Sunday, January 16, 2022

Hope!

 

“Hope can see heaven through the thickest clouds.”  Thomas Brooks

   According to a recent poll, roughly two-thirds of Americans say they felt nervous, depressed, lonely, or hopeless on at least one of their past seven days, the poll found. For each of the four emotions, close to 2 in 10 Americans said they felt that way on three or more days. 14% said they felt reactions such as sweating, becoming nauseous, or hyperventilating when thinking about their experience with the pandemic. One in four adults ages 18 to 24 have considered suicide. “There’s been this narrative that young people are spared a lot of the impact of Covid because they’re less likely to develop real severe physical complications,” says Ellen Burstein, one of the poll researchers and a junior at Harvard. “But it’s taken a profound toll on their mental health.”
  We are living in what some experts have labeled “a pandemic of hopelessness.” For many, the turmoil has less to do with Covid-19 than the pressures on our mental health triggered by lockdowns and uncertainty. They feel like they’re living in a nightmare. A pandemic is raging, erasing more lives than many wars combined. People experiencing hopelessness may make or think statements such as:
 
  My situation will never get better. I have no future. No one can help me. I feel like giving up. It is too late now. I have no hope. I will never be happy again.
 
   On Saturday, December 17, 1927, the crew of the Navy submarine S-4 was trolling beneath the waters of Cape Cod Bay. They were engaged in routine testing of their vessel. The Coast Guard Cutter Paulding was traveling across the surface doing the same. The vessels never saw each other. The submarine broke the surface just in time to receive a death blow from the Paulding. The submarine, with its crew of forty, sank in less than five minutes and came to rest more than one hundred feet below on the ocean floor.
  Rescue attempts, though meager and primitive in 1927, began at once. But due to impossible weather, it took twenty-four hours for the first diver to descend to the wreckage. As soon as the diver’s feet hit the hull, he immediately heard tapping. There were survivors, alive, trapped inside.
  Pounding out Morse code on the hull with a hammer, the diver discovered that six crewmen had survived the collision. With their air supply dwindling, the six survivors tapped out in Morse code a final haunting question, “Is there any hope?” 
  That’s what many in our world are asking today: “Is there any hope?” 
  This morning we’re beginning a several-week series: HOPE. Many around us have lost hope. It may be that they’re in what they consider to be a hopeless relationship. Others have lost hope after learning of a terminal medical condition. Some look at our country and our world and feel a sense of hopelessness. Others struggle with an addiction or habit for years and can’t seem to conquer it. They wonder, “Is there any hope?” 
  Our God is the God of hope. The Bible is a Book of hope. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be working through how we can have hope, God’s hope.
  To help you head in the right direction as we begin this series, here are some practical strategies for growing in God’s hope:
  Begin each morning by spending 20-30 minutes in God’s presence, reading and meditating on His Word, praying, and even singing. Believers like us who struggled with hopelessness made it the priority of every single day to delight in time with their Heavenly Father. If you lack hope, ask God to fill you with His hope and eternal perspective.
  Memorize some of God’s wonderful promises that kindle hope in your soul so that you can meditate on them throughout the day. Romans 15:13, 8:28, 8:32, and many other verses like them will help you to set your mind on the things above rather than on the problems that are bogging you down. The Psalms are loaded with verses of trust in God in the midst of life-threatening situations.
  Keep a gratitude journal and write down several blessings every day that God has given you. Begin by thanking Him each morning for sending His beloved Son to save you from your sins. Thank Him that you have His Word to guide and sustain you. Thank Him for all your blessings and even for your trials (1 Thess. 5:18), which help you to grow. Immediately confess all grumbling as sin and instead deliberately think each day of things that you can thank God for.
  When you feel overwhelmed with despair, talk to yourself: Tell yourself, again and again, to hope in God. The depressed psalmist did this repeatedly (Ps. 42:5): “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.”
  Read the biographies of godly saints who have run the race before you. Read how William Carey, Adoniram Judson, George Muller, Amy Carmichael, Corrie ten Boom, Joni Eareckson-Tada and many more men and women of faith trusted God in the midst of overwhelming trials.
  As Adoniram Judson suffered horrible torture and deprivation in a squalid Burmese prison. A friend sent him a letter and asked, “Judson, how’s the outlook?” Judson replied, “The outlook is as bright as the promises of God.” Adoniram Judson abounded in hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. So can we! That same hope from God is available to us!

