Archive for the ‘Thoughts from the Elders’ Category

I hate to rain on your parade, but….

If you are a Christian, I have bad news for you , sin isn’t fun anymore. Oh in the moment sin produces a temporary sense of pleasure. But for the Christian, the Holy Spirit that dwells in each of us reminds us that we are no longer slaves to sin and that sins robs us of our joy in the Lord.

I read recently that joy is a state of mind and an orientation of the heart. It is a settled state of contentment, confidence and hope. It is something or someone that provides a source of happiness.

When we receive Christ we are given a new joy that is beyond description. Our sins are forgiven, our past is wiped clean and we are a new creation.(2 Cor 5:17) We become a child of God. As we pursue the Christian walk, We all struggle with sin in our lives. We either reject it outright, we find ways to justify our actions or we yield to the Holy Spirit and repent and ask forgiveness.

As a Christian, sin takes on a new meaning. As a non-believer, sin is simply the gratification of the flesh. It is what I want in the moment and it will bring me the emotional or physical pleasure that I am seeking. But as a Christian, the Holy Spirit reminds us that it was sin that separated us from our relationship with God. He reminds us that sin is the reason that Jesus hung on the cross. That sin leads to death. Bottom line, sin is a bad, bad thing.

We were created to be in communion with God. Sin destroyed that communion. Thankfully, God so badly wanted to restore that relationship, that he was willing to have his Son die so that we can be his children again.

For the Christian, sin can’t be fun anymore. In the moment, sure there will be short lived sense of “me, mine, I”, but very quickly you will be robbed of true joy that comes only from our relationship with

Jesus. We have so much more as Christians. We have the inner peace of knowing that we are forgiven. We are loved unconditionally. We have the blessed hope of eternal life in communion with the Creator of the universe. We are children of God.

So I say, Party On…………through obedience.

Romans 8:12-14 – So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

Written by Ken Stoller – GCC Elder

Proverbs 4:20-27
My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. 
Let them not escape from your site; keep them within your heart. 
For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. 
Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.
Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. 
Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. 
Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure.

Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil. 

This one is for you guys out there.  I’ve had some men in my life who I admire and respect tell me that they read one chapter in Proverbs each day. It’s their daily devotional. It’s chock-full of wisdom, it’s short, and when you get to the end of the month you simply start over. So this year I’m on my second round of Proverbs, and this time through, something new jumped out at me.

Have you ever been tempted to justify a decision you knew was contrary to Gods will for your life because, frankly, things have been unfair or difficult lately? I certainly have. Life is hard. Life is unfair. It seems as though sometimes we face tough consequences despite making the right decisions. Well, our Father addresses this for us in Proverbs. You know what He says? Keep on keeping on! Don’t listen to that voice that says ,”life is hard and you didn’t deserve that, so it’s okay if you want to ________.” (Fill in the blank with whatever sin appeals to you).

No, God tells us to seek wisdom and to ponder the direction of our footsteps. In other words, don’t just mindlessly move forward. Stop and think about what you’re doing. Make the right decision. Yes, life can be hard and sometimes it seems like we would be justified to make a poor decision. But I think we’ve all seen it many times. Somebody wallowing in self-pity and having a tough life only makes it worse by telling themselves they somehow deserve to give in to temptation and to indulge in the flesh. Frankly, we do deserve what we get (Romans 3:23 and 6:23). A few good decisions don’t mean we deserve a life free of hardship, but I think the wisdom to be found in this part of Proverbs is that it only gets worse if we give up and sabotage ourselves. Lets consider our true circumstances, that God loved us so much He gave us everything we could ever need or want (John 3:16).

And consider Proverbs 4:20-27 today, because who ever made his life better by allowing self-pity to wreck his decisions?  It’s a downward spiral. Besides, God promises us that when we seek Him and ponder our way, it will lead to healing and life.  The reward for being vigilant with our hearts and being committed to Him is worth the trouble we sometimes face!

So stay strong and lift up a brother in prayer and with an encouraging word today!

Written by Mitch Ratzlaff – GCC Elder

In 1865 a young minister was on a trip to the Holy Land. On December 24 he rode by horseback to the little town of Bethlehem. He attended a five hour service held in the ancient basilica built over the traditional site of the birthplace of Jesus. Listening to the hymns, scripture readings and prayers in that service, he was deeply moved.

Phillips Brooks was a beloved pastor who was often seen sitting on the floor reading Bible stories to the children of the church. Three years after his trip to the holy land, the little ones were planning a Christmas program. He wanted to write a new song for their program. Looking back to the inspirational moments he encountered in Bethlehem, he quickly penned four verses. He then gave those lines to his church organist.

