Sunday, January 13, 2019

Who's your Daddy? It can change your prayer life!


“Nothing tends more to cement the hearts of Christians than praying together. Never do they love one another so well as when they witness the outpouring of each other’s hearts in prayer.”  Charles G. Finney

  Recently, I finished reading The Comeback by Louie Giglio. One chapter is about the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It’s a favorite of Jesus’ parables for many Christians. I know that it’s one of mine. Most focus on the son’s sin and the father’s love and forgiveness. Louie Giglio suggested something that I’d never thought about – What was the son thinking when he saw his father running down the path toward him?
  When the son started to get close to home, his Dad didn’t miss it. His father was eagerly waiting and just needed to see the top of his son’s head coming over the horizon. He pulls up his robe and this noble father sprints down the road, past the servants, past the gate, past the whole village, down the lane toward his son.
  The son must have thought the worst. First it was, Who’s the old man running down the road? Then it was, Oh no, that’s Dad. He’s so irate that he doesn’t want to wait for me to get to the house to crush me; he wants to crush me in full view of the whole town. But that’s not how it went down. In fact, it’s the only time in Scripture where God is portrayed as being in a hurry, because God is always in a hurry to forgive.
  As I thought about the son’s fears, it resonated with me. If I’d blown it and finally came home, and I’d seen my Dad running to meet me, I’d have expected the worst. There wasn’t much grace or forgiveness with my Dad.
  Here’s the problem – our view of God is colored by our view of our Dad. It took me years to realize that God wasn’t going to slap me silly or chew me out because I’d blown it again. God’s Word has been such a healing medicine for me over the years to help me realize who my heavenly Father truly is. Passages like Romans 8:1 have been healing balm for my wounded soul, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Or, Psalms 103:13-14, “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.”  
  The reason that I’m sharing this is that my unbiblical view of God greatly contaminated my prayer life for many years. I kept waiting for the hammer to fall. Sadly, I know that I am not alone. A distorted view of who God truly is hinders many of His children from praying.
  Some years ago sociologists from Baylor did a study about our view of God. I’m not sure how many believers were surveyed, but they discovered that 31.4% of Americans envision the Almighty as The Authoritarian God. They see him as deeply involved in the world, but angry at what He sees. God wants us to do right, but harsh judgments are pending for those who don’t. Another 24% visualize God as The Distant Deity, seeing Him as uninvolved, detached. Another 16% see God as  The Critical God, judgmental, censorious and highly critical.
  While scholars and sociologists dissect the data, the key to a correct and comprehensive view of God is not found in polls, surveys, studies or even experience. It’s found in the Bible. It’s found in God’s Word.
  Our view of God though greatly effects our prayer life. If you see God as some angry tyrant, like Pharaoh or the Wizard of Oz, you’re not going to be motivated to pray. Or, if you think that you have to beg and twist God’s arm to get Him to even listen, you’re not going to want to pray.
  There are many other reasons that we don’t pray either individually or corporately. For many, our past has contaminated our present relationship with God. It’s truly “fake news.” That’s not our heavenly Father. It’s why we can encourage you to pray both alone and together. We need to be a church who trusts our Father and consistently prays together.
  The Lord blessed me with wonderful and godly adopted parents, Dad and Mom Cummins. They helped me begin to learn who my Heavenly Father truly is. They modeled godly parental love. Please understand, they held me accountable and let me know when I crossed a line. It was always done though with love, forgiveness and hope. It sowed seeds in my soul that blossomed into a growing faith that I can come to my Father with anything at any time.
  One specific incident probably sealed this in my heart more than any other. In my early twenties, I’d finished my junior year at Bible college and I began to doubt everything; Was the Bible true? Was there really a God? Did He love me? It was my own, what one writer called, “A Dark Night of the Soul.” In the midst of this spiritual muddle, I had a meeting with a former Bible college professor and pastor who ended up treating me horribly. He said things to me that were some of the most cruel and harshest I’d ever heard…and none of it was true (It came out later that he was covering up his own sin of adultery). But I was so hurt, so ambushed, so broken and so angry all at once. It was everything that I could do to not hop in my car and leave everything…forever. But I calmed down enough to call Dad Cummins. I was so hurt, I was screaming into the phone and he gently urged me to come home, and I did.
  Though it was a Saturday night and Dad had to preach the next day, I drove through the night and arrived home about 2 am. And Dad Cummins was waiting up for me! I fell into his huge arms weeping and he wept too. And I think for the very first time in my life, I finally knew a bit what my Heavenly Father was like.
  This year we’re focusing on prayer as a church family. Maybe you’ve dodged prayer because you’ve had a distorted view of who your Heavenly Father is. If you’re his child, He’s the Dad you’ve always dreamed of having but He’s innumerable times greater. You can come to Him anytime, anywhere, about anything. He loves you and longs for you to come to Him. 
  Please though don’t come alone, come with your regenerate brothers and sisters. Let’s come to our Abba Father together and see the windows of heaven opened. During 2019 and more, let’s move forward on our knees!

