September 20: Open Letters – Dear Human Approval

Read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12

Dear Human Approval,

You are a hard task master. In our desire for your applause, we have pushed ourselves to the limits and then listened for your response:

  • … At times, you seemed to offer only criticism rather than compliments. The only thing people seemed to notice was how we could have done better. Don’t you know how important your “thumbs up” is to us?
  • …Sometimes, you said nothing. There was only silence instead of recognition. No one voiced anything, good or bad. Didn’t you see how hard we worked and how noteworthy the outcome was?
  • …Yes, there were times when you acknowledged our efforts and praised our efforts. Still, we often yearned for more than you delivered. And even what approval you offered felt like pressure from you that we had to deliver even more and better next time.

You have exhausted and disappointed us!

So, we are trading you in. Like the apostle Paul in today’s reading, we are choosing God’s approval rather than yours (v. 4). We have so often found that our motives get all messed up when we perform for the wrong audience (v. 3). So, we are intentionally deciding to pursue His praise and not that of people (v. 6). Even when the human opposition and criticism seem most threatening, we refuse to change our message or our response (v. 2).

Instead, today and from this day forward, we are playing to an audience of one – the God of heaven. Although we don’t always sense His immediate response, we know that it is ultimately before Him and before Him alone that we will one day stand (2 Cor. 5:10). It is His approval we seek. It is His “Well done, good and faithful servant!” we long to hear. He is the One who calls us to give our best while also recognizing that our inherent abilities may differ from those with whom we have so often compared ourselves (Matt. 25:14-30).

My prayer: Father, forgive me of my insecurity that has caused me to pursue the applause of people. I give myself from this day forward to pleasing you and you alone.

Steve Kern

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September 19: Open Letters – Dear Self-Image

Read Ephesians 1:17-21

Dear Self-Image,

After I eat dark greens, I ask someone near me, who knows me well, “Do I have something between my teeth?”  I ask because I have been embarrassed by what I have seen so many times in the mirror, when I didn’t ask!

Mirrors can play tricks on us though.  Like the mirrors in a fun house, our brain can believe we see something that is really not true and we can go the wrong way and find it’s difficult to get out.

We can look in the mirror and decide our features are wrong, and we can obsess in order to remedy that! We step into a new group of people who “have it all together;” then we try to mimic their behavior to add to our image.

Self-image. This hyphenated word was put into the dictionary in 1939. We know that the problem of a false self-image has been around a lot longer.  As followers of Jesus, we need His help to see who we are and what we look like to Him! We are able to look into the “perfect law of freedom” that brings blessing in all we do, if we don’t forget! (James 1:25) That means that we need to be in the Word of God frequently.  The Spirit can then develop in us a Christ-centered self-image.  Transformational!  We are described as His masterpieces (Eph. 2:10). Let’s pause and think about this truth. A masterpiece takes a lot of thought and creativity and is considered a masterpiece because of its unique qualities and purpose.

I am a masterpiece! Go ahead and say this out loud! Sounds a bit awkward, doesn’t it? I have believed other things about myself. Negative words spoken to me or about me were written on my mirror and were all I saw. My mirror has been so blurry, that I really couldn’t see how He loves me. He sure does though. I let His truth wipe away the lies, and now I have the reflection of His love and truth written on my mirror. I am His daughter.  He is the King eternal and I am His princess and that is what I see in the mirror of truth!  No matter what your mirror looks like, ask Him to write on it the truth that this song expresses https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IcC1Bp13n_4. Let His truth and love be reflected in your Self-Image!

Celeste Kern

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September 18: Open Letters – Dear Perfectionism

Read Galatians 1:10

Dear Perfectionism,

Really? How can I be perfect when I am human? How can I expect everybody else to be perfect when they are human? Quit bugging me!

Major League Baseball has been around for 140 years. In that span, there have been 210,000 games played and just 23 perfect games have been thrown. And you expect me to be perfect?

I see all these people on social media who seem to be perfect. Why can’t I achieve that? How can I learn to forgive myself?  I want to LEARN from my mistakes and grow as a Christian.

I am encouraged by the song, MESS OF ME, as Switchfoot sings:

“Oh, when you can’t forgive yourself!
There ain’t no drug – 
The sickness is myself.”

Are you even attainable?

