Pastor’s Update 5/20/2020

Pastor’s Update 5/20/2020

        This past Sunday, Grace Fellowship conducted a glorious outdoor service of worship.  It was my hope that we had a Psalm 34 praise service.  The Psalmist expressed his thankfulness in worship.  It was not because his circumstances were good.  It was not because of his strength or accomplishments.  His thankfulness was born from his experience in seeking and turning his attention to God.  And what came of it: “He heard me and delivered me from my fears.”  He realized that he was not alone, but that his God was at his side, whose presence brought a sense of peace and security.

        In the Psalm 34 service of worship, the people came together to share what God had done in each other’s lives.  This is a major element of our gathering to worship: “let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.”  (Heb. 10:24-25) Our faith needs to be strengthened by the praise and testimonies of others.  It gives us hopefulness and expectancy.

        The participants in the Psalm 34 worship learned that God is good, near, and is always adequate.  The assembly reached this common conclusion: “My God shall supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”

        There is only one way to know these truths, and that is by personal experience.  So I end this devotional message with this appeal from Ps 34:8: “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is that man, who trusts in Him!”

        The Grace Fellowship will again gather for a May 24 Service of Worship outdoors on the front lawn (weather permitting and sanctuary will be available) and metal folding chairs will be available.  Please attend, if you can, and bring your lawn chair.  All are invited to bring a picnic lunch in order to eat and fellowship after the service.  Pastor Mark Tanner will be giving our Sunday Service Message this Sunday.

        The office will be closed on Monday, May 25 for the Memorial Weekend.

        I praise the Lord for the faith and boldness of some of our North Carolina brethren who took the state government to court for violating the First Amendment of the Constitution in their restrictions on church gatherings.  A federal judge has ruled in our favor and those restrictions are removed for the present.  The democratic governor says he will not appeal Judge James C. Dever’s decision.  Thus, we will conduct our first gathering since the middle of March in our Worship Center on May 31st.

        We will begin back by only having our Praise and Worship hour.  There will be no Life Groups or Sunday School classes at the present.  And until we can study the matter of whether we need to change how we do nursery, there will be no nursery or Grace Kids during the worship hour for now.  Also, let us practice good health practices while we are together (social distancing, etc.).  Only attend if you feel comfortable being out and if your personal health condition allows.

        Speaking of having picnics, July 3 will be our church wide patriotic picnic on the church grounds.  The picnic will begin at 7 p.m. and conclude with fireworks at our neighborhood JC Park.  Further details will be forthcoming.

 


Pastor’s Update 5/13/2020

Greetings, Grace Family!

“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”  (Heb. 10:24-25)

     Strength for Christian living doesn’t just occur automatically. One of the elements that builds it is gathering with other believers in corporate worship to the Lord, inspiring one another with the truth. This Biblical mandate speaks forcefully of the tremendous impact our physical presence has on one another.

     We Praise the Lord! that the “Pharaohs” of many of our state governments are “letting His people go” to worship (Exodus 5)! This is not without restrictions, though. Nonetheless, with great joy

Grace Fellowship at South Park will hold an outdoor worship service on the front lawn of the church THIS COMING SUNDAY,  May 17th, at 10:30 a.m.   (Weather Permitting)

     We will still need to continue to practice social distancing. Please, come ONLY if your health situation allows you to; otherwise, remain safely at home, watching us on the church website. We are asking everyone to bring a lawn chair and your own beverage, if you would like. We will have some folding chairs available, if needed. It’ll be a simple service with Mark Tanner leading us in song and ending with a message from your Pastor.

     The safest place in a storm is in the eye of it. It is essential in the life of a Christian to gather in worship and praise; this is when God takes over and fights our battles (2 Chronicles 20). Worship is our pledge of allegiance, declaring we are citizens of Heaven. Our first loyalty is to our Jehovah God.

“O, come, let us sing and worship the Lord.” (Psalm 95:1)

 

     It is with great anticipation that I send you this announcement and look forward to BEING WITH YOU Sunday!

 

Pastor John



Pastor’s Update 5/7/2020

Dear Grace Family,

 

     I’m reminding you that today is the National Day of Prayer, a day consecrated to interceding for America since 1952. I’m challenging each of us to spend a portion of time today where we are alone, on our knees if that is possible, crying out to God for mercy. May we enter that time of prayer in praise of Who our Magnificent God is and then confess our sins and the sins of our nation before Him before we humbly petition Him for anything. Please don’t let the busyness of the day push this priority aside. If you know you are not fully surrendered to our Lord Jesus Christ, NOW is the time to surrender. NOW is the time to prepare for the battles ahead. Turn back to God; remove the sins that so easily beset you; prioritize your life to KNOW HIM better and make Him known. Ask to be filled by the Holy Spirit so that you will have POWER to proclaim Jesus Christ boldly.

