Sunday, February 16, 2020

Life in the Neighborhood


“We make our friends; we make our enemies;
but God makes our next door neighbor.”    G. K. Chesterton

Even today there’s something about leaping into a pile of freshly raked pine needles or using a garbage can lid for a shield in a pinecone battle that still has a special place in my heart. Every great neighborhood needs a Hoot, a Jack and a Corky…unless Corky steals your swing from you on YOUR swing set. How was I to know that a swift punch in the nose would cause a gusher? Today someone would call the police, back then we just put ice on it until it finally stopped bleeding.
  Mr. Clonts was always puttering around his yard and loved his prize roses, but always had time for the neighborhood kids. We’d pull up in his driveway and like we were valued customers, he’d pump air into our bike’s tires and grease the chains. He’d make sure that our bikes were safe and fast. He was never too busy and there never was a bad time to drop by.
  One Christmas I was given some tools and made a stool for the Clontses. Mrs. Clonts made over it and talked about it for years. You’d have thought I’d given her a million dollars. I still remember when they told us that they were moving. I was maybe seven but it was a very, very sad day for me.
  Then, there was Dr. and Mrs. Harris who lived next door. The grass in their lawn was like a soft carpet, surrounded by daffodils. Back then, what I lacked in coordination I made up for in daring. Falling from the top of their swing set in their back yard, I cracked the skin on my knee wide open. I still remember Dr. Harris carrying me home in his arms so that my parents could rush me to the hospital for some needed stitches.
  Penny Merriman was always fun but as a kid, her Mom scared me. You never got past the front stoop. A couple of houses down from her were the Redwines – their house was always open. Essentially, it was an ongoing playhouse for kids. After my Mom died, they saw the pain of a ten-year-old, taking me with their family to the newly opened Disney World.
  My home in the 1960’s was barely inside the Atlanta City limits. The world was changing. All too soon neighborhoods devolved into suburbia. Even back then, socializing was limited – primarily with those who lived a few houses adjacent to yours. Wonderfully, in recent years there’s been an increasing emphasis on healthy neighboring.
  Did you know that is supremely biblical? When Jesus was asked, “What’s the greatest commandment?” He replied: “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.”
  Love your neighbor – that’s it! How simple, yet how difficult. It’s easy to love the nice ones but every neighborhood has at least one of “those” neighbors. Jesus didn’t qualify it and tell us to only love the nice ones.   
  The early church rocked their world because they loved their neighbors. While it’s true that they loved the world and loved people across town, but it all started with the neighbor next door. Yet, you can’t love those you don’t know. Even in a small town community like ours, it’s easy for relationships with our neighbors to be little more than a smile and wave.
  This morning we’re starting a several week series: Meet the Neighbors – The Great Commandment starts next door. In our time crammed and privacy valued culture, this sermon series is going to mess with your world. It’s going to be uncomfortable for all of us. Yet, to fail to see and apply this is to miss God’s will and best for our lives and for our church.
  One of the best examples of neighboring in recent years has been the late Fred Rogers and his program, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. He emulated several of the lessons that we all need to learn about neighboring.
  Love your neighbor and love yourself. Despite his background as a Presbyterian minister, Mr. Rogers didn’t try to push a specific agenda on his viewers. Instead, he was a glorious example of someone who could be open to hearing other people’s opinions without diverting from his own values. This characteristic is surely something the world could benefit from practicing today. Listening to the other “side” doesn’t mean you have to surrender what you believe, it simply makes your world more diverse.
  Be a good listener. Mr. Rogers didn’t preach good listening skills in the typical sense, which to many could mean just being quiet so someone else can share information or speak their peace. Instead, he encouraged truly paying attention to what another person is saying. Listening with not only your ears, but your eyes, heart, and soul. Words mean very little if we’re not open to understanding the feelings and thoughts behind them.
  We respond best when there’s an attempt to understand. Mr. Rogers was all about making heartfelt attempts to understand a differing opinion before uttering a response. He felt that the very act of learning what someone’s feelings are grounded in can make others react with an increased sense of care and rationale. In today’s world of social media retorts and arguments, there’s never been a better time to learn and practice this.  
  Treat everyone with respect. This lesson might feel like a no-brainer, the kind of thing any child learns in kindergarten. But Rogers didn’t only say the words, he illustrated the point visually. During a time when black people weren’t allowed to swim in the same pools as white folks, the Pittsburgh, PA native wanted to make a point against segregation. He invited series regular Officer Clemmons, played by African-American actor Francois Scarborough Clemmons, to cool his feet alongside him in a kiddie pool during a segment.
  Love your neighbor as yourself is an outcome of understanding that every person you meet is made in the likeness of God. Then, every person you meet is loved by God and Jesus died for them. When we get a firm handle on those two truths, loving our neighbors becomes very simple.


