Sunday, March 26, 2023

Survival of the Unfittest

 

“I cannot pray, except I sin. I cannot preach, but I sin. I cannot administer, nor receive the holy sacrament, but I sin. My very repentance needs to be repented of and the tears 
I shed need washing in the blood of Christ.”  William Beveridge

 The Christian faith is the antithesis of the faith of social Darwinism and its principles of progression and perfection. Christians know that they aren’t part of the “survival of the fittest.” The Bible teaches we’re the “survival of the worst” or “survival of the weakest.” You can’t be a Christian until you honestly face your own spiritual vileness and impotence.  
  Christians know that they’re not good people. If we’re honest, we’re not  even nice people. We are instead transformed people because of the cross, new life in Christ, and the love, mercy, and grace of God.
  It’s been said that: “There are only two kinds of people in this world – there are those who wake up in the morning and say, “Good morning, Lord,” and those who wake up in the morning and say, “Good Lord, it's morning.” But I think author Tom Robbins had a better understanding about the two kinds of people in this world. He said that there are “those who believe there are two kinds of people in this world and [there are] those who are smart enough to know better.” Christians know that there is only one kind of person in this world – those who apart from the gospel are a huge mess. That’s exactly what the Bible teaches.
  God’s Word clearly states: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10-12, 23).  
  Philip Yancey, in his book, What’s so amazing about Grace? shares a powerful story told to him by a Christian friend. “A prostitute came to me in wretched straits, homeless, sick, unable to buy food for her two-year-old daughter. Through sobs and tears, she told me she had been renting out her daughter—two years old!—to men interested in kinky sex. She made more renting out her daughter for an hour than she could earn on her own in a night. She had to do it, she said, to support her own drug habit.
  I could hardly bear hearing her sordid story. For one thing, it made me legally liable—I’m required to report cases of child abuse. I had no idea what to say to this woman. At last I asked if she had ever thought of going to a church for help. I will never forget the look of pure, naive shock that crossed her face. ‘Church!’ she cried. ‘Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They’d just make me feel worse’.”
  Yet, that broken woman is exactly who should feel at home among Christians and in our church. When Jesus walked this earth, women (and men) just like her prostitute fled to Jesus, not away from Him. The worse a person felt about herself, the more likely he or she saw Jesus as a refuge.
  Over the years I’ve had individuals tell me they’re good people because they obey the Ten Commandments. Not me. I’m a loser. I totally bomb out when it comes to the Big Ten. As I study the Ten Commandments I see what a spiritual failure I am. Just take the last half…
  “Honor your father and your mother…” If that includes rolling my eyes, talking back, or knowledgeably disobeying – I get a goose egg.
  “You shall not murder.” The Bible says that hate is murder (1 John 3:15). If it includes bad drivers, people talking on their cell phones in restaurants, or my siblings when I was growing up. Again, I flunk.
  “You shall not commit adultery.” Jesus said that lust is committing adultery in your heart (Matthew 5:27-28). Only a very na├»ve person believes this is only a male problem. I know that I’ve failed this one.  
  “You shall not steal.” If that only includes checking social media when I’m supposed to be working, I get another zero. What about “borrowing” office supplies from work, etc.?  
  “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” We may call them a “white lie” but a lie is still a lie. Even an exaggeration is a lie. I’m in the spiritual cellar again.
  “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” Obviously, this would include another person’s physique. Personally, I wish Planet Fitness would do a better job of marketing to people who have my physique. It seems like the ones who don’t need Planet Fitness are its most loyal members…and I feel a twinge of jealousy…more than I want to admit.
  The Bible is clear – we’re all spiritual losers. None of us measure up. Yet, most of us don’t realize the seriousness of what we consider “little sins.”
  Back in the 1990’s one research firm considered the advertising slogan for a popular soap that was “99.4% pure.” They followed up with an important question: “What if everything in the world operated at 99% efficiency?” What they discovered is shocking! Drinking water would be unsafe one hour out of each month. Two planes would crash land – every day - at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. 500 hundred surgeries would be botched each week. And 20,000 prescriptions would be improperly filled each year.
  Would you want to drink that water? Be on one of those planes? Would you want to have one of those pharmacists or surgeons anywhere near you or your family?
  99% efficiency isn’t acceptable in any of these areas. Missing these things by just “that much” (1%) can be deadly. The same is true spiritually. James 1:10 says, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” It’s 100% or fail! And we’re all guilty of failing all of it. It’s why we need Jesus. It’s why we need a Savior. He died to rescue the worst of the worst…like you and me. Without committing our lives to Jesus as our Savior, we have no hope. We’re part of the “unfittest.”
  Jesus died so that we all could be “fit” for heaven but He has to be your Savior. My friend, is He your Savior?  

