Sunday, September 22, 2019

Gratitude is the Best Attitude



“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.”   Zig Ziglar

  Earlier this week I sat through a presentation to raise funds for a great cause. But one of the things that really stood out to me in the presentation – misspelled words. The project is putting in new bathrooms for a school of 400 students in a 3rd World country. It’s a great and worthy project and compared to American costs, very reasonable. Yet, I found that I was more focused on a few misspellings than the huge impact of this project.
  Please understand, I’m not suggesting that we become sloppy and overlook misspelled words or other errors, and not aim for excellence. What I am confessing is that I’ve been so contaminated by a sinful world, that my tendency is to notice what is wrong before I notice what is right.
  With 10 stalls for 400 students, 5 for girls and 5 for boys, I’d surmise those students don’t care what it’s called – whether a bathroom, restroom, toilet, privy, washroom, powder room, loo, lavatory or some slang term. They’re just thankful that they have a bathroom with indoor plumbing.
  Are you like me? I find that the Spirit is continually convicting me for my petty, ungrateful heart. I have to be spiritually aggressive with my sinful spirit that’s more prone to groan than to give gratitude.
  John MacArthur insightfully writes, “A thankful heart is one of the primary identifying characteristics of a believer. It stands in stark contrast to pride, selfishness, and worry. And it helps fortify the believer’s trust in the Lord and reliance of His provision, even in the toughest times. No matter how choppy the seas become, a believer’s heart is buoyed by constant praise and gratefulness to the Lord.”
  For the past few weeks I’ve been thinking about what trait or traits most identify and distinguish a Christian. I was wrongly taught and believed for too many years that it was behavior, appearance or following a list of rules. I was a very good Pharisee.
  I’m so thankful that sanctification is a lifelong process and that my Heavenly Father is so patient with me. As I look through the pages of Scripture, there is a consistent identifying trait for a godly person, someone who is maturing in their walk with the Lord – constant gratitude. The last book of the Bible, Revelation, is permeated with hymns of praise. We end in eternity with praise in our hearts that flows from our lips.
  Yet, gratitude is a habit that must be empowered by God’s grace and continually cultivated. Every believer has a life filled with blessings now that overflows into eternity. It’s not a matter of what we have or what’s  going on, it’s what we see and focus on and fill our minds with.  
  Recently, I read of a study that took three groups of people and had them go for daily walks. The first group was told to focus on the good things they noticed, the second one on the bad and the third group was told just to walk for exercise. What was the result?
  At the end of the week, when the walkers’ well-being was tested again, those who had deliberately targeted positive cues were happier than before the experiment. The negatively focused subjects were less happy, and the just plain exercisers scored somewhere in between.
  The point, according to the researchers, is that “you see what you look for. And you can train yourself to attend to the joy out there waiting to be had, instead of passively waiting for it to come to you.” What I found very noteworthy was that though this wasn’t a Christian study, these individuals had significant positive change because they learned to focus on what we call “common grace.” Unknowingly, they were living out the Lord’s command: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
  Nothing so sets apart a believer as gratitude. We can be the kind of people who truly feel and appreciate the good in life because we know who it comes from (James 1:17). At first, like any habit, it takes work. It requires continued focus. Yet, if we develop the habit of gratitude, it will radically change us and our testimony for the gospel. Here are a few simple steps to help you begin.
  Confess ingratitude and pray for grace to grow in gratitude. We must by confession clear out the filth in our hearts so that the Lord can fill it with grace and gratitude. It means being honest and coming clean. Afterall, Jesus died for our sin of ingratitude. But most of us don’t take the sin of ungratefulness seriously. The nation of Israel learned a hard lesson and spent 40 years wandering the wilderness because of grumbling.
  Limit contaminations of bad news in your life. Personally, I rarely watch the news. I may listen to the headlines or scan them on a periodical, yet I don’t linger there. That’s because rarely is there anything encouraging. Most is broadcast void of a biblical worldview, that even in the “bad” God is in total control. Then, I avoid negaholics and seek to surround myself with grateful people and those who see God’s hand in this world.  
  Increase the amount of good news in your life. It’s rare to find a miserable believer who is faithfully in their Bible. Spending time in God’s Word changes our outlook and help us be aware that God is working even when we can’t see it and helps us see life from His eternal perspective.
  Start early, yet start small. Begin your day thanking the Lord for another one. Throughout your day look for God moments, little blessings like the beauty of His creation or some unexpected kindness. Perhaps keep a log and write down a blessing or blessings from each day.
  Ask the Lord to help you see those things from His perspective which most easily cause you to complain. I’m not a masochist. I don’t like trials. Yet, I know from Scripture that my Father is behind trials. Of late, I’ve been asking Him to use them to burn away dross and make me more like Jesus. It’s changed my perspective of trials from something to get through to that which I’m confident He is using to make me into His masterpiece.
  Would those around you describe you as a grateful person? Do they hear the song in your heart because you know Jesus and are confident that He has everything under control, even the trials?