The organist tried to put music to the words and nothing came to him. He went to bed and awoke to a melody ringing through his head. He quickly jotted down the notes and went back to sleep. That next morning he completed the tune. That December night in 1868, for the first time, the children sang the beloved hymn, “O Little Town Of Bethlehem.”

This Christmas, what will be our response to the nativity story. We have been challenged by Dave to think beyond ourselves and material things. It is a strong challenge. I recently heard a man talk about a substantial gift he gave to a ministry to the homeless. He said that as he walked away from meeting with the director of the ministry, with tears in his eyes, he realized there was a sense of joy that could never be matched by anything the he could have bought for himself. No toy, trinket or treasure could come close to the satisfaction of knowing that lives were going to be changed forever in the name of Jesus.

“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.” Matt 6:33-34 (The Message)

May our response to the Christmas story be a sense of giving as we have been given so much by our heavenly Father.

“We hear the Christmas angels,

The great glad tidings tell

O come to us, abide in us

Our Lord Emmanuel”

Written by Ken Stoller – GCC Elder

Today I turned 60 years old. I now start my seventh decade of being part of a church. I have to honestly say that it wasn’t until an little while ago, that I made a discovery that has changed my entire outlook on being a part of a church. This simple little philosophy has made my experience of going to church more pleasant and satisfying.

What is a common question that most ladies ask when they are invited to dinner at someone’s home, a picnic or a pot luck dinner? What can I bring? It is always rewarding to contribute to any effort that will bring people together for a common purpose.

Why should it be any different when it comes to gathering together to serve the Lord. In my younger days, the focus on my going to church was what I would receive from being there. Be it friendship, recognition or an answer to a question that I had been pondering.

What has changed my perspective is the idea, “what can I bring”. No longer coming to church with the goal of meeting my own wants or expectations, but seeking what do I have to offer that will help others in their spiritual walk. This way of thinking brings forth a wave personal freedom. First of all, freedom from disappointment. There is no disappointment in giving, only in receiving. Freedom from dissatisfaction. My father told me when I got married that one of the keys to happiness in marriage is finding happiness in one another’s happiness. If you only focus on your own needs then it is guaranteed that you are setting yourself up to be dissatisfied. How can you ever be dissatisfied in seeing the needs of others fulfilled.

There was a happiness study recently conducted with a set sum of money. Half the group was given the money and told to go out and get whatever they wanted. The other half was given the same amount of money and told to go out and give it to needy, homeless or worthy causes. After they tasks were completed they were tested to see who was the happiest. The words of Jesus rang true, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”(Acts 20:35)

This philosophy has changed my life. Coming to church is an opportunity to bless others. I encourage you next Sunday morning when your start to walk into Grace, ask the Lord, “What can I bring today?”

Written by Ken Stoller – GCC Elder

When you think about it, a healthy church starts with healthy Christians in the church, since the church is made up of the people and not the building.  I know that for me maintaining a devoted prayer life can be a struggle. It’s not easy. But like Guy said in his sermon two Sundays ago, it’s part of every healthy Christian’s devotional life. And I think the term “devotions” comes from Acts 2:42-47  that Guy mentioned in his sermon. We’re to devote ourselves to those things and sometimes we lose that over time. Anyway, I love what I read from family life (below) this week. It reminded of something my grandmother did when I graduated from high school. She gave me a One Year Bible and on the inside cover she had placed a little handwritten love note to her eldest grandchild. It said something along the lines of:

“I have found the following acronym has helped me grow in my relationship with my Savior. As you devote yourself to finding God’s will for your life, remember this acronym when you pray and it will bless you. I promise. Love, Grandma”

A  is for Adoration

C  is for Confession

T is for Thanksgiving

S is for Supplication

Well, it seems she was onto something because the good folks at Family Life seem to have discovered it as well. Anyway, I hope this blesses the people of Grace Community Church and any who might read this. And one last thing….Thank you Grandma Ratzlaff. You were right!

Mitch Ratzlaff – GCC Elder

1 Corinthians 1:10, “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.”

Yeah, right!  And yet, maybe Paul knew what he was talking about.  I’ve been thinking a lot about unity in the Church and how incredibly important it is to the health of the body.  Think about our own bodies.  Here we are strolling along feeling great when all of a sudden a tooth decides to be difficult.  I don’t know about you but some of the most horrid pain I have experienced in my life has been a toothache.  It seems to bring everything to a screeching halt.  You can’t eat or sleep, you can’t focus on much of anything and all you can think about is getting to the dentist for some much anticipated and needed relief.

A toothache can start with just a little problem.  A tiny cavity that can only be seen by an x-ray.  If it is dealt with right away, the problem is solved.  But neglected and ignored it can turn into a life threatening problem.  It can lead to all kinds of misery, loss of a tooth or in extreme situations, even loss of life.