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, February 9, 2020

Love for a Lifetime


“When I have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now.”   C.S. Lewis

Last weekend Ben and I were in Charlotte and had the opportunity to visit the Billy Graham Museum. Billy and Ruth Graham are buried on the grounds, as is the soloist who regularly sang the crusades, George Beverly Shea, and crusade song leader, Cliff Barrows and his wife, Billie. It was very moving and tastefully done.
  Yet, I felt disappointed. I had thought that it was Billy Graham’s recent home, but instead, it was his childhood home. The home where he spent most of his married life and eventually died is in the small mountain town of Montreat about a hundred miles from Charlotte.  
  The Grahams initially lived in a house across the street from Ruth’s parents. That changed when tourists began peeking through their windows. Ruth told of seeing young daughter Ruth, known as Bunny, once running up to tourists with a cup to collect fees. That was when Ruth decided that the family had to move to a place more private.
  Billy Graham died in 2018. But Ruth, the love of his life, died ten years earlier in 2007. In that decade before they were reunited in heaven, every day as Billy made his way down the hallway from their bedroom, he’d stop at her picture, plant a kiss on the tip of his finger and touch it to her picture. 
  The day before her Homegoing, he released a statement through the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association stating: “Ruth is my soul mate and best friend, and I cannot imagine living a single day without her by my side. I am more and more in love with her today than when we first met over 65 years ago as students at Wheaton College.”
  Marriage has fallen out of style in our culture. A couple that’s been married for more than ten years is increasingly rare. Yet, what is tragically, very, very rare – even among believers – is a healthy, fulfilling marriage.
  This morning we’re finishing our series on Hosea, Relentless Love. We’re not sure how long Hosea and Gomer were married after Hosea bought her back out of prostitution and slavery. It’s believed that his prophetic ministry lasted nearly forty years. From the timeline, it appears that their marriage, after its rebirth, was long and healthy.
  Sexual sin does not have to be the death blow for a future healthy marriage. The genealogy of Jesus found in Matthew 1 with its taint of shame demonstrates that. The more deadly disease for a healthy marriage is the preaching target of most of the book of Hosea – spiritual adultery.
  If like the nation of Israel, Jesus Christ is not the Lord of your life and your greatest love and priority, it’s impossible to have a truly healthy marriage. It is only when our relationship with God is in sync that our other relationships will be in sync.
  Jane and I will have been married 37 years this coming July. It’s shocking to me how frustrating and annoying she can be to me…if I’m not walking with the Lord. Yet, it’s even more amazing to me how beautiful my bride is to me when my life is in sync with my Savior. And though Jane is a much more naturally gracious and kind person than I will ever be, I have no doubt that this is true for her as well.
  Yet, too many couples who say that they believe the Bible settle for status quo. They’re not lovers as God intended, they’re little more than roommates. God’s design is for us to be soulmates. That comes from first being greatly forgiven and then being a great forgiver.
  Most marriages don’t explode. They erode slowly over time until it all of it either comes crashing down or decays into some comatose existence. It’s not right and it’s not God’s plan. There are many sources of marital decay. Here though are three of the more common ones.
  Ingratitude. When something is new, it’s fresh and special. Over time we become familiar and take it for granted. Think of your marriage as a brand new car. When you first drive it off the lot, you’re nearly intoxicated with that new car smell. But after the last payment has been made and it has dents and scratches, you’re just glad that it still starts.
  Can I get in your personal space for a moment? It’s heartbreaking how most couples talk to and about each other. Some have a kinder and more gracious tone with the cashier at the drive-through at the local fast food joint than they do with the one they share their bed with. No one owes us anything. Our spouse is not our personal servant. Anything they do for us is a gift. When we are grateful for every little thing, it changes everything.
  Busyness. Someone pointed out that human beings are the only species who run faster when we’ve lost our way. It’s idiocy that we find our worth in how busy we are. Think about it. The common answer when asked, “How are you?” Busy! We’re not machines. God created us to be human beings, not human doings. When we sprint past our spouse as we watch TV or our brains are locked into social media, it’s an intimacy killer.
  This may sound crazy but you must fight to be unbusy. Most of us could and need to eradicate chunks of busyness from our lives. We must make room for margin and white space. A masterpiece can’t be mass-produced on a production line and neither can a beautiful marriage.
  Stubbornness. Too often couples will say something like, “If they’d change, I’d change.” It makes you want to scream, “Are you three?”
  If you want to begin to solve the core problems in your marriage, suspect the sinner that you know the best. Something shocking and wonderful happens when we repent of sin and choose a new life direction – our spouse must change too. For example, if you refuse to return fire, they run out of ammunition. It’s living out Romans 12:17, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.”
  While I can’t control you, I can always control ME. God doesn’t want to be our co-pilot. He must be in the driver’s seat. After nearly five decades of walking with Jesus, it still amazes me that when I let Him be the Lord of my life, His love, joy, and peace that flood my soul. Having an amazing marriage always begins with first embracing God’s amazing grace!