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 9, 2022

Making a Reset


“The greatest power you possess in life is your understanding that each day life gives you a fresh start any moment you choose to start fresh.” 
Guy Finley 

  Timanthes was an aspiring Greek artist during the Roman era. While studying under a well-respected tutor, he was nearing completion of a major painting. Upon arriving in the morning, he found the canvas blotted out with paint. Enraged, he confronted his teacher who admitted to destroying his work. His tutor said, “You were spending so much time admiring what you had done, that you were no longer improving. This was a great painting for some, but not for you. You can do much better.”
  So, Timanthes went to work again, energized with anger. But his mentor was right. The new and improved product became one of the most famous paintings of antiquity, Sacrifice of Iphigenia. Thanks to a little-known art teacher who insisted that his student do a reset and start over.
  This time of year, we reflect a lot on the past and the future. Networks carry programs reviewing highlights and low points from the past year. People talk about resolutions and goals for the coming year. It would be wise if we used this time as an opportunity for a reset.
  Now I’m not suggesting that you quit your marriage, your job, or ditch your kids, but you can have a new marriage, new kids, new job, etc., by resetting yourself. Reset being the husband/wife you are, reset your parenting, reset your reputation at work, reset your walk with the Lord.
  Making a reset takes something few are willing to invest. Many have a sense of dissatisfaction with the state of their life, yet they’re so busy doing that they fail to take the time to evaluate what they’re doing.
  2,500 years ago the great philosopher, Socrates warned: Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” Most of us are so busy that we fail to take the time to evaluate our lives. Or, worse we justify what we’re doing because it must be right because “everyone else is doing it.” But what if all of the birds are flying in the wrong direction. Your Mom was right, “just because everyone else jumps off the roof, doesn’t mean that you should too.”
  Making a reset requires taking time for evaluation. For the Christian it means taking some time alone with the Lord, praying, and asking for the wisdom that He’s promised to supply (James 1:5).
  Making a reset requires vulnerability with those who love you and are spiritually mature. For most of us our spouse is our greatest source of insights on where we need a reset. Those who love us the most usually know us the best. Ask these questions: If I could grow in one area this year, what do you believe I should grow in? If I made one change to improve our relationship this coming year, what would it be?
  Then, each of us needs a godly friend who will honestly speak into our lives. Just a word of caution. Sometimes our contemporaries and close friends are just that because there is no friction between us. Either they won’t risk confronting us or they think, value and look at life the same way we do. In others words, they don’t rock our boats. For a reset though we need spiritually mature friends who are willing to rock our boats.
  Solomon had such a friend in mind in Proverbs 27. In verse 5 Solomon writes, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love.” Verse 6, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” and verse 9, “the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.” Having this kind of friend means having our world rattled and moving outside of our comfort zones.
  Making a reset requires having an eternal perspective. At this time of year, we’re blitzed with commercials about diet programs and fitness clubs.  Getting fit and physical exercise is important, but it will only help you for this brief life.
  The Bible compares our physical bodies to tents. If your neighbor had a tent in their backyard and spent tons of money redecorating, patching, and changing the colors to keep up with the latest trends, you’d think, “what a poor investment.” Most of us focus on the maintenance of our “tents,” yet neglect our souls.
  1 Timothy 4:8 says, “for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” Making it a priority to daily spend time in your Bible and in prayer is an investment, not just for this temporal world, but for eternity.
  The average person spends a couple of hours on social media every day, yet we somehow rationalize that we don’t have time for God’s Word and prayer. What’s more important? The latest news or trends or God’s eternally good news that can change your life?
  The Lord Jesus gave His life for us and wants what’s best for us. He wants our lives to count for this world and for eternity. So, like an exercise program start small. If you begin with a Bible/Prayer marathon, you’ll soon quit. Consistency is more important than quantity. Determine to take 10 or 15 minutes a day with the Lord.
  Most find that starting in the morning is best. Otherwise, you find by the end of the day you’re just too tired. The reset many need is to simply start.
  Making a reset requires continually exercising your mind. Wise parents know that they have to teach their children to love more nutritious food than Happy Meals. God gave us our minds to be used. They need to be stretched and prodded.
  The average American reads four books a year. Most of us could easily read a book a month. It would only take 10 minutes a day. You probably spend more than that waiting for trains at railroad crossings. Stretching in our reading helps us reach this world. It helps us think more clearly and have a larger worldview.
  Before we blink we’ll be ringing in 2023. Let’s do a reset and wisely invest this year, making it the best year ever!