     I feel that most of us have no idea what is REALLY taking place in the world behind the scenes at this time. Christ warned us that deception would describe the whole aura of the end of the ages. Many of us see that increasing. I pray for wisdom, discretion, and prudence for all my Grace Family. Don’t believe everything you hear without researching it and testing it to God’s Word. Many people, institutions, policies, and plans are not trustworthy anymore. The world has been turned upside down. America, as well as the world, is poised to recover or plunge into unthinkable and unprecedented chaos with no end in sight. Nevertheless, we pray, as always, for national renewal and spiritual revival which could easily be birthed in the furnace of this crisis.

     Most of us at Grace are grandparents; many others are graced to be great-grandparents. Please take time today to intercede for the mind and heart of your grandchildren. The world they are facing will try the foundation of their very souls.

     The National Day of Prayer will be a national broadcast on May 7, 2020, at 8:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. It will be a “virtual gathering” zoom service, broadcast, streamed, posted Facebook Live, on television on GodTV, Daystar, NLC & Brio TV, and others. It can be heard on the radio on Moody & Bott Radio Networks. For more prayer suggestions, please visit the site nationaldayofprayer.org.

     Meet you at the Throne today!

 

Pastor John
 


Pastor’s Update 5/5/2020

Pastor’s Update 5/5/2020

 

Good afternoon, my dear Grace Family,

       

     Has it been 6 weeks in the cocoon of our homes?

     Six weeks of an emotional and mental journey to “Who Knows Where?” Wish I’d kept a diary to look back on. What have I actually done each day? Who have I prayed for? What goals have I achieved? Did I minister to someone each day? What were some of the meaningful phone conversations I had? Did I write any letters of encouragement?

      Cathy and I were talking, six feet apart, to some teens in our neighborhood who have helped their mom de-clutter the whole house during this time. At the end of each day, they have driven over to Goodwill to unload their discards. The Goodwill employees are increasingly not as happy with all these gifts as they were a month ago. In fact, now they are refusing furniture pieces because they have no space in a closed store in which to put them. So now, de-cluttered items are meeting their demise in the dump. My daughter and her family have painted the entire outside of their new house along with repairing the roof. These, along with many of you, have certainly achieved a lot!

     Yet, how do you “achieve a lot” in the intangible life of your soul—your thoughts, emotions, and will? The Bible informs us that all we achieve in the tangible world of the senses begins in the intangible world of the heart and soul. And that seems to be the part of our world over which we have the least control.

     Why is scrubbing the kitchen to keep it clean easier to achieve than a squeaky clean heart? Why is it we will not tolerate popcorn, empty cups, and candy bar wrappers left on the family room floor before we retire for the night, yet the sticky goo of unsettled arguments, the litter strewn from our critical spirits, and the crumbs of apologies that should have been made don’t bother our consciences at all as we fall on the pillow?

      The Family Chore Chart and our Personal Planners adorned with stickers and calligraphy get the job done; yet, who do we recruit to help us empty the trash of our hearts? Seems like that is a job only we can do. But how?

        Of course, the standard answer is always, “Get into your Bible again.” And I’ve suggested, challenged, and beseeched the Grace Family to read the Bible each day during this time; yet, I just heard another sad story of someone reading his Bible everyday and getting nothing out of it. This nudges me to give more definition to my advice.

Unless the Word is read as a:

MIRROR to reveal to us what we really look like;

INSTRUCTIONS we are ready to listen to;

GUIDE because we know we don’t know where we are headed;

LAMP because the world is dark and we’re afraid of stumbling;

SURGEON’S SCALPEL to remove the tumors of sin in us;

COUNSELOR to give me understanding, discretion, and wisdom;

FREEDOM for it is THE TRUTH that sets me free from lies;

COMFORT and HOPE for in it God reveals the future;

SALVATION, not only of my soul from Hell, but daily deliverance from

my enemies, the world, my flesh, Satan, and my destructive self; 

its POWER will not be available to us!

      Why would you read the Bible with all those tools in mind? Look back at that list and tell me what disposition a person would need to have in order for him to see the Bible as all those provisions. I see he would need HUMILITY. 

      Why would you go to the Bible for advice if you judge the advice of your friends as more to your liking? Why would anyone want the pain of being cut open with the truth of God’s requirements just to remove sin, unless the bleak prognosis that this sin was going to ruin his life if he didn’t remove it was believed! Why would you listen to God’s instructions on how to unselfishly treat your spouse, train up your kids, submit to your boss, or love your enemies when you can just Google the experts? HUMILITY.

      The Book of Proverbs repeats variations of this phrase constantly: “My son, listen and heed the instruction of your father and mother.” The numerous sinful characters described within its pages did not listen or heed to instruction—in fact, many of them hated it.

