The Proposal: A Sweet Night

There is just something about that moment when a man drops to a knee and asks a woman to be his wife and promises to love her and take care of her forever if she will just say yes. Those ideas were the theme of this year’s Sweetest Night. A night highlighted with a wonderful catered meal (cheesecake!!), laughter, sweet proposal stories, a few classic “Roses Are Red Violets are Blue” poems and a room full of men delivering a rose and a proposal to their sweetest. Enjoy some pictures from our very sweet night.

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True Love?

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Are you ready for this? Are you ready for true love?

I wonder.

We all long for true love or at least we say we do. Truth is most of us shun it because we completely misunderstand it. But true loves awaits those who will accept it and embrace it; if we dare. But we must be prepared for love to look different than what Hollywood portrays or even the stuff of our childhood ideals.

What if true love is something quite different than what you thought it was? What if it is even diametrically opposed to much of what you have been taught? What if true love is demanding, consuming, unyielding and never growing? Could you handle that kind of love; if it was indeed true love?

The Bible says that God is love (1 John 4:8). He is the source of it, the Author of it, the embodiment of it. So love must be understood through the prism that what God has said and done is the ultimate understanding of true love. So here are four immutable truth’s about God’s love that might just surprise you.

1. God’s love is demanding.

It is demanding in two ways.

First, in order to have a love relationship with God He demands you respond to His love. 1 John 4:8-10 says “…for God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world , that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son, to be the propitiation for our sins.” Did you catch that? We do not naturally love God, we are not drawn to Him but rather away from Him. Yet God loved us, pursued us and gave His Son as a sacrifice for our sins that we might have a way to know Him, be drawn to Him and love Him. John 3:16 states; “For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever should believe in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” To experience true love a response is required; specifically one of belief. There is no true love without complete belief and trust; and unless you believe you cannot truly be loved. Romans 10:9-11 lays out what our response is to be; “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says; ‘Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” True love takes away all shame because true love covers it all. God insists His Son is enough to wipe away all your stains and forgive all your sins. Can you insist He is too?  It’s the response God demands.

Second, God expressly says that If we love Him we will obey Him. Talk about demanding and flying right in the face of everything this world says about true love. Jesus says “If you love me you will obey my commandments.” (John 14:23) That is just too much you may protest. Well, consider this well known verse from Romans 8; “All things work together for good to those who love God.” If  we love God and obey God all things will work out for our good. Mind you, good here is defined by God not by us. And yes, that is demanding of Him, but if He is God then He is all-knowing and we are not. So, how about having an all-knowing and wise God on your side who is in love with you and you in love with Him? I think things will work just nicely in this kind of relationship as demanding as it is.

2. God’s love is consuming.

We are to get lost in Him. We disappear. It is not about us at all. It’s not about the bride it is about the bridegroom. How does that fit in your worldview? True love it turns out is about giving a life away in order to really have life. Galatians 2:20 bottom lines this for us, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, and this life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” We are consumed it turns out, by the love of Jesus. How dare we expose ourselves to such a scandalous kind of love? We dare because He left the perfection of heaven to come here and be treated horrifically, unjustly and then brutally killed on a public cross of shame to save you from you. When one comes to grips with that love they willingly surrender everything and place it at the Savior’s feet. Whatever was mine Jesus, is now yours. The Apostle Paul put it this way, “I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus.” We are most loved and happy when we are most consumed by Jesus.

3. God’s love is unyielding.

God doesn’t bend in this relationship. There is no negotiating the terms of the relationship with God. God never changes but He is always changing us. In our world, that is completely unfair and unacceptable isn’t it? “What do you mean I have to change but they don’t?” But true love is not of this world. True love is supernatural, eternal, and all-powerful- all things we are not. God is in charge of this relationship and He has one goal for it…conform you to Him. Again from the book of Philippians the Apostle Paul instructs us along these lines, “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Please note it is a good work He is doing in you. His unyielding nature in this love relationship is to produce the best you, and the best you looks like His Son (Rom. 8:29). True love helps others to see and be truly loved, and God will produce that true love in you as you pursue His Son of true love. Pursuit of anything else is a pursuit of something less than true love and God loves you too much to see you do that. He’s unyielding that way.