Can we help you spiritually? Can we help you know Jesus better? Please check out more resources on our church's web page, Gracechurchwi.org. Or, call us at 262.763.3021. If you'd like to know more about how Jesus can change your life, I'd love to mail you a copy of how Jesus changed my life in "My Story." E-mail me at Carson@gracechurchwi.org to request a free copy. Please include your mailing address. 

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Keep on Growing!


“The more sand that has escaped from the hourglass of our life, the clearer we should see through it.”  Jean-Paul Sartre

  Two elderly ladies had been friends since their 30’s. Now in their 80’s, they still got together a couple of times a week to play cards. One day they were playing gin rummy and one of them said, “You know, we’ve been friends for many years and, please don't get mad, but for the life of me, I can't remember your name. Please tell me what it is.” Her friend glared at her. She continued to glare and stare at her for several minutes. Finally, she said, “How soon do you need to know?”
  We all grow old. It’s inescapable. If you want a picturesque description of aging, read Ecclesiastes 12:1-7. The Bible points out though that there is a major difference between growing old chronologically and maturing. Sadly, some never seem to grow up. That’s an even greater tragedy when that individual is a believer. Though they may have known the Lord for years or decades, they’re stunted spiritually.
  Did you know that it’s only in the spiritual realm that we can keep growing and improving? Our bodies and minds begin to break down with age, but our spirits can continue to grow, improve and mature.
  It is truly a tragedy though when a Christian grows old, but doesn’t grow up. While their physical age increases, spiritually they remain babies in Christ. There’s little to differentiate between them and those who committed their lives to Christ in the last few weeks. Part of that lack of growth is that many believe the Christian life is merely having your ticket punched for heaven. It’s not. Jesus didn’t just save us so we could go to heaven. He saved us so that we would grow and be more and more like Him. If you’re not growing more Christlike, then you’re missing God’s will for your life and the fulfilling, abundant life that God wants to give you (John 10:10). What are some needed steps for growing up spiritually?
  It begins with humility. If most listed out the sins that God hates the most, pride might not even make the list. Yet, pride is the first sin on the list of traits that God hates (Proverbs 6:16-17). Pride isn’t something that annoys God. It’s a sin that He won’t tolerate. God does more than hate pride. It’s so offensive that He actually “resists the proud,” while, in contrast, He “gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). You can’t be a Christian without humbling yourself and you can’t be a healthy, growing one without humility. Growth requires a humble, teachable attitude.
  An indication of spiritual arrogance is when we don’t believe that we need to study God’s Word or be under Its teaching. It’s when we do little more than acquire more knowledge but there’s no growth or life change. Arrogance prevents us from having an open mind and listening ear to the Spirit teaching us or fellow-believers who recognize sin or something lacking spiritually in our lives, and love us enough to want to help us grow. Humility is essential for spiritual growth. It’s the place we must begin.  
  It requires habitually renewing your mind. A continual theme of Scripture is the command for the believer to faithfully “renew” his or her mind (Romans 12:2). That simply means that we proactively work to have a biblical worldview. You can’t have a biblical worldview unless you’re faithfully reading Scripture. It’s tragic that while Christians from other generations were martyred so we could have God’s Word in our own hands and language and today believers in anti-Christian countries risk their lives to have a copy of Scripture, American believers rarely read the Bible.
  If you want to grow spiritually, reading God’s Word needs to be a daily discipline. To fail to read God’s Word faithfully is like going on a trip to a place you’ve never been without a map or GPS. Scripture acts like a mirror to help us correct the one we know best – ourselves (James 1:23). The Bible is God’s Love Letter to His children telling them everything that they need for this life and the one to come.
  Part of renewing your mind is also prayer. It’s much more than praying for myself, temporal/physical needs or even for my biological family. The greatest needs are spiritual health. Why would someone be so foolish to pray for physical blessing for their loved ones and fail to pray for their spiritual health…or that they would know Christ? Praying biblically means praying for the advancement of God’s Kingdom in my life and this world. It’s praying His will would be done.
  It requires growing in my giving. When someone mentions giving in a church setting, most foolishly think only of money. For us as rich Americans, giving money primarily helps us grow in grace because it combats the materialism and lack of faith in God’s provision that are terrible spiritual maladies in our culture.
  Many of us struggle more when it comes to giving time rather than money. To be candid, it’s much easier to write a check than spend an hour or two listening to a child or elderly saint. It’s easier to pay someone else to do a repair than to partner with another believer so that more than the repair is done – we grow in fellowship and community. We wrongly think serving is getting a job done. Serving is to have a togetherness aspect.
  And something that’s totally biblical, yet counter-cultural – we must grow in gratitude. In many ways what does someone who doesn’t know the Lord have to be thankful for. Yet, for a believer what do we have that we can’t be thankful for. Even trials and suffering are being used by God to help us grow spiritually. The worst of this world is temporary. Habitual praise begins as part of our thinking (Phil. 4:8). It starts with praising our Heavenly Father for His countless blessings. After-all, He doesn’t owe us anything. Then, turn your gratitude toward those closest to you – your family and spiritual family. One trait that makes our witness so impotent to a lost world is that we are so much like the world in our grumbling and so unlike what we are to be as citizens of another world in our gratitude
  You can’t stop aging. As a believer, you can choose to grow spiritually. It will make all the difference, so please keep growing.

