Due to snow forecasted to arrive in our area in the morning, Grace Covenant is cancelling our 8:30am service for January 31, 2021. Our present plan is to hold our 11am service, along with the Livestream, unless the expected snow makes it wiser for us to cancel 11am as well.
The cancellation of the earlier service will allow our Deacons to offer a more informed recommendation about our 11am service, including road conditions and the condition of the church parking lot. Since predictions are presently for snow to increase between 8am-11am, it is quite possible that both services will be cancelled for this week. Whether we are able to hold our 11am service or not, we advise caution when deciding if you should attend.
On Sunday afternoon/evening, January 24, we will be holding our annual congregational meeting. This is an important gathering for the life of the church. Not only will we present the budget for the coming year, this year we will also be electing new Deacons to serve and lead our church in ministry of mercy and stewardship of the church’s resources.
Three candidates have completed the Officer Training, and successfully completed both written an oral examinations about their understanding of the Faith and the responsibilities of Deacons. All three candidates – Daniel Malone, David Hoffman, and Jim Becraft – have been members of Grace Covenant for some time. While the Session is commending these men for your consideration, it is only the affirmation of the congregation that decides whether any, or all, of these men will be ordained to the office of Deacon. So we ask that you prayerfully consider each candidate, and vote as your conscience leads. The candidates are not running against one another. You are free to vote for all, some, or none, as you feel led. Election to become a Deacon requires a majority of church members voting at this congregational meeting.
Our meeting this year will be held online, via Zoom, from 5pm to 6pm on Sunday evening, A link to join in the meeting can be found in this weeks Grace Notes. While for many of us the thought of yet another online meeting may not sound particularly exciting, I want to re-emphasize the importance of this meeting, and the importance of your participation, especially for the voting for the new Deacons. We will need a quorum – a minimum of about 45 church members for an official vote. We will launch a digital poll near the beginning of the meeting, and it will be closed around 5:30. Members can cast their votes at anytime during the time the poll is up. For couples who are sharing a screen, at least one of you will also need to sign-in to the meeting on your phone or tablet, or some other computer, to vote, as Zoom will only allow one vote per device. We’ll explain all of this again on Sunday evening. Chief thing now is that you pray about who you will want to serve the church as Deacons, and that you join us for at least part of the time on Sunday evening.
Second, I want to extend an invitation to anyone who would like to join us for our upcoming Discovery Class. While Discovery Class is designed to introduce the beliefs, values, and history of Grace Covenant to those who are new to the church, it is also open to anyone, even long-time church members, who want to connect with others, and who would enjoy a refresher discussion about our Faith and values. For those who are not yet members of Grace Covenant, but who feel that this is where you want to make your church home, the Discovery Class is a pre-requisite to becoming a member; however, participation in Discovery Class does not require a commitment to join the church. For some, it is through participation in the Discovery Class that will help determine if Grace Covenant is the church you want to call home. Our next Discovery Class begins next Sunday, January 31, and will be held over the next 6 week, via Zoom. To sign up, or if you have questions about Discovery Class, we invite you to email Kathy Buhl, at the church office.
I want to express my thanks to everyone who has signed up to serve our neighbors-in-need, through the Community of Faith Shelter. Grace Covenant’s week to serve is now upon us – beginning early next week, on January 26. Special thanks to Fran Geissler, Steve Geissler, and Peter McHenry, for taking the lead and coordinating our participation this year. But I am thankful for all of you, and the great response you have demonstrated to this ministry. And if you have yet to sign up, it’s not too late. The response has been great, but we still have a few service times yet to be claimed. The link to sign up can be found in Grace Notes.
Another area of service to our community is through participation in the Baby Bottle Drive we do each year in support of, and partnership with, CareNet Peninsula. As followers of Christ we recognize the sanctity of life. The staff and volunteers at CareNet are on the front lines, loving and ministering to young women and teenage girls who sometimes have nowhere else to turn. The Baby Bottle Drive is just a simple way to support this ministry financially, and to prompt us to pray. As with other items I touched upon in this note, details can be found in the Grace Notes. But I wanted to take the time to highlight it, just to reinforce how important your participation is, and to say thank you for caring.