4. God’s love is never growing.

He can’t love us anymore than He already does. Romans 8:38-39, For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” From the day you realize God’s love in the gift of His Son and accept that gift you have every ounce of the love of God you will ever have. He cannot love you more and He cannot love you less than He did that day, today or any other day. His love is inexhaustible so He does not have to worry about how much to love. He simply loves 100% of the time. Our love, on the other hand is always growing, or at least it should be. Our love fluctuates, even daily. We should not confuse the two– His love and our love. One is perfect 24/7/365/infinity. The other is woefully less. You will never out love God. Instead, He will always out love you. Not bad for a true love.

I invite you this Valentine’s Day to be sure you know what true love is. God is love, but His love is not the stuff of fairly tales but of true redemption and eternal bliss. This Valentine’s Day God is saying be mine and experience true love, maybe even for the first time in your life.

No Shades Of Gray

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Just in time for Valentine’s Day comes a movie that has captured the attention and salacious desires of our culture. “50 Shades of Grey” is the film adaptation of the bestselling book of the same title. It is really nothing more than 50 shades of sin. No matter how a Christian might review, critique, slice or dice it; it is a celebration of sin. Have I read it or seen it, nope. Do I need to in order be fair and reasonable about my opinion, nope. From a mile away I can see what it is all about and the Bible tells me to stay that mile away (1 Cor. 6:18; 2 Tim. 2:22; Matt. 5:28).

This from Kevin DeYoung, pastor and blogger, “There is nothing gray about whether a follower of Christ should see 50 Shades of Grey. This is a black and white issue. Don’t go. Don’t watch it. Don’t read it. Don’t rent it. Some movies do not deserve sophisticated analysis. They deserve sober repudiation. If the church cannot extend grace to sexual sinners, we’ve lost the heart of the gospel. And if we cannot tell people to stay away from 50 Shades of Grey, we’ve lost our minds.” (full article here)

Why even write about this? Why the fuss? Because many who profess to be followers of Christ will go see this. It’s art they may well protest. It’s the conversation everyone else is having and if we are going to be reaching our community we need to be in the conversation. No, we don’t; not this one anyway. In fact, I would argue the opposite is closer to the truth. The fact that we do not go will go farther in our witness than if we do.

Holiness is to be desired more than relevance. Truth is biblical holiness will accomplish everything being relevant is supposed to accomplish and will leave our testimony pure. Remember Jesus’ warning from Matthew 5:13, ” “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” Yes, the next verse says we must be a light, but we must first be salt in order to be the light Jesus wants us to be.

Our light has no shades of gray. It is to be a holy light. Yes, we are imperfect (by a long shot!) but the world needs to see the difference a living Savior can make more than how cool or “with it” we can be as Christians. There are times and places for being “with it” and in “conversations” this is one that will better had from 50 miles away.

Friday Frivolity ~ Staff Instrumental Style

A merry heart does good…

The staff here at Grace is quite talented. Of course we seek to be humble and not flaunt our gifts but you know sometimes you just have to share your gifts with others to bless them. So to perk you up this bone chilling mid-winter weekend here’s a little somthin’ somthin’ from Pastors Shirk, Bartz and myself. Leading off is me on the flute, followed by Pastor Shirk on the trumpet and Pastor Bartz on the sax (because he is just so smooth- it’s the beard ya’ know). Enjoy!

Oh, and Pastor Shirk says, “Hi!” from Iowa where he is driving Claudia around in this beauty as they share at a state fellowship marriage conference (or so he says they are :)).

Shirk Mustang

Friday Frivolity ~ Super Bowl Style

A merry heart does good…

First up a little quiz. Which artist quoted from Psalm 51 during their performance of a Super Bowl halftime show (and perhaps the only artist to quote Scripture during a halftime show)? Take your guess by commenting below.

Now on to a collection of Super Bowl ads the editorial staff at Frivolity find favorable and funny! The first one is dedicated to Pastor Jeff Bartz!

More cat themed frivolity.

And we close with a sentimental classic.

A Church That Prays Together Stays Together

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This past Wednesday night we held our annual business meeting. I actually look forward to them. You probably think I’m a little weird right about now and I suppose I can’t blame you. For most church going folk the annual business meeting is one of the most dreaded events on a church calendar; as in, I’d rather go to the dentist and have a tooth filled then go to one of those!

