Petra Mollet gives her testimony about coming to faith at Grace Meridian Hill. 

Hear her testimony here.

Lillipads

"Does God make junk?” A question I often pose when talking with my daughters...

It goes like this. Daughter says so-and-so said so-and-so is ugly — my response, "does God make junk?" In saying this, we are freed to ignore the opinions of man and instead concern ourselves with God's thoughts and who he is — the creator. It brings the truth that He is near and active, not a God that once created the world and has resigned but rather our God who is still tending to his creation.

I hate to demote your lofty opinion of yourself but you are part of His creation like the birds in flight. True, God’s creation was a gift to us but we are tasked to work in God’s image and to exercise dominion over the fish of the sea and everything that creeps upon the earth (Genesis 1:26). But notice that work first begins with faithfully representing God.

Consider this from English Theologian John Stott:

"God the Creator is lord of his creation.  He has not abdicated his throne.  He rules what he has made.  No Christian can have a mechanistic view of nature.  The universe is not a machine which operates by inflexible laws, nor has God made laws to which he is himself now a slave ... He is living and active in his universe …"

United States author Wendell Berry writes:

“The ecological teaching of the Bible is simply inescapable: God made the world because He wanted it made. He thinks the world is good, and He loves it. It is His world; He has never relinquished title to it. And He has never revoked the conditions, bearing on His gift to us of the use of it, that oblige us to take excellent care of it.”

I ask you and myself:

How would you change the way you think about nature if you pictured God himself tending to its care?

How has your view of “exercise dominion over the earth" put yourself in God’s rightful throne and made God a slave?

How has your consumption of nature deprived others of His good gift to us all?

Does "love your neighbor" mean the neighbor 50 years from today?

Its difficult not to prescribe ways for all of us to change but lets get into a rhythm of gratitude for the world created for us and next time you want to say a disparaging comment about something in nature as ugly and horrible — does God make junk?

By: Elder Michael Schafer

A recent prayer lifted by Elder Kenny Gibbs:

But the LORD sits enthroned forever; he has established his throne for justice, and he judges the world with righteousness; he judges the peoples with uprightness.  - Psalm 9:7-8

Father, help us to see you so that as  image bearers we can be people of Justice...

We confess that our hearts, including mine, are cold toward injustice. Much less, we have knowingly and unknowingly done injustice...

Help us to be people who act affirmatively to expand your kingdom justice (break us --including the person speaking-- of our preconceived notions and help us to see justice and seek out your definition). If we err, may we err on the side of justice...

To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.  - Proverbs 21:3

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?  - Micah 6:8

Remembering that as you administer  justice you have special regard for those at the margins -- widow, orphan, foreigner -- and require much of those who have been given much/are in positions of leadership/power...

For those whose work directly involves "justice" in the legal, government (legislative, judicial, executive) or military sense -- do it well -- may we all have wisdom and courage to execute justice in whatever sphere we find ourselves in...

If you are a part of a group for which justice has been denied--may we not grow weary or hardened by the injustice; may we know that as sure as you are faithful, as sure as Christ has been raised, justice will come...

He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. - 1 Peter 2:22-23

May those who are not a part of such groups--may they bear our burdens well, use the privilege they have to advance justice on our behalf...

May we remember the cross and the tomb. Where divine justice met divine love that we might be justified and so freed to extend your justice in every area of life.

Amen

When we began meeting as elders we made what I would call a "little-Big decision": our meetings would include table fellowship (meals) and an annual retreat.  Why was this so significant?

While we may not often reflect upon or articulate the relational importance of meals, it's something we know from experience. Over the table we share, laugh, listen, learn and most importantly build love and trust. Over the past 15 years God has proven the value of this over and over.

Retreats include the above and in addition offer the precious, hard-to-come-by, gift of TIME. I once heard it said, how does  a child spell love?  T.I.M.E.. I don't think big kids (adults) are much different.

On retreat we have the opportunity to slow down and enter into the love of our Savior; renewing our personal love for Christ, love for his Word, love for his Kingdom, love for his people. On our elder retreats we start each full day with 90 minutes of alone time with God. We hear from each brother, lay hands and pray for him. We have extended learning modules and discussion. We dream and vision cast. We share meals, play together, do a work project, and sit around the fire talking about everything from our marriages to headlines to sabbath practice. But, most importantly we develop respect, love and trust. It not only pleases the Lord when 'brothers dwell together in unity' but also fills the relational bank account with capital for those times when bonds get stretched and strained through ministry challenges and differences of opinion. We are much less prone to judge one another's motives, presume agendas and get impatient. This well-working of relationships yields well-working in the church, and, ultimately the advancement in the Kingdom.  So, you see why this "little" decision years ago, was actually very "big".

Thank you for your prayers and support of our elders.

Glenn

The Old Testament covenants provide a coherent and lucid theological framework for understanding God’s character. In a watershed moment in the history of redemption, God made an unconditional promise to bless all families on earth through Abram.

Genesis 12:1-3 reads - Now the Lord said[a] to Abram, “Go from your country  and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

The Abrahamic covenant is an explicit reverberation of the Creation Mandate, where God commissioned Adam and Eve to extend the borders of Eden by exercising dominion over creation. Despite the Fall of mankind, and the ensuing distortion of all creation, God’s desire to reverse the curse of sin is unmistakably witnessed in God’s promise to bless all families on earth through Abram. A careful reading of the Abrahamic covenant shows that God’s blessing to all people groups is tied to and extends from Abram’s descendants, a nation which prefigures the Kingdom of God. Years later the promise of blessing was culminated and fulfilled in the incarnation and the resurrection of Christ. Jesus’ incarnation inaugurated the Kingdom of God, and his resurrection secured it. On his return, Jesus will ultimately fulfill the Abrahamic covenant and all of God’s people on earth will be blessed.

In the meantime, we pray, “Let your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”, and function as gospel agents that model the goodness and the beauty of God’s reign, and participate in the fulfillment of God’s promise to bless all peoples on earth.

Dear church family,

At Grace Meridian Hill, we are getting to know and love a God who sent his only son, Jesus, to move in and fully commit to a “neighborhood” (the Galilee region). “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” - John 1:14.

By knowing that region inside and out, and living most of his life there, Jesus was able to minister to people spiritually, physically, socially, and emotionally in a way that uniquely spoke to their lived experiences. He shared in the suffering and pain of his neighbors, who were oppressed not only by local, neighborhood-level forces (Roman occupation), but also by the universal pain of sin and death. He willingly sacrificed himself to his neighborhood oppressors by dying on a Roman cross, but--HALLELUJAH!--he put our sins to death on that cross as well. Jesus, by his resurrection from the dead on the third day, not only offers the salvation of individual souls, but promises the redemption of the whole world, including OUR neighborhood. This spring, as weather warms and you and your neighbors may be lingering outside for a bit longer, would you follow in the pattern of our Savior and join us spending time in the neighborhood and loving our neighbors deeply and incarnationally? What would that look like for you?

Praise God for His Mercy!

The Neighborhood Easter Party at Girard St. Recreation Center and Park was a huge success!!! Please thank your dedicated co-organizers: Akite Daniel, Kristin Collins, and Abby Furnish when you see them!

Grace Meridian Hill’s tutoring ministry at the Rita Bright Family & Youth Center (also known as “#10” to locals) in Columbia Heights is beginning a wonderful new set of programming and approach to their ministry there. Lead by Dave Balajthy, our core team of volunteers there are planning, for many logistical reasons as well as shifting resources and needs at #10, are now shifting to arts-based tutoring and programming for the rest of the spring. See here an excerpt of the proposal Dave and his team of tutors have developed for this exciting new ministry:

This program seeks to engage students with regard to art and music. In doing so, we hope to inspire

creative thinking, increase literacy, and expose students to a range of art and music concepts. We plan

to meet on a bi-weekly basis on Tuesdays at 6pm beginning March 27th. We currently expect to host workshops in three specific areas: (1) painting; (2) music; and (3) photography. Each of these workshops will be interactive and include both a lesson and an opportunity for students participate. Below is a brief

description of each of the workshops:

Painting (3/27, 4/10). Petra Mollet and Dennis Kuo will teach students several simple painting techniques. Students will then practice these techniques and create a piece of artwork they are able to take home or hang up at the Center.

Music (4/24, 5/15). Dave Balajthy plans to use popular songs and poems to educate students about meter and song/poetry-writing. Then, using simple instruments and recordings, we will help students create their own songs and/or poetry and share their work with the class.

Photography (5/29, 6/12). Isaiah Castilla, a volunteer and friend from District Church, will instruct students on several simple photography techniques using a digital camera. We will then show them how to edit their photography and export their work so they can share with friends and family.

Growing in the Grace of Giving…

As a neighborhood-centered church, we long to know our neighbors and neighborhoods better. The more deeply we know one another, the better we can serve and love one another well. Because our community now worships on Sundays in Petworth, and Petworth is one of the 4 neighborhoods we are intentionally, missionally committed to, we would like to gather a team of people to intentionally walk around and learn more about Petworth. Whether you reside in Petworth or not, would you be interested in learning more about the neighborhood? Contact us at deeks@gracemeridianhill.org.

Would you be interested in visiting the group of tutors at #10 on one of the Tuesdays coming up this Spring, checking out what they’re up to? This is a great way to get to know not only a major neighborhood resource like #10, neighborhood youth, and their parents, but a great way to get to know others in our church and to develop friendships. The tutoring team welcomes those who are interested in observing and potentially volunteering at #10, and especially is looking for additional support on this first painting session in April! Contact Dave for more information: dbalajthy@gmail.com.

Love in Christ,

Mary Katherine, together with the rest of the Diaconate

Child reading the Bible

As I prepare to watch my second child leave home for college I’m left wondering if I equipped them for the world they are entering. Did I model faith for them? Did I build them up to be men and women of character? Did I have the courage to give them enough freedom to fail while they were here? Did my marriage portray sacrificial serving love? I found this article helpful in discussing some of these core elements in parenting.

Hard Truths for Modern Parents

- Chris Moore serves as ruling elder at Grace Mosaic Church

This month, Community groups will start a 10-week education curriculum. We will explore theology proper, presbyterianism, and topics of our day. The purpose is to generate healthy discussion and to guide each other in understanding a biblical perspective on these topics. Elders will visit at some point across the 10-week span and will also be available via email to answer lingering questions. We will be praying for you and walking with you during this exciting new theological adventure! Following are the CG Discussion guides for the month of April for you to access & download. 

Whenever film makers want to get our attention they use a tried and truth method--slow motion.  It's their way to guarantee, "They won't miss this!"  Do you know God does the same thing?

God, the Great Director of redemption, uses a similar technique in the Bible. The text moves into slow motion so we won't miss what's coming.  The Scripture only does this a few times: the creation of men and women, the birth of Jesus Christ, and the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ--it's this last one where the storyline really slows down.  Through the accounting of the final supper with his disciples, the Garden, the trial, the denial, the torture, the last words of the Cross, the torn veil and so on, God is beckoning us to not just read but enter into the reality of the most important events in human history.

It's not often that we fast forward through slow motion scenes--kind of defeats the purpose. But, I often find, I can do that through Holy Week.  After all, deadlines don't stop coming, texts don't stop buzzing, kids don't stop crying, etc.. But, if we can carve out a few places to slow down with the story, our experience value goes way up. Maybe it's taking one morning this week to read one portion of the account? Maybe it's attending our Maundy Thursday or Good Friday service? Maybe it's reading some brief prayers (see link below)? Maybe it means scheduling in a brief family devotion on Easter Sunday between the baskets and meal prep? One or more of these might really change our understanding of God's sacrificial love us.

Let's not fast forward through the good news of Easter.

*For some good, brief Easter Prayers: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/scotty-smith/

Following are the CG Discussion guides for the month of March for you to access & download:

Dear Friends,
 
Thank you all for your support as I joined the diaconate Feb. 11th! The ordination service was a huge blessing to me, my friends, my family – I loved being with you all, as we all move forward together as one church family, committed to loving each other and our neighbors. In the words of Paul, echoed by Duke in his charge, I am excited to care for and serve each other deeply in the years to come: 
 
Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
- Romans 12:10-11
 
I have seen so much of this love, service and devotion in our “Out” neighborhood ministries in the past month. As we pursue being a cross-cultural, spiritually diverse, and neighborhood-centered church, I wanted to take time, with my first newsletter, to praise how God is working in Columbia Heights, Petworth, Adams Morgan, and Mt. Pleasant. A couple of these stories, around the young men myself and others are mentoring, are captured below:
 

Rita Bright Boys Basketball End Season 4-2!

Led by head coach Chris Yook, the Rita Bright Boys Basketball 10 and Under Team finished the regular season 4-2. The highlight of the season was a last second, 2-point victory for the boys in an away game – with the stands (including my parents visiting from out of town) going wild. Because of this victory, the team made the playoffs (!) - with the first round game on March 6th (contact me or Chris for details if you want to come). Pray for continued, developing relationships with these young men, and more team outings to deepen our bonds - like the pizza party (see picture above) and Saturday workouts (starting in April).
 

Tyreik Thompson Starts Second Semester of College!

As many of you know, our church has walked with Tyreik Thompson – a young man who we first coached in basketball when he was only 12 years old! – as he enters college. He is now starting his second semester of community college at UDC, taking three classes. In a recent meeting with him at IHOP, Tyreik shared, “I feel like we’re in the driver’s seat and I’m cruising!” Praise God for these words and how Tyreik is
encouraged by all the progress he has made and continue praying for him on his journey.
 

DC127 Guys Have Sushi Lunch/Black Panther Movie Party!

Last Sunday, we had the first DC127 Guys Hangout – and at Makhai Spruill’s request, we ate sushi and saw Black Panther. I have never seen a young person eat that much sushi – as you can see in the picture below, Makhai ate way more than even Noah Downs, Joe Mosby, or I could chow down. We had a great time and Makhai is excited for more meet-ups to come – from sleepovers, to Go-Karts, to fishing - anyone is welcome to join!



If you would like to participate in any of these or other youth and young adult ministries, please contact anyone on the diaconate or myself (wehowell7@gmail.com)! There is so much to praise – and it’s a joy for all of us to be in this Kingdom-making work in our neighborhood together.
 
In Love,
Walter and the rest of the Diaconate

What a blessing the choir was in their performance of "I Will Sing Praises" in honor of Black History Month!  

Watch the Black History Month Choir performance here.  

Welcome to the new Grace DC web site(s).  Yes, change is always difficult but necessary,  So why did we make this change?

Mobile Design & Responsiveness

We want Grace DC congregations to be communities that are welcoming and hospitable to all of our neighbors. While our existing sites were primarily designed for an era when the overwhelming majority of all web browsing happened on a laptop or a desktop computer. Today, mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) are the most common portals to the internet. Our new sites were built to display well no matter what device you are using to view them with.

Sharing is Caring

Every church in the Grace DC network benefits from the synergy and collaboration our leaders, staff and congregations enjoy with one another. Our new websites are built for that, too: All four sites were built together, making it easier to share important news, updates and resources. As an added bonus, we're building out the search function (that little magnifying glass at the top of the page) so that if you search for a specific topic on any Grace DC website, you'll get relevant results from across the network, giving you broader context and insight.

Making Our Most Useful Tools Better

The classifieds on the Grace Downtown website were by far the most visited part of any Grace DC site.  With these new sites, we've combined all of our classifieds boards into a single system making it easier for you to post to or hear from the entire Grace DC community at once. In addition, the new classifieds support the ability to include photos with your ads.

Give it a Spin

We know that if you are used to our old sites, then these new ones might take some getting used to, and there may be some things you liked the old look better. These sites aren't finished works. As we all continue to grow and develop and improve, our plan is to continue to grow and develop and improve these sites, too. In the meantime, we would love to hear your thoughts on the new site.  Email me at accountant@gracedc.net.

In Christ,

Keith Moore
On behalf of the Grace DC staff

Akite Daniel gives her Testimony for Black History Month.

Listen to her Testimony here.  

As Grace Downtown moves to a new location, it's a wonderful opportunity for us to apply our theology of place. 

The Bible is unique in it's emphasis upon Place: God made the Place, sustains the Place, redeems the Place, and will one day perfect the Place. The mention of all those hard to pronounce places reminds us that our faith is a 'real world religion'--it happened in actual, earthly places. Finally, even the Son of God Himself, Jesus Christ, enters the place. In Scripture, Christ's Church is only qualified in two ways, either "of God" or of a place, e.g. of Corinth, Thessalonica, etc.

This means as Christ-followers we are to pay attention to places, even when we're moving just five blocks away. City blocks are dense--a few blocks can equal a few thousand new people, and half-mile may feel like half a world away!  And yet, we also spend the majority of our days inhabiting a finite place ("our" corner story, dry cleaners, pizza joint, etc) This is God's intention (Acts 17.26). We weren't meant to live everywhere. Nor is one church meant to be the church of "every place". Our ministry is defined by our neighborhoods, whether they be our home, work or church neighborhood.  God has planned for Grace Downtown to neighbor-down at 5th and I NW, Washington, DC.

Our staff has been praying for the immediate blocks around Chinese Community Church: for the condo residents, businesses, foot traffic, homeless people, etc. And, of course for our new hosts--the CCC congregation. We want to bless this new place: the unchurched person who sees a "Grace Downtown" sign and happens in one Sunday evening; the restaurants who will begin to plan for a new "after church" crowd; the hungry walking the street desiring a meal; the parking attendant who sees us weekly. Gospel "salt" and "light" come in small, faithful, everyday ways--what we think little of, others think a lot.  

And, so beginning March 4th, a new chapter in our city's story will begin, as we bring the words and deeds of Jesus to our new place. God has 'prepared good works in advance' for us to walk in. Let's keep our eyes and hearts open.

Deidra Bailey gives her testimony for Black History Month, testifying about her identity as a Black Christian Woman and living out her Christian walk to love all and love the world.  

Listen here. 

While we do not observe Lent together at Grace Meridian Hill, our pastors recognize that Lent has been growing in popularity among Christians and non-Christians alike. In light of this, they want to provide those of you who choose to keep Lent personally — as well as those who want to understand what Lent is at all! — with this helpful article, “On Keeping a Holy Lent”, in order that you might do so in the most spiritual healthy and meaningful way.  

———

On Keeping a Holy Lent 

Craig R. Higgins, Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA), Rye, NY

People from different religious backgrounds have very different reactions to the season of Lent.  Some grow up in churches where Lent is observed, but with little to no real explanation. Whether observed as a time of strict austerity or merely as a time of forgoing a few simple pleasures, Lent may seem like an empty, meaningless ritual in such cases.  On the other hand, some grow up in church traditions where Lent is not observed at all. These folks may think of Lenten observance as, at best, a hollow custom, or, at worst, quite foreign to authentic Christianity.  As a matter of fact, many who grew up in the church have the same question as those who didn’t: “What is Lent, anyway?”

What is the Meaning of Lent?  

Lent’s origin is hidden in the early centuries of church history, but we do know that it originated as a time of preparation for Easter.  From the church’s earliest days, the resurrection of Christ was celebrated not only each week (on Sunday, the Lord’s Day), but also in a special festival of the resurrection. This festival we call Easter Day, and it is celebrated as the Sunday of Sundays.

Lent, as a season of preparation, is traditionally focused on repentance. Speaking biblically, to repent means to make a change in our attitudes, words, and lifestyles. As 16th century reformer Martin Luther taught, the Christian life in its totality is a life of repentance. Beginning when we first trust Christ, and continuing throughout our lives, we are more and more turning away from sin and self-centeredness and more and more turning to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Even though a repentant spirit should mark all we do, it is still appropriate that certain times be set aside for a particular focus on repentance. In much the same way, we celebrate the resurrection of Christ each Sunday, but especially at Easter; and while we should always thank God for the Incarnation, we especially celebrate it at Christmas. These periodic reminders keep us from becoming forgetful and imbalanced. The church has traditionally done this at the Lenten season (and, to a lesser extent, in the pre-Christmas season of Advent).

Lent, therefore, is a time for focusing on the heart, a time for asking questions about our spiritual health:

  • What are my characteristic sins, and how can I pray for change?
  • What idols have captured my imagination so that my love for the living God has grown cold?
  • In what ways is my devotion to Christ and His church less than wholehearted?

The Lenten season is the spiritual equivalent of an annual physical exam; it’s a time to take stock of our lives, our hearts.

Keeping Lent, however, is potentially dangerous, precisely because of this focus on the heart. After all, it is much easier to read a book on prayer than to spend time leisurely speaking with our heavenly Father. It is much easier to fast from certain foods than it is to turn from idols of the heart. It is much easier to write a check than to spend time in ministries of mercy. Consequently, Lent is easily trivialized. The point of Lent is not to give up chocolate; it’s to give up sin!

Even with this warning, however, we need to beware of going from one extreme to the other. Yes, it is possible to completely externalize your Lenten observance that you end up trivializing it. Yet we need to remember that we are not purely spiritual beings.  God created humans as physical beings; we are psychosomatic creatures, a “nexus of body and soul.” What we do physically has an effect on us spiritually—and we neglect this principle to our peril.

For example, it is unquestionably true that our attitude in prayer is more important than our posture in prayer. However, sometimes being in a physical posture of humility—kneeling in prayer—helps us get in the right frame of mind.  It shouldn’t surprise us in the least that there is a connection between the physical and spiritual; it simply reflects how God created us. That’s why, at the center of Christian worship, God gave us the sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper— simple physical rites involving water, bread, and wine, but rites that communicate to us the most profound of spiritual realities.

That’s also why, in the pages of Scripture and throughout the history of the church, we find many physical acts and postures designed to help us worship, to help us pray, to help us in our spiritual growth. The list could be quite long, such as standing for prayer and praise, the laying on of hands, anointing the sick with oil, bowing one’s head and closing one’s eyes for prayer.  Recognizing this God-created link between the physical and the spiritual, the Lenten season has historically included a physical element, specifically fasting and other acts of self-denial. We’ll deal with these more fully below.

Should We Observe Lent? 

I am sometimes asked why churches should observe Lent at all. Well, I certainly agree that of all the seasons of the church year Lent is the most-often trivialized. Consequently, many churches (including some Presbyterian churches) do not observe the season. There are, however, two good reasons for keeping this tradition:

First, this is a wise tradition. Realizing that repentance should characterize the totality of the Christian life, we should see the practical wisdom in setting aside time especially for this purpose. Just as a baseball player may work at staying in shape year round but still give special attention to conditioning before the start of spring training, so we may find great spiritual benefits in setting aside a few weeks to give special attention to the state of our souls.

Second, it is right that we honor the traditional wisdom of the church, and Lent is a tradition that the church has observed for centuries. Inasmuch as the Holy Spirit has been present throughout church history, guiding God’s people into an ever-increasing awareness of biblical truth, we believe that it is foolhardy to disregard history and constantly to try to “reinvent the wheel.” We dishonor our spiritual ancestors when we casually disregard their wisdom.

Are Christians required to observe Lent? Strictly speaking, no; Presbyterians have long emphasized that our consciences are bound to Scripture alone, and there is no biblical mandate to celebrate Lent. But countless generations of Christians have found this a helpful tool.

When is Lent?

The Lenten season begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts until the Saturday before Easter Day. The last week of Lent is called Holy Week, which includes both Maundy Thursday (commemorating the institution of the Eucharist) and Good Friday (commemorating the crucifixion of our Lord). Reminiscent of Jesus’ fasting for forty days in the wilderness, the Lenten season, not counting Sundays, lasts forty days. Sundays are not included because the Lord’s Day, according to church tradition, is never a fast day but always a feast day—a celebration of the resurrection! Therefore, during Lent the Lord’s Days are listed as Sundays in Lent, not Sundays of Lent.

How Can I Keep Lent?

Traditionally, the Lenten season is observed in four basic (and often overlapping) ways:

1. Self-Examination

As we’ve discussed, this is central to the traditional Lenten observance. Use this time to ask yourself some hard questions about your spiritual life, your spiritual maturity.  The following questions taken from Outgrowing the Ingrown Church, by Jack Miller, are a great place to start:

  • Is God working in your life?
  • Have you been repenting of your sin lately?
  • Are you building your life on Christ’s free justification or are you insecure and guilt-ridden?
  • Have you done anything simply because you love Jesus?
  • Have you stopped anything simply because you love Jesus?

If you’re married, ask your spouse to give you his or her evaluation of your spiritual health. Many Christians have a Christian friend, or a small group of fellow believers, who provide an opportunity for spiritual inquiry. If you don’t have these kinds of relationship, Lent might be a good time to initiate one. Parents—especially fathers—could use Lent as time to spend more time with their children individually, trying to understand their particular spiritual struggles and providing them encouragement.

With all this emphasis on self-examination, however, it is crucial to keep your focus on the Gospel: All of us are more sinful and helpless than we would’ve ever dared admit, yet in Christ we are more accepted and forgiven than we would’ve ever dared hope. Be careful that your self-examination is centered on this Good News. There is always the danger of falling into morbid introspection, which can lead to despair over your own spiritual health and to a harsh legalism toward others.

2. Self-Denial

The Lenten season traditionally is also a time for acts of self-discipline and self-denial, a time to remind ourselves that we do not live by bread alone. Self-denial helps us remember what is so beautifully signified in the Eucharist—that Jesus is the true bread of life, our only source of strength and sustenance.

The two major fast days of the traditional church year—Ash Wednesday and Good Friday—both occur during the Lenten season. Traditionally, the other days of Lent—except Sundays, of course —are marked by other acts of self-denial. Some common examples would be giving up one meal a day or giving up a particular food. Self-denial, however, doesn’t always involve what we eat; some people may work on other habits, seeking to better use their time. (I’ve known some people to fast from watching too much television!) For families in this dangerously frenetic culture, Lent would certainly be an appropriate time to cut back on the seemingly-endless flow of activities and spend time worshipping, praying, and learning together.

Since fasting is so unfamiliar to many in our culture, it is wise to consult with a pastor or other spiritual leader before making any decisions in this area. (Some people, of course—such as expectant or nursing mothers, the sick, and those on special diets—should not fast.) Before you begin fasting, I would recommend that you look at what the Scriptures say about the practice (see especially Matthew 6), and perhaps get some guidance from good books on the subject.  And again, remember that there is nothing magical in these spiritual disciplines; they are tools to help you grow closer to Christ.

3. Acts of Compassion

The Lenten season is a particularly appropriate time to ask God to fill you with compassion for the poor and oppressed and to put this into practice in concrete ways. This can take many practical forms. For example, there are Christians who give up one meal a day as a Lenten discipline, and then give the money they’ve saved by doing so to the poor. Many churches—including West End Presbyterian Church—have Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday offerings for ministries of mercy, so money saved during Lent could be given at that time. There are many ways in which families can practice compassion during Lent. In your neighborhood, there may be a poor family you could help (with or without drawing attention to yourselves). Or maybe you know an older person who lives alone who could use some help around the house—or would simply like having a friend. Some families save their loose change or forgo some simple expenditures, then give the money to the poor. Lent can be an excellent opportunity to teach our children the value of compassion.