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, September 15, 2019

Loneliness


“Sometimes the person who tries to keep everyone happy
is the most lonely person.”

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat. Email, text, instant messages, cellphone calls. There are more ways than ever to connect with others — yet many, more than we can imagine, continually feel the hollow ache of loneliness. Loneliness isn’t constrained by age, gender, marital status or job title. CEOs feel it, as do cubicle dwellers. New moms, granddads, recent college grads and grade school kids struggle with loneliness.
  Americans are lonelier than ever—even though opportunities for social connection have exponentially increased. Even with affordable phone calls and free email, ultimately we talk to each other less. Despite the prevalence of car ownership and the low cost of cross-country air travel, we spend less time with our families. After decades of bowling leagues, Americans began bowling alone. In today’s age of social media, we’re not even bowling alone…we’re scrolling alone.
  Even royalty isn’t immune to loneliness. While normally fiercely guarded about her private life, Duchess Kate of Cambridge spoke candidly about how life with young children was isolating. “It is lonely at times and you do feel quite isolated, but actually so many other mothers are going through exactly what you are going through.” The king of “Rock and Roll,” Elvis Presley before he died wrote, “I feel so alone sometimes. I’d love to be able to sleep. I’ll probably not rest. I have no need for all this, help me Lord.” Former surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, was the first to label loneliness an epidemic. Dr. Murthy demonstrated that loneliness causes “an insidious type of stress” that leads to increased risk of heart disease, arthritis and diabetes. Loneliness has the same effect on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
  The first thing that God said was bad was being “alone” (Genesis 2:18). God doesn’t want us to be lonely and if there is one place that someone shouldn’t be lonely, it’s in church, BUT too often they are.
  It’s apparent when someone is sitting or standing alone, that loneliness may be an issue for them. It’s why we continually encourage you at Grace to not let someone sit alone, to break out of our normal friend circles, to engage others. It might be something as simple as asking someone if they’d like to join you for a cup of coffee at our Coffee Café after the service. It would be a terrible failure on our part if someone walked through the doors of our church and we never sought to connect or engage them.
  Yet, there are those who attend each week who struggle with a deep sense of loneliness. It could be a child or teen who feels insecure. Just chatting briefly, asking them questions, listening and seeking to encourage them can make a big difference. It might be someone who is married to an unsaved spouse or is divorced or lost a spouse. It could be someone who is single.
  It takes so little to make someone feel welcomed and accepted. Just a simple smile is a great way to start. And if anyone should genuinely smile, it’s a believer. For a believer, the very worst of this world is temporary. Not only that, we are never alone.
  God designed the local church to be a place of deep friendship and community. It’s why we have Grace Groups, which begin this morning at 10:45 am. Yes, we want to share and see you grow in biblical truth. Our main purpose though is to give you an opportunity to begin to peel back the masks that we all wear and draw closer to other believers. As we become more transparent, we draw closer to each other. It’s as we spend time together that we discover rhythms of true community. We want to be a healthy community. Spiritually healthy groups encourage, challenge, and support one another. And while other groups meet during the week, we’ve purposefully scheduled our primary groups on Sundays to make it very convenient. We know football is important for some. It’s why our groups are all done at 11:30 am, so you can be home for the kick-off.
  Sometimes a spouse doesn’t desire to attend. Most couples drive two cars. Compromise and let the one who is interested stay. And please, as parents, make this part of your children’s lives. Children who don’t learn the importance of community during their formative years will easily jettison being part of a church during their college and adult years. As a parent, prepare for that by helping them instill a habit of spiritual community. 
  Healthy community requires a frequency of local interactions. Jesus models perfect being-in-relationship for us. He was never not in relationship. He entered this world not by splitting the heavens but by gently growing in His mother’s womb. He entered a normal family, spent His childhood and early adulthood in obscurity, and then launched His ministry by inviting others to come follow Him and be His disciples. Even on the eve of His crucifixion, Jesus gathered for a meal with His disciples, then led them to pray with Him at Gethsemane. With His final breaths, He instructed His disciples to care for His mother. If relationships were essential to Jesus, shouldn’t they be for me and you, too?
  Occasionally, Jesus went off to pray in solitude, but generally, He did everything with this ragtag bunch. His life illustrates that even our Savior refused to live in isolation. If relationships were essential to Him, shouldn’t they be for us, too? Like Him, we exist for relationships.
  Created in the image of a triune—and therefore eternally relational—God, to be fully alive means to live-in relationships. If Jesus was history’s most “fully alive” human, it shouldn’t surprise us that a person can’t become fully human without a community. God created us for community.
  Grace groups, a place for community, start today! Please join one!