Not at Grace. We enjoy them as celebrations of God’s goodness. I do not say this as boasting but it just is what it is. Why are these meetings worth looking forward to? Because we pray together (see picture above from Wednesday night).

Church business meetings are not really about business; they are about ministry. They are about snapshots of God’s grace in the life of Christ’s Bride. They about entreating the Lord to be with us in the coming year. They are about pressing on with the gospel against the gates of hell. They are about prayer.

Really, prayer? Yes, really. Consider the first business meeting held after Christ’s ascension. The disciples gathered, probably a little shell-shocked that Jesus vanished into thin air, left them here to wait for some sort of Helper to come and to carry out some sort of mission until He comes.  Whoa, talk about a daunting backdrop to a business meeting! There is no financial plan, no programs to discuss and debate, and no Robert’s Rules of Order for goodness sakes! No, there is only a mission; spread the good news of Jesus. So what did they do? They prayed. In fact, they prayed with one accord or one mind.

“These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication…and in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples …” Acts 1:14-15

They needed to get organized and sort out what to do so they prayed with one mind. They were unified. Oh, I’m sure they didn’t agree on everything; Acts, after all, lays out disagreements the apostles had about theology as it was forming in the early years and methodology. But they were on the same team! They had each other’s back.  A church that prays together stays together!

Here are four brief reasons why a church that prays together stays together even during business meetings:

1. Prayer sets the heart agenda. You cannot in good conscience do and say the opposite of what you pray. You know to do so makes you a hypocrite. It is really hard for a person of genuine prayer to be selfish and mean-spirited.

2. Prayer is a sort of supernatural glue for a church. It binds us spiritually together. Try praying this; “God please decimate this body, tear it apart.” You can’t pray that can you? Why? You know it would be sin to do so. You know God’s will is for a united body. But if you skip the whole praying thing you can easily carry a divisive spirit with you.

3. Prayer causes us to go to God for the spiritual betterment of each other. Try praying this; “God please curse Chuck with struggles and temptations so he will fail and spare me from such so I will not.” Puh-lease. If you are regularly praying for others you will strongly desire their spiritual progress and victories. Which “BTW” will lead to a growing church and celebratory business meetings!

4. It forces us to agree with God’s plan and purpose not ours. Try praying this; “God, I know your Word says (fill in the blank) but I want…” Yeah, not expecting that one to get past the ceiling are you? Prayer has this nasty little way of making us think biblically and that is awfully good for us.

A church that prays together moves forward together and business meetings are about how we will move forward.  It seemed all those early disciples knew to do was pray. But that season of prayer drew them together, set their hearts agenda, strengthened their friendship and gave them thinking that aligned with the Word of God (Acts 1:16-20). That is a great place for any church to be as they meet for their annual business meeting.

The Best Kept Secret Of Abortion

Yesterday was the 42nd anniversary of the landmark court decision Roe v. Wade. Many who will read this will find themselves on the pro-life side of this issue. You will consider yourself a champion or at least a cheerleader for the unborn. You would agree life begins at conception. You would be sensitive to the fact that pregnancies can cause a real harm to the mother and the every measure should be taken to protect both the mother’s health and the baby. You would desire that teenage girls who find themselves pregnant would seek to carry the baby and then find support necessary to help her begin motherhood.

Ah…but here is the best kept secret about abortion; teens are not the ones getting them. That’s right, women ages 30-39 years old have twice as many abortions as teens. Woman ages 20-29 have four times as many abortions as teens. Over 80% of all reported abortions are by those in the college or career phase of life. Teens make up only 15% of all abortions (over age 40 amounts to about 3-4% of abortions). The single largest age group having abortions is 23-27 years old or the first 4 years of post college. The second largest age group is the college ages 19-23 and the third is ages 27-31.[1]

How many of us when we think of abortion think in terms of the teenage girl who because of shame and her young age decides to have an abortion?  While not diminishing or minimizing the reality of such cases, the truth is the real face of abortion is the young career woman (and by association the young career man).