      Were they all deaf? No; just as most of our own children are not deaf to the sound of the advice proceeding from our mouths. Nevertheless, even after looking at our eyes and hearing our voice drone on, the clothes on their bedroom floor don’t get picked up! And, worse, the friends they choose lure them away from godliness, not toward it. Instructions heard; advice ignored.

      As it relates to the Christian life, this is a malady we all share—we hear, we ignore. Is it just spiritual ADHD, not being able to keep our minds at task, or does it find its source deeper in the pride we nurture? Will it forever be our struggle?  

     Whatever the answer(s), we each need to surrender—to raise up the white flag, to cry, “Uncle”— to the Lord. We must come to that place where we humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God before we are humiliated by the consequences of our refusal.

      Why busy ourselves with all this spiritual work when the garden needs weeding? Because we need wisdom (the knowledge and use of what is best, most just, most proper, most conducive to prosperity or happiness). We need it more than we need wealth right now. We need discretion (that which enables a person to judge critically of what is correct and proper, united with caution); and we need prudence (the wisdom that foresees and avoids evil).

      The humble He guides in justice, and the humble He teaches His way” (Psalm 25:9). I want more than anything to be taught by the Lord. I need to understand justice and how to treat people. But, if I want this wisdom, I must be humble to receive it. When Cathy teaches kids about wisdom, she uses this illustration: 

How do you get wisdom? What door would you walk through to find it?

  Would it be like walking through a normal door into a large room filled with wisdom?

No. You cannot walk through wisdom’s door to get in.

Wisdom’s door is so short, you must get on your knees to crawl through.

Why? Because you cannot get wisdom any other way than through HUMILITY.

That’s why many rich, powerful people aren’t’ wise; that’s why NO proud person is wise–

because they won’t get on their knees and crawl through in HUMILITY.  

      God doesn’t waste His breath on the proud because they are not listening. If this affliction we are enduring serves to humble us, then it has been used by God as a mighty work in our lives because we are finally ready to listen. Keep praying that our Nation starts listening. Pray for your wayward family members to start listening. Pray, pray, pray for those unsaved friends to start listening before perilous times come when deception will make it harder than ever to hear from God.

      Please read Psalm 107. It speaks of these very things in our lives. We are so blind in our opinions and view of life that we are led into sin and its bondage. When we finally cry out to God from the pain of our chains, He forgives and restores us. It is beautiful.

       So, if you are taking this time to get back into routinely reading God’s Word and are experiencing dryness, could it be that your heart is not humbled? Instead of internally responding to the verses you’re reading with, “I never do that,” or “I don’t have a problem with that,” maybe you should ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you your true self. “Hold up the magnifying glass, Lord!”

      Ask Him to reveal your excuses to you. What are your excuses about Lying? Gossiping? Complaining? Laziness? Selfishness? Unfriendliness? Vengeance? Unforgiveness? We need HUMILITY.

      Have you ever compared your definitions of words or topics with God’s? Maybe you never ask forgiveness for pride because, according to your definition of pride, you don’t have it! Perhaps you’re never convicted of witnessing for Christ because your definition excludes shy people, of which you are one. But God’s definition of witnessing in Matthew 5:14-16 doesn’t exclude anyone, shy or vivacious. What do you do when you read Luke 6:28, “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you?” What excuse exempts you from obeying? What re-definition of “bless” or ”pray” does your self-protective little mind come up with?

      I hope these further explanations of how to read your Bible help you in the days ahead. Remember that God’s Word is its own best commentary. If you want God’s definitions of words and topics, look up everything the Bible says on that topic. He is very clear.

      I pray fervently that our hearts would continually come to the place where they WANT to listen and obey. When they do, the abundance of the blessings of God on our lives cannot be imagined. Rivers of living water of refreshment will flow from us, quenching our own thirst and that of those around us. And HUMILITY is the starting place.

     In closing, as you clean your next toilet and give another lecture on conserving toilet paper, thank God for how He is cleaning out your heart! Be encouraged about every step forward and pick yourself back up after every failure. A righteous man rises up again and again! Praise Him for the strength He is building in your spirit to stand for godliness and against the Enemy. Fight the pride within you that clings to a spotless reputation and the need to look good. When God shows you a vision of your sinful self, it’s devastating; yet, it’s the only position He blesses–HUMILITY. And think of the victory, for up from those ashes you will rise like the eagle to soar. Let the tears stream down as you humbly thank Him for the better momma or daddy He’s giving your children because of your HUMILITY!

      In this regard, let me give a SHOUT OF PRAISE to Pastor Mark for his leadership of his small groups. Not only has he been challenging each person to have a quiet time in God’s Word each day, he’s asked the young families to strategically plan and execute a time of devotions in the Word with their kids. What blessings he’s received as they report back their experiences. Thank you, Pastor Mark, for your shepherding of this flock!

Tune in next week to learn how to talk to yourself! LOL!

