Sunday, December 21, 2014

Grace to Know the Word to Speak

Chris and I met by chance at an eatery. Our conversation began with the typical small talk, and Chris said that he was just passing through the area as he looked for work. He said that he enjoys working outside with his hands, and for many years worked on oil rigs, sending money home to aid in the raising of his oldest two children (now adults). Then Chris told me he just had a new baby and was returning to some of those practices. 

I listened to Chris tell me about his children and his personal habits. Observing him, I could sense his pain and see concern in Chris's eyes; here was a man who wanted to help raise his child to be "a good person,” but was not sure how he could accomplish this when so many things in the world are a mess. It was at this point I said to Chris, “I don’t know if you are a person of faith, but I believe there is One who can fix all these problems in this world. His name is Jesus.” Chris agreed with me; he told me that he used to go to church, and that he had met Jesus. He quoted some Scripture from the book of Matthew and smiled.

A short time later, Chris told me of the regretful things he had done in his life, including belonging to a gang that he was able to leave only because of his brothers' positions in the gang. At that point the pain in Chris's heart became increasingly evident. “I want to change but I can’t. Sometimes I think my wife and baby would be better off without me,” he said.

I asked Chris if I could reflect on what I had heard up to that point, and he allowed me to do that. I recounted his desire to serve his family and raise his children well, and told Chris that although he felt helpless and useless, Christ sees him as being so important, He died for his sins. I told him there is nothing which can stop God from redeeming him, and that God has a purpose for him. 

At this point Chris thanked me and said that he believed God had sent me to that random eatery to meet with Chris and encourage him.

“All praise be to God," I said.

Chris asked, “Do you mean that? Do you really mean that?”

“I do.” 

“Thank you.” 

I told Chris to get back to his family and to take care of them, and reminded him to bring anything he needed to God. Chris left what was before him at that moment and returned to his family.

Please join me in praying for Chris and all of those who feel they aren’t good enough for God to love. Pray that their hearts and ears will be open to the truth of God's love and the Good News that, although none of us can be "good enough," Jesus’ righteousness reaches beyond each person's downfalls and redeems the broken.

Pastor Josh

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

I'm tired. Actually, a more accurate word would be exhausted.

Last Thursday my daughter ran into a tree while sledding, breaking both of the lower bones in her left leg (tibia and fibula). As one can guess, the physical pain associated with this injury is intense -- and it is compounded by the doctor's projection that Abigail will spend six weeks in a cast (an especially cruel sentence for a flittery, fluttery, dance-everywhere-you-go kind of girl).

For the past several days I have been subject to the discomfort of my child, I have slept very little, I have been limited in my ability to just hop in the car and "take care of business," and I have had to act as full-time nurse for a child who's just about unable to do anything for herself.

Just a short while ago, this type of situation would have been my undoing. But I thank God that--because of the lessons that He has lovingly taught me--I am able to look past my situation and instead focus on His grace! God has provided help though my (amazing) son, my family, and my friends; He has comforted Abigail (a blessing that cannot be overstated, especially from the mother's viewpoint); He has provided a wonderful insurance plan, which means there will be no worries about how to pay for the Emergency Room visit and subsequent follow-up visits with the orthopedic doctor; and He has reached down to instill in me a sense of peace throughout this entire situation.

There is no denying that I am exhausted; but more importantly, I am loved, I have been forgiven, I am blessed, and I am thankful.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. -Philippians 4:4-7

-Trish Gerstel

Friday, December 5, 2014

Over the past couple of months my husband has had health issues, on top of trying to help his sister, who has advanced MS. We have argued, cried together, and have prayed together. I have asked God for strength for my husband as well as for myself, and was feeling strong -- then a relative that I love crushed me with actions that led to bad feelings, and over the past two weeks little things that happen make me cry; this is unusual for me.
Last night I took a spiritual gifts test in prep for an activity we will be doing  next Tuesday at Unchained. The three gifts that had the top score were encouragement, faith, and shepherd. I spent some time in Scripture that went with those three, and realized why God has let these recent things happen: It is because I needed to feel it, to overcome it with His power and strength, and to advance in my maturity in Christ.
As I advance through my day today, I am not going to say "why me?". I am going to advance, knowing that by the grace God has given to me, and that no matter what happens, it's ok and it is in His will!
"When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts." Acts 11:23
Stacey Sicko

Monday, November 24, 2014

Boy has it been a Monday!