Can we help you spiritually? 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, March 19, 2023

Is it okay to miss?

 A church isn't a group of friends you’ve picked, it’s a group of brothers and sisters God has picked for you.” Michael Scott Horton 

Do you have a regular family dinner? Did you have one when you were growing up? Was the family or extended family gathering for Sunday dinner your tradition?  Because of growing up in a home with virtually no Sunday traditions, family traditions, and healthy family relationships get my attention. It’s just not my history. Family gatherings of any kind just didn’t happen. For most of my teenage years I attended church alone…
  It’s one of the reasons that I enjoy the TV series, Blue Bloods. While Tom Selleck has been a favorite actor for me since his Magnum P.I. days, I love the family dinner scenes in Blue Bloods. They may be disagreeing or at odds with each other, yet every Sunday the Reagan family gathers around the family dinner table. On top of that, every family member participates with different ones being responsible for the food.
  Last Sunday Jane and I were on a “staycation.” When we planned it, we didn’t know it was going to be time change Sunday. And then, it’s Wisconsin so it snowed…so we lost an hour of sleep and the drive to whatever church we chose to worship at was going to be more difficult to get to because of road conditions.
  We looked at websites of some churches pastored by friends and those with our DNA of ministry. With the potential of bad roads, we didn’t want to travel too far. One friend was out of town. Another was doing a series on parenting. Add to that, I didn’t sleep well so when I woke up, I was very tempted to attend “Bedside Baptist with Pastor Sheets.” Or, as many have been doing in a post-Covid world, attend “Lazy-boy Church.”
  But I got convicted and knew that I needed to get out of bed and we drove to an area church. I’m so glad we did! What a blessing! It was a great message! The music stirred our hearts! Because we have several friends who are part of this church family, we were able to reconnect with them.
  Unbeknownst to us, that church was having a major congregational vote on leaving their denomination that day because of apostasy. It was a very emotional day for my pastor friend and his church. So Jane and I were blessed and then we were able to be a blessing…and to think that I seriously considered only thinking of myself and skipping.
  It is virtually impossible to be a healthy growing Christian without faithfully attending the worship services of a local church. It’s not enough to be a Christian and love Jesus. If you love Jesus, you love His family. If you love His family, you want to spend time with them. Yet, there has never been a time in history when it’s more difficult to faithfully attend. There are so many other options, opportunities or obligations to our already overflowing schedules.  
  Please understand. I don’t want to guilt-trip anyone. We need to faithfully attend worship services because we want to please the Lord and love Him, not because we feel guilty or pressured. Yet, our struggles with faithfully attending worship services aren’t totally new.
  The early church was largely composed of slaves and those on the socioeconomic fringes of society. As many as one-third of people living in first-century Greco-Roman society were slaves. A large percentage of those slaves were believers. It’s why they either met early in the morning before the work day began or late at night when it was over. Gathering for corporate worship either had to be before or after the long work day.
  Gathering for corporate worship is rarely convenient. There’s always something else going on. Some are required to work. It’s either work on Sunday morning or be terminated.  
  Most situations though don’t carry that much weight. Just a few years ago pastors felt pressure to be done by noon so the congregation could be home for the Sunday kick-off. Now it’s not noon. It’s youth sports, drama practices, dance recitals, etc. that all meet on Sunday morning. Or suggest to your family that maybe they could start the birthday party for little Matilda a little later so you attend church and they’ll look at you like you just got in from Mars.
  Our culture has moved from very few options to an overwhelming amount. Sunday is just another day. So we have to choose. We can’t have it all or do it all. Sometimes we need to give a little pushback to the culture and needless pressures.
  For example, if your company is asking you to work, if you’re an employee with a good reputation, most will give some flexibility for attending church. Think of all the other reasons that other employees miss or don’t show up. An honest conversation can go a long way.
  Then, what about other youth activities? First, I’d suggest an honest conversation with the leaders or organizers and try to attend the 9 am service. Second, what will have more long-term life value for your child?
  Over the years I’ve known some very talented young athletes. Because they were so gifted, their parents had them in a traveling team. Yet, none went on to play professionally or even play in college. Perhaps because church was lowered on the priorities, as far as I know, none of those talented athletes attend a church of any kind.
  Will church attendance make a difference? Well, where else are we encouraged to focus on what has eternal benefits? Where else are we encouraged to be a better spouse or a person of character? Where else are we encouraged to be ethical, gracious and care for others? Where else are we encouraged to be have a biblical worldview and an ethic of morality?
  Hopefully, those things are taking place in your marriage and home. One reason Scripture so emphasizes the local church is that it’s in the community of God’s people with the echoing of eternal values and godly behavior that we grow spiritually. It helps cement these things in our hearts and the hearts of our children.
  Yet please don’t just attend. Get involved, serve. Find a place for your children to serve. Because in serving we learn to think of others. It also helps our children develop friendships with other Christian adults that they will have after they become adults themselves. While Couch Church is increasingly convenient, the long term price for own hearts is too high! 

