Thursday, March 31, 2011

Project Kenya Update!

We have completed our 5-week initiative, Project Kenya. With a goal of raising $4000 to support families in Kenya through providing chickens, gardens, and goats, we have exceeded our goal! Through God's faithfulness and the support of our church family, we have raised a total of $7,358.84! We cannot thank each of you enough for the role you have played in sacrificially giving of your finances to love the people of Kenya. Praise to God for His faithfulness to move in our body to provide an amazing gift!

We desire to share the blessings God has provided our church family with our brothers and sisters in Kenya, and this is one avenue God has given us to do so. We hope that through Project Kenya, you and your family had an opportunity to come together to seek God's leading in your support of Project Kenya, and experience heart change through sacrifice and faithful stewardship. We truly appreciate your desire to share in this adventure, and pray it has been an opportunity for life change. We would love to hear stories of how Project Kenya has impacted your family - please leave us a comment!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Preschool Curriculum: Easter

We will begin a new series in our preschool curriculum this weekend, that will run through April 24th. We will be reading through the Easter story to learn that God is Holy, and we should repent. Our memory verse for this study is Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ our Lord."

Check out an excerpt from the leader preparation for the first lesson of this series:
"It’s the greatest story ever told… the entire Bible points to this moment… when Christ would come and restore the relationship between God and His people.  And so often we forget that this is what it’s all about! Jesus was born to die, to take on our sin and shame, so that we could be reconciled back to our Heavenly  Father.  It’s the best news of our life, and yet we go about our day with little thought of this extraordinary act...Easter gives us a unique opportunity to come face-to-face with life and death – the death that we were destined for because of our sin and the eternal life that God offers through the sacrifice of His Son.  We have been given a chance to acknowledge the great sinfulness of our hearts while also celebrating the grace and mercy offered to us through Christ..."
How do you approach this time of year? Do you daily meditate on the sacrifice Jesus made to save you from your sin, and worship Him for it? Or do you struggle to make room in your hectic schedule to remember the price Jesus paid so you can be restored to your Heavenly Father? We have a holy God, who gave up His only Son to pay the penalty we deserved, and provide a way for us to be redeemed and have eternal life. We can respond in repentance and worship to the One who is worthy of all our praise.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Spiritual Gifts Part 1 - Introduction

As we have studied through 1 Corinthians in our adult worship, we have examined passages that speak to the Corinthians about spiritual gifts. A spiritual gift is a supernatural ability empowered by the Holy Spirit.
 4 There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. 5 There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. 6 God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.
 7 A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. 
1 Corinthians 12:4-7
Everyone who has put their belief and trust in Jesus as their Savior has been empowered by the Holy Spirit to do ministry through a unique gifting set given by the Spirit. Our unique gifts allow us to follow in Jesus’ steps in fulfilling the Great Commission of sharing the Gospel throughout the world. Mark Driscoll (Pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle), in his series on Spiritual Gifts, explains, “the gifts of God are dispensed through the Spirit of God so that the church of God can minister like the Son of God.” God has given His children special gifts to reveal and reflect who He is. Matt Williams shared in his teaching on 1 Corinthians 12 that your gift(s) help drive what you think is broken about the church and what needs to change. Different spiritual gifts bring out different ideas and passions; all are from God, reflecting who He is and what He thinks.

Identifying your spiritual gifts is essential in learning and understanding your role in the body of Christ to live out the greatest commandments – love God and love others (Matthew 22:37-39) – and to spread the kingdom of God. As believers, we carry the burden of sacrificing our lives in order to share in the suffering of Christ for the sake of the Gospel being proclaimed. Each believer has an indispensable part in the body of Christ so that the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) can be fulfilled. God created us uniquely so that we can work together, diverse but unified, to serve others and extend His kingdom to all parts of the world. When we bring our gifts to the table, and use them to glorify God and help one another, we reveal who God is to the world around us.

The Bible provides us with several passages describing different spiritual gifts – Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, 28; Ephesians 4:11-13, 1 Peter 4:10-11 – however this is not an exhaustive list. It is also important to recognize that spiritual gifts are different from natural talents – a spiritual gift is given at spiritual birth, when the Holy Spirit rests on a believer, while a natural talent is given at physical birth.

It is also important to understand that spiritual gifts are not age-based. Children who are believers have a spiritual gift set, although these gifts may not be apparent depending on where the child is in season and life experience. It is the job of the body of Christ, and especially parents, to help young believers, regardless of age, to recognize and develop their spiritual gifts. Parents need to examine and seek understanding of their own gifting, in order to be equipped to lead their children through discovering their unique gifts.

