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How Messed Up?

Do you do wrong? Obviously, different people are going to use different lists and scales of “wrong” across the board, but I do think that everyone would be willing to admit that at least sometimes, they do wrong. I can hit you with Bible verses that attest to this, but we’ll just say even outside of the Bible, people can agree to this. So, the next question is this: If you do believe you do wrong, and you believe in God, how much wrong is too much? Or, how messed up do you have to be before God gives up on you? We could look at this from a perspective of how much is too much for me to get to heaven or how much is too much for God to say He’s not going to use me to do things for Him. I’ll add that this is actually a very unhealthy perspective because if you believe, “I’m going to heaven,” that implies you have a relationship with Jesus and that you follow him. But, that’s another sermon altogether. Back to topic. Let’s look at this from the perspective that you believe you know God. You’re “saved.” You’re going to heaven when you die. Maybe you genuinely believe that God’s grace is big enough to save your soul. BUT, you also know that you’ve done some things that would make your grandparents blush. Maybe you’ve done things or you’re actively doing things that the police would frown on—well, arrest you for. Maybe you have habits or addictions that are putting so much pressure on your life, the guilt you have inside is almost as overwhelming as the sin you’re trapped in. And THAT, you say, is what makes you think that God can’t use you. Well, as you’re saying that, I’m going to quote our current president, “WRONG.” Look, I’m not claiming that Jesus is saying, “Hey, go ahead and continue down your destructive path…I love that.” No, Jesus is clear in many places that he desires our path OUT of sin. And this isn’t because Jesus is all, “Eww, sin.” This is because Jesus, being God in the flesh, having been tempted himself, knows just how much sin destroys our lives. He knows what it feels like to be pulled in the direction of something that might give temporary satisfaction and to push it away. And for what? For more suffering? NO! For the type of fulfillment that only God can give. And even if that does involve physical suffering, we find ourselves more fulfilled than ever. As we see in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, God will give us a peace that surpasses all understanding to guard our hearts. And if that doesn’t make sense, well, it’s kind of not supposed to. It surpasses our understanding.

Jesus gives deliverance from the sins of this life by offering something far better: life in Him. However, let me reiterate what was said last week: this doesn’t mean that everything is going to be cupcakes and rainbows. Sometimes, the cupcakes rot and the rainbows disappear among more storm clouds. Sometimes the sin is difficult to abstain from. Sometimes we find ourselves becoming something we didn’t want to become. But, Jesus NEVER stops extending his hand saying, “Find your strength in me and let go of these things that are holding you down because I’ve got a job for you.” And you might be thinking, “But, how can God use me with the past I have? You don’t know what I’ve done.” Nope, I don’t. But, God knows, and you might be just the person he’s ready to use to reach people who are struggling with the very things you’ve struggled with and still struggle with. You might be the one who reaches the person that the preacher can’t because of your story. Don’t give up because you think your past sin disqualifies you. It can’t because Jesus is greater than our sin.

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How’s Your Faith?

