Monthly Archives: December 2020

A Pastor’s Note to Grace Covenant – December 26, 2020

I hope and pray that everyone is having a Merry Christmas! While most people likely think of Christmas 2020 now being in the past, a historic view of the Christmas tradition tells us that it has really only just begun. Christmas is not just a day, it is a season that begins on December 25 and runs through January 5. (This is where the idea of the Twelve Days of Christmas comes from.) During the season of Advent we anticipate the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies of the promised Messiah. At Christmas we celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation – of God becoming Flesh, and dwelling among us. (John 1.14) At Christmas we identify with the angels who proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest”; with the shepherds, who were afraid but nevertheless offered worship; and with Mary, who pondered the meaning of these events in her heart. (Luke 2.13-20) Celebrating Christmas as a season helps us to more deeply enter into the meaning of the incarnation, which in turn should enable us to live out the implications of the incarnation. (See John 20.21) And while our North American culture may consider Christmas to be the most important “day” on the Christian calendar, for one to truly get the most out of Christmas we must see the significance of the day (and the season) in light of all that follows it – most especially by seeing Christmas through the lenses of Easter. (Mark 10.45)

Nevertheless, like most, my eyes have begun to look forward to the New Year. This is a time when I tend to reflect on the past year, giving thanks for the many blessings; and also thinking about the seeming many more regrets. It is a time when I, like most people, see the New Year as, sort of, an opportunity for a “do-over”, a time when I get to right many of my regrets. Of course, we can always shape up at any time of year, but there is something about the turn of the calendar to a new year that makes it seem more like a clean slate. Perhaps there is good reason for this. On the traditional Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah (New Year) comes a week before Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). So perhaps there is some innate connection between renewal and the New Year. But I am just speculating. I don’t want to over-spiritualize my own musings. But, whether there is an innate connection or not, most of us tend to use this week between the beginning of Christmas and the beginning of the new calendar year to look ahead to what we hope will be a better year than the one before.

If you are, like me, thinking ahead to the New Year, and about things you want to do, whether or not you have done so in the past, I want to urge you to include growth in grace as a goal for 2021. (2 Timothy 3.18)

Resolutions

It is the tradition of many to make some personal resolutions for the New Year. While making or not making of resolutions is totally a matter of personal preference, and not really a spiritual issue, I would like to offer one suggestion with regard to resolutions. I do not care if you make any personal resolutions for 2021, but I do want to encourage you to consider some resolutions of another. Long ago, a young Jonathan Edwards made a list of personal resolutions, all pertaining to growing in grace and living to the glory of God. I’ve made it my own practice during the first week of every year (and occasionally at other times of the year) to read through Edwards’ resolutions, using many of them to shape my prayers for my own spiritual health. A number of years ago, when I was writing more and blogging, I recognized that the outdated language was a hindrance to appreciating Edwards’ list, so I took it upon myself to update the language – hopefully without diminishing much of the wisdom. I want to invite you to join me in reading through the Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards during the first week or so of the New Year.

Bible Reading

Second, among the most common resolutions of Christians at the New Year is to read through the Bible in the coming year – or at least to read the Bible more than in the previous year. This is a noble and a worthy undertaking – one many have tried – and failed. To those who have started out and then petered-out, I want you to know, first, you are far from alone. Second there is hope – and help. To read through the Bible is hard. It takes work. And it is best if you have a plan. My favorite plan is called Read Through the Bible Program for Shirkers & Slackers. If the title itself is not encouraging to you, then consider the question of Marie Haack, of Ransom Fellowship, from whom I got this plan: “What’s so spiritual about finishing in a year anyway?” You can read Margie’s introduction to this plan by clicking here; or read some of the benefits of this plan, as I have previously written, by clicking here.

No doubt, though, there are some who will want to tackle your Bible reading with more intentional ambition. For you there are a number of excellent Bible reading & devotional plans available from Crossway: here, here, and here. Two Read the Bible in a Year options are : Daily Bible Reading Plan; M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan.

And there are a number of excellent apps available for you to listen to the Bible being read. Sometimes listening while reading along is a refreshing way to feed on God’s Word.

Notes, etc.