4. Using the “Means of Grace”

Finally, the Lenten season is a time for renewing our focus on the means of grace—a focus that all-too-easily fades when not given adequate attention. Historically, the church has said there are three means of grace—three instruments through which God helps us grow to be more and more like Christ: the Scriptures, prayer, and the sacraments. If regular times of prayer and Bible study have never been a part of your life (or if they once were but have become less so), then Lent is a wonderful opportunity to begin these life-changing practices.

The Lenten season would also be a good time to get involved in a Bible study group—a practice that generations of Christians have commended as key to their spiritual growth. And if your family doesn’t have a time of worship together, Lent is a great time to start—and then keep going the rest of the year! In our individualistic culture, it is all too easy to lose sight of the fact that Christianity is a communal faith, that the center of Christian life is not private religious devotion but corporate worship, gathering with fellow believers to sing, pray, and receive Holy Communion. There are many today who identify themselves as Christians but for whom the church is peripheral and tangential. If this sounds like you, then use this Lenten season to commit yourself to the community of God’s people. If you are a follower of Christ and yet have never been baptized, then make every effort to be baptized as soon as possible. If you have been baptized, remember that in baptism you were incorporated into a community, the family of God, and that you are to join in the family meal, the Lord’s Supper. And parents, the Lenten season is a wonderful time to help your children realize that the church is their family, that worship is their first duty and greatest joy. And if your children understand the Gospel, then this season could be a wonderful time to take the steps toward having them admitted to the Lord’s Table.

 

As Lent begins this year, our prayer for you is that this would be a truly blessed season, a time of genuine and significant spiritual growth for you and for your family.

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A post by Duke Kwon, pastor of our sister church Grace Meridian Hill written on Feb 1, 2018:

Today marks the beginning of #BlackHistoryMonth. Why might non-black Christians observe/celebrate Black History Month at non-black churches?

1. To deepen fellowship with our black Christian sisters/brothers by honoring their family stories, learning about the historical and cultural contexts that shape who they are.

2. To cultivate cross-cultural skills in order to love our black local neighbors more genuinely and more effectively; after all, we cannnot love our neighbors well without knowing their stories and without sharing a “common memory” of the past.

3. To learn more of the all too neglected history of the Black Church, recognizing that Black Church History is Church History.

4. To model the gospel ethic of mutuality/interdependency by esteeming a subdominant culture—historically, one devalued/subjugated even in/by the Church—celebrating its people and achievements and witnessing its vast potential to fortify the ministry and mission of the Church.

5. To grow in repentance for corporate sins committed against Black people, often in the name of Christ—sins past and present, of commission and omission—as a necessary step toward true reconciliation and interethnic unity in the Church.

Today marks the beginning of #BlackHistoryMonth. Why might non-black Christians observe/celebrate Black History Month at non-black churches?

1. To deepen fellowship with our black Christian sisters/brothers by honoring their family stories, learning about the historical and cultural contexts that shape who they are.

2. To cultivate cross-cultural skills in order to love our black local neighbors more genuinely and more effectively; after all, we cannnot love our neighbors well without knowing their stories and without sharing a “common memory” of the past.

3. To learn more of the all too neglected history of the Black Church, recognizing that Black Church History is Church History.

4. To model the gospel ethic of mutuality/interdependency by esteeming a subdominant culture—historically, one devalued/subjugated even in/by the Church—celebrating its people and achievements and witnessing its vast potential to fortify the ministry and mission of the Church.

5. To grow in repentance for corporate sins committed against Black people, often in the name of Christ—sins past and present, of commission and omission—as a necessary step toward true reconciliation and interethnic unity in the Church.

Check out these Black History Month opportunities in DC.

On Sunday, January 28, members of Grace Meridian Hill will be electing candidates for the office of Elder and officer of Deacon. So this is a good time to remind you how those roles are defined biblically. What is an Elder? What is a Deacon?  

ELDER

General Description

Elders oversee the spiritual well-being of the people and the health of the church. Elders are not the church’s “Board of Directors.” They are shepherds (i.e., pastors). Their job is to teach, counsel, lead, pray, protect, and nurture members of God’s flock (1 Pet. 5:1-4; Acts 20:28-35). According to the PCA’s Book of Church Order, an elder is called to “watch diligently over the flock committed to his charge … exercise government and discipline … visit the people at their homes, especially the sick … instruct the ignorant, comfort the mourner, nourish and guard the children of the Church … set a worthy example to the flock entrusted to their care by their zeal to evangelize the unconverted and make disciples … pray with and for the people, being careful and diligent in seeking the fruit of the preached Word among the flock.” (BCO 8-3)

The Presbyterian form of church government distinguishes between two types of Elders: RulingElders (commonly called “Elders” for short), who typically serve as “bi-vocational” shepherds (1 Tim. 5:17), and Teaching Elders (commonly called Pastors or Ministers), who, in addition to shepherding, also preach and administer the sacraments (baptism and communion). Elders of both kinds lead as a team, serving and leading together.

Roles & Responsibilities

INSTRUCTING (feeding the flock): Elders verbally communicate the gospel in relationships.Examples: intentional conversations about faith and life, “discipling” members, counseling, equipping leaders, teaching the gospel and biblical doctrine in various settings, etc.

LEADING (guiding and governing the flock): Elders lead the church organization and mobilize people with grace, vision, and by their godly example. Examples: vision-casting, strategic decision-making, persuading, modeling, setting the tone for the community, managing church resources/finances, etc.

GUARDING (protecting the flock): Elders promote health in doctrine and in relationships, protecting the flock from error and division. Examples: exercising authoritative discernments/“judgment” of doctrine (1 Cor. 14:29, 34-35), ‘tough love’ through church discipline, managing conflicts in the community, etc.

CARING (carrying the flock, binding wounds, seeking the wandering): Elders nurture and sympathize with the suffering and the lost. Examples: showing hospitality, visiting the sick, praying for the weak, loving the poor, walking with non-Christians, etc.

 

DEACON

General Description

Deacons and deaconesses (jointly referred to as Diaconate) lead the church in its commitment to meet the physical and material needs of hurting people. Theirs is a ministry of “sympathy and service” (Acts 6:1-7; Luke 4:16-19; Matt. 25:31-46; James 2:14-17) on behalf of both church members and local neighbors. The ministries of care, mercy, and justice are the Deacons’ and Deaconesses’ primary focus. They serve primarily with “deeds,” i.e., practical action; nevertheless, its ministry is spiritual in nature and is often graced with words of hope and comfort (BCO 9-3). Further, while Deacons and Deaconesses are deeds-oriented, they must be leaders rather than doers alone. The Diaconate serves “under the supervision and authority of the Session” (BCO 9-2).

Roles & Responsibilities

CARING: The Diaconate serves the physical needs of (a) those in our church community, and (b) neighbors in the local community. They “minister to those who are in need, to the sick, to the friendless, and to any who may be in distress” (BCO). Examples: Walking with members in crisis, making mercy fund disbursements, reviewing requests from local neighbors, developing neighborhood partnerships, etc.)

LEADING AND EQUIPPING: The Diaconate encourages and equips the congregation for ministries of care, hospitality, mercy, and justice. They are responsible for “develop[ing] the grace of liberality in the members of the church,” that the whole church might be “diaconal.” Examples: training members for mercy/justice (classes), mentoring lay leaders, serving as church-neighborhood liaison, coordinating and mobilizing members for care ministries, developing systems for care/hospitality, etc.)

STEWARDING: The Diaconate assists the Elders in the stewardship of the church’s physical resources. The supervise the “collection/distribution of financial resources, property, etc.” (BCO). (Examples: reviewing annual budget, creating financial accountability systems, managing church facilities, overseeing personal property, etc.)

 

If you have any questions, please feel welcomed to ask Pastors Yancie or Duke. And please remember to pray for the concluding steps of this exciting process. Praise God for calling and providing new leaders for our church!

What is a Call to Worship? If you didn’t grow up in a church that had a more formal service, the words “Call to Worship” might sound strange. That’s probably due to a difference in how different churches use the word ‘worship.’ 

In many churches, ‘worship’ refers to the part of a church service where everyone sings.  While we don’t think worship is less than that, we also think there’s more to it. As we discussed in "Going to Church: What's the Point?", we think the entirety of a church service is actually what we would call ‘corporate worship.’  And from beginning to end, a corporate worship service is meant to reorient our hearts to who God is and what he has done. 

A lot of churches might just call that idea of corporate worship, ‘church.’  And that would be right too.  We try to talk about it as corporate worship because we think it’s vitally important to remind ourselves not just of who God is and what he’s done, but also of the fact that everything in this world entices us to worship it.  Or if we use the term ‘church’ instead of worship - everything in this world entices us and invites us to ‘church’ it.  Everything invites us to come in and learn, hope, wonder and rejoice in what it thing is and what it promises do for us. 

It’s not that God calls us to worship him and other things don’t.  It’s that everything calls us to worship, but everything except God calls us to worship at counterfeit church.  To put it a little more provocatively, the difference between the world’s call and God’s call is that everything except God invites us to a church of the dead.  Its promises look like life, but lead to death (Pr. 14:12).   Its hope is dead.  Its wonder is dead. Its joy is dead.  Its worship is dead because it is rooted in something other than God, who alone has and gives life (Deut. 32:39; Neh. 9:6; John 1:3-4; 5:26)

But God invites us into a church of the living (Mark 12:26-27). Like the world, God invites us to learn, hope, wonder and rejoice in who he is and what he promises do for us - but he actually delivers on his promises and brings us out of death into life (John 5:21).  His hope is alive, because Christ is alive and He is our hope.  Its wonder is alive because Christ is the wonder of God’s salvation and He is alive.  Its joy is alive because... you guessed it, Christ is our joy and He is alive. 

The call to worship is not a call to a dead, stale faith - even if we sometimes read its words and hear its promises that way.  It’s a call to participate in a living hope (1 Pe. 1:3) - the only living hope, made available to us by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ our Savior.   

Our call to worship helps us remember that.  It helps us remember that whatever we’ve pursued for life this week, it’s God alone who has life and he graciously offers that life to everyone who calls on the name of Lord (Rom. 10:13).  It helps us remember he’s called us to be part of the church of the living and that nothing can stop him from making us a part of it (Rom. 8:35-39), not even our own sinful hearts (Eph. 2:4-5). 

This is the point of our call to worship, to corporately hear, remember and receive God’s invitation to be a part of the church of the living. 

Dear Friends & Members of Grace Meridian Hill,

We are writing you today on #GivingTuesday to invite you to partner with us in our NEW BEGINNING CAMPAIGN. We are endeavoring to raise $213,000 by December 31 in order to prepare for an exciting new phase of kingdom ministry in and through our church. To reach our goal, we need your help!

At the end of each calendar year we hold a special giving campaign during which we ask that you prayerfully consider contributing to our ministry — as a special gift, if you are a friend/supporter of our ministry, or above and beyond your normal giving, if you are a worshipping member. This year we approach the end of the year encouraged by recent events as well as upcoming ministry developments:

After years of prayer and labor, we finally moved to our new home at the First Church of Seventh-Day Adventists. From our first service (November 12) it was clear that the Lord had truly given us a gift!

As our children’s ministry continues to grow numerically, we’re excited to bring aboard Amy Roebke, our first ever full-time Children’s Ministry Director in January.

Pastor Yancie has completed his licensure exams and will be ordained and installed as our Assistant Pastor on January 7.

We are completing the training of Elder/Diaconate candidates and anticipate the installation of new leaders in the coming months. Additionally, we recently received nominations for 11 additional candidates for Deacon, Deaconess, and the new role of Shepherdess.

We will be launching a new series of Education Ministry classes in the new year, beginning with our network Winter Term class, “What’s So Holy About the Holy Bible?” in January.

Each Sunday we welcome more and more visitors from our church’s neighborhoods, some of whom are new to the Christian faith, and many of whom have now become part of our family. By God’s grace we are marching one step closer to being the Spiritually Diverse, Cross-Cultural, Neighborhood-Centered community that we labor to see!

Your contributions to the New Beginning Campaign will help us build toward this exciting future. With the move to our new building came higher rent and additional moving expenses. With a growing crowd of children came the expansion of the Children’s Ministry position (vacant for over a year) from a part-time to a full-time role with added expenses. Funds that are raised will not only go toward helping us meet the financial obligations outlined in our Annual Budget, they will also help us to build upon our neighborhood outreach efforts (e.g., Easter Party, youth mentorship, Summer Bible Club, SafeFamilies/DC127), deepen our community ministries (e.g., Sunday Suppers, Cross-Cultural community programming), and promote the spiritual health of our church family (shepherding, counseling, teaching).

Additionally, we are seeking to close a moderate budget deficit. So far this year — as illustrated in the chart below, with green representing our offering goals and yellow representing our actual giving — we have fallen short of our anticipated giving over the past few months. Cumulatively, we are $46,000 below where we would like to be at this point in the year. While concerning, this does not surprise us. We recognize that our community has been in a phase of transition the last few months with the pending move and with a number of long-time members recently departing to pursue various callings. This deficit, added to the $167,000 we had already planned to raise this December (only $2,000 more than was raised in December last year) brings us to our target of $213,000.

Our campaign goal is an ambitious target, but we believe that it is achievable! In fact, in December 2016, by God’s grace and your generosity, we were able to raise $165,000. This year, the target is bigger, but so also is our sense that the Lord is propelling us into a new chapter of ministry with new and exciting possibilities — a new beginning!

You may give during our Sunday offering, mail checks to our church office (see address below), or give to the New Beginning Giving Campaign online. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to us. We are confident that God can provide for our needs. We invite you pray with us that He will!

With hope in Christ alone,

Duke Kwon, Lead Pastor
Marcus Cross, Deacon of Church Finances

Grace Meridian Hill 
637 Indiana Ave NW, Suite 300
Washington, DC 20004

1. What is happening?
We are moving to The First Church of Seventh Day Adventists (810 Shepherd St NW), just .8 miles to the northeast of our current location. To find out more information about our new church home and our new landlords, visit their website at www.firstsdachurch.org.

Click here to view the map.

2. Why are we moving?
The building that we are currently using for our worship services, Mt Rona, was sold last year to a real estate developer. Our landlords notified us that we would need to vacate Mt Rona by the end of December.

3. When are we moving?
We hope to have our first service at First Church on Sunday, November 12, 2017.

Please refrain from dropping by First Church SDA’s worship services or dropping by to see the building before we have officially moved, as we want to honor the FCSDA community as they prepare to share their space with us.

4. What is the new space like?
The First Church facility is a beautifully renovated building that meets our core needs at an affordable price: a spacious sanctuary (capacity: 300-500), 2-3 classrooms, large Fellowship Hall (also usable for class space), newly renovated industrial kitchen, elevator access, and—not to be taken for granted—multiple clean bathrooms!

5. Will we be sharing the space?
Yes. We will have use on Sundays and Thursday evenings. First Church SDA will continue their Saturday morning worship services.

6. Is there parking?
There is street parking similar to the current availability at Mt Rona.

7. Is it Metro accessible?
It is a 6 minute walk from Georgia-Petworth Metro station (Green/Yellow lines) and easily accessible from multiple bus lines.

8. Will there still be a Children’s Ministry?
Yes, Children’s Ministry will continue, though some changes are natural to be expected – especially with the new use of three enclosed classrooms at First Church.

Please continue to pray for the hiring of a Children’s Ministry Director who can oversee volunteer management and curriculum development. Apply here if you are interested and have children’s ministry experience.

9. What is staying the same?
The time of worship will not change – 10:30am on Sundays as usual. Thanks to the Seventh Day Adventists for having their Sabbath worship on Saturdays. Worship structure should also be the same, as well as the leadership from staff and diaconate.

10. What should I expect to be totally different?
Due to the SDA worship on Saturdays, we can no longer have use of the building for meetings and workshops on Saturdays. They also use the building on Wednesdays, so Engine Room will likely move to Thursdays.

11. Where/when can I learn more about the moving process?
We will be having a series of meetings with our NGs and Fellowship Groups during the month of October. Please stay tuned for these dates and in the meantime make sure you are connected to an NG and/or fellowship group.

13. Who can I ask questions about the move?
Throughout this process, please feel welcomed to share your thoughts, questions, and feelings with us—particularly over the next few days. Justin Weeks, our new Director of Ministry & Operations, will be serving as the Transition Coordinator, so please do not hesitate to contact him in particular (justin@gracemeridianhill.org)

14. Where can I submit my feedback and/or concerns?
You can submit anonymous feedback using this form.  If you have feedback about the process or ways that we can improve communication, please submit them.  If you would like a response, you have an optional choice to submit your email.

15. What can I do to help?
a. Pray with us! Join us for Engine Room on October 4th.
b. Make sure to read the update emails that will come out each week – these will also include ways you can be praying.
c. Be thinking and praying about how you can help – we will need people to help with coordination, packing, moving, getting things organized and set up in the new location, help with neighborhood outreach, etc. More detailed information will be forthcoming.
d. Join a ministry team and neighborhood group. These will be our primary means of service and communication. Specifically we need more people in the Children’s Ministry and Welcome Team.
e. Invite others you know in our new neighborhood to worship with us, but also keep asking your neighbors in other neighborhoods as well.
f. Encourage ministry leaders, staff, and the diaconate as they bear much of the burden for planning and supporting all of us as we make the move.
g. Offer suggestions – any ways that we can communicate better, ways that you think you could help that we may not be aware of, etc. Generally inquiries can be sent to info@gracemeridianhill.org

What's the point of going to church?  Can you just watch a church service online or listen to a sermon and get the same thing?  Does it matter if you don’t go all that often?  I mean, let’s be honest - going to church doesn’t save you, right? 

But what if it going to church does save you?  I know what you’re thinking.  “That sounds pretty legalistic.” While it would be legalistic to say something like just going to church saves you (rather than we are saved by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, our Savior), the question helps us start to wonder, “What if going to church really does matter?”  

So, what if it does really matter? What if there’s something truly valuable and important about going?  What if corporate worship (another way of describing church - think of it as together worship, not incorporated worship) is just the kind of invaluable possession Jesus talks about in Matthew 13:45-46?  What if there is something so captivating about going to church that we stopped asking, “Do I have to?” and started asking, “How can I get there?”

Well, church - or ‘corporate worship’ - is just that kind of captivating, invaluable possession.  But how do we come to see it that way?  First, by seeing what church is not.  Second, by seeing what church is.  Third, by actually going to church.  

First, what church is not: Church - or corporate worship - is not about consuming something, as if salvation was just a matter of digesting enough sermons and communion bread or passionately singing enough of the best Christian songs.  No, corporate worship is about being consumed by the love of Christ that we might no longer live for ourselves but for him who died for us and was raised (2 Cor. 5:14-15).   Corporate worship is not (or at the very least not just) about God giving us something.  It’s about God making us something.  It’s not about finding what you like or ‘getting what you need,’ but about being made like Christ (which is exactly what we need).  So, are we willing to be remade?  

Corporate worship is also not a matter of worshipping God versus ‘skipping worship’ by going to brunch or sleeping in.  The reality is, if we skip church we’re not skipping out on worshipping, we’re just worshipping something else. The question is, what are we worshipping on Sundays?  The answer lies in whatever captivates our hearts most - whatever makes us say, “How can I get there?” That is what we worship. And as long as our hearts are captivated by something on a Sunday, we’ll be worshipping.  So, part of the point of going to corporate Christian worship is that wherever you are on a Sunday, you’ll be at church.  The question is, will it be God’s church?

Second, we come to value church by knowing what church is. First, church is about God.  It is about his love and our being reorientated to it. God shows his love and does his reorienting first and foremost through his Holy Spirit, but more tangibly through the elements of the worship service. He does it in his invitation or ‘call’ to worship him, in our songs of response, in confession, in God’s pardoning word of grace, in prayer, in giving, in hearing God’s word and the proclamation of the gospel, in communing with God at the Lord’s Table, in baptism, and in the benediction.  Each of these elements reorient our hearts, habituating the love of God into our souls until that day, “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality… and Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54).

It’s in these reorienting elements that we discover that church is also about that final day when “death is swallowed up in victory,” when Christ returns and we enter the new heavens and new earth.  It’s in corporate worship that we rehearse that day when we will go up to God together, as his gathered people - his ekklesia or ‘church’ - to worship Him forever as his redeemed, beloved children.   It’s in corporate worship that our hearts are invited to hope in something which is still to come and to hear the promise that it is still coming.

Corporate worship is also about being together.  It’s in corporate worship that we  get to hear voices other than our own.  It’s where we hear others singing God’s praises, praying to God,  speaking his words of grace and proclaiming his gospel of salvation.  It’s where our American individuality is reminded that we’re not complete on our own - nor are we alone as Christians

Finally, corporate worship is about perseverance in the Christian life.  Hebrews 10:25 instructs us not to give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing.  Why? So that we might not drift away (Heb. 2:1) and so that we might enter Christ’s rest (Heb. 4:1).  Similarly, in the contest of the Christian life, Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 tell us, 

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

These Scriptures point to the reality that if we are to persevere to the end, if we are to run the race set out for us (Heb. 12:1) and hear the, “well done, good and faithful servant” (Mt. 25:14-30) we must do it together.  And we do the Christian life together most fully -  reorienting, enacting, hoping, imagining - in corporate worship.  

Third, we change our hearts toward corporate worship by going.  We actually have to be there to be changed by what worship is and what God does through it.  We have to be there for there to even be a church.  The building is nothing without a worshipping people.   So let’s fill it.  Let’s worship together every Sunday.  Let’s corporately remember who we are and whose we are.  Let’s rehearse together what we hope to see at Christ’s return: the redeemed people of God standing before their Redeemer.   Let’s persevere together as we wait for Christ.  And let’s hold out the hope we have in Christ to a world that is already worshipping on Sunday - but worshipping something not half as good as our God.

The Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center, a partner ministry of Grace Downtown, is looking for labor and delivery nurses, midwives, childbirth instructors & doulas who would be interested in teaching our Childbirth Classes. You would not need to create the curriculum.

The CHPC is also looking for doctors, nurses and sonographers who would train to do sonograms at the CHPC. Training will be provided.

For any questions or interest, please contact Lina Gentry, Director of Client & Volunteer Services, at volunteers@CHPC.us to begin the application process.

As some of you know, my family is fairly new to the church – Mark, my husband, Sunjin, our 15 year-old, and Sunhee, our 11-year old, and I, started coming to Grace Meridian Hill in January.

This was our first Neighborhood Easter Party, and what an amazing snapshot it was of “God-at-work” here at Grace Meridian Hill and in the neighborhood that this church serves.

I was asked to give a few impressions of the party as a first timer.  First and foremost, it was fun!  It was a rocking party.  From the stampede that is the Easter egg hunt, face painting, dancing, the music, food…If I had a dollar for every joyful face I saw at Girard Park, I would be a wealthy woman, or at the very least, be able to buy myself like 100 unicorn frappucinos!

It seemed like a lot of people from the neighborhood, though not yet familiar with Christ, have been faithful, annual attendees of the party.  As my kids said, it seemed like the party was many people’s highlight of their day, week, months…maybe even since the last Easter party?  One little boy, while having his face painted, asked my son, “So…how often do you guys have this Easter party?”  No pressure to the organizers for next year, but it seems like A LOT of neighbors really look forward to the Easter party.  Joy to the neighborhood children (and adults alike!), one less meal for moms and dads to think about, an opportunity to unabashedly dust off the dancing shoes for a few glorious songs…how much better can we describe the joy of Easter to our neighbors?  Eventually, I believe that our neighbors will connect the dots, Blockbuster Easter party, blockbuster news of the risen Christ.  God is at work, after all.

Through the Easter party, I think God showed all of us His grace by giving us an opportunity to serve.  I had all the right intentions to be part of that grace-shining crew.  I have no doubt that I was part of the first wave of volunteers when sign-up cards first showed up in the pews.  Yet I have to confess, I did not jump in until three days before the party…and on the day of, I forgot to bring the picture books and toys that I had offered to bring for the truly little ones at the party.  That’s how my inglorious service began, but just so you know, I did not ruin the party!  But this mega party certainly could not have happened by waving a fairy’s wand or with just late-onboard volunteers like myself, so I want to thank Jessy and Chris, and all the organizers for doing all the hard work tirelessly for weeks on end, as well as all the other volunteers for pulling it all together!  Thank you for the opportunity to serve our neighbors alongside you, a sure way for God’s grace to work in all of us.

God’s grace was also working overtime within us, the Kim family, that day.  Through the party, God gave us an incredible opportunity to reflect on His grace at a time when as a family, we were very self-absorbed with the very blessings that God gives to His undeserved people.  And by undeserved people, I mean my family(!), and those blessings were a new job for my husband and a recent move to a new house.   Sunhee, our 11-year old said to me later that day, “Mommy, the party touched every part of my heart.”  That has really stayed with us since the party, and I imagine we will keep coming back to that throughout the year.  Once again, God filled our hearts that day with the knowledge that His grace is truly sufficient for us.  In fact, it fills our hearts and overflows…all the time, and forever.

Our daughter also said that it was the best Easter party ever, and this Easter, she had even aged out of the egg hunt!  Of course it would be, it’s a party to celebrate the risen Christ, our hope and our salvation.

Seriously, no pressure on next year’s organizers…

The Waiting Room” hosted by the Faith & Work ministry featured panelists who discussed their struggles waiting for fulfilling employment. They highlighted how the Lord has met them during these difficult times. Below is a reflection from JM, a member at Grace Downtown who attended the event.

On Waiting

Things are pretty good on the work front for me right now. I have a fine job. It pays well. It gives me opportunities to advance. I enjoy working with my team. I’m not in a corrosive or toxic work environment. Given all these factors, one might think that I wouldn’t be drawn to a Faith and Work (F&W) talk about seasons of waiting. Yet I found myself at this event, seated among friends who also resonate with being in a space of waiting – for the next job, the next opportunity, the next step.

Waiting is an ongoing issue for me. I often sense that I continue to wait for something I can’t quite name, something that’s still out in the future. For me, waiting can feel like ongoing tension – like I need to do something to change the uncomfortable dynamic of not feeling satisfaction. It can also feel like a constant burden, manifesting in guilt, bitterness, or even dread. Waiting can make me feel very powerless, and very alone.

Desperate Waiting

The brothers and sisters on the F&W panel described their experiences with unemployment, under-employment, and unfulfilling employment. They spoke of self-doubt, of many sleepless nights, of the disappointment that calcifies into jadedness after one too many unsuccessful interviews. The stories took many forms, but they all pointed to an underlying reality of so many seasons of waiting: desperation.

