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making the connection | November 19, 2017

November 15, 2017

Most of us are at least somewhat familiar with a few of the laws that God gave the Israelites through Moses. We may not have all of the Ten Commandments memorized, but we get the general idea, right? Remember the Sabbath, honor our parents, don’t murder or commit adultery, etc.

But did you know God gave Israel just a few more rules to follow? Ok, actually 603 more. That’s right, the Israelites had 613 rules they had to follow. Could you imagine trying to follow 613 different rules? Or even trying to remember them all? It’s exhausting just thinking about it. Imagine having to live in that reality.

The people of Israel tried to keep all of God’s laws. But it was impossible. They tripped up. They made mistakes. But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law instead of by trusting in him. They stumbled over the great rock in their path. (Romans 9:31-32, NLT)

God didn’t give Israel the law so they could earn their way into right standing with Him. He gave the law to show how sinful they were. For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. (Romans 3:20, NLT)

The law shows us our sinfulness but it also shows us God’s grace. Israel couldn’t keep God’s law. They couldn’t make themselves righteous. And we can’t either. So God poured out His grace and sent His Son to fulfill the law and make us right with Him. (see Romans 5:20 and Galatians 2:21) – Sarah Neel

  • Think about the difference between coming to God by faith in Christ and trying to earn your way to Him. Have you been guilty of the latter?
  • Christians today don’t attempt to follow the 613 laws God gave Israel, but we can find ourselves falling prey to legalism. How has God liberated you from this spiritual bondage? How can you guard against legalism in your life?
  • Take some time to pray. Thank God for His grace and for sending His Son to fulfill the law. Ask Him to help you not fall into legalism but rely on His grace and freedom.

Grace Wind Ensemble Fall Concert

November 13, 2017

The Grace Wind Ensemble will host their Fall Concert on Friday, November 17, 7:30pm at the Winona Heritage Room. The concert is free of charge, however donations are greatly appreciated.

This fall’s theme will be “American Folk,” directed by Conductor, Eric Criss. Popular favorites will include Slidin’ Down the Mississippi, Yankee Doodle, and American Salute.

The Wind Ensemble includes both students and community members and provides public performances several times per year.

 

making the connection | November 12, 2017

November 7, 2017

Taking a trip to a place you have never been before has never been easier. When I was a kid growing up my dad would plan out a long trip by getting each state’s map that we would be traveling through. He would then chart out a course and pick what he thought would be the fastest route. I enjoyed watching him trying to read the map while driving and my mom trying to help. Fortunately today we have all kinds of navigation aids – GPS devices, Google Maps and some cars that have a navigation system built right in. Not only do they know the best routes, they often can alert us of roads that are closed, traffic jams, and even accidents shortly after they take place.

Wouldn’t it be great if we each could have a personal guide to help us navigate through life?! If you believe in God and chose Jesus to be the Savior of your life, the great news is that you do have this. God desires to guide our lives and lead us into the most meaningful ways to live out our human existence. However, just like our GPS system, we have to choose to use it and then respond to what it tells us.

God can use many ways to show us what He desires. His two primary ways to give us the guidance we need are through what He has written down for us in the Bible and through the leading of His Holy Spirit. However, similar to us not using a GPS when we travel, or ignoring its directions, we need to be intentional in pursuing this help from God in our lives on a daily basis. Spending some daily time reading God’s Word will be a tremendous help – especially spending time focused on how Jesus lived and seeing what instructions Paul gives to believers and churches in the books He wrote (Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon).

God’s Holy Spirit, living inside every believer, is also one of His main ways to guide and help us. Some of the ways the Spirit of God can lead is by helping us understand and apply what we read in the Bible, convicting us of sin, burdening us to help someone we notice in need, reminding us of a truth that we have read to help guide us or encourage someone else with, and the list goes on and on.

