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A Pastor’s Note to Grace Covenant – January 2, 2021

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.

Lord’s Supper

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.

Miscellaneous, etc.

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!

Grace & Peace,

W. Dennis Griffith, Lead Pastor

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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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Advent & Christmas Music

As we enter into Advent and the Christmas season, no doubt many will begin playing their favorite Christmas music. (Also no doubt, some have already started!) Just a reminder, Grace Covenant’s Tim Seaman has recorded three excellent instrumental Christmas albums:

Incarnation (1994, 1996)

Profound Joy (2004)

Hope From On High (2008)

Why not add Tim’s music to your holiday playlist? Check Tim’s pages out on:

Spotify

Pandora

Amazon Music

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A Pastor’s Note to Grace Covenant – November 25, 2020

A day of Thanksgiving immediately followed by a season of grateful remembrance and expectant anticipation. Maybe that is why some call these next few weeks “the most wonderful time of the year”. At least, it should be. And, it can be, with our attention focused appropriately.

Thursday is Thanksgiving – a day to remember the blessings of our lives, and to give thanks to God for them. As Bryan Simpers reminded us in his prayer this past Sunday, we are living in one of the few places on earth where the governments sets aside a day to be devoted to such thankfulness toward God. For many of us it might feel a bit of a bummer that we cannot be with some of our family members, due to coronavirus, but no doubt there is still much for us to thank God for.

Sunday begins Advent, a season of the traditional church calendar, which consists of the four Sunday before Christmas, ending on Christmas Eve. Advent is a season of thankful tension. It is a season that reminds us that we live during “in-between” times. It is a season to be thankful that, beyond all odds, God has fulfilled all his prophecies to send us the Messiah; and yet, it is a season of waiting, for though Messiah has come, in the person of Jesus, not all of God’s promises have come to their completion. Advent is a season when we look back, thankful for how God has fulfilled all his promises in Christ, and how he has provided for us practically, tangibly, and abundantly; and yet a time anticipating the day still to come when Christ reigns completely throughout the whole world; the day when, in the words of Sam Gangee (Lord of the Rings) “Everything sad comes untrue.”

Like most churches throughout the world, Grace Covenant will participate in the celebration of the Advent season in a variety of ways.

First, we will decorate for the season. While traditional and not necessarily Biblical, we will festively transform our building and grounds. Origanally plans were to put up the decorations this past Monday evening, but a power outage around the church caused us to shift to this coming Saturday, November 28. Folks will be gathering at the church to decorate at 2pm. Anyone who enjoys decorating for the holidays is welcome to join in. If you have questions, of if you want to let someone know you plan to come, please contact Diane Britton. A big part of our decoration for this season is the incorporation of Poinsettia’s. Each year we invite folks to honor someone special in their lives, or to remember a beloved one who has gone to be with the Lord, or to just express a general “Thank You” to God, by donating a Christmas Poinsettia ($5 donation requested). If you would like to donate a poinsettia, or if you have questions about how we recognize those honored/remembered, or what we do with them after Christmas, please contact Kathy Buhl in the church office.

Second, during this Advent season we will take a break from our study series surveying the Book of Romans, and focus our attention instead on the characteristics traditionally associated with the Advent Season. We’ve covered a lot these past several weeks in Romans 9-11, digging deep into doctrinal truths that are foundational for a vibrant faith. In January, we expect to pick up again in Romans 12, which is the beginning of the final section of Romans, where Paul begins to show us how these deep – and sometimes difficult – truths apply to our lives. Our plan will be to look at these applications each week in more bite-sized sections than what we chewed on in the Fall. But in the meantime, during Advent, we will shift from our regular teaching to more mediation on the characteristics of Advent: Love, Joy, Peace, and Hope.

Finally, some have wondered how the recently renewed COVID-19 restrictions will effect our traditional Christmas Eve service. The good news is that we will have our service, on December 24, as always. That said, in order for us to practice the social distance protocols to which we have committed, there will be limited seating. To accommodate the maximum number we are able, we will have sign ups for seat reservations this year – AND we will both LiveStream and record the service for viewing, for those unable to join us in person. The sign-ups will be first-come-first basis. Kathy will send out information and a link to the sign up early next week. If you have any questions about our Christmas Eve service, please speak with me, or contact Camper.

As always, I am looking forward to these next few weeks. I have much for which to be thankful. Among the things I continually thank God for is you – the Grace Covenant family. I am thankful for you graciousness, your generosity, your encouragements, and your faith and faithfulness.

Happy Thanksgiving to All!