Before I wrap up, a couple items related to our worship tomorrow and in the coming weeks.

As we prepare for worship tomorrow (December 27), I ask for you to join me in praying for Charley Bartelmay, our youth director, as he will be offering the message. This will be Charley’s second time to preach at Grace Covenant. But, you might be surprised to know, there is something awesome – even intimidating – about delivering a message from a pulpit. So please pray for Charley to be led by the Holy Spirit, and for him to faithfully deliver what God gives him to say to us.

Also, tomorrow, Isaiah will be introducing a new song to us, O Come All Ye Unfaithful. (That’s not a typo!) Click on the title to hear the song. You might also enjoy learning The Story Behind O Come All Ye Unfaithful.

Finally, I want to thank everyone who participated in our Christmas Eve service. I particularly want to thank all who were present “in-person” for adhering to the more stringent social distancing and mask protocols. Speaking only for myself, and not necessarily on behalf of all the Elders, I would urge that we continue to practice these slightly more stringent protocols, at least for the next few weeks. With health experts’ concerns about the possible increase in the spread of the virus because of holiday gatherings, I would ask that all who gather on Sunday mornings keep their masks on even while singing, etc., just as Camper and I will plan to keep our masks on while leading the service. I will also ask the musicians to keep their masks on while leading us in singing. This is my personal request, not a direction of our Elders. (While they may individually agree or disagree with my request, the Session has not made this a formal request.) But if we can minimize the risk of the spread of the virus, and also alleviate the reasonable and understandable concerns of some who enjoy gathering for worship, it seems the least we can do. For me, this is not a political issue, but a matter of using our liberty to love one another. (Galatians 5.13; 1 Peter 2.16) So I thank you in anticipation of your consideration.

That’s all for this week.

I’ll end this note with these words of the Dickens’ Tiny Tim:

“God bless us, every one!”

Grace & Peace,

W. Dennis Griffith, Lead Pastor

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A Pastor’s Note to Grace Covenant – December 19, 2020

Difficult as it is for me to mentally process, we have arrived at the final weekend of the 2020 Advent season. With all the chaos and cancelled plans we have all experienced this year, it feels as if Easter was only a few weeks ago. The good news, however, is that it appears we will be able to gather to worship together for this fourth Sunday of Advent, and for our annual Christmas Eve service, unlike Maundy Thursday and Easter earlier this year.

We are thankful and looking forward to our Christmas Eve service. As has been communicated, we have limited our capacity to around 130 this year. This is the number determined to provide the safest environment with the maximum number of folks. While reserved seating is already filled, we do have a waiting list, and we expect that there will be likely some who have to make last minute adjustments to their plans, which is likely to open a few seats. So if you would like to attend, but have not yet signed up, it may be worth your while to do so. For those who are unable to attend, but who would like to participate, we are LiveStreaming and recording the service. You will be able to find the link, and the order of service, on the Grace Covenant web page by early in the week.

Our Christmas Eve service will follow the regular pattern of Lessons and Carols (no sermon or homily). The most significant difference is that we will not be taking up an offering for our Mercy Fund. That said, just as there have been baskets at the exits on Sunday mornings for those who like to give their tithes and offerings in person, the baskets will be in place at the exits after our Christmas Eve service for those who would like to contribute to our Mercy Fund.

Just a reminder, the Mercy Fund is overseen by our Deacons, and used to help those with tangible and/or financial needs throughout the year. Priority is given to needs within our church family, however our Deacons have also been able to be tremendously generous to our neighbors in need, and to some of our ministry partners who serve those most in need in our community, whether it be financial needs, food, shelter, clothing, medical & dental, etc. I join with our Deacons in giving thanks to you for the incredible generosity you have extended through your contributions to the Mercy Fund. Unlike global missions and other ministries of the church, the Mercy Fund is supported entirely through your designated gifts; no funds from the church’s general budget subsidize the Deacons in the mercy aspect of their responsibilities. Ordinarily Christmas Eve is one of two times we take up an offering for the Mercy Fund (the other being Maundy Thursday). For that reason I would like to ask for you to prayerfully consider making a gift to this fund, to enable our Deacons to continue their ministry to those in need both inside and outside the church. If you write a check, please designate Mercy Fund on the memo line. If you prefer to give online, that option is available, noting that it is for the Mercy Fund. I thank you in advance, confident because of the generosity you have already displayed throughout 2020.