Finally, I’ll wrap up this note with a reminder that we are resuming our study of the Book of Romans on Sunday mornings. This Sunday we pick up with Romans 12.3-8. I have enjoyed our study of this magnificent letter, and I have been gratified by the many expressions of enjoyment you have shared. For those interested, I have written up a brief intro and overview of the study series we will engage these next few months, When In Rome: Living Out What We Really Believe, including a few recommended resources and the renewed challenge to read through the Letter to the Romans as we study it this Winter and Spring.
On Sunday January 10 we resumed our study of the Book of Romans. We took a brief detour this past week, on Sanctity of Life Sunday. But coming this Sunday, January 24, we will plunge into this marvelous Epistle of the Apostle Paul for the better part of the Winter and Spring; only exceptions being the first Sunday of each month, when we have a Table-centered service and participate in communion, and a few other Sundays, such as Palm Sunday, Easter, etc.
While we are resuming our study of Romans, in a sense we are also beginning a new series. We have now come to the final portion of this magisterial letter, chapters 12-16. Beginning in Romans 12 there is a shift from a primarily theological focus to a more practical application emphasis, rooted in the theological foundation of the earlier chapters. As a recap and preview, a short outline of Romans looks like this:
Romans 1-8 is the best theological explanation of Salvation ever written.
Romans 9-11 explains why we can trust God to keep his promises, while answering questions that arise about God’s relationship with Israel, God’s Covenant People.
Romans 12-16 instructs us how we ought to live in light of God’s grace.
Because we have come to this new section of Romans, we have shifted from our previous series titled Adventures in Romans: Making Sense of What Matters Most to our current series titled When In Rome: Living Out What We Really Believe. While our goal has been to help bring understanding of the faith, our aim now is to encourage one another to live our lives together in light of the faith.
As before, to help you to engage with this series, we want to provide some resources we hope will prove beneficial.
1) First is an excellent video from the Bible Project, that introduces the Letter to the Romans. This is the second of two videos, covering Romans 5 through Romans 16, and offers an overview of these final chapters of this book that we will explore this Winter & Spring. (For those who want to review the first video, click: Romans 1-4 Introduction.)
2) Second, for those who have interest,, here is a link to a .pdf of Martin Luther’s Preface to Romans, which is itself a tremendous devotional and theological resource that God has used in the lives of many. (This would be an excellent resource for small group discussions.)
3) Third, we still have several of the Romans ESV Scripture Journal available for those who want to take notes during the messages, or in your study, etc. We ask for a voluntary $2 contribution to defray costs. (But this is voluntary. We don’t want anyone who would benefit from the journal to not have one because of the requested contribution.)
Finally, when we began our study of Romans we issued a challenge that we believe will be beneficial for anyone willing to take it up. We want to renew this challenge as we resume our study. We encourage everyone to read through the Book of Romans once-per-month during the months we are studying this book. That would be just four chapters per week. John Wycliffe said of the Book of Romans: “the more it is chewed the pleasanter it is.” We believe anyone who takes up this challenge will find that Wycliffe was right – and be the better for having “chewed” on it.
Today is a day for prayer. Of course every day is a day for prayer, but perhaps especially today is a day for prayer because today is Inauguration Day AND because our God has instructed those who are his people to pray for those who govern:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2.1-4)
This means, whether you are optimistic about the Biden administration or otherwise, if you are a Christian, living in the United States, to be faithful to God, we are to pray for whoever is President.
Why? Though there are many, let me give just two compelling reasons:
The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.
This is a reminder that, whoever is governing, God is sovereign. God is working his purposes out. God shapes the heart of those who rule. Therefore, it is preferable for those who belong to God to make their appeal to God rather than to make their appeal to other people through social media posts and letters to the editor. At least, it is preferable that we appeal to God first, before we make our appeals to others.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
While many rightly recognize from this passage that we do not need any human entity to stand between God and ourselves to communicate with God, because we already have Jesus as our mediator, what is often overlooked is the responsibility and the privilege this verse conveys to those who, by God’s mercy, are now God’s people.