I am always chasing you. But you and all your expectations are always with me. I try so hard to keep everyone happy. I try so hard to keep things in order, to make others feel good, to do things the right way, to be all that I can be – and to be who others want to see. This actually can be pretty tiring. Am I trying to do the impossible for the ungrateful? You, perfectionism, leave me discouraged and wishing I could be better.

I know God’s Word gives me great hope on how to get out from under you – you burden of perfectionism! Galatians 1:10 hits it head on: “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

Excellence is the quality of being outstanding or extremely good. I will now strive for excellence, not perfection. I will discard you. Instead, I can achieve excellence. You, perfectionism, are causing me unnecessary stress. Through prayer, perseverance and learning from mistakes, I can defeat you.

Colossians 3:23 says “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for God, not men”.  You know what? I CAN DO THAT. AND I AM GOING TO DO THAT! Goodbye, perfectionism. Hello, excellence.

“Gentlemen, we will chase perfection, and we will chase it relentlessly, knowing all the while we can never attain it. But along the way, we shall catch excellence.”

Vince Lombardi, winning coach of Super Bowl I and II.

Tom Weckesser

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September 17: Open Letters – Dear Anger

Read James 1:19-20

In the coming days, you are going to be reading some Open Letters that our team has written to emotions, struggles and issues that we have either observed or experienced. It is our prayer that these letters will encourage you, if you are struggling with the same, to see and experience healing and deliverance through Jesus. He is and always will be the solution to our problems.

However, our problems are still a struggle within us.

Allow me to share such a struggle from my life:

Dear Anger,

There’s no real reason why you play such a big role in my life. I wasn’t raised in an angry household. Through my many years of church attendance, I have been surrounded by numerous people who are loving and supportive. Regardless, I have always been someone that allows you to control much more of my life than you deserve.

Experiences in Jr. High and High School didn’t help. Being an afterthought to many people, being told I wasn’t strong enough…tough enough. Being told eye to eye that, “You don’t have what it takes…”. I have often allowed you to well up to the surface and to hurt people that I love the most. Because of the damage you caused, I feel like apologizing to people I’ve hurt over and over. They deserved better.

I was freed from you.

James tells us in his letter:

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”

You do not produce the righteousness that God desires. I’m done giving you control in my life. I live to serve my Lord. I will continue to challenge myself to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to give in to you. I will learn to forgive as others have forgiven me. The people that caused me such pain are your children, as well. If God has forgiven me, why shouldn’t I forgive them?

I am dedicating myself to pursuing the righteousness that God desires. I won’t allow the small things to matter so much. I’m done with allowing my past to define my future. God has created me for so much more than you.

My past won’t define me. You will not define me.

Allow me to conclude this letter by quoting a song lyric:

“Here’s to a past I’ll never need
No ‘here’s to you’
Rest in peace”

Jake Lawson

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Welcome Weekend is here…and only the beginning!

Read Isaiah 6:8

Do you remember what it was like to be in high school, during the lunch hour, to have your tray of food and scan the cafeteria trying to find a place to sit? You may have your group of friends, but how many seats are available at that table? There are seats available at the popular table but you think to yourself, that you don’t really fit in there. There’s a feeling of indecisiveness and maybe even fear.

These same thoughts, outside the context of a high school cafeteria, I would think, were flowing through the brain of Isaiah when God called him into ministry. God was calling him to reach a people that have a past history of falling away from God. He was calling Isaiah to do a job that would make him unpopular and probably put his life at risk. However, these emotions were quickly overcome when he proclaimed, “Here am I! Send me!”

If only it was always that easy.

We all have influence. All of us have people in our lives that need the hope of Jesus. We may think to ourselves that we don’t have what it takes to talk with them about Jesus. “Maybe someone else will share the gospel with them. It doesn’t have to be me.” However, I encourage you to have an Isaiah mindset. When God is calling you to do something uncomfortable, respond with “Here am I! Send me.” When the Lord lays evangelism on our hearts, it seems to be quickly dismissed with, “I’m not qualified to do that” or “I really don’t want to do that.”

However, because of the guarantee of eternal life that believers in Jesus have, we have hope! If we have learned anything this week, it is that this hope is something that we cannot keep to ourselves! It must be shared! This is life’s most important relationship we are talking about!

Today, at Wooster Grace, is the Sunday that Dan Lian is going to be sharing the gospel to, what we hope, will be 2,500+ people. Our hearts have been prepared this week about the value of evangelism and maybe some of us are going to be counseling people after the service. Regardless of, if you are a Grace Church attender or not, will you commit to pray for the hearts of lost people everywhere to come to knowledge of faith in Jesus? This is just the beginning! Through the forgiveness of Christ, we have information that will quite simply change someone’s life.