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, February 3, 2020

Winning is everything?


“Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”
                                                                                    Vince Lombardi

By the end of tonight’s Super Bowl, someone is going to win and someone is going to lose. Few though will remember the losing team. It’s a winner takes all world. That’s even though the 2nd place team made it all the way to “The Game of Games” but they just didn’t win the final prize.
  Our culture is addicted to success, yet very few are ultimately successful. Consider sports. While everyone makes the team in grade school, fewer make it even in high school. Your abilities have to be in the top percentile to make it to a college team and those percentages dramatically drop to make it in professional sports. That analogy holds true in every field and category of life. Few will make it to team lead or branch manager and even fewer to VP, President, or CEO, particularly of a large corporation.
  Yet, it doesn’t matter where you work or what you do, if you’re a homemaker or a retiree, we tend to be addicted to success. It can be things as innocuous as tic-tac-toe, receiving public recognition for a job well done, or even how many likes your post on social media receives.
  Executive Coach, Katy Trost, developed 7 markers to use to evaluate yourself on whether you’re addicted to success: *You find purpose in achievement. *The expectations you have for yourself are way higher than average. *You ask yourself what else is there to life? *You measure your self-worth through your achievements. *You’re at the peak of your professional life but don’t feel fulfilled. *You’re very results-driven but you don’t feel content. *You’re constantly tense.
  Recently, I finished, When Pride Still Matters – A Life of Vince Lombardi. It’s a must read for every Packer fan. The candor of the author, David Maraniss, was refreshing.
  Growing up in poverty in an Italian family in Brooklyn, Lombardi wasn’t a fantastic player. Where he truly began to shine and showed his genius was in coaching. It’s why he’s been lionized by fans and former players.
  Yet, Lombardi was far from successful as a husband and father. When his famous book, Run to Daylight, came out in 1963, it was jokingly suggested it be called “SHUT UP, MARIE!” 
  Though he and his wife, Marie, began madly in love, she couldn’t compete with Lombardi’s greater love – football. They’re constant fights and bickering were legendary. It was a miserable marriage with Marie ultimately succumbing to alcoholism
  When Marie announced her desire to marry Lombardi, her status-conscious stockbroker father didn’t like the idea of his daughter marrying the son of an Italian butcher from Brooklyn, a prejudice Lombardi faced much of his life. Yet, he and Marie nonetheless wed on August 31, 1940.
  But even on their honeymoon, Lombardi was preoccupied with football and cut it short to be able to get back to his assistant coaching job.
  His two children never lived up to his expectations and suffered throughout their adulthood because of it. His players were more like his sons than his own son, Vince Jr.
  It’s very easy to be seduced by success. Nearly all of us struggle with it at some level. True success, God’s standard of success, is centered on obedience to and glorification of God (Rom. 13:14; Gal. 5:16). Success is first obedience to God, empowered by His Spirit, motivated by love for God, and directed toward the advancement of the kingdom of God.
  The Bible teaches that success begins in our closest circle of relationships – our spouse and our children. Those relationships are so important, failing in either of those spheres is a disqualification for vocational ministry.
  Please understand, one can be a successful Christ-honoring spouse without having a successful marriage. The same is true of parenting. We are to be obedient to the Lord and live out godliness in our area of responsibility, even if our spouse or children do not.
  For example, John Wesley was faithful to the Lord and greatly used by God though he had a miserable marriage. Many a parent has sought to honor the Lord yet had a child who rebelled and later repudiated everything their parents had sought to instill in them about God and in the home. Often we forget that the very first father with rebellious children was God.
  What is success? What is true winning? It’s boils down to living for an Audience of One. Every Christian can be successful because every Christian can choose to do that. It’s choosing by God’s grace to live out Colossians 3:17; “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
  To live for an audience of one means that I have to stop thinking about what’s good for me and how to make myself look better in the eyes of others, or how I can get ahead in this world. Instead I must focus on living for and pleasing God. It means waking up every morning and dedicating the day, the schedule, the pain and problems, the hopes and dreams of my life to God. It means going to bed at night thanking God for everything that has happened and asking Him to shape the day to come. It means setting godly priorities for my life and committing my marriage, my family, my job, my free time, my rest and my reflection all to God. It means seeking to truly live for God alone. 
  On one occasion when he was asked why he was not offended by a vicious attack from a fellow Member of Parliament, Winston Churchill replied, “If I respected him, I would care about his opinion. But I don’t, so I don’t.” In the same way, we who live before the Audience of One can say to the world: “I have only one audience. Before you I have nothing to prove, nothing to gain, nothing to lose.” Winning is everything and the only thing if you win where it matters…with your 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. 