As I heard these testimonies, I remembered a time in my life when I felt this very kind of desperation. I felt like I was failing, and I couldn’t articulate a clear path ahead in my professional life. Yet looking back, I remember a sweetness in that season – I was learning how to be desperate before my God, and how to depend on him in deeper ways than I ever had before. As I heard my brothers and sisters describe their honest struggles in waiting, I was reminded that part of our responsibility in these seasons is to honestly admit – to God and to ourselves – how desperate the waiting actually makes us. This type of honesty sets the stage for the work God actually intends to do in us during these times.

Faithful Waiting

Periods of waiting can serve as a foundry to form our character to be more like the character of Christ.

When I face a period of waiting, I usually find myself putting in lots of effort to try to enforce my will on my circumstances – through working harder, or through trying to change aspects of my environment, or simply by mentally disengaging when I decide I can’t pull off the changes I envision. But what shone through all the comments of the panelists was how a season of waiting hasn’t had its full effect until it serves to grow my faith. It’s not meant to create space for me to perform heroic efforts, or to guilt myself into somehow achieving superior results, or anything else of the sort. Waiting is a holy space used by God to build more of Christ’s character in us. To use a season of waiting well is to meet God in this dance.

Active Waiting

Of course, life is full of choices, and these choices involve risk. God doesn’t shield us from the presence of these risks. He gives us wisdom to guide our paths, but this wisdom doesn’t function like a set of clues to a game that enable us to achieve all our objectives. Instead, this wisdom gives us the basics that we need to actively wait. Even while we wait and depend on God for outcomes, actively waiting involves willingness to take risks. Risks like being humble in environments where everyone seems to be out for their own self-promotion. Risks like honoring uninteresting tasks when we’re tempted to view them cynically, in the hope that God can use our love and creativity to achieve good outcomes through them. Even risks like signing up for another interview.

I came away from the F&W panel realizing in new ways that we’re all waiting for something, or for several things. For many of us, this involves waiting for next steps in our work. We’re not alone in this waiting, and we’re not powerless. Hearing from Grace Downtown members who are at varying stages of their professional journeys helped me remember this, and their stories helped me recover aspects of what it means to wait well.

On June 18, we will join together with members of our extended church family from Grace Mosaic and Grace Meridian Hill for our annual Network-Wide Members’ Meeting. As part of this special meeting and worship service, we will vote on welcoming new members into leadership positions at Grace Downtown.

Ahead of this meeting, please take some time to get to know the candidates. On this page, you’ll find introductions to each of the candidates who Grace Downtown members have nominated for leadership.

Leslie Brettschneider [-]

Candidate for Deaconess

Leslie has been at Grace Downtown for a total of 5.5 years, over two separate occasions. She has twice served as a Community Group leader and also on the Set-up Team. Leslie works for N Street Village, one of our church’s partner ministries.

After being raised Catholic, Leslie came to faith in high school but truly began pursuing the Lord while at a Christian college. Leslie is constantly challenged to not assess her own worth as something determined by accomplishment, status, or reputation. She is growing in her understanding that the cross proves both her absolute worth and her utter unworthiness.

Joe Iwaskiw [-]

Candidate for Deacon

Joe has been a part of Grace Downtown for 3 years and has lived in the DC area his entire life. He has served as a Community Group leader, and on the Mercy, Set-up, and Affordable Housing Teams. Joe is an architect by trade and enjoys playing basketball.

Joe grew up in a Christian home but lived a double life for a time, justifying his immoral life decisions by using God’s grace cheaply. Through a health crisis, Joe experienced fresh grace and recommitted himself to God. In the last few years, he has grown in unexpected joy.

Meg Montee [-]

Candidate for Deaconess

Meg first joined the Grace Downtown community when she moved to DC in 2004 and then again after she returned from graduate school in 2012. She has served as a Children’s teacher, a Community Group leader, and a leader of the Affordable Housing Team. Meg works as a linguist and loves talking to people about their regional accents.

Meg’s faith became her own when she lost her father to cancer. Even as an adolescent, she recognized God’s grace in the midst of loss and pain. She came to know God as her loving and faithful Father, and is thankful for His kindness in both the joys and sorrows of life.

Ben Mosteller [-]

Candidate for Deacon

Ben and his wife Leslie have attended Grace Downtown since August of 2014. Ben has been part of a community group, the Missions Review Team, and the Mercy Team/Our Table ministry. Ben teaches high school social studies and enjoys any sport with a net.

Ben prayed to accept Christ at an early age. Trying in his own strength to be a “good person” to please God and his family led to a time of doubting his faith. Through God’s grace and talks with godly people in his life, Ben came to an assurance of salvation – trusting in the sufficient work of Christ. More recently, Ben is growing in being more mindful in his prayer times.

David Raimer [-]

Candidate for Elder

David has attended Grace DC since he moved to the District in 2009. He has served as a Community Group leader and as a member of the Missions Review Team. David is an attorney with a passion for U.S. history, Giants baseball, and Notre Dame football.

David grew up in a Christian home and came to faith at an early age. Over the years, his faith grew and deepened through various opportunities to live in Christian community and delve into the riches of church history. David has been increasingly reminded that God is able to use our brokenness and inadequacies for His purposes.

Anna Ready [-]

Candidate for Deaconess

Anna has been in DC for 9 years and joined Grace Downtown in 2013. She has served on the Set-up and Social Events Teams and has co-led the Women’s Sexual Wholeness Ministry. Anna also mentors a 12-year-old girl through Little Lights, a partner ministry of the church.

While Anna knew Jesus from a young age, she spent years relying on Jesus when seasons or circumstances were hard, but on herself when life was easy. Four years ago she experienced a trial that caused her to root her identity firmly in Christ and as a child of God who is worthy, wholly and dearly loved, and blameless in his sight.

Stephen Saunders [-]

Candidate for Deacon

Stephen Saunders has been attending Grace Downtown for the past eleven years. He has participated in various ministries, including Community Group leadership, Welcome Team, mission trips, and the Mission Review Team.

Stephen grew up in a family that was very active in their church. He felt a draw to faith, but held onto his own “abilities” to save himself before accepting Christ at the age of 19. Stephen is growing in his perspective of God through visits to Grace DC’s global mission partners as he experiences God in other languages and cultures.

Guy Vallhonrat [-]

Candidate for Deacon

Guy started attending Grace Downtown in 2007 and became a member of a community group shortly thereafter. In his time at Grace, he has led his Shaw neighborhood community group and the Set-up and Eat & Meet Teams. Guy’s favorite pastimes are snow skiing and bike riding

Guy experienced God working on his heart through a bible study he attended in Pensacola, Florida. He learned what it really meant to follow Jesus and make him the Lord of his life. As a Christian, Guy continues to grow in his knowledge of God’s word and in understanding of how he can participate in serving the DC community alongside the church.

Should we pray before we eat?  Yes, but maybe not for the reasons you’d think. 

We should pray before we eat a meal because we want Christ to be with us while we eat.  Conversely, we shouldn’t pray before a meal because we’re afraid we’ll get on God’s ‘bad side’ if we don’t or because that’s just what we think Christians are supposed to do. 

John 4:31-38 points us in the direction of why it is good to pray before we eat.  There the disciples return to Jesus with some food they bought in the city and they invite him to eat.  Commenting on this passage in a sermon, Charles Spurgeon said,

When they came back from making their purchases, they found their Master sitting by the well, as they had left Him. They naturally expected that He would be as ready to partake of the provision as they were to offer it to Him, but He made no movement in that direction. His mind was evidently far away from the idea of food. He was absorbed in something else, and therefore His disciples sought to call Him back to a sense of His need. I do not suppose that they had themselves eaten, it was hardly like them to do so while their Lord was not with them.

Think about that last line for a minute, “it was hardly like them to [eat] while their Lord was not with them.”  The disciples were unaccustomed to eating without Jesus.  What a beautiful thing.  Can we say the same of ourselves?  What if we could?  What if people knew Christians pray before meals not because they’re used to some religious ritual, but because they’re asking God to join them while they eat?  It could be quite a witness – and it would be quite a blessing to have God present with us.  This is why we should pray before we eat – to be like the disciples in wanting Christ to be with us. 

Sadly, we may be more accustomed to reading something on our phones, to watching TV or to working while we eat than we are to enjoying in-person community.  Perhaps what we’re missing in our meals is not prayerful invitation, but confession.  Maybe we need to confess that we do invite the things we really want to be present with us at our table – our phones, our work, our entertainment.  Maybe those are our true guests of honor.  Maybe they are our ‘gods.’  Maybe we need to pray and confess, bringing our hearts as well as our meals to God. 

Now if we realize there’s some room not only for prayer at our meals but also for confession, we might think we’d better start praying so we don’t get on God’s ‘bad side’ (or so we can get off God’s ‘bad side’).  But that’s not right.  We shouldn’t pray at the beginning of a meal just to  stay on God’s ‘good side.’  That’s not the way God interacts with his children – which is what we are now in Christ (1 John 3:1).  That’s the way slaves interact with a cruel master.  But in Christ we are no longer slaves and with God we have never had a cruel master.   Our God is gracious.  He is patient.  He is kind.  He is love (1 John 4:8; 1 Cor. 13:4-13).

Neither then, should we pray just because we’re supposed to.  God isn’t interested in a kind of faith that just goes through the motions.  He’s interested in the heart.  He’s interested in relationship.  He’s interested in YOU.

So why pray before we eat if not to keep ourselves on God’s ‘good side’ or simply because we’re ‘supposed to’?  We should do it because we want God to be with us.  Because we don’t want to do anything without him.  We don’t want an hour to pass or a meal to go by where we aren’t with our Savior and our God, our friend and our shepherd, the lover of our souls, Jesus Christ.  We may not be there yet, but that’s where any love of God is heading – into greater and greater intimacy.  

And yes, Christ is always with us, as he promised in Matthew 28:20.  He does not leave us if we forget to ask him to come with us to this place or to that meal.  He is already at the table with us – even before we ask him to join us.  In praying then, we simply turn our hearts to consider the one whose heart is constantly turned toward us.  We invite the one we cannot see, the Bread of Heaven, to be present with us in what we can see – our daily bread.      

So why should we pray before we eat?  Because God loves us, because we want him with us and because we’re looking forward to the time when we will eat with him in his kingdom, when he comes to make all things new (Rev. 19:6-9, 21:5).

One of our global partners, Radstock, is looking for people to spend one week in Ukraine this summer working with a local church doing student outreach.

Big City Church (Presbyterian) in Kiev is launching their third church plant, City Heart, this summer in the old town area of Kiev, Ukraine.

The launch of the new church is 5 day English camp that draws mostly non-believers. They are looking for Christians of all ages who speak English to come, hang out with Ukrainian young people (ages 16 to 30), befriend them, and be involved in activities from volleyball to teaching English to sharing your faith.

When: The camp is August 7-13th.
Cost: Flight plus $400 ground costs.

Interested? Want more information? Contact Kara Callaghan, karacallaghan@radstock.org.

Content TK from old website.

“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.”
2 Corinthians 2:14-16

What do you smell like? Do those around you smell death or life? This is a very sobering question because many times we live like our being in the world is neutral by default. Yet from Christ’s vantage point, nothing is neutral. We are either the fragrance of life to those visiting Grace Downtown or the fragrance of death. As we think about welcoming guests into our community and connecting them to our various ministries, let us remember that people can smell us. They can smell our hospitality or indifference. They can smell Christ in us or our own self-promotion. And so the question: What do you smell like?

Imagine a world where you lived to your full potential, surrounded by numerous fans and colleagues that loved you and worked toward your success. Imagine never feeling lonely, every interpersonal interaction filled with laughter. Imagine being known and not having to hide anything. Imagine feeling connected to everyone you meet, every part of creation you encountered—the sky, birds, animals, plants. This is what life is like in the kingdom of God. This is the world Jesus Christ provides, heaven on earth. This is the world we were created to be in, totally connected to God, each other, and all of creation.

In John 10:10–11 Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that hey may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” This is the gospel. This is the good news we want people to experience and know. How do we do this? By being present. Henri Nouwen, an internationally renowned Dutch Priest who died in 1996, said the following regarding the ministry of presence:

“More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.”

When we seek the other person’s well being more than our own, we are truly present. The Connect Team is not about busyness, impressive projects, and fulfilling your desire to be useful. No. It is simply about showing people what the gospel smells like by your presence, conversations, smiles, and stories. We are not connecting people to ourselves, but to Christ in us. Do you smell like Jesus?

The Connect Team helps newcomers connect to Grace Downtown and better understand the Christian faith. If you're interested in learning more about their work or joining the team, email Pastoral Fellow Andrew Russel at andrew@gracedc.net.

In my younger more vulnerable years, my father gave me some advice I've been turning over in my mind ever since. "Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone," he said, "Just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had." That was all he said, but we'd always been unusually communicative in a reserved sort of way, and I could tell that by it he meant a great deal more. As a result, I've been inclined to withold all judgments, a habit that has seen me accused of being something of a politicain and made me the victim of not a few inveterate bores.

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. Why, you ask? Because he was showing off, I answer. He wanted to show the dog that he was the dominant species, so sore was he still after millennia of domestication left the dog less physically and intellectually adept, yet discordantly healthier and more numerous.

In my younger more vulnerable years, my father gave me some advice I've been turning over in my mind ever since. "Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone," he said, "Just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had." That was all he said, but we'd always been unusually communicative in a reserved sort of way, and I could tell that by it he meant a great deal more. As a result, I've been inclined to withold all judgments, a habit that has seen me accused of being something of a politicain and made me the victim of not a few inveterate bores.

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. Why, you ask? Because he was showing off, I answer. He wanted to show the dog that he was the dominant species, so sore was he still after millennia of domestication left the dog less physically and intellectually adept, yet discordantly healthier and more numerous.

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice I've been turning over in my mind ever since. "Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone," he said, "just remember that not everybody in this world has had the advantages you've had."

That was all he said, but we'd always been communicative in a reserved sort of way, and I could tell that by it he meant a great deal more. As a result, I've been inclined to reserve all judgments. 

My wife is a designer. It’s glorious. She is. There are times I’ll nearly get lost walking into a room in my own house. Hey, uh … where did the couch go?Furniture-rearranging inspiration strikes unpredictably. Doing life with my wife, I’ve also been introduced to certain design terms and concepts. Here’s one you might be familiar with: Repurposing.

Repurposing is the process by which an object with one use is transformed into an object with an alternate use. Repurposing starts with the reimagining of an object’s value. An old door becomes a farmhouse dining table. A broken painting ladder is turned into a wall-hanging bookshelf. The concept of repurposing unlocks the untapped potential of discarded objects around the house. It also unlocks, I think, the untapped spiritual potential of one of the most beloved narratives in scripture, the story of Jesus’ so-called “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem (Matt. 21:1-11).

You see, Palm Sunday is about the repurposing of power.

Royal Hee-Haw-Thority
We don’t think much of donkeys and mules these days. My young children have already learned to view them as giggles-worthy creatures. Hee-haw! But in the ancient world donkeys were not only beasts of burden, precursors to the U-Haul truck; they were also symbols of royalty. We have examples of ancient Sumerian poetry in which kings—with not a little bit of swagger, mind you—liken themselves to donkeys. Their advisors urge them to ride into town with appropriate pomp and circumstance, not on a horse but on a mule. We find the same in the Hebrew scriptures: Donkeys were the preferred mode of transportation for royal figures (e.g., Judges 10:3-4; 12:13-14; 2 Samuel 16:2).

After all, a leader of a coup d’état rolls into a city in a tank—or a war horse, as the case may be. But a true king approaches his people with nothing to prove, riding a vehicle that’s plodding, reliable, and built for comfort—like a limousine. Illegitimate authority is often marked by braggadocio and ostentatious displays of strength. Legitimate authority, however, is understated and secure.

So here comes Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a lim-mule-sine. This is an unequivocal demonstration of legitimate power. Here is symbolic action intended to make a clear, public statement: Jesus is King. It isn’t brash, but by no means is it self-effacing. Not in this moment. And even if the symbolism is opaque to modern readers like you and me, it could not be missed by his contemporaries. Why else do you think the crowd, with no external cues but the sight of the four-legged limo, begins to extol him with royal praise (Mark 11:8-10; John 12:13)?

Hosanna to son of David! Blessed is the King!

A “Low” Rider?
But, someone asks, doesn’t scripture describe Jesus in this moment as “humble,” “gentle” (Matt. 21:5; cf. Zech. 9:9)? Absolutely. But let’s be clear about this: “Humble” and “gentle” don’t indicate that Jesus was impoverished of power. Rather, these words describe how he used his royal power—namely, not for his own advantage, but for the advantage of others. This is the point of Philippians 2(cf. John 10:18). For all his apparent “nothingness” and “emptiness” on the Cross, it was Jesus divine authority that made his blood eternally valuable for sinners. He leveraged his “equality with God”—yes, his power—for you and me.

Again, in this King’s kingdom, humility is not powerlessness. It is but a redirection of resources away from myself and toward others. Jesus is described as “humble” and “gentle” not because he was riding a donkey, but because he was riding one to the Cross. If Palm Sunday is a remembrance of the King who arrived with cruciform authority, then lying at the heart of Palm Sunday is the repurposing of power and authority.

Repurposing Power
If you’ve been rescued by the repurposed power of the Cross, here’s a Palm Sunday question for you: How might you, like your King, repurpose the power you possess? Power is typically deployed towards self—my name, my gain. To “repurpose” it would be to giving it a creative, alternate use. How can you redirect and redeploy resources away from yourself and toward your neighbor?

This repurposing of power can manifest in a variety of ways. It might involve transforming the power of your eyes—giving your attention towards a person in need, rather than having your gaze ever fixed on yourself, whether literally or figuratively. It might mean re-directing the power of your heart—turning the energy of your emotions toward some else’s tears, someone else’s broken body, besides your own. Or the power of your hands—using your gifts and creativity to lift others up and draw others in, particularly those suffering from injustice or social and spiritual marginalization. Or the power of your words, your money, your spiritual maturity, your social privilege, your education, your legal expertise, or woodworking expertise, or brownie-baking expertise.

All these things we habitually, even subconsciously, purpose toward Self—toward our own gain. Imagine if all these personal and communal powers could be redirected toward the advantage and advancement of our neighbors. Imagine what that could look like! Indeed, it’s a portrait worth carrying in our hearts—and laboring towards with our hands—because it’s in fact a portrait of the Kingdom of God.

That’s what happens to power and privilege in our lives, churches, and local communities, when the King mounts his donkey and rides on in.

Happy Palm Sunday.

This is a recording of our most recent congregational update, the "State of Grace Mosaic." Highlights include a big announcement, diaconal updates, refreshers on our mission, vision and values, and updates on community life.

 

We are excited to announce that Mosaic has moved to a new building!

We've Moved!

We now meet at The Church of the Redeemer, Presbyterian (PCUSA), 1423 Girard St NE, Washington, DC 20017

When We'll Be There:

Our Sunday Worship Service will now run from 9:30-11am.

During the week: Our staff will have office hours during the week (times for office hours still TBD)

About the Building and Our Use of it:

The building at Church of the Redeemer belongs to and is currently in use by the congregation of The Church of the Redeemer. Their congregation has graciously accepted our request to enter into a shared-use lease of their building.

Our arrangement with Church of the Redeemer will allow us use of their sanctuary, classrooms, and office space.  Both congregations will use the space for Sunday worship, as well as weekly events, offices, etc.

To facilitate our shared use of the building on Sundays, their congregation has graciously moved their Sunday worship service back to 12pm so that we can also use the sanctuary Sunday morning, starting at 9:30am.  To facilitate their worship service at 12pm, we will leave the building each Sunday promptly by 11:30am.

What This Means for Mosaic:

This is a huge blessing for Mosaic.

For the first time in our history, we will have access to a building Monday through Sunday for church life and worship. This will lighten the load on our Set Up team as we will no longer have to keep our equipment in an off-site storage facility. We will have office space in our greater neighborhood for the first time in our history. We have the opportunity to meet, learn from and worship alongside a congregation that has been active in our greater neighborhood for many years.

February is the month our country takes special effort to honor the rich heritage of African Americans. Their story, one of resilience in the face of great adversity, is a testament to God’s faithfulness and deliverance. No one culture can comprehensively display the beauty of the image of God. So as the multi-ethnic family of God, let us join in celebration and solidarity with one another. Here are a few events happening in the city this month to educate, unite, and uplift us.

 

Sat Feb 4- Black Renaissance: Resilience

A celebration & evolution of black culture through music, dance, fashion, spoken word, visual art, and film.

Date: Saturday Feb 4

Time: 8:30-11:00 pm

Location: Anacostia Arts Center, 1231 Good Hope Road SE

Tickets: blck.eventbrite.com

 

Wed Feb 8- “13th” Movie & Discussion

A viewing of the film, “13th,” which addresses the fact that Black and Latino Americans are over-represented among prison populations. Click here for more info.

Date: Wednesday Feb 8

Time: 6:30-9:30 pm

Organizer and Host: Christ Our Shepherd Church, 801 North Carolina Ave SE

 

Thurs Feb 23- Books to Brushes: Strengthening Literacy Through Art

Children and teens will read and discuss a black history related book and paint pictures inspired by it. Click here for more info.

Date: Thursday Feb 23

Time: 4:00 pm

Location: Francis A. Gregory Library, 3660 Alabama Ave SE

 

Mon Feb 27- Racial Unity and Justice Potluck (Little Lights)

Meet others interested in racial unity and justice in DC. Potluck and time of fellowship and prayer.

Date: Monday Feb 27

Time: 6:30-9:00 pm

Location: Little Lights, 760 7th St SE

1 icy December morning + 1 school building + 20 volunteers from Stokes and Grace Mosaic +18 families + more gifts than could be counted = dazzling expression of God’s generosity and love.

I arrived at Elsie Whitlow Stokes to see volunteers from both the school and Grace Mosaic working to make the steps and parking lot safe from all the ice.  When I walked in the building, I could immediately smell the warm, delicious breakfast that the kitchen staff from Stokes made for all (baby quiche -let me just say YUM!). Volunteers were cheerfully organizing all the gifts and wrapping stations (after wiping the icicles off of tables that had been stored outside overnight!) and were welcoming families as they arrived. The shopping and gift-wrapping provided opportunities to bond with new and old friends as we chatted and shared this moment with each other.

Henri Nouwen wrote, “Our humanity comes to its fullest bloom in giving. We become beautiful people when we give whatever we can give: a smile, an embrace, a handshake, a present, a part of our life….”  There was a lot of blooming happening that morning! I saw laughter, smiles, and good memories given as gifts were picked out and wrapped with love. Wrapping paper tubes transformed into light sabers making children laugh. Sweet little girls whispered their secret story of buying a gift for their mom and dad for the first time. It was a gift to me as I saw them beam with love and wiggle with anticipation of giving the gift to their parents. We all went home as people who saw and experienced the beauty of giving and sharing life and love with each other.

–– Heidi Simonsen, Member of Grace Mosaic

GRACIOUS GOD,

We pray on behalf of our nation this Inauguration Day, as Mr. Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. Sovereign Lord, we “lift up our eyes to you, to you who sit enthroned in heaven” (Ps. 123:1).

We pray for our new President (1 Tim. 2:1-3). As he takes the Oath of Office, we pray he may do so with humility, a clear conscience, and due consideration of the weightiness of so solemn a responsibility (Jer. 4:2; Ps. 24:4). As President Trump begins the execution of the Office, we ask that you would bless him with “the fear of the Lord” — a reverent sense of dependency and accountability that would become a well-spring of wisdom (Prov. 9:10). Please protect the President from the many seductions of power: the will to “win” at all costs (Mk. 10:42-45), retaliation towards enemies (Rom. 12:17-21), exploitation of the weak (Prov. 22:22), failures of faithfulness to one’s covenant of marriage (Mal. 2:14). In particular, we ask that you would guard the President’s marriage. May his devotion to his wife Melania grow and flourish.

We ask that you would give the President the character and skill to lead our nation effectively. Restrain all foolishness and evil in the meditations of his heart, the words on his lips, and the work of his hands (2 Thess. 2:7; Eccl. 4:13; Matt. 15:18-19). Pour into his heart such virtues as prudence, compassion, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). Make him a lover of truth (Ps. 51:6). Grant him grace to repent of wrongdoing when needed (2 Tim. 2:25). We also ask that you surround the President with friends and advisors who are just and wise (Prov. 19:20).

Please direct and “channel” the President’s heart, guiding it according to your Word and will (Prov. 21:1). We pray that the policies of President Trump and his administration would promote human flourishing in our nation and around the world. We ask you to grant President Trump your justice and your righteousness (Ps. 72:1, 12-14). In the coming four years, please protect the most vulnerable and marginalized members of our nation, whether through this administration’s policies and priorities or in spite of them. Send your Spirit and pour out your loving-kindness upon the orphan (including the functionally parentless), the poor, the immigrant and the refugee, the unborn, the elderly, the racial minority (black and brown neighbors in particular), and many others who are too often diminished and forgotten (Deut. 27:19; Ps. 139:13-16; Prov. 14:31; Zech. 7:10; Jas. 1:27). Indeed, we are bold to ask, by your kind providence, that by the end of the term of this Presidency, our nation would be by certain measures more equitable, more compassionate, more humble, more generous, and more alive to your great grace. Jesus, could you please do this? Not because we are righteous or because we deserve it, but because of your mercy (Dan. 9:17-19).

We pray for ourselves, too. We ask that you would “inaugurate” in our hearts a readiness to offer whatever honor that is due to his Office (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:17) — not least, for those who are followers of Christ, by praying for the President with earnest petitions and appropriate thanksgiving (1 Tim. 2:1-3). Help us to remain zealous to do good (Gal. 6:9). Keep us vigilant against evil (Rom. 12:21; Gen. 4:7). Save us from both political triumphalism and apocalyptic despair. Sustain our hunger and thirst for righteousness and grace (Matt. 5:3-6).

And we continue to pray for our nation’s healing after a terribly divisive election. Yes, we pray for civic unity, particularly among Christians of divergent political persuasions (Jn. 17:20-21). But even more so, we ask for grace for the process by which unity is forged. We pray for truth-telling, charity, empathy, repentance, and mutual understanding. We pray not for a negative peace marked by an absence of tension or disagreement, but a positive peace marked by the presence of hope, equity, and a Godward regard for one another as fellow image-bearers. Heal us, O Emmanuel.