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 2, 2022

Making the Most of Mistakes!



 “Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life.”  Sophia Loren 

  Have you ever dialed a wrong number? I’m not talking about a butt call, but actually getting the numbers confused and dialing a wrong number. How about making a wrong turn? Sent an email to the wrong person or did a reply all when you should have replied to one person? 
  2022 is still in the delivery room. You probably already know this…you’re going to make mistakes this year, lots of them.
  There’s a tendency for most people to confuse mistakes with sins. They’re not the same. The term “mistake” implies an error in judgment—something done unintentionally. A legitimate mistake might be…turning onto a one-way street, going the wrong way, or pouring salt into your coffee, thinking it was sugar, calling someone the wrong name or completely forgetting their name. It’s picking up Pepsi when you’re supposed to buy Coke. These could all be legitimate mistakes.
  A sin is more than a mistake. It’s a deliberate choice to do something you know is wrong. The word “transgression” is stronger. It implies deliberately stepping over a boundary. 
  In 2022, you’re going to make mistakes. Mistakes though are just part of an imperfect world. They can even be fun or open doors to new adventures.
  At the beginning of December 2021 one Pontiac, Michigan, high school basketball team sent out a group text to a wrong number. The person that they inadvertently messaged was Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback, Sean Murphy-Bunting. Their mistake would lead to a FaceTime call with some of the biggest stars in the Bucs' locker room that day.
  The call started because they didn't believe who Murphy-Bunting was. He then got tight end, Rob Gronkowski, to join in, before handing the phone off to cornerback, Richard Sherman, and running back, Leonard Fournette. Fournette stayed on FaceTime for a good 10 minutes while Tom Brady finished up a meeting. The boys are absolutely losing it during this. After some time passes he pops up on the screen and says “What’s up fellas?!?!” And those boys lose their minds!
  “That was sweet,” Brady said of the impromptu FaceTime. “I didn't know who it was. [Leonard] said, ‘Here's my boy’ or whatever he said. It was nice. It would have been nice for me when I had been in high school too.”
  And when Tom Brady found out the kids were from Michigan? “Even better,” he said. “That was fun. That was really fun. It was really good to see all those young kids hyped up.”
  That’s a mistake that they’ll tell their children and grandchildren about. To me, it’s what makes Tom Brady a G.O.A.T. It’s not just his unbelievable skills on the football field, it’s how he and those other professional football players treated some teenagers who had simply dialed the wrong number.
  You’re going to make mistakes. I’m going to make mistakes. Everyone you know is going to make mistakes.
  If you can, enjoy your mistakes. If you make a wrong turn or miss your exit, the world will not end. If you dial a wrong number, it’s just human error. If you spill something or break something or lose something…it’s just a mistake. 
  One of the greatest gifts that a parent can give a child is the freedom to make mistakes. Kids accidentally spill things, break things, and lose things (Big kids do too!). It’s part of growing up. It’s not the time to read them the riot act. It was just part of being human…just like their parents.
  Most of us need to learn to take life far less seriously. I’ll never forget when Jane and I were first married and I wanted to repay a friend for repairing my car with a southern meal. So I cooked: fried chicken, biscuits, and buttermilk gravy to repay him. But I made a big mistake with the biscuits. Rather than a teaspoon of baking powder, I didn’t understand the abbreviation and put in a tablespoon of baking powder. They were horrible! But my friend was so gracious and only laughed at my blunder. 
  Turn mistakes into adventures and opportunities. Our children always knew that life for our family was about to get interesting if we were driving somewhere and either Jane or I looked at each other and said, “Pudding!”
  It’s a code word from the George Bernard Shaw play, Pygmalion (it later inspired the film version, My Fair Lady). For the two actors who used the code word, it meant that an adventure had started. 
  Life is often an adventure and a fun one. There were many unique places we went or people that we met just because we’d made a wrong turn. Rather than becoming angry or anxious, look for the fun opportunity.
  Alaska is one of the fifty states because Russia thought they needed money more than territory and sold it to the U.S. for a mere 2 cents an acre. Though ridiculed “Seward’s Folly” mocking then U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward’s purchase of the territory, in just 50 years the USA was able to earn from Alaska more than 100 times what they had invested in its purchase. 
  Let your mistakes cultivate that needed gift of humility in your life. J.K. Rowling, who was a client of the Christopher Little Literary Agency, was rejected 12 times in row for her first novel. Finally, when the eight-year-old daughter of an editor at Bloomsbury expressed her desire to read the rest of the book, Bloomsbury decided to publish Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. However, the editor believed that this novel would be a major flop, and even went to the extent of advising Rowling to look for a backup day-time job. And the rest is history. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which was released in 1997, and the following four novels in the series, became the fastest-selling books ever, with a total of 450 million copies sold worldwide. It’s the bestselling book series in literary history. 
  Life is not a planned perfect selfie. It’s more like a scene from America’s Funniest Bloopers. You can choose to become embarrassed or irritated, or you can laugh at the reminder that you’re human. Being human means we humbly admit that we blow it and don’t have all of the answers.
  In 2022 learn to laugh at yourself. It will keep your soul healthy (Proverbs 17:22) and give you some needed perspective that this isn’t a perfect world and neither are we. And taking life a lot less seriously sure makes the day-to-day journey a lot more enjoyable! 