Sunday, January 26, 2020

One Mistake Can Ruin Everything


“There’s always that one stupid mistake that changes everything.”

  Apparently, Britain is very serious about special delivery mail. One Kent, England postman was fired after being just one minute late with a special delivery. The mail carrier, Robert Lockyer, had worked for the Royal Mail for 28 years. In October of this past year, he was sacked after management accused him of “gross misconduct.” What did he do? Lockyer was making a special delivery at a bank on September 12th. Special delivery items are guaranteed to arrive by 9am or 1pm the following day. Incidentally, Lockyer had already made around 1,500 of these in his career. Lockyer claims that he was made to wait in the queue with other customers at the bank, so it was 1:01 pm by the time he was able to obtain a signature to confirm delivery. Because he was one minute late in making the delivery, he was terminated. One small failure to meet the standard after nearly three decades of faithful work and it cost him his job. Wow!
  Can I share a tougher one? You can’t get into heaven unless you’re perfect. Adam and Eve lost Paradise and were kicked out of the Garden for disobeying God by eating one piece of fruit. They weren’t murderers or child molesters. They disobeyed God on one point. It cost them everything.
  Heaven is only for perfect people. It’s why Jesus could leave Heaven and return to Heaven. The Bible is very clear that, unlike us, Jesus was perfect. In other words, He was sinless (2 Cor. 5:21; Hebrews 4:15). But if Heaven is perfect and God lets someone imperfect in (like me or you), then Heaven is no longer perfect. It’d be contaminated. If you must be perfect (or sinless) to get into Heaven, for most of us it’s an insurmountable problem.
  I don’t have a little sin problem. It’s huge! Sin is like having a credit card for the first time. It’s easy to lose track of how much you’ve spent and get surprised by a gargantuan bill. It’s a lot like our sin “bill.”
  Let me illustrate. Most would admit to sinning at least three times a day (the truth is that it’s lots lot more than that but let’s use that). Multiply three times by a year and round it off. That’s 1,000 sins a year. Now multiply 1,000 by your age. Even for the youngest of us, it’s a big debt.
  Some hope that maybe God grades on a curve. He doesn’t. God doesn’t compare Ralph to George and decide, “Well, George isn’t as bad as Ralph, so he gets into heaven.” Most of us think that we’re not so bad because we compare ourselves to someone who is worse, often a lot worse. God’s standard according to His Word is perfection. None of us meet it (Romans 3:23). We’re all a huge mess when it comes to sin.
  It gets worse! The penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23). Death invaded this world when Adam and Eve sinned. As soon as they disobeyed God, they began to die. It’s not only physical death, it’s eternal death – separation from God. Because of sin, we’re not perfect and can’t go to Heaven where only perfection is allowed…and we’re dying.