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, September 8, 2019

There's No Place Like Home!


“There’s no place like home.”  Dorothy

  Dorothy was right! It doesn’t matter whether it’s a mansion or a shack. There really is no place like home. Jane and I have just spent four weeks in what many call “paradise.” The beach and ocean were only a few miles away. The weather tropical. Yet, I found myself, particularly toward the end of our time, longing to come home. And it didn’t hurt that as we prepared to leave, Hurricane Dorian was looming as an uninvited guest.  
  It’s hard to believe that I am now in my 32nd year as your Pastor in Burlington. In 1988 we loaded up our car, a moving truck and our then two very young children, left Detroit and moved to Burlington. The community was smaller then and had much more of a small-town feel.
  The next day as I went to open a bank account at what was then the Bank of Burlington, the woman at the front greeted me with, “Oh, you’re the minister that moved in last night.” There wasn’t a single traffic light and seemingly endless one-way streets. Getting lost both in town and on surrounding country roads was a fairly normal experience. The only fast-food restaurants were Hardees and McDonald’s.
  I grew up in Atlanta, worked in Chicago and ultimately moved to Burlington from Detroit. The smallest places I’d lived in were LaCrosse and Danville, IL (communities of 50,000). The small-town atmosphere was a big shock for me. I’d always qualified myself as a “big city” person.   
  Woody Allen once quipped, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him about your plans.” Jane and I were originally on our own five-year plan. In fact, it was more foolish than that. As we were praying for a church and place of ministry, the one place that we told the Lord that we didn’t want to go was – Wisconsin. But in our great “wisdom,” we capitulated and determined that we would come and stay for “five years” and then look for greener pastures in another state and in another church.
  Are you like me? More times than I can remember, I’m so thankful for the prayers that my all-wise Heavenly Father didn’t answer. Because we fell in love. We fell in love with you as our church family! We fell in love with this community! And God gave us two of His greatest blessings – peace and contentment.
  Like many pastors, there were calls of inquiry from other ministries. One, back in the Detroit area, was very strong and tempting. But Jane and I never had peace about relocating. Or, the timing was just wrong. And so because we did not believe that we had marching orders, we stayed and stayed and stayed. Looking back now over three decades, we see so clearly that our Heavenly Father is so much wiser than we are. Doors and relationships have been built both within the church and outside of the church that rarely happens in short term pastorates. Unless the Lord has other plans for my life, this will be my last senior pastorate. Though I am approaching my 60th birthday, I feel very much like Caleb, who as a very spry 85-year-old, spoke of seeing God’s faithfulness for the past 40 years and had mountains that by God’s grace he still wanted to take for God’s glory (Joshua 14). In many ways I feel as if our ministry is just beginning here and there are many mountains to take by His grace and for His glory.
  To be very honest, it would be very hard to leave this community. This is our home. You are our family! This is where our many friends are.
  Jane and I can well relate to the ministry of John and Mary Fawcett. John was born in 1740 and was orphaned by the time he was 12.  At the age of 16, he heard George Whitfield preach and became a Christian. When he was 25 (and had just wed his wife, Mary) he was asked to serve as the pastor of a small church in Wainsgate. The people of the village were all farmers and shepherds, very poor, most of whom were unable to read or write.  They were not able to pay much, and most of what John received as wages came in the form of wool, potatoes or other produce. When John and Mary began having children they found it difficult to make ends meet. After serving at Wainsgate for 7 years, John received a call from Carter’s Lane Baptist Church – a very prestigious parish that would be able to provide him a much larger salary.  John decided to accept the position.
  The Fawcett family packed up their household belongings and prepared to move. The day came and the congregation was in tears as John and Mary prepared to leave.  Mary is quoted as saying, “I can’t stand it, John! I know not how to go.”  John responded, “Lord help me Mary, nor can I stand it! We will unload the wagon!” And John is recorded to have said to the crowd gathered around them, “We’ve changed our minds! We are going to stay!” They unpacked the wagon and let the church in London know that they would not be accepting the position.
  John Fawcett then wrote this hymn to express his thoughts and those of his wife to the church and community they’d chosen to serve. After his sermon the following Sunday, John shared a hymn that he wrote that expressed their hearts. You may know it, Blest Be The Tie That Binds.

Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.
Before our Father’s throne
We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one,
Our comforts and our cares.

We share each other’s woes,
Each other’s burdens bear;
And often for each other flows
The sympathizing tear.

When we asunder part,
It gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart,
And hope to meet again.

  The Fawcetts continued their ministry at Wainsgate for 54 years with John passing from this life to glory on July 25th, 1817, at the age of 77.
  Jane and I do not know God’s plans for our future or our church. Yet, if the Father would let us finish our course here at Grace and in Burlington, we would consider ourselves very rich and very blessed! 



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. 

Monday, September 2, 2019

How's Your Serve?



“Happiness…consists in giving and serving others.”
Henry Drummond

  Ten days after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, residents of North Platte, Nebraska heard a rumor that soldiers from their town, part of the Nebraska National Guard Company D, would be coming through on a troop train on their way to the West Coast. About 500 people showed up at the train depot with food, gifts, letters and love to give the boys. But when the train showed up, it wasn’t the Nebraska National Guard Company D on board; it was the soldiers from the Kansas National Guard Company D.
  The North Platte residents decided to give their gifts to these soldiers that they didn’t know. It was a spontaneous act of genuine devotion that touched both the soldiers and those who served them at the depot that day.
  A few days later, a 26-year-old woman named Rae Wilson wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper recounting the profound experience they’d shared that night. She suggested that the town organize a canteen, so they could do something similar for every troop train that came through. She then offered to lead the effort as a volunteer, and for the next four and a half years, the people of North Platte and the surrounding communities met every troop train that came through their town. Each day, they prepared sandwiches, cookies, cold drinks, and hot coffee. They had baskets of magazines and books to give to the soldier and snacks for the train. There were even birthday cakes for anyone having a special day. They did this, some days, for as many as 8,000 soldiers and sailors.
  The statistics are staggering. By the time the last train arrived on April 1, 1946, six million soldiers had been served and blessed by the North Platte Canteen. 45,000 volunteers had served faithfully until the war was over and most troops had been transported home. If the residents of North Platte were that dedicated to doing whatever they could to serve American soldiers, shouldn’t we as Christians be even more committed to serve the Lord any way that we can?
  If you are a Christian, you’re saved to serve. Those who don’t believe in grace as the means of salvation, in other words “religious people,” confuse good works. They believe that one earns their place in heaven by doing things or works. Yet, God’s Word clearly tells us that it’s not through good works through that we’re saved (Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5). It’s by grace alone, plus nothing! But though we’re not saved by works, if we’re truly saved there will always be works. While we’re not saved by serving but if we are – we will be serving.
  Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Scripture knows nothing of a “chair sitting” Christian. Those who love Jesus “labor” for Him. God designed each one of us with unique talents, personalities and skill sets. When Christ comes into our lives, we’re given at least one spiritual gift. We discover the most joy and make the biggest difference when we use our God-given gifts and abilities to serve Him and build His Church. Why?  
  Serving lets us discover and develop our spiritual gifts. The New Testament compares the church to a human body. As our bodies are made of many parts serving specific functions, the local church is made up of people with different skills and abilities. Alone these pieces aren’t useful, like a finger without a hand. Together we create something wonderful!
  By serving we experience the joy that comes from obedience. The church is not a spectator sport, where we come, watch, consume and leave. We’re to come and be a part of the life of the church, not watching from the sidelines, but getting involved. It’s part of being a family. In a family everyone pitches in and has a role. It’s not done out of obligation. It’s done out of love for the Lord and others. 
  Serving helps us to be more like Jesus. We all are selfish by nature. Most of our agendas consist of self-centered desires, but selfishness destroys us. Our walk with God must be about Him and others. Serving each other is the essence of Christianity. The Bible says that we’ve been set free so that we can love and serve others. If we’re not careful, we may sit happily and smugly in our born-again condition and never grasp our Lord’s intent that we’ve been set free so that can serve each other in love. 
  One cartoon showed a picture of a woman lying in her sickbed, obviously in misery. In the sink were stacked piles of dirty dishes. A huge basket of clothes to be ironed sat nearby. Two dirty children were fighting in one corner. In the other, a cat sat licking spilled milk. A smiling woman stood in the doorway and the caption had her saying, “Well, Florence, if there is anything I can do to help, don’t hesitate to let me know.”
  Too often that’s a picture of the local church! Pastors, church staff and leaders are overwhelmed with work. More needy people cry out for their attention than they have time to serve. Ministries lack workers. Visitors need a personal contact. New people need someone to befriend them. Facilities need maintenance and improvements. Even some who are involved seem to be committed only when it’s convenient. And yet people often say, “If there’s anything I can do to help, let me know!”
  We make all sorts of rational explanations for not serving; I don’t have time. I don’t know what I’d do. I don’t have any special skills to contribute. They don’t need me. Yet, the reality is the Lord doesn’t call the equipped; He equips the called. God used men and women with similar doubts to change the course of history. Moses didn’t think he was a leader or speaker, but God used him to bring Israel out of slavery. David was the youngest (and most insignificant) of his brothers, but God worked through him to take out a giant and eventually made him king. Paul killed Christians before he met Jesus, but he went on to become one of the most highly-regarded and prolific writers/church planters in history.
  Jesus doesn’t want to work for Him. He wants to work in and through you. He does that when you willingly serve Him. Are you missing out on His will and best? How’s your serve?



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. 

Monday, August 26, 2019

No Lone Ranger Christians



“Some Christians try to go to heaven alone, in solitude. But believers are not compared to bears or lions or other animals that wander alone. Those who belong to Christ are sheep in this respect, that they love to get together. Sheep go in flocks, and so do God’s people.”   Charles Spurgeon