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 26, 2021

The Greatest Story


 “There’s nothing more important than a good story.”  Lauren Graham

 Do you love a good story? I sure do. Years ago I loved to hear Paul Harvey share The Rest of the Story. Today one of my favorite podcasts is Mike Rowe’s The Way I Heard It. Both are such gifted storytellers.  
  I’m thankful theaters are finally open again and Hollywood has started releasing blockbusters. Watching a movie at home isn’t the same as a large theater with a big screen and a tub of popcorn. 
  Apparently, it’s something that’s hardwired into us – we crave a good story. Maybe it’s because stories give us a sense of place in this eternal, supernatural existence. They stir our imaginations and help us make sense of love, betrayal, hatred, and compassion. Stories prepare us for experiences like sorrow and suffering. The ways we interpret our lives, our relationships, our past, and our future are all tied up in stories.
  Even our fairytales are connected to reality. We long for someone to love us in spite of our beastliness and break us out of our castle of suffering. We crave a hero to free us from our sleeping enchantments of ignorance, pain, and injustice. In our heart of hearts, we really don’t want death to be the end. “It can’t be,” we tell ourselves, “that evil is allowed to ultimately triumph. That’s just not fair!”
  Though most people in America hang Christmas decorations and exchange gifts on December 25th, few say they could give all the details about the biblical Christmas story. 53% of Americans say they could retell the biblical Christmas story from memory, but only 22% say they could do so accurately, according to Lifeway Research.
  In a world of heroes, villains, comedies, tragedies, twists of fate, and surprise endings, there’s only one story—one grand narrative that encompasses all other stories on earth: the good news story or the gospel story. Do you know the gospel story?
  Someone told it like this…Once upon a time, the universe was created as part of a larger, supernatural, spiritual world. The good King (Jesus) and the evil sorcerer (Satan) really do exist. Unfortunately, years and years ago, all of humanity was blinded by an evil spell. The first prince and princess (Adam and Eve) sacrificed their innocence and were expelled from paradise. Ever since that day, all the King’s children (including you and me) have longed to get back into paradise. We wake up each morning longing for the spell to be broken. 
  Thankfully, on the first Christmas, the heroic King punched a hole between His world and ours, coming to save us from the evil spell! Jesus grew up living a sinless life. He calmed storms, healed the sick, and raised the dead. After He laid down His own life to die on a cross, God’s Spirit raised Him back to life three days later. Jesus is the only true hero with a qualified resume to save us, transform us, and one day restore us.
  Finally, one day soon, evil and death will ultimately lose, the King will ultimately win, and His followers will live happily ever after with Him! As C. S. Lewis declared in The Weight of Glory, “The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.”
  In more modern terms that’s the gospel story but you don’t have to invite someone to church to hear the gospel story. You can tell it. All of us share stories. Shouldn’t we be able to share the greatest story? Maybe begin by retelling the story to a friend who has the Bible in front of them. They can correct whatever errors you make. The aim is to retell the story according to the following guidelines (the acronym is SAM):
  Simple: Only use words that the listener understands. If you’re sharing it with a child, make sure you use words on their level of comprehension. If it’s a child or an unchurched adult, use words on their level and that would be in their common vernacular. Being incarnational means leaving the “language” of your world and entering theirs.
  The Lord Jesus was the master of this. When He talked to Nicodemus, the religiously schooled theologian, He used complex words and concepts. When He talked to blue-collar fishermen, He used the metaphor of fishing. As He talked to the woman at the well in John 4 who had come to draw water, Jesus talked about being thirsty and her thirsty soul.
  Accurate: You can simplify the story by leaving out some things—place names, names of persons, details about a particular location, yet don’t add things to embellish the story.
  Memorable: Retell the story in a memorable way. What’s memorable? Feel free to use facial expressions, body language, and actions to get the emotion and the drama in the story across to your listeners.
  Can you imagine sharing the new spiderman story in a dull monotone lecture style? Stories of heroes are exciting! Love stories are emotional.
  Jesus is the greatest hero of all time. It’s an exciting story! And it’s a beautiful love story. You and I, because of sin, were the ugly stepsisters. Jesus the Prince didn’t leave His throne for Cinderella. He willingly left His throne for us, the ugly stepsisters. Not only did He leave His throne, but He also let evil men nail Him to a cross. He could have called the armies of heaven to rescue Him, but He didn’t. Instead, He willingly laid down His life for us, to pay the price for all of our sins.
  If you’ve committed your life to Christ, it’s your story. And if you haven’t yet committed your life to Christ, it can be your story starting today.
  Will you surrender your life to Jesus today? Trust Him. Commit your life to Him. Put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, finding your ultimate fulfillment in His eternal story. If you commit your life to Christ, then His story will become your story!