It can be the same way in the Body of Christ.  Someone is offended or doesn’t get their way.  The dissatisfaction can be shared with another person and then another until it spreads like a wildfire out of control. It can lead to hurt feelings, broken relationships and even church splits.  Often the cause of the problem can be just a little thing  that if it is not dealt with or given to God, it continues to fester until unity is destroyed.

Scriptures give us several avenues to avoid disunity.  1 Corinthians 12:12-26 tells of the necessity of all parts of the body.  Each of our gifts, talents and experiences are vital to the function of the church.  Whatever you do for Jesus in the Church is critically important in the life of the body.  When one suffers, we all suffer.

Ephesians 4:2-6 (2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.) gives a great prescription for unity in the body.

Humility: Putting others needs before our own.

Gentleness: Treating others with kindness even when  we have been wronged.

Patience: Understanding that God’s work takes time in everybody.  Sometimes what bothers us  the most  in someone else, is something that we have worked through in the past. It is often a painful reminder of where we once were.

Working at Unity: Making unity a priority.  Understanding the damage that can be done when seek only what we want and not what God wants. Making a  conscious effort to be a peacemaker.

We are facing a lot of changes ahead at Grace.  I am very optimistic about the future.  I cannot express the joy I felt when we unanimously voted to bring on Dave as our next sr. pastor.  I know my eyes were not dry.  Partly I was glad that Dave was accepted for the position but more than that, it was an amazing display of unity.  We all shared a common goal and purpose.  It was truly a rare moment of God’s love being expressed by his body  of believers.

We won’t always see eye to eye, and I guarantee that we always won’t get our way.  But I know that if we all “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”  We will be richly rewarded.

If your tooth hurts, go see your dentist, if your spirit is troubled, take it to Jesus.

Written by Ken Stoller – GCC Elder

We meet today
To thank Thee for the era done,
And Thee for the opening one.
~John Greenleaf Whittier

New Years, out with the old, in with the new.  In many ways I am thankful that 2012 is over.  I’ve never been one for New Years resolutions.  It seems that every day is a series of resolutions in my mind that constantly challenge me to do right, eat right and live right.  In all these endeavors there seems to be an element of failure.  The failure is my humanness.  I all too often try on my own to do these things.  After all I am an American.  I am supposed to be self reliant.  Yet, this self reliance seems to cause me to fall flat on my face time after time.

Why?  It seems to have been a constant theme in my life.  I try so hard and fail so well.  It is because  I forget, almost on a daily basis, that I don’t have to be self reliant.  In fact, I shouldn’t be self reliant.  I should be reliant on the Holy Spirit to guide me and give me the strength to do I what I should do.

We have been through some great teaching this year.  “The forgotten God”, ‘The Christian Atheist” and  “When God’s People Pray”.  And for me, there was a constant theme throughout all of these series. Our reliance doesn’t have to be on ourselves, but it can and should be on God.

Have you ever struggled with a math problem in your head with having no success ,  while all the time you have a calculator  on the cell phone in your pocket.   God is there wanting to help, waiting patiently to guide me and here I am struggling with a problem that is so simple for God to solve.

If I were to make a resolution for 2013, it would be to rely on the power that dwells within me.  Not on myself, but on the Holy Spirit.  He is there, he cares, he is all powerful.  All I have to do is simply rely on him.

May 2013 be a year of reliance, not self reliance.

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Written by Ken Stoller – GCC Elder

Counted as Loss…

Posted: December 8, 2012 in Thoughts from the Elders

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ”   Phil 3:7

This week I was really challenged in our Grace University class. For those in the class, you heard a great discussion about not only being saved from sin, but also being saved from your good works! You say that doesn’t make any sense, and it didn’t to me either. But then we looked closely at what Paul wrote to the Philippians in chapter 3.

He spoke about being on guard against the “mutilators” of the flesh. He said that if anyone had any reason to be prideful of their accomplishments, it was him. He observed every letter of the OT law (including the parts that the Pharisees added to the law) and was a “Hebrew of Hebrews.” But then the reality of it all hit him and he concluded by stating that all of his so-called works counted AGAINST him. It didn’t gain him anything, in fact, it was nothing but loss or “rubbish. ”  (The Greek literal interpretation would be more like sewage, according to our instructor.) At any rate, the class was a wake-up call to me, that faith is not a one-time deal. It not only looks back when we give our lives to Christ, but it looks forward too. If we fall into the temptation to earn our salvation by doing good works then we cheapen the sacrifice that was made. So how do you know if you’re falling into this temptation:

Have you ever had the thought that you shouldn’t pray because God wouldn’t listen to someone like you? OR have you ever felt like, “Wow, I messed up so bad I can’t go to church because I’d be considered a hypocrite.” That’s not the Holy Spirit talking to you. That’s a “mutilator of the flesh” playing to your human side trying to get you to earn your salvation and throw out the grace of God. Just think about it and ask yourself if you are living in the truth of God’s grace or trying to earn it on your own.

