March 2 – A 7 Day Conversation with Ruth Friend LPCC – Comparison

Read 2 Corinthians 10:12

During this week, we are going to be listening to Ruth Friend, a licensed professional clinical counselor and dear friend of Grace Church, as she teaches us about the value of mental health and how we can go about honoring the Lord through it.

Today we talk about comparison and worrying about what’s in our own basket.

February 22 – Meet the Team – Taylor Bennington

Read 2 Corinthians 5:7

 My name is Taylor Bennington. I am a law student at The University of Akron School of Law where I have the blessing of being able to serve on our University’s Board of Trustees. I grew up in Wooster where I graduated from Wooster High School in 2015 and went on to pursue my bachelor’s degree in political science at Akron. So, I guess you can say I am a double-Zip!

The Lord brought me to Grace Church eight years ago. I was in a dark, hopeless, period of my life when I entered the doors of Grace, and I remember the Sunday so clearly when Pastor Steve Kern was preaching in the traditional venue. For the first time in my life, the gospel of Jesus had made sense to me. I haven’t looked back since. Over the years I have had the incredible opportunity by the grace of God to engage in ministry at Grace working, interning, and serving in various capacities. Currently, I serve in Grace Students where I co-lead the 12th-grade men’s Grace Group and am also a part of our Sunday morning stage team as a venue host. Suffice to say, Sunday is my favorite day of the week!

During high school, I had the chance to take part in several mission experiences. My first mission trip, however, will forever stand out in my mind. Frankly, I did not want to go. I was still very new in my faith, new to the church, and had only been attending the student services for a few weeks before the deadline to sign up for summer trips. Heck, I didn’t even really understand what a mission trip was or what I would be doing. Yet, God kept making it abundantly clear that this was the next step I needed to take. So, I signed up. The Lord used that mission trip to Chicago in ways that still have an impact on my life today. It’s where I truly learned to surrender. To have faith that the Lord’s plan is better than my own. To believe that the best is really yet to come. And, where the Spirit took my attention towards what would become my favorite verse in the Bible.

“For we live by faith, not by sight.”

2 Corinthians 5:7

I pray that this verse is as much of an encouragement for you today as it has been for me for the greater part of a decade. Despite what the picture might look like in front of you, or if the deck seems to be stacked against you; have faith. Believe in what we cannot see. The goodness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. His plans and His perspective are far greater than our own.

Taylor Bennington

 

December 2 – The Songs We Sing – “Holy Ground”

Read Exodus 33:18; John 11:40; 2 Corinthians 4:6; John 8:36; Romans 8:1-39

Listen to Holy Ground by Passion https://youtu.be/xU771D5AYWE

In your time of worship, what do you see? Is there a visual that comes to your mind? Is there truth that pops out as the words fill your heart, mind and mouth? For me, it is a visual of walking into the Lord’s throne room and standing before Him, surrendering all I am and all I have.

It is my honor and pleasure and blessing to be a worship leader for our church. Every morning that I am on the worship team, I pray that the Lord’s will and truth shine brighter for all of us. That we can approach with open hands and surrender everything that is holding us back from being the person He has created us to be. I pray that we can go before the Lord, stand in front of Him, and remember the place where He met us, remember all He has done for us, and worship with the end in mind.

This song, you could probably say, is my heart’s song. The words, the truth it brings forth is a song that the Lord has used over and over again to remind me that He is accessible, that He has won this war. There is victory because Jesus changes everything from the inside out.

Here as we wait
Seek Your face
Come and make Your throne upon our praise
Here in this place
Have Your way
The moment that we see You, we are changed

Show us Your glory
Show us Your glory
In wonder and surrender we fall down
Show us Your glory
Show us Your glory
Let every burning heart be holy ground

Can you picture Moses? These words remind me, that when God shows up, nothing looks the same. That unlike ancient Israel, we are able to be in the Lord’s presence and not be struck to the ground by the power. He welcomes us in and changes our perspective, our wants and desires, and we become the holy ground He resides in to use as we walk this life.

Here, not by power
Not by might
But only by the cross we come alive
Here, we’re undone
Overcome
By heaven’s love revealed before our eyes

We were once the walking dead. Then Jesus came and brought us back to life and disrupted our lives in the most beautiful way. With Jesus, we are able to see with hope and light in mind. We can see what is to come.