Until then, start LISTENING!

 

In Christ,

Pastor John



Pastor’s Update 4/29/2020

Greetings, Grace Family!

     This, along with Paul, is my prayer for the Grace Family:

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
from Whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,
that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man,
that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith;
that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints
what is the width and length and depth and height–
to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge;
that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
(Ephesians 3:14-19)

     In the days ahead, we will need “to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man.” It is what I call being “Mighty in Spirit.” We are seeing the groundwork laid for Bible prophecies to be fulfilled as was told us in the Books of Daniel and Revelation and Ezekiel. The talk is for a new world order, a global government, a cashless digital economy, and the need for a universal identity chip or tattoo to, supposedly, know the state of your health, vaccines, and your whereabouts. They claim that getting goods to people is impossible without proper identification.

     The mechanism for all this is a global crisis, which is just what we are experiencing. I wonder whether it is a pandemic or a plandemic.” In October of 2019, the Bill Gates Foundation had Event 201 which was a high-level simulated Coronavirus Pandemic. You can’t find information about this now–they removed it from the Internet.

     Why are we so surprised by all of this? Have we been sleeping or drunk, terms the New Testament writers used to describe our apathy, ignorance of God’s Word, blindness to what’s happening around us, and worship of our idols (pleasure, power, prestige, popularity, comfort, and wealth)? In Christ’s parable of the virgins awaiting the bridegroom, 5 of them had no oil in their lamps, meaning they were unprepared for his arrival. Why? Because the bridegroom always came at night.

     How are our oil reserves? Did we give up long ago on the cry of the chorus we sang in Junior Church, “Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning, burning, burning?” As fear, desperation, and panic seize at our hearts, do we begin to believe we may have spent a lifetime preparing for the wrong necessities? Did we value the oil of the Holy Spirit as too rare or needless a commodity to conserve? Instead, did we run after barrels of education, the securement of our children’s happiness, the necessity to feel empowered, the satisfaction of living life better than the Joneses” (not our dear Joneses!), the greed of consumerism? Is this why we are groping in the coming darkness–we’ve been relying on the artificial light of our desires and schedule and love for the world so we find we don’t have the oil of the Holy Spirit to light our lives from the inside out?

     Praise the Lord, we do not have to run on empty any more. When the realization of our weak spiritual condition finally takes us to our knees in repentance, that is not the end. No. There can be a resurrection! Jesus Christ longs to fill our lives with this precious oil of power, conviction, wisdom, comfort, peace, and illumination. This oil is the only fuel that will enable us to live the Christian life of power and might in our spirit man. It is the fuel that keeps us going when everyone else’s power has puttered out.

     Where does one find this oil–this fuel for life? By going back to our first Love, the Lord Jesus, and His precious, life-giving Words. This takes time alone with Him reading, praying, reflecting, and meditating on the truth of His Word and the surety of His promises. It involves the humility of self-evaluation and examination along with the surgery of the knife of God’s Word to remove the tumors of selfishness, pride, unforgiveness, immorality, and on and on. It requires confession of our sins. It requires surrender to His will and His way above our own. It removes the infatuation we have with the world and its lusts, and places our eyes on the reality of the eternal.

     Katherine Koop was a hostage in Iran in 1979 when they ousted the shah. She had a testimony of strength and endurance. She acknowledged her years of reading and memorizing Scripture were the activities that the Holy Spirit used to fill her lamp with oil, providing her the strength, resolve, and truths she needed to comfort and sustain her.

     What will it take to force us into the necessary regular discipline of building up our inner self? Sad to say, as fallen humans it seems It always takes pressure from outside or within to squeeze us toward God. The Church will experience tribulations as the return of Jesus Christ draws closer. Let’s fortify ourselves, beginning now.

     It is easy to get out of shape spiritually. You have been given a great opportunity to develop devotional disciplines and a biblical mindset while being quarantined. Yet, enter the TV and the Internet. Great temptations and testings are right in our homes. I am praying for the choices you make with your time right now. Please come out of this lock-down filled with the oil of the Spirit and not empty.

     You may desire that I would not be so doomish and gloomish in my dispatches to you. I confess I must be. Bad news must be heard first before the good news is announced. The bad news is the reality of the world system around us. We may hate and despise it, but it is the season in which God has placed us. Paul reminded the Ephesians who lived in a dark age to walk circumspectly because the days are evil. The Greek word for circumspectly is the word from which we derive our word circumference. We are to walk, not just looking straight ahead, but turning in complete circles so we will more truthfully assess the danger or goodness that lies around us. (My wife, who grew up in the city, walks very differently from people raised in the country.) Hiding our proverbial heads in the sand has never been a Biblical principle. Yet, the knowledge of our environment that we obtain from this 360-degree observation is not meant to defeat us (remember the 12 spies and the Promised Land?); rather, it provides the information and discernment we need to more carefully and judiciously walk the Christian life, aware of the Devil and his deceptive schemes. The bad news is defeated by the victory of the good news–our God is for us, who can stand against us! If the doom around me serves to prepare my heart for the great harvest coming, so be it.

“Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight,

He [Jesus] went out and departed to a solitary place,

and there He prayed.”

Mark 1:35

     May this be the regular discipline and practice of our lives.

    Grace Family, remember to have your crackers and juice of choice ready as you view next Sunday morning’s message with me. I will be having communion with you during my message.

     Keep connecting with God and each other. I will connect with some who are able to view the Sunday message, and, Lord willing, we will be able to see each other in person on May 10th.

     Thank you for your continued faithful financial support. We are still able to pay the bills, praise God. Please call when you have personal needs in order for your church family to be able to help.

Pastor John

 

     Note from Clair about Women’s Fellowship:  We are prayerfully and tentatively shooting to resume meeting in June.



Pastor’s Update 4/24/2020

Dear Grace Family,

     The latest news from the state government is that the lock-down of our lives will continue until May 8th. This makes another postponement for our ability to assemble for worship. I feel like Moses asking Pharoah to “let my people go” so that we may worship the Lord.

     On May 8th, the Governor of North Carolina will reveal his decision to stop the lock-down, continue it, or allow movement with a new set of restrictions.

Let us pray

that the lock-down will stop, and Americans will be allowed to live their lives, which, for us as Christians, is to live our lives under the care and control of our Savior and King, the Lord Jesus Christ, respecting the government God has put us under.

     As we prepare to resume our church services soon, I, Pastor Mark, and the elders would appreciate hearing your ideas of safe practices we should employ to protect each other’s health.

     This Sunday’s message will show how God’s Word is reliable. The Gospel is throughout the Bible, including the Old Testament. Our text will be Romans 9:25 through Chapter 10. Lord willing, I will preach via Facebook Live Sunday morning at 8:00 a.m. with the message up on our church webpage by 10:30 a.m., our regular service time.

God bless

                                           ALL the GRACE FELLOWSHIP



Pastor’s Update 4/21/2020

Good Lunch-Time, Grace Family!
 
     In Mark 4:35-41, Jesus and His disciples are crossing over the Sea of Galilee–the sea where they all grew up and where they’d crossed many times.
     As in all of life, a storm suddenly and unexpectedly whips up, evoking the alarmed reactions of fear, anger, anxiety, and panic; reactions which invariably exaggerate the actual problems. The disciples cry out, “We’re going to die!” They even questioned the Lord by asking, “Don’t You care?” Did Christ defend Himself? No. Instead, He responds by asking them, “Where is your faith?”
     Our Lord told us that in this world we would have tribulations; yet, He promised us peace, rest, and joy-filled living in the midst of tribulations. He even added the future hope of deliverance from all the tribulations of this world one day. We are to be a “Fear Not People” who pray rather than panic, and are not filled with fear. We trust and obey.
     Before the disciples crossed the sea, Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, told the crowd gathered with them to prepare for life and to be wise, not focusing on circumstances or on what you have or don’t have. Today many are fearful about money, jobs, or will they have enough toilet paper. Jesus told us to look at the birds. They have no possessions, no permanent housing, vacation home, or retirement funds. Yet, their Heavenly Father takes care of them. He admonished us to look at the flowers. They don’t have closets full of clothes, as we do (and still, nothing to wear), yet their garments are more beautiful than all the glory of Solomon. [I hope you have stopped to smell the flowers this Spring:  the lilacs which could rival any perfume, the irises which remind my wife of grape Kool-Aid when sniffed, and the delicate beauty of tulips and daffodils, honeysuckle, and the like. Thank you, Lord, for such beauty!]  Lesson to be learned:  God knows we have need of these things.
     Matthew 6:31-34 exhorts us not to worry. How? By trying NOT to worry? No. We are to do something in the place of worry:
“But seek first the kingdom of God
and His righteousness,
and all these things shall
be added unto you.”
     Are you weary today and heavy-laden? Then accept our Lord’s invitation in Matthew 11:25-30 to come to Him, walk with Him, and learn from Him. Instead of straining and struggling through life, we can have Jesus carry our burdens. The farmer never teams two strong oxen under the same yoke; instead, he joins a strong one with a weaker one so that the stronger ox will compensate for the weak one.
     Does each passing day lately bring the overwhelming feeling that you are carrying the weight of the world up Mount Everest by yourself, knowing you will never make it to the summit? I invite you, too, to come to Jesus, cast your cares upon Him, follow and learn from Him by seeking Him.
     If you say, you don’t know the way, He is the Way. If you say you’re not sure what the truth is, He is the Truth. If you are restless about your life, He is the Life.
     You will only find the peace, rest, and satisfaction you are seeking in Him. Not in His removing all your pain, answering all your questions, and revealing the future to you; but, in trusting HIM. As the old song says, “If you trust and never doubt, He will surely bring you out, bring your burdens to the Lord and leave them there.”
     This wonderful invitation to rest in the Lord means two things:  first, our Savior will take upon Himself the heaviness of our burdens, while, second, we must take upon ourselves His burden, the joyful submission to the purposes for which we were created. Rest means neither inactivity nor doing our own activities. It is joyful submission to the direction and plans God has for us.
     It is my hope that by next week we will know when the restrictions on gathering for our church body will be lifted. Even then we will be prepared to continue our limitations in social contact with one another.
     Our hope is firmly in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ because we know the promises of Romans 8:28 and 2 Corinthians 1:7. We are not shocked at any earthly events that take place for the prince of this dark world is a schemer and destroyer. But we do seek first the Kingdom of God, of which we are citizens, and pray for His Kingdom to come. We choose not to focus on what is seen, but on what is NOT seen.
     Continue to check in on each other. Share your needs and prayer requests. Life has changed in America as well as the world and it is frightening. When your courage weakens and the battle seems to be overtaking you, don’t isolate yourself–call a friend and cry. This is a time when it is so easy to feel overwhelmed. Cathy had such a call just this morning from a dear friend. We’re not there to preach at you or scold your lack of faith. We wear the same flesh and know the same weaknesses of that flesh. That is our time to let you release your emotions, give you a “over-the-phone” hug, and infuse you with courage to rise once more. Remember your care leaders, elders, and myself are ready to listen to your concerns, talk things over with you, and pray with you. Pick up the phone and call us. As the writer of the Hebrews reminds us, we will need each other more as the days increase in evil.