Career Chasing, Delayed Marriage and Wimpy Men

Abortion, as it turns out, has been less about teenagers having sex as it about 20 something’s who want to delay marriage and family for a host of mostly selfish reasons. The selfishness revolves around wanting to enjoy sex but not what sex produces–babies. Babies get in the way. Harsh, but it is a very real truth in the minds of some. Babies complicate relationships. I want to have sex with this guy but I do not want to be tied to him for life; I want my options left open. Maybe I will marry him, but not now. Babies also cramp the career panache of life. Once I’m settled into my career then I will start a family, but, in the meantime I really want to be able to have sex. See a pattern here?

Lest I seem to be piling on the women, men are just as responsible! It is a wimp of a man who cannot own up to responsibility. If you create life, be a man and be responsible for it. Don’t pawn off your spawning. That is weak and selfish. Selfish, because it foists upon a woman the weight of life and death. A real man provides, yes, but he protects. Running from owning your actions leaves a woman vulnerable and unprotected, the antithesis of manhood. If you’re man enough to make a life then be man enough to protect it.

The Bait and Switch

Abortion as it has turned out has undermined the institution of marriage and promoted the pursuit of mammon. For those less inclined to know what mammon is, it is simply money or the stuff of this world. Jesus taught this simple yet profound truth, “You cannot serve two masters.” Abortion tries to say you can. You can have sex, you can pursue a career, you can have a family exactly when you want. You can have it all. Except it comes at a high price no one ever tells you about a head of time. Kind of like buying that cheap printer for $50. You think, “Wow, that was easy and didn’t cost much at all.” Then you go to buy the ink replacement and it costs a small fortune and you say, “Hey, wait a minute, I just wanted a cheap printer I didn’t expect it to be this much.” Too late, gotcha. Once you buy into the lie you can have it all and it won’t cost you anything you have unwittingly bowed to the master of mammon.

Jesus goes on to say, “Either you will love the one or hate the other.” Something is the master of our lives and we can’t have two of them. Jesus means we will either love this world or we will love Him. Now, when He says world2  He is not talking about beautiful sunrises, walks in the park and so on, He is talking about the philosophies of this world that are diametrically opposed to His wisdom. Sex outside of marriage is one of those philosophies diametrically opposed. Murder is as well (I type those words with great care and empathy to those who may have had an abortion!). We must be honest about this issue and what is really going on. We are falling for the old bait and switch. We are too focused on the immediate and the material instead of the eternal and spiritual.

What About Us Christians?

Is the church practicing anything much different? Yes,3 but we too are susceptible to the subtle pull of career chasing and marriage delaying. When we do, or when we encourage our children to; we put them in an almost impossible position of staying pure. Which master are we really following? This is something the church must think deeply about in approaching our youth.

The Now and Then

The issue of abortion is not one woman’s rights or freedom to choose. Those arguments are framed within a too narrow of a view that there is nothing beyond today; there is only the immediate. The issue of abortion really is an eternal one. What is done cannot be undone for all of time. No one can go back and erase anything. Decisions we make must not be dogmatically tied to the here and now but must be tied to the now and then. I decide to do “this”, whatever “this” is, then what? Then I do “that”, whatever “that” is, then what? If you ask the question, “Then what?” enough you get to the ultimate question, “Then I die, then what?” Indeed then what? Life is a sequence of interconnected events and choices that for all of us cease one day. Then what?

While nothing done can be undone and events cannot be erased, everything can be forgiven. If we will by faith believe in Jesus, believe in His sacrifice on the cross, believe that He is the resurrected Son of God and make Him our master instead of mammon all will be forgiven. There will be no condemnation for anything done. Healing will be found. A master who leads us to green pastures awaits us.

Abortion is mostly about a choice to enslave ourselves to a deceptive master; mammon. We want what we want and we are told we can have it but we are not told what it will cost until it’s too late. It’s worse than a well kept secret, it’s a lie.

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1 http://kff.org/womens-health-policy/state-indicator/distribution-of-abortions-by-age/

2 See 1 John 2:15-17

 3 Research by the Center for Reason claims Christians have as many abortions as non-Christians but the research does not delineate between nominal Christians and active born again Christians. This author believes the latter would show lower rates.