The role of the priest was essentially to stand before God on behalf of the people, as well as stand before the people on behalf of God. When the priests stood before God on behalf of the people, they interceded for the people, asking for God’s mercy, offering the sacrifice required for reconciliation. We who have received God’s mercy, who recognize Christ as the requisite sacrifice, by whom we are now God’s people, and therefore now a royal priesthood, are responsible not only to represent God to people, but we are responsible to stand before God interceding for people. One way we do this is by praying for those who govern and lead.
So in faithfulness to Christ, our King, and for the benefit of our neighbors and fellow citizens, I urge us all to pray today, and to pray every day, for the President, and for all who govern.
For those who might benefit from a tool to help you in your praying, I commend to you The Presidential Prayer Team, and in particular their 100 Days of Prayer initiative for the first 100 days of the Biden administration. Their prayer for this Inauguration Day is:
Heavenly Father, on this important day in the workings of our nation, we come to You with complete confidence, knowing that You are the magnificent and benevolent Controller of All Things. You have repeatedly assured us of the righteousness of Your plans, and we stand in wonder as we watch You working them out through people and events. We praise You, O Most High God. Amen.
Happy New Year! I hope these days of holiday and new beginnings have been good ones, if not even wonderfully enjoyable. Of course, for most of us, the 2020 holiday season was different from any we have ever experienced before, and probably different than we hope to ever have to experience again. For many of us, this year of social distancing meant being unable to travel to see some members of our family, or some other holiday tradition shelved for this season. For many of those who were able to travel, or blessed to have family members come to town, no doubt it was still not the same. But now we enter the new year – a time that, for many, feels like an opportunity for a re-start, a do-over. Such is the mental blessing of certain days that mark our calendars. But of course, for the Christian, as has been so pithily expressed in many and various places, “Our hope is not (so much) in the New Year, as it is in the One who makes all things new!”
As we begin this new year at Grace Covenant, we will resume a pattern in our worship gatherings that has become somewhat of our norm during these past few months. (I say “somewhat our norm” because nothing really feels quite normal yet. But we do have some patterns.) This Sunday, being the first of the month, we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper. And next Sunday, January 10, we will resume our study of Romans.
As we prepare for celebrating the Lord’s Supper together, I want to offer a couple of reminders.
First, a reminder to all who will virtually participate in our worship service online. This past September, the Elders of Grace Covenant – recognizing the extraordinary time we are living in, a time that has providentially hindered many from in-person worship, and yet also by God’s providence allows for church members to remain somewhat connected through the Internet – the Elders made a decision to invite those who are worshipping with us from home to participate in the Lord’s Supper. This decision is a “stretch” of our regular practice, and of our church’s constitutional standard, but the Elders were in agreement about the importance of the Table, and about this extraordinary time requiring some extraordinary allowances. Nevertheless, though this allowance makes participation easier, we urge everyone to remember that participating at Table is a holy privilege, and that partaking of the elements, whether in the church sanctuary or your living room, should not be done lightly.
This leads to the second reminder: Everyone should prepare himself/herself before partaking of the Table. As 1 Corinthians 11.28 declares: “Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup.” This examinations should take place, not only in the moments between the message and the distribution of the elements, but even in the hours and days in advance. In September I offered a link to a short article, How to Prepare Yourself for the Lord’s Supper, adapted from the writings of an old Puritan named Thomas Haweis. I would again commend this article, and considering each of the ways the author recommends we examine ourselves before coming to the Table. As 1 Corinthians 11 reminds us, it is when we come to the Table with the proper mindset that we get the most benefit from the Table.
Finally, another reminder to those who will participate from home. In anticipation of resuming the Lord’s Supper in the Fall, we offered this practical instruction:
We urge everyone participating online to set aside a bread and grape juice or wine. In other words, don’t just pinch off a piece of the bread you will use for lunch, or use the same glass of grape juice you are having with your breakfast. Give some thought to what these elements represent. If possible, perhaps find some matzah or matzah crackers, though any bread is fine. It’s not necessary to set aside a whole loaf of bread, but some may wish to do so. But whatever bread is used, have the pieces ready to partake at the same time as those who are partaking in the sanctuary. Same for the wine/juice. Have it ready for all participants, pre-poured into some vessel, ready to drink while those in the sanctuary are drinking. What amount of wine/juice? That’s up to you. But I would encourage pouring out any juice leftover in the cup (not necessarily the whole bottle), after partaking. This is more symbolic than essential, but I believe you will find benefit in distinguishing the elements used for communion from the food and drink you consume in day-to-day life.