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 19, 2021

He's the YOU you need!

 “God made Christmas happen; friends make Christmas beautiful, music makes Christmas festive; giving makes Christmas joyous, love makes Christmas.”  William Arthur Ward

 

  According to this year’s data the most played Christmas song is Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas, followed by Wham!’s Last Christmas, and Ariana Grande’s Santa Tell Me. Some top songs make indirect references to the religious aspect of Christmas, but most stick to love, the weather, or an occasional chestnut. Globally, the most popular Christmas song to mention Jesus is Boney M.’s Mary’s Boy Child/Oh My Lord, which comes in at No. 71. It’s followed by Nina Nesbitt’s O Holy Night at 79 and Josh Groban and Faith Hill performing The First Nöel at 90. 
  The presence of Jesus in popular Christmas music varies widely by country revealing differences in musical taste, holiday traditions, and the spread of Christianity by missionaries, markets, and immigration.
  Though it’s not the intent of the song, Mariah Carey’s, All I Want for Christmas is you has the right goal – it’s just the wrong “you.” Many believe that if they had someone to love or to love them, if they had someone in their life, some “you” then Christmas would be perfect. Experience demonstrates that a human “you” won’t satisfy. The only “You” that will truly satisfy our heart’s greatest longings is the YOU who came on that first Christmas 2,000 years ago, the Lord Jesus Christ. 
  Two millennia later tragically most of the world still doesn’t know who that YOU truly is. While Jesus has been acclaimed as the greatest religious leader to ever live, the most influential person to have walked on this planet, and unique to the degree that no one can be compared to Him, the true Jesus is still an unknown. Considering Jesus Christ merely on the basis of an exemplary life and His superior moral teaching will never remove the stumbling blocks to Christianity raised by an unbelieving world. The real test of what one thinks of Jesus revolves around who He claimed to be and what He accomplished during His brief mission to this world. Without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ life is an empty stocking. 
  John Blanchard estimated that, of all of the people who have ever lived since the dawn of civilization, there have been about 60 billion people that have walked this planet. Of those 60 billion, only a handful have made any real, lasting impression or have actually changed the world. And in that handful, there is One who stands head and shoulders above all of the others—His name is Jesus. More attention has been given to Him; more devotion has been given to Him; more criticism has been given to Him; more adoration has been given to Him; more opposition has been given to this one person than all of the others combined.
  Every recorded word that He said has been more sifted, analyzed, scrutinized, debated—every word—than all of the historians and the philosophers and scientists put together. After 2,000 years, there is never one minute on this earth that millions are not studying what He said. Here’s a person who lived in a minuscule, tiny little land two millennia ago; and yet, His birth divides the centuries—BC and AD; Before Christ and Anno Domini, the year of our Lord. Even the more modern BCE, which attempts “religious neutrality” and to deny the impact Christ had on this world, still begins with Christ’s entry into this world of time and space. 