  Back though to our credit card analogy. What if someone paid off that huge credit card bill? Would the person who owned the credit card and ran up the bill still have to pay it? No. The debt is completely paid.
  That’s why Christians love the cross! They know that on the cross Jesus paid their sin debt completely: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God gave His Son on the cross to pay the sin debt for all humanity. It’s why Jesus said, “I am THE way” (John 14:6).
  If there was any other way, God wouldn’t have sacrificed His only Son, Jesus, on the cross. The Bible says that there is just one way – Jesus. His death paid for all of our sin. A gift isn’t yours until you accept it (whoever believes in Him). Each of us must personally accept God’s gift of salvation.
  Recently, I read an old story about a man and his boy who were walking through the jungle and came upon another man who’d fallen into a pit dug to trap lions. He had been trying in vain for hours to climb out of the pit and had accomplished nothing except to exhaust himself. Nighttime was about to fall and both he and the man with the boy knew that if they didn’t get him out, he would die before morning.
  Seeing nothing readily available to make a ladder with, the man looked up and high in a tree just over the pit he could see a vine, that with one end cut would reach down to the pit and give the man something to hold on to and climb out. The problem was the tree was not very strong-looking and the branches couldn’t bear a lot of weight. But the man’s son, the little boy, volunteered to climb up in the tree and cut the vine, pointing out that his light weight could be borne by the slight branches.
  This father finally agreed. The boy climbed with his father’s knife up to the high branches, where he cut one end of the vine and it snaked down into the hole in which the man was trapped. But as he did so, the branch on which he was perched snapped under his weight and the boy came crashing to the ground where he instantly died.
  As this Dad held the broken and lifeless body of his precious son to his breast and wept, he heard the voice of the man trapped in the pit calling out to him. He stepped to the edge of the hole and looked down, and the man said, “Look, I’m very sorry about your son. But that vine doesn’t look strong and the branches of the tree look brittle. I think you should provide another way – a safer way out of the pit for me.” The Dad looked down into the pit for a moment, then in controlled anger he quietly said, “My son died providing a way for you to be saved; and the only way you are going to get out of that pit is if you take advantage of it.”
  The Bible says two things: First, Jesus paid the sin debt with His own life and blood because He was the only one who could. Second, salvation and all that it includes - forgiveness, freedom from guilt, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ - is a free gift (Eph. 2:8-9). It can’t be earned. How could anyone “pay” God back for the gift of His Son? You must personally accept God’s gift. Have 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, January 19, 2020

