I hope that you are enjoying our study of the Book of Romans as much as I have been. Perhaps “enjoy” is not the best word to use. Maybe “benefitting” or “appreciating” would be better. Nevertheless, “enjoy” is not a wrong word to use. I am enjoying it. And I have been very thankful for the way you, as a congregation, have responded. It has been wonderful to be hearing from some of you how this series has been of benefit to you. I can say, as a pastor, there are few things as encouraging as hearing how God is at work in your lives, through his Word! In these past few weeks we have dealt with potentially touchy subjects, as we explored Romans 12, about how we ought to live our lives in response to “God’s mercies”; and into Romans 13 this past week, considering what God says about our relationship with the civil government. At a time in culture when people are so divided, and many conversations with even a hint of political implications have the potential to explode like a powder keg that has been ignited, you have been incredibly gracious in response to the messages I have had the privilege to share, as well as to the thoughtfully challenging message Camper delivered to us a few weeks back. For that I thank you.
One thing I have found particularly interesting is the response a number of you have shared to my recent references to the writings of Francis Schaeffer, a theologian and culturist in the late 20th Century. Many of you were already familiar with his work. Several people, some who have read Schaeffer in the past, others who had only been familiar with his name, asked if there is any Schaeffer work that I would consider a “must read”. While I have shared my response to that inquiry with those who have asked, I thought it might be worthwhile to share a link to the writing I have commended. I have long thought Schaeffer’s The Mark of the Christian to be a treasure, outlining what it means to live our lives in line with our calling in Christ. It is not a long essay, only 16 pages; and while spiritually challenging, the language Schaeffer uses is not at all technical. I commend it everyone. And I would welcome hearing your thoughts, from those who choose to read it.
Shifting gears, I want to congratulate David Hoffman! David was recently appointed by his fellow Deacons to serve as Chairman of Deacons at Grace Covenant. I am thankful for David’s willingness to serve, and I ask you to join me in praying for David as he serves this role. With Hebrews 13.17 in mind, I am praying that David will experience joy through his service and leadership. At the same time, I want to thank Peter McHenry for the tremendous job he has done these past few years as Chairman of our Deacons. Peter will continue to serve as a Deacons, but he thought it time to pass the gavel to another. Thank you, Peter!
While it is our practice to not engage in politics, several people have asked that I touch on a piece of legislation that will be presented to the US Senate next week. It is officially Bill H.R. 5 – more commonly called “The Equality Act”. I am going to maintain my commitment to eschew partisan commentary, but I am convinced that this is an issue that warrants attention. While the stated objective of supporters of this piece of legislation is to ensure the rights of all, something which I believe as followers of Jesus we are to promote, there are many who have great concerns about potential unintended consequences of this Bill, specifically this Bill as written could promote the rights of some at the future or subsequent expense of others. Again, I will not offer any commentary here; and I do not want to make practice of addressing specific legislation; but I do think it appropriate to encourage you to become familiar with this proposal, and then to share your thoughts with our elected Representatives.
Finally, I want to invite you to join us for an important event this week. On Thursday evening, March 4, from 6:30 to 7:30, we will be gathering online to pray for our community. Ordinarily we would be gathering for one our quarterly prayer dinners, but the pandemic having not yet subsided enough for us to gather in-person, over dinner, we have moved our time of prayer to Zoom. Our focus comes from Jeremiah 29.7, where the Lord instructs his people, living in exile, to “seek the welfare of the city..” As God has placed each of us here for his purposes, part of tht purpose is for us – and for all the Christians in town – to be a blessing to this city where we live. God’s instruction through Jeremiah specifically tells us to pray for our city, so that is what we will be doing. Through a series of breakout rooms, we will pray together for different aspects of our community, and for God to be at work in this place we call home. To participate, simply click the Zoom link: GCPC Prayer Gathering.
The snow caught me off guard last week. Kathy Buhl texted in the afternoon inquiring if I wanted to send a communication to the congregation about “predicted snow”. My reply: “What snow?” I had heard something early in the week, but near the end of the week I saw no snow in the forecast. I guess things change – sometimes quickly. Fortunately we were able to get a handle on things, to assess both the forecast on Saturday, and assess the road conditions on Sunday morning. My thanks to Peter McHenry for scouting out the roads on Sunday morning, and offering his wisdom. In addition to Peter, my thanks to Camper and to the Elders for offering their wisdom on Saturday evening, leading to the pre-emptive cancellation of the 8:30 service, to give time to make an informed decision about the 11am service – which was also ultimately cancelled out of caution. My apologies, however, that we had not communicated our procedures for such events as snow on Sunday mornings. While our practice is the same as it has been for a number of years, with so many being new to the church, as well as the pandemic causing adjustments to most of our practices, no doubt many of you may have been left to wonder until you finally received word.
Just so we are clear, here is our procedure for Sunday morning snow days: First, I consult with the chairman of our Deacons (which is presently Peter McHenry). If the forecast is ominous enough, we will likely cancel the 8:30 service to allow for a more informed decision about the 11am service. On Sunday morning, one of the Deacons, sometimes more, and I will each drive the roads around the church and around town. We then check the church parking lot to see if it is clear and safe. If there is enough concern about the roads and/or parking lot, we will cancel the 11am service as well. Second, notice of cancellations will be posted on the Grace Covenant web page and the Grace Covenant Facebook page. Additionally, a special Grace Note will be sent to everyone on the church contact list. Further, still, Camper will notify all small group leaders, who will in turn contact those in their small groups to notify of the cancellations. Finally, if you are still unsure, or if you have any questions, feel free to contact any of our Elders or Deacons. Their phone numbers are in the church directory. When in doubt, we urge you to err on the side of caution. While we believe gathering together for church is vitally important, we’d much rather have you join us for weeks and years to come than to risk making it on a snowy day.
