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. 

Monday, December 30, 2019

Change your diet. Change your life!



“A Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.”
Charles Spurgeon

  Our national obsession with cooking shows, famous chefs and new cookbooks continues to grow. It’s estimated that we spend more than five hours a week consuming “food media,” yet only four hours actually cooking. That means the average adult spends more time watching, scrolling and reading about food than actually cooking. More than half of the 2,000 surveyed admitted that they’d rather watch a meal being cooked, or look at photos online than actually cook with many saying they’re too short of time, or the dishes look far too complicated to manage.
  Doesn’t that sound like a lot of Christians? Studies reveal that the typical Christian is biblically illiterate. The outcome of that is why many believers are both miserable and miserable to be around…just like those who don’t know Jesus.
  The solution isn’t overly complicated. It’s simply that you’ll never be a healthy, growing Christian or have all the blessings and the life that God desires you to have – if you do not habitually read your Bible, His instruction manual. To put it another way, you won’t have peace unless you have a regular connection with the Prince of Peace.
  Yet, there are all types of excuses for not reading our Bibles. They’re just that though, excuses! Here are some common ones. Are any yours?
  I don't have time. We always find time if something is a priority. What’s important to you? How do you find time for that?
  I’m not a reader. Then, be a listener. Most of us have smartphones and a blue tooth. Download a free Bible app and listen as you drive. You can even listen when you exercise or do tasks around the house.
  Reading makes me sleepy. Switch times and locations. Get a cup of coffee or hot tea. Stand up and read if you need to.
  I never get anything out of it. Ask the Lord to open your spiritual eyes before you begin reading (James 1:5), so that you understand His Word.
  The Bible is too confusing to me. It can be. Start with what’s clear like the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John). If you want something practical, read a New Testament letter like Ephesians, Philippians or one of the Thessalonians, or even the book of Proverbs. The Books of Revelation or Ezekiel are not the best places to start.
  How do you start reading the Bible?
  Pick a regular daily time. Make it an appointment like breakfast or lunch. Most of us keep our appointments. Choose a good time that works for you. Most find that starting the day works best. Some like to end their day reading their Bible. The time is unimportant; the consistency is. Pick a period of time when you’re not rushed. We all know a steady diet of fast food isn’t healthy. Short, rushed Bible reading isn’t spiritually healthy. You’ll need at least 15 to 30 minutes (most of us waste far more than that each day on social media). Plan a time when you’re alert so that you can be focused and give your full attention.
  Pick a Bible you can understand. There are many good translations available from the ESV (English Standard Version) to NASV (New American Standard Version) or the NLT (New Living Translation). It’s important that your Bible is easy to read with large enough print, durable enough to use and inexpensive enough that you don’t feel bad writing or marking in it. Your Bible is meant to be used. It’s not a museum piece.
  Read God’s Word not someone’s interpretation of God’s Word. There’s a place for devotionals like Our Daily Bread or Today in the Word, but they’re not a substitute for the real thing. They’re someone else’s interpretation of what the Bible says. Usually, they’re snacks, not meals.
  Have a plan. I enjoy reading the Bible all the way through each year. I haven’t always done that, but I appreciate a holistic approach. God’s Word isn’t a novel, designed to be read from Genesis straight through to Revelation. If you do that, you’re likely to drop out somewhere in Leviticus. What I enjoy about a Bible reading plan is that most have a daily section from the Old Testament, the New Testament along with Psalms and Proverbs. It helps balance out things. For example, when I’m drilling through some of the tougher portions of Job, my soul is also being fed from where I’m reading at the same time in the New Testament.
  If you’re going to read a book of the Bible over a period of days or weeks, read the whole book through first at one sitting. For example, if you want to read Romans set aside a time to read the whole book at one time. It will give you an overview and make your later sectional reading more profitable. This probably won’t work with a large book like Isaiah. Even there though you can read it in a couple of days to get the big picture.  
  God gave us His Word so that His Word would mold us to be more like Jesus. God wants us to understand the Bible, but it doesn’t stop there. We’re to apply His Word to our lives. It helps then to ask some key questions as you read the Bible…
  What is God trying to teach me? At salvation, every believer is given the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16), yet we’re still tempted to think the way we did before salvation. Lasting transformation begins with the renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:1-2). Reflect on wrong thinking that the passage exposes.
  What does God want me to believe? It’s easy to understand truth at an intellectual level without allowing it to change how we live. God doesn’t want Christians to just know their Bibles. He wants Christians who think differently because they know their Bibles. Scripture must change our outlook on life and our worldview.
  What does God want me to do? When Scripture changes how we think, it produces tangible applications in how we live. Sometimes a passage gives us a direct command. Think about what sinful actions the passage exposes in your life and what godly actions you must pursue (James 1:22-27).
  No other book will so radically change you as the Bible both for this life and eternity. It’s silly to own a Bible and rarely read it. As we enter 2020, make this the year when regular Bible reading is a part of your daily life.