Chains fall
Fear bow
Here, now
Jesus, you change everything
Lives healed
Hope found
Here, now
Jesus, you change everything

 I think this bridge sets the tone and realization of the power that Jesus has.

He has broken the chains that bind us.

He has replaced fear with surrender, knowing He is in control and is good.

He has healed countless lives from addiction, loss, wandering and heartache.

He is our HOPE.

Listen to this song again and I challenge you to approach the Lord with open hands in surrender.

I challenge you to give up the things that bind you.

I challenge you to focus on the truth that He loves you and is good.

Praise Him for He is good.

He changes everything.

Kelly Lawson

November 25 – By Faith or by Sight – Leave Your Past Behind

When Vicki and I moved here 18 years ago, we felt the uncertainty of not knowing anyone. Maybe you know that feeling of moving from the familiar to the unfamiliar. It’s precisely what Abraham and Sarah did, leaving friends, family, and ways of life when they responded to God’s call and moved. Hebrews 11:8 says, “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8)

Faith is more than just belief; it’s accompanied with action. To fully follow God, you must leave your past behind. We don’t always get a detailed description of what’s next. Faith is taking the first step when you don’t know exactly where the path leads. In Abraham’s case, that was Ur – his homeland. Ur was filled with idolatry- worship of created things and not the Creator. It was a place of selfishness. It represented security and comfort, but Abraham had to leave the past behind to fully follow God. And so do we.

We must leave behind our old way of thinking and living and journey toward a new way of thinking and living. Paul told the Corinthians that “if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation the old is gone and the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) God is inviting us to a new life and the journey begins by giving up our unbelief, selfishness, pride, sin and worship of anyone or anything other than God. Giving up our way of life for God’s way is the biggest obstacle to living by faith.

What do you need to leave behind? God’s way is the best way and He is calling you to leave behind your way and fully follow Him to a new destination.

Nick Cleveland

September 27 – Heaven FAQ’s – Is Heaven really that great?

Read 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 and Philippians 1:23

“From the beginning, God had a shining dream in his heart. He would make people to share his forever happiness. They would be his children and the world would be their perfect home.” (Jesus Story Book Bible).

On Mattie’s, our 3-year-old’s, birthday, he was given the Jesus Story Book Bible. I read this to a few children when I babysat and I remember their parents always telling me that it was the best children’s Bible they have ever come across. So, I was extremely excited when Mattie was gifted one. He and I have been reading a chapter each night since he received it, and I remember, when reading the words above, I thought to myself, “This, all around us, was not the intent when God created it”.

When I was in Bible school, my pastor would tell us, “There is world 1.0 and world 2.0.” Now, let me explain, “world 1.0” was the world that God intended when He began creation. Then “world 2.0” came about when the fall took place. These two worlds co-exist, but we can only feel and see 2.0. However, our “perfect home” is still in existence and we are just separated for a time.

When studying Heaven and even the end times, it can become quite mind numbing trying to make sense of it all, but Paul states it perfectly when he says, “it is paradise.”

When thinking of living in this fallen world, it is easy to forget that this is not our true home. This is our temporary home and our true home is in Heaven with Jesus.

If you have never picked up “Heaven” by Randy Alcorn, I definitely recommend it. It answers any questions you may have regarding Heaven and what it may or may not be like. One of my favorite things He discusses is how there is a “Present Heaven” and an “Eternal Heaven”. He explains the biblical knowledge of how the unification of Heaven and Earth come together but he brings scripture to life and explains in depth how this world, 2.0, is not where we are meant to be.

Where we were intended to be is “a bright, vibrant, and physical New Earth, free from sin, suffering, and death, and brimming with Christ’s presence, wonderous natural beauty and the richness of human culture as God intended it”.

Doesn’t that sound amazing?!

Kelly Lawson

September 18 – Heaven FAQ’s – When does a person go to heaven?

Read 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10

On a Friday afternoon, in Granny’s kitchen in St. Charles, Missouri, Kelly and I were trying to get some lunch into Mattie before we put him down for a nap. Despite the semi hectic back and forth to and from the hospital, as any parent will tell you, naps for a toddler are vitally important. Our whole family made the trek to my parents’ hometown because Grandma’s health had been deteriorating over the past several months. We were praying this wasn’t the end but, as our visit continued, we knew that it wasn’t an “if” question but a “when”.