Finally, concerning snow days, if we have a service, we will LiveStream the service. If there is no service, there is no LiveStream. While caught off guard this past week, we will develop alternate worship service plans, similar to what we offered in the early days of the pandemic, that each household can use for family or personal worship, should you choose. Those alternate services will be sent out on Sunday morning, or whenever the decision to cancel the service is made.
While the snow prevented us from gathering for worship, it did not prevent many of you from serving. I want to thank everyone who signed up and served last week at the Community Shelter. While the number of guests was down this year, in part due to many of our homeless neighbors being able to be temporarily housed in hotels due to federal COVID-19 grants, our church’s participation – your participation – was invaluable. I pray that it was an enriching experience for all of you. I want to offer special thanks, again to Peter McHenry and, to Fran Geissler for coordinating the details of our participation. If you see either Fran or Peter, please express your thanks to them as well.
Serving Our Community
In Jeremiah 29.4-7 the Lord says, through the Prophet:
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
This is a foundational expression of God’s expectation for His people, to live our day to day lives in the communities where he has sovereignly assigned us. It is amazingly practical, and it is summed up quite simply in the last sentence: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
James City County, where many Grace Covenant members live, is inviting residents to participate in their community planning for the future, Engage 2045:
The Community Participation Team has created three online questionnaires to give input on future County actions. These questionnaires are your opportunity to provide opinions on policies and actions the County should take in the future to implement planning priorities. Topics include: Nature, Economic Development, Quality of Life, Affordable/Workforce Housing, Character Design Guidelines and the Future Land Use Map. To give input on future County actions click: Complete Questionnaires
Your participation, while in no way mandated, is an opportunity to “seek the welfare of the city” where God has placed you. Final word from James City County:
The Community Participation Team and Planning Division would like to promote and encourage all individuals who live, work, and play in James City County to participate the upcoming Community Chats and Questionnaires. We aim to have the diversity of our community reflected in our public engagement and responses. Your input, opinions, and contributions are requested, needed, wanted and valued.
With no snow in our forecast, there are two things we want to invite your attention for this coming Sunday.
First, this being the first Sunday of the month, we will be observing the Lord’s Supper in both our 8:30am and 11am worship services. We urge all who will be worshipping with us to prepare yourself for participating at the Table, by giving attention to your present spiritual vitality, being mindful of whatever sin you may be struggling with, being prepared to confess it and lay it aside; as well as reminding yourself of the promises of the gospel, the truths that flow from Jesus’ sacrifice of himself on the Cross. Along with preparing our hearts, we invite those of the Grace Covenant community who are trusting in Christ for salvation, and member of a Bible-believing church, and who are participating in our worship via LiveStream, to also prepare elements for use while we celebrate communion. We encourage you to set aside a bread or crackers and wine or grape juice, having them ready to eat and drink when we come to the Table during the service. This invitation to those worshipping at home is outside our normal practice, but our Elders feel it is an important temporary adjustment during this time when wisdom dictates social distancing for many.
Second, during our 8:30 service we will be ordaining new Deacons: Jim Becraft, David Hoffman, and Daniel Malone. All three men have been working alongside our Deacons for some time; all three have gone through a rigorous time of training; all three have been tested on their knowledge and understanding of God’s Word, sound doctrine, and their responsibilities as Deacons; and all three were overwhelmingly elected by vote of the congregation during our Annual Congregational Meeting a couple weeks ago. All three men will be asked to answer the following questions and, in answering, make a vow to God:
1) Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as originally given, to be the inerrant Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice?
2) Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures; and do you further promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine, you will, on your own initiative, make known to your Session the change which has taken place in your views since the assumption of this ordination vow?
3) Do you approve of the form of government and discipline of the Presbyterian Church in America, in conformity with the general principles of biblical polity?
4) Do you accept the office of deacon in this church, and promise faithfully to perform all the duties thereof, and to endeavor by the grace of God to adorn the profession of the Gospel in your life, and to set a worthy example before the Church of which God has made you an officer?
5) Do you promise to strive for the purity, peace, unity and edification of the Church?
6) Do you promise subjection to your brethren in the Lord?
After those who are being ordained affirm their answers, the congregation will be asked to respond to this simple but important question:
Do you, the members of Grace Covenant, acknowledge and receive these brothers as deacon, and do you promise to yield them all that honor, encouragement and obedience in the Lord to which this office, according to the Word of God and the Constitution of this Church, entitles them?
Upon the affirmations of the respective vows, each Deacon being ordained will be appropriately spaced from the others, each with one Elders standing behind to lay hands upon the newly ordained Deacons – with the Elders all gloved and masked – while we pray for God’s blessing upon them, and through them. This may seem ordinary, but this is an important action in the life of our church, and an awesome privilege and responsibility for each of these men. Please pray for them. There role is to lead our church in compassion, and mercy to one another and to our neighbors.
Finally, next Sunday, February 14, we will resume our study of the Letter to the Romans. We will pick up where we left off, with Romans 12.9-21. We will look at Romans 13.1-7 & Romans 13.8-14 in the weeks following in February (- snow permitting!)
Have a great weekend! I look forward to seeing you all Sunday – whether in person, or online.