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, December 23, 2019

Worst Christmas Ever



“It is not materialism that is the chief curse of the world…but idealism. Men get into trouble by taking their visions and hallucinations too seriously.”  H.L. Mencken

Have you ever had a miserable Christmas? I’ve had a few. Do you know whose fault it was? It was my kids! No, that’s not true. It was my fault. The person who caused my unhappiness looked back at me from the mirror.
  Do you know the biggest cause of personal misery? Other than your own sin nature – idealism. I’m not sure that I’ve ever watched a Hallmark movie, at least I’m not going to admit it, yet between my ears I had a picture of a Hallmark Christmas…and when it didn’t turn out that way, I was disappointed, even angry.
  Ours is a world where the standard promoted is perfection. We shop for the perfect Christmas gift. We expect the perfect Christmas gift. We attempt to take perfect Christmas pictures. We want the perfect house when all of the relatives visit. We want our kids to be perfectly behaved. Our spouse is to be perfectly dressed, loving and helpful. We try to prepare the perfect meal and the weather needs to cooperate and be perfect. So, how’s that working out for you? Not so good…that’s what I thought.
  So, please turn off the TV, set aside the Christmas cards with pristine scenes, walk hurriedly by the perfect nativity scenes at Kohl’s and clear out those imaginary pictures in your mind. That first Christmas was not only not ideal, it was a huge mess, glorious, yes, but still a mess. Why?
  Mary and Joseph were traveling a long way from home. It’s about 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Assuming approximately 20 miles a day on the back of a donkey when Mary is nine months pregnant (Joseph no doubt walked the whole distance). How ideal are you at traveling with no modern conveniences? Add, to that it was hot, dry and dusty.  
    Mary and Joseph were going to Bethlehem to be taxed, and so was everyone else. How do you feel about taxes? How do you feel about large crowds? Does it put a big smile on your face and put you in a great mood? Do you like being shoved and jostled? I didn’t think so.
  Were you born in a barn? Dave and Karyn Borucki raise goats and recently had a litter all born at the same time. I dropped by to congratulate them and check out the new kids. They were glad to see me but Dave warned me to be careful where I stepped. When you think of clean or sanitized, does “barn” come into your mind? Have you ever been in a barn that didn’t smell?
  Most mothers aren’t beautiful during childbirth. I’m sure that Joseph thought Mary was beautiful. I’ve had the awesome experience of being there for the birth of my three children. After hours of labor and with that first small cry, Jane was the most beautiful woman in the world to me. On a human level though, beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder.
  Then, where is that OB-GYN? Joseph was the OB-GYN, nurse and everything else. What are most first-time Dads like when their wife is giving birth? Frantic, nervous, terrified. Then, you realize all that blood is not from the baby, but from your wife. There were no sanitary receiving blankets. Swaddling clothes are cloths used in the practice of swaddling, or essentially “wrapping” an infant tightly in cloth. The idea behind it is that it helps the baby transition from the womb (a very snug place) to the outside world. So, no doctors or nurses. Not even a midwife. Just a young Dad, his teenage wife and their brand new son.
  The first visitors smelled too. We’ve glamorized the shepherds. We’ve given them long flowing, colorful robes and put perfectly shaped shepherds rods in their hands. Everyone’s beard is immaculately trimmed and of course they’re kneeling in a very reverent pose. On many Christmas cards, baby Jesus is smiling and looks like He’s even waving at them.
  But these guys were ordinary shepherds, blue collar workers. They made just enough money to survive. They had rough hands, clothes that were dirty and tattered from a life out in the open fields. As they came to Jesus, they smelled like sheep and human body odor. They were working stiffs doing an ordinary job on an ordinary night when they had an extraordinary encounter with God.
  Even the lighting was far from perfect. We take electricity for granted. Walk in a house, flip a switch and we have light…lots of it. Our family has vacationed a few times in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Until then, I don’t think that I realized how dark darkness could be.
  Maybe you’ve had to change a tire or work on a car problem in the dark. The oft repeated phrase is, “move that light over here.” But what if there was no light. Just an ancient lantern that’s very susceptible to a slight breeze snuffing it out. And you’re in the midst of a medical procedure that you have no experience in. There are no copies of Delivering Babies for Dummies lying around. You can’t even Youtube it.
  What’s the lesson for us? We must learn to look for God in the less than ideal, in the ordinary and not the spectacular. What was for them so ordinary became so eternally extraordinary! And it was all God!
  Over the next few days as you approach Christmas, put your antenna up and look for divine encounters in your everyday life. Take a page out of Mary’s book. The Bible tells us that this teenage Mom treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19). Focus on the Savior who left the perfection of heaven to come to a dirty, smelly world for dirty rotten sinners like you and me. This Christmas take some  time to ponder all that’s happening and be “amazed” as all who heard it were amazed at the shepherds' story (Luke 2:18). Everyone heard about it. Most were impressed for a New York minute. But God gave His Son for us so that we’d be amazed! It’s why for those who know Him know it’s Amazing Grace! This Christmas, please take some time and be amazed again!