Our family had talked many a time of the hope that we have in Jesus. Earthly pain is temporary where eternity with Christ is forever for those who place their faith in Him. All of us knew that Grandma would soon be promoted to Heaven and we found ourselves trying to come to grips with saying goodbye to a staple in the Lawson family tree.

On that Friday afternoon, Kelly was trying to convince Mattie to clean up his plate when I got a call from Mom. Thinking nothing of it, I answered normally:

“Hey, Mama.”

“You know I love you, right?”

My whole demeanor changed.

“Mom, what’s wrong?”

“Your grandma is with Jesus.”

I hopped in the car and drove over to the hospital where I met the rest of our family. Tears were flowing as we came to grips with reality:  Grandma was with Jesus.

Our reading in 2 Corinthians today answers the question of, “When do I actually go to Heaven?” Dad made a point of telling those who were in the room when Grandma passed that they were on holy ground. The moment she breathed her last, angels came and ushered Grandma into eternity. Part of the pain was eased because we all knew she was hearing, “Well done, my good and faithful servant” right about then.

What a holy moment.

Paul describes two realities in this reading for those who have a relationship with Christ: at home with the body or away from it with the Lord. According to Scripture, when we are absent from the body, we are at home in Heaven with Jesus. I love how Paul talks about the earthly vs eternal. There are other passages like 1 Corinthians 15 that describe the relationship there is between the physical and the eternal.

Allow this to be a challenge to you all: where do you stand with Christ? Have you believed in Him for the forgiveness of your sins? Do you have that personal and intimate relationship with Him? Just knowing about Him won’t save you;  have you repented of your sin and chosen to follow God’s plan for your life? This isn’t something you can take care of right before you die. When you breath your last, you are immediately confronted with eternity.

Where will you spend it?

Jake Lawson

September 5 – The God Who Comes Through – Revealing Glory and Transforming People

Read Exodus 34:29-35 (cf 2 Corinthians 3:12-18)

Going back to school in the midst a pandemic is tough.  I have been volunteering and subbing in a school since my retirement 8 years ago so I know many of the students who attend there.  We have talked, laughed, hugged and learned together throughout the years.  However, when I was required to wear a mask, my greetings were met with lots of quizzical looks as they searched their memories to recognize using only my eyes for clues. We could talk thorough the masks, but it wasn’t until I slipped the mask down and said, “It’s me!”  that the lights of recognition and smiles returned to their faces.

For so many years Moses had talked to God.  He had seen his miraculous power.  He had followed God’s direction and God had heard his pleas.  But it was when God removed the mask and revealed his full glory that Moses was so filled with his glory that his face actually glowed!  It glowed so much that the other people were afraid.  Moses put a veil over his face until he was once again in the presence of God in the tabernacle.

Being in the presence of God was deemed to be way too much for any normal person and even the priests needed to stay behind a veil that separated the holy of holies within the tabernacle.

But that veil that separated the normal people from God was torn in two when Jesus died on the cross giving you and me full access to God himself. We are God’s children and as such we can boldly approach Him with our prayers, requests and thanksgiving. He is never too busy to chat with us. Being able to talk directly to God gives us comfort and strength. Through His guidance anything is possible.

Our great nation was formed through His guidance.  The Pilgrims left the comfort of their homeland to sail across the ocean to an unknown land for the right to worship Him.

Through His guidance a small fledgling group of states dared to challenge the powerful English military to build a country whose motto is “In God We Trust.” Through His guidance that same country has been the beacon of life and liberty to the rest of the world!

When God reveals Himself, He can empower the meek. He can bring hope to the injured.  He can comfort the lonely and frightened. He can bring healing to the sick. We just need to be bold enough to ask.

Do you recognize God when He speaks to you? Or are you still seeing Him through a mask of doubt?  Maybe you need to pull down your mask and say,” Hey, God!  It’s me! Can we talk?”

Trust me you will never be the same!

Pat Arnold

April 30 – Jesus: The Resurrection and the Life – Why Being New Matters

Read 2 Corinthians 4:1-6:2

He spoke at Creation, that first day amid the darkness and formless.

“Let there be light,” and there was light. (Gen. 1:3)

He spoke light with a Word, and it was. The Word created light and life.

Then the Word came, the image of God Himself in human form. And the Word gave life. The Word gave His very own life.