Pastor’s Update 4/15/2020

Happy Wednesday to All of my Grace Family!
 
     During these challenging days of COVID-19, we take comfort in knowing that we are not alone in the daily struggles we face.
     First, and foremost, we have our Savior who lived on earth in flesh for 33 years and knows firsthand all the types of trials and testings we face, yet arose victorious over sin and death and is in Heaven at the right hand of His Father interceding for us! He left the Holy Spirit with us, inside us, to comfort, guide, seal, convict, lead, and empower us. He has given us every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Himself! And He has pulled back the curtain of the future to assure us that we win with Him in the end!
     And then, so sweetly, He has given us earthly, “flesh and bones” encouragement, strength, and care in our brothers and sisters in the Lord. At this time, they are truly His hands and feet. Have you been ministered to by the Family? I pray so. Have you ministered blessings to others in our fellowship? I pray so. Cathy and I are so grateful for the cards and calls of love extended to us during this sequestered season
     Aren’t we thankful for Facebook and our Webpage and Zoom! Connection has never been easier. Pastor Mark has had wonderful times of sharing with both his Connections group and his Grace Family Life Group using these mediums. Time spent in quarantine calls us to find creative ways to prioritize our time so it is well spent in personal growth, and not stagnation, and in ministering to others. When this is over, I believe we will each say how much our church family means to us.
 