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

Sunday, December 15, 2019

“I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.”


“I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.”
                                                            Bill Backer & Roger Cook

Okay, I confess. I’m a bit of an iron marshmallow. Christmas is a time for warm memories for me. Add to that, being from Atlanta, I’m a Coke fanatic. I still remember having a youth pastor who’d grown up in Central Illinois and being shocked that he had this weird soft drink product in his office called “Pepsi.” Until then, I don’t think that I ever knew that there was such a product.
  Coca-Cola is as Georgian as peaches and peanuts. In 1886, pharmacist John Pemberton from Columbus, Georgia invented the original Coca-Cola drink (though it was originally sold as a medicinal beverage). In 1892, the Coca-Cola Company was formally founded in Atlanta.
  I remember being shocked when I first came to Wisconsin and a friend showed me the “pop machine” in the dorm. If you’re in a restaurant in Atlanta and you request a drink, you might say, “Coke.” You’ll often then be asked, “What kind?” Sprite or Fanta Orange are acceptable responses.
  One of Coca-Cola’s greatest marketing campaigns was in the early 70’s, with the song, “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.” It was later re-recorded as a Christmas version with an international, multi-ethnic choir holding candles. It was a beautiful picture!
  Yet, our world knows nothing of unity. The first attempt, The League of Nations was a greater failure than the United Nations has been. Ecumenicalism is a futile attempt to break down walls between religion, but there can be no unity with such diametrically opposed worldviews. Hatred, prejudice, division, enmity, poison our world and our relationships.
  As a result, it’s easy to understand the despair of Longfellow in his heartfelt Christmas song, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day:

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

  What the world can never do by edict or political gamesmanship, a tiny infant, the God-man has already done at His incarnation. It wasn’t His birth that brought peace and true unity, it was His sacrificial death. The Church of Jesus Christ has something a lost world can only philosophy about and long for – Unity. Believers will be united in heaven for all eternity, but Jesus plan and command is for it to start here and now. As Paul wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
  Our unity has precedence over every area the world is divided over: ethnicity, economy, sociological groups, politics and genders. It also includes age and forms of worship – we are all one in Christ Jesus.
  That struck me anew as I came across a new Christmas album by Jonathan Butler. Each year I like to find a new Christmas album to listen to, to breathe fresh air for me into the familiar holiday. Over the years it’s been albums by Pentatonix, Kenny G, Celine Dion and the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir (to name a few). This year it’s Jonathan Butler.
  Jonathan Butler is a South African singer-songwriter. Born and raised in Cape Town during the travesty of Apartheid, he began singing and playing acoustic guitar as a child. His first single was the first by a black artist played by white radio stations in racially segregated South Africa.
  What I love most about Butler is that though we’ve never met, he’s my brother in Christ. Let me share his testimony from his web page:
  God’s word became real to Butler when he was just a teenager. At 19-years-old, Butler’s life forever changed when he became a Christian. ‘It was love that drew me to Christ,’ he smiles, ‘the love of someone who cared enough to talk to me about Jesus and take me in when I was basically a broken young man in South Africa. It was my late brother-in-law, my wife’s brother, who led me to Christ. He was that person in my life that actually took the time to talk to me about Jesus, and it didn’t take me long to give my heart to Christ because of that’.”
  In spite millennia of division we frequently forget the power and common foundation of the gospel. The gospel alone breaks down the dividing walls and brings unity. Christians are to live out Jesus’ command, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” That means that as a Christian, I have more in common with a black South African than I do a Caucasian American who is an unbeliever.
  That was wonderfully brought home to me when Jane and I visited Taiwan. As we attended a worship service where we couldn’t understand much of what was said, we were family with people that we’d never met before. Each Sunday Peace Church shares a meal together after their worship service. Though they’d never met us, we were invited to join them for their meal. Jane and I were with brothers and sisters that we’ll spend eternity with. Christmas is the great uniter!
  Each week I pray for a list of pastors and churches in our community who preach the gospel, that God will bless them and their ministries and use them to reach more with the gospel. That’s because we’re co-laborers, not competitors. We may differ on minor doctrinal nuances, yet we are united at the cross and in the gospel. We’re united because God the Father gave His only Son as the first Christmas gift 2,000 years ago.
  I listen to Jonathan Butler on Spotify. Let me encourage you to download his Christmas album and let it be a reminder to all of us of the blessed unity that we have in Christ because “unto you is born a Savior.”


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

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Recipe for Disaster???



“Satan gives Adam an apple, and takes away Paradise. 
Therefore in all temptations let us consider not what he offers, but what we shall lose.”  Richard Sibbes