Will you pray? Will you share?

Jake Lawson

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Welcome Weekend is coming – Fisher of men

Read Luke 5:1-11

I wonder how many fish Peter caught in the course of his life. Certainly, two literal “boat loads” are recorded here. John 5:1-11 records another 153 fish. (Yes, the Scriptures were that exact!) By the amazement described in these two accounts, it seems that both catches were extraordinary in their day. Today, these catches may have earned him a lead article in Field and Stream magazine and perhaps a sponsorship from Bass Pro Shop®.

Of greater significance, however, were the catches he made as he transitioned from fisherman to fisher of men. His encounters with Christ while fishing forever changed his life direction and the direction of others.

I can relate.

My story growing up is one of limited exposure to church or to the Bible…but it is one with lots of fishing. As a teenager, I tried to go fishing daily or even a couple of times a day, if I could. I walked to the ponds in our neighborhood, longing for the next big catch. Over time, I recognized a neighbor, Bill, who also liked to fish. But Bill was also a fisher of men. While fishing on a July day in 1976, he shared with me the message of Christ’s sinless life and my sinful one. He shared how Christ’s death and resurrection made it possible for me to have a relationship with God. He invited me to, by faith, receive God’s forgiveness and become part of God’s family. That day, with fishing pole in hand on the bank of the pond, I did just that. I placed faith in Jesus.

Next, this fisher of men extended another invitation…one to join him at church. Although I had only been in a church a few times in my life, I accepted the invitation. The church provided the context and relationships for my continued growth in Christ.

I thank God for a fisherman who was also a fisher of men. I thank God for a man who invited me into a relationship with Christ and into the body of Christ. And though I don’t fish much anymore, I am asking God to use me as I extend invitations to others in my world to join me in knowing my Savior and in coming to my church. This Sunday is a great time to do just that!

Steve Kern

 

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Welcome Weekend is coming – Go, listen and speak!

Read Acts 8:26-40

Vicki and I love to travel together and explore cities.  Our favorite is Chicago and we recently spent a few days together there.  We enjoyed Buckingham Fountain and the Architectural Boat Tour on the river along with many other places.  Here are a few pictures to share about our experience.

When we experience something fun, new, exciting, or good, we like to share it.  When it tastes good, we talk about it.  When our teams win, we post about it.  Food, travel, sports, and entertainment offer some thrilling experiences. Nothing compares to finding real hope and meaning in life.  We, who follow Christ, have experienced the life-changing grace of God and cannot keep it to ourselves!

At Grace Church, we believe that life change is an invitation away.  When you experience the grace of God you cannot keep it to yourself.  You must extend the grace to others as well!  This is what is happening in Acts 8:26-40.  From Acts 8, let’s discover how to invite others to share about the life changing grace of God.

GO – Philip was invited by God to be a part of something so much bigger than himself.  God knew there was an Ethiopian who needed someone to explain real life to him.  God knew Philip was capable to do it, even if he didn’t know it.  This call to Philip is similar to what God calls you and I to do in Matthew 28:18-20.  Are you ready to go where God sends you?    

LISTEN – In verse 30 Philip hears that the Eunuch is reading from the Scripture.  Sometimes as Christ-followers we are quicker to talk than we are to listen.  Observe the situation people are in – their hurts, concerns, fears, successes, and dreams.  God puts us near people to hear people.  Are you listening to what others are saying?

SPEAK – Notice the first thing out of Philip’s mouth is a question (v.30).  He’s more interested in connecting this guy to Jesus than making sure he understood what Philip knew.  This question helped clarify a follow up question by the Eunuch which lead to a conversation about Jesus.  In verse 35 we read that Philip used that platform to share the message of the gospel with the Eunuch.  Are you prepared to share the good news with someone?

In this story the Eunuch places his faith in Jesus and then takes his next step by being baptized.  A life changing experience because one man who knew Jesus was willing to go, listen, and then speak.  It’s a challenge to us this week.  Go confidently.  Listen intently.  Speak boldly.  We do that well when we’ve been some place we want others to know about.  I can’t think of a better reason to share with others than the reason for the hope we have!

Who will you invite to join you this Sunday to hear more about the hope found in Jesus Christ?

Nick Cleveland

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