Can we help you spiritually? Can we help you know Jesus better? Please check out more resources on our church's web page, Gracechurchwi.org. Or, call us at 262.763.3021. If you'd like to know more about how Jesus can change your life, I'd love to mail you a copy of how Jesus changed my life in "My Story." E-mail me at Carson@gracechurchwi.org to request a free copy. Please include your mailing address. 

Sunday, December 30, 2018

What's your story?


What’s your story?

  Hopefully, he doesn’t read this or I’ll never hear the end of it. But Jane’s brother-in-law, Fred Froman, is a great storyteller. When it comes to jokes, not so much. Fred pastors Holt Baptist Church in Holt, Michigan. It’s hard to believe that we’ve been friends for over forty years. Like most preachers, every once in a while Fred will attempt to tell a joke in a sermon as an illustration. You know that you’ve probably laid an egg when you tell the joke, no one laughs so you have to follow it with, “Uhm, that was a joke,” That’s usually followed by nervous laughter from the crowd.
  Yet, what Fred lacks in joke telling, he overachieves in storytelling. Fred can have an entire room captivated as he tells what are affectionately known as “a Froman story.” He has a gift for making the mundane mesmerizing.
  Each New Year typically means making some new friends. It’s a fairly familiar conversation that all of us have had. In fact, when our children were young, we taught them how to have it so that they could engage others in a conversation.
  It nearly always begins with your name. Then, is often followed by…where do you live, where are you from, what do you do? Favorite sports teams will often be shared or where you went to high school or college? Perhaps even your dream vacation or favorite type of food.
  Many questions will be asked but one that’s rarely, if ever asked is: Where are you going? Yet, isn’t that the most important question of all. Every Christian, when it comes to that question, Where are you going? should be able to tell their story. The bottom line is that every Christian should know their story and while they’re all unique, at the same time – they are all the identical. So, what’s your story?
  The Apostle Peter talks about sharing our story as he wrote, “…Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:15-16). Every Christian’s story includes certain key chapters.
  Chapter 1: My life before Christ. This can be a little more difficult if you grew up in a Christian home with parents who loved the Lord Jesus because there may be little difference. Yet, all of us had a period in our lives before we came to know Christ. No one is born a Christian. None of us are “good” people. We may be more moral than others, but it’s all relative. None of us are good compared to the perfect standard of a holy God. We’re certainly not “good,” because we go to church. That’s as silly as suggesting that you’re a doctor because you walked through a hospital. Though we attempt to fill what Blaise Pascal called that “God-shaped vacuum” in each of our hearts, only God through Jesus Christ can fill it.
  Chapter 2: My awareness that apart from Christ, I’m hopeless. If you’ve ever dealt with a cancer victim, you’ll find that the one thing that sustains them is hope. Without hope, they have nothing. Every one of us has a disease that’s called sin and it’s incurable. It carries with it, if we’re honest, deep guilt and shame. It’s true that some of us are “less” guilty than perhaps others. After all, most of us aren’t Charles Mansons, but the standard is God’s perfection.
  It’s a bit like attempting to jump off a pier in Racine all the way across Lake Michigan to the coast of Michigan. Someone who is athletically fit, will obviously jump further than someone who is middle-aged and out of shape. But no one can jump all the way across. God’s standard of perfection means that we must jump all the way across, so while some may jump a bit further, in the end, we all miserably fail and fall terribly short.
  Chapter 3: How I trusted Jesus to carry me across. Unless you have a pilot’s license, when you fly you’re totally dependent upon the pilot. You’re completely committed to him and his abilities. That’s similar to salvation. You know that your sin debt is too high. For you, it’s an impossible debt to pay. Because you know that you’re not perfect you know that can’t get yourself into Heaven. You’re totally dependent on someone else.
  Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). The only way to be forgiven and go to Heaven is to trust Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. John 3:16 is the gospel and that truth summarized. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Salvation is a free gift that one must accept based on Jesus’ death on the cross. It cannot be purchased. After all, it is a gift.
  Chapter 4: My life after coming to Christ. When someone has trusted Christ as their personal Savior, there are revolutionary changes in their life. That’s what 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” If there are no changes, something is terribly wrong. There are changes in your character, attitude and perspective on life. Your motivation, what you live for and think is important should change. It’s not that you’re perfect.
  It’s a bit like marriage. In fact, the Christian life is compared to a marriage (Ephesians 5). Something is seriously wrong with a marriage if there are no changes. The Christian life is not external conformity. As Galatians 5:22-23 teaches a Christian will be known for spiritual fruit in their life (“the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”). 
  This coming year you will have multiple opportunities to share your story. Please be sure to share the most important part of your story, Where you are going and why? That’s a story worth telling again and again. 