I believe this is still good practical instruction.
Social Distance Protocols
These reminders about the Lord’s Table may be all the more beneficial for many as we come out of the holiday season. It is quite likely, at least for these next few weeks, that more folks may participate in worship from home than in the sanctuary. There have been wide-spread warnings from the medical community of the potential, even likelihood, of the coronavirus spreading more rapidly these first few weeks of the year, as there were significantly more social gatherings during the holiday season. Consequently there are a number of folks from Grace Covenant, including some who had been joining us in-person throughout the Fall, who will be self-quarantining for a time. This is understandable. Concerns about the virus may be especially personal, as it is presently effecting at least two Grace Covenant families – the Jesters and the Hirlingers – for whom we are all praying. Like many churches, we have some diversity of thought regarding the virus, especially as it pertains to things like participating in public worship. We have been fortunate in that our diverse ideas have not caused division within the church, as I have heard it has in a number of congregations across the country. I want to ask that you join me in praying that we continue in that harmony, even with our diversity of thought. The best way I can think of to continue to cultivate that harmony is to care for one another, by praying for one another, and by practicing the prescribed social distance protocols for the benefit of others. Even if you are one who is less concerned about the infectiousness of the virus, Jesus’ call to love one another is a call to recognize that others are concerned – some very concerned – and many for good reason. While some are also concerned with possible restrictions of freedoms, all of us, as Christians, should see this as a time when we can use our freedoms as an opportunity to serve one another in love. (See Galatians 5.13) So, for those who will be joining us in-person for worship, we urge in the strongest possible ways that you wear a mask while in the church building, even while singing. The worship team and the pastors will also be wearing our masks, even while leading the service.
When in Rome
While this week our worship service will be “table-centered”, most weeks at Grace Covenant (and at other churches within our tradition) we are Word-centered. Next week we will resume our study of Romans. When we resume we will pick up at a turning point in the Letter to the Romans. In Romans 1-11, the Apostle Paul lays a theological foundation, explaining essential truths of our Faith. We had titled our series to date as Adventures in Romans: Making Sense of What Matters Most. But in Romans 12-16, which we will explore through Memorial Day, Paul build upon that foundation that has been laid. The focus of these last chapters is how we are to live in light or, or in line with, the truths of Romans 1-11. So while we will be resuming our study, in another sense we will be beginning a new series, which I am titling When In Rome: Living Out What We Really Believe. I’ll give more detail in my note next week.
Just a couple quick notes, as I close out this note:
We have scheduled our annual congregational meeting for Sunday January 24. The Elders still need to make final decisions about how we will hold that meeting, as present restrictions would allow only 10 people to attend. Most likely the meeting will be virtual – via Zoom. At this meeting we will not only review this past year, and present the budget for 2021, but we also expect to present three candidates to be elected to be ordained as Deacons: David Hoffman, Daniel Malone, Jim Becraft. Each of these men have been serving as Deacon Assistants, alongside our Deacons; and each has completed our officer training course, required for all who serve as church officers (Deacons & Elders). Over the next week or so, each of these men will also complete a written examination and be interviewed by our Elders. Expecting all three men to represent themselves well, we will ask that you, the congregation, vote on their candidacy for the office of Deacon. They can only assume this office by your consent. I ask that you pray for each of these men, as they complete their ordination trials; and that you pray for wisdom and discernment, whether you want any or all of these men to serve and lead our church as Deacons.
Finally, I want to again thank you, the Grace Covenant family, for the generosity you exhibited during 2020. Thanks to you, while many churches across the country struggled financially, we were able to meet all of our commitments, and even to give to other ministries because of our abundance. One ministry in particular, we were able to proved a generous gift to the Ethnos Coalition– a church planting network of Mission to North America among ethnic minorities. This is just one of several ways your gifts have been a blessing to the world beyond the doors of Grace Covenant, and that have enabled us as a church to participate as partners in the work of the Kingdom of Christ! May God provide again for us in 2021, that we may see His glory among the Nations!