Jesus Christ, the Word in flesh, spoke light into the darkness of sin and death. He conquered death with the power that is His alone. He braved the pain of suffering, and He died so that mankind could live.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (5:21)

Now we carry around His death so that His real life, the kind of living designed by God Himself, might be revealed in our earthly bodies. Not only that, but now that we are really alive, we die daily to ourselves and our expectations and our own motives. We do it so we might display the true life He has given us. We die daily to death-living because of the true hope that the very God who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us . . . in his presence (4:14).

Knowing this true and real hope, living this authentic life, the very gift of God, this is how we withstand hard times. When we hold this gift, this real and true living with tenacity and hope, we find strength to hold up under pressure. The stress of trials and troubles that sometimes threaten to overwhelm don’t touch us when we fix our eyes on the truth that we have died, and are dying, to ourselves. We are alive only in Christ Jesus, the God of all.

He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (5:15)

The very God Who spoke light into Creation spoke light into our hearts with the Word, Jesus Christ. He gave us this light that He might draw all men to Himself. That we might become His ambassadors, shining His light, living His life, for all to see His creation power and know His life.

Bria Wasson

April 27 – Because He Lives – We Live Too

Read 2 Corinthians 5:14-21

A baby arrived and they called Him Jesus. God called Him God With Us. Immanuel. God revealing Himself and sticking around. God taking the blame for the sin we have lived in, the sin we have served, then conquering death with the blow of His hand.

All of humanity needed a Savior, so He came. The only One fit for the job. And while here, He revealed Himself and showed us all that He is. All that we aren’t. All that we need. God With Us.

He saved us by taking the punishment, by taking our sin.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21)

God With Us let Himself become sin so that we could become His righteousness. Immanuel traded places, took our spot, and then quenched the grave’s fury when He rolled away a tombstone and rose victorious. He gave His life to give us life. And God is with us because Immanuel lives.

He came for the joys. Like the birth of a child. God with us.

And for the sorrows. Like the subsequent desperate pleas of this clueless mom who feels so inadequate. God is with us. A car crashes into a family whose lives are instantly and forever changed.  God is with us. Immanuel lives.

Immanuel, God with us, is alive and well.

A marriage falls apart and children are fatherless. Still, God is with us.

Because that’s what He does. Never leaves. Always loves. Always holds. Always lives. Always Immanuel.

God With Us lives and calls us who believe His ambassadors, His righteousness. He uses even us to bring His life to the lifeless. To let them know that He still lives. To tell the news of death’s defeat.

And this news, His life, it changes everything. For, truly, because He lives, we live too.

Bria Wasson

January 27 – God’s Will – God’s will and enough grace

Read 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

In the previous chapter, Paul gave quite a list of difficulties he had experienced as a servant of Christ.  But, rather than whining about them because God owed him a bed of roses, he seemed to embrace them, even boasting in them.  From that chapter, we pointed out that adversity is often part of the will of God for us.  We can accept that, knowing that He loves us infinitely.

Still, there was yet one thing that didn’t make Paul’s list in the eleventh chapter.  It sees set apart as if it hit deeper, hurt more, and held a different purpose.  We cannot be 100% certain of its exact nature.  Paul only describes it as a “thorn in the flesh.”  It was Satan’s little messenger to him.  It harassed him, perhaps causing him relentless discomfort.

About this particularly burdensome malady Paul prayed.  There was apparently no response.  He prayed a second time.  Again, the thorn seemed unchanged and heaven remained silent.  Have you ever experienced the silence of heaven?  You are calling, but no one is picking up.  Perhaps you don’t even sense the reassuring voicemail that promises, “. . . I’ll get back with you, as soon as I can . . .”

And then, Paul prayed a third time.  This time, a response came.  It wasn’t the one for which Paul had prayed.  Nope, the thorn was still there.  But, neither was it a hardened, “Quit complaining and deal with it!”  Instead, it was a statement that reassured him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Sufficient grace.  Perfecting power.

Was that a promise unique to this single thorn of the apostle Paul?  Paul certainly didn’t interpret it that way.  In the next two verses, he is quick to apply it to every adversity he faced.  He was comforted in knowing that, though God’s will may take him down a path other than he would prefer, still, at his greatest point of weakness, there would be divine strength.

And that same strength-giving grace is available to you when God allows you to go down a path you would not plan for yourself.

Steve Kern