To learn more about spiritual gifts, you can visit our website for online teaching from 1 Corinthians. You can also check out The Resurgence blog to learn more about Mark Driscoll’s Spiritual Gifts series.

-Nicky Darling, Elementary Coordinator

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Training In Community

Are there people you can call for advice when you are in a time of struggle with certain behavior patterns and sinfulness in your child's life? Are there people who will encourage you and challenge you through hard times of child training? Do you have friends or family that know your child almost as well as you? Do you have people partnering with you in raising your children? I am very thankful to God that He has brought many of these kinds of friends into the life of our family, despite my efforts to raise my children on my own without community.

Oftentimes, I struggle to focus on the heart of my children and spend too much energy working on their behavior. I want courteous, diligent, and self-aware children, and I find myself abusing my parental authority to get the results I want. This behavior mentality of parenting finds us barking orders and giving "no!" as our most frequent response to our children. There is no joy or grace in this kind of parenting, and it does not honor God. Nor does it fulfill my role as their parent to train them in righteousness for the sake of the Gospel. God is gracious enough to bring friends and teachers into my life and the lives of our kids to advise, encourage, and model to us and our young ones what a family seeking God's glory first looks like.

Just this week, after a difficult couple of weeks struggling with two of our kids, we received a precious email of encouragement from some Camp Grace teachers. And not just for us, but for our child as well! They know her and love her for who God is growing her to be, and can see the Holy Spirit moving in her life and changing her. Not only did this encourage us that God is moving in the life of our child, but also encouraged us that He is so much bigger than our efforts to train behavior. Even when we go through seasons of forgetting to keep the cross central in our parenting, God does not, and He works beyond us.

Are there friends and volunteers that God uses to teach your children and encourage you? They do an invaluable job sharing the Gospel to our children at Grace every week, and try as I  may, I cannot help but live in community with them! Take some time this week to let those friends or volunteers that know your child well know that you value the time and energy they give in teaching and modeling a life centered on the Good News of the power of God.

-Molly Burns, Saturday Night Coordinator

Monday, March 21, 2011

Camp Grace Curriculum

We are in the middle of the climax of the Gospel story in our curriculum in Camp Grace. This past weekend, our elementary campers studied from Luke 23:32-43 and learned that faith in Christ covers the worst of sinners. 

This passage in Luke describes the events of Jesus and the two criminals' crucifixion. One of the criminals mocked Jesus, his heart hard with unbelief. The other criminal displayed great humility; he realized his sin, believed that Jesus was God and was innocent, and asked Jesus to remember him. Jesus responded with, "I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise." This criminal's humility and Jesus' loving responses are a powerful testimony of God's grace. The criminal was on the brink of death, but it was nothing he did to save himself; it was only by God's grace that he went to be in paradise with Jesus. No one is irredeemable. Jesus' blood is sufficient to cover all sins. All who have faith in Jesus are saved.

This upcoming weekend, we will continue our study of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, reading from Mark 15:33-47 and Matthew 28:1-10. We will learn that Jesus died on the cross, and restored man and God; He was resurrected, and He triumphed over death. Jesus gave His life, taking on the sin of the world and paying the punishment of our sin so we could have life. His death and resurrection allow us to be restored to relationship with God, if we believe and trust in Jesus as our Savior.

In our series of 1 Corinthians in adult worship this past weekend, we learned from chapter 15 that the resurrection is one of the defining elements that distinguishes Christianity from other religions and philosophies. The resurrection plants a stake in time and space, claiming everything before and after is rooted to this idea. Without the resurrection, Christianity is falsifiable. 2000 years later, the resurrection has not been disproved and people are still talking about it. We have a Savior who not only died for our sins, but triumphed over death once and for all.

We are at a critical point in our Camp Grace curriculum. As we approach this weekend, please be in prayer for our elementary campers. Pray for their hearts to be opened to recognizing the weight of their sin and the punishment they deserve, and understanding the grace of God through Jesus' death and resurrection. We have all been separated from God because of our sin, and we all need Jesus to redeem us.

For more information about our Camp Grace curriculum, click here. You can access Grace sermons online here.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Colorful Journey

All through school, and even after college, I was a strong, confident young woman. I was known for public speaking and theatre. Once after college, I coached high school kids in drama and storytelling for state and national competitions.