Brave New World???


“We've got a duty to die and get out of the way with all of our machines and artificial hearts and everything else like that and let the other society, our kids, build a reasonable life.” Governor Richard Lamm

In the year 2274, the remnants of human civilization live in a sealed city contained beneath a cluster of geodesic domes, a utopia run by a computer that takes care of all aspects of life, including reproduction. To prevent overpopulation, everyone must undergo the rite of “Carrousel” when they reach the age of 30. There, they are killed under the guise of being “renewed.” To track this, each person is implanted at birth with a “life-clock” crystal in the palm of the hand that changes color as they get older and begins blinking as they approach their “Last Day.”
  That was the premise of a popular 1976 Sci-Fi movie with Michael York called Logan’s Run. Back then, it seemed far-fetched and unbelievable. Today…maybe not so far-fetched.
  Today is Sanctity of Life Sunday. Increasingly, more Americans identify as pro-life. Yet, pro-life isn’t only about abortion. It’s defending human life from conception to death. It means that birth selectivity, mercy killing and euthanasia are also morally wrong. Many who’d claim to be pro-life would have no problem aborting a child if tests confirmed that the child will be disabled. But what’s considered disabled? Down Syndrome, physical limitations or autism? What about gender selectivity? Many choose to abort if the child is not the gender that they’d prefer.
  At the recent Golden Globe Awards, actress Michelle Williams, when she accepted her award suggested that abortion is a way to protect one’s career and finances: “I’m grateful for the acknowledgment of the choices I’ve made, and I’m also grateful to have lived at a moment in our society where choice exists. Because as women and as girls, things can happen to our bodies that are not our choice. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without employing a woman’s right to choose.”
  Ms. Williams never suggested that she was raped or forced to have sex,  but instead freely chose to have sexual relations that resulted in an unwanted pregnancy. She’s “grateful” to have the freedom to terminate a life if it hinders her future, in her case being an actress and creating “art.”  Yet, if it’s acceptable to terminate a life at the beginning because of financial liabilities or career inconvenience, why would it be wrong to terminate a life at the end, if one was the caregiver and/or it was a financial burden and hampered a career?
  We’re living longer. Look at the candidates running for President. Most are pushing 80. Then, we’re running out of money for financial care of the elderly and infirm. The cost of healthcare is skyrocketing and the costs for the last three months of life are the highest. It’s not a leap to draw some obvious conclusions. If it costs the most to care for someone at the end of life and they have a terminal disease or limited “quality of life,” “mercy killing” or euthanasia become a much more viable option.
  One of contemporary society’s greatest faux pas is racism. Yet, bigotry toward the elderly is so socially accepted and so much a part of American culture, most never give it a second thought. By 2025 the number of people aged 60 and over will double and by 2050 it will reach 2 billion globally.
  Yet, consider the all too common attitude toward the elderly. It can take many forms and includes depicting them as frail, dependent, and out of touch in the media. According to the World Health Organization, ageism is most rampant in high-income countries. Americans, as a whole, place great value on youth, beauty, vitality and the ability to earn a large income. Aging is often seen as a debilitating process that robs people of these high-prized attributes.
  In one study, 70% of older Americans said they’d been insulted or mistreated because of their age. This can take the form of something as simple as a server asking a senior’s younger companion what the senior would like rather than addressing the senior citizen, or by the numerous portrayals in the media of elders as crabby, incompetent, and superfluous.
  If that’s happening while the elderly are still self-sufficient and independent, what will be the outcome when they aren’t? There are two common phrases that open Pandora’s Box for a Culture of Death: Quality of Life & Death with Dignity.
  Quality of Life. When John Quincy Adams was well past the usual span of life, a young friend met him on the street and asked, “How is John Quincy Adams today?” Adams replied: “John Quincy Adams is very well, thank you. But the house he lives in is sadly dilapidated. It is tottering on its foundations. The walls are badly shattered and the roof is worn. The building trembles with every wind, and I think John Quincy Adams will have to move out before long. But he himself is very well, thank you.”
  If we are just a “human animal,” it’s not a reach, as one would do with a dog or cat, to end their suffering that’s a result of aging. But according to Scripture we are not the “human animal.” We are Imago Dei – made in the image of God. Life is sacred and must be protected as much as possible.
  Death with Dignity is a farce. There is no dignity. The Bible calls death “the last enemy.” For the individual who has committed their life to Christ, it’s a transition that culminates in an eternal transformation.
  Please understand, there’s a vast difference between extending life and prolonging death. Death can be extended by medical science for a long time. There are difficult end of life ethical decisions. Sadly, our culture is moving forward into utilizing euthanasia that’s both passive and active.
  Euthanasia is not mercy, it’s killing and morally wrong! If we believe that we are created by God and God gave us the breath of life, we must be strong defenders of the sanctity of human life at every stage of life.
  Preserving life is rarely convenient or cheap. We must be wary that we’re not conformed to a “culture of death,” where human life is cheapened and its termination is justified if it’s an impediment to ME.