O Lord, on this Inauguration Day we place neither our ultimate trust nor our ultimate fears upon President Trump, a “mere mortal” whose heart is directed and re-directed by your sovereign will (Prov. 21:1; Isa. 40:23; Ps. 56:4; 146:3-4; Matt. 10:28). “Others besides you have ruled over us, but you alone do we worship” (Isa. 26:13). You are the King of the nations and the true Lord of history (Acts 17:26; Ps. 22:28; Isa. 40:21-24). Indeed, “you alone are God” (Ps. 86:10). So we gloat not; we despair not; we shrug not. King of kings, we place all our hope and trust in you.

In the name of Christ and for his glory alone,
AMEN.

Every January 1st, hope is high. After a few weeks of holiday cheer (and a few dozen cookies) many of us are ready for a change. With the New Year, it’s a natural time to reevaluate things: our eating habits (detox, detox, detox), our exercising habits (wake up, wake up, wake up), our scheduling habits (slow down, slow down, slow down). However, the stats remind us as few as 8% of people will actually make lasting change. Why not attach our hope for change to something–Someone–who has a proven track record?

Our Winter Term theme is all about change: Transforming Grace (or what the Bible calls “sanctification”). While change is never easy, “what is impossible with men, is possible with God” (Luke 18.27). The battle begins by believing that we can change, so we’ll study the Framework of transforming grace (understanding God’s commitment, provision and plan to change us). The next question is how to change. We’ll study the Means of transforming grace (grasping the daily resources given to us for change). Lastly, as Christians have been studying godly change for a long time, we’ll study the Story of change–mining church history for wisdom.

Why not truly invest in change for 2017 and join us for an experience of Transforming Grace at Winter Term? See Winter Term Details for more information.

Grace Downtown member Alicia Akins shares some of the biggest challenges she was working through when she moved back to the US two years ago. Alicia is a member of Grace Downtown's Cultural Intelligence (CQ) team, which encourages growth in cultural self-awareness and love for those who are different from you.

THE RACE CHRONICLES: BLACK BEAUTY

It was remarkable I ever moved to Laos. I’d turned down grad school in Hawaii because it was too hot. My adult life had been one extended migration north for cooler temperatures, at some point calling New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Washington state home. I hated hot weather and by extension the beach, tropical vacations, and summer. Pre-Laos, when the sun was out, I was in. So when I said yes to spending two years in the tropics, you know there had to be a good reason.

My interest in cultural and ethnic diversity had driven nearly all the big decisions I’d made in my adult life post-college. I moved to China after learning about its different ethnic minorities. I lived in the Gobi Desert so I could see how some of those groups lived. I chose UW-Seattle for grad school because one professor specialized in Chinese ethnic groups, and I wrote my statement of purpose about my interest in that topic. When I finished graduate school and saw the position at the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre in Laos, I was completely galvanized by their mission to “promote pride and appreciation for the cultures and knowledge of Laos’ diverse peoples, support ethnic communities to safeguard their tangible and intangible cultural heritage, and promote their sustainable livelihood development.” Bring on the heat.

When I say I learned to like hot weather because of the positive associations I made to it in Laos that is only half of the story. I do fondly remember al fresco dining along the Mekong and Namkhan rivers. One particularly “warm” memory was Christmas 2012: I came home from work after midnight and my neighbors, barbecuing in their front yard, invited me to join. How wonderful that a late December evening could be ideal for anything other than curling up on a couch in front of a fireplace with an over-sized cup of peppermint hot chocolate!

Melanin was really to blame both for my hatred of hot weather and my eventual embrace of it. Lao people are many-hued and I found myself admiring the darker of their skin tones. My boss had the perfect skin color and I noticed it wasn’t that much lighter than mine. For the first time in my life, I truly began to see darker skin as beautiful.

I am the lightest-skinned person in my family. My mother and sisters are all darker than me. When I was young, my sisters teased that if I spent too much time in the sun I would get dark and never fade. I couldn’t risk it. I needed to stay light. For beauty’s sake, to be found physically attractive by people outside of my race&emdash;and I suspected even within it&emdash;I needed to be lighter. Sunbathing? Get real. The sun was my enemy. Colorism and not discomfort kept me indoors.

As I shed my fear of becoming darker, I began to love my color. At 29, I was finally comfortable in my own skin. This allowed me to enjoy all those experiences in the sun.

What little girl doesn’t want to be beautiful? Some learn early to define that for themselves. Yet somehow, by the time I’d become a woman, I thought being beautiful was the key to being loved and that white features&emdash;paler skin, thinner nose, silky straight hair&emdash;were the key to being beautiful. Believing my ability to ever marry might rest on my being found attractive by a man outside my race, I couldn’t bear the thought of being any darker. Too much was at stake. I would never have admitted this then, but deep down it was true.

I began reckoning with the words of Malcolm X:

Who taught you to hate yourself? Who taught you to hate the color of your skin? Who taught you to hate the texture of your hair? Who taught you to hate the shape of your nose and the shape of your lips? Who taught you to hate yourself from the top of your head to the soles of your feet? Who taught you to hate your own kind? Who taught you to hate the race that you belong to so much so that you don’t want to be around each other? You know. Before you come asking Mr. Muhammad does he teach hate, you should ask yourself who taught you to hate being what God made you.

My work in Laos had other positive effects on my self-image and ability to not just accept my blackness but take pride in it. Actively trying to encourage others to be proud of what made them different and unique while I struggled with that myself challenged me. It felt hypocritical to call out what was worth celebrating in other cultures while trying to suppress or minimize what might be worth celebrating in my own.

In the midst of these positive gains in self-awareness and self love, I watched racial tensions increase in the US from my tiny slice of landlocked jungle. In July 2013, the non-indictment of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin came out and a Lao colleague of mine asked me why there was no punishment and why it seemed like lives like mine did not matter in my country. Things in the States continued to worsen in 2014 with the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. I broke the first rule of the internet: Don’t read the comments section. Hateful comments next to avatars of white men brought back some of the anger and distrust towards whites, and specifically white men, that I hadn’t dealt with in a long time. Just in time to return home.

This Christmas season, considering using this Advent Guide in your personal reflections or with your family or community group. It was created by Christ the King PCA Church in Raleigh, NC. It includes scripture readings and reflections, prayers and songs to help you meditate on the coming of Christ, both his arrival more than 2000 years ago and the his Second coming when he will return to redeem all of creation and rule with all power and authority.

Around October, the text messages and emails begin. The holidays are approaching and the family conflicts and issues that have managed to stay out of sight for most of the year suddenly begin to raise their heads. Though I love Christmas in all its glittering glory, the holidays are the place where those conflicts and issues won’t be ignored. Rather, they demand attention.

Many of us could use hope and encouragement in navigating the myriad relationships we encounter during the holiday season. We want to know how to dance through situations where we usually find ourselves tripping and stumbling.

In the Gospel Perspectives class “The Gospel and the Crazy Uncle,” we’ll look at how the Bible is full of tripping and stumbling humans. The story of Jesus is a story of a Savior who navigated family with grace and did not leave us without a glimpse of himself, even in the murky waters of familial relationships. Class is at 4PM on December 4th in Kendall Hall.

Paul and Mary Jo Major are excited to be welcomed into the family of Grace Mosaic. You might have seen Paul moving around a lot during Sunday service as he is currently serving as Ministry Coordinator at Grace Mosaic, while pursuing a Ph.D. in Biblical Hebrew at Catholic University. As Ministry Coordinator, Paul oversees Sunday Mornings: from set up to tear down and everything in between. He also coordinates our fellowship groups, communications, and visitor assimilation.

Mary Jo is a talented Nationally Licensed Interior Designer (NCIDQ) and a visual artist. You can find her at: www.maryjomajor.com.

The Majors met through Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) at Louisiana State University. After serving with RUF at the University of Connecticut, they moved to Charlotte, NC, to attend seminary at Reformed Theological Seminary. While in Charlotte, Paul served as Pastoral Assistant at Christ Central Church.

Mary Jo is a native Texan (and proud of it!) from Houston (she went to the same high school as Beyonce!), while Paul grew up outside of New Orleans (he’s proud of that too). They love good food while debating the merits of Tex-Mex vs. Cajun-Creole, and there is the fondness of LSU football.

At the time of this post, Baby Major is on the way! Due in February, they are excited to be in a church that knows a thing or two about babies.

As a church community that deeply values and celebrates children, Grace Mosaic’s partnership with DC127 has been a natural fit to the way that our church can extend these passions and gifts to serve the community around us. 

Through partnering with DC churches across all neighborhoods, denominations and demographics, DC127’s vision/mission is to reverse the foster care list in DC and is motivated by James 1:27: “Pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world,” a mission.

Through partnership with DC127’s Safe Families program, Grace Mosaic is coming alongside families in crisis so that children never have the need to enter into the foster care system at all. So many families within our community face immense challenges, whether homelessness, joblessness, addiction, or mental health issues, which are exacerbated into crises for families who face social isolation and lack of resources. 

This is where Grace Mosaic’s partnership with the Safe Families program is able to make true impact – to build social support networks that can by coming alongside families in the midst of their crisis so that they can gain stability and remain united as a family. Whether through providing temporary care for children, mentoring youth, coming alongside parents in their journey to wellness, or simply providing meals, transportation, and other resources, each person in our church family can have a role in supporting the flourishing, protection and care of families in our community.

Click here to learn more about the ways you can contribute to this mission.

 

What if the church stepped up for kids in foster care?

Testimony
by Anna Laura Grant
Sunday, November 20, 2016

Good morning! Having the opportunity to address the whole church is pretty daunting. While I make my living speaking in front of high schoolers as a teacher, adults can make me pretty nervous. I’ve thought and prayed for a while about what part of my testimony I should share in the next couple minutes, so thank you for listening.

I’ll start with an exercise I use in dialogues I facilitate. I’m going to tell you 3 things you might not know about me by just looking at me:

First, I listen almost exclusively to gospel music, my favorite songs on repeat loudly, and my neighbors know it. In fact, I’ve got Kirk Franklin blasting as I write these words.

Second, I’m bicultural. My mom is an immigrant from Italy, and I’ve grown up in both worlds, switching language and cultural norms based on my environment. I actually had to repeat preschool because my English wasn’t good enough when we moved back from Italy.

Third, a dark confession I want to make… when I was a preschooler, I was a bully. I have very clear memories of making fun of people, young and old, for things they couldn’t control, from their names to their skin color. I have no idea where this evil came from or where I learned to talk about people in that way. It certainly wasn’t from my parents, who dedicated their lives to working in cross cultural settings with international students. While I know I was only a child, it honestly still haunts me.

My story of conversion starts there, as a 5 year old bully. Something happened between then and elementary school. I have faint memories of praying to have Jesus in my heart, and throughout the years, this bully changed into a social justice activist.

With this newfound basis of morality came a strong sense of right and wrong, and the sin of pride that comes along with it. By college, I had it all figured out. I was a Justice Studies major, had gone on multiple mission trips around the world, and had organized protests and petitions. My faith backed up my actions, and I was confident in what I “knew.” From college to adulthood, God showed me, however, how much I needed others to really understand the gospel and bring me face to face with my own sin.

I “knew,” for example, that Muslim women were oppressed and needed help. Then, I roomed my sophomore year with a devout Muslim exchange student from Cairo. She assured me she was not oppressed, that wearing a hijab was her choice, and that she did it out of love for God, even if she got judged for it. The dedication with which she prayed 5 times a day put me to shame. It was through my relationship with her that I saw what beautiful, committed faith really looks like.

I also “knew” that equality for African Americans had come as a result of the Civil Rights Movement. While people should know that White privilege existed and race was a made up construct, there weren’t really any issues with race in American society today. I was living in Spain when Trayvon Martin was killed and largely unaware of what was going on in the US then. A year after I moved back to America, Michael Brown was shot and the pain and unrest in Ferguson was on everyone’s mind as we went back to  school for a new year. Knowing my background in peace studies, my principal appointed me to lead a racial reconciliation faculty dialogue group, which began as a space to process what was happening together. Through that experience, my world changed. I learned that police violence wasn’t new; smartphones were. The stories of my coworkers and how their lives were daily impacted by their Blackness radically changed me. One of my closest friendships today actually started because of that group. I learned from her resilience and extraordinary faith that I actually put more of my hope in government policies than I did in Jesus Christ. It was through my friendship with her that my own faith was tested and strengthened.

After 3 years of engaging with social justice issues in DC, teaching kids about nonviolent heroes, reading every book possible about racial reconciliation, facilitating dialogues, and getting accepted into a conflict resolution masters program, I “knew” that I was an enlightened, “woke” White woman doing my part to make a difference. This past summer, I attended a conference on racial reconciliation at Duke Divinity school. During a session about the criminal (in)justice system, the presenter broke down stats about the state of mass incarceration in the country. Halfway through the presentation, she revealed that she had formerly been incarcerated. Automatically, a domino of thoughts set off in brain… What did she do? Why was she in jail? Could I trust what she said? After about 30 seconds, I realized in horror the reality of my own implicit bias towards people who have been incarcerated. I learned through her story and openness that I was more biased than I wanted to admit and that God still has work to do to cleanse my heart of broken, judgemental, and prideful thinking.

My purpose in sharing these stories is to highlight what Duke has been preaching for a while now. We need each other. The reality of the gospel of Jesus and his grace filled redemption comes alive through relationships with others, and, I think, specifically in relationships with people who are different than us. Being unified in the body of Christ means not only recognizing the diversity that comes with it, across culture, race, class and gender, but also valuing how each part brings others to life. My prayer for myself and for our church is that we would  dare to pursue these types of deep, transformative cross cultural relationships. They are relationships that challenge, teach, encourage, heal, and at times may hurt, but they are vital to making real the power of the gospel in our lives.

Imagine a hungry person sitting at a banquet table, yet convinced the food is a mirage. Or, a person terrified of the dark who refuses to try the light because they believe the switch is probably broken. Or, a soldier in the midst of battle who fails to brandish their sword because they think it's a stick. These are all absurd scenarios for the sake of analogy. The Bible is referred to as food, light, and a sword, yet many people never use it to feed their souls, help them find their way, or fend for themselves. They consider it a mirage or myth--a broken truth--as useless as a stick.  

Some of this is due to false ideas that we bring to Scripture. These false ideas are sometimes called "defeaters,” pre-beliefs which prevent us from even considering the possibility of truth. Some of us respect the Bible, yet our confidence is "one foot in.” Questions about its veracity prevent us from placing the whole weight of our hope upon it. Others of us place high value on God's Word, but it's like gold lodged in a granite cave wall--we can't figure out how to get the precious stuff out!

During Gospel Perspectives hour on November 13 and  20th, we'll look at the Bible as part of our Essential Courses series. The classes will cover not only the trustworthiness of Scripture, but how to feed ourselves with God's Word. 

Rev. Glenn Hoburg is a pastor and teaching elder at Grace Downtown. 

A Prayer for the Nation and the Church
Grace Meridian Hill
Sunday, November 13, 2016

 

HEAVENLY FATHER,

Have mercy on us. This morning, we are a divided Nation and, across the nation, a divided Church. We need you. This election has stirred up a lot of pain and resentment. In many ways, it didn’t create the wounds and divisions; it only revealed what was already there. Which tells us that the problems run deep. So, we need a deeper helping, a deeper strengthening, a deeper saving — one that you alone can provide by your deep, deep love for us. We need you. Heal us, O Savior.

Lord, a lot of people voted for Donald Trump — or for any candidate — for a lot of different reasons. This included many Christians who were earnestly seeking your righteousness and your kingdom only in different ways. Voting is a complex thing. Help us to be a church that honors and protects the freedom of conscience of voters (Matt. 15:9; Acts 4:19).

But, Lord, a lot of people are hurting today because of the election’s results — and you call us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39) and to “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2). And so we will.

We pray for our Muslim neighbors, our African American and Latino neighbors, undocumented neighbors, our gay and lesbian neighbors, many of whom feel nervous today, even terrified for their own safety. We pray that you would keep them safe. We pray against any violence, any acts or intentions of evil against them — against anyone! — whether with words or with deeds.

Many Christians of color, Black and Brown and Immigrant brothers and sisters in particular, including many in our church community, are weary today. You call your followers to be a Family. But we, your Church, have got some serious family dysfunction to deal with. Many family members are feeling a sense of betrayal. Many of our sisters in Christ feel belittled. Many of our immigrant brothers and sisters are fearful. Holy Spirit, we pray for the ability to move toward each other, to listen to one another. Remove our defensiveness and our vitriol. Help us to be “slow to speak and quick to listen” (Jas. 1:19). Give us grace to repent and reconcile as needed, according to your timing. May we be “one body” (Eph. 4:3-6), your body, again.

Let this be a reality in every Church this week: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.” (1 Cor. 12:26). Which is why we also pray for rural, working-class white communities around the country. As we’ve heard, many of them went to the voting booth feeling forgotten and neglected. These are our neighbors, and those among them who are in Christ are our brothers and sisters — whom you’ve called us to love. We pray that the Church would be a place where all people will feel seen and known and transformed by the gospel of grace.

And we need the comfort of one another, yes, but help us to turn most of all to YOU (Ps. 73:25-26). Not with “God bless America” platitudes, but with the realness and rawness of tears AND the richness of your promises found in scripture.

And we pray again for the American Church. O Jesus, droves of people who profess and identify with your Name came out in support of one whom many have described as a “racist,” “misogynist,” “narcissist,” and “demagogue.” Many voters disagree with this characterization; nevertheless, because of it, the public reputation of the Church has been associated with these evils. Have mercy on your Church, O Christ — not for our name’s sake but for yours, not for our personal reputation but for yours and your Church’s and your gospel’s. Restore the witness of your people.

This morning we also pray for President-elect Trump, as you have called us to pray for those in authority (1 Tim. 2:1-2). We pray for his transition team and his staff and cabinet appointments. We pray that Mr. Trump would serve with a “fear of the Lord,” a deep sense of accountability before God for the authority entrusted him (Rom. 13:1-5). Please give him your justice and your righteousness (Ps. 72:1-2). You tell us in Proverbs that “the king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will” (21:1). We ask that your hand will direct Mr. Trump’s heart, that he would serve as an image of the True King: serving all the people under his care, especially the marginalized and oppressed (Ps. 72:12-14). And protect us all from placing our hope in human authorities, whether the one we got or the one we wish we had gotten, for you warn us: “Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save” (Ps. 146:3). Jesus, we put our ultimate trust in you.

O Lord, we put all our hope in you. You tell us in the Psalms that your “eyes watch the nations” (66:7). Please watch over our nation. You tell us you “rule over the nations” (Ps. 22:28). Please rule over us. Please heal our nation, not because we deserve it, indeed, not “because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy” (Dan. 9:18).

Now, help us to be faithful. Help us to direct our energy and passions most of all to “ordinary” acts of service, of kindness, of justice — in the home, on our street blocks, in our places of work. Give us grace to serve the common good and seek the flourishing of our communities, whatever our role might be. Help us to be good neighbors, bearing the name and the image of Christ in all we do. What we’re really asking, Lord, is help us to love again. To love one another. To love our neighbor as ourselves. To love you with all our heart, soul, and strength.

To whom else can we turn in such a time of trouble? O Lord, on behalf of our nation, on behalf of our city, on behalf of our neighborhood, on behalf of our church and our own souls, we hope in you.

“Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act!” (Dan. 9:19)

“The LORD is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life — of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps. 27:1)

O Lord, we seek you face (Ps. 27:8).

In Jesus’ name we pray,

Amen

A Post-Election Prayer
November 9, 2016

SOVEREIGN LORD,

We are stunned this morning by the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States. Some are delighted at the news; others are despairing. But “nobody” saw this coming — nobody, that is, but You. That’s because no king, ruler, or president, whether good or evil, can rise without your permission; none fall apart from your will. You “change times and seasons”; you “depose kings and raise up others” (Dan. 2:21; cf. Isa. 40:23; Rom. 13:1-5). Which means, although your purposes often confound us — indeed, your thoughts and ways are higher than our thoughts and ways (Isa. 55:9) — we believe you haven’t taken your hands off the steering wheel this election, not for one second. So, we put our hope in you. Who else has earned our trust like you?

Father, this election has revealed and ignited a lot of division, pain, and resentment among us and within us. Please heal our nation. Not because we ever have, or ever will, have “most favored nation” status in your eyes, but because your “eyes watch the nations” (Ps. 66:7) and you “rule over the nations” (Ps. 22:28; cf. Isa. 11:3-5), including ours. Please heal our nation, not because we deserve it, indeed, not “because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy” (Dan. 9:18). Yesterday, many Americans voted feeling forgotten and neglected. Today, a different group of Americans wake up feeling forgotten and neglected. Yesterday, many voted out of fear of the future. Today, others wake up with a different kind of fear of the future. Merciful God, we are a nation plagued by many fears. Rise up, O Emmanuel, draw near to us, and free us of our fears (Isa. 41:10).

We pray for a spirit of peace to reign over our country in the coming weeks and months (Tit. 3:1-2). Not a false peace that papers over real differences, real problems, and real pain, but a true peace grounded in a mutual commitment to the common good and, for those who know You, in the solid rock of Christ (Ps. 18:2). For those who did not vote for Mr. Trump, please restrain any stirring up of destructive dissent or slander (Tit. 3:1-2). For those who did vote for Mr. Trump, please restrain any unhelpful gloating arising from a spirit of political triumphalism. Indeed, we pray for an uncommon spirit of gentleness toward others (Tit. 3:1-2). And protect us all from placing our hope in human authorities, whether the one we got or the one we wanted, for you warn us: “Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing” (Ps. 146:3-4). We don’t have the power to hold the fabric of our nation together. We need you to do this, Jesus.

We pray for the President-elect, as you have called us to: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority” (1 Tim. 2:1-2). We pray that he would serve with a fear of the Lord (Ps. 2:10-12), which is to say, with a deep sense of accountability before God for the authority with which he has been entrusted (Rom. 13:1-4). Many fear, and some expect, that he will govern as the worst version of himself. We pray that by your sin-restraining grace this would not be so. Please give Mr. Trump your justice and your righteousness (Ps. 72:1-2). We ask that your hand would direct his heart (Prov. 21:1), that he would serve as an image of the True King: that “he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help,” that he will “take pity on the weak and the needy” and “rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight” (Ps. 72:12-14).

We not only pray for Mr. Trump. We pray for grace to honor him (1 Pet. 2:17), esteeming him to the best of our ability and bearing with his weaknesses (WLC 127), not only in our actions and our words, but also our thoughts and desires. We do so out of regard for him as an image-bearer (Gen. 1:27). We do so out of regard for his office. We do so ultimately out of regard for you, our God (Rom. 13:1-5).

And we pray for the American Church. O Jesus, droves of people who profess and identify with your Name, whether truly or falsely (Matt. 13:24-29), came out in support of one whom many have described as a “racist,” “misogynist,” “narcissist,” and “demagogue.” Many voters disagree with this characterization; nonetheless, because of it, the public reputation of the Church has been soiled. Have mercy on us, O Christ, not for our name’s sake but for yours. Restore the witness of your people. Indeed, even in this, we believe you may be working for the good of the Church and the gospel — we see glimpses of your winnowing fork in your hand. The refiner’s fire produces pure gold (Mal. 3:2; 1 Pet. 1:6-9). But it is painful. Be gentle, O Savior, but most of all, glorify yourself in us again.

And, Jesus, as we pray for your Church, we remember that you call your followers to be a Family. But we’ve got some serious family dysfunction. This election, and this election result in particular, leaves many family members of color feeling fearful, hated, and threatened. Many of our sisters in Christ feel belittled and used. Many of our immigrant brothers and sisters feel victimized and scorned. Give us grace for repentance and reconciliation. May we be your Body again. Let this be a reality in every Church this week: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Cor. 12:26). Grant us grace to love one another with incarnational listening, solidarity, and meekness of heart, united visibly as we already are invisibly by the blood of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-13). But more than listening and harmony, we pray for justice and equity, indeed within the church as much as without. And please forgive us for our sins.

Finally, help us now to persevere with “ordinary” acts of faithfulness, of quiet neighborliness, serving the common good and seeking the flourishing of our communities. Grant us grace to “build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce,” to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile” and to “pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jer. 29:5-7). For this is not only our civic, but also our Christian, kingdom responsibility. Quite simply, help us Holy Spirit, to love well — to love patiently and kindly, and not boastfully or proudly or irritably (1 Cor. 13:4-7). Yes, love “always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

In a time when our love for one another is shaken, this much we know: We love you. And so, we trust you, we hope in you, we persevere in you.

We pray for Jesus’ sake, and in his matchless Name,

Amen.

This article touches on one of the topics that we will cover at Sunday's The Gospel, Politics and a Healthy Church, part of our 4pm Gospel Perspectives series of classes. It was originally published on The Body Politic

Many sincerely devout, thoughtful Christians whom I respect have been writing articles intended to help you come to conclusions about what your faith means for the way you vote in this year’s US presidential election. And I sincerely fear that these articles are going to compromise your ability to share the gospel effectively. Many of them begin with a biblical virtue or Christian value, and then argue a direct line from that value to a political policy. But political litmus tests like these can lead to an impoverished demonstration of Christian faith in two important ways, one obvious and one not:

One of Our Favorite Phrases

The Christian faith is a sending faith, a missionary faith, a faith that calls adherents to be sacrificially outward-facing. Every member of Christ’s church is likely involved in making Jesus' truth known and mercy felt in some kind of practical way in the world around us. But not every member of the church is a missionary. Only some members of the church deliver food to the homebound. Still other members, but not all, regularly spend their weekends visiting prisoners, or their evenings caring for foster children, or their days tending to their homeless neighbors.

The choices for how to represent Christ in the world are nearly infinite, but our flesh is decidedly finite. And so, our contemporary Christian culture often encourages us to dedicate our time and energy to the small handful of passions God has given us or opportunities he has opened up for us in particular ways.

This is, of course, okay. The Bible describes us each as different members of Christ’s body, with different functions. When someone feels compelled to pack up their life and move overseas to preach the gospel in a Middle Eastern nation, we don’t typically accuse him of lacking Christ’s compassion for America’s homeless. Instead, we say he “has a heart for the Middle East.” Similarly, it is probably okay for a Christian who has spent time volunteering for Doctors Without Borders in sub-Saharan Africa to be moved by a candidate who spends time arguing for increased foreign aid to that region. It may not be a sign of that Christian's godlessness as much as it could be a result of the heart God has given her.

Single-issue litmus tests—the kinds of statements that declare that “all Christians” should vote a certain way because of a particular policy position—tend to assume that it isn’t possible for God to burden different peoples’ hearts with different concerns. Just as we are comfortable with God equipping some people to open their homes to pregnant teens who have no other means of support while he equips others to offer job skills to men leaving prison, we may need to be comfortable accepting that those experiences may lead those people’s votes to be swayed by different issues.

