From the Pastor
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Grace Family!
We have come to the end of another calendar year, but we are just getting started with the church year. I am not sure why the two calendars are off by a month, but I suspect it has much to do with Christmas. The birth of Jesus was obviously a beginning, God doing something new in coming to live among us, and so it kind of makes sense that our ‘faith’ calendar starts in the month we celebrate Emmanuel, God with us.
I have mentioned it before, but it bears repeating. Emmanuel is at the top of my list of the ways in which we refer to Jesus. It is not a name we use often outside the context of Christmas, but it is perhaps the most impactful, at least for me, aspect of the incarnation. Lord and Savior is also a very powerful and impactful title for Jesus as is His ‘proper’ name, Jesus, the most common way we refer to God’s Son.
In ancient times a name was more than just a way to identify a specific person. In scripture most of names of characters in the Bible mean something. For Instance, David means ‘Beloved’ and Abraham means, ‘Father of the Multitude.’ John means, ‘God is Gracious’, and Peter means, ‘Stone’. Of course, it will not surprise anyone to know Jesus means, ‘God is Salvation.’ Perhaps the most obvious example, which goes way beyond our understanding, is the proper name of God, which is YHWH, otherwise known as the Tetragrammaton. It is a name so sacred that Jews rarely speak or even write it because it invokes all that God is.
This dynamic is what is behind my fondness of Emmanuel. For me it is not just God is aware of me or present in Spirit, or that God is on my side. It includes a deep sense of awe that stems from the greatness of God, God’s willingness to be physically present with humankind, God’s infinite and unconditional love revealed on the cross, and God’s desire to have a deep, abiding relationship with me. WITH ME! It is unimaginable to me!
I sometimes loose track of this perspective in the midst of a busy and often complicated life and too often get caught up in my own little world. But you know what? Emmanuel means that God never forgets about me. God is never distracted even though God watches over all of creation. Even in my worst moments, God never checks out, even for a second. And this is most impactful for me when I think back on the most difficult times in my life. The poem about footprints in the sand sums this paradigm up beautifully. Emmanuel does not mean a life free of trials, but it does mean that regardless of my circumstances or mindset God is there. Emmanuel does not depend on me; it is who God is.
Emmanuel is also vital to Holy Communion. That probably seems obvious. Communion is more than a small piece of bread and sip of wine, or a way to remember Jesus. It is the embodiment of Emmanuel as the bread and wine become very much a part of us because it is Jesus in the bread and wine. This is a beautiful aspect of the sacrament that I think of every time I am invited to the Lord’s Table.
God with us is one of the countless aspects of Christmas that give this holiday its meaning and power and it all began in a stable in Bethlehem thousands of years ago. The beginning of human life meant the end of death and sin’s grip on us and because of Emmanuel it never wears off or gets stale. The birth of Jesus is the only beginning that has no end and we have God to thank for that. My hope and prayer for you this month is that in the midst of your busy life or any trial you may face that you remember and cling to Emmanuel and all that it means.
Blessings to you all,
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
The Apostle Paul wrote in his epistle to the Church of Thessalonica, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Those are quite powerful words Paul used to encourage a group of people still working to fully understand who Jesus was and what Jesus did for humanity, and they were trying to figure those things our while facing a variety of cultural, social, political, and religious challenges. Times were very difficult for them, and Paul writes to tell them, among other things, “Don’t worry, be happy!” Really Paul?
Have you ever had to deal with really difficult circumstances in your life? I am sure you have. It is part of life. When you’re at your worst, the last thing you want to hear from someone is, “Cheer up! It will get better!” In the moment that seems like the furthest thing from the truth and not particularly helpful. Truthfully it is kind of annoying and can seem very disingenuous especially if those words are coming from a close friend or someone you admire.
I do not believe Paul was being disingenuous or insincere, or oblivious to their circumstances. Part of what Paul was doing was offering some perspective. Yes, life was tough, and was probably going to get worse before getting better, but because of what God had done through His Son, there was forever going to be hope even if it was only the promise of a place with God in heaven when this life came to an end. And that is a profoundly life changing concept, perhaps more so for Paul’s contemporary’s than for us because only a few decades prior, there was no such thing as salvation and everlasting life. And because this promise came from God and was sealed by the blood of Christ, it could never be taken away from us and we would never be separated from the love of God. They were truly blessed in spite of their circumstances. They had grace, and as Paul has also written, God’s grace was sufficient.
As you all know this is the month we celebrate Thanksgiving, and though we’ve been through, and are still dealing with, a pretty difficult period in our history God’s grace has been ever present. Again, nothing that happens to us or here on earth will ever cancel out the gift we have from above. So, we too have much to be thankful for regardless of circumstances. This is why perspective matters. One can still rejoice and give thanks even in the worst of times, but perspective is different. Do you know people that are of a negative sort? You know, the glass is always half empty kind of folk? I do, and they are not really the folks I relish spending a great deal of time with.
I often find that those folks often simply have a negative perspective because there are still thing in their lives that are good, or even very good. They seem to lack the perspective of gratitude for what they do have and choose rather to focus on the negative. And honestly based on our current circumstances and the culture of negativity and divisiveness we currently live in, it is not too hard to share that negative perspective.
I find that on thing that really helps me to avoid being overcome with negativity is the practice of gratitude in my prayer life. I regularly thank God for the abundance of His blessings in my life and that not only honors God, but it forces me to list the blessings in my life and make me more aware of just how generous God is to me. So, in honor of Thanksgiving, and really in honor of God, may I make a suggestion? How about between the time you read this article and Thanksgiving you list 10 things everyday that you are thankful for, either in writing or prayer? I wonder how you would feel by Thanksgiving if you did that for several weeks. Rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks always; for this is God’s will for you in Christ.