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 12, 2020

Settling for Spiritual Fast Food



“It is in fact the most normal thing in the common Christian life
to pray together.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Over 99 Billion Sold.” That’s the number on the sign that you’ll see in front of McDonald’s. That’s been McDonald’s line since April 1994, when it stopped updating the number. McDonald’s won’t comment on whether it still tracks the number of burgers sold. Confession is good for the soul so I’ll admit I periodically go to McDonald’s, usually for the free WiFi. While I like their sausage biscuit with egg, there’s not much else that I want there.
  Now if you called me up and said, “Scott, would you like to meet for dinner at Texas Roadhouse?” I’d start salivating at the mere mention of the name. I love steak! Jane scored wife of the year again when we had steak on New Year’s Day. What a way to kick off the year!
  When it comes to prayer, most of us settle for McDonald’s. I know that I do. Yet, read the pages of the New Testament and you will quickly discover that the early church was committed to prayer. One of the most dominant features of the New Testament church was that they prayed.
  After the ascension of Jesus, His followers were left in Jerusalem without Jesus’ physical presence, yet, they’d never been so intimately in His presence because they prayed. When the disciples selected the replacement for Judas, they prayed. Following Peter’s sermon on Pentecost that resulted in so many new believers, those new Christians were instructed in key spiritual growth tools and among those was the necessity of prayer.
  Prayer was such a part of their lives that they took time out each day to spend time in prayer together. Prayer was so important to the apostles that they chose other believers to administer the caring of the physical needs of the widows, so that they could spend extended periods of time in prayer.
  Do you see the importance? Prayer wasn’t tacked on at the end of a service or a drive-thru window part of their lives. It was their life-breath. That’s because prayer is to be primary for the child of God and the church.
  If we want to see our church Spirit-empowered, we must pray. God acts in response to our prayers. If you and I want our lives to count and for what we do to have eternal significance, we must be people of prayer.
  It’s noteworthy that the early church didn’t pray for the things we usually pray for. They rarely prayed for healing or safety – though those are important. They instead focused on spiritual health and spiritual safety. Their prayer lives were focused on the eternal, not the temporal.
  My son, Aaron, and his wife are in Taiwan. If you’re tracking the news, you know that portion of the world is heating up. I hope that they’re safe. Yet, I’m much more concerned that they are spiritually safe. Nearly every day I pray that they will draw closer to the Lord and to each other.
  Jesus’ last words to us were to command us to reach our world. Eternity hangs in the balance. Scripture tells us that God wants everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). So, is part of our regular prayer life praying for family and friends to come to Christ? What about our neighbors? Can we really say that we love or care about someone if we’re not concerned enough to pray about their eternal destiny?  
  We are family! Do we love our brothers and sisters in Christ? Are we praying for their soul health? Often we know where another fellow-believer struggles. Do we pray for them, that they’ll have victory?
  In a culture that values self-sufficiency, prayer reminds us that we need God. We have so little under control. Anything that we think that we have under control, we don’t. The essence of prayer then is to join God, not God joining us. We need to be in our Bibles so that we will pray for what’s on God’s heart rather than telling God what is on our hearts.
  Prayer is the lifeline that saves the drowning soul. It’s the umbilical cord that provides nourishment to the starving spirit.
  Augustine, the early church father described prayer to a man in a hapless boat who throws a rope at a rock. The rock provides the needed security and stability, and even life for the helpless man. When the rock is lassoed, it’s not the man pulling the rock to the boat; it’s the pulling of the boat to the rock. Jesus is our Rock. We throw the rope to Him through prayer.
  If we do pray, our prayer lives are often anemic because our focus is on ourselves, our needs, concerns, comforts, wishes and wants, than on God. If we want God to answer our prayers and desire His will, then God must become central in our prayers and in our prayer times together.
  Our Heavenly Father is preparing us for eternity. He is building character within us that will last forever. He’s most concerned about our character and motives. The unique trials each of us face on earth are designed by our loving Heavenly Father. They’re not some mistake or bad luck. God uses them to bring about spiritual and eternal fruit in our lives.
  Prayer helps us be aware that God sees everything in an eternal context. Our world wants everything now and is driven by immediate gratification. That muddies our thinking so we focus on the temporal when we must focus on the real world of the eternal. When we lose the meaning of eternity and fail to see life from an eternal perspective, we lose everything important from God’s point of view. To apprehend eternity in this life is not only to anticipate a future enjoyment, but it’s also to appropriate a present reality. We must pray, yet we must learn to pray in the context of eternity.
  Currently, we have a scheduled prayer meeting each Tuesday night at 6:15 pm. We’d love to have you come. Yet, you don’t need our church to schedule or organize praying together  (though we’d love to help). If there is a better time or place, please initiate getting others together to pray. Maybe it could happen once a month early on a Saturday morning. We’ll make the building available. Just let us know how we can help.
  If we’re going to be spiritually healthy, if our church is going to grow spiritually, prayer must be a consistent part of our spiritual diet.