Many of us enjoy making some special dish at Christmas. It’s the only time of year that I make it, but at Christmas I love to make Chex Mix. While you can buy Chex Mix, it’s just not the same. And it’s very simple to make, yet you must be very conscientious about not letting it stay in the oven too long or it will burn. Not paying attention is a recipe for disaster.
  Christmas can be a recipe for disaster, a moral one. Though the message underlying Christmas is the Savior’s birth, it’s too easily set aside. Christmas, rather than being spiritually driven becomes emotionally driven.
  Hallmark cashes in on emotionalism, raking in over half a billion from their Christmas movies. Some 100 million watch Hallmark during the holidays, making it the most-watched cable network among 25-to-54-year-old women. Christmas is the season of feelings.
  At this time of year many of us are emotionally moved by our favorite Christmas songs. I know that I am. Silent Night or I’ll Be Home For Christmas, and many others can cause my eyes to mist over.
  For a myriad of reasons the holidays result in us being more emotionally driven, rather than spiritually, volitionally or intellectually driven. Please understand, God designed us with feelings. Yet, when our emotions are in the driver’s seat, we’re on dangerous turf. Since the Garden, Satan has used our emotions against us, gaining entry into our lives. Scripture refers to this as the “lust of the flesh” (1 Jn 2:15). Jesus resisted this attack in Matthew 4 and we can too, but we must be biblically wise.  
  Many of us are vulnerable because the season is so emotionally charged. If we’re not spiritually prepared, holiday parties can be fraught with moral danger carrying lifetime wreckage. The statistics are tragic! In a survey conducted by Men’s Health magazine 44% of the males said they’d had an affair with a co-worker at a holiday office party at least once in their life. A survey conducted by Canon revealed that 1/3 of the workers either kissed a co-worker or ended-up going home with them after the company party. Nearly 25% of the female employees in one study said their boss made a pass at them during the Christmas party.
  But it’s not just workplace parties that can make us more susceptible to immorality. Family and neighborhood parties can be spiritually deadly, too.
  The Bible contains horrible accounts of familial sexual sin. Amnon raped his half-sister, Tamar (2 Sam. 13). Lot’s daughters conspired to get him drunk so they could sleep with him (Gen. 19). Noah was oblivious that he was publicly naked after becoming inebriated, losing his family’s respect (Gen. 9). It’s part of why God’s Word commands us: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s…wife, or his male servant, or his female servant.”
  God though doesn’t want a bunch of killjoys. His will for us isn’t some stained glass cave. For example, over 100 people are killed in car accidents each day. It doesn’t mean we should trade in our car for a horse and buggy.
  Celebration is a vital part of life. The people of God in the Old Testament celebrated with regular festivals. One of Jesus’ greatest stories (Luke 15:11-31) was of a huge celebration, when the prodigal son returned and his Dad said, “Let’s have a feast and celebrate.” Holiday parties are great Kingdom opportunities. Here are some suggestions to help you keep them Christ-honoring.
  If you’re married (and if possible), take your spouse. Marriage is God’s gift to us. It’s heartbreaking that so many have never seen a healthy marriage, much less a Christian one. We’re to be distinctly different in our marriage, not because we’re nice…but because we’re redeemed.
  It’s not a sin to drink. It’s a sin to be intoxicated. Jesus created wine at a wedding. It wasn’t the cheap stuff. Good food and wine are God-given pleasures, as is intimacy in marriage. Yet, Scripture prohibits drunkenness.
  Be a good leaver. At the first company Christmas party that I intended, the foreman became a drunken fool. It grew worse as the night went on. I’ve found that if I leave early, I rarely see that. Then, my friends are not embarrassed the next day at things they said or did in front of me.
  Remember WHO you represent. We’re ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). It’s not a Sunday gig. We’re 24-7, round the clock representatives of our Savior, whatever the occasion and whoever we’re with. Our words and actions reflect on King Jesus. Have a great time, yet never at His expense.
  Commit the event to the Lord beforehand. Before we go, we can do spiritual groundwork. You can pray for God’s blessing over the festivities, the safety of those who take part and for grace as you seek to be salt and light. Ask Him to help you be a channel of His love and a fountain of encouragement and blessing to all who will attend, even the wait staff. 
  Speak up yet speak wisely. These events can be times for loose lips and dumb deeds. Often all it takes is redirecting a gossipy or cruel conversation about someone absent. A voice of caution might keep someone from doing something they’ll regret later and possibly keep someone from getting hurt or someone’s property being seriously damaged.
  Graciously share Who’s birthday is being celebrated. It’s not the time to climb on a table and preach. Yet, I’ve found that talking about the Savior is more of a natural talking point at Christmas. These parties are when you may find yourself talking to someone you don’t normally interact with and about more meaningful things than the weather. For me, it can be something simple like discovering the holidays are difficult for them or they’re carrying a burden, and assuring them I’ll be praying for them. Social events have often been the start of a lifelong friendship for me.
  Have fun! “A merry heart does good like medicine” (Prov. 17:22). I have to think that Jesus was pleasant to be around. Why else was He invited to so many parties? God doesn’t want us to be sour grapes, but people of His grace. Being Christlike means being incarnational like Jesus. Our Lord came into this world as one of us and wants us to be part of ours, making a difference. Even Christmas parties are an opportunity to serve Him!



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

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Worse than Christmas Shopping!



“There are two ways of spreading light.
Be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”
                                                                                                   Edith Wharton