Can we help you spiritually? 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, March 12, 2023

Church Membership Matters


“Once you choose Christ, you must choose His people, too. 
It’s a package deal.  Choose the Father 
and the Son and you have to choose the whole family –
 which you do through a local church.” Jonathan Leeman

 A belief that permeates the pages of the Bible and is essential to a healthy Christian life is commitment. In Matthew 16:24 Jesus told His followers “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” Yet, ours is a culture that’s afraid of commitment. Many couples rationalize, “Why not just live together to see if it works out?” In a similar way, many Christians think, “Why not just attend a church? What’s the point of joining?” Unfortunately, many believers attend a church for years yet never join.
  This Thursday, March 16th, is the beginning of our New Members class. Attending this class doesn’t commit you to join Grace or make you a member. It does give us an opportunity to share our understanding of Scripture and how it applies to our church. During the eight lessons of this class, we share who we are, what we believe, our passion, and our mission.
  We believe that to be an obedient Christian, you must go beyond church attendance to being a committed, serving member of a church. We’re looking to have others officially join our church who have our DNA, our passion for Jesus, and our desire to reach our community with the gospel.
  So what does the New Testament have to say about church membership? The metaphors that the New Testament uses to describe the local church imply close relationships and committed connection; building, family, army, flock, etc. Add to that, nearly every letter in the New Testament was written to a local church or to the pastor of a local church.
  If church membership is so important why don’t we find church membership mentioned specifically in the New Testament? In the New Testament, you’ll discover membership is implied throughout it. Churches didn’t need to be formalized in the way we need it today because there was only one church per city. If you were a Christian, you didn’t have options on where to attend. If you lived in Ephesus, you were a member of the church there. Today there are dozens of evangelical churches in an area.
  Many New Testament texts infer that local churches knew exactly who their members were. For example, in giving instructions about the Lord’s Supper, Paul wrote (1 Corinthians 11:18), “For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you.” That implies that there was a defined group who came together as a church, though there were sinful divisions among them. In Acts 11:26, Paul and Barnabas “met with the church and taught considerable numbers.” In Acts 14:23, Paul and Barnabas “appointed elders for them in every church” which they’d founded on their missionary journey. Elders were responsible to lead these churches., so obviously, they knew who the members were. A pastor in a church is commanded to shepherd the church (Acts 20:28). You can’t faithfully shepherd if you don’t know who is part of the “flock.”
  To fulfill the responsibilities then of both pastors and members requires a well-defined group of committed believers identified as members of each church. They meet regularly for teaching, worship, fellowship, and prayer.
  Why join? John Stott wrote: If the church is central to God’s purpose, as seen in both history and the gospel, it must surely also be central to our lives. How can we take lightly what God takes so seriously? How dare we push to the circumference what God has placed at the center?” That centrality of the local church to God’s purpose should be reason enough for you to be committed to one. Let me share then just three reasons…
  You should join a church because Christ loves the church and gave Himself for her; if you love Christ, you must love His church and commit yourself to her well-being. In Ephesians 5:25, Paul commands, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” He talks about how Christ’s aim is to sanctify the church so that He might present her to Himself in all her glory, as beautiful as she possibly can be. Then Paul tells husbands to tenderly nourish and cherish their wives, just as Christ does His church. Throughout this passage, you’d think that Paul was talking about marriage, but then he adds this surprising statement (Eph. 5:32): “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” In other words, marriage is designed to be an earthly picture of the relationship between the divine Bridegroom and His bride, the church.
  You should join a local church because the church is where you learn practically to love God and love others (the two greatest commandments). You can’t be a “Christian at large” any more than you can be “married at large.” I love all my sisters in Christ in the church worldwide, but there’s only one to whom I’m committed to as my wife. I’m not suggesting we’re to “marry” a church with the same lifelong commitment we vow in marriage, but we do need a strong commitment to help us work through issues and personal conflicts that arise in the church so we grow in grace and love for one another. Commitment is the glue that holds relationships together, enabling us to grow spiritually when there are inevitable conflicts.
  You should join a local church because it is the means Jesus ordained to fulfill His Great Commission. A local church is God’s ordained way of fulfilling His Great Commission. A church must be committed to reaching the lost and making disciples. Paul told the Philippian church (Phil. 1:27), “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” That’s the church’s job!
  God is using our church for His glory! If our mission is your mission, we’d love to have you officially join us! Check out our New Members’ class when it starts this week!