If you boiled down the Christian life to one word what would it word be? At the risk of being too simplistic, I believe the word would be relationships. When Jesus was asked the most important commandment, He talked first about our relationship with God and then with others. He pointedly indicated one’s relationship with others must be a close second to our relationship with God. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets’” (Matt. 22:35-40). Relationships are at the heart of Christian living.
  As a human being, community is in your design. We were created by God to live in vital relationships with each other. To understand why community is so vital, we must understand that we’re made in the image of God—and exactly what sort of God in whose image we were made.
  In Genesis we learn that humans are made in the image of the triune God. This means that, as humans, we’re made in the image of a God who is a “We,” not a “Me.” You’ll notice in Genesis that God says, “let US make man in our image.” God’s three-ness has huge implications for what it means to be human. Since we’re made in the image of the God who exists in community, we’re a being who has community hard-wired into our DNA. We’re designed for community. When we ignore relationships, we cut against the grain of our very humanity. We can’t isolate ourselves without becoming deeply broken and lonely.
  God told Adam at the beginning, “it is not good for man to be alone.” Adam was lonely not because he was imperfect, but because he was perfectly made in the image of the God of community. There was no sin, there were no relationship breakdowns. He was designed for “other,” not just self.  
  At Grace Church, we are committed to community. We are committed to being part of God’s solution to eradicate loneliness and don’t want anyone to be alone. We were built to know and be known because we’re made in the Father’s image.
  Our Grace  Community groups exist to foster this basic “life together” for which we were built. They’re vital to healthy Christian living. Yes, they will help us grow in our knowledge of God and His Word BUT that’s not their main purpose. Their main purpose is to help us draw closer to each other by drawing closer to the Lord. It’s unusual to find a growing Christian who is not part of some type of small group. That’s because…
  We are redeemed for community. When Adam fell into sin, we were not only separated from God, we were also separated from each another. The world was relationally fractured, resulting in racism, murders, strife, alienation, and every other kind of societal breakdown. A critical aspect of God’s work in Christ is to heal broken relationships caused by sin. And God has a wonderful plan for relational healing – the local church. God is a community-forming God. He never brings a person into a relationship with Himself, without bringing them into a relationship with others.
  In the New Testament the local church is described with strikingly intense metaphors. Christians are likened to “living stones” in a holy temple. We’re called “fellow citizens” of the kingdom of God and “members of the same household.” Throughout the New Testament we’re called “brothers and sisters.” Scripture is wonderfully clear. The gospel unites us in relationships closer than even with our blood relatives. Jesus connects people of different classes, races and genders into “one new man.”
  It’s impossible to be a Christian on your own. It’s a violation of God’s plan and it’s a sin to be a “Lone Ranger” Christian. God has redeemed you to be in a deep, rich, close-knit community.
  Love is the identifying behavior of a Christian. Jesus said, ““By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). The only way you can know that you love other believers is if you actually spend time with them and know them. You can’t truly love someone you don’t know or have little contact with.
  There’s a famous character in Dostoyevsky’s Brother’s Karamazov who considers himself a humanitarian. He loves humanity and gives lots of his money to charities. The problem is that he hates people.
  The power of the early church is seen in that former enemies (Jews & Gentiles) live together as “brothers and sisters” in a close-knit community. Community is the context where our love is tested. How do I know if I love others? You must get to know a real “other.” You get into close Christian community with a person that’s different than yourself, even a person who was once an enemy. Community is the only place where God’s agape love is revealed. That kind of love happens best in small groups.
  Community matters enough to be prioritized. It must be more than an afterthought. It must be our focus.
  It grieves me that many in our church miss this vital aspect of the Christian life. We’ve sought to make our groups very convenient in that many of them meet on Sundays after the morning service. There’s not a more important ministry in the life of our church than our small groups. It’s truly that important. They begin again on September 15th at 10:45 am.
  Please plan to join one. Please make it a priority! Your spiritual health depends on it!



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, August 20, 2019

Thriving through the Teen Years


“Teenager: Someone who is ready for a zombie apocalypse 
but not ready for the math test tomorrow.”

