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making the connection | December 10, 2017

December 7, 2017

Henry Longfellow, the famous 19th century American poet and educator, knew what it felt like to lack hope and peace. In 1861 his wife, Fanny, tragically died after her dress caught on fire. The first Christmas after Fanny’s death, Longfellow wrote in his journal, “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.” A year later, he wrote, “I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.” Two years later his oldest son Charles, who had joined the Union Army, was severely wounded during the Mine Run Campaign. A bullet passed just under his shoulder blades, skimming his spine. He avoided being paralyzed by less than an inch. Thankfully, Charles eventually recovered.

Longfellow composed a poem on Christmas Day in 1863 that sought to convey the contrast he saw in the world around him and felt in his own heart with the joy he knew others were experiencing during the Christmas season. The country was deeply divided due to the Civil War. He was still heartbroken over the death of his wife and injury of his son. He heard the Christmas bells ringing and knew people were singing “peace on earth,” but he couldn’t easily identify that peace in his world. But as he kept writing he finally settled on how God’s presence brings hope and peace in the midst of a troubled world. Longfellow’s poem eventually became the Christmas song “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” that many people know and love:

I heard the bells on Christmas day their old familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet the words repeat of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come, the belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along th’unbroken song of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head: “There is no peace on earth,” I said,

“For hate is strong, and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till, ringing, singing, on its way, the world revolved from night to day

A voice, a chime, a chant sublime, of peace on earth, good will to men.

– I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

At times we may feel like there is no peace on earth. But heaven came down to earth 2000 years ago and brought hope and peace. And because of that we can join together to proclaim that, “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.” – Sarah Neel

making the connection | December 3, 2017

November 29, 2017

When you read the word heaven what comes to mind? For many, it is a place where they hope they will end up living after they die. For others, they may feel like they haven’t been good enough to expect that God would let them in. And for some, they don’t think about heaven much because they are consumed with living life the best way they know how. Our hope with this series is to help people know that heaven is a real place and to help people understand how people get there.

Heaven is one of the great realities for every follower of Jesus. Once you have placed your trust in Jesus as your Savior you have been promised eternity in heaven. All we have to do is trust in and acknowledge that Jesus addressed the consequences of our sins by dying on the cross. And then, three days later, God used His limitless power to raise Jesus from the dead. This is the same power that will give everyone who believes in Jesus the ability to have everlasting life in heaven after our human death on this earth. What an incredible truth for us to believe in!

So, you might be thinking, that’s great for when my time is up, but what about now? Great question. One of the gifts that come with the assurance of going to heaven is the freedom to stop worrying about trying to be good enough. Ephesians 2:8 says, God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. God knew we could never be good enough, so He provided a way for us to make things right with Him through Jesus. Does this mean we can then go on and live however we want? Sure, we can. But I believe a better way to look at things would be to consider how you would respond to someone who just saved your life from a burning house or drowning in a lake? Wouldn’t you feel indebted to that person and want to respond by showing them gratitude and paying their act forward? I believe our response to God should be much the same if we let the seriousness of what He has done for us really sink in. God didn’t just save you when you believed to keep you out of hell. He saved you and set you on a different path so that you could experience true life through a relationship with Him. He knows that if you will trust Him and seek to live your life as if Jesus was in your shoes, you will begin to experience a rich and fulfilling life.

The choice, however, is up to you. Will you go on living life your way or learn to live life the way God intended it? It won’t always be easy, but I can tell you from experience that it will be worth it and you will never regret serving God because of your gratitude for what He has done for you.

– Scott Nieveen

  • Does the thought of spending eternity in heaven impact how you live now? Why or why not?
  • Why is it so easy for believers to take for granted what God has done for them through their salvation?
  • Read Titus 3:3-7. Let these words sink in. Read it again. In your own words, tell God how thankful you are for what He has done for you.

Heavenly Peace

November 27, 2017

As the world swirls and churns in turmoil around us, sometimes the last thing we feel is peace. Yet there is something comforting about even the thought of peace. The same could be said about heaven.