The main point is this. God wants us to experience the life He planned for us. And the only way we can is with His help and guidance. We need to take our eyes off of what we want and focus them on what God desires. Then we can find the joy and contentment a life lived for Him brings. ­–Scott Nieveen

  •  In what ways do you try to live your life in alignment with God’s plans and purposes versus living for what you personally want?
  •  Read Psalm 25:4-5 and James 1:5-6. What are some takeaways from these verses that you can utilize your own life?
  •  How much of an opportunity are you giving God to guide you in life? Are you in His Word on a regular basis? Do you consider the Spirit of God in your life as a Helper and Guide?
  •  Quiet your heart and mind before the Lord and ask Him to help you pursue the kind of things He wants, and be responsive when He does nudge you towards what’s best for you.

making the connection | November 5, 2017

November 1, 2017

God is personal. He really sees and hears us. Through the story of the Exodus, these characteristics of God are illustrated in amazing ways. The Exodus features God as the central character, not Moses or Pharaoh or even Israel. God enters into the situation boldly. He introduces Himself as “The Great I Am” (Exodus 3:14), meaning He is eternal and above all. He sends Moses to speak on His behalf to Pharaoh. God does all this to show everyone who He is and what He is like. He desperately wants for Israel to understand His presence and that He cares for them. One of the primary lessons of the Exodus story is that our God, who loves us, does what He says and we should trust Him.

God’s plans prevail. God planned for His people to flourish and grow in Egypt (See Genesis 1:28 and Exodus 1:7). However, a pharaoh came about who didn’t know God and hated that the Israelites were outnumbering the Egyptians. Pharaoh responded out of fear, because he didn’t know or trust in the true God. God responded to him with 10 incredible plagues and brought about the deliverance of His people from slavery. Through it all, God’s plans were accomplished. His people were freed and they knew Him and His character in a deeper way.

God wants us to know Him, just like the Israelites came to know Him. Knowing what God is like should have a real impact on our lives every single day. When we realize He truly sees us in our circumstances, it can comfort us no matter what we’re facing. When we understand that He hears us, we can be grateful because we are truly valued by Him. When we look at stories of God working, or reflect on His work in our past, we can be reassured that He is for us today, tomorrow, and every day after. You probably haven’t had an Exodus-level experience, but let God’s work with Israel help you build a foundation of trust and deepen your knowledge of who He really is. –Nate Metler

  • Commit to reading Exodus 1-15 over the next two weeks (a chapter a day).
  • Spend some time in prayer, asking God to help you know Him more and see His presence in your everyday life.
  • Think about practical ways God may want to use you to communicate the hope and freedom found in Him to someone He loves.

making the connection | October 29, 2017

October 25, 2017

Genesis 37-50 tells the story of Joseph whose life was filled with twists and turns. He was loved by his father and hated by his brothers. His father’s favoritism led his brothers to scheme against him and sell him into slavery. He was a trusted advisor, then framed for a crime he didn’t commit and thrown into prison. He then became the second most powerful man in Egypt and saved the nation from famine.

Through all these things, God was sovereign in Joseph’s life. While Joseph didn’t know how his circumstances were going to play out, he trusted that God was good and had a plan.

At the end of Joseph’s story, he had a chance to reconnect with his brothers. They were the catalyst for his crazy life so he had every reason to hate them and get his revenge. But because he recognized God’s sovereignty he was able to say, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)

Through all that Joseph endured, God did not abandon him. God does not abandon us either. God is bigger than the trials we face. Joseph had faith in God’s goodness. He trusted that God would see him through every situation. Joseph could have chosen to react to his circumstances very differently. But he had faith that God would be there for him during the trials and triumphs of his life. – Marianne Watson

  • Have you ever been in an uncomfortable situation where you saw someone from your past that wronged you? How did you handle the situation?
  • Has there ever been a time in your life that felt unsettled? Looking back now, can you see where God was at work?
  • There is so much to learn from Joseph’s story. Take some time this week to uncover more about God’s work in Joseph’s life by reading Genesis 37-50.
  • Spend some time in prayer this week thanking God for the example of His sovereignty in Joseph’s story. Ask Him to help you trust that He is at work in your life too.

making the connection | October 22, 2017

October 18, 2017

Have a little faith. Have you ever had someone say this to you in life? I have, and it is usually someone trying to get me to help them out with something or go along with their plan. In our skeptical society we put little faith into anything. We have been disappointed or let down too many times. But when it comes to God, we should realize that He is not like us and He does what He says He will do. Maybe not according to our plan or timeframe but according to His plan.