Grace & Peace,

W. Dennis Griffith, Lead Pastor

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A Pastor’s Note to Grace Covenant – November 14, 2020

Borrowing the Apostle’s greeting to the Galatians: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

We mourn this week over the sudden passing of beloved church member Jan Pohl, who crossed into the Promised Land last Sunday evening. Jan’s gain is our loss. (Philippians 1.21) So, while rejoicing for Jan, we pray for Ron, and for their family – we pray for God to grant the comfort that is embedded in the hope of the promise of God that belongs to all who are in Christ Jesus. A memorial service will be held for Jan at a time in the hopefully not-too-distant future, after the pandemic has subsided.

As for the pandemic, it continues to wreak havoc in various places throughout the world, and across the country. While our area is in a better state than some others, as many of you are aware, Governor Northam issued a new executive order Friday afternoon as a precautionary measure. This new order is essentially a reiteration Executive Order 63, which was initially implemented earlier this year. The effect of this order will reduce public and social gatherings – inside or outside – from a maximum of 250 people back down to a max of 25 people. Two things important for all to know, as it pertains to church, are: 1) This order does not go into effect until midnight Sunday (going into Monday), 2) This order does not pertain to church worship services. So not only does this order have NO EFFECT on our gathering tomorrow (November 15); in it’s present manifestation, this order has ZERO impact restricting our freedom and ability to gather for worship in the weeks to come. The only thing that applies to worship services is the requirement to wear masks and maintain social distance – both of which we have already been requiring at Grace Covenant. I want to be clear about this, because I had serious concerns, and I know a lot of others, many who contacted me yesterday, shared my concerns and questions. (If you want to read up on this for yourself, click: 11/13/20 Executive Order, and Northam Adds New Rules Statewide (AP).)

Please know that the Session (Council of Elders) will be meeting Tuesday evening, and will discuss any implications these new restrictions may have on other aspects of our church life (such as small groups, youth groups, etc.). If any adjustments are required Session, in consultation with our Deacons where required or where wisdom dictates, will make the necessary decisions, and we will communicate them with you through multiple media and means.

Such events as we have been experiencing in recent months, and again yesterday, have served to remind me of reasons I am thankful to be part of a Presbyterian church. It is not that there is any inherent superior spirituality among Presbyterians, nor that there is necessarily anything lacking in other denominations and spiritual tribes. But I have good reason, I think, for such thankfulness. The word “presbyterian” means “governed by elders”. Major decisions, such as those about worship, or if we should suspend gatherings, are not mine alone to make as pastor, but are made “jointly and severally” (as our Book of Church Order puts it). In other words, our church benefits from the wisdom that comes through the “counsel of many” godly minds. I’ll confess, when I learned that the governor had issued this new executive order yesterday, months of frustration began to arise within me – frustrations due to the shut-downs, lockdowns, etc., Fortunately my frustration was an over-reaction, and moot, since little to nothing will change for the worse in our church gatherings. But, in the midst of feeling frustration, while trying to gather the facts, I was comforted by the knowledge that any major decisions were not left to me alone; there are others whose wisdom is brought to the table; and decisions are made from the collective wisdom. Sure, we can still get things wrong sometimes. But, the chances of error are significantly reduced for, as Proverbs 15.22 reminds us, there is a benefit to many counselors. All this to encourage you to appreciate Grace Covenant’s Elders and Deacons. These men do quite a bit for our church, and for you, often behind the scenes, unnoticed. At times, it can be taxing on them. Like all of us, they have day-to-day responsibilities and challenges. But on top of life’s normal demands, they also look after your spiritual benefit. Hebrews 12.17 tells us that they will have to “give account” to God, not just for their own lives, but how they have cared for yours as well. So, if you have opportunity, thank them. And pray for them. The old cliché is so often true, “as go the leaders, so goes the church.”

Finally, a little more on the fun side, we were notified of a virtual performance of C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce that will take place tomorrow, Sunday afternoon, November 15. For details, and to register for this FREE event, click the link above. I hope many of you will enjoy it!

Have a great week!

Grace & Peace,

W. Dennis Griffith, Lead Pastor

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A Pastor’s Note to Grace Covenant – October 30, 2020

It is difficult to believe that October is coming to an end. This means, not only that tomorrow is Halloween (assuming that some will still go out to Trick-or-Treat even with COVID-19 still lingering) but, for the Church tomorrow is Reformation Day. For those who would like to explore more of the meaning of the Reformation, I would encourage reading some or all of these short articles: 3 Things Every Christian Should Know About the Reformation, What the Reformation As About in 3 Minutes, The Reformation Rescued the Gospel, How Women Helped Bring Us the Reformation, and/or Why We Need a New Reformation. For those who want a good, simple resource to share with your kids, I would encourage showing them the claymation video The Story of Martin Luther. (Run time: 4 minutes, 32 seconds.)