On another note, as we come to the close of the Advent season, we also come to the close of our calendar year. During these last couple weeks of the year many people begin looking ahead to the next year, to things they would like to do next year, maybe things we’d like to do better than in this or recent past years. As you consider the upcoming year, as your pastor I want to encourage you to consider what your spiritual goals may be. Maybe you’d like to improve your prayer life. Maybe you’d like to do a cross-cultural mission trip (once it is safe to travel). Maybe you’d like to read through your Bible. All of these, and many other things, are worthy aspirations. In my note next week I will offer some suggested Bible Reading Plans. But also I want to offer a recommendation this week.

I highly recommend a book titled The Good News We Almost Forgot by Kevin DeYoung. Following the pattern of the Heidelberg Catechism, broken into 52 weekly readings of 2-3 pages each, this book is provides a great overview of the Christian faith, with thoughtful devotional commentary by the author. This book would be beneficial for anyone, but in particular I have in mind it being a great resource for couples, or even families, to read together. Just 2-3 pages per week, but together. I mention it now because, if I waited, those who might want to begin reading together might not be able to get a copy before the New Year – though any time would be a good time to begin such a venture. Just a suggestion. If you have questions about this book, or if you would like to consider some other options, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

As always, I am thankful for you all. I look forward to seeing many as we gather for worship on Sunday and/or on Christmas Eve. But I also look forward to seeing those of you who are unable to join us. Please know you are missed.

Grace & Peace,

W. Dennis Griffith, Lead Pastor

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A Grace Covenant Kids Christmas Story

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A Pastor’s Note to Grace Covenant – December 11, 2020

Over the past few weeks I have received “Thank You” letters from Habitat for Humanity, 3e Restoration, Lackey Clinic, and Williamsburg Faith in Action. All of these are among our ministry partners here in the Historic Triangle. All of whom were thanking Grace Covenant for the generous financial gifts we gave to each of them through our Deacons’ Mercy Fund. I write this note, in part, to thank you, the Grace Covenant family, for your faithfulness and generosity to our church and to our common mission.

During 2020 we have been very fortunate as a church. While many – even most – churches throughout the country have been hard hit financially during this pandemic, we are among the minority who have fared well. In fact, thanks to you all, we were not only able to give to the partnering ministries listed above, but we were also able to give more generously than usual to advance the gospel through Tidewater Presbytery and our denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America. Our gifts to our presbytery and to our denomination were used toward church planting, campus ministries, caring for the widowed wives of pastors who have gone to be with the Lord, among many other evangelistic and mercy endeavors. I am thankful we have been in a position to be a blessing to others. I am thankful to God; I thank you; and I am thankful to God for you. Together we have been able to be what God created us to be: Blessed to be a Blessing. This is the very essence of the Covenant God made with Abraham. It is also a wonderful part of Grace Covenants vision and commitment: the more we are blessed, the more we will bless others; the more we receive, the more we will give to others.

I would be remiss if I did not also thank you for the way you have responded to Project Angel Tree. While done differently this year, due to COVID restrictions, we got off to a slower start. It was announced this past Sunday that 21 of the 25 children Prison Fellowship asked us to help still remained. By Monday morning ALL had been adopted. There were even some who wanted to help after all the children had been accounted for! Special thanks to Joy Burkley for coordinating the Angel Tree outreach for us.

These examples, and many others, are great expressions of Grace Covenant’s two-fold commitment: 1) To Love God; 2) To Love Our Neighbors. (Mark 12.28-34) It is a wonderful that we get to do these together.

Finally, speaking of “together”, we had the joy to receive several new members to our church last week. If you have not already, please welcome: Chelsea Kelly, Donna & Lee Priest, and John & Sarah Walrath to our church family. There are a few others who will be joining in the weeks ahead, but who were unavailable to be with us this past Sunday. We look forward to introducing them to you soon. In the mean time, please pray for these folks, and for one another. (John 13.34-35)

Grace & Peace,

W. Dennis Griffith, Lead Pastor

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