God’s goal for Christian parents in raising their children is for them to be godly adults who love Jesus and desire to live for Him. It’s never been easy and the moral decay of our culture further complicates things.
  Our children are sinners, like us, whose hearts must be transformed by the Holy Spirit. As parents, pastors, teachers and mentors, we must seek to be God’s instruments in this process. While we pray, instruct and model what it means to live for eternity, we must also prepare them to live in this temporal world. The two aren’t disconnected: academic, professional, and relational success flows primarily from character and maturity. As Christians, we know that character flows from a God-centered heart. We’re not saved by good works, yet we’re saved for them (Eph. 2:8-10).
  Many parents try to survive the teen years, when God wants us to thrive. Because they get push back, they capitulate – too often on what really matters – the spiritual. It’s a tragic and repeated pattern that after four decades of ministry I’ve seen far too many times.
  While parents won’t surrender on school or household chores, they let their teen choose when it comes to the spiritual. Over the years it’s been heartbreaking as a pastor to watch parents who are complacent on spiritual matters, like attending church or youth group. Later, when their adult child goes off the rails, they can’t figure out what happened, or worse, somehow it was the church’s fault. Here are some things to consider when parenting a teen.
  Be the parent. It seems obvious, unfortunately it’s not. During the parenting years, your teen doesn’t need a buddy – he/she needs a parent. Most of us have observed in the workplace an ineffective manager who tried to be everyone’s friend. God expects you to draw the lines of safe boundaries. Teens need parents who ask questions and periodically say, “No” (yet, with a good reason). None of us like conflict or having others unhappy with us, particularly our children. Being a responsible parent means that you must do the right thing even if it makes your child unhappy. And mature parents don’t whine. Sure, it’s tough. Yes, with immaturity, your teen may say horrible things to you. You’re the adult – please act like it.
  Chose to love and serve the Lord. Parenting is our best opportunity to model our Heavenly Father. God chose to love us. Sometimes we must choose to love our teen. We’ll need to ask for God’s grace and His love to flow through us, particularly when they act unlovable. The more you’re aware of how undeserving you are of God’s love and in turn love and appreciate Him, the easier it will be to love your teen.
  So, be honest with God and your own heart. What do you truly love? Look at the people, activities and things you’re attached to. Look at sacrifices you make to see those people, do those activities or use those things. That’s what you love. Teens see our priorities and where our love is directed. God’s love helps us counteract natural, sinful selfishness. Teens learn God’s love through the sacrificial commitments we make for them.
  Be intentional. This means talking about and living out biblical values and priorities. All of us are tired, overworked and distracted. It’s easy to be passive and let the media, peers, school and other influences set our family’s priorities. A biblical worldview is to be a continual conversation. Deuteronomy 6:7 says of God’s law, “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” We don’t cram it down their throats. That results in rejection and rebellion. It needs to be a part of daily life. It’s one reason the family dinner time is important. It’s an opportunity to interact with your teens.
  Be adaptable. Raising a godly teen is like driving in rush hour traffic, you must adapt. Being formulaic sounds good, but will end up in a dead stop. As someone wisely said, “rules without reason equal rebellion.”
  Unless there’s a biblical command at stake, be flexible. Scripture says very little about parenting. There’s no right time for your teen to get up, go to bed, to have or not have a phone. Choose your battles wisely. It’s much more valuable biblically that your teen obeys and is respectful to you than if they make good grades, are a star athlete or clean their room. We need to be adaptable and teach them adaptability. Stress comes with rigidity. Peace counteracts stress. It comes from trusting that God is in control even in the flow of life. Flexibility is grown in difficulty, allowing a family to walk through hardships and joys together, as we grow deeper in our faith.
  Be grateful. Gratitude is a cultivated habit and essential to healthy relationships. While you’re raising children, God is maturing you. He’s given you the children, strengths and weaknesses in them, that you need to help you mature spiritually. Gratitude isn’t some polite response to good things. It comes from thanking the Lord for even the irritations and hurts, knowing that He has a bigger plan for all of us than we often see. Gratitude to God and your teen needs to be expressed regularly and in deliberate ways. It helps us grow a healthier soul and helps our teens learn to see all the good God does in our lives.
  Practice confession, grace and forgiveness. God’s grace is shocking! We can’t experience it without first confessing our failures. Because you’re a sinner, you blow it…a lot. Confess it to God and confess it to your children. As God forgave us while we were still sinners, He shows grace to imperfect people. We’re teaching our children what it means to have a healthy relationship with God and with others. Pride destroys relationships. We must learn to be humble ourselves before God and our children. In so doing, we prepare them for a healthy relationship with a Heavenly Father.  



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, August 13, 2019

In Government, we trust???



“A government big enough to give you everything you want is strong enough to take everything you have.”  Gerald R. Ford