Heaven and peace are linked together and have been the subjects of literature, music, theatre, and art of every kind for centuries. And while people have sought to describe them, and even achieve them, both are still rather mysterious and fraught with misunderstanding. Heaven is not a fantasy or a fairy tale, and peace isn’t a legend or wishful thinking – both are real.

Heavenly peace isn’t reserved for the “one great day” or an overly dramatic holiday commercial, it’s actually available in the future AND now. Although people have been searching for heaven and peace for centuries, this Christmas season we’ll learn what it truly is, and discover that it’s closer than any of us think.

Join us for our 2017 Christmas series, Heavenly Peace. Services are Sundays at 9 and 10:45am.

CHRISTMAS SERVICES:

Saturday, December 23 – 4 and 5:45pm (children’s programming through age 3)
Sunday, December 24 – 9 and 10:45am (children’s programming through 6th grade)

Celebrate Christmas with us at one of our four candlelight services. Invite your family and friends via social media, through the WCC App, or pick up print invitations at the Info Center. You can even RSVP and invite others to a specific service through our Events listing on Facebook.

GIVING OPPORTUNITIES:

Additionally, we’re providing multiple ways that we can give a little peace to the hurting in our community and world this year.

  • WCC’s Care Fund will help three key needs, including; hardship, addiction, and missions. This annual offering will be received in services on Sunday, December 17.
  • Adopt-A-Family gives you the chance to provide some Christmas gifts to a family in need. Or, you can provide PJ’s & Bibles through Sonlight’s Christmas Offering project.
  • Bell Ringing is a great way to help the Salvation Army raise funds to impact our community physically and spiritually. Multiple dates, times, and locations are availableFor more details, visit the Christmas Giving Opportunities page or stop by the Info Center on Sundays.

Contact: Amber Gelbaugh x107

making the connection | November 26, 2017

November 21, 2017

I’m not a runner. That’s an understatement. You’ll probably never hear about me training for a marathon. Yet, I admire marathon runners. They have a level of focus and commitment I aspire to.

A marathoner (if that’s a word) has a clear goal that they orient their lives around in all their thinking, training, eating, et cetera. The goal is basically to run 26.2 miles in a certain amount of time. Now, I imagine there are days that your average marathoner doesn’t feel like running 10+ miles for training. Maybe it’s the cold, wind, or rain tempting them to skip a day. Yet on those days, they run anyways. It takes resolve to rise above temptations, reasonable excuses, and adverse circumstances. This determination to stay the course is what we need as followers of Christ.

When faced with hardship, difficult decisions, or uncertainty, how do we find strength? How do we pinpoint a way through?

First, we need an awareness that is easy to be tossed back and forth by our emotions and desires. We shouldn’t try to stuff down our feelings, but we need to realize that they can lead us astray if we let them.

Second, we need to understand how reason and logic may help us problem solve, but they can also hold us back from trusting God with situations that seem impossible.

Third, we need to open our eyes to the reality that our circumstances are not everything. Just as our two eyes provide us with a limited perspective of the world, our ability to know the way through trials can be limited.

These three steps raise our awareness, but still leave us in our problems, right? So now what? We need to seek God’s help.

God can help us through the wisdom of others. There are people whose wisdom may help you find the light at the end of the tunnel. When we have issues and we try to go it alone, we may be avoiding the very people God wants to use to help us. Read Proverbs 2:2 and 1 Thessalonians 5:11.

God also helps and guides us with His Word. Today we have access to the Bible like never before. We need to look to scriptures to provide us with wisdom, encouragement, guidance, and even to redirect us. See Psalm 119:133 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

Ultimately, God helps us by His Spirit. Believers have the Holy Spirit—full stop. Don’t overlook the reality that the Holy Spirit is a counselor, comforter, and advocate for every Christ-follower 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. When we have needs, the Holy Spirit is present and active on our behalf. Check out John 16:13 and Romans 8. –Nate Metler

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.