Can we help you spiritually? 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, March 5, 2023

Courage!

“Cowardice asks the question: ‘Is it safe?’ Consensus asks the question: ‘Is it popular?’ 
Courage asks the question: ‘Is it right’?”  Rod Rogers

 

There’s a scene that takes place toward the very end of The Lord of the Rings trilogy at the end of The Return of the King. It’s during a great battle and during this great battle, there’s a very unlikely warrior, a girl named Eowyn, who sneaks onto the battlefield. As she is there, she finds her king, the King of Rohan. He’s wounded and dying on the battlefield. So she goes to him and stands over him to protect him. As she’s standing there, a dark, demonic enemy comes at her and says, “Get out of the way! Move aside!” 
  But Eowyn doesn’t move, instead, she draws her sword and says, “Do what you will, but be you living or dark undead, I will smite you if you touch my king! I’ll kill you if you touch him!” What amazing courage!
  Yet as Eowyn is standing there protecting her king, there’s another character that is more like most of us – Merry the Hobbit. In that battle, Merry sees that dark, demonic, gigantic enemy. He becomes sick and blind because of the terror that overwhelms him and Merry hides on the battlefield. But at one point he regains his sight and looks up. And guess what he sees? Eowyn is ready to die for her king. And J.R.R. Tolkien  then writes, that “great wonder filled his heart and suddenly the slow-kindled courage awoke and he clenched his fists and he battled as a warrior.”
  When was the last time that you saw courage? When was the last time you saw a Christian with courage? Do you struggle to be courageous? Courage is essential if you and I are going to stand for King Jesus!
  Courage, in the biblical sense, is not some personality trait. A soft-spoken, introverted, calm person can be courageous at a time when a driven, outspoken, brash person shrinks back. Courage is instead acting, by the power of the Spirit, on an urgent conviction in the face of some threat or opposition. Without sufficient courage, we don’t have enough fiber in our conviction to stand for Jesus or face opposition.
  No doubt you’ve heard of those individuals who can be sitting next to a complete stranger on an airplane and boldly share their faith. I’m not one of them. I struggle to be bold. I can feel the pit in my stomach as I share the gospel or make a stand for Christ.
  Many of us as Christians have a tendency to look at past leaders in the Church through rose-colored glasses. We are apt to place them on pedestals and forget that they too had feet of clay and knocking knees.
  It’s why the Apostle Paul so encourages me. Many passages in the New Testament suggest that Paul wasn’t a naturally bold person. For example, in 1 Corinthians 2:3, Paul admits that when he was with the church there, he was with them in “weakness and in fear and much trembling.” Then in  2 Corinthians 10:10, Paul acknowledges that his reputation among the churches was that his “letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” There’s at least one record where Paul directly asks the church to pray for him that he “might “declare [the gospel] boldly.” (Ephesians 6:18-20). On another two occasions, the Lord encourages Paul not to be afraid in the midst of conflict and opposition. This all suggests that Paul may have been a naturally timid personality or at least was not as naturally bold as we tend to think he was.