How’s your faith doing? If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that I should never assume where someone is at spiritually or within their faith. As soon as I do, I find myself reevaluating my sense of intuition about other people’s faith placement. But, I think it’s a fair question to ask, especially when our faith can so quickly become chewed up and spit out. I can think of only two times in my life, personally, where my faith was shaken to the core. So much that it didn’t just cause introspection, but a true one on one with me and God. It was me audaciously stomping my feet at a patient God who heard my pain and didn’t just tolerate my irreverence, but I believe embraced me in my struggle. One of these occasions happened when our son was in the hospital after he was born and we thought we would lose him. I had never been so emotionally confused in my life. I was sad, angry, and bitter but I wanted to keep it all together so I could pray to a God that I thought would only hear me if I was this calm and collected, reverent altar boy. Emotions aside for the sake of a Matthew 6 prayer, right? “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…” You know the drill. It made me question whether prayer and crying out to God are almost two different things (although I don’t believe they are). I have said to many people, though, in telling this story, that after a week of our son battling and us thinking we would lose him on Saturday morning, May 3rd, 2014, my prayer became a skeleton of what it once was. It was as if a drowning victim could no longer yell for help anymore, just offer a flailing hand where their exposed head once was. In cases like this, have we lost faith? Is our faith weak when we question God in these times of struggle and desperation? I’m thankful that our son pulled through. And although there were times when I questioned if my prayers were being heard, I can also recount numerous times where people told us they were praying. Most impactful for me were hearing a couple of stories about people praying for our son on the morning we thought we would lose him. Four years later and I still can’t talk about that without getting emotional. Because I believe that those were the moments where God was building me back up after I had been broken down. It was God applying glue to broken pieces, one at a time. This was also one of the defining life moments that taught me to step back, listen, and try to understand another’s point of view. After all, what if our son hadn’t pulled through? What would my life and faith look like? It brought me back to the Israelites after crossing the Red Sea. They were so happy, singing a song of praise to God only to be saying things like, “You should have just left us as slaves in Egypt,” a few days later. It was like, “You JUST saw God do this wonderful miracle…how can you NOT trust Him??? Where’s your faith?” But, fear and circumstance have a way of breaking down our faith. They have a way of making us forget what we’ve been delivered out of. It doesn’t mean that the Israelites still weren’t stubborn. It just helps us identify a little more when we’ve been through hard times ourselves. So, how’s your faith? Is it strong? Awesome! Is it weak, trampled on, and ready to break apart any moment? Well, that’s not awesome, but you’re not (1) alone in your struggles or (2) too deep to come out of it. This isn’t some over-the-top promise that your life will instantly be all better. Far from it. Building a solid, practical faith is a process. It happens one God-given blessing at a time; one Spirit filled moment at a time, allowing the Spirit to put the pieces back together.


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Why Church?

Why church?  This is a question that deserves more and more attention as the church (over-all, across multiple denominations) has failed to do what it was called to do.  And I don’t mean failed as in it received an F on a test and said, “Aww, shucks, I need to do better next time.”  I mean utter, abysmal failure in the worst possible way.  Spiritual abuse, sexual abuse and scandals, emotional abuse. I don’t need to continue.  You’ve no doubt seen news reports about these things happening … somewhere else.  BUT, if you’ve grown up in church, you may have seen it on the personal level as well.   So, again, why invest in something that can seem like such a volatile investment?  After all, there are a lot of reasons not to go.  It’s too cliquey, the preacher is too judgmental, all they want is my money, too many old people, too many young people, the music is too loud, the music isn’t loud enough, they only sing hymns, they only sing contemporary music, their children’s ministry isn’t good enough, the Sunday School teacher has a tattoo, no one has tattoos so they can’t relate to me, I’m divorced and feel that people will judge me, I am on drugs and feel like people will judge me, my son/daughter/best friend/etc. is gay and they will just bash them.  And the list goes on and on.  By the way, that’s not minimizing any of the “reasons” listed, just acknowledging that they exist.   With all these reasons not to go, why should you go?  Well, first, I think we should play a little  semantics with the word usage.  The church is not necessarily something we go to, we ARE the church.  Now, that’s not some revolutionary idea by any means, but it gets the point across.  “Going to church,” as we commonly refer to it, is simply a by-product of being a part of the church.  When you are out in the world, every day, living out the love of Christ—showing patience, giving of yourself (money and time), opening your heart and vulnerability to even your enemies, and suffering rejection from people who want nothing to do with these things, then you need more than just a “church service.”  You need a lifeline.  You need a place to come together with like-minded people to remind you that you’re not the only one on the battlefield.   I think our problem comes when no one is on the battlefield.  We come to church for an entertainment fix, not a life raft.  It’s no wonder that so many don’t understand what Church is about and wonder why so much of the church focuses on unimportant things.  BECAUSE NO ONE NEEDS A RESPITE, THEY WANT A PERFORMANCE.  “Entertain me.”  “Entertain my children.”  “I came to be fed.”  Now, do I seek to “feed” those in my congregation?  Absolutely!  Do I aim to make sure I’m not boring in my presentation?  Yep!  I desire anyone coming to a service to indeed feel fulfilled when they leave.  HOWEVER, I intend that my message not be a dessert that they waste, but a necessary filling of encouragement/exhorting so they can return to the work of the church refreshed—and not the work inside the walls, but outside.  I intend that the message would have not just tickled their ears, but truly taught them something about who God is.  After all, theology is the study of God.   Now, before we bring this back to the original question, I do hope I haven’t scared anyone away who doesn’t attend church.  My goal is not to sound overly harsh.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite.  I just simply want to emphasize that we take the care of our people seriously.  So, if you are not a typical church goer and you’re in the market or just considering, I want you to know that we have no interest in judging you.  But, I also don’t want to pull the ole bait n’ switch that tells you we just want you to come and we don’t want anything else.  Our ultimate goal is that you would come to know Jesus and that your life would CHANGE!  And by change, we specifically mean that your life would start to look more like Jesus.  And THAT is what we expect will keep you returning to our services if we are doing our job right.   So, to conclude and bring us back to our original question, let’s ask once more, why church?  Because the church, as the body of Christ, is communal in its very essence.  Jesus was/is part of the Trinity and had disciples, the church in Acts met in homes together, and Paul was adamant about the people of God being accountable to one another.  Can you be a Christian without coming to church?  Technically, yes, if you want to get down to the bare bones.  But, who likes surviving off technicalities or living off the bare bones?  Let’s be a community of believers who are serious about each other’s spiritual lives.  Do that at Grace Church.  Do that elsewhere.  But, get in a community of believers to help your growth.  If you don’t know Jesus but know you want something different or maybe just positive in your life, we would love to have you.  No pressure.  No sales pitch.  Just Jesus.