  He never wrote a book and yet, library after library could be filled with the volumes, the multiplied millions of volumes, which have been written about Jesus. He never painted a picture, so far as we know; and yet, the world’s greatest art, the world’s greatest dramas, the world’s greatest music, the world’s greatest literature has Jesus Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, as its source. He never raised an army, yet multiplied millions have died for Him. He never traveled more than fifty miles from His birthplace and yet, His testimony has gone around, and around, and around the world. He only had a handful of followers that followed Him in His ministry; and yet, today, over 30% of the world’s population names His name—the largest such grouping on Earth today—Jesus of Nazareth. A public ministry of only three short years and yet, here we are, 2,000 years later, saying, “Jesus, Your name is wonderful,” because His name is. He had no formal education. He didn’t attend a university or seminary yet thousands of universities, seminaries, colleges, and schools are built in His name. No one can call himself, herself, educated who does not understand Jesus Christ. As historian Kenneth Scott Latourette said: “Jesus has had more effect on the history of mankind than any other of His race who ever existed.” 
  Who is Jesus? He is many things but the reason that He came was to be our Savior. There is only one Savior, Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12). In His Son, God sent the greatest gift for sinners like us. No wonder the Apostle Paul exclaims, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:24).
  The greatest event in all human history is the coming of a Savior from heaven to earth. Without His coming, there is no meaning to history. Jesus came into the world to save the world and us from divine destruction.
  Why do we need a Savior? Because we are all guilty sinners. We need a Savior to take the guilt of our sins and to die our eternal death. That’s why Jesus died on the cross. All have sinned, including the virgin Mary; we all need a Savior. The shepherds of Bethlehem represent all sinners. To them, God announced that He had sent a Savior—His greatest gift to mankind. In Him, we receive grace and salvation. 
  A missionary, Gene Dulin, tells of standing in Austria, looking at a hand-carved nativity scene. The figures were a bit larger than life-size. It was one of the most beautiful that he’d ever seen. As he stood contemplating the meaning of the nativity, a grandmother stopped with her three-year-old grandchild. She stooped over and began talking with the child. She pointed to Mary, then to Joseph, and to the baby. Dulin says that while he couldn’t understand her language, he knew she was telling the story of Jesus to her grandchild. Then Dulin added, “For 2000 years parents and grandparents have passed on the story of Jesus. It has changed millions of lives and the whole world.” And it still does! That’s the gift of the baby in the manger but He didn’t just come to be born. He was born to die so He could be our Savior. Is He your 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 12, 2021

Christmas Stress


 “Three phrases that sum up Christmas are: 
Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men and Batteries are not included.


