to open ourselves to be shaped by God so the sacredness of a life of love can infiltrate our way of being.  This is a life-long process.  In contrast to the attempt to be a good person to prove our worth or our ability, we are moved by the Spirit to love out of joy, thankfulness and recognition that we are already cherished in the heart of God, as are all human beings and the entire creation.

New Call-to-Action Loving God, loving ourselves, and loving the world emanates from grateful hearts.  Teachers and leaders can enhance this process by encouraging people to engage in what John Wesley called “Acts of Piety” and “Acts of Mercy”.  Acts of Piety are the habits and practices we incorporate regularly into our lives to help us draw closer and to stay in love with God.   Acts of Mercy include following Christ in a life of doing good and avoiding harm while inviting others to join in.   A servant’s heart, sacrifice and a reordering of priorities are inevitable when following Christ.  Such is a life of grace.
We have a unique and special mission as Christian camp and retreat ministries, which is amazing and beautiful.  It is our privilege and priority to nurture people as disciples of  Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  This is our gift within the overall spectrum of camps and retreats available out there.  If we forget our primary purpose and reason for being, in many ways we become redundant, unnecessary since other types of camps and retreat experiences are already offered.  I think our greatest strength and contribution to the society, not just the Church, hinges on living deeply in our Christian identity.  We may learn from others and expand the type of activities and services we provide, but it is crucially important not to simply mimic other types of camps and retreat centers and thus become generic.
Watering down our purpose to the point where our camp and retreat focus and programs become virtually indistinguishable from other types of camps creates serious difficulties long-term.   Kenda Creasy Dean – Professor of Youth, Church and Culture at Princeton Theological Seminary – lifts up the essential importance of being inextricably immersed in the grace of God.  Without this, what we do may have the appearance of Christianity but not the power to transform lives or to inspire life-long Christian discipleship.  A hesitancy to actually do what Jesus did often produces a drift into a spectator spirituality focused on meeting our own satisfaction and interests alone, rather than being profoundly shaped by the love of God, the love of others, and a more mature form of self-love. It is the grace of God that transforms us and supplies us inspiration to pursue a meaningful life distinctly different from what a consumer mindset would produce.
Unfortunately, a shallower experience of Christianity is proving to have a widespread impact based on the extensive National Study of Youth and Religion which Kenda Creasy Dean references in her book – “Almost Christian.”  This book provides an eye opening look for leaders and parents.  Many young people fail to observe adults around them being truly guided by and transformed by a relationship with God that actually moves them to take risks to live out their Christian faith.  For a growing number of youth and young adults religion is becoming inconsequential as a result.  It is distressingly true even among a significant number who are actively involved in local churches and extension ministries of the church.  This can change, but only if we are very intentional to hone the experiences we offer to align with our core mission.
Making disciples for the transformation of the world is a grace full undertaking.  I think our camp staff and volunteers will be much more inspired if they can catch a vision of this great movement of God that they are a part of.

Ephesians 2:For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Questions to think about:

  1. How might you begin to build a culture of gratitude and grace?
  2. Which of the three dimensions of grace (preceding, accepting and transforming) is your strength and which do you need to expand so that your guests and participants can more fully experience the fullness of God’s grace?
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Rev. Kevin Witt, Certified Camp Director, is the moderator and a primary contributor to the blog (http://camp-retreat-ministry.org/).  He has extensive personal and professional experience within camp and retreat ministry.  Kevin currently serves with the Leadership Ministries Division of the GBOD.

He provides workshops, seminars and consultations on many aspects of camp and retreat ministry and serves on planning teams for national trainings and certification studies.

He is the co-author of two books: the Retreat Leader’s Manual and Twists of Faith: Ministry with Youth at the Turning Points of Their Lives.

Kevin has developed many other resources and coordinates a very active Camp and Retreat Leader Network (CRLN) where over 1,000 leaders of faith based camp and retreat ministry share beneficial information and mutual support.

To join this free CRLN network or to contact Kevin – kwitt@gbod.org

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Topics: Spiritual Growth, retreat, retreat alone, United Methodist Church, Christian grace, grace

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