When God came to Abraham and in essence said have a little faith, He was inviting an average shepherd to step into God’s story and experience God in a new way. I would dare to say that to move your entire family to a place you don’t know would take more than a little faith. But because Abraham had seen God provide for his family over the years, he was willing to stretch his faith and trust God in this new venture. He believed that God was good and could be trusted.

I often wonder what God might have done if Abraham said “no” to God. Would He have gone to someone else and made the same offer? But then I quickly reflect on the meaning and purpose God brought to Abraham and his family because he did trust God. His life of faith then allowed him to join God’s plan to offer salvation to anyone who chooses to believe in Him and what He has done through Jesus.

God is inviting each of us into His story, even today. Most likely it won’t be of the epic proportions that Abraham experienced, but if it’s from God it will be meaningful and of eternal value. In order for us to join God we have to be leaning His direction and seeking out what God has shown us in His Word and what He might be doing right around us. We know that God is all about helping people in need by restoring their lives through a relationship with Jesus. Often this begins by asking God to give us the love and patience to step into people’s lives and begin caring for them. As you do, things can get messy, you won’t always know what to do, and circumstances may feel impossible. I am convinced this is just how Abraham felt as he followed God. And this is where, like Abraham, we need to re-up on our trust in God on a daily basis. I can tell you from personal experience, that when you do join God, you’ll be so glad you did because you will see God’s purpose for you played out right before you. – Scott Nieveen

  •  Are you asking God to show you areas in your life where you can join Him in His plans to love and save people?
  •  What is something that you may need to cut back on or stop doing to create some space in your life to join God?
  • Write down specific thoughts you have that can hinder your ability to trust God more. Talk to God about these and ask Him to help you grow your faith in Him.

making the connection | October 15, 2017

October 11, 2017

As a young Christian growing up I once heard a pastor say, “It’s more important that you know whose you are than who you are.” Once we place our faith in Jesus to be our Savior, we belong to God. However, we can often forget that we are God’s and live life with little consideration of His leading and guidance in our lives.

In the story of Cain and Abel we see how differently these brothers responded to God’s direction in their lives. Hebrews 11:4 tells us that faith was the difference between Abel and Cain’s offerings. Abel’s offering reflected a response of faith, while Cain’s offering reflected his effort to please God in his own thinking and best efforts. In order for us to trust God’s truths and guidance for our lives we must first believe that He has our best in mind. God has a deep desire for us to continue growing and becoming more like Jesus.

Another awesome quality of God’s we see in the story of Cain and Abel is the way God responded to Cain’s disappointment and frustration. Instead of just leaving Cain on his own, God pursued him with love, in an attempt to restore their relationship. God warned Cain that if he left bitterness and anger unchecked in his heart it would control him and most likely lead him to do something he’d regret.

Even though God would prefer we depend on Him always, and make wise choices, He knows that we will fail. And when we do, He loves us so much that He wants to help us move beyond the mess that our sin has caused. Don’t let the lies of the enemy tell you God doesn’t care, or that you have sinned too many times to come to Him and experience the forgiveness He has given us. God’s aim is for us to grow from our mistakes and get our relationship back on track with Him. It’s never too late to come back to God, and with His help begin doing the right things. Scott Nieveen

  • How do you typically respond when things do not go your way or you get offended by someone?
  • God knows how destructive it can be when we hold on to unforgiveness in our hearts. One of the best first steps we can take is admit to God what is bothering us. Then we can sit quietly with God and ask His Holy Spirit to guide us in how to begin addressing the situation. Sometimes this will mean humbling ourselves, even when we think we’ve done nothing wrong, and approaching the people involved with a gentle spirit and a desire to work through the issue.
  • Take a moment right now and thank God for His love and constant pursuit of us – even when we have made a mess of things. Ask Him for His help to respond like Jesus would if He were in our shoes.