  That’s just like God. Frequently, He takes those who lack natural gifts and empowers them or gives them the gifts they need to accomplish His will.
  We must pray for courage and pray for other Christians to have courage. There is great pressure today to conform or be silent. None of us want to be attacked, maligned, or caricatured. It’s why, like Paul, we must pray for courage and pray that our brothers and sisters have courage, too. Evidencing courage is usually personal. It’s not primarily manifested with a keyboard as in social media but in personal contact and relationships.
  We must be courageous about that which has true significance. In recent years, Christians have become very outspoken about political positions, yet I can’t personally think of one of those positions that will make an eternal difference. Instead, they’re frequently distractions from the mission Jesus gave us.
  The Bible teaches that there are only two eternal destinations. Jesus commissioned us to share the gospel so that we can bring as many to heaven with us as possible. Most of the other “stuff” is a bit like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
  As we are courageous, it influences others. Like Merry, watching the courage of Eowyn, as others see us acting in courage, it encourages them to act with courage. It’s why it’s vital for us to share what God is doing in our lives, how He is working, and how He is using us.
  Godly courage means being willing to pay the price for what is right. There is great pressure today in the workplace and the classroom to be shamed into silence. Please understand. God didn’t call us to be obnoxious. Some Christians believe that they’re being persecuted because of their biblical positions when they’re really being persecuted because they’re acting like a jerk.
  As much as possible, Christians must have irreproachable behavior. We must be a bit Teflon so accusations can’t stick. The fruit of the Spirit should be so much a part of our life that like Daniel of old (Daniel 6), the only thing that can be found to criticize is that we love Jesus too much. We must consistently act with Christlikeness but must not give our approval to sinful behavior. Sometimes taking a stand for Christ is going to cost us.
  Godly courage means standing for what is right in your home. Every parent feels the pressure to cave to “everybody else is doing it.” It’s why we need a local church family. Our children need to see in our church family that the values in our home are the same as those of other believers in our church. It will help embolden them to have the courage they will need as adults in our darkening world to stand alone for the Savior.
  The same Holy Spirit who emboldened those early believers to stand courageously for Christ, even sometimes at the cost of their lives, has taken up residence within us and gives us courage, too. Courage isn’t the absence of fear. It’s living by faith in the midst of fear, trusting that the Spirit will give us what we need at the right moment to live boldly for King Jesus!