Uncovering Your Middle Layer

The more subtle danger lurking within the kinds of litmus tests we often see during election years is that they encourage Christians to neglect exercising wisdom and discernment.

When someone argues a straight line from biblical principle to public policy, they are actually skipping over an important “mediating layer.” Between your faith in Christ and your political affiliation are a whole host of other beliefs and assumptions. These include, but are not limited to, the assumptions you make about the way other people will think and behave; the goals you have for the role of your state within the country and your country within the world; and the vision you’ve developed for how your faith should relate to the government in a representative democracy. You can hold historical orthodox Christian faith, but the life experiences and the (often-unstated) beliefs that constitute your “middle layer” have a tremendous and inescapable influence on what you think about politics and government.

Political litmus tests typically assume that there is only one valid middle layer, only one valid relationship between a Christian and the government in a representative democracy. The most vociferous advocates of political litmus tests usually seem to me to assume that the only valid approach to government as a Christian is to attempt to use the government to get our neighbors to comply with God's vision for the City on a Hill. That’s not an inherently evil position. In fact, many saints who will be glorified at the resurrection have held that position and done so lovingly. But it’s not the only valid approach, and many Americans at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb probably won’t have held it.

A Confounding Church

It’s important for Christians to be engaged in the world around us. We’re supposed to be the “salt of the earth,” and there’s no way for salt to be beneficial unless it is scattered across and deeply mixed into the things being salted. But as we engage with the world, we must always guard against conforming to it. When he walked the earth, Jesus confounded the religious authorities, the political rulers, the cultural tastemakers and the evangelical zealots of his time. When he sent his Holy Spirit to empower his people to follow him, they formed a spiritual community where men and women, Jews and Greeks, free men and slaves all shared their lives together, willingly declaring themselves “one in Christ Jesus.”

In a climate of extreme polarization, we must guard against our churches conforming to the political segregation of our culture. For our congregations to confound, they should be places where our friends and neighbors see liberals and libertarians, Republicans and Democrats, Bush supporters and Bernie supporters embracing and encouraging one another

This is difficult. A body of believers—whether that body is a church, a small group, a campus fellowship, or a workplace Bible study—can only embody this kind of radical fellowship, this kind of communion that defies the surrounding antagonisms, if it’s already being practiced in the lives of its members. But drawing lines in the sand that don't allow for other Christians to exercise their best wisdom in figuring out how to understand their "middle layer," or that demand that your brothers and sisters pattern their hearts after yours, hinders our ability to understand the oneness we are called to by Christ.

So, this week and weekend, try to find some time to pray something along the following lines:

Heavenly Father, you sent your son, Jesus, to serve as your image and your word. Looking to you, listening to you, following you, he could not conform to the political divisions, antagonisms and parties of his time. By the power of your Spirit, help me to cling fast to the truth that Jesus’ sacrifice, resurrection and eventual return mean that I can safely welcome people who disagree with me into my life. I’m sorry for the times I’ve tried in my heart to get my security and satisfaction from holding the “right” political views because of my faith, instead of from the love and flourishing that was guaranteed for me when your Son rose from the dead. Help me to demonstrate the power and beauty of this good news when I interact with people who disagree with me, for the sake of your Son’s name and glory. Amen.

We're glad you're here! Here's a three ways to get connected in your first few weeks.

1. We love to eat. We love to meet. Join us for a casual meal at a local eatery after the worship services every first and third Sundays.
2. Consider joining a Community Group [CG]. This is a small group of people who meet usually mid-week to study the bible, pray together and share life. Sign up for a group here.
3. Come to Winter Term! It's a series of classes on Wednesday Jan 11, 18 and 25 on Transforming Grace. Class runs from 7-9pm at Calvary Baptist (755 8th Street, NW). Take this opportunity to learn about God's transforming Grace and meet others in our community during the snack break!

We look forward to getting to know you!

Grace Downtown attender Kimberly Ruth Villiers shares why she is part of our church’s Cultural Intelligence team. For more information on the Cultural Intelligence ministry or to get involved, contact Mazaré.

What does the term Cultural Intelligence really mean? Let us spend a few minutes picking the phrase apart…

The word intelligence is from the latin word intelligere which means to understand. So at the very least, intelligence is the ability to understand and to think openly and reasonably.

However, a definition of “Culture” is trickier to pin down. The Merriam-Webster dictionary says culture is:

“the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time/
a particular society that has its own beliefs, ways of life, art, etc.

For the purposes of this dialogue, cultural intelligence is having knowledge about your culture and the ability to think openly and reasonably about other cultures. More importantly, it is the ability to relate to people across different cultures. What we can be certain of is culture defines a society and empowers people with an identity.

Certainly, exploring other cultures is a great and adventurous thing—different foods, languages, history, customs and ways of life. Unfortunately, culture—as rich and empowering as it may be—has also been used as a divider for many centuries and the division continues today. You can take some time to think about ways that conflict has stirred along cultural lines. This is not how God wants us to live.

There are so many cultural divisions across race, skin tones within a race, ethnicity, religion, class, and origin—both domestic and international.

Division and misunderstandings have led to great tragedy and sin. Galatians 5:18–20 speaks about the “works of the flesh”, ie: sins, and lists “divisions” among them. This is where we, as God’s servants, must seek to fight against the divide using the tools provided by his Word. We must embrace the fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23).

In order to move against cultural division it is important to embrace cultural intelligence so we may continue on the path God has set for us. In doing this we will grow to understand, and even as Christians be able to minister to, our brothers and sisters and not give into the misdirection that worldly concerns may instill.

“put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.”
Colossians 3:14–15

I always feel like I work harder during the season I’m watching the Olympics. I think, “If they can make sacrifices so can I.” I increase my exercise regimen. I spend hours writing during the times I would be watching Netflix. I say no to certain foods and maybe cut back on my social life a little bit. I read more intelligent books. On one hand,Olympians make my life look mediocre. On the other, I am inspired to do better. And be better. And better. And better.

These athletes are amazing. Really. They are the point zero, zero, zero one percent of human beings, doing things that very few people will ever do. Yet somehow we’re still disappointed when they wobble on the balance beam, or don’t make the penalty kick, or barely manage to pull off a bronze instead of gold in the swimming pool.

Think about it: When the stellar human being fails to live up to these skyscraper expectations, the reporters don’t say what maybe they should say: “That was amazing. You’re such an incredible specimen of human agility. I could never in my life do what you do. By the way, which Greek god is your parent?” No, no. They say things like, “That performance wasn’t your best, what’s going through your mind right now?” Or, “I can tell by the look on your face that you are less than pleased, what do you think you could have done differently?”

There are no ‘atta boys or ‘atta girls for second place. Our hearts sink slightly when our favorites are not on that very tip-top platform of the podium.

A friend of mine posted a video on Facebook of gymnastics at the Olympics in the 1950s compared the 2000s. The difference was astronomical. Because no matter how amazing an athlete is, the goal is to be better. Better. Better. And Better. There may be a world record for one event, until someone breaks it. That’s the goal. Breaking that record and setting a new one.

As I watch the Olympics, I think about the sacrifices these people have made to be the very best. Thinking of Simone Biles saying she gave up prom and normal kid fun and spent all day at the gym six days a week. Part of me thinks, “No way! Not worth it!” Another part of me thinks, “I’m a failure as a person.”

Because I’ll never win a gold medal and am likely to never even be related to someone who’s won a gold medal. I certainly don’t have any friends who will ever win medals because My friends enjoy weekend vacations and eating bread and cookies and stuff. Just like I do. I’ll likely never be “the best” at anything, really.

Is that okay? Am I okay? Or am I just lazy or distracted or accepting mediocre because “the best” feels too far out of my reach.

And how does this striving to be the best line up with the reality of God’s grace? Is it wrong to strive for better? To be the best we can possibly be when we are loved and accepted as we are? Is it wrong to work hard at something, make sacrifices for something like swimming or track or pole vaulting? I mean, what does God think of all this athletic prowess in these games that were originally designed to create camaraderie between the countries of the world?

There seem to be more athletes who love Jesus this year than usual, and I think their interviews provide an answer. They love the sport, that’s obvious. But they love Jesus and can’t help giving him glory or, at the very least, acknowledging a higher power who gives purpose to what they do.

The Holy Spirit calls us to be the best version of ourselves. That involves character, which involves excellence in whatever we were created to do, whether that’s diving face-first into the sand to save your team from a spiked volleyball or being the most encouraging little league coach possible for your child’s team.

It also involves accepting graciously when our best isn’t “the best,” knowing that God is just as delighted with a 4-year-old who is just learning to swim as he is with David Boudia winning silver in synchronized diving.

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
1 Corinthians 10:31

The following was written by Erin Brindle as part of our brief series on issues related to mental health for Mental Health Awareness Month.

A realization that formed my identity as a counselor occurred when tables were turned, and I was the patient. That realization was that imperfections are part of my faith walk–not quite finished and expectant to grow in myself to be more like God. Growing up, I had a child’s faith and vision of what my life might include. As an adult, I call these experiences “being human.” God has arranged my life to be better than I could have arranged and better than I could have imagined in some cases.

As a counselor, gentleness with my own soul’s growth has been helpful as I encounter others who are hurting. I have had guilt, grief, and losses and continue to eventually surrender those to God. I want to fix it, heal it, and dissolve pain, and I continue to learn to give my concerns to God for his help. Empathy is a gift that arises out of awareness of my vulnerability.

At the hospital where I work, a client recently expressed losses and a lack of control over their mental health. I can understand the tension between control and surrender of control in order to heal. Ultimately, I need God’s help to be helpful to others. Compassion fatigue is when human cares become burdens weightier than my strength to carry.

We can all be susceptible to compassion fatigue. Dr. Charles Figley, an expert in compassion fatigue, explains, “We feel the feelings of our clients. We experience their fears. We dream their dreams. Eventually, we lose a certain spark of optimism, humor and hope. We tire. We aren’t sick, but we aren’t ourselves.”

People who I meet as clients sometimes know God. To weigh and attempt to understand the lives of others requires both empathy as a counselor and God’s help to walk alongside hurting people. I’m often wrestling with how best to support a client who may have a series of losses that lend him or her to distrust others and seek human approval. While it is my honor to walk with healing and hurting people, God has proven to me that he ultimately cares for us and loves us. I experience God’s love daily in His provision, surprising loving relationships, and community. Surrendering to God is a difficult concept for me due to pride; however, vulnerability to God allows his healing.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

During our visits to Neighborhood Groups and in the community roundtables, we’ve been inspired by your desire for our community to be more aware of each other’s needs, but also to be able to celebrate God’s provision together. We hope that these monthly notes will help us do that.

John 13 reminds us that building this kind of Christian community is part of our call as Christians. In verse 34, after Jesus had washed the feet of his disciples and exhorted them to wash one another’s feet, he says: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.”

This is such an encouraging but also challenging verse. Encouraging because while outreach programming and other intentional efforts to bear witness to the Gospel are essential, the most important thing doesn’t require an Excel spreadsheet or a Doodle. On the other hand, it does require us to give of our time to build relationships and to grow in our patience as we persevere in love. To practice the kind of love that 1 Corinthians 13 describes as patient, kind, humble, generous, and persistent. The kind of love that makes friends out of enemies and bridges the divides of bitter political or theological differences.

Since the heat of summer often slows our pace and creates just a bit more room in our schedule, might we use this summer as a church to focus on loving one another as Christ has loved us? Could we love each other in such radical ways that we are both a blessing to our brother or sister and also a witness to the Gospel?

This could look like:

Inviting people from church that you don’t know, or that you’ve always wanted to get to know better, into your home;

Sending people from church who bless you through their service or worship a note of encouragement or thanks;

Offering a hand of support to others in the church who could use some extra support through offers of babysitting, home repairs, gardening, meals, or even just friendship;

Love also requires being honest about your needs so that others in our community have the opportunity to love on you.

This summer could we all commit to reach outside of our normal comfort zone or routine in order to show someone that we love them and by extension to evidence our belief in Christ?

In the coming months and years, we’ll undoubtedly be starting new ministries at the church and we’ll continue in our outreach to love our neighbors. But as we do, we’ll be sustained in this work by being a church who truly loves one another. That is our hope, our prayer, and our challenge.

Because of Christ’s Love,
Shapri LoMaglio, together with the rest of the Diaconate

The following was written by Xavier Bure Quijano as part of our brief series on issues related to mental health for Mental Health Awareness Month.  

Nightmares startle me awake. My head pounds. Tension sears up my neck. God in his Providence, warns me that it’s coming. He braces me for another episode of anxiety, something that I have struggled with since I was a young adult. Now God encourages me to turn my attention to my physical health, my body as a temple. I watch what I eat, I go to the gym, I carefully take my medication.

Sometimes this is enough, but other times it is just the beginning of a dark period setting in. It’s like the chariot races in Ben Hur that I used to watch growing up. Horses gashing their teeth, hooves pounding the ground, wild racing, but in this movie there is no control, no finish line. The most painful doubts and most terrifying fears make loops without end. Exhausted and desperate, I find myself dragged to the feet of the Father.

In the end, my ever-present God pierces the darkness, slows my racing horses. For many years now, He has proven himself victorious over this illness. He has guided me to church services, taught me about Christian meditation, led me to mental health resources from a local ministry, and provides people in my life who pray and care for me.

Most recently one of these people was a customer of the shop that I work. During one of these times, she arrived and pressed a handwritten note into my hand to comfort me. I am immediately stuck with gratitude for God and the ways that He works all things together for good.

Psalm 131

“O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor are my eyes haughty.
Neither do I deal in great affairs not in things too lofty for me.
Truly, I have calmed and quieted my soul.
As a little child on its mother’s lap: as a little child, so is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord, both now and forever.”

Having just preached a sermon on the (tough!) topic of divorce and marriage, and having challenged our community, both married and unmarried people, to deepen our understanding of marriage, I want to offer some reading resources to you.

The Meaning of Marriage, by Tim and Kathy Keller, is a helpful place to start. It may feel a bit “heady” for some of you, depending on how you’re naturally wired, but many couples in our community have found it to be extremely helpful. There’s a great section on Singleness, for those who aren’t married but want to explore a Biblical understanding of marriage, which is a really great idea. The accompanying study guide might also be useful to you.

For those looking for something much shorter (!), The Intimate Mystery, by Dan Allender and Tremper Longman III, is also a great resource that provides many simple principles and helpful practical tips for cultivating a healthy marriage.

On the matter of divorce, here’s a simple article on the topic of divorce based on reliable research by John Gottman, one of the leading researchers in the field: “This Behavior is the #1 Predictor of Divorce.” What is it? Not fighting. Not even loud fighting. It’s contempt. Read on.

This isn’t to say that all we need for healthy marriages are good books or article. Don’t forget what we discussed during our Q&A about the importance of friendships and honest conversations. But it is to say that a good book can be a great place to start.

With joyful and sober hearts, let’s deepen our understanding of scripture’s vision of the covenant of marriage!

Walking with you as a husband always in need of grace,
Duke

Because tomorrow’s weather forecast is so pessimistic, our 2016 Spring Picnic is canceled. Please spread the word among your Community Group members and other friends in our congregation.

We’re very grateful to the members of our community who have generously volunteered to offer people rides, grocery shop, and transport grills and equipment, as well as to everyone who has been planning on bringing food, drinks and games. We hope that we’re giving you enough notice to make alternate plans for the day with other Grace Downtown members and attenders, as well as any friends, neighbors or co-workers you had invited.

Thanks for your understanding, and we’re looking forward to seeing you this Sunday.

As a young rebel without a cause, life in the fast lane suited me just fine. And whenever I second-guessed the whole thing, I gave myself permission to look over the proverbial fence to gloat over my peers trudging through life weighed down by the burden of responsibility. In those moments of triumph, I knew I was winning. At what? I didn’t know and I didn’t care because I was convinced that life had to be more than punching-in and punching-out at institutions (academic and religious) that promised the world and more. No, not me. I’m not taking the bait. I’m too smart for that! In the words of my mentor, Glenn Frey, I was going to “take it easy in the cheating part of town.” Cue the music!

But the problem with all songs, even the great ones, is that no matter how far you stretch out the outro, they don’t last, even at volume 11! This was God’s indictment against Israel; that they have rejected an oasis for a mirage. Jeremiah 2:13 reads:

My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the foundation of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

Even though I told myself my cistern is just fine, I had a growing suspicion otherwise. In the end I couldn’t shake off the lingering questions and doubts I had about my life and the direction it was headed. It pained me to admit it, but my life as a whole was a thin disguise, a veneer to mask the deep-seated hurt, disappointment and anger I didn’t have the tools to deal with. The years of diligently sweeping my emotional garbage under the rug had caught up, and there was no way to hide the truth. At this point I loathed everyone, including God.

However, all that changed on one cold November evening. A “mini-Easter” of sort took place in my heart. How do I know? Because he showed up in the bathroom of a fast-food restaurant. He didn’t judge me for the mess I had become and the mess I was making. No, he sat next to me and befriended me. Before I knew it, he had rolled the stone from the entrance of my grave-like heart, plumbed the depth of my sin, and said, “Would you let me take care of this?”

And that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

It’s been 27 years since that November evening. Every Easter I’m reminded of the Easter moment of my own narrative: When Jesus freed me from the prison of my own demise and gave me the gift of friendship.

“Love isn’t someplace that we fall. It’s something that we do.”
~Clint Black

Modern people talk about being “in” love more than “doing love”—love as a feeling rather than an action. When love requires we forgo our desires or dreams, it’s almost viewed as unjust. The message of Maundy Thursday turns our thinking upside down.

Maundy Thursday in the Christian calendar is the Thursday of Holy Week which recalls three things: Jesus’ washing his disciples feet, the institution of the Lord’s Supper (communion), and, most importantly, Jesus giving his followers the new commandment to love one another. (“Maundy” comes from the Latin phrase, “mandatum novum,” meaning “new commandment.”)

In washing his disciples feet (in the top 10 of the ancient worlds “dirtiest jobs”), Jesus teaches the service of love. Jesus teaches us not only the heights to which love will go, but the depths. The great descent of love. In the story Les Miserables, the main character Jean Valjean, is loved in a low place. Newly released from prison, he seeks a job, food and shelter but can find none, that is, until a priest takes him in. Later,Valjean, in efforts to save the life of his future son-in-law must carry him through the sewer systems of Paris (love in a very low place). Yet, the Son of God went further. He leaves his heavenly throne of glory descending to earth; he gives up a “nice” life, to heal the sick, feed the poor, become homeless and preach and teach the lost; he acts as the lowest servant in Roman society by washing the feet of his followers; yet, most astonishingly, though he is sinless, he becomes sin “for us”–bearing the guilt, shame and rightful judgment of any who trust in him. This is what the Apostle Paul writes in Phil. 2:Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Which leads to a second lesson of Maundy Thursday: Jesus teaches the fellowship of love (intimate companionship). The meal which Jesus institutes is an object lesson of his suffering and sacrifice. The bread and wine representing the giving of his life (body and blood) for us. But the symbolism of the the Lord’s Supper shouldn’t eclipse the fact that the ritual is in fact, a meal. Meals can be the most intimate of times with our family, friends, and lovers. It’s sort of mysterious isn’t it? As we share food and sit across from one another, make eye contact, listen, laugh, maybe cry—we feel bonded in a most intimate and memorable way. Perhaps before the meal we felt distracted and disconnected, maybe even at odds with the person at our table, but by the end we are close friends! Here again, there’s a parallel. Sin separates us from God and the communion meal teaches us what God did to reunite us to himself. As we eat the bread and wine which represents the Son of God’s sacrifice for my sin, we are fed and nourished with the understanding that God gave himself that I might be in his intimate presence—God wants me at his Table.

But, let’s not forget the main point of all of it—the new commandment to love. The Apostle John recalls Jesus saying during that evening, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”. The Maundy lessons of the service of love and the fellowship of love should show themselves in love for others. Perhaps it’s a hidden act of kindness at the work (I clean out that nasty office refrigerator); a family meal where the goal isn’t to ‘just get through dinner” but lingering a few extra minutes to ask my spouse or kids more of their day; or roommates having a widow, single mom or family with young kids over to their table. I don’t offer these examples as “what if’s”, because praise God I hear of them in our community often!

As we meditate on Jesus’ unceasing love for us, let’s strive for everyday of the week to be Maundy Thursday.

Rev. Duke Kwon, pastor of Grace Meridian Hill, shares his reflection on the meaning and purpose of Palm Sunday.

My wife is a designer. It’s glorious. She is. There are times I’ll nearly get lost walking into a room in my own house. Hey, uh…where did the couch go? Furniture-rearranging inspiration strikes unpredictably. Doing life with my wife, I’ve also been introduced to certain design terms and concepts. Here’s one you might be familiar with: Repurposing.

Repurposing is the process by which an object with one use is transformed into an object with an alternate use. Repurposing starts with the reimagining of an object’s value. An old door becomes a farmhouse dining table. A broken painting ladder is turned into a wall-hanging bookshelf. The concept of repurposing unlocks the untapped potential of discarded objects around the house. It also unlocks, I think, the untapped spiritual potential of one of the most beloved narratives in scripture, the story of Jesus’ so-called “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem (Matt. 21:1-11).

You see, Palm Sunday is about the repurposing of power.

Royal Hee-haw-thority

We don’t think much of donkeys and mules these days. My young children have already learned to view them as giggles-worthy creatures. Hee-haw! But in the ancient world, donkeys were not only beasts of burden, precursors to the U-Haul truck; they were also symbols of royalty. We have examples of ancient Sumerian poetry in which kings—with not a little bit of swagger, mind you—liken themselves to donkeys. Their advisors urge them to ride into town with appropriate pomp and circumstance, not on a horse but on a mule. We find the same in the Hebrew scriptures: Donkeys were the preferred mode of transportation for royal figures (e.g., Judges 10:3-4; 12:13-14; 2 Samuel 16:2).

After all, a leader of a coup d’état rolls into a city in a tank—or a war horse, as the case may be. But a true king approaches his people with nothing to prove, riding a vehicle that’s plodding, reliable, and built for comfort—like a limousine. Illegitimate authority is often marked by braggadocio and ostentatious displays of strength. Legitimate authority, however, is understated and secure.

So here comes Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a lim-mule-sine. This is an unequivocal demonstration of legitimate power. Here is symbolic action intended to make a clear, public statement: Jesus is King. It isn’t brash, but by no means is it self-effacing. Not in this moment. And even if the symbolism is opaque to modern readers like you and me, it could not be missed by his contemporaries. Why else do you think the crowd, with no external cues but the sight of the four-legged limo, begins to extol him with royal praise (Mark 11:8-10; John 12:13)?

Hosanna to son of David! Blessed is the King!

A “Low” Rider?

But, someone asks, doesn’t scripture describe Jesus in this moment as “humble,” “gentle” (Matt. 21:5; cf. Zech. 9:9)? Absolutely. But let’s be clear about this: “Humble” and “gentle” don’t indicate that Jesus was impoverished of power; rather, these words describe how he used his royal power—namely, not for his own advantage, but for the advantage of others. This is the point of Philippians 2 (cf. John 10:18). For all his apparent “nothingness” and “emptiness” on the Cross, it was his divine authority that made his blood eternally valuable for sinners. Jesus leveraged his “equality with God”—his power—for you and me.

Again, in this King’s kingdom, humility is not powerlessness. It is but a redirection of resources away from myself and toward others. Jesus is described as “humble” and “gentle” not because he was riding a donkey, but because he was riding one to the Cross. If Palm Sunday is a remembrance of the King who arrived with cruciform authority, then lying at the heart of Palm Sunday is the repurposing of power and authority.

Repurposing Power

If you’ve been rescued by the repurposed power of the Cross, here’s a Palm Sunday question for you: How will you, like your King, repurpose the power you possess? Power is typically deployed towards self—my name, my gain. To “repurpose” it would be to giving it a creative, alternate use. How can you redirect and redeploy resources away from yourself and toward your neighbor?

This repurposing of power can manifest in a variety of ways. It might involve transforming the power of your eyes—giving your attention towards a person in need, rather than having your gaze ever fixed on yourself, whether literally or figuratively. It might mean re-directing the power of your heart—turning the energy of your emotions toward some else’s tears, someone else’s broken body, besides your own. Or the power of your hands—using your gifts and creativity to lift others up and draw others in, particularly those suffering from injustice or social and spiritual marginalization. Or the power of your words, your money, your spiritual maturity, your social privilege, your education, your legal expertise, or woodworking expertise, or brownie-baking expertise.

All these things we habitually, even subconsciously, purpose toward Self—toward our own gain. Imagine if all these personal and communal powers could be redirected toward the advantage and advancement of our neighbors. Imagine what that could look like! Indeed, it’s a portrait worth carrying in our hearts—and laboring towards with our hands—because it’s in fact a portrait of the Kingdom of God.

That’s what happens to power and privilege in our lives, churches, and local communities, when the King mounts his donkey and rides on in.

Grace Downtown member Tom Niblock shares his reflections on our recent Faith & Work event.

On February 23, Grace Downtown hosted a Faith & Work ministry event. It focused on the question of when ambition becomes a sin, an ever timely topic in a city teeming with ambition at the center of our nation’s political power.

Casey led off the discussion by providing a bit of historical and theological context on ambition. He said that “the pursuit of glory is fundamental to our being.” I think this is a good starting point for this discussion. From the earliest pages of the Bible we see ambition as a central trait for many characters, in ways that are both bad and good. The creators of the Tower of Babel aimed to “build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens” with the goal of challenging God, and God intervened in a decisive way to thwart their efforts. At the same time, Joseph and Daniel were two individuals who rose from humble roots (some unpaid interns in D.C. could empathize) to head powerful governments in their respective regions and time periods. Without downplaying the role of God’s sovereignty in each situation, you could argue that both Joseph and Daniel demonstrated some measure of ambition in their rises.

However, even if we acknowledge that ambition is a normal, unavoidable, and potentially even good thing in life, it still raises another important question: for what are we ambitious? In my discussion group, we talked a bit more about how to distinguish good ambition from bad ambition. One person said that a key factor is knowing the ultimate purpose of that ambition. To pursue status, money, sex, or power as an ultimate goal is self-destructive because none of those things were intended to be pursued in that way.

Ambition as purely a desire to increase my status and fame, get me more money, or help girls find me attractive (an impossible task anyway) shades into sin because those things fill the place that God meant for Himself to fill. Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; to love something else above Him is to disorder our loves and distort our desires. The result is that you lose even when you think you win. This is the idea behind Jesus’ statement: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”

This is hard for many of us in DC, where it can sometimes feel like the whole world is up for grabs. As part of my job, I’ve had to find new positions every few years. Every time I have to find a new position, it forces me to ask: what I am looking for in my next position? Is what will help me learn new skills, expand my network, and help me get promoted? Or is it what will help me glorify God? Sorting through those conflicting motivations has been a challenge.