Can we help you spiritually? Can we help you know Jesus better? Please check out more resources on our church's web page, Gracechurchwi.org. Or, call us at 262.763.3021. If you'd like to know more about how Jesus can change your life, I'd love to mail you a copy of how Jesus changed my life in "My Story." E-mail me at Carson@gracechurchwi.org to request a free copy. Please include your mailing address. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The “Other” Message in Christmas Movies


“Look for Christ and you will find Him. 
And with Him everything else.”
C. S. Lewis

  So, what’s your favorite Christmas movie? There are some wonderful ones. There are also some horrible ones but no one will deny that there are lots of them. Essentially, all of December is filled with Christmas movies but then it comes to a screeching halt on December 26th.
  Though I don’t want to read something in to Christmas movies that are not there, as I was mulling this over, I do think that there’s more of a redemptive element in many of these classics than perhaps we’ve noticed, elements of the real Christmas story are there even by those who may have never intended to put them there. For example…
  We’re all sinners and really messed up. I love Home Alone, but is there any character that you’d want to be “home alone” with in that movie? They have a huge, beautiful house but they’re mean, cruel and vicious to each other. They’d be dubbed dysfunctional. That seems too kind. They illustrate that bucko bucks and a fabulous vacation to Europe won’t transform sinful people into good ones. Miracle on 34th Street also shows the emptiness of what most consider to be success.
  The difference one person can make. It will be forever debated whether Die Hard is truly a Christmas movie. While John McClain is heroic, he has lots of serious issues and is certainly not an example of how to live. Yet, in spite of that, he’s willing to sacrifice his life and everything else for others. Wonderfully, our Savior who came and entered space and time is truly a hero, a White Knight with no chinks in His armor. Jesus is the perfect, sinless lamb of God who sacrificed Himself for us.
  All of us must be prepared for death. He’s only a snowman but every child is saddened that Frosty’s clock is ticking and he’s headed to his soon demise. Frosty shows us that the seasons of life can’t be stopped. As much as we seek to freeze ourselves in youth, death is imminent for all of us and we need to prepare for our all too soon coming end.
  Unrealistic expectations always leave us empty. Both Christmas Story and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation are about expectations and the frustration of unrealized ones. Clark Griswold wants to have a perfect family Christmas, so he pesters his wife and children, as he tries to make sure everything is perfect. But it will never happen and things quickly go awry. His redneck cousin, Eddie and family show up…unplanned and start living in their camper on the Griswold property. Worse, Clark’s employers renege on the holiday bonus he’s planning on and desperately needs.
  You can’t judge the overall plan on your little piece of information. One of my favorites is White Christmas. Yet, what a comedy of errors and anger that’s a result of misinformation and not having the “big picture.” If we only look at today and this world, we too will become quickly disillusioned and angry. What a wonderful encouragement those words from Isaiah are, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord” (55:8). It also shows how we muck things up when we manipulate and try to force things. Often we attempt to “help” God out only to discover that we’ve created a bigger mess.
  What a dark and different world this would be if Jesus had not come. Christmas doesn’t seem like Christmas unless I’ve watched It’s a Wonderful Life and I spring a leak every time. It’s considered, not just one of the greatest Christmas movies, but one of the greatest films ever made. Frank Capra, the director, confessed that it was his personal favorite among the films he directed. He screened it for his family every Christmas season.
  George Bailey is the classic antihero. After setback after setback, he repeatedly gives up on his dreams to help others. His attempted suicide on Christmas Eve brings about the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence who shows George all of the lives he’s touched, and how different life in his community would be if he’d never been born.
  Think about that. Our world is so dark and evil now, but what would it be like if Jesus had never come. No churches, orphanages, hospitals. Think of how many organizations, including most Ivy League colleges, were birthed by Christians seeking to serve the Savior. What if Jesus had never come? It’s a very dark concept.  