Yours in Faith,
Grace and Peace to you Grace Family,
It has been almost two years since our last in-person Congregational Meeting. Do you remember our meeting in 2019? It seems like so long ago, but that is probably because it was! I probably do not have to remind you of what we have been dealing with since then, but it has obviously had a major impact on our lives and our life together at Grace. As we continue to deal with and work through a global pandemic, one thing has been proven to be true, your faithful giving in support of the ministries at Grace! I am grateful for this truth because I know so many churches have not faired as well as we have.
You might be wondering why I am writing about a meeting that took place two years ago and your financial offerings. Well, at that meeting in 2019 we as a congregation made a couple significant decisions with our finances and commitment to the future of our church campus. At that meeting we started what we call the Facility Renewal Fund (FRF) and cashed out two investment funds that, if we are being honest, were not serving the Church accordingly. And in an effort to be better stewards of the funds God had blessed us with we all decided to use the over $40,000 as seed money for the FRF.
The plan was to encourage a little extra giving from each of you in order to cover the cost of some significant capital improvements and upgrades like new doors, painting our buildings, replacing our roof and other major expenses. But, before we could really put things into practice COVID came along and threw our world into a frenzy. At that point, due to the obvious uncertain future, funding the FRF was put on hold. And that included utilizing the funds we already had in the FRF as a result of our 2019 meeting.
Though we are still very much unsure of when will be finally rid of this awful virus, with over 18 months of consistent given to our general fund, it feels like it is time to dust off that almost two year old plan and move forward with revitalizing and renewing our campus for the next 40 years of ministry and fully funding the FRF over the next five years in the hope that by the end of that time we will be in good shape for the coming decades.
God has blessed us for over 65 years and showered us with His generous abundance and we have a beautiful church and campus. But, like everything else in this world we are showing our age. To do nothing will result in some very serious problems and immediate need for emergency repairs. Instead of waiting for things to breakdown or fail catastrophically we will continue to trust in God to provide for us as He has for more than half a century. Back in 2019 the plan was to encourage each person our household to contribute an additional $40-$50 a month to the FRF so that we could raise the funds needed to do the necessary repairs. And that is exactly what we will continue (or restart) to do from this point forward.
I hope this does not all sound new to you because this is not a new stewardship or capital campaign. It is something we as a congregation agreed to do way back in 2019. Wouldn’t you love to come to our campus and see doors that are not showing their age, or chipped and peeling paint on our buildings? How about not having to dodge some of the potholes and creases in our parking lot? How would you feel about coming to Sunday worship and finding buckets spread throughout the sanctuary to collect rainwater that is leaking through our decades old roof? These are just a few of the realities we face over the next five to ten years if we do not act now. Brothers and Sisters now is the time for us to move forward with the plan we set forth before the pandemic!
I encourage you to go the extra mile and add to your already generous giving. But please make sure that in whatever way you currently give you specify that your additional offering is to be designated to the Facility Renewal Fund (FRF). If you give online, please make note when you are giving specifically to the FRF fund. If you write a check and give in person or by mail, please be specific when your additional offering is to go to the FRF. It is really important to the future of Grace that we embrace this plan, and I and confident you all will and in a few years the light of Christ will not only shine from our hearts, but once again in the beauty and sparkle of our campus!
Dear Grace Family,
Is it just me, or does it feel like we, as a society, are getting more and more short-tempered or divisive? That is a bit of a rhetorical question because we have been trending that way for decades. I do not have a reason for why I am thinking about this topic today, but I am. We have always had an innate drive to ‘be right,' mainly, I believe, due to our sinful nature. But it just feels like things are worse than they have ever been. What happened to kindness?
You do not have to search very hard to find examples of our ever-increasing divisiveness. Turn on one of our 24-hour news networks and most of the talking heads are slamming people they disagree with and not always intelligently, but simply because it gets eyeballs, or ratings. Turn on talk radio, same thing. Read a newspaper (do people still do this?) and I am guessing it is the same. Advertisers use the same paradigm. Instead of touting or promoting their own product, simply telling you how bad their competitors are has become all too common. And, as a sports fan, it saddens me that this divisiveness has crept into sports on many levels. I recently heard on the radio that fights break out at almost ever live sporting event in the stands between fans of competing teams. What has happened to civility?
I have also noticed that the always ‘getting my way’ expectation out and about in public places like retail, restaurants, coffee shops and just about every other retail outlet. Something that happens to me regularly when something has gone wrong with something I purchased and I am trying to get it corrected or a customer service representative puts me on hold, the customer service rep apologizes to me profusely! I do not mind a polite, “I am sorry for…" - I actually appreciate that - but the repeating it over and over again, to me, is an indication that they are regularly being treated rudely by so many people that they expect me to curse them out unless they shower me with apologies. Things do not always go perfectly. When did we lose that perspective?
I do not mean to sound like the grumpy old ‘get off my lawn’ guy, or the ‘things were much back in my day’ guy. I do have a point, I think…I think it is becoming increasingly more difficult to treat people with respect and extend grace to folks because we are bombarded with ‘I am right, you are wrong!’ all the time. I simply want to remind you all, and remind myself!, that we are called to a higher standard. It is a reminder of the Great Commandment to love God and others.
Jesus said they are the only two commandments that really matter. He basically summed up the 10 Commandments and the entirety of the Law with those two things. And the two are inseparable. If one love God, one must one’s neighbor. We are called to be salt and light. It is pretty simple but getting harder and harder these days. We all need to promote kindness and civility and not lose perspective on how blessed we are. It really is the right thing to do!
Yours in Christ,