This coming Sunday, November 1, on the Ecclesiastical calendar is All Saints Day – a day that is observed by many Christians throughout the world, not as an occasion to “invoke the saints” (as some erroneously may do,) but to give thanks to God for all who have gone before us, and to celebrate our unity with the “Great Cloud of Witnesses” – both past and present-day – that Hebrews 12.1 speaks of. Appropriately, concurrent this year with All Saints Day is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church – a remembrance of and prayerful intercession for those from around the world who experience severe persecution simply because they are followers of Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 12.26 tells us that when one part of the Body of Christ is hurting, the whole Body is hurting. So it is not only appropriate but, perhaps it is the least we can do to take a day to pray for these present day Cloud of Witnesses. Two resources to help praying for those persecuted are Voice of the Martyrs and Open Doors. (Worth particular notice on the Open Doors website is the World Watch List, which lists and gives detail about the 50 countries where persecution of Christians is currently most intense.) I will also note that on this All Saints Day the focus should not be on extraordinary achievements of particular Christians, but rather on the grace and work of God in and through ordinary people.

At Grace Covenant this Sunday, November 1, we will be celebrating the Lord’s Supper. We do this because we have committed the first Sunday of each month to centering our worship around the Lord’s Table. While there will be a message, it will not be part of our series in Romans, and will be much shorter, (which may be a pleasant change for some,) and designed to focus our attention on the grace promised to those who come to the table in a “worthy manner”. As such, the Session (Council of Elders) at Grace Covenant urges everyone to take some time over the next few days to both examine your own life and heart, and to give thought to the meaning of and promise associated with the Lord’s Supper. To that end, two good short articles I would encourage everyone to read between now and Sunday morning are 10 Things You Should Know About the Lord’s Supper, and What Should I Think About During the Lord’s Supper? Please remember that, during this season that COVID-19 remains a threat, our Elders invite those who are Believers in Christ, and who are members in good standing with a Bible-affirming church, and who are worshipping with us via LiveStream, to participate with us. For those who worship with us from home, please plan in advance and set aside your grape juice/wine and the bread (or matzah) you will be using for communion. We strongly urge you to set these elements aside before you begin to worship, in a place you can easily access them when we begin to serve communion during the service. We discourage just using some of the stuff you may be having for lunch a while later.

Two final things:

First, with the holiday season soon to be upon us, we are preparing for our participation with Angel Tree and Operation Christmas Child. Shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child are available 1) in the Commons, 2) at the exit doors to the sanctuary, 3) by the benches on the front porch (for those who are socially distancing, and who want to pick up a box with minimal contact with others), or 4) contact Ron Pohl or Rod Linniken for home delivery. One other option is to Build Your Shoebox Online, although we encourage participating through the church, if possible. Those new to participating in Operation Christmas Child might benefit from checking out the instructions from Samaritan’s Purse: How to Pack a Shoebox.

Finally, as most are keenly aware, Tuesday November 3 is Election Day in the United States. I have received numerous questions and requests to “speak up” about the candidates and the issues, as no doubt has Camper. We understand and appreciate the passion, and the importance of this (and every) election. But at Grace Covenant we have intentionally committed ourselves to a gospel-centered ministry that aims to shape the church and equip Christians in relation to the gospel. As the gospel shapes the individual Christian, each of us has an opportunity – a responsibility really – to “love our neighbors” by participating in the process of voting, a privilege that is ours by the providence of God, and a privilege that a relative few have had throughout history and throughout the world. We have our opinions but, for the sake of the gospel, Camper and I have each chosen for forgo expressing them publicly so as not to confuse anyone about what the gospel is and what are our individual ideas of how the gospel should be worked out in the public square. We take this posture not out of fear, but out of love – love for you, and love for Jesus. That said, we – both Camper and I, and the Session of Grace Covenant – urge you to vote. And in voting, we urge you to consider all the issues, and to think through which positions in the respective platforms seem most in line with the gospel, and with God’s Holy Word, and then to vote your consciences. After voting, we urge that we all trust God and give thanks that God is in control regardless of who wins (read Psalm 2); pray for God to be glorified in any outcome; and then seek the unity of the Church, as Jesus prayed for us to be One (John 17) and as he instructed those who are his followers to “Love One Another” (John 13.34-35) Stand for Truth & Justice! But remember: It is by our humility, our love for one another, and our oneness, that the gospel will be on display – and that the world will know who belongs to Jesus.