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Expository Preaching

Today, we’re exploring the topic of expository preaching. My goal is to use as little “churchy” or theological words as possible in an effort to get the point across as clearly as I can.

In a nutshell, expository preaching is a focus on letting scripture drive the nature of the topic. In other words, I can easily come up with a topic to preach on, but the danger would be letting my preconceived notions about that topic motivate which passage(s) I choose for support and which ones I leave out. So, as an expositor, I am going to scripture and letting IT lead my topic.

Now, one might say, “But, doesn’t this just put the preacher in a prison of his ideas? Can he not even think for himself?” Well, no it doesn’t put him in a prison, it actually frees him to think on his own WITHOUT having to succumb to preconceived ideas on the topic. In my years of teaching the youth at First Baptist in Racine, I often would ask the kids to remind me of our “magic C word.” They would then recall the word, “context.” Proper context is a necessity within the framework of every verse, every passage, and every book of the Bible we read!

It’s important to remember that the Bible as we know it WASN’T the Bible as we know it at one time. The individual sections we call “books of the Bible” were once historical records, poetic pieces of literature, prophetic messages to the nation of Israel, letters to individuals, letters to churches, and records of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. All these individual parts come together to make up what we know today as the Bible.

So, when we study the Bible and preach from the Bible in order to apply the principles to our lives, we have an obligation to do that in the most accurate and well-suited way possible. And the best way to do this is to first consider the historical background of when it was written, plus the people/person written to and the reason for writing. Then, we can look at it section by section and see how what was written can apply to us today.

Does this mean we can never preach on a particular important topic? Not at all. In fact, my first sermon will be on the topic of redemption using principles from the life of Joseph. I even have a series of sermons in the making that deal with the lives of some of the disciples. But, at Grace Church, we are going to put an emphasis on expositing, or lifting from the passage exactly what it is saying in order to appropriately apply what is being said. This will involve preaching from entire books of the Bible. And by doing this, not only will you be able to take home nuggets of truth each time the Word is opened, but over time, you will be learning deeper meanings behind passages and a holistic approach to key theological themes.

Hopefully, that gives some insight into what to expect from the preaching at Grace Church. Thanks for reading!


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