One final thought – perhaps at least part of our problem with ambition is not that we, even those of us living in a city defined by striving for and pursuing great things, are overly ambitious. Perhaps part of the problem is that we are not ambitious enough. C.S. Lewis writes:

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

As we think and pray more about the proper role of ambition in life, let’s also ask that we become people who are hard to please.

This piece was written by Sarah Kate Neall for our blog series for Women’s History Month, Bearing God’s Image.

When I was in elementary school, I watched an animated video called “Queen Esther” as often as I watched Beauty and the Beast or Aladdin.

Premise: Three adolescent archeologists, because adolescent archaeology is a thing, slip through a quicksandy-whirlwind during a dig and arrive in Susa, the royal city of King Ahasuerus / Xerxes I. They meet Esther, whose fabulous, flowing auburn hair is only rivaled by Ariel’s in The Little Mermaid.

Courtesy unsplash.com and Manu Camargo

I mention the hair because Esther’s usefulness at first lies in her beauty alone. The Biblical narrative emphasizes that Esther is “lovely in form and features;” that is, she is a total babe (Esther 2:7). The animation makes it especially clear that Esther is a very babe by contrasting her with Margot, the outspoken time-traveling archaeologist in a pixie-cut and cargo shorts.

Foreshadowing: Margot won’t get the guy, but Esther will. Ostensibly, Esther will save her people by retaining the guy’s affection, but the story leads us to look beyond looks for the real cause of safety.

Plot, with much abridgment: There’s a banquet. When the king Ahasuerus / Xerxes I summons his crazy-gorgeous queen Vashti and she refuses, the king gets embarrassed and banishes the queen, deciding to pick a new one. Just like that. The rebellious gal gets the boot (watch out, Margot), and all the maidens of the kingdom are rounded up and presented to the king, who hopes for a less-sassy consort. He chooses Esther, who is remaining silent about the fact that she is Jewish while the king is Persian. She is silent because her cousin Mordecai (an advisor to the king) tells her to be, and her docility (and possibly the hair) wins her the king’s favor. They marry, and there is a holiday.

However, there is a nobleman named Haman who has the king’s ear. He convinces the king the Jews are surely disloyal and should therefore be killed. Though she risks her own life by approaching him without a summons, Esther invites the king to a banquet, where she pleads with the king to spare her people and her. She reminds the king that Mordecai once stopped an assassination plot, the king remembers it, and the king angrily changes his mind, sending Haman to the gallows instead. The story is one of fortune reversed, of disaster averted for the Jews thanks to the timely but risky intervention of Esther. There is also prophetic dreaming and insomnia, but we’ll stick with the leading lady.

As I read the book of Esther in the Bible and re-watch the “Queen Esther” cartoon of my childhood, I start to notice the actions of this narrative falling into two basic categories.

Motif 1: Dudes feel wounded and lash out rashly. 1) The king is well into his cups when he summons his wife. When her refusal makes it look as if he can’t control her, he divorces her and issues an edict reminding wives to obey their husbands. That should do it, he seems to think. 2) After one night in his company, Esther “w [the king’s] favor and approval more than any of the other virgins,” and he immediately declares a holiday (Esther 2:18). The animated film compresses this moment even further, into about twelve seconds of conversation between Xerxes and Esther. 3) When Mordecai snubs Haman, recently promoted, by refusing to bow to him, Haman’s reacts by campaigning to exterminate Mordecai’s people (Esther 3:6). 4) In a flash of protective fury for his wife, Xerxes orders Haman to the gallows and tries to cancel the extermination scheme, telling the Jews that they can defend themselves where the attacks can’t be called back (this kingdom is huge, and the orders have already gone out).

A powerful male character feels a strong emotion — wounded pride, powerful attraction, betrayal — and responds with a swift, extreme decision either to dissolve a marriage, declare a holiday, decimate a population, or execute an adviser. The men with obvious power use it swiftly.

Motif 2: Esther’s actions unfold slowly. 1) At first she remains silent about her Jewish identity, “for she continue[s] to follow Mordecai’s instructions as she had done when he was bringing her up” (Esther 2:20). 2) Then, arriving on what sounds like a conveyor belt of virgins, she must wait at the palace for a year before meeting the king, and she goes through what sounds like a 12-month spa gauntlet to prepare. 3) When she hears of Haman’s plan to kill the Jews, she asks Mordecai to marshal the Jews in Susa for a three-day fast as she, too, fasts and ponders her next move. 4) When she goes to the king to petition for his protection, she first invites him to a banquet. Delaying further, she invites her husband and Haman to attend yet another banquet, where at last she reveals Haman’s hatred for Mordecai and her own Jewish status. She denounces Haman as a foe. It’s her first assertive verbal gesture, but she has been preparing for it. Esther’s moves, in contrast with those of Haman and Xerxes, take time to plan and execute. She is in a precarious situation which her beauty allows, but which her intelligence and patience ultimately secure.

Perhaps here we not only see patience and prudence and extreme, head-turning, world-toppling beauty rewarded, but we also see the providence of God. He is working and moving even when individuals are personally powerless to guarantee how the story ends. Xerxes drinks and sets chaos into motion; Haman casts lots to decide when he will send out genocidal forces on the Jews. The chance whims of those in power pose a real threat to the survival of the marginalized. As a woman, Esther has no official power; however, because the Lord provides, she restores safety to her people with her well-curated beauty, careful words, and well-chosen banquets.

I used to think this was a story of a woman who is conveniently very beautiful and obedient. I was cynical about that. I can find a reason for body-image issues in just about any text that makes much of female beauty, even a Biblical one. But I think I see Esther now as an example of someone who is also very brave in the midst of existential threat.

She lives on the margins of power, and there is no reason for her to feel safe, let alone in control. Ultimately, Esther is able to shape the story and save her people.

How can she muster up the courage to approach the king, knowing her beauty is a soft power at best? She knows that the king’s law is not the only law. She knows that she is not the story’s only teller.

Sarah Kate Neall is from Signal Mountain, Tennessee. When not mourning the long-ago loss of her Southern accent, she tries instead to convince people that they should call her by her double name. She lives in Washington, DC.

This piece was written by Stefanie Kreamer for our blog series for Women’s History Month, Bearing God’s Image.

Every once in a while I wonder what I might say to Eve, if I were ever to meet her.

“Seriously? I mean, really? You couldn’t have just, like, not eaten that forbidden fruit? Did it taste good?”

“What was it like to enjoy, at least for a while, true partnership with a man?”

“Did everything in the garden just grow perfectly? Did you ever have to weed?!”

“Were you really naked? Like, totally? Weren’t there bugs? Did you really feel no shame?”

“What was it like to talk and walk with God?”

Eve has always seemed complicated. She’s not exactly a role model and yet I find myself identifying with and learning from her.

Eve reminds me that God loves me.

Courtesy unsplash.com and Tim Mossholder

I’ve gone through periods of deep questioning whether or not the God I know and love cares for women as much as He does men. Just as the cunning snake whispered into Eve’s ear, “are you sure you can’t eat this fruit? Don’t you want true, full, God-like life?” I hear his whispers in my ear, “Are you sure you weren’t just created second, as an afterthought? Don’t you see how God doesn’t want you to have any real power, influence, or authority?” Dangerous words. Cunning. Lies. All too easily believed if heard on a bad day, a day with less Truth, and too much room for lies. Eve calls me back to a God of love. “Remember,” she whispers through the words of Genesis, “God made you. God made you on purpose. The world was only ‘very good’ once you were in it. It was ‘not good’ without you. Adam didn’t want the birds or the beasts as partners, or even to be alone with only God. He wanted you. Needed you. Not because he needed help with gardening and weeding and cooking (they didn’t really have laundry, I guess). He needed you in order to be himself, to more fully know God and love God. God knew that. You were always a part of the plan. God let Adam discover the plan so he would know better to love you, value you, work with you.”

Eve reminds me that I, too, am tempted by power, knowledge, and the false promise of more life.

I find myself tempted to think that I wouldn’t have listened to the serpent’s offer of knowledge and everlasting life. Surely I would have seen through his deceit. Or not. Society around me, and my own heart, are constantly questioning: “Are you doing enough? Being strong enough? Proving you’re a smart, powerful woman? Isn’t there something you’re missing out on? God must be holding back? Don’t you know you can have it all? Shouldn’t you ‘lean in’ just a little more.” Eve reminds me that “having it all” doesn’t mean much if “all” doesn’t mean God. She looked around, or maybe she didn’t, at the abundance of the garden, her companionship with Adam, her communion with God, and wondered that dangerous wonder, “maybe this isn’t enough? Maybe I could have more? Know more? Be more?” That wonder slithers into my head and heart too when I turn my back on the abundance of the cross, the fullness of an empty tomb, the gift of the Spirit, the promise of restoration, and I wonder if there’s still something missing? I imagine Eve taking one look back at the sealed off and forbidden garden. “I had it all,” her gaze says. “You will too, one day. Don’t listen to the snake.”

In those moments after eating the fruit, before being sent out of the garden, Eve is an imperfect being in an otherwise perfect world (well, aside from Adam, and the snake). Her communion with God, with Adam, with the Earth, even with herself is broken, changed. She can feel it. I can feel it. She can’t know the great hurt, or the great hope, the earth is about to receive. For a moment, just a moment, she’s utterly naked, spiritually and physically, and ashamed. What a strange feeling it must have been. Disorienting, the way the news of the death of a loved one, or terrible tragedy brings so much sadness that all you can feel is disoriented. How gentle God is with her- seeking her and Adam out, walking with them in the garden, coaxing out of them the world’s first confession, promising continued life and children, providing clothing for their naked bodies and grace for their naked souls. It leaves me feeling almost jealous of the realness of Eve’s relationship with God.

I can only wonder how Eve may have longed for her days back in the garden, how her heart broke as she saw the ripples of sin unfold in her family, in the world. I’ve never known her garden, and yet I long for it on those days when the world seems full of cement and anger and death. But there’s no way back, Eve reminds me. There is only forward, with Jesus, the ultimate child of Eve, who is making all things new.

Stefanie is West/best coast raised, but an East coast transplant. Stefanie likes long runs on the beach (note: not the shore/bay/lake), sunsets over the ocean (note: not sunrises over the ocean), and fish tacos (note: Baja seasoning, not Old Bay). That said, she has an irrational love for the city of Philadelphia. Stefanie grew up learning bits and pieces about Jesus from all kinds of different places, and when the pieces finally all came together one day she thought it was the best story she’d ever heard. Some are surprised she’s an introvert, and if you’ve thought she was extroverted it’s because something has energized her a lot! A good day would be filled with sun, dirt, working with her hands, and talking to people (but not too many people…introvert, remember?)

My father died recently. Even though he was 92, lived a long and fruitful life, and was declining in health (and thus his death in many ways was a relief), Dad’s death still hit me fairly hard. Here is a person I’ve known and loved literally my whole life, whom I will never see again this side of heaven. No more deep theological discussions, no more listening to his fascinating reports on how a humming bird’s wings work or some new insight into the human brain, no more just sitting quietly together by the fire. As much as you try to prepare for a parent’s passing, you never really can be quite ready.

Dad’s passing has got me thinking quite a bit this past week about some deeper issues: The purpose of our lives, the reality of death, the nature of heaven, the shortness of life, and so on. I’m struck by how little, it seems, most of us think about these things. We rush from activity to activity, from deadline to deadline, and in our goal-setting we so often fixate on the more immediate and temporal.

I wonder how differently we would live out each day if we knew that we were going to die, say, within the next three years? Or if we spent ten minutes each day in concentrated reflection on heaven (what a quick blip on the screen a 70 or 80 year life is in comparison to eternity!)? Or if we occasionally took a “big picture” inventory of our whole lives, rather than just thinking about the next few months?

There is a very strong current at work in today’s pop culture that pulls us away from regular meditation on heaven. If we don’t intentionally work against it, we’ll find ourselves—usually unconsciously—concerned more with being caught up more with the latest fashions, movies and technology, the status of our favorite sports team, and lots of near-future goals, than with heaven and hell. We’re conditioned to treat earth as our permanent home. C.S. Lewis is so insightful here:

You and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years. Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth.

Of course, the Lord wants us to live fully engaged in the present, not idly trying to live in the future. And there’s nothing wrong with enjoying God’s good gifts that are found in this physical, time-oriented world. But there’s a difference between being obsessed with the near-future versus living in light of heaven. Again, Lewis to the rescue. The devil, Lewis tells us, would like us to devote our primary energy either to the past or to the immediate future, whereas God would have us focus on the present (meaning: today) and the eternal future.

I’m not sure, but I can guess what a couple practical ramifications might be in our lives were we to live more regularly and self-consciously with eternity in view, where heaven, not earth, was our primary and most permanent home.

First, I think we would take more risks in life. So much of our energy (in a low-grade sort of way) goes into self-protection and personal security. The subliminal goal is to avoid suffering at any cost, and just constantly “play it safe” in life. And yet the reality is that our lives come and go so very quickly. In the grand scheme of things, what’s the big difference between living for 50 years versus 80 years? Why not make that extra effort of personal sacrifice that truly serves someone else rather than always “being careful” with preserving our lives? I long to live life with a little bit more wildness, walking more by faith, believing that God will take care of me as I take risks of obedience. For what’s the very worst thing that can happen to us if we choose to live more faith-filled, risky lives? Death? Well…so?!

And then, second, I think we would put more energy into big picture, long-term goals rather than immediate ones. We’d be more content with living our lives in secret rather than in a showy, flashy kind of way, where the accolades from others are more immediate, yet superficial. I think we’d give more attention to our own personal character, even though this isn’t seen right away in a sparkly way by others. As I’ve studied Augustine, I’ve been struck by how much emphasis he puts on the future rewards that God offers us in Scripture (and these really are mentioned fairly often in the Bible), as a motivating stimulus for our daily obedience. One reason God does this is to help channel our energy and motivations more toward the eternal-future rather than toward the superficial-immediate. One Day all the books will be opened and we’ll see what our lives truly consisted of—how much of our whole characters were aimed towards immediate praise of others or temporary glories versus that cosmic, “Well done!” from our Father who sees in secret.

Depending on who you talk to, Valentine’s day is usually either much-anticipated or much-dreaded.

In high school, you could secretly buy roses to send to someone in another homeroom on Valentines Day. I still recall the “popular” kids getting their dozens while the others just sat there feeling like losers. YUK! Valentine’s Day can still feel that way to people: Just another reminder that I’m alone.

The Christian faith teaches that when you come into the gospel, you enter a whole new world. (Resist the Disney song at this point—please.) Our view of family, friendship, singleness or marriage gets radically, beautifully transformed. The narrow way our culture defines these relationships gets blown up. And, so do our ideas about love.

Whether we’re romantically attached or not, we come to understand that we truly are the object of God’s inexpressible joy and delight—his Bride.

     For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name (Isaiah 54:5)

          You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
               and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
          You shall no more be termed Forsaken …
          but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her …
          for the Lord delights in you …
         and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
               so shall your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:3-5)

Our temporary, earthly lovers (though treasured) are outdone and outshone by our Lord—the Ultimate Lover.

          I have loved you with an everlasting love;
               therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.(Jeremiah 31:3)

     [You are] God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved. (Colossians 3:12)

          He will rejoice over you with gladness;
               he will quiet you by his love;
          he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)

We experience a community that reminds us of our value; one where pure and faithful affection abounds.

     Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown. (Philippians 4:1)

     Greet one another with a holy kiss. (Romans 16:16)

For some of us, we’re tired of hearing these verses. As you read, you may have thought, “Yeah, yeah, yeah—whatever.” But, that’s probably because we care more about human love than divine love. For others, you may have read those verses, shrugged and thought, “I suppose that’s nice to know.” If so, it is likely because human love has sadly satisfied you. But read those passages again. And again. And again. Re-read them until they become alien enough to sink in and you may find your heart pounding.

I know, it takes faith to believe that God’s love is unrivaled in passion, unyielding in jealousy, undying in faithfulness—I struggle daily to believe it myself. But our Groom’s self-sacrifice deserves our trust. Jesus came for you, lived for you, died for you, and rose for you.

What other lover can make that claim?

However you feel about Valentine’s Day, I hope on February 14th you’ll take time to experience True Love.

You may imagine that the Church has always been important to me. After all, I’m a minister! It’s my job! However it’s not the case. As I’ve remarked before, I grew un in a church-less home. We were agnostic. Mom came from generations of traditional Irish Catholics, though she herself no longer believed. Dad had no religious upbringing or commitments as far as I can tell. Nonetheless, they felt it couldn’t hurt to drop us off at the local Catholic church for a couple years until we got confirmed. I used those years to work on my one-liners, and sharpen my budding career as a “class clown.”

In high school my band director and his two sons, with whom I was close, shared the story of their faith in Jesus Christ with me. My band director was (and is) a fine jazz musician. He was also a man who drank a case of beer a day until a former student came to his door to share the gospel with him, and he was radically converted. When he asked me, “Would you like to attend a Bible study?” I thought it was crazy—but I trusted them. A year later, I believed.

My conversion, as you might imagine, made mom and dad nervous. My youthful and judgmental faith didn’t help. So, while I faithfully attended a weekly Bible study, bringing up the idea of attending church regularly seemed unwise. My Christian knowledge at that time was basic, my lifestyle pretty much still ‘pagan,’ and my spiritual growth moving ahead about 15mph. My life wasn’t changing much.

So I didn’t really attend church until my second year of college. After my first year (which was spiritually messy) at the University of North Texas, I transferred to Berklee College of Music in Boston. I got involved with Park Street Church, a solid, protestant, evangelical congregation. I attended both their Sunday morning worship services and their college Community Group with friends. For the first time I was hearing God’s Word preached faithfully and hearing it regularly. I had peers who took their faith seriously, and I learned to become vulnerable with them.
The few Christians I knew at Berklee and I started the campus’ first-ever Christian student group—which is still around today! The college pastor John Cuyler and his wife Carmel poured love and encouragement into me. And my life began to change. 

Thirty years later, I’m sure it wasn’t a coincidence that my life changed at the very same time that I “found” church. God has located his life-changing grace in the scripture, prayer and the sacraments, and within the context of a community called the church. Even today, as I serve in the church, worship in the church, participate in the mission of the church; learn to do friendship, marriage, parenting; weep, rejoice, suffer, repent, hope in light of the church, I keep changing. 

The church can be frustrating, tiring and disappointing—but mostly, I’ve found it life-changing.

Dear Grace Downtown Family,

Unless the weather forecast is a bust, and Metro and Calvary reopen, you’ll have a Sabbath snow-in. I wanted to pass along an idea of how you might spend that time.

If you have roommates, a family, or are within safe walking distance of other Christians–or on your own– you might plan to gather for a short time of prayer, singing, sharing Scripture, and listening to a sermon.

Begin by reading Psalm 147

Offer a prayer of praised to God

Print out lyrics to a hymn and sing

Listen to a sermon, such as this message from 2005 on our current year’s theme, Renewal.

Pray for our city during the blizzard: emergency workers, widows, the poor; that Christians would love and serve their neighbors.

May being snowed-in be a memorable time of communion with our Lord!

In addition, if you are going to be venturing outside today or at any time this weekend, please program this number into your phone: 1.800.535.7252 or 311 (@311DCgov). This is the Hypothermia Help Line. Help is available 24/7. Please call it if you see a homeless member of your community out in the cold, without shelter.

Thank you for your friendship and partnership in the gospel,

Glenn

One of the central messages of the Christian faith is that the gospel does not conform to the templates offered to us throughout our lives—even the political templates offered to us by other Christians. Any political project you undertake or any candidate you could support with your vote is both good and fallen at the same time, and a contemporary political goal should not be treated as representing uncomplicated gospel virtue.

We are prone to concocting lists of moral criteria by which we can safely consider ourselves “good” and as many people or groups of people as possible as “bad.” You see this in every culture, subculture and religious tradition in the world: The people who stay with their families are good, while the people who move away in search of adventure are bad. The people who are able to indulge in unfettered self-expression are good, while the people who repress a desire for any reason are bad. The people who have amassed wealth are respectable and good, while the people who lost it are unwelcomed and bad. The people who seem to be able to follow the tenets of our belief system are good, while the people who seem to struggle with it are bad.

Christianity, of course, subverts this dichotomy: It doesn’t teach that Christians are good and non-Christians are bad, but that Jesus alone is good and everyone else needs him. The problem is, even when we acknowledge that we need Jesus, our hearts are still prone to look for validation by setting up criteria it can use to compare ourselves favorably to other people. And for Christians, this often takes the form of “dissing the church.”

Church-bashing has become increasingly common in many corners of Christianity in the United States. Many people of sincere faith try to set themselves apart from the church (“I follow Jesus, but I don’t want to be called ‘Christian.’”). Others try to claim a level of enlightenment for themselves by conspicuously lamenting that the rest of the church doesn’t share it (“It bugs me that the church just doesn’t get it, so I don’t really do the church thing.”). But whatever form it takes, it still offers our hearts a sense of validation based on our own goodness over and against others’ badness, rather than based on God’s image redeemed by Jesus’ sacrifice.

As the election season heats up, candidates are going to try to galvanize the support of religious voters. Some of them will try to trade on our faith to make us angry, others will try to make us afraid, others indignant, and still others hopeful. We are going to see large numbers of our brothers and sisters in Christ loudly and repeatedly declare their support for their chosen candidate. We’ll see large faith-based organizations issue persuasively written press releases about why they are endorsing specific candidates. And we’ll even see pastors invite candidates to speak at churches across the country.

And we are going to be tempted to say in our hearts, “The people who do these things are bad, but thank goodness that I’m part of the small, faithful remnant of Christians carrying the gospel faithfully into the public sphere. I’m so glad that I’m not like them.”

That attitude is sinful. It not only looks to our own performance for validation instead of to Christ’s cross, but it also denigrates the church—the people Christ loves so much that he went to the cross for them.

It is extremely difficult to follow Christ while looking down on his people. The Bible refers to the people who have been saved by grace as the joy that sent Jesus to the cross, as Jesus’ bride and as his very body in this world. To follow Jesus is not to lord your moral authority over the church but to pour yourself out for its revival and restoration.

Honestly, I’m not always very good at conducting my conversations properly in light of this. I like being right, and I get an unfortunate, self-righteous pleasure from circumstances where I get to be right in front of people. But the project of critiquing the church needs to come from a place of love, from a desire to see the church reflect Christ more clearly in the world around us.

The next time another Christian you kind of know posts something on Facebook about their politics that sets your blood boiling, it would probably be easy to leave a comment chastising them and then turn off your notifications. You’ll get to feel like you had the last word, you’ll never have to deal with the frustration of seeing the way anyone responded to you, and you’ll get to feel like you were right. You separated yourself from the pack and gave yourself a clear moral standing: You’re a good Christian and that other person is not. But you’ll have done nothing to prepare Christ’s bride—the church—for the great wedding day.

For more on understanding and loving the church, › sign up for Winter Term today

This article originally ran on The Body Politic.

One of the responsibilities and privileges of church membership is praying for potential leaders and nominating them to our church’s Session and Diaconate. Many of you have spent this month praying for the nomination process and potential nominees, and I want to thank you for caring for our community in this way. Nominations are now open and we strongly encourage you to think and pray about those you know in our community who may be called to serve in these capacities:

The Roles and Responsibilities of Elders

Elders oversee the doctrine, vision, mission and spiritual formation of the church. Theyoversee and care for Community Groups and their leaders, they meet and counsel members, they lead us in prayer during worship, and they consider the big-picture questions our ministry faces. You can › listen to this sermon on the office of elder for qualities to look for, or › read a blog post on the office of elder.

Who to consider: You might look for men who’ve exhibited shepherding qualities, such as past and present CG leaders.

The Roles and Responsibilities of the Diaconate

The men and women of our Diaconate equip our congregation in the work of mercy and justice. They oversee our relationship with our local partner ministries, they address the physical needs of our community, they oversee our mercy team and local mercy initiatives, they equip us through forums and conferences and help manage our budget. You can › listen to a sermon on the Diaconate or › read a blog post on the role of the Diaconate.

Who to consider: You might look for men or women who’ve exhibited wisdom in service, such as those who serve on the Mercy Team.

Prerequisites To Submit A Nomination

You must be a member in good standing at Grace Downtown to nominate someone.
You may not nominate yourself, or lobby others to nominate you.

Process For Submitting A Nomination

Verify with nominee(s) that they are a member in good standing at Grace DC and meet the following additional requirements:

They have been a Christian for 3 years,
They have been a member of Grace DC for at least one year (see list of eligible members below),
They must have either taken the Discipleship Catalyst or be willing to within the next year.
They are a Community Group member.

Ask your nominee(s) if they are willing and able to serve as an officer, prayerfully considering: their calling, season in life, and intention to serve for at least two years.

› Submit your nomination(s). You may nominate multiple people for each office/role. You may submit your nominations all at once or fill out the form multiple times. Nominations are due Feb 1, 2016 by 5 pm.

Those who receive at least three nominations, including at least one from outside their Community Group, will be invited by the Session to participate in the candidate training process. All nominations will be held in confidence by Session; please also hold them in confidence.

This piece was written by Shapri LoMaglio for our blog series, Songs of Expectation.

I entered Christmas this year feeling low on faith. Perhaps that’s why I found myself thinking about Mary more than I usually do during Advent. After a year of feeling the barrage of sadness and despair following multiple incidents of violence in the form of mass shootings and terrorist attacks and police brutality; after a year of feeling tired from being in the middle of infighting within the capital “C” church, after a year of struggling with some of my most important relationships, after a year of feeling uncertainty about my professional future, I’ve been particularly struck by Mary’s faith. Mary had what I would call a long faith.

This is reflected in the song “Mary Did You Know?” The song asks a series of rhetorical questions about how much Mary understood about the Messiah to whom she was giving birth. Of course the answer is that Mary knew all of it and yet Mary knew none of it. Mary knew that Christ was the son of God, but she had no idea that his birth would cause her and Joseph to become refugees fleeing in order to save her baby son’s life. Mary knew that claiming she was giving birth to the Son of God would cause her to receive a great deal of mockery and disbelief, but she didn’t know that it would be 30 years of waiting before he began his ministry.  Mary knew the prophecies that Christ would save the world and rule over nations but she had no idea that he would do it by laying down his life in an excruciating death that she would bear heartbreaking witness to. Nor did she know that he would leave, work unfinished, promising to return again to bring final restoration.

Mary did you know that your baby boy

Would someday walk on water?

Mary did you know that your baby boy

Would save our sons and daughters?

Did you know that your baby boy

Has come to make you new?

This child that you’ve delivered

Will soon deliver you.

 

Mary did you know that your baby boy

Will give sight to a blind man?