Grace & Peace,

W. Dennis Griffith, Lead Pastor

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A Pastor’s Note to Grace Covenant – October 23, 2020

This coming Sunday, October 25, is Reformation Sunday. It is a day widely recognized by Protestant Christians throughout the world, commemorating the act of a young German monk by the name of Martin Luther who, on October 31, 1517, publicly expressed his frustrations with the Church by posting his points of concern (95 Theses) on the doors to the church in Wittenburg. If Luther were alive today, he would probably still have made his post but, rather than using hammer and nail to a door, he would have used a keyboard and posted them to a blog. Nevertheless, his action gained traction with the sentiments of the people, not only in his town, but throughout much of Western Europe. Rather than starting something, as many suppose, Luther merely put words to what many others were also already sensing. His gesture, and his points (known as Theses), ignited a wildfire, like a spark to the kindling of dry spirituality, spreading and fueled by the dead branches of a dead and mere formalistic religion. Consequently, each year, many churches, from a variety of traditions (though perhaps mostly Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Reformed) make note of this day, not so much to set us apart from others as to re-connect with the Church of ages past and to be re-rooted and renewed in the gospel principles that were recovered in what many historians would call the greatest spiritual revival in modern history – a revival second in all of history only to Pentecost.

At Grace Covenant, we are beneficiaries and direct spiritual descendants of the Reformation. We are, in our essence, a Reformed Church. What I mean by that is that we continue to hold to the core values that were recovered in the Reformation; the key biblical principles rescued, reaffirmed, and restored as foundational pillars of the Christian Faith. Among those key principles are:

  • The Glory of God is our primary goal in life
  • The Scripture of the Old & New Testaments as our only ultimate authority for what we believe and for directing how we should live
  • The “Good News” of the Gospel is that we are able to receive salvation and be reconciled to enjoy a relationship with God, our Creator, by God’s Grace, through God’s gift of Faith, in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

These points are not only among our treasured beliefs, they are embedded within the core values of our church, and evident in the daily life an teaching of our church.

With that said, I think what is important is not only that we remember these points, but also that we also realize how we relate to these principles, and to the tradition of which we are a part. I see three ways churches and Christians can – and do – relate to the Reformation:

  1. We can ignore the Reformation entirely.
  2. We can live in Light of the Reformation
  3. We can live in the shadow of the Reformation.

Of these, only one is beneficial.

If we ignore the Reformation entirely, we will gain no great benefit from it. In fact, it is quite likely that we will fall into many of the same errors that the Church experienced during the Dark Ages. The old mantra is true, “Those who forget history are in danger of repeating it.”

To live in the “shadow of the Reformation” is to remember it, but to relate to it in an unhealthy way. It is to celebrate it in such a way that more commemorates the past than benefits anyone in the present. It is like wearing it as a distinctive mark, but not to be shaped by it; or rather, the marks are embraced and worn to be distinguished from others – even other Christians – but not so much for the principles to shape the person or church in such a way that cultivates healthy, holy lives in the present.

But the healthy way to relate to the Reformation is to live in Light of the Reformation. One of the themes of the Reformation was “post tenebras lux” – which is Latin for “After Darkness, Light”! And the Reformation did provide a light for the world. Those principles still shine, especially so where people and churches are continually shaped by these principles. Where these principles are at work, the result is humility, joy, freedom, graciousness – i.e. “Light”.

I write all this because I wanted to seize this date on the calendar to paint a picture. I want to connect us to our tradition, and at the same time point us toward our future. I want us to see that by being faithful to the principles that have always been foundational to Grace Covenant, by being a “Humbly Reformed” church, a church and a people that are continually being shaped or “re-formed” by these gospel principles, we are able to be a Light – a light in an all-too-often dark world; and light for a culture in desperate need of a new Reformation in our own day. In some ways this is an aspiration. But in many ways, it is also already our present reality. And it is because this is both a present reality and an aspiration in our church that I regularly give thanks to God for you all.

OK. Quickly, as I finish up this note…. Don’t Forget: Church Work Day tomorrow morning (October 24). It’s a time when we can come together and take care of some things to prepare our building and grounds for the coming Winter. But more than that, it is a time when we can come together, and enjoy one another. No skills are needed. Just come with a good attitude … and maybe some gloves.

Grace & Peace,

W. Dennis Griffith, Lead Pastor

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