How do you feel about Christmas shopping? Perhaps you’re a cyber shopper, so it’s not a huge deal. Yet, even for the avid cyber shopper, there are a few items that you still have to venture out to purchase.
  Amanda MacFarlane wrote an article, 5 Reasons Why I Hate Christmas Shopping. She writes: “I am all about cute holiday traditions. However, scrambling to find ‘the perfect gift’ just isn't very cute. It’s become a running joke of mine to say that Christmas shopping is just going to a store, listening to Mariah Carey approximately 2,000 times, and questioning your buying decisions until you start wondering how well you know your loved ones. Call me a Grinch, but for ‘the most wonderful time of the year,’ Christmas has a big flaw called gift giving. I could give you a list as long as Santa’s filled with reasons why I dread this holiday tradition every year, but here’s the big five.” 
  1. It’s expensive. 2. It’s time consuming. 3. I never know what to gift people. 4. I never know how much to gift people, and 5. No matter how well-organized you are, there will always be a last minute gift to buy.
  I love her conclusion: “Here’s a bedtime story for you: ‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, because everyone was at Macy’s frantically getting a gift for their cousin Steve…” What I should be doing on Christmas Eve is sitting by a fireplace drinking hot cocoa, not being told that the store will close in 15 minutes over the loudspeaker.”
  Do you know what’s worse, a whole lot worse, than being a Christmas shopper? Being a clerk at a store waiting on Christmas shoppers. Most of them are working long hours. Many stores open early in the morning and then are open until midnight. Some are open 24 hours during the holidays.
  Put yourself on the other side of that counter for a moment. These employees are tired. Their customers are tired. The children of their customers are tired. Then, there are always those extra special blessings – Mr. Grinch and Mrs. Scrooge – who are unhappy and committed “missionaries of misery” who feel it is their mission in life to make everyone around them miserable, too.
  Are you like me? I appreciate it when clerks wear name tags so that I can engage them in conversation by their name. Not too long ago I was at Sam’s Club. The clerk who waited on me looked like she was carrying the weight of the world. As she waited on me, I asked “Chris, how’s your day going?” Her response caused me to almost audibly gasp, “I’m just so depressed.” I quickly responded as she was called away to help another customer, “I’m a minister. I’ll pray for you, Chris.” That encounter weighed heavily on my heart all night. Even now it brings tears to my eyes.
  One of my favorite parts of Christmas are Christmas lights! When our children were small, we’d drive around looking at lights (we still do). I love Christmas lights! During this hectic, frenetic, even insane Christmas season – can I challenge you with something? Bring the light!
  Isn’t that what the Lord Jesus did as He entered space and time that first Christmas? Our Lord brought light to a dark world. Later, in His adult life, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).
  But it doesn’t end there. If you’re a Christ-follower, then you are to light your world. Jesus said in Matthew 5:14-16: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
  I had a bring the light moment recently. It was in a hospital room but Jesus was there – and I was the one who had His light shared with me. Recently, our church’s now “retired” secretary, Patti Hall, had to be hospitalized. I popped up to pray with her and encourage her BUT I was the one encouraged…and Patti consistently does that for others. As I entered the room, Patti’s kindness, though she was the patient, with her nurse was so touching. If she hadn’t been lying flat on her back with tubes running out of her arm, I’d have thought that we were visiting in her family room. I went to encourage her and be a blessing to her, but I was the one who was encouraged and blessed by her! That’s what Christians are commanded to do. You and I are to leave every place we go a little brighter because we brought His light with us.
  Have you ever noticed that light shines brightest where it’s darkest? It doesn’t take a lot. Sometimes we shine when we simply restrain ourselves. Someone cuts us off in traffic or nearly runs us over with their shopping cart, perhaps they inadvertently cut in front of us at the check-out line, or it’s a new cashier that’s frazzled and having a hard time keeping up.
  Instead of complaining or giving them a piece of our mind, ask God for His peace and power to control your tongue and attitude. Then, notice the clerk’s name, use it and have a short encouraging conversation. Maybe bring some perspective that this is all temporary or add humor.
  If you have to take something back or if the store is out of an item, be gracious. Mistakes happen. It’s doubtful, too, that the one waiting on you is the one who made the blunder. Be kind even when there’s an error.
  If you have children, try to not take them out when they’re tired or hungry. Pay attention to them so they’re not running around, bothering other shoppers or store employees.
  And if a clerk gives you good service, make sure that you tell a manager or head cashier. Post it on the store’s Facebook wall or send them an email. Most easily complain. Few take the time to compliment.
  The Lord Jesus came as the light of the world. As His followers, let’s bring His light and spread it around this Christmas with those who may need it the most!


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.