I was a strong communicator in person and in writing. I prided myself for these talents. I drew life from being able to get up in front of hundreds of people and make stories come to life. I loved the challenge of memorizing scripts in a short amount of time. As far as I was concerned, this is who I was and always would be. I'd continue being on the front lines, entertaining my audience and teaching others how to do the same. I was on top of the world. If anyone had warned me of my over-confidence, I would have replied, "These are talents God gave me and I'm just using them to their full potential."

Looking back, I realize I was putting my full identity in the talents God had given me, instead of allowing them to draw me closer to God and using them as an act of worship.

Little did I know that throughout the following 11 years, I would have some talents taken and some altered dramatically. My hold on what I thought was my identity would be shaken violently, and God would start to slowly show His daughter where her true identity rested.

Throughout these past 11 years, I've started treatment for infertility (7 years ago), have had 4 surgeries (one being a breast cancer scare), and watched my husband heal from a horrible accident that took months of physical therapy. Medications and hormone treatments took my ability to focus and communicate thoughts in the moment, making personal and group conversations unsettling and my verbal communication struggled/struggles immensely. I keep having to trust God that He will help me, and am learning to be patient with myself...and not "beat" myself up after thinking about the things I should have said or things I should have responded to. It also left me disoriented in crowds where once I used to thrive. I felt like the shell of the woman I once was.

In reality, God was forming me with gentle hands into the woman He wants me to become. I know it's a lifelong process, but the last 11 years, and especially the last 7 married years, have been amazing. How? God has reminded me that He wrote my story, He adores me, and He is walking me through it. With each shattering event, He has been there with open arms to fill and show me where my true identity lies. In Him, I'm His daughter and I'm to follow, trust, and obey Him. No matter my circumstances, that fact never changes.

Some of my talents/confidences are slowly being restored, but even if God withheld them I can still go on living a full and confident life in Him knowing this...'very thing, that He who started a good work in me will continue it until the return of Jesus Christ.'

- Valerie Gutschow, Preschool Big Group and Quest Coordinator

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How Has Project Kenya Impacted Your Family?

Check out the video about Project Kenya that was shown in adult worship last weekend. See what these children and adults had to say about what Project Kenya means to them, and how they are supporting Project Kenya.

What have you learned through Project Kenya? How has Project Kenya impacted you and your family? We would love to hear your thoughts! Leave us a comment!

Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day!

Have you had one of those days when you feel like no one else understands? I had one of those days recently. I was at the end of my rope. Trying with all of my might to just get through the day. I spoke with a dear friend, and she was such an encouragement to me! She shared Truth that I had lost my focus. She was so right! I had gotten mired down in the "poor me" attitude. Satan had attacked in numerous ways, and I had let my guard down. My attitude and reactions were a reflection of my very bad day. I was miserable. I was relying on me, not God.

My hope and faith are in Christ alone! Why is it so hard for me to remember this during my "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days?" I am focused on me. I know that it is for my good that I go through struggles, but if I stay focused on me and not God, I will continue to have "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days" during these struggles. Not to say that I won't have bad days, but my hope should be in God. Having faith that I will come through the struggles. I always have the choice of accepting or rejecting what God is teaching me. My life will reflect these choices.

I am so thankful for the willingness of my dear friend to share with me. I did fall that day, and will do so again. But God is faithful! He pointed out my sin, and wanted to change me to bring Him glory. We all go through struggles, and will go through more. We are called to share with one another to encourage each other. Not everyone has the same struggles, but someone has had the same learning experience as each of us. We are not alone!

Be encouraged today that someone has felt the way you have. We always have someone further along in life to encourage us, and someone coming in the future for us to encourage on our life journey. Know that we are an example to others. God is preparing us for His plan. 2 Corinthians 4:17, "For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison." What is your affliction today? Are you willing to share with others what God is teaching you?

- Kathryn Sanders, Powdersville Campus Children's Director

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Project Kenya Update. We Want To Hear From You!

We have completed our second week of collecting money for Project Kenya, and are well on our way to reaching our goal of $4000. After just two weeks, we have raised over $2500! Praise God, and a big thank you, for the faithfulness of our families to support this project!

We will continue raising money through March 27th, so please keep praying about your role in this adventure. It is our hope for this to be an opportunity for families to embrace the privilege we have to love and serve the people of Kenya. If you would like more information about Project Kenya, please check out a previous post with details, and watch a video.