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 5, 2020

Making "Family" Time a Priority


“There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”
C. S. Lewis

Have you made any New Year’s resolutions? Some people come up with very unconventional ones. Here are some of my favorites: *Wave to fellow motorists at 4-way stops. *Collect airsick bags from every major airline. *Randomly sew one sequin onto every piece of clothing you own. *Try extreme ironing. *Knit more sweaters for freezing trees.” There were some though that I thought were worth considering: *Get your photo taken in 5 interesting places. *Make a new friend a month. *Try a new food each week. Can I suggest an important New Year’s resolution? *Determine to attend church more faithfully this coming year.
  The data show that even committed Christians are attending church less often. Now please understand, merely attending is never the goal. Yet, attendance is often a sign of something deeper. So, why are even committed attenders attending less often? Here are some of the reasons.
  Greater Affluence. More money gives more options. There are simply more affluent people than there were decades ago. Personal disposable incomes are at all-time highs. Those with money have options. Technology options. Travel options. Options for their kids. Affluence is one of the factors moving them further away from a committed engagement to the mission of the local church and fuels some of the others reasons below.
  Higher focus on kids’ activities. A growing number of kids play sports and many of them are playing on teams that require travel. Many of those sports happen on Sunday mornings and parents choose sports over church.
  More travel. Travel is on the rise both for business and pleasure. More families of various ages travel for leisure, even if it’s just out of town to go camping or to a friend’s place for the weekend or a weekend at the lake. When people are out of town, they tend to not be in church.
  Blended and single-parent families. Fortunately, more blended families and single-parent families are finding a home in the church. But how does this translate into attendance patterns? When custody is shared, attendance for some might be 26 Sundays a year. Then, single parents are more likely to miss church with a sick child or because they lack access to reliable transportation. Sadly, those who want to go to church just simply can’t.
  By the way, our church’s location essentially requires a vehicle to attend. It’s an act of love and service to Jesus when others with reliable transportation help out those who don’t have transportation.
  Online options. More churches have a social media presence (we livestream ours). There are pros and cons to online church but there’s no doubt that churches with a strong online presence have seen it impact physical attendance. The bottom line is that anyone who attends our church has free access to our online services…and online church is here to stay.
  The cultural disappearance of guilt. Growing up, I felt guilty about not being in church on a Sunday. The number of people who feel guilty about not being in church on Sunday is continually shrinking. I regularly meet people who haven’t attended in months but LOVE our church. It doesn’t bother them to miss services for months at a time.
  Self-directed spirituality. People are looking less to churches to help them grow spiritually. Today it’s rare for a parent to go to a doctor’s office without having first googled the symptoms of a child’s illness and a recommended course  of treatment. And then, when was the last time you bought a car without thoroughly researching it online? In an age where we have access to everything, more and more are self-directing their spirituality for better or for worse. Add to that, another characteristic of the post-modern mind is a declining trust of and reliance on institutions. Though a true church is about relationships and is a family, in many people’s minds, it is seen as little more than an institution.
  Failure to see a direct benefit. People always make time for things they value. If someone isn’t making time for church, that says something. Those who are haphazard in attendance just don’t see a direct benefit or a value in attending week after week. It’s why we must be committed to having worship that has true value, even if they fail to see it.
  Being satisfied with attendance, not engagement. You will find that those who are most engaged – those who serve, give, invite and are in a Grace group—are our most frequent attenders. The Bible knows nothing of a believer who just attends. Ephesians 2:10 is clear – we are saved to serve the Lord. Much of that happens within our spiritual family. It’s a vital part of being a Christ-follower, using your gifts to serve the Lord.
  So why should you choose to be more faithful in your church attendance in 2020? It’s this basic. It’s nearly impossible to grow spiritually without faithfully attending worship services. Each week we serve a spiritual meal in our music, preaching and Grace groups. Each week there are opportunities to serve and give. Each week there are opportunities to pray for or with someone. Nearly every week you’ll have moments of being spiritually uncomfortable (yes, you read that correctly). Spiritual growth doesn’t happen in comfort. Either God’s Word or serving or even interaction with someone will make you uncomfortable. God planned that for our good! It’s in discomfort that we look both inward and upward. None of us are easy to love, yet God chose to love us. We grow as we let Him love our brothers and sisters in Christ through us.
  The teaching of God’s Word is a scalpel to our souls (Hebrews 4:12). I can’t tell you how many times in sermon preparation tears flow as I’m convicted by God’s truth of sin in my own heart. God loves me and He loves you so much that He wants us to grow spiritually. It’s why He convicts us so that He can cut away at the cancer in our souls. It’s hard for that to happen though if you’re not here.
  Church means getting together with other believers to worship Jesus, to hear the Scriptures together, and to encourage one another in the faith. The local church is a family. It’s worshiping with others, praying for others, hurting with others, serving others, being involved in the lives of others.
  It’s virtually impossible for any of that to take place…if you’re not here. Please make faithful attendance one of your resolutions for 2020!

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.