  A few days before Christmas two men in Florida decided to go sailing while their wives went Christmas shopping. While these guys were out sailing a terrible storm arose. They had great difficulty keeping their boat under control. As they maneuvered their way back to land their boat got grounded on a sandbar. Finally, they had to jump overboard and push with all their might trying to get their boat into deeper water. As they did the wind was blowing terribly, the waves were rushing on them, they were soaking wet and knee-deep in mud. But then one of the guys looked at his buddy and said, “You know it sure beats Christmas shopping though.”  
  Too often what should be the most wonderful season of the year, the time of year that should bring us joy and warm our hearts, instead often brings stress, anger, headaches and depression. The stress associated with Christmas can make what should be a joyous time of year a miserable mess. Because of this, many (maybe that’s you) actually dread Christmas. The stress that can plague us at this time of the year are rooted in three basic sources; Time (getting everything done), Money (paying for it) and Emotions (conflict with family and past painful memories that resurface).
  Through the years I’ve suffered from all three of those. You’d think that if you had some bad Christmas memories from growing up, you’d write new chapters in adulthood. I wish that were true. There are some pages though from raising my own children that are worthy of a good book burning or at least chapter burning. I’m so glad God is gracious and my own family is forgiving. Let me share some thoughts for a less stressful Christmas.
  Remember, it really is all about Jesus. Ask most people what Christmas is about and you’ll hear a myriad of answers. Sadly, what’s lost in the Christmas rush is that it’s a celebration of Jesus. His miraculous birth 2,000 years ago and His birth in our hearts is the reason we celebrate Christmas. It’s not about Santa, holidays, family, gifts, food or anything else. When we look to things of this world to give the season true meaning, none of it works. Jesus is the most wonderful part of Christmas. Each time family, food, and parties get to be too much, turn your eyes back on Jesus. The world may forget, but we remember that Jesus is the reason for the season.
  We must choose to purposefully reclaim the joy of Jesus in the festive season. Jesus is the source of joy for believers. Joy is independent of outward circumstances. It rises from within and is a choice. Be overwhelmed with joy or with stress. You decide.
  No matter how many cookies you burn, candy you eat, or family criticisms you endure; determine to rejoice in the Lord. Smile when another car takes your parking spot. Laugh when the Christmas lights blow a fuse. Things go wrong. Roll with it. Keep rejoicing in Jesus because you’re celebrating His birth, after all.
  Slow down. Have you ever noticed when people are stressed not only do they do everything faster, but they talk faster? So slow down. When we’re pressured we foolishly skip on what will give us the strength to truly have peace in our hearts – time with the Lord. Please don’t do that. You don’t have to make your Quiet Time a marathon. Some days it might be more like a short sprint. It will though better prepare you for whatever is thrown at you if you start the day with the Prince of Peace. Spend time in His Word. Pray for wisdom and strength. I’ve found starting the day praying Psalm 19:14 helps me: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”
  Set limits. Determine your family’s limits when it comes to holiday get-togethers. As much as you may want to please everyone, determine what you and your family can handle. Put the most important events on the calendar early so you don’t overschedule.
  Set limits on spending and gift-giving. Having a budget will help you stay on track and not have a regretful January when the bills arrive. Keeping the gift-giving simple is an easy way to maintain the focus on the birth of Christ and not the commercialization of the holiday. 
  One gift that we too easily overlook can be one of our most precious gifts – T-I-M-E. Perhaps instead of this year’s hot toy, give your child an hour or two each month with just you and your child. Too many of us herd our kids when they need one on one time with us. If you know your Dad loves sports, schedule to go to a game with him. If your Mom loves a certain activity, give her the gift of time by doing with her what she loves. Go sit with a grandparent and listen to their stories (even if it’s for the 100th time).
  Give sacrificially. Gift giving began when our generous God gave His Son as the very first Christmas gift to this world. “Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15). Jesus willingly gave up glories beyond our wildest imaginations to come to earth for us. He unobtrusively came into the world in a stable; amongst cattle, donkeys, and sheep. He came to give His life. He was born to die.
  When we contemplate such love and sacrifice, you’d think Christmas would be a time when people would lay aside their own demands and bend over backwards to accommodate others. Selfishness sadly often contaminates what should be a season of giving.
  As God was kind to us, even when we were His enemies (Rom. 5:10), it’s a time for us to let His kindness flow through us. It’s a time to be kind to that tired and whiny child or that sibling who can drive you nuts. After all what’s the opposite of selfishness? Grace - undeserved favor. Selfish behavior produces anger and hostility. Instead, as we have been given the gift of grace, give it to others and watch irritation and selfishness shrink.
  Over the years our family has gone out and sang carols to shut-ins or folk alone at Christmas. We take baked goods to neighbors. We look for ways to be a blessing to someone in need, usually anonymously. We always find that giving does so much for us. It changes our hearts and gives us just a glimpse of our Heavenly Father’s generosity to us.
  The peace of God can’t be purchased. It’s a gift. Peace and being stress free comes from Christ living in our hearts. Open your heart and choose to let Him give you His peace this Christmas.

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 5, 2021

Children are God's Gift


 “Fathers and mothers do not forget that children learn more by the eye than they do by the ear… Imitation is a far stronger principle with children than memory. What they see has a much stronger effect on their minds than what they are told.”  J.C. Ryle 