Mary did you know that your baby boy

Will calm a storm with His hand?

Did you know that your baby boy

Has walked where angels trod?

When you’ve kissed your little baby

Then you’ve kissed the face of God.

 

Mary, did you know?

Mary, did you know?

The blind will see, the deaf will hear

The dead will live a-gain

The lame will leap, the dumb will speak

The praises of the Lamb.

 

Mary, did you know that your baby boy

Is Lord of all creation?

Mary, did you know that your baby boy

Will one day rule the nations?

So we join Mary in waiting for the final promise to be fulfilled. When there will be no more suffering, no more sadness, no more violence, no more miscommunication, no more worry, no more fear, no more disunity, no more death. I believe that. But in the meanwhile, I need Mary’s long faith to believe that seeing God’s promises may take a decade, or two, or three. Or that I might even die as Mary did still waiting for their final fulfillment.

I appreciate that Luke records Mary’s incredulity when the angel first approaches her. She asks the angel, “How will this [bearing a son] be, since I am a virgin?” Her response helps me relate to Mary. But after she’s had a minute to process the news, Mary surrenders, saying “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Then she begins to praise God singing, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…”

I need to remind myself upon reading Mary’s exclamation of joy that Mary was a single woman facing ridicule and ostracism by her community, the shame of her society, and the disbelief of her fiancée. Mary was willing to surrender everything in the face of a future unknown.

So as we celebrate Christmas this week, ending our season of waiting for Christ’s birth, we enter into a new season of waiting, one we live in perpetually, waiting for Christ’s final return. Jesus, help me to surrender in the face of the unknown. Holy Spirit, sustain me for a decade or two or three in the face of the world’s and my own suffering, pain, and brokenness. God, give me Mary’s long faith to believe in your promises when I cannot see and I do not understand.

Someday we won’t need faith. Isn’t that a miraculous thought?! 1 Corinthians 13 explains that while currently we have faith, hope, and love, love is the greatest because love is the only one that will remain eternally. In heaven we will need faith or hope no more. All of God’s promises will have been fulfilled and we will be able to see their fulfillment clearly. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Cor. 13:12) Until then, we pray, asking for faith to believe.

Mary had the dimmest of views at the greatest of costs, and yet she said “my soul magnifies the Lord.” Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, give me faith like Mary. Faith to surrender even when it costs me something. Faith to trust what I cannot fully understand. Long faith to believe even when I cannot see.

Shapri hails from Arizona, which, except for in 1997, has proved to be a detriment to every bracket she has ever filled out. Shapri has been attending Grace Meridian Hill since the beginning and is a deaconess. She loves dogs, every kind of board game, and living in community. She is new to this vulnerability thing and is contemplating going into hiding after this piece is published.

This piece was written by Ana Lopez Van Balen for our Songs of Advent blog series.

Sing sweet and low a lullaby till angels say Amen
A mother tonight is rocking a cradle in Bethlehem
While wise men follow through the dark, a star that beckons them
A mother tonight is rocking a cradle in Bethlehem

A little Child will lead them, the prophets said of old
In storm and tempest heed Him until the bell is tolled
Sing sweet and low your lullaby till angels say Amen
A mother tonight is rocking a cradle in Bethlehem

A mother tonight is rocking a cradle in Bethlehem
A mother tonight is rocking her Baby in Bethlehem.

I had never heard of this Christmas song first sung by Nat King Cole and re-recorded by many like Sara Groves until this week.  Since my discovery, I find myself pressing the repeat button over and over again. My heart yearns to sing the song, learn its lyrics, and engrave the words and melody forever unto my heart. I think it’s because this carol is more than a song, it’s a lullaby that hits the chord in my heart that longs to be a mother.  

 

See I’m 37 and have suffered two miscarriages, the latter of which occurred when I was 14 weeks pregnant.  The doctors cannot explain the losses nor what they term my subfertility—meaning, we can conceive hence we are not infertile. Since my last miscarriage almost two years ago, my husband Daniel and I have been in a cycle of waiting, trying, praying for discernment after every failed attempt and hoping once again each month as we begin the cycle again.

Our journey is not all what we would have hoped for nor imagined, seeing so many family and friends experience the joy of children (and for many multiple children). We sometimes feel left behind, as if we cannot move forward in life because of this milestone we just can’t seem to accomplish. Therefore, we are often excluded from the shared experiences that come from becoming a family (from children’s birthday parties, to mom’s groups) which only accentuates the hole already in our hearts.

Despite the emptiness in our home of little squeals, we consider ourselves fortunate to experience the many blessings God has bestowed upon us. And we know that one day there will be children in our home—adopted, fostered, and/or if God permits, biological. In the meantime, we wait, we long, we hope and we suffer, sometimes with those that are suffering and longing too.

It is from this place of longing that Daniel and I approach Christmas this year. For the first time, we are not excited about gift-giving or joyous parties. Our hearts seem to be gravitating to find simplicity this season, which is hard to find amidst family expectations and the fanfare all around us.

Thankfully, small still messages keep finding us in the most unexpected places, giving us hope in celebrating this season.  Messages that ask us to consider our legacy, our hearts towards others, sacrificing our comforts for the sake of those around us.  Matthew 5:13 says it best in The Message version:

“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth.  If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness?”

Isn’t that why God came to earth? To help us taste godliness through the birth of a child in a lowly manger? To encourage us, like the wise men, to heed that which beckons us towards Him? To motivate us to praise Him through our longings and tears that often bind us?

How grateful we should be for Advent, for this season, to help remind us to be salt and light in whatever circumstance we may find ourselves in. Let us sing sweet and low for those around us, who need that reminder and beckoning towards Jesus for peace, love and salvation.

Merry Christmas my brothers and sisters of Grace Meridian Hill. May we all have a New Year seasoned with god-flavors that we can only experience as we live out our hope in Christ with our neighbors and loved ones.

Ana Lopez van Balen is a social worker by training who has spent the last 15 years focused on supporting the healthy development of individuals, families & communities.  She currently is the National Director of Community Development at Urban Strategies-a national faith-based organization working to tool, connect, and resource grassroots organizations to serve children and families in need. She lives in Washington, DC with her husband, both of which are big believers in living locally–knowing your neighbors, supporting your local community and doing everything you can to help make it better place for all.  This means opening up their home to friends and neighbors, participating in the local food-coop and serving on the advisory council of a great local organization called Food For Life!​

This piece was written by Sarah Kate Neall for our Songs of Advent blog series.

It’s hard to talk about working at a boarding school without veering into the genre of either fantasy or horror; my first year, I couldn’t decide if this was a sweet gig or a sinister trick designed to drain me of my 20s. I daily paced tree-lined walkways and took part in a rich history of educating eager minds. Everywhere I looked, there was some gem of New England architecture or flowering of young intellect that made my heart thrill. On the other hand, in my first year, I felt like a fraud in the classroom, a joke of a coach, and I knew I sucked at making snacks for the dorm. At every turn, I felt inadequate and overwhelmed. The stories I was telling myself squared off with one another daily: My God, I’m so lucky! My God, I’m so tired!

Courtesy of unsplash.com and Jeff Sheldon

This contradictory chatter ran on a continual loop in my head all that first semester, but I remember one moment in which it abruptly ceased. I calculated the use of going to the Lessons & Carols service at the school chapel, and I decided attendance would at least get me brownie points for Involvement in School Life. I slid into a wooden pew and glanced at the back of the church, a space now filled with rustling red fabric. One of my students grinned in her chorus gown and waved. The lights dimmed further; the chapel quieted. A single note on the piano sounded, and now a pale soloist in front began:

Once in royal David’s city

stood a lowly cattle shed

The single voice… I don’t really know how to say it, but the voice melted the air. Gleaming like a silver ribbon, it spun into the cavernous chapel space and touched us like a spell, stilling the whispers, pouring into the pews, making the hairs on my neck stand on end. With just a few notes— here we were, in a different world.

Where a mother laid her baby

in a manger for his bed.

Mary was that mother mild,

Jesus Christ her little child.

For whatever reason — fine arts requirement, love of music, selfish calculation, or force of habit, we all were in that chapel, listening to a story where total opposites were simultaneously true:

He came down to earth from heaven,

Who is God and Lord of all,

And His shelter was a stable,

And His cradle was a stall:

With the poor, and mean, and lowly,

Lived on earth our Saviour holy.

I would only later reflect on the lyrics. Here was both quaint Victorian hymn and compelling theological paradox: ‘Lived on earth our Saviour holy,’ it says, like God is coming to earth from heaven. Baby and Almighty, all at the same time, no less humble for his God-ness, no less God for his infant status. It’s a hymn about one of the most alien and strange doctrines of Christianity, that God became man for a time, that he remained fully God and fully man while he dwelled on earth. It is weird.

That man-embodying, the Incarnation, gives the Christ story unique heft. If God demands righteousness, and then God gives himself in the form of a human, both to live out that righteousness and pay the cost for our failure to do so, then He is quite a God. He is not the kind of God who fits neatly into six-line stanzas. But he is a God who nevertheless knows the conditions of human life. He knows exhaustion and wonder. He knows thrill and terror. He grasps incongruous sets of feelings: I am so lucky; I am so tired. He knows all sides to our story.

None of this was in my brain at the time. I was just listening. There was nothing but to listen.

For He is our childhood’s pattern;

Day by day, like us, He grew;

He was little, weak, and helpless,

Tears and smiles, like us He knew;

And He cares when we are sad,

And he shares when we are glad.

I sat there in the pew of the prep school chapel, listening to the soloist with ears suddenly alert and mind absolutely quiet. The loop in my brain ceased. My hands wanted to open. There was only this clear, keen note rising to the rafters, an interruption by something like holiness.

The chorus joined for the second stanza. The gowns began to walk, slowly, down the aisle to proceed with the rest of the song and the concert. I sat back, started to breathe again and to think. All semester I’d been asking “Do I belong? Am I good enough? Am I a fraud?” But as the song rose and fell in the dim light, the questions were no longer mine; they became, instead, simply this:

“Do you know I love you?”

Here He is, Emmanuel, God with us, all the time, perhaps a bit more audibly at Christmas. He’s longing for us to see Him and know Him. We can wrestle with and rest in the paradox of His coming, and maybe we can dwell more richly in our own: so fortunate and so afraid, so known by Him and so loved anyway.  Let us listen:

And our eyes at last shall see Him,

Through His own redeeming love;

For that Child so dear and gentle,

Is our Lord in heaven above:

And He leads His children on,

To the place where He is gone.

Sarah Kate Neall is from Signal Mountain, Tennessee. When not mourning the long-ago loss of her Southern accent, she tries instead to convince people that they should call her by her double name. She lives in Washington, DC.

This post was written by Miranda Kennedy for our blog series, Songs of Expectation.

Christmas sparkled with magic and wonder in my very secular household growing up. Even though we weren’t regular church-goers, we of course knew the story of Christmas, and my two younger sisters and I loved hearing the details through my mother’s beautiful imagining: the brisk night air outside the barn where Jesus was born, the fluffy fur on the lambs snuggling up to their mother inside as they gathered around the newborn with the other animals. My mom gave us pieces of the story, loosely based on the Bible, as we opened the doors on our Advent calendars to reveal different images—a donkey, a manger. All five of us would gather around to put up the tree and hang the homemade ornaments, listening to a well-worn CD of Christmas music on the classical guitar.

For us, as for so many American families, the season’s meaning was only peripherally about Jesus. It was mostly to celebrate a different kind of love—the familial kind, being together. It was about continuing the traditions that my mother had grown up with, in the Anglican Church in England; it was about marking this time off separately in the year as special. We labored over the Christmas presents, often spending more time and energy on the wrapping than on what was inside. One year we stamped our own paper, and glued on ornaments and glitter so the packaging became like a homemade card.  

We were not consistent churchgoers, but we always attended the hymn service on Christmas Eve. That was a night when my lapsed Catholic father was much less likely to take issue with the sermon, or sigh heavily and make his way out past all the pews, to wait for us outside. My mother didn’t have issues with the church as my father did. It was something fairly unquestioned for her. Only later did she start examining and questioning, but when we were little, I think her actual belief mattered less than continuing the rituals of her own family, as is the case for many mainline churchgoers of her generation. Wherever we lived—and it was a great deal of cities when I was a child—she always found a Protestant Episcopal church in an effort to approximate the lovely liturgy of the Anglican church—it was beautiful, and it was familiar. I think she liked teaching us what she had learned as a child, and doing as her father would have wanted her to do.

After Christmas Eve service, we three girls would squish into the back of the Volvo station wagon. I remember feeling the cold air penetrate our wool tights, and my mom handing us a prickly woolen blanket to spread out along our laps. Driving home, we would shout out a tune and the words “I see lights!” every time we passed a house lit up with Christmas lights. Sometimes, filled with the spirited mood of the night, my mom would sing bits of the hymns we’d heard in the service. She knew the words to many of them by heart, but we all knew her favorite was “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem.”

That one, we would save for when we got back home. The distinct and magical feeling of childhood Christmas is distilled for me in these moments: the car ride in the back of the Volvo after church on Christmas Eve, and my dad unlocking the big oak door of the house we lived in for many years. Inside, the smell of clementines and pine, sugar cookies, and an English plum pudding stewing somewhere on the counter.

Christmas Eve meant coming home in the dark and going to bed in the dark. My mom would have candles lined up on the counter ready to light, and we would each light one to carry up to bed. I’m not quite sure why, but the ritual for that night was that we never turned on a light after church. We walked upstairs together, holding our candlesticks, trying not to spill the hot wax onto our thumbs, and following my mother’s lead as she sang the words:

O little town of Bethlehem

How still we see thee lie

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep

The silent stars go by

Yet in thy dark streets shineth

The everlasting Light

The hopes and fears of all the years

Are met in thee tonight.

Walking slowly upstairs, my sisters’ uneven steps behind me, I would focus intently on balancing the candle. Somehow I would convince myself that memorizing the lyrics to the song would help me not tip the saucer, not to let the flame catch in my mother’s scarf. I’d measure our steps to the deliberative pace of the hymn, and feel its peace and sweetness wash over me.

There was something so safe about that time, walking together as a family in the dark. We knew my parents would fill our stockings in the dark after we went to bed, that we would hear Dad humming the tune under his breath as he carried our presents downstairs and drank down the thimble of whiskey we left out for Santa. Thinking of those things, the words of the hymn would echo in my mind.

For Christ is born of Mary

And gathered all above

While mortals sleep, the angels keep

Their watch of wondering love

O morning stars together

Proclaim the holy birth

And praises sing to God the King

And Peace to men on earth.

“Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” was written for Christmas services of 1868 by Reverend Phillip Brooks of the Church of the Holy Trinity, an Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. He had just returned from a trip to Palestine. In a letter home, he wrote this of the visit that inspired the hymn:

“After an early dinner, we took our horses and rode to Bethlehem…It is a good-looking town, better built than any other we have seen in Palestine… Before dark, we rode out of town to the field where they say the shepherds saw the star. It is a fenced piece of ground with a cave in it (all the Holy Places are caves here), in which, strangely enough, they put the shepherds. The story is absurd, but somewhere in those fields we rode through the shepherds must have been… As we passed, the shepherds were still ‘keeping watch over their flocks or leading them home to fold.’”

I love knowing what the man who wrote the hymn saw, and imagining him, stiff on his horse, somewhat skeptical in general—and then a little astonished at the peace and stillness. That is the feeling Reverend Brooks’ hymn creates for us.

How silently, how silently

The wondrous gift is given!

So God imparts to human hearts

The blessings of His heaven.

No ear may hear His coming,

But in this world of sin,

Where meek souls will receive him still,

The dear Christ enters in.

As a child, I wanted to picture that sweet scene; each year I would imagine the cloth of her garment—rough cotton, I thought, light blue—her hair falling under it. My mother always emphasized that it wasn’t a very sanitary place to birth a child, so I often imagined the smell of dung in the barn.

But now, the words to the hymn do not inspire only a series of poetic imaginings about that night.

This year will be the first Christmas I will celebrate as a true believer. So what I think of now is the light. The silence over those shepherds, and then the light in the sky as a star unlike any other shone through. Everything changed, then. When the sky opened up, a fresh, vivid love spilled out over Bethlehem from the sky.

Now when I think of those nighttime rides in the Volvo, I think of the same star that guided us home. Year after year, when I walked up the stairs balancing my candle on Christmas Eve, Jesus was there with me waiting for me to know him. His grace is there spread through the boughs that decorate Grace Meridian Hill this month, and it is in the kindness in the faces of my brothers and sisters in the pews. Everything anew. Thank you, sweet Jesus, for waiting for us for all these Christmasses.

O holy Child of Bethlehem

Descend to us, we pray

Cast out our sin and enter in

Be born to us today

We hear the Christmas angels

The great glad tidings tell

O come to us, abide with us

Our Lord Emmanuel.

Miranda Kennedy is an editor and producer at NPR. She’s the author of the book Sideways on a Scooter about women’s lives in India. 

This piece was written by Stefanie Kreamer for our blog series, Songs of Expectation.

Expectations. They get us into trouble, or at least leave us with dashed hopes and broken hearts.

I expected that my best friend would remember my birthday. I expected that I’d be married by now. I expected that I’d be able to have children. I expected that my boss would respect me. I expected that my hard work would pay off and I would feel fulfilled. I expected that black and brown lives would matter.

I expected that things would be…different.

Even when expectations seem quite reasonable, they leave us vulnerable, at the mercy of someone else to meet…or not.

A great deal of conflict arises from differences in expectations- among friends, co-workers, family, local and international leaders alike.

Courtesy of unsplash.com and Kristof Rasschaert

God’s people, too, had (and have) expectations that were heart wrenching and conflict inspiring. From the moment Adam and Eve left the Garden, God went before his people, and followed after them, leading and leaving trails of expectation. “Expect me to show up,” he was trying to teach them. It was the beginning of Advent.

I will bless your children and your children’s children. Expect me.

There’s fire in this bush. Expect me.

There’s water in this rock. Expect me.

There’s manna falling from heaven. Expect me.

I rescued you; I will rescue you. Expect me.

I give you this king; I will give you a King. Expect me.

I am your strength, your consolation. Expect me.

I will bring joy to your longing heart. Expect me.

“Expect me,” God whispered for centuries into wandering desert trails, on cliffs and in valleys, in palaces and huts, to men and women and children, to the young and the old, the familiar and foreign, the rich and the poor. All of creation was living in Advent- looking for signs of Jesus, feeling vulnerable and impatient, caught between great hope and anxious despair.

Wilderness wandering and high leader turnover taught a stubborn and self-reliant people how to expect God to show up. Faith-filled expectation doesn’t come naturally to them, or me. It’s one thing to expect to be paid on time, or for a good friend to lend a listening ear. It’s quite different to expect the God of the universe to come and fulfill all of my longings, to be the restorer of the whole wide world.

But amidst all the chaos and tenuous promises of the world, we have a God who whispers gently, and sometimes shouts, into our stubborn ears and hearts: expect me! The glory of Advent is that the longing and expecting, the searching and wandering, does end. Jesus comes! (Perhaps not as was expected…those expectations, man, they’re tricky business). God bids us wait, expect, learn to long for him. But not forever. Advent was never meant to last forever. Jesus came! Messy and fleshy from birth to death. He tastes our sadness. We taste his glory.

 It encourages me that the impulse to long for a world more beautiful, more peaceful, more just, more healthy is not simply childish discontentment; instead, it is living a life of Advent hope. God’s final word to us isn’t “wait, hold on” it’s “I’m here, come in.” I’m not always sure what exactly I’m expecting when I long for the end of our current Advent, for a time when Jesus returns and shalom invades and reclaims the earth. The Advent of Christmas tells me that expecting Jesus, now and one day more fully, is the surest and most glorious expectation I can have.

Stefanie is West/best coast raised, but an East coast transplant. Stefanie likes long runs on the beach (note: not the shore/bay/lake), sunsets over the ocean (note: not sunrises over the ocean), and fish tacos (note: Baja seasoning, not Old Bay). That said, she has an irrational love for the city of Philadelphia. Stefanie grew up learning bits and pieces about Jesus from all kinds of different places, and when the pieces finally all came together one day she thought it was the best story she’d ever heard. Some are surprised she’s an introvert, and if you’ve thought she was extroverted it’s because something has energized her a lot! A good day would be filled with sun, dirt, working with her hands, and talking to people (but not too many people…introvert, remember?)

When I was a little girl, I slept with a nightlight on long past when was probably reasonable because the attic bedroom I shared with my sister was irregularly shaped, creating dark and menacing nooks. My imagination readily populated these dark places with fearsome creatures. The soft glow of the nightlight allowed me to see my room more clearly and it calmed my fears.

We live in a world which is a lot like that attic room. It’s full of dark places, places that feel forsaken and impossible. In this case, we don’t need to imagine the worst when we can turn on the news and see unspeakable violence and terror in Beirut, in Paris, in Mali, in our own city. Our imaginations fail us when we consider how to fix broken systems, how to heal broken lives, and how to restore broken hearts.

And when we take a moment to look inward we see the shadows our own hearts casts, the “dark guests” as a Puritan writer once put it, who overstay their welcome. We don’t need to conjure monsters, because if we’re honest, we can see them lurking around our own hearts. We are not creative enough to figure out how to destroy them and even if we were, we lack the means to do it.

This feels hopeless, right? We are people longing for light to break in and scatter the darkness.

Which is perhaps why the first candle that is lit during Advent is the Hope candle. This little flame, like my nightlight, is a reminder that we have a Light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5).

We need Jesus, the Light of the World, to come in and illuminate this world so we can see clearly and have our fears stilled, because through the cross, he has already overcome the darkness. As the singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen so beautifully put it, “Ring the bells that still can ring/forget your perfect offering/there is a crack in everything/that’s how the light gets in.”

And so on Wednesday, December 2 at 7pm, Grace Meridian Hill is hosting a joint prayer service with Grace Downtown and Grace Mosaic called “Give Us Grace: Longing for Christ’s Advent.” We will worship God and welcome him into the dark places in this world, in our relationships, and in ourselves. We hope that you will join us as we hold up the cracked and broken things of this world to God and watch how the Light breaks through them. And by joining together with our sister congregations, we look forward to our future together in Christ’s kingdom.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with the prayer on which our prayer night is based. It is the Book of Common Prayer’s collect or prayer for the first Sunday in Advent:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever, Amen.

Juliet Vedral is the Community Life Coordinator for Grace Meridian Hill.

When I was a little girl, I slept with a nightlight on long past when was probably reasonable because the attic bedroom I shared with my sister was irregularly shaped, creating dark and menacing nooks. My imagination readily populated these dark places with fearsome creatures. The soft glow of the nightlight allowed me to see my room more clearly and it calmed my fears.

We live in a world which is a lot like that attic room. It’s full of dark places, places that feel forsaken and impossible. In this case, we don’t need to imagine the worst when we can turn on the news and see unspeakable violence and terror in Beirut, in Paris, in Mali, in our own city. Our imaginations fail us when we consider how to fix broken systems, how to heal broken lives, and how to restore broken hearts.

And when we take a moment to look inward we see the shadows our own hearts casts, the “dark guests” as a Puritan writer once put it, who overstay their welcome. We don’t need to conjure monsters, because if we’re honest, we can see them lurking around our own hearts. We are not creative enough to figure out how to destroy them and even if we were, we lack the means to do it.

This feels hopeless, right? We are people longing for light to break in and scatter the darkness.

Which is perhaps why the first candle that is lit during Advent is the Hope candle. This little flame, like my nightlight, is a reminder that we have a Light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5).

We need Jesus, the Light of the World, to come in and illuminate this world so we can see clearly and have our fears stilled, because through the cross, he has already overcome the darkness. As the singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen so beautifully put it, “Ring the bells that still can ring/forget your perfect offering/there is a crack in everything/that’s how the light gets in.”

And so on Wednesday, December 2 at 7pm, Grace Meridian Hill is hosting a joint prayer service with Grace Downtown and Grace Mosaic called “Give Us Grace: Longing for Christ’s Advent.”We will worship God and welcome him into the dark places in this world, in our relationships, and in ourselves. We hope that you will join us as we hold up the cracked and broken things of this world to God and watch how the Light breaks through them. And by joining together with our sister congregations, we look forward to our future together in Christ’s kingdom.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with the prayer on which our prayer night is based. It is the Book of Common Prayer’s collect or prayer for the first Sunday in Advent:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever, Amen.

Juliet Vedral is the Community Life Coordinator for Grace Meridian Hill.

“I don’t know where to put things, you know? I really do have love to give! I just don’t know where to put it.”
(From Magnolia by P.T. Anderson, quoted by Wesley Hill in Spiritual Friendship, p. 20)

This is a follow-up to our recent article, "What Is Spiritual Friendship?" and this past Sunday's first class on Spiritual Friendship.

The above quote is spoken by Donnie, a lonely middle-aged man. His poignant lament resonates with so many people today, even people in the church. Loneliness plagues many of us, follows us around like our shadow, ever present. Even in a crowd.

But this is actually the way we were made. We were made in God's image, and God, as he reveals of himself in the Trinity, is three persons in relationship with one another, enjoying mutual love and mutual adoration. The early church fathers referred to the Trinity's relationship as “perichoresis,” a word from which we get “choreography.” So, it is appropriate to think of the Triune God in a dance with himself, Father, Son and Spirit.

This is the image of how we are meant to live: In relation with others, loving and being loved. But the Fall messed that all up. So many of us are left saying, “I have love to give. I just don’t know how to do it.”

The culture around us is more than happy to tell us how to give love: We're told that we should give love physically, that we should give love in ways that bring us pleasure, that we should give it when it's convenient for us to give it and that we can take it back when it is no longer useful to us.

But what does the church have to say to the Donnies of the world? To the Donnies and Marys in our pews who have love to give? As unintentional and uncritical as the culture around us is about giving love, the church has responded by swinging to the other end of the pendulum, promoting intense intentionality toward marriage. “Marry or bust.” Typically, the church tells them to find a husband or wife to give love to, and that until they find that husband or wife, they should love their neighbor as generically as possible.

For those of us in the church, let’s consider spiritual friendship as a path to learning how to give love. Spiritual friendship is an intentional relationship built around a common desire to bring out the righteousness in the other person. Spiritual friendship is a chaste love that is willing to sacrifice for the friend’s good. Spiritual friendship is a choice two people make to commit themselves to the good of one another.

John Macmurray, a 20th-century Scottish philosopher and Christian, appreciated the importance of friendship. He wanted to live according to the maxim, "All meaningful knowledge is for the sake of action, and all meaningful action is for the sake of friendship." Macmurray is arguing against the ascendency of the autonomous self that grew out of Descartes’ maxim, “I think, therefore I am.” We might better say “I love, therefore I am,” with the biblical understanding that love is an action, not a feeling. That’s the goal and the challenge of spiritual friendship.