Can we help you spiritually? 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 26, 2023

Is there a Christian response to violence ad mass shootings?

“In the face of evil and tragedy be not weary in well doing. 
Never cease to be moved by the suffering of others. 
Mourn with those who mourn.” Ben Watson

Already this year there have been nearly 70 mass shootings. There have been more mass shootings at this point in 2023 than in any previous year since 2013. With Jane’s growing up in East Lansing, the shootings at MSU took my breath away. We’ve been on that campus many, many times!  Yet, it’s not just mass shootings. Violent crime is growing rampantly everywhere, particularly in urban areas. For example, you have a 1 in 185 chance of being the victim of a violent crime in Racine. A 1 in 60 chance of being one in Milwaukee and a 1 in 24 chance in Chicago. It’s a Mad Max world. So what’s a Christian response?
  First, we need to be honest, there are no simple answers. After each mass shooting self-appointed experts flood social media with solutions. Many are quick to blame access to guns, yet many mass shootings and violent crimes happen in places with the strictest gun controls. One doesn’t need a gun to attack people. Just recently, Weng Sor drove a rented U-Haul and struck nine people in Brooklyn.
  Obviously, there does need to be some gun control. Convicted felons or those with a history of mental illness shouldn’t have access to guns.
  For a myriad of reasons, we have a mental health crises. While some who commit violent crimes are evil, many others suffer from mental illness. Because of their derangement, they’re a danger to themselves and others, and society needs to be protected from them.
  Violent crime and mass shootings are a vertical problem. They reveal the sin inherent in our world and a breakdown with the God who created life. The core solution to reducing violence is not another policy or law. It’s in addressing root causes that result in someone carrying out these horrific crimes. Guns, vehicles, and bombs are the symptoms of the problem. The real problem is the heart of the perpetrator. It’s first a spiritual problem.
  Violence happens because of the brokenness and evil inside each of us. We’re all naturally rebels against God and slaves to sin, compelled to do its bidding. Jesus came to set us free from our sin. The main problem in the world isn’t weapons, bad parenting, poverty, or any other social malady. The problem is that we’re estranged from God and in need of redemption.
  While this doesn’t mean that there isn’t value in dealing with problematic societal structures, it does mean that the primary blame doesn’t reside with politicians, gun dealers, or law enforcement.
  Mourn with those who mourn and pray for all the victims. Christians are to “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). With so much violence, it’s easy to become desensitized. We’ve seen so many reports of tragedies that we can forget to remember that the lives lost were someone’s sons and daughters, someone’s spouse, or someone’s parent. As Christians, we’re called to identify with the pain of others.
  And we need to pray for those who have experienced tragedy. Every victim has a mother and a father. Many times they have siblings and extended family. The victim of violence is not the only victim.
  Some will retort that “thoughts and prayers” are unhelpful. Christ-followers know that prayer is the most powerful tool we have available. Through prayer, we have access to the God of the universe, the only One who can bring peace to violent situations and comfort to those who have experienced loss. We must be committed to lifting up those in need.
  Violence and murder are natural outcomes of a “Culture of Death.” Genesis 1:27, says “God created man in His image, male and female He created them.” When a culture doesn’t value Imago Dei, that every human being is made in the image of God, then violence and murder of all kinds are tragic byproducts. If one doesn’t value life at its beginning or end, why would one value life in the middle? If one doesn’t believe “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13), for every human being,  the move to take the life of another human being becomes easier to rationalize.  
  While we can’t change the world, we can work to change “our world.”  Since 1982, 134 mass shootings have been carried out in the United States by male shooters. In contrast, only three mass shootings have been carried out by women. Many mass shooters were loners and suicidal prior to carrying out their rampage. The average age is under 35.
  God has designed us for community. He has designed us for relationships. God has not called Christians to live safe lives but invested ones. Too many of us are so busy that we fail to notice those around us with deep needs. It takes very little effort to invest in young people or single adults that God brings into the sphere of your life. Knowing their name, some of their interests and engaging them in conversation humanizes them.
  God designed the local church to be a Christian counterculture from the world. While the world may be filled with disrespect and rudeness, we value kindness and graciousness. While violence may fill the streets, we must cultivate an environment of love, peace, forgiveness and healthy relationships. While environment is not a guarantee against acts of evil, it’s profoundly important. In our families, in our small groups, in our teen and children’s ministries and in all our interactions, we must cultivate an environment that gives people the alternative of a biblical worldview of Christlikeness to the cruelty and emptiness that our world offers.
  We can share the only true hope. Only the gospel of Christ offers true hope. Only Jesus can reconcile us to God and help us reconcile with each other. When we come to Christ, we receive not only forgiveness for our sins, but we also get a new family as we’re adopted into the family of God.
  In the aftermath of great evil, as believers we must cling tighter to the gospel, realizing that we are all lost without it. We must boldly share it. If we truly are concerned with the evil in the world, we must point those around us to the only hope of solving the heart problems that births all evil.

Can we help you spiritually? 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 19, 2023

Now THIS is exciting!

 


“If coming to know Christ is the greatest thing that has happened to you, it only makes sense that the greatest thing you can do for someone else is to introduce them to Him.”  Bill Bright 