  A man shared with his pastor that for years he went to church at Christmas and watched as the advent candle was lit by these beautiful families, so well-dressed, well-mannered, and well-spoken. He thought to himself: “I wish I was living in a family like that. I wish my family was so put together.” What he didn't know is that beneath the surface of so many of those apparently perfect families were real-life problems and challenges. 
  Families aren’t just for perfect Facebook or Instagram posts. It’s not just for cheery-faced families or individuals with Hallmark-card lives. Our Heavenly Father is a God who loves and cares deeply for people with real struggles. There are no perfect families. Read the Bible and you’ll quickly discover some very messed up families. It's why we need the cross! Wonderfully, we have a perfect loving Heavenly Father.
  I laughed when I read one Mommy blogger who posted: “Do you know how many parenting experts there are out there? At least 3 billion. If you include random strangers in grocery stores offering free advice on how you should raise your kids, closer to 5 billion. Parenting gurus with research and thought-provoking philosophies. Books filled with creative ideas for cajoling babies to eat, poop, and sleep on command. For every child behavior issue, there are twenty experts with solutions.” The truth is there are a lot of opinions on parenting but only one true Authority. He created us and knows what’s best for us and our children.
  This morning we are having a child dedication for several Grace Church families. More accurately though it’s a Parent Dedication. These parents are committing to raise their children in a way that pleases the Lord and according to God’s Word. But because there is some confusion on what it means to dedicate a child to the Lord, let me explain what we believe that Scripture teaches about child dedication.
  First, a child dedication service is not biblically required. There are examples in Scripture where a parent dedicated their child to the Lord, but they’re not commanded nor are they the norm. For example, Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel dedicated him to God (1 Samuel 1)) and she left him at the Tabernacle so that his whole life would be dedicated to the Lord. Many others though did not. FYI: We do not want anyone to leave their child at church this morning, though I’m sure some parents wouldn’t mind if we took them for a few hours.
  Second, a child dedication service does not attain salvation for that child. Anything that we say and do this morning will not make this child spiritual, saved or destined for heaven. Salvation is an individual, personal decision and by grace alone (Eph. 2:8-9). A parent can’t trust the Lord for their child. God doesn’t have any grandchildren. What saves us is God’s grace. What saves us is trust and faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. This dedication is a prayer and commitment, asking God to please one day bring our child into a saving knowledge of Christ. It’s a prayer by the parent/s committing to raise that child in obedience to Scripture.
  Third, a child dedication service is not related to baptism or circumcision. Jewish people to this day have a male child circumcised on the 8th day. It’s a ceremony that indicates trust that this physical action identifies them with the physical nation of Israel that was given physical promises through their patriarch Abraham. Christians do not believe circumcision is necessary as any marker of true religious faith.
  A baby dedication also has nothing to do with baptism. Baptism is the outward symbol of saving faith in Jesus Christ. It’s the public act of being immersed in water to symbolize that we have immersed our lives into Christ. It’s much like a wedding ring. A wedding ring doesn’t make you married but symbolizes that you are married. Baptism is a symbol one has personally trusted in Jesus Christ. A child doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to make that commitment. Search the Bible for yourself and you will not find one case of a baby being baptized.
  Child Dedication is an acknowledgment that your child is a gift from God. “Children are a gift from God; they are His reward” (Psalms 127:3, Living Bible). Like everything else that we have, children a gift from a generous God (James 1:17). It’s because children are a special gift that we find instructions in Scripture about how parents are to raise their children. It’s because children are a special gift that those who cannot physically have children adopt or search for medical solutions. Because children are a special gift our hearts bleed when we see children mistreated or harmed.
  God expects parents to train their children in righteousness. Though Ephesians 6:4 says fathers, primarily because Dads are to be the spiritual leaders in the home, it’s for both Dads and Moms. “…Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). Too many parents put all of their focus on the temporal and external. Your child’s education, appearance and abilities whether they are academic or athletic are minor compared to their inner spiritual life. Yet, it is very difficult to model what you are not. One of the greatest gifts that you can give your child is to love and obey the Lord yourself.
  God is using your child to make you more Christlike. All of us have spiritual character deficiencies. A child has a way of highlighting those chinks in our armor. God uses children to drive us to dependence on Him. If you think that you have all of the answers to parenting, you’re foolish (idiot seemed a little strong). Too many of us fail at parenting because we parent the way that we were parented and assume it’s good enough. God wants us to parent as He parents us. That means care, compassion and correction. It means dependence on His power and His truth.
  Children are a wonderful gift from God and He uses them to make us, to show us how much He loves us, to draw us closer, and to be more dependent on Him. They are His wonderful gift to us! And may we as the Grace Church family pray, encourage, and support these young families as they seek to raise their children to glorify the Lord!


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.