  Hope and redemption for the seemingly unredeemable. Another longtime favorite is the original Grinch. The theme song nearly makes the movie. He’s a surly character with a heart “two sizes too small” who especially hated Christmas and determines to stop it from ever coming to Whoville. He steals Christmas from the Whos and returns to his mountain,  waiting to hear their sad cry. Instead, the Whos joyously begin to sing Christmas carols, proving that the spirit of Christmas doesn’t depend on material things. The Grinch begins to understand the true meaning of Christmas and his heart grows three sizes. He brings everything back to the Whos and even participates in their holiday feast.
  Christmas movie after Christmas movie repeats the same theme of hope and redemption from A Christmas Carol to Christmas with the Cranks and even Elf. Yet, the fictional tales are nothing compared to the real one. The real Christmas story, the one found in Scripture, is about hope, forgiveness and redemption. As the angel told Joseph, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
  How about you? Has He saved you from your sins? Is your life story His redemption story and the great plan of salvation? Because He came for you, your life can be one of the greatest Christmas stories of all time, too. 

Can we help you spiritually? Can we help you know Jesus better? Please check out more resources on our church's web page, Gracechurchwi.org. Or, call us at 262.763.3021. If you'd like to know more about how Jesus can change your life, I'd love to mail you a copy of how Jesus changed my life in "My Story." E-mail me at Carson@gracechurchwi.org to request a free copy. Please include your mailing address. 

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Greatest Christmas Gifts


“The greatest Christmas gifts aren’t wrapped in paper.”

  Do you remember Christmas gifts that you received as a child? Was there that “one gift” you just had to have? One Christmas gift that sticks out in the corridors of my mind was a Hot Wheels set I received one year. I must have been 8 or 9 yet I still remember even that day, after playing with it for a bit – feeling disappointed. I think I played with it a few times over the course of the next few weeks and then it was retired to some shelf or box in our basement, rarely, if ever to appear again.
  Are other Christmas gifts all that different than my Hot Wheels set? Some of the “must have” gifts for women this year are: Tiffany Signature Pearl Earrings, A Vitamix Ascent Blender, Personalized Luggage, An Audible Subscription, A Monogrammed Cashmere Throw. For men it’s…a Casper Nap Pillow, Temperature Control Ceramic Mug, Square Portable Bluetooth Speaker, Touchscreen Italian Leather Driving Gloves or The Modern Snap Backpack. Then, commercials on TV tell us that the “must have” gifts are traveling or a cruise, or jewelry, a new car or even the latest perfume.
  If we’re honest, we’ll admit that none of those things bring fulfillment. They’re nice for a moment, but not a very long one. The gifts with true meaning and significance, money can’t buy because they’re priceless! But Jesus wants to give us gifts that bring true meaning and fulfillment.
  Jesus came to give us the gift of peace. It’s what the angels said that first Christmas Eve: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom [God] is pleased!” Outside of the U.N. there’s a renowned bronze sculpture “Let Us Beat Our Swords into Ploughshares,” by Soviet artist, Evgeny Vuchetich, and presented to the U.N. on December 4, 1959. In nearly 75 years, the U.N. is no closer to bringing about world peace than it was on the day it was born. There’s little peace in our own country. Crime is a major concern. The workplace is not a place of peace with conflict between management and labor, or inner office squabbles. For many, the home is not a place of peace. 2 million couples have used a lethal weapon on their spouses in their lifetimes. Another 4 million wives are beaten by their husbands each year. Some 3 million children are beaten, maimed or murdered annually in our country. While the majority are not places of violence, yet what most marriages and families have is far from peace. More often, it’s a cold war. Many seek to find peace in workaholism or some other addiction. Anything to quell the volcano in their own souls. There’s no peace “out there,” which is why the Prince of Peace came to bring us peace. It’s only in a relationship with Him that we have what the world longs for – peace. Longfellow, in his poem, Christmas Bells, later turned into one of our favorite Christmas Carols caught the picture of our true source of the gift of peace as he penned:

“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

  Jesus came to give us the gift of joy. “And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people’.” How many do you know that have joy? Do you have joy? C.S. Lewis called joy, “The serious business of Heaven.” Joy is the difference between merely existing and truly living. The presence of joy upgrades survival to being. I’m not sure because I love so many of them, but I think that my favorite Christmas carol is “Joy to the World.” It’s just brimming over with joy! Remember those first words: “Joy to the world, the Lord is Come! Let earth receive her King!” Yet, until that only Child of God…the One who came from eternity into time…that Child of God Who grew up and died for you…until He comes into your life, you won’t know joy. It won’t be “Joy to the world the Lord is come…to ME.” Joy is directly connected to Jesus. It comes from inviting the Christ of Christmas into your life. It begins when you ask Him to forgive you of all your sin that He died to pay for on the cross for you. Do you want joy? Decide today to follow Him as your Savior and Lord. Joy comes when He rules MY world.
  Jesus came to give us the gift of hope. During World War II, six pilots took off from an aircraft carrier in the North Atlantic to look for enemy submarines. While gone, the captain of the carrier was forced to issue a blackout alarm. The ship went totally dark. When the pilots tried to return, they couldn’t find the ship. They radioed, “Give us some light, we’re coming home.” The ship’s radio operator replied, “Order: blackout. I cannot give you light.” In turn, each pilot desperately radioed the same message: “Just give me some light and I’ll make it.” Each time, the operator had to radio back, “No light—blackout!” Because there was no light from the ship, those six pilots perished in the North Atlantic. Ours is a dark world that desperately needs light. The birth of Jesus Christ brought the light that offers hope to a world in darkness. He came to give us hope.
  When Aaron left for East Asia on a missions trip some years ago, he asked, “Dad, what if something happens to me?” I answered in confident hope in the cross that I knew Aaron had trusted in for his salvation, “Then, I’ll see you later.”
  When you accept God’s gift of hope, as beautifully written of in Romans 8:35-39, NOTHING can separate you from the love of God and hope!
  The greatest gifts aren’t under a tree. God’s gift was nailed to a tree so we could have peace, joy and hope. Have you opened God’s gift to you?

Can we help you spiritually? Can we help you know Jesus better? Please check out more resources on our church's web page, Gracechurchwi.org. Or, call us at 262.763.3021. If you'd like to know more about how Jesus can change your life, I'd love to mail you a copy of how Jesus changed my life in "My Story." E-mail me at Carson@gracechurchwi.org to request a free copy. Please include your mailing address. 

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Happy 250th!


“God is not an encyclopedia whose task it is to satisfy our curiosity.”
Jacques Ellul