After an extremely full weekend, I was not at all rested when I woke up to face a day of homeschooling, chores, and time at the Berlin Community Food Closet (BCFC). Sadly, I didn't meet the challenge in the proper way (quiet time in God's Word and praying to Him for guidance) but instead tried to plow through it on my own -- never a good choice.
Homeschooling difficulties came almost as soon as we started (such difficulties are expected when you have an autistic child, but they are much better handled when you've taken the time to connect with the Lord and experience His peace), and each of my chores seemed to hit some kind of bump. In addition, I knew that multiple boxes and bags of generous food donations were at the church, waiting to be moved to Max Hall (where the BCFC is located) -- and my back was beginning to act up.

As you might have guessed, my attitude mirrored my "luck" as the day wore on; and it hit its peak when I got to the church and realized that I had left the house without my BCFC keys.
Thankfully, while toting the above-mentioned boxes to the BCFC, the Spirit moved me to pray. "Lord, please show me your hand at work in all of this, because I'm having a really hard time seeing it!" And did He ever.
Three individual were waiting at the BCFC when I arrived, two men and an older woman. Both gentlemen offered to help carry in the donations (my back was extremely grateful!), and we immediately we discovered that within those bags and boxes lay absolutely everything that was needed to supply everyone with three days' worth of food (breakfast, lunch, and dinner); there was no need for me to run back to my house for my keys, or to bug Pastor Matt for his set of keys.

I was my own worst enemy today: I was the one who was prideful ("I'll bulldoze through") instead of humble ("I can't do this - only God can!"), and I was the one who let circumstances take hold of my attitude and drive it into the ground. But despite all of that, God reached out with His grace. His Spirit moved me to turn toward Him so that He could show me His ever-present love.

God is good!

-Trish Gerstel

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sustaining Grace

I’ve been a little overwhelmed lately: I’ve been at the doctor’s and the hospital with my children more times in the last several months than I have in my entire almost 17 years as a parent of three. It has forced me to put less emphasis on my schoolwork, which means I’m often unmotivated to do assignments, and am scrambling to do them last minute.

Through all this God has showed me grace so many times.

There are some days at school when it just seems like too much, and God puts in my path a friendly face. There have been times when I'm feeling unequipped and unhelpful and worthless, and I get a message from a student, an opportunity to share my faith, or a hug from one of my previous or current Youth Fellowship kids, reminding me that I am still being used for God’s work. Occasionally my future career seems like a ridiculous idea, and then I get to observe an awesome teacher who encourages me - or walk through the halls of the school and students still remember and are glad to see me. All of these little things, and so many more, are ways God has shown His grace to me through this crazy busy time.

Chantel Bink

Saturday, November 15, 2014

You know how you have one of those weeks when you have so much on your plate it seems impossible? You think, "there is no time and no way I can do all that." It stresses you out so much you can't sleep -- and then God reminds you, "I've got this. I am your Father, I will take care of your needs. Don't worry."

I've had one of those weeks. But I had faith and didn't worry and by the end of the week, I was like, "WOW, GOD IS AMAZING!!"

Cindy Capasso

Monday, November 3, 2014

Grace Through the Darkness

On November 1, Youth Pastor Kevin Bonesteel preached at the Berlin Seventh Day Baptist Church. During his sermon, Kevin shared a bit of his testimony, which reveals how God's grace can touch us even when we think all hope is lost:

As I child I lived in fear – mostly a fear of failure and of acceptance. I believed that I was worthless and that I could do nothing right. My friendships were shallow, I was contently bullied in school, and my family life was anything but peaceful. To no fault of my parents I spent most of my early years in the background as my parents were constantly dealing with and struggling with how to handle my brother, Phillip, who has severe brain damage which has made him aggressive, violent, and often uncontrollable. It seemed like all my parents time was invested in him and there was not a lot left for me. It made it hard to make friends, since I couldn’t invite them over because you never knew when Phillip was going to erupt.

There was one thing in my life that was constant: I played soccer and I was pretty good at it. As I started getting older, other people started point out to me that I was pretty good too; I became obsessed – the praise was amazing. I was finally good at something and people were recognizing me. I was valuable, I was important, and I was no longer in the background – or at least I thought.  Then, at pivotal time in the soccer career of a boy I broke my ankle, sprained the other one twice, and had to have emergency surgery on my calf to have a blood clot removed. I lost everything! Since I was not running, I gained a lot more weight and my so-called friends stopped talking to me. To add to it, I was three years behind everyone else when it came to my soccer abilities. My pride was destroyed, my obsession gone. But God was in control and knew exactly what He was doing – not that I knew that then. Because of my injuries I soon dropped out of soccer and felt like I had nowhere to turn. I was again alone and afraid; the one thing I was good at was gone. During my time on crutches I met a few people in school who invited be back to Youth Group. I again heard the message of God’s love and sacrifice for me, and because the wall that was my pride was knocked down, I was able to begin to understand what it meant to be a Christian. Because of my humbling experience I was able to realize my inabilities to fix my life, and was open to His leading, and to accepting His love and His grace.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A few days ago I was contacted by someone who I had not seen in about five years -- a person who had caused a great deal of hurt and turmoil in my life about 10 years before that.