G. K. Chesterton was an accomplished novelist, poet, biographer, and journalist. He often wrote about Christianity and current events. In 1932 he attended the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin and wrote: “Dethrone God, and the state becomes God. It is only by believing in God that we can ever criticize the Government. Once abolish God, and the Government becomes God…Wherever the people do not believe in something beyond the world, they will worship the world. But, above all, they will worship the strongest thing in the world.”
  Money is power and our government is taking more and more of it.
  What would you do if you had 30% more of your money? 30% is what the average American pays in taxes. Things like sales, gas and cell phone taxes are virtually invisible, but are still taxes. Add to that, other items that are taxes but called other names like permits, licenses or user fees. All those fees go to the government. They’re taxes by another name.
  While the Bible commands us to pay our taxes, Scripture also warns of overbearing governments. The Bible has an insightful history of King Rehoboam who lost much of his citizenry who rebelled against him because he planned to overtax them. When they intreated him for needed tax relief, he harshly told them: “My little finger is thicker than my father’s thighs. And now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions’” (1 Kings 12:10-11). Supreme Court Justice, John Marshall, saw full well the power of taxes, responding in a ruling: “That the power to tax involves the power to destroy … [is] not to be denied.” 
  High taxes are discouraging. They discourage hard work and entrepreneurship. Why work hard or be innovative when government takes more and more? It undermines marriage and the home. Both spouses often have to work just to take care of the basics because government is taking so much of their necessary hard earned money to give it away to others.
  Politicians throw supporters the “red meat” of promised tax cuts. Tax cuts without budget cuts are always short lived. Other politicians rally support with the promise of new programs by taxing the rich. But in America, we’re all rich.
  America is on a downhill slide into Socialism, which is essentially an atheistic governmental system. Karl Marx said, “Religion is the opium of the people.” As a country becomes more socialistic, it also become more atheistic, as the worship of God is replaced by the worship of government. The State becomes God. We look to the state to give us our rights, freedoms, livelihood, jobs, meals, education and healthcare. There’s no appealing to a higher authority because the State is the final authority. (Please understand, this is not to say that Capitalism is a biblical economic system and without its problems.)
  The 8th commandment says, “Thou shalt not steal.” Yet, what’s the basis of a socialist government? Stealing, or as Frédéric Bastiat, the 19th century French economist, called it, “legal plunder.” Government should protect our right to the fruits of our own labor, not take it from us. Part of the Creative Mandate is to work and enjoy the fruit of our labors (Gen. 1:28).
  Just one example, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has proposed a 70% federal income tax on incomes above $10 million. Is it really possible to tax the super-rich to fully fund some of the popular new initiatives?
  Here’s a hypothetical exercise to test out the theory (World Magazine, 04-13-19). The Trump administration has requested $4.7 trillion in spending for 2020. One way to raise this revenue in a progressive manner would be to confiscate all income, starting with the wealthiest Americans. Based on the latest Social Security wage statistics tables from 2017, raising $4.7 trillion starting at the highest income levels would require ALL of the taxable earnings of over 35 million Americans. The government would have to completely take away all taxable income of individuals earning over $65,000 in 2017 in order to cover the proposed spending for fiscal year 2020. If, on the other hand, we were to outlaw billionaires, a good place to start would be the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans.
  So, if we confiscate billionaires’ money until we fund the 2020 federal budget what happens? Surely that would cover years of federal spending and leave plenty left over for new programs…or would it?
  The budget proposal of $4.7 trillion annually represents $13 billion daily. If we start with Forbes billionaire No. 1, Jeff Bezos, with $160 billion in net worth, we can fund the federal government for 12 days. Who’s next? Bill Gates and his $97 billion will get us to January 20. Next is Warren Buffet with $88 billion. That takes us to January 27. This isn’t going very well. We’ve reduced the three wealthiest Americans to food stamps, yet we’re not even out of January! If the government takes all of the wealth of the Forbes 400 (a total of $2.9 trillion), it would only fund the federal government for 225 days. But now all of those billionaires aren’t taxpayers but a welfare expense for the government. They’re no longer a revenue source. We also have bankrupted state and local governments that are equally dependent on the success of these wealthy Americans.
  The Lord Jesus pointed out that taxes were a moral issue when He said, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). Scripture teaches tough love. 2 Thes. 3:11: “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” History warns us that our country can’t sustain a continued increase of governmental programs, increasingly higher taxes and allowing capable individuals to not work. Add to that, it’s morally wrong to overtax and discourage individuals from using their creativity and abilities. There are no simple solutions and it won’t happen quickly. It begins with a reasoned dialogue and problem-solving thinking.
  The Church is responsible to disciple which includes biblical money management, personal responsibility, commitment and generosity for those who truly need assistance. God’s Word teaches personal responsibility not dependence on government. Socialism is an unbiblical governmental and economic system. We dare not deify the State at the risk of our very souls.



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.