     And so we continue to WAIT. Waiting is hard. The disciples, after Jesus’ horrific trials and crucifixion, waited in fear and anxiety behind locked doors. They heard rumors of good news. They had seen evidence of good news at the tomb; yet, they remained huddled together, fearing for their very lives (John 20:19-23). Was He really alive or was that news a hoax to lure them from their hiding place? What should they believe?
     Then, He came to them, right through the locked door, to assure them that His resurrection was indeed the truth! He was alive! Not just a spirit, but their victorious Savior in a glorified body that was somehow very different, yet still had the nail prints and hole in his side that they could really touch with their physical fingers.
     Believers have had to wait from the Fall in the Garden of Eden! They had to wait for God to send a deliverer (Moses) when they were slaves in Egypt; they had to wait for their exodus after the plagues; they had to wait to enter the Promised Land. I could go on for paragraphs reminding you of all the waiting scenarios in the Bible and history. Waiting, like breathing, is necessary to human life.
     Therefore, because it is a necessary, normal part of human life, it should not be trivialized. We take breathing for granted after that first cry of ours splits the air, signaling all is okay with our lungs. After that, it’s on auto-pilot in our lives–we don’t think about it; we just do it several times every minute. That is, until we breathe in a noxious poison gas or we choke and stop breathing.
     Waiting can be like that. We wait in lines, wait 9 months for children, wait for our paychecks. But there are those certain “things” for which we tire of waiting. What’s our remedy? Rushing. Something about the unknown of waiting–how long, what for, and why–causes us great anxiety and restlessness. So, we develop a plan to bring these negative “waiting emotions” to an end. The problem is that many of our “rushing-it plans” end in futility or digging us deeper into a pit.
     Can you remember back to your schemes to bring a waiting period to a quick end? Cathy recalled the waiting period around our first grandchild’s birth. Every mother knows the “seems-like-it-will-go-on-foreverness” of bearing children (their husbands know it, too). This daughter’s husband just happened to get a new job in a mid-American state weeks before her due date. They decided he would go on, get the house, and start the job while she stayed put for the last month of her pregnancy. He would return the week of her due date to be present for the birth, then quickly return to his new job assignment, and her mother and sister would drive her and the baby back when he was a few weeks old. Her husband arrived and they waited. No signs of her body ready to give birth, yet, the clock was ticking. The afternoon before her due date NOTHING was happening. Pressure mounted to have this baby on this date so their plans would work out.
     A plan was devised. We must rush labor. Much was done to accomplish this rushing, not the least were eating eggplant lasagne (Italian wives’ tale sure to bring on contractions) and miles of walking while slugging down a 4-ounce bottle of Castor oil. To shorten this story for all our male readers, she did bear our grandson on her grandfather’s and her birthday when, after her baby’s visit to the NIC-U, she was told that her baby was probably a week premature and they were dealing with some lung issues! We wonder how everything would have progressed had she endured her waiting.
     That little waiting story had a pretty good ending, but think how many do not. King Saul lost the kingdom as God’s rebuke for him not obeying and not waiting for the prophet Samuel to arrive to offer sacrifices to God (I Kings 15). How are you handling the struggles that come each additional day that we are sheltered? Have you made these extreme circumstances your excuse for losing your temper as you get easily irritated; for watching hour upon hour of TV because of lethargy; for letting the kids get by with all sorts of sins and poor choices; for traveling to places on the internet that are defiling your soul; for grumbling and complaining because you are bored? 
     God Himself had come down and tabernacled among 12 disciples, personally tutoring them in the Truth. They had no idea as they waited in confusion and fear in that small room, that in just a mere 50 days after Christ’s resurrection they would be filled with Holy Spirit power from on High, and the result of their bold witness would be the salvation of 3,000 souls! That’s worth waiting for!
     This is our time to wait. We are asked to trust the Lord Who walks through closed doors and offers Himself to us within. May we keep a heavenly perspective on these days, filled with patience, courage, and hope for the blessings that are coming! Could we even imagine that, as we use this quiet time to deepen our knowledge of His Word and our relationship with Him, we will burst our cocoon as a great, bolder, impassioned disciple of Christ to be used by him in greater ways than we envision.
     God bless you all.


Pastor’s Update 4/10/2020

Good Friday, Grace Family!

      Though we, on this side of Calvary, know the JOY this weekend brings to our hearts each year, may we also reflect on what our sin cost our Savior, our Passover Lamb, the afternoon He paid the price for our sins on the cross. In that reflection we will remember

               the “big” sins of our past

               the sins that so easily beset us even to this day

               the sins we thought we would never commit and

               the fermenting sins of years spent wasting the time we were given in carnality, complacency, bitterness, unforgiveness, and the satisfaction of our own righteousness.

To this poisonous cocktail we plop in the olive of regret before we chug it down. This is the final victory of sin over us—paralyzing, faith-killing defeat in shame and guilt. It has been concocted by almost every Christian and drunk by the majority.

     It is an abominable cup. It is the cup from which our Savior dreaded Himself to drink.

“He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, ‘O My Father, if it is possible,

let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.’” (Matt. 26:39)

And, yet, because He drank it and paid the penalty for every one of our sins, we no longer have to drink from it.  We are not doing Christ any favors or pleasing Him more by adding OUR OWN punishment for our sins onto ourselves. To the contrary; we are disgracing all He accomplished and FINISHED for us that day on the cross.

     And so the reflection on our sins that we share today as our minds’ eye looks at Jesus Christ writhing in agony on the cross, should not result in defeat; to the contrary, it should thrill us with victory! Christ’s victory cry, “It is finished,” should seal our assurance that no sin can separate us from our new birth. We are accepted by Him and loved by Him unconditionally forever. Yes, the remembrance of our sin should serve to keep us very humble, but we must fight the Slanderer Satan shoving our face back into it. If we would just turn, Christ is there, holding out His Hand to lift us up, placing His arm around us, and walking with us in the newness of life His resurrection gave us.

     Cathy thought this favorite poem of hers by George Herbert exquisitely speaks the same sentiment:

 

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back

     Guilty of dust and sin.

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack

     From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,

     If I lacked any thing.

 

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:

     Love said, You shall be he.

I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,

     I cannot look on Thee.

Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,

     Who made the eyes but I?

 

Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame

     Go where it doth deserve.

And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?

     My dear, then I will serve.

You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:

     So I did sit and eat.