You probably didn’t know this but last Thursday, December 6th, was the 250th Birthday of the encyclopedia. On December 6th, 1768, the 1st edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica was published in Edinburgh. Other encyclopedias existed before the Britannica, but none of its predecessors attempted to systematically cover all of the major subjects of human knowledge. The original three volume publication promised “accurate definitions and explanations, of all the terms as they occur in the order of the alphabet.” The 2nd edition increased to 10 volumes and soon became the standard, earning a reputation for its rigorous editorial standards.
  Some people have tried to read the entire encyclopedia. Very few have succeeded. A.J. Jacobs read the entire 15th edition, about 40 million words, on nearly 230,000 topics. He wrote about the experience in his 2014 book: “The Know-It-All,” saying, “I’ve definitely forgotten a lot, a huge amount, 97, 98 percent maybe, but there’s so much stuff left in there…”
  In 2012, after 244 years of publication, the Britannica announced that it would no longer publish print versions, focusing instead on digital products. Though it’s now in a digital format, today’s Britannica has 44 million words in 32 volumes at about 1,375,000 words per volume. All of this reminds me of the last verse in the Gospel of John, chapter 21 and verse 24: “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”
  Though we know much about the last three years of Jesus’ life, we know very little about His birth. While it’s been the subject of countless dramatizations and speculations, the historian Luke gives it all of one sentence: “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” The Gospel of Mark doesn’t say a word about Jesus’ birth. The Gospel of John only focuses on His deity and eternality.
  It can almost be frustrating. If most of us had written the story of Jesus’ life, we’d have explained a lot more about Mary and Joseph and why Mary was traveling with Joseph to begin with. There would have been many details on why no one found a room in any inn or at the very least in Bethlehem had welcomed them into their home. Much more than the simple “because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:6).
  Why wasn’t there a better place for them to stay than a barn, who was with them when that baby was born, and so many other questions? We would have done a lot more investigating and reporting, filling in all of those details and removing most of the speculation. We wouldn’t have gone all Kitty Kelley, but a little David McCullough would have been nice.
  But in doing so, we would have drowned the account in needless, even distracting detail. Often when it comes to the Bible, God doesn’t give us all the details we want, but He always gives us the details we need. When it comes to the birth of Jesus, we get all the details we need to understand one thing with the utmost clarity: Jesus comes quietly, even insignificantly.
  Luke opens this part of his account of Jesus’ life with the name of Caesar Augustus, the mighty emperor, the man who can speak a word and make millions of people do his bidding. With a mere word he can force his citizens to travel significant distances to do something as simple as register for taxation. This is Caesar, the strong, Caesar, the proud and Caesar, the powerful. He’s the greatest emperor of the greatest Empire and the mightiest man on the planet. But then, Luke switches his attention to an infant, born in the most ignominious circumstances. Born to a virgin, born away from home, born in a barn, laid to rest in an animal food trough. The contrast is both powerful and undeniable.
  We would imagine, of course, that the Messiah would be born high and rich, a son of great privilege. We’d expect that He would be born in circumstances more befitting a king. He should have been born to royalty, not to peasants. He should have been born in a palace, not a barn. He should have been born surrounded by the finest doctors who would have safely ushered Him into the world.
  But no, everyone in the entire town turns away his parents, even though it’s obvious that Mary is about to give birth. They have nowhere else to go, so He is born in a stable and laid to rest in a feeding trough.
  Why? Because God will teach us something vital through Jesus. He will teach us that we see this world completely backwards. He will teach us that the way to be great in God’s eyes is to be nothing in the world’s eyes. He will teach us that the way to exaltation is through humiliation, that the way to go high is to go low. He will teach it first and best through His very own Son, “who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” He came as the least because He came for the least.  
  Do you feel small, insignificant? Maybe just a number? Do you feel that you don’t really matter? You do. The One who left heaven to come to earth 2,000 years ago reminds us that as the world thought that He was insignificant, He came to this earth in love for all of the “insignificants.” He came for you and He came for me! He was the first Christmas gift and the only one that you will ever need. 

Can we help you spiritually? Can we help you know Jesus better? Please check out more resources on our church's web page, Gracechurchwi.org. Or, call us at 262.763.3021. If you'd like to know more about how Jesus can change your life, I'd love to mail you a copy of how Jesus changed my life in "My Story." E-mail me at Carson@gracechurchwi.org to request a free copy. Please include your mailing address. 

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Why study "shadows"?


“God gave the prophecies, not to gratify men’s curiosity by enabling them to foreknow things, but that after they were fulfilled they might be interpreted by the event, and His own providence, not the interpreters, be thereby manifested to the world.” Sir Isaac Newton

