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