                                                            —George Herbert

 

     The disciples and followers of Jesus lost hope on Good Friday. We have no excuse to do so. We have but, like them later on, to marvel at such grace and love that would do everything needed to redeem and save us and make us His children! Even now, as in the poem, we want to serve Him for all He’s done; instead, He becomes our Server again and invites us to sit down at a feast He has prepared for us as He enjoys watching us eat. How can we consider such sacrificial love with complacency? How can we push it aside to continue on living life on our own terms? How can pleasure, power, money, things, or the acceptance of other people be the sparkling gem in our lust-filled eyes that fades out all visions of Him?

     If that’s where you are today in your relationship with Christ, then that’s the sin you need to confess today, knowing He knows all about it because He remembers paying for it. Confess it, and then take the quiet “in the tomb” moments of this weekend to humble yourself before Him, acknowledging that “without Him you can do nothing.” Then rise with Him on Resurrection morn with the heart of a Mary who loved Him because of His great love for her which the world could never give her.

Resurrection Day Celebration Sermon

     I will be on Facebook Live late Saturday afternoon with my Resurrection Day Sermon, which you can still watch on our webpage Sunday morning. It’s grieving all of us that we can’t be together; yet, we cannot let that grief for “things the way they used to be” cloud our day. We have Christ’s resurrection to fill our hearts with joy and thanksgiving, no matter where we are! I’m sure Corrie ten Boom and her sister didn’t let some lice and a hungry belly in a concentration camp keep them from singing some Alleluias on Easter morn! Let’s join all our brothers and sisters around the globe in celebration!

 

Resurrection Story Recommendation

     Brandon Talley, who grew up in our church and is the grandson of Janie Jones, sends a message to our members about a special event available this week of which he is a part. Please check it out at

Jesusevent.com.

     When you go to that webpage, you will find the information to watch it FREE this weekend, April 10-12, starting today. This is a production of Sight and Sound in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and was taped before a live audience there. Cathy and I are going to watch it this evening as part of our Good Friday observance. Hope you’ll join us. Your kids and grandkids will love it.

Prayer Requests

           Pray we will be able to join each other in worship in our building by the first of May.

           Pray for revival in our Nation as well as the world and our President and all his staff. As you pray, remember that revival must begin with God’s people. In these uncertain times, God is miraculously moving among people who are open to Him now in ways that they’ve never been before. Nevertheless, at the same time, Satan is working overtime in thwarting the Gospel, tempting Christians to sin, and sowing fear and doubt. Cathy and I have seen both. Pray, pray, pray!

Pastor John



Pastor’s Update 4/6/2020

Letter from the Peters: 

Hello Dear Friends and Family,

Where were you a year ago, and did you ever dream you would be where you are today?

Jesus Christ  is the same yesterday and today and foreverHeb. 13:8

Eric and I wanted to update you on our movements and on God’s grace in our lives. We asked you to pray, and God clearly led and showed us we should return to the States without delay. In fact, three indicators came in a 24-hour period! One indicator was the news that Eric’s dad had fallen out of bed and hit his head on a desk. He is fine now, but we recognized with the shrinking number of flights from Asia, we didn’t want to be stuck on the other side of the world if something happened. We are grateful that we can work remotely, since we are unsure of when we will be able to go back. Of course, the meetings we were originally traveling home to attend are cancelled.

Unfortunately, my (Ellen’s) parents can’t leave their facility, and no one can go in! We are grateful for the wonderful provision of face-timing.

In light of the current pandemic, we need God’s wisdom more than ever to know how to lead in this changing and unpredictable environment. Again, internet options for connection are providing a way to continue involvement with our leaders and members. In fact, we commissioned 2 new Regional Leader couples yesterday with the faces of 20+ people on the screen! The prayers, charges, blessings and encouragements were so rich and meaningful. Later tonight we will be connecting with our team who are currently on 4 continents! 

We are aware that prayer continues to be a wide open window into ministry—even in quarantine (God isn’t under lockdown!); and with the restricted movements because of the COVID-19 virus, Eric and I are committed to more time before the throne.

What could happen if every believer committed to 30 more minutes of prayer a day to connect with God’s heart, enjoy His strength and comfort, and discern how to engage with Him in what He is doing in these uncertain times?! It starts with, “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations…” (Ps. 46:10)

Perhaps in the stillness, He will reveal what is in our own hearts. What are we most longing for as we stay home? Freedom to do what we want? To go out to our favorite restaurant? Relief? Stability? Or maybe God is stirring a greater longing for heaven, a deeper desire to know Him, and a greater appreciation for the community of fellow believers in the absence of gathering. May it be so. May Christ be first in our lives.

I enjoy praying for my 6 “families” most days: our personal families, our PI family, our supporting fellowships, our friends and our partners. For today, I’m praying for us all from 2 Peter 3:18:

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity, Amen.”

Ever needing your prayers,

Love in Christ, Eric and Ellen

www.pioneers.org