Did you watch Sunday’s Super Bowl? It was a nailbiter, particularly if you were a Chiefs or Eagles fan. In the nearly seventy Super Bowls only about a dozen have been close like Sunday night’s game. 
  Can you imagine though if after the Chiefs win that there is no confetti, no party streamers, and no presentation of the Lombardi trophy? Kansas City had something like half a million fans lining the parade route last  Tuesday to welcome the victors home. But what if there had been no victory parade, no celebration…nothing?
  What gets you excited? What news do you find that you just have to share? Do you share with everyone when your team wins? Or, when you graduated from high school or college? How about when you got engaged? Or, had your first child? Everybody gets excited about something, right? So what is it that does that for you? When we’re excited, we have to share it.
  Many years ago we had a woman attending our church who was given a terminal cancer diagnosis. Her doctor told her, “Just go home and prepare your will…your terminal.” I’ll never forget my conversation with her later. What could I say?
  Fortunately, she got a second opinion, and what the first doctor diagnosed as terminal cancer, turned out to be cysts which though serious, were safely surgically removed with no further complications. Do you think that she was excited? Do you think that she had to share her good news with everyone? You better believe it!
  As Christians, we have much better news, the greatest news. Prior to salvation, we were doomed to a Christless eternity. Now we’re forgiven but not just for the sin we committed in the past but for every sin that we will commit in the future. We have a new Father and a new family, one that is so huge it will fill all of heaven. We will never be alone ever again. Jesus has promised to always be with us. We have a new citizenship and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. We’re given a new nature so we desire things that are good and wonderful and have eternal value. We even have a new body awaiting us. And the list goes on and on and on.   
  What we have is better than winning the Super Bowl, the World Cup, the World Series, the Stanley Cup, the Mega Lottery all rolled into one, plus so much more. All of those things are only for this life, yet salvation is for all eternity. Redemption is the best thing that will ever happen to any of us.
  Those words from Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade, have echoed in my heart since I read them a few weeks ago. What a powerful insight! “If coming to know Christ is the greatest thing that has happened to you, it only makes sense that the greatest thing you can do for someone else is to introduce them to Him.”
  Sadly think about all of the things that we talk about BUT Jesus. I’m not talking about being some religious nut. The last thing a lost world needs is another religious wacko. Yet our world desperately needs those who are born-again to share the gospel. The gospel is this world’s only hope.
  Today we’re celebrating our 5th Anniversary in this building. We built this building as a tool. We built it to be a place where believers can get a bigger view of our awesome God as we study God’s Word together so they leave here to share Him with all those they come in contact with. We want it to attract those who haven’t yet met the Lord Jesus so that we can introduce them to our Savior. As a church family, we want to be Jesus’ PR people.
  African-American pastor, E.V. Hill, pastored Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in L.A. for over forty years. One of his most well-known sermons was entitled: When is God at His Best?
  He began his message by referring to the book of Genesis. He talked about creation and described what happened during those first seven days in such amazing detail. Then he said, “This was amazing. It was powerful—but it wasn’t God at His best.” He turned to Exodus and talked about how God delivered the Hebrew people from bondage. He described the plagues, miracles, and the parting of the Red Sea, and again, Hill said, “This was powerful and amazing but it wasn’t God at His best.” He followed this same line of reasoning with the birth of Christ, His crucifixion, and His resurrection. Each time he’d say, “This was powerful and amazing but it wasn’t God at His best.” So when is God at His best? At the end of his sermon, Pastor Hill finally answered that question:
  But God is at his best when he saves lost souls. Would you like for me to tell you when He was at His best? It isn't even in the Bible. God was at His best nearly 51 years ago, with a little country boy, whose mother couldn't make enough money to feed him, and who some people in the country helped raise. At 11 years old, walking down Grandma Jodi's lane, this great, big, old God came all the way down and got right into my heart. Then He got up in my head. Then He got all over me. I didn't know what was happening to me; I didn't understand it. I had to go home and tell Mamma about my experience. She said, "I think God has saved you, boy."
  That is God at his best — when He saved me. When He — the great God of the universe — came all the way down and got into the heart and spirit of an 11 year old boy. Every time He saves a lost soul, that's God at His best. Not the moon and stars. Not the hills and mountains. Not the trees and valleys. Not the rivers and lakes and oceans. But God picking up a drunkard and making him a preacher, picking up a prostitute and making her a singer, picking up people down and out and putting them on their feet, causing us to stand and say, "Glory, He saved me. I'm saved."
  That's God, the Savior, at His best. God is at His best when He's saving. I am but a wretch. It took a miracle to put that sun in place. It took a miracle to put the moon in space. But when He saved my soul, cleansed and made me whole, that was God at His best.”
  At Grace Church, we’re committed to being part of God at His best! That’s what must excite us! We’re committed to sharing with those around us how they can be part of God at His best! Our DNA is sharing how others can meet our Savior so they too can experience God at His best! 