We want to hear from you! Leave us a comment about how Project Kenya has impacted your child(ren), what God has taught you through Project Kenya, how your family has taken part, or anything you want to share with us!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Preschool Curriculum: Sacrifice

The unit we are starting this weekend in Preschool Ministry is on Sacrifice. I sit here and ponder what the word sacrifice really means to me. I think it is so hard to “sacrifice” that piece of chocolate because it is not good for me. Or “sacrifice” buying that new outfit because I don’t need to spend the money right now. But that is not at all what “sacrifice” really is. As we talk about it with our children over the next three weeks, they will be learning the true meaning of “sacrifice.”

In the first two weeks, our children will learn how Moses was sent by God to tell Pharaoh to let His people go. Because of Pharaoh’s hard heart, he would not do so. God sent 10 plagues to try to change Pharaoh’s heart, but Pharaoh continued to say “no.” The children will be learning how God is holy and judges sin. They will also learn that when we disobey, we break our relationship with Him. What a powerful concept for our little ones to learn.

In the third week, our children will learn how Jesus is the sacrificial Lamb that was sent to “fix” our relationship with Him. All of God’s judgment for our sin was put on Jesus at the cross. WOW - that is true sacrifice! He was the perfect lamb without sin, but took on our sin so we could be made right with God.

As I go over this lesson, I am humbled by what God did for me. He took the punishment I deserve. He bore the pain I should bear. He died instead of me. God loves me so much that He did all that for me. He sacrificed EVERYTHING so that I may be made right with Him. Does my view of sacrifice and His view of sacrifice match up? No, not at all. I am challenged by this lesson. I want to be able to lay everything down and just trust Him. I want to be able to live out the fact that He is my substitute, and all I am, say, and do should glorify the sacrifice He made for me.

I ask you to walk alongside your children the next couple of weeks as they learn that they are sinners, and that because of their sin, their relationship with God is broken. I pray that they will realize (like we all have to) that the only way to “fix” this broken relationship is to believe that Jesus was the perfect sacrifice who died on the cross so that we may be made right with God and our relationship may be restored.

- Ivy White, Preschool Development Coordinator 

For more information about our preschool programming and curriculum, click here.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Let Your "Yes Be Yes" - And That Goes For Your Spouse, Too!

We all struggle with simply letting our "Yes" or "No" speak for themselves, but what if the words are not your own?! Let me expound...I get home from work recently and while upstairs with my 5-year old, he asks, "Dad, can I get a screwdriver out of your toolbox?" "Sure," I respond. I see no reason why not. My son runs happily downstairs to where the toolbox, and my wife, is. As he rumbles through the tools, I hear my wife say, "William, didn't Mommy say you couldn't play with Daddy's tools?"

I have been fooled. What to do? I am in a dilemma. I do not see any problem letting William play with my tools. It may be fun for us to work together. Why does my wife, his Mom, care? Of course, that is the same thought process William had when he posed his question to me. Whose side do I take?

In my opinion, one of the biggest blessing we can give a child is a home where Mom and Dad are One. And not just in God's eyes (all couples are One in God's eyes - check out the "One" series for further study), but in THE CHILD'S EYES; the child knows Mom and Dad stand by each other. Mom and Dad back each other up. Mom and Dad are together, no matter what. Mom and Dad side with each other...not with the child, not with a grandparent, but with each other. Do Mom and Dad always have to agree? No. That is impossible. But, ultimately, a child will thrive in an environment where Mom and Dad are supportive of one another first and foremost.

My son's trick is nothing new. I remember pulling it on my parents myself! And, you may be thinking, "What's the big deal?" The point is this: William was trying to go around his Mom's authority. If I do not stop him from going through the toolbox, EVEN if I don't have a problem with him playing with my tools, I have communicated to William that his Mom is not the authority. And that he can find ways to avoid submitting to her authority.

But, if I take the time and effort to uphold my wife's word, even if I may not agree with it, I communicate to my son where he stands in the home; namely, not in charge of it! Is it really that big of a deal? We have to remember the end goal.

Our goal is for our children to one day put themselves willingly under God's authority. As we parent them, we must do all we can to give them a loving, safe place to put themselves under our authority first. As they submit to our authority, they learn how to submit to God's authority. If the child sees that Mom and Dad are united in the everyday affairs of the family, even our "Yes's" and "No's," we create an environment they can trust. They know the boundaries. They can rest confidently in knowing their place in their home, and ultimately, in their world.

Support your spouse's word. Create an environment where a child has to put himself or herself under authority. My prayer is that putting themselves under God's authority, where the Trinity is ALWAYS unified, will be a natural response later in life.

- Will Bouton, Downtown Children's Ministry Director