Don’t be one of those who God has to save FROM good works!  Make sure you’re doing good out of a heart of worship and gratitude and not as a replacement for faith in the ONE who has already earned your salvation for you!

Written by Mitch Ratzlaff – GCC Elder

If you haven’t been attending Grace University consider adding it to your Sunday routine. We have had some great discussions. Sunday morning we were looking at Paul’s letter to the Church in Philippi. Take a few minutes if you have the time to read Philippians 3:1-11.

Consider the following?

  • 2 Corinthians 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
  • John 3:16  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
  • Ephesians 2:8-9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.
  • Romans 3:28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.

The Philippians passage we were in was Paul talking about his confidence in the flesh, and his good works. Paul says in Philippians 3:8 he “Considered everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus.”

Check out a  couple different translations of  verse 8.

  • New International Version (©1984) What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ
  • Aramaic Bible in Plain English (©2010) I also consider all these things a loss for the majesty of the knowledge of Yeshua The Messiah, my Lord, him for whose sake I have lost everything, and I consider it all as a dung heap, that I may gain The Messiah,
  • King James Bible (Cambridge Ed.) Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the Excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,

Now I don’t know about you, but I fall victim to being proud of my “good works” on occasion. I find myself feeling proud of myself on the days I do “good works” and depressed and low on the days I miss opportunities or fall flat on my face. How about we follow Paul’s example to seek our righteousness through our faith in Christ. God does not see us differently at different times. He knows us.

Jeremiah 1:5
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born. I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

Written by Blain Harris – GCC Elder

Proverbs 18:19, A brother offended is harder to win  than a strong city, And contentions are  like the bars of a castle.

“When we are offended, we build walls around us to keep others out. Those walls eventually become our prison. Love neither comes in nor goes out and we become self-centered & useless to the kingdom of God.” John Bevere, “The Bait of Satan”

Easter morning at GCC people were offended. A powerful and very well preformed play was presented that depicted our human struggle with sin and Jesus’ desire to seek us out and offer us His power and comfort to carry us through the trials of life and on to our eternal reward.

Some walked out, some contacted the pastor, and some were changed forever. One young man came to Christ that morning because of the play. Another young college woman was moved to tears and sought out the prayer team. Another grandmother who has had many trials raising her grandchildren explained the play as it was presented to her granddaughter. They wept in the discovery that in every moment of their pain and suffering, Jesus was there.

Was the play a bit too much for a “kid friendly” service? Probably. So how should we then respond?

We can try to internalize the message and find the solace that it brings. We can take this opportunity to teach our young children that no matter how tough life is, Jesus is always there. We can teach them that He is guiding, protecting, loving and helping us through every situation, while giving our lives purpose and hope, even in the darkest of times. We can find joy in that fact that a group of young people chose to serve their Lord in a powerful way on a Sunday morning rather, than accept the alternatives the world has to offer.

As we have been studying “The Bait of Satan” in our Sunday school class, one of the most eye opening moments for me was when he said that everything Jesus said offended someone. And if you think about it, the Gospel is offensive. It tells us that we are sinners. That we, on our own, are condemned to an eternity separated from the presence of God. Our righteousness is filth is God’s eye. It tells us that we must submit to a higher power and our life is not our own. These are not easy things to consider, and if that was all the the Gospel told us, we would only have cause for hopelessness.

But the Gospel doesn’t leave us in a dark and lonely place. The light of Jesus shines joy, peace and hope into our hearts. His sacrifice gives us credibility with God. His presence gives us strength to carry on when only despair is looming on the horizon. His intercession for us with the Father sustains our spiritual lives.

There is nothing wrong, and it is our duty, to protect our children from things that might harm or confuse them. To be honest, I was glad that my 6 year old granddaughter was asleep on my lap during the play and yet I wonder if there was a lesson for her too in this presentation. I also realize that how I respond to these things will also be a powerful lesson. I have no doubt that the leadership will take to heart what happened that morning and learn and grow from the experience. I hope we all will.

Grace Community Church is a wonderful place with wonderful people, who are only human. Mistakes will be made, but as a pastor once told me, “The church will hurt, disappoint and frustrate you. And you will do the same to it. The good news is that we choose to forgive in advance.”

Written by Ken Stoller – GCC Elder