Five years ago my attitude towards this individual was bitter. My retribution was to spew out hateful words and to wallow in my wounded pride. When I asked Jesus into my heart, however, His grace showed me how to (and gave me the strength to) forgive the person. As a result, my reaction to them was completely different when they contacted me a few days ago: I understood that their actions all those years ago came from a place of deep hurt (one that they still are striving to fill), and I responded to them in a loving manner.

I'm not sure if my loving response to this individual had any great impact on them (our contact was limited), even though I hope that God used it to draw them nearer to Him. What I do know for certain, though, is that God used it to strengthen me and give me peace. Five years ago, an encounter with this person---one that I reacted to with hate---left me angry and in a dark place for days. Just a few days ago, an encounter with them---one that I reacted to with love---left me feeling joyful and full of gratitude.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

As I was waiting for a procedure that my husband was getting done today, I noticed an elderly man named Bob sitting there, reading his Bible and underlining scripture. God called me to go talk with him. We had a great conversation and I read some Scripture to him from my Bible. God called me to share His love with this gentleman. We ended with a hand shake and when I told him that I will pray for his wife he said, "God bless you."

After Bob left the room I thought about that statement: I am blessed! God's grace brought Bob and I together in that waiting room today, bringing comfort to both of us.

Stacey Sicko

Friday, October 17, 2014

As many of you know my family has been faced with a difficult situation over the past week: My older brother, Ed, suffered a stroke in the frontal lobe of his brain nearly two weeks ago. This is the part of the brain that controls our impulses and other higher functions. As a result my kindhearted, generous brother who loves the Lord, has become forgetful, combative, and foul-mouthed. Right now my younger brother, Rick, and his wife Kris are the ones who are dealing with it most directly, as they have flown to Seattle -- where Ed lives -- in order to bring him back with them to their home in Minneapolis.

But even in as trying a situation as this one has been, God’s grace shines through!

At one point it looked as if Ed would have to stay in Seattle for two to three weeks to receive therapy. Rick and Kris couldn’t stay in Seattle for that long, though, since they had a home to take care of, jobs to perform, and a wedding to prepare for (Rick’s daughter is to be married on November 1). But Ed would need to be looked after, and he has no friends or family in Seattle. This led me to contact Ken Burdick, pastor of the Seventh Day Baptist Church in Seattle, to ask if he might be willing to check in on Ed. I was upfront about the fact that this would not be a pleasant task, because I didn’t want Pastor Ken to be unaware of what he was agreeing to do. Almost immediately Pastor Ken wrote back to say that both he and his wife would be more than willing to make contact with Ed and provide him with pastoral care. Now, remember, Ken and Ruth do not know Ed from Adam. Remember also that Ed has become a handful, to say the least. And yet Ken was more than willing to do this because, as he wrote, “Christ’s love constrains us” to do what is pleasing to Him (see 2 Corinthians 5:14).

As it turned out, Ed will be moving to Minneapolis -- at least for now -- and Ken and Ruth will not need to follow through for now. But their offer stands, and if Ed ends up back in Seattle for some reason, he will have people there who love and care for him. But here’s the best part: Ken and Ruth’s gracious actions opened the door for me to share my faith and the Gospel with my siblings. They were amazed that anyone would be willing to do this for a stranger, which opened the door for me to explain what a blessing it is to belong to a “family” that will graciously care for one another because they have experienced God’s grace in their own lives.

And that is how God’s grace was at work in my life just this week.

Pastor Matt

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Grace to Let Go

As far back as I can remember, I was a people pleaser. I strived to do things that would make people "like" me so that I could feel as if I had some sort of value. Without the approval of others, I felt worthless.

Today, I praise the Lord every day for opening my heart to the truth of His love: That a Holy God sent His Son to live amongst sinners in a fallen world full of sin and death, and that Jesus Christ was willingly mocked, beaten, hung upon a cross to die, and covered in my sin so that I might have eternal life. This knowledge gives me a true sense of value -- one that cannot be taken away by the ways of this world.

"For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:38-39

-Trish Gerstel