Can we help you spiritually? 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 12, 2023

Love Letters

 


“A real love letter is made of insight, understanding, and compassion. Otherwise it's not a love letter. A true love letter can produce a transformation in the other person, and therefore in the world. But before it produces a transformation in the other person, it has to produce a transformation within us.” Thich Nhat Hanh 

Have you ever read the love letters of famous people? Some of them are wonderful. Mark Twain wrote this letter to his future wife, Olivia Langdon: 
  Out of the depths of my happy heart wells a great tide of love and prayer for this priceless treasure that is confined to my life-long keeping. You cannot see its intangible waves as they flow towards you, darling, but in these lines you will hear, as it were, the distant beating of the surf.”
   Johnny Cash wrote this very honest love letter to his wife, June Carter Cash: “Happy Birthday Princess, We get old and get used to each other. We think alike. We read each others minds. We know what the other wants without asking. Sometimes we irritate each other a little bit. Maybe sometimes take each other for granted. But once in awhile, like today, I meditate on it and realize how lucky I am to share my life with the greatest woman I ever met. You still fascinate and inspire me. You influence me for the better. You're the object of my desire, the #1 Earthly reason for my existence. I love you very much. Happy Birthday Princess. John”
  This past Christmas season Jane and I watched a movie, Christmas Oranges. In it the father and his daughter were estranged. She wanted to rebuild the relationship but feared her Dad might not read her letters, so she mailed them to his brother to give to her Dad at a time when he felt that they’d be accepted. For some reason the brother just kept them, never sharing them. But when the letters were finally shared, the transformation in the relationship was miraculous.   
  The Bible is God’s love letter to us. Yet, it’s shocking how many Christians rarely or never read it. It’s like having a love letter locked away in a box. A love letter that’s never been read is heartbreaking.
  Maybe you started out the new year committed to faithfully reading your Bible every day but you’ve quit. Today is a new day. Every great habit has to simply start. Here are some suggestions to help you make reading God’s love letter a part of your daily life.
  Choose a Bible version that’s understandable and easy to read. There are very few people who regularly read Shakespeare. The language is archaic and difficult to understand. For most, it’s too much effort.
  The Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek. We’re blessed today that we have a variety of accurate versions to choose from. Find a version that works for you. If you have difficulty reading, consider the New Living Translation (NLT), or a study Bible in the English Standard Version (ESV) or the New International Version (NIV). The NLT version of the Bible is the most readable while still being literal in its translation; Study Bibles contain footnotes that explain difficult passages of Scripture. 
  Start small yet be consistent. We all know individuals who were determined to get in shape and start by working out for several hours. They may have done it for a couple of days but soon quit. Starting to read the Bible is like that. It’s better to read for a short period of time consistently, like 5 or 10 minutes, than it is to go on a reading marathon and quit after a few days. Determine to read a chapter or at least half a chapter if possible. Then, pick up the next day where you stopped.
  Chose a time and place convenient for you. It’s best to read in the same place every day. As you do that, you’ll discover there are less distractions.
  Many read their Bible first thing in the morning, choosing to spend time with God before daily distractions get in the way. I’ve found that works best for me. It’s too easy to rationalize that I’ll read my Bible later, but I usually never do. Yet, if mornings aren’t your thing, don’t sweat it. Reading the Bible is more important than the time you read God’s Word.
  It’s best to not start at the beginning. The focus of the Bible is Jesus. It’s truly His-story. If you’re new to Scripture, the best place to start is one of the Gospels, like Mark or John. The Gospels are biographies of Jesus. Once you know Jesus, the rest of the Bible begins to make sense.
  Whatever you do, pick one book of the Bible and then stick with it. Otherwise, you’ll waste time thumbing through the Bible, never quite landing. You’ll also lose the context of a passage. That’s why it’s best to choose one book and read a little each day, one chapter perhaps.  As you work your way through that book, it’s easier to follow the thread of thought and increase your understanding of what God is saying.  
  Pray and ask God for wisdom before you begin reading. God wants us to know Him and He’s promised to give wisdom to those who ask for it (James 1:5). So pause before you open your Bible and ask God to open your spiritual eyes and speak to you. Ask God to use His Word to teach you, to direct you and even to re-direct you, when necessary. Ask Him to use His Word to help you know Him and love Him. Be intentional about getting God’s Word into your thoughts and you’ll soon see your relationship with God thrive and your life change. That’s the purpose of  reading the Bible!
  God’s Word was never meant to just inform us. God wants His Word to transform us. The Bible is God’s love letter written to His people, which includes you. Do you want to know how much God loves you? Read His Word! Start today!

Can we help you spiritually? 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.