Periodically, I’ll be in a store and see a Mom shopping with several young children and my mind will flood with a thousand memories. As a child, I remember being dragged along by my mother with my two older sisters to go shopping. I’m not sure that I’d even heard the word, but I know I felt it – B-O-R-I-N-G! Soon I’d be distracted, find something more intriguing than dresses or other feminine paraphernalia and wander off.
  Though my Mom wasn’t very tall, just a bit over five feet, I could almost always find her. Back then many women wore a hairstyle known as the beehive. I think my Mom had one that was nearly a foot high. I’d peer over racks looking for that familiar beehive. But sometimes I’d wander too far, couldn’t find her and would go into panic mode. I remember on at least one occasion having a kind store employee help me find her.
  Suppose though, that happened and in terror, I’d run to the end of an aisle. Just before full panic hits, I saw a shadow on the floor at the end of the aisle that looked like my Mom. There’d be a sense of relief and hope. Yet, which is better? The happiness of seeing the shadow, or having my Mom step around the corner and it’s really her?
  Did you know that’s what Christmas is? It’s the replacement of shadows with the real thing. In the Old Testament, God gave us shadows, lots of them. When Jesus came the shadow of prophecy was fulfilled with the coming of the Christ Child. Yet, most Christians are unfamiliar with the Old Testament. For most, it’s less than 10% of their Bible reading. If you remove Psalms and Proverbs, it might drop to less than 5%. But the Old Testament makes up 60% of our Bibles. We will never understand the New Testament and miss many of the blessings of Christ’s first coming, if we’re unfamiliar with the prophetic promises of His incarnation.
  Today we begin a new series, Christmas in the Old Testament. The Old Testament promises about Christ’s incarnation are a source of great blessing and encouragement for us. Here are a few reasons this Christmas Season we’re studying some Old Testament incarnation promises.  
  God planned for Jesus to come because of God the Father’s patient,  tenacious love. The Old Testament unfolds over thousands of years. The New Testament spans less than 100 years. In the Old Testament we encounter people much like us: sinful, stubborn, prone to blow off God and make dumb choices. And yet, we continually see a loving God who chooses to stick it out with this messed-up group of people. Reading through God’s interactions with people in the Old Testament helps us remember how amazingly steadfast God’s love is.
  The Old Testament reveals Christ. It doesn’t just “point forward” to Christ; it reveals Him. It’s not just a series of signposts to Christ; Jesus’ revealing shadow falls on virtually every page, cultivating faith and love in believing hearts. But why linger in Old Testament shadows when we have New Testament sunlight? Because there’s refreshment in the shade. Without the shadows of the Old, we’d never appreciate the sunshine of the incarnation. The dawn is beautiful, but the sunrise is absolutely stunning!
  The Bible is incomplete without the Old Testament. Both the Old and New Testaments make up the Scriptures. The New Testament wasn’t to replace the Old but to complete its story. The first book, Genesis, records how a curse came on humanity because of sin. The last, Revelation, completes the story by recording how God, through the sacrifice of Jesus, removed the curse of sin. The story of redemption is incomplete without both Testaments revealing the beginning and end of the curse.
  The Old Testament provides the historical setting out of which Christianity emerged. Christianity didn’t materialize out of a vacuum. God was moving to bring forth the Messiah who would provide pardon from the judgment that came on us because of sin. Early New Testament preachers like Stephen (Acts 7) and Paul (Acts 13:16-41) made frequent use of the Old Testament to share God’s love and plan for salvation.
  The Old Testament lays the foundation for biblical prophecy. It’s there that we find God’s covenant promises. In the Abrahamic Covenant, God promises a land, a nation, and a blessing that will extend from Israel to all the nations of the earth (Gen. 12:2-3). In the Davidic Covenant, He promises that King David will have a descendant who will sit on his throne and rule and reign forever (2 Sam. 7:12-16). The Prophets reveal how the blessing promised to Abraham and his descendants will be ultimately realized through the Lord Jesus (Jer. 31:31-34, Ezek. 36:25-28).
  Take Jesus out and the Bible makes no sense. The Old Testament gives us expectations about the promised Messiah. His birth, death, resurrection, return and Kingdom are all revealed in the Old Testament (Luke 24:44-46). If you truly want to know Jesus, you can’t disregard the Old Testament.
  The Old Testament demonstrates that God ALWAYS keeps His promises. From Genesis to Malachi, God promised again and again that He would send a Messiah, One who would save His people from their sins …and He did. Most people have a hard time trusting others. We’ve had many break their promises to us or simply lied. God always keeps His promises! As He kept His promises about Jesus’ first coming, He’ll keep all of His promises about the future. Christmas in the Old Testament reminds us that when God promises a “gift card,” we can count on cashing it in. Join us each Sunday to see anew that God always keeps His promises!

Can we help you spiritually? Can we help you know Jesus better? Please check out more resources on our church's web page, Gracechurchwi.org. Or, call us at 262.763.3021. If you'd like to know more about how Jesus can change your life, I'd love to mail you a copy of how Jesus changed my life in "My Story." E-mail me at Carson@gracechurchwi.org to request a free copy. Please include your mailing address.