›Put It Into Practice: How would our relational lives change if we sought to know others, not to simply categorize them, but so we could befriend them and love them better?

This reflection by Stefanie Kreamer was written in response to Duke’s sermon on Sunday, November 8, “The Bible is Too Unreliable” which will be posted up in the coming days.

Photo courtesy of unsplash.com and Aaron Burden

I was raised by scientists and became a Christian scientist (a Christian who is a scientist, to be clear). While these two communities have not always meshed well or easily, as I become more deeply involved in each of them, the more I see and appreciate their similarities rather than their differences. This past Sunday I reflected on this during Duke’s sermon on the Bible as a reliable text.  

When I read scientific papers, I use a “rating system” to help me decide on the quality and reliability of the article. Is the topic being addressed an important one? Were its methods reasonable and in keeping with scientific standards? Are the results valid and meaningful, and would they affect my work as a doctor? After going through the algorithm, the paper gets a score, like a grade in school- A, B, or C.

Now there’s no doubt that science papers and scripture are different- though, I would argue, both have similar goals of telling the truth about our world in order to lead us towards more Life. And my rating system algorithm can’t be used in quite the same way for scripture (Jesus didn’t mention any randomized control trials, though I think his sample size would have been big enough ). That said, science papers require a good bit more faith to read and digest than I often acknowledge. Similarly, scripture actually does, in its own way, hold fast when subjected to scientific algorithms, though we often worry it is too fragile, and better not to put it to the test.

Last week I read a new paper about a medication for foot fungus (yes, my job is sometimes THAT exciting) that I’ve been thinking about starting to prescribe. I ran through my rating algorithm and decided, yes, this is a reliable paper. Three days later I prescribed the medication for the first time (foot fungus- be gone!). Now, I suppose the jury is still out on if that was a good decision. I’ll see that patient back in four weeks. Despite a reliable, well researched paper, I still didn’t have my own proof. I didn’t run those experiments myself; I didn’t write the paper; I’ll never look under a microscope to see firsthand the evidence that this medication is safe and effective. To move forward, I still needed a dash of faith, a willingness to give something new a try based on the results and suggestion of others.

On Sunday  morning, I read through parts of the book of Jeremiah which call me to follow God into new lands that don’t feel like home, to trust he’ll care for me, and to make it my mission to serve my neighbors and hold fast to God’s promises of grace and forgiveness and a world made new. Everything in scripture, all of creation, Jesus himself, countless of my own stories, and the stories of others, tells me this is a good and reliable message. Its author is someone I know well, someone I know much better than the Mayo Clinic doc who wrote about foot fungus. It gets an evidence rating of A. So why is it harder to believe? The reliability of scripture is more undeniable than I allow myself to believe. Now one could argue that scripture is talking about matters much more important than foot fungus. But isn’t that just the point? With the stakes so high, and the text backed by the Triune God and thousands of years of results, the question isn’t do I have enough faith (though, yes, I do need a good amount!); it’s will I respond to, follow, and obey what I know to be reliable and true.

Stefanie is West/best coast raised, but an East coast transplant. Stefanie likes long runs on the beach (note: not the shore/bay/lake), sunsets over the ocean (note: not sunrises over the ocean), and fish tacos (note: Baja seasoning, not Old Bay). That said, she has an irrational love for the city of Philadelphia. Stefanie grew up learning bits and pieces about Jesus from all kinds of different places, and when the pieces finally all came together one day she thought it was the best story she’d ever heard. Some are surprised she’s an introvert, and if you’ve thought she was extroverted it’s because something has energized her a lot! A good day would be filled with sun, dirt, working with her hands, and talking to people (but not too many people…introvert, remember?)

Giving thanks was the focus of this month’s Engine Room and this ranged from sharing the Lord’s Supper together and offering thanks for Jesus to thanking the members of different ministries for their service to the community. In between we spent some time offering thanks for “unexpected blessings”–situations or circumstances that have shown themselves to be places where God is working. Here are some of those prayers:

“Thank you Lord for all of the things I am learning about you and myself through my job search: clarity in the direction you want me to take in my career, re-prioritizing, submitting fully to your control over direction in my life.  I am thankful for the peace of knowing you have absolute control over my life.”

“God, thank you that through years of addiction in many of my family members, you have taught me compassion for them and for myself by your compassion for me.”

“Despite being perpetually lonely and vulnerable and overwhelmed while doing much solo-parenting and much out-of-home-work this year, I am grateful for renewed knowledge that Jesus is my friend, husband, co-parent, co-worker, boss, and does in fact give more than enough.”

“[Thankful for] the blessing of being in a new place, making adjustments in a city of people who don’t know me–the humility that is thrust upon you when you’re separated from the people and things you were trusting in and looking to for identity, worth, significance. … the blessing of raising support for my salary–being made totally reliant on the Lord. …Thank you for putting people into my life who are struggling, thank you for the opportunity to love them, even when it often feels draining.”

“Lord, thank you that through violent acts involving racism on the news recently, you have helped us make a start of talking about our fear and pain.”

“Lord, thank you for the wisdom, grace, and growth that has unexpectedly come from experience, the loss of loved ones. Help me to know that you are still present in the midst of another tragedy.”

“The unexpected blessing of deep, meaningful friendships with so many people who are so different from me.”

“Thank you for my wife’s patience and love, children in our church, volunteers every week, the praise and power of music.”

“Dear God, thank you for the news. Being aware of the suffering in the world tore me down God. I felt so helpless seeing faces of hurt families and hurt communities. But I see you are stronger and you remind me [through] every story that you are working in this world through hope. Thank you for keeping my eyes open that I can pray for others. Thank you for being stronger than this world.”

“[Thankful for] my divorce that humbled me and showed my lack of control, poverty [that] shows my need for God, empathy through experiencing injustice, tragedy that stops busyness, self-work, and self-occupation, sleepless children [that] give me time to pray in the night, God who is hidden sweetens the times He comes near.”

“Recently I have been learning the true depth of my roommate and good friend’s anxiety and depression and unhealthy/dependent tendencies. My immediate reaction is to try to fix her and make her better, but through this time I am learning more and more that the Lord is the only provider of true healing and he is showing the ways I try to fix my own failures and mistakes through my own strength and self-reliance. Through seeing how poorly I am able to encourage her the Lord is teaching me to trust him as I struggle through my own doubts and insecurities.”

“Lord thank you for allowing me to be single even though I long to be married. Thank you for teaching me that I will not die if I do not get what I want. Thank you for hard-won lessons of abundant living in the face of unfulfilled desires. Thank you for all you are doing to teach me how to desire rightly, that I might fear your name.”

“Thank you for the gift of singleness that has allowed me to have many deep friendships.”

“[Thank you for a] really hard year in my marriage, but I believe in the end our marriage will be stronger and more whole. Thank you, Lord for not leaving us in complacency.”

“[Thank you for] empowering me through prayer to deal with and actively show love to a very broken coworkers. Our relationship has begun to change. [Thank you for a] job that has lasted way beyond the original contracted time. [Thank you for] growth in fellowship with my brothers and sisters at Grace Meridian Hill after many years of seeking deeper connections.”

“In breaking one of my bones God taught me how to care for those undergoing trials and suffering.”

“We lost a daughter this year. It was terribly sad, confusing, scary, and maddening. We are still working through things. It is still raw sometimes. We don’t know how to respond. But we can feel God in the midst of it. He hasn’t left. God, thank you for your continued presence.”

“[Thank you for] difficulty getting along with co-workers, leading to increasing faith in God’s purpose in placing me there.”

“[Thankful for] someone new in my life, a possible friend, [who] suggested I was making work too important.”

Dear Grace Meridian Hill family,

I invite you to read this brief reflection on sexuality, recently written in response to a sermon preached at our Downtown congregation. These powerful words — which weave together the ever-relevant themes of faith, sexuality, identity, marriage, community, and (surprise!) church membership — were written anonymously by a gay, celibate member of Grace Downtown. In an age of lively discussion and debate about sexuality, even within the Church, here is an important voice and perspective that’s all too often missed, forgotten, or even at times denied.

Walking with you,
Duke

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

I’m gay. The single most challenging aspect of my Christian life is the conflict between my sexuality and Christian orthodoxy.

I came out at age twelve. My attractions to the same gender have been constant since puberty. I don’t expect them to change. I would like to get married and raise a family. I want to marry someone I love, including physically.

I don’t expect my faith to change either. I asked Jesus into my heart at age three. I can’t imagine getting married outside God’s will and his church.

I believe the Bible is clear when it says God designed exclusively opposite-gender marriage. I’ve read the commentaries that purport to prove otherwise. I can’t agree. They all seem to start, rather than end, with their desired conclusion.

My conflict isn’t abstract. It shows up in my daily Christian walk too. My church is full of opposite-gender couples. We rightly celebrate all their engagements, marriages and babies. I am not expecting to hit those milestones. I feel like a perpetual adolescent by comparison.

God’s promise to give us “a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29) rings hollow to me if marriage and sex are ultimate goals.

But if God intends marriage and sex to be a temporary picture of the permanent relationships he seeks to share with his people, then I already have the thing pictured, which means I needn’t pine for the picture. Being God’s child means “I am my Beloved’s, and my Beloved is mine.” That is already true, and and I will experience it more perfectly soon.

I don’t regard my sexuality as evil. It’s broken, to be sure, like everybody’s sexuality. But the longings at its foundation—to know someone and be known by him, to be accepted unconditionally, to share pleasures and hardships, to exchange expressions of love—are good. God gave me those desires. He promises to satisfy them.

My friends’ opposite-gender marriages are worth celebrating because they depict the permanent reality of being “joined to the Lord” and becoming “one spirit with him” (1 Corinthians 6) – not because they offer some sort of permanent fulfillment in themselves.

Reconciling homosexuality and faith seems to have been just as hard for the early Christian church that Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 6 as for me. For the first-century Corinthians, as for me, sexuality implicates both body and spirit (verse 18). Glenn points out that the popular culture of the time, just like ours, encouraged people to pursue their appetites (verse 13). There were gay people in God’s church then, as there are now (verse 11). The conflicts between sexuality and orthodoxy were difficult enough that Paul had to use strong language (verse 18).

When I interviewed to become a member at Grace, the elder interviewing me said his own membership was as important to him as his marriage. I was surprised at the time, and his statement has stuck with me for years.

Our society assigns cosmic significance to marriage and treats church membership like joining a social club. Even our contemporary Christian culture idealizes marriage while viewing church membership as temporary—sometimes even subordinate to marriage, as though the main purpose of a congregation is to strengthen its members’ marriages. I had absorbed that view.

But Paul’s letter to the Corinthians tells me I need to flip that perspective. The Family of God is our most important, and our only permanent, affiliation.

Marriages within our Family are at their best and most satisfying when they help husbands and wives understand the intimacy and self-sacrifice God seeks with his people. Marriages aren’t the only way to celebrate God’s intimate, sacrificial love for us—if they were, it would be a sin not to marry.

The Family of God offers other ways, in addition to the sexual one, to experience, express, and celebrate his love. Gay or straight, God put us here to try to build Grace Downtown to be that kind of a place.

Please pray for me, and for all of us, as we try to do this.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Dear Brother,

Thank you for your transparency, your thoughtful words and insights, and your uncommon example of faithfulness to Jesus, his Church, and his Word. We honor you.

Yours in Christ,
Duke

For a long time, the Christian church has considered friendship an inferior relationship to family, marriage or romantic love. When was the last time, for example, you heard of a seminar or conference on friendship compared to the last time you heard about a seminar on dating or marriage? We as the Body of Christ have not spent much—if any—time exploring the beauty and benefits of friendship. When the most often-quoted book on spiritual friendship was written by a 12th century English monk rather than a contemporary author like Tim Keller, you know the church has virtually forgotten the issue.

So what is a spiritual friend? My guess is that most of us would say, “A friend who is a Christian.” That’s a good start, but it is too passive a description.

Let’s start by stating that spiritual friendship is a kind of love. But let’s also remember that “love” is an active verb, not a passive one. As Jesus points out in the parable of the Good Samaritan, “loving our neighbor” does not mean having good feelings about them—it means actively caring for their needs.

To love is to do.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

So if spiritual friendship involves love; and if, as evidenced by Jesus’ life, love requires action, then spiritual friendship is loving another in a way similar to how Jesus, who called us friends and did whatever was necessary for our growth in righteousness, loved us. From this, we can conclude that a spiritual friend is someone we love enough to ask, “What can I do to make this person’s life better?” “What can I do to enhance her glory?” “What can I do to help him flourish as God wants?”

Spiritual friendship is not primarily concerned with how I am helped by the friendship. (That’s what Aelred, the 12th-century monk I mentioned earlier, called “worldly friendship.”) And it’s not primarily concerned with what pleasure the friendship brings me. (Aelred called that “carnal friendship.”) Instead, taking its cue from Jesus, spiritual friendship persists through the times that are difficult, the times that would normally “test” a friendship, the times when the friendship becomes costly to us.

We need to explore what spiritual friendships can and should look like in our lives. What would it mean for single men to pursue spiritual friendships with women, and vice versa? What would it mean for celibate gay men to pursue spiritual friendship with other celibate gay men? What would it mean for the health of our church for people to commit to spiritual friends in the same way Jesus commits himself to us?

To explore this question in more detail with others, join us for the Spiritual Friendship class being presented as part of Gospel Perspectives on November 15 and 22.

[button href="/grow/classes/2015/11/spiritual-friendship/"]Learn more about the Spiritual Friendship class[/button]

Last spring, Grace Downtown offered a class and discussion on The Bible & Sexuality, which looked at sex and sexuality through the lens of the four chapters of the gospel story: Creation, Fall, Redemption and Consummation. If you would like to revisit those classes, links to the recordings are below:

Recording One: Creation, Fall

This post is by Nana Apanem Dagadu. 

When Jessica Pryce asked me if I would be interested in volunteering with the new girls mentoring program in August 2013, it was pretty much an answered prayer. Summer Bible Club had just ended and I wanted to dive into the GMHC community more regularly. However, I was worried how I would juggle mentoring along with full-time work, family life with a one year-old, and mum’s group events. This would be totally different from when I was a youth group leader at Faith Christian Fellowship in Baltimore with only work to balance. Nevertheless, I said yes and eagerly awaited the first session the week after Labor Day.

That first day, I was a little late so the other volunteers and the girls were already there. As soon as I walked in, the girls clamored for Miles – to the point that we had to sternly insist the baby was staying with me to get them to stop arguing and pay attention. We played an ice-breaker, established our ground rules, talked about what we’d do at Girls Group that year, learned a Bible verse, prayed together, and closed with snack. At the end of it all, I could not believe all that had happened in an hour but most importantly, how much fun it was. I was hooked!

In the last two years, Girls Group has seen several iterations. We rotated leaders and sometimes suffered volunteer shortages. We tried everything on the spectrum from loose, informal scheduling with the girls picking activities to a more curriculum-style structure.e called it mentoring, then Girls Group, then Girls on the Rise. We faced both challenges and incredible achievements in bonding with rec center staff;. nd we had our share of I-want-to-pull-my-hair-out-and-quit days for all sorts of reasons.

Through it all, however, the central mission that has anchored girls group has been loving and serving the girls and their families. What is so amazing is the way in which many of the girls have actually come to be the sources of love, friendship, and service not just on Girard Street but in their families, communities, and at Grace. Even if you have not been directly involved with Tuesday night activities, you have come to know some of the girls at church, have seen their joy and talents during their dance performances or volunteering for Easter party or Community days, and have felt their care as they asked about your lives or loved your children.

I signed up as a way to serve but in the end, I feel Girls Group has been more of a blessing to me. I have seen grace in adversity personified in the girls’ life experiences (yes, in their young nine-to-thirteen year-old lives!) and love when I run into them at Target and Giant or at random places like the zoo or the national mall. I am still floored by the trust, acceptance, and appreciation their parents show to us as volunteers and know that I have learned to let go of my own little boy as a result of this. Finally, I have gained friendships with an incredible band of sisters in Christ – I could not have asked for a finer group of ladies with whom to grow through the rollercoaster of not only girls group but our diverse life circumstances. No matter what girls group looks like this year, I am excited to see what is in store for the girls, their families, and our broader GMHC family.

Born in Accra, Ghana, Nana Apenem Dagadu has two younger sisters and an older half sister. She has loved exploring other countries and cities since she lived in Germany for four years as a child. Nana now lives with her husband and two kids in beautiful Washington, DC. She wanted to be a baker and a nurse when she was younger but ended up going into global health, which she loves. Outside work, she enjoys reading, running, and exploring new places and foods with friends and family.

This past Sunday, Russ gave a sermon on Matthew 6:1-18, the part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount that focuses on what we do in secret versus what we do publicly (i.e. giving, praying, fasting). Russ talked about how in this passage Christ is encouraging us to bring the ‘real you’ to God and to believe the real God wants to invite the ‘real you’ into his kingdom. I think there’s a mountain of things to reflect on from those two points, but I just want to reflect on how amazing it is that God wants us to bring the ‘real you’ to him and what that tells us about the real God.

I thought the idea that God wants to deal with the real ‘you,’ not the cleaned up ‘you’ is amazing – completely amazing. If that doesn’t sound amazing to you, think about the way we want others to come to us. More often than not, we don’t want other people to come to us messy, broken, twisted, hard-hearted, bitter, or with overwhelming, all-consuming desires and longings. We don’t want that and in a lot of ways we just can’t handle it. We want the cleaned up ‘you.’ We want the calm, happy, peaceful, joyful ‘you.’ We want the ‘you’ that best serves me. And until we see that ‘you’, we’re likely to tell you (at least in our hearts) what we all too often (and incorrectly) think God says to us, “Come back when you’ve got your act together.”

But that’s not what God says to us. God doesn’t deal with us like we deal with each other. What God says to us, in and through what Christ did on the cross, is, “bring the real you.” No pretending. No faking. Just bring the real you. That is mind blowing. And it’s mind blowing not because of what it tells us about us, but because of what it tells us about God.

What God’s invitation to bring the ‘real you’ tells us about the real God is that the real God is not the grouchy, needy, killjoy of a god we make him out to be. The real God is a selfless, humble, loving God. God’s invitation to bring the ‘real you’ tells us, as Christ told himself, that he came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mt. 20:28). And in that incredible act of cross-shaped love, God tells us he’s not out to get something from us but to give something to us – himself.

The real God wants to give us himself. That should blow us away because if he gives us himself, there’s nothing else he can give us. There’s not some other, bigger, better gift out there he’s holding back.  He, and everything he is, is the gift. Think of it this way: all throughout the Bible, God talks about himself as a husband to his people.  And what does a husband do for his wife? He gives himself to her – his whole self, everything he is and has. For we who are or have been husbands, that kind of love is still aspirational. But for God, the eternally loving, eternally faithful Husband, that love is not aspirational. It is definitional. It is who and what he is – an unbending, fully giving, whole-heartedly serving, faithful God.

There is no other god like that. There is no one like the real God. There is no one like him who can, without hesitation, say, “bring the real you.” In our best hour we feel woefully inadequate for the task of loving someone that way. But in God’s worst hour, Christ gave himself up to be crucified. In that hour he said with his body, as he had with his actions and his preaching, “I’m here for the real you and I’ve brought the real me.”

In the face of such utterly unique love, we can’t help but say with the Psalmist: God, “Whom have I heaven but you?” (Ps. 73:25) Truly, we have no other Savior. We have no other friend. This is the real God and he has come to call deal with real sinners. So come to Christ, all you who are weary, and he will give you rest. Take his yoke upon you and learn from him, for he is gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. (Mt. 11:28-30)

This is the real God and he invites the real you to come and be made new.

Last time around, I wrote a piece for our blog called, “While We Wait,” focusing on how we look forward to the future we have in Christ. This week, I wanted to build on that and reflect on what we await in our future with Christ. More specifically, I want to ask and think about whether or not we actually reflect on, think about, and dream of what we await?   In other words, I want to ask if our future in Christ is something we’re actually hoping for?

Let’s just ask that question. If Christ’s return is the total fullness of our hope as Christians, do we dream about that? We dream of what we hope for. We can’t help it. Little kids dream of going to Disneyland and big kids dream of the day when their little kids don’t want to go to Disneyland anymore.

So, do we dream of our future in and with Christ? Do we imagine what it will be like when he returns and all things are made new? Do we imagine what it will be like to live an everlasting life with our God? Do we imagine what it will be like to live with our brothers and sisters in Christ when they are made perfect and shining with the glory of God? Do we imagine what it will be like to see Christ face to face, to hear him say our names and to have him wrap us up in a full, joyful and triumphant hug? Do we imagine what it will be like to walk the new heavens and the new earth with our Creator, marveling at all he has made and remembering all he has done?

If you’re like me, the answer is no. No, we don’t dream of these things. We dream of other things. “Okay, so we don’t dream about Christ’s return. Does that really matter?” Yes, it does. “Why?” It matters because we all dream of something. We all hope for and treasure something. And that matters because, as Christ said, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6:22). So, as you dream, what do you dream of? What do you hope for? Where is your treasure? In romantic relationships? In friendships? In jobs? In family? In marriage? In children? In new clothes? In new stuff? In degrees and accomplishments? In hobbies? In vacations?

Those things are not bad in and of themselves, but are they all we can and hope for or is there something more? Is there something worth putting all our hope in? Is there something that won’t ultimately disappoint us? Is there something more than what we see in this life? Is there something imperishable, unspoiled and unfading kept in heaven for us who, by God's power, are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Pe 1:4-5)?

By faith we say, “Yes, there is.” So, if we believe there is, let’s say it not just with our mouths. Let’s say with our hearts and, consequently, with our dreams. Let’s dream of Christ. Let’s remember who he is and what he has done for all who believe on him Let’s remember that he’s bringing us to himself and to his kingdom, to the new heavens and the new earth. Let’s remember that he’s bringing us to the full realization of your hope – to an end of death and sin and brokenness, to life everlasting, to joy and harmony and to eternal communion with the eternal God. Let’s remember that in Christ, we have come, “to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. [We] have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. [We] have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Heb. 12:22-24). “Therefore,” as the author of Hebrews says just a few short verses later, “since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28).

So, let’s dwell on these things “with reverence and awe,” because they are worth it. They can take it. Other treasures will not last. They will not satisfy. But we await Christ and his kingdom and that is a treasure that will satisfy.

So let’s dream about it and long for it, because we are closer to it now we than when we first believed (Rom. 13:11).

In 1964 Bob Dylan sang, "The times they are a-changin." In 2015 they change even faster. The pace of modern life is ever-increasing. Breaking news is now always breaking. Global change happens over our morning coffee. We're beset by conflicting opinions, endless options and pressure to make BIG decisions. What to do?

How do you know what to do? When King David was anointed, God supplied him with a team of "mighty men." Of that group the men of Issachar stood out as "men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do" (1 Chronicles 12:32). In short, they possessed vision.

We often live reactive lives, rather than vision-led lives. The main reason for that is disconnection from God. Once a group of religious leaders opposed to Jesus asked him for a sign (or miracle) that would validate his claims. They did not ask for a vision to strength their faith, but rather one to use against him (likely to say he was working for the devil). Jesus responded to them, "You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times." They could read the weather better than the moment at hand; driven by their own agendas, they either could not or would not see life through God's vision embodied in Jesus.

We tend to be the same way, casting vision for our lives through the lens of our own ambitions and desires, rather than in light of God's grace-filled purposes. It's like looking at something in a distorted mirror, rather than through the windows of heaven.

We don't want to do that as a church community, and the wonderful message of the gospel is that we don't have to. When you get into relationship with God through Jesus Christ, his Spirit and Word equip you with his vision. You're equipped to make life decisions that are framed by eternal perspective. Clouds of confusion give way to divine light. Traumatic events are bound by sovereign care. We become 'mighty men and women" serving our Anointed King.

At Grace Downtown, the autumn is usually a time to be deliberate about refreshing our vision. Months of praying, surveying, reflecting and talking present themselves in the form of a plan. We do this out of necessity, so God might help us interpret the signs of our times. We also do it in confidence, because of his faithful commitment to his Church. I urge you to familiarize yourself with our vision. You might listen to the vision talk given at our Day of Vision and Prayer, which will be released on our podcast this weekend. And, finally I invite you to participate in it. God's vision for our individual life is never separate from our life in community. God will reveal your personal vision, as you live and serve with his people.

Last week Pastor Mike Park from Grace Downtown visited Grace Mosaic to preach the Word. Mike preached out of Numbers 11:4-6, 10-15.

It was a short passage that showed the Israelites, now freed from Egypt but wandering in the desert, thinking back on ‘the good life’ they used to have in Egypt. In the passage they said something to the effect of, “Do you remember the food we used to have? Man, it was so good! And now all we have is this bread from the sky every single day. There’s no variety. This is awful!”

In doing this, the Israelites were romanticizing the past.   They forget all the cruelty of their slavery and they paid little attention to the fact that even if they wanted to return, they probably wouldn’t be welcomed back. All they remembered was the food they had. They had no memory of the soul-crushing price they paid for it.

As Mike pointed out in his sermon, this was a major problem. Sin had blinded their eyes to reality and they no longer saw things clearly. They thought good was evil and evil was good. They were on a dangerous path.

But alongside this blind romanticizing of the past, the Israelites did something even more dangerous. They lost sight of their future. They forgot the things God promised them. They forgot where they were going.   They forgot their future as God’s people and so, as a people who’ve lost sight of their future, they did what any of us would do. They turned back to their past.

As Christians, we face these same dangers and we face them in very similar ways. Like Israel, by faith in what Christ has done, we have been brought out of our slavery. Only instead of slavery in Egypt we were brought of slavery to sin and death. And like Israel, though we’re now free, we’re not in the promised land yet. We’re not yet with our Savior and our God.

So, as we wait for that promised time to come it’s easy to forget that being with God is what we’re waiting for. It’s easy to forget that our hope in and through Christ is not just for a marginally better life, better behavior, less guilt, more joy, better friends and relationships, etc. Our future and our hope is to be with the God of the universe for ever and ever in the new heavens and the new earth – living in the eternal promised land with the eternal, promised One. That is what we’re waiting for as Christians.

But when we lose sight of what we’re waiting for it’s easy to start acting like the Israelites. It’s easy to lose hope. It’s easy to start longing for the past. It’s easy to become self-absorbed. It’s easy to start confusing what’s good for what’s bad. In other words, it’s easy, like Russ said in his sermon two weeks ago, to drift away from God.

So then, how do we hold on to the hope of our future?  How do we keep from forgetting our future and drifting back into our past?

We pray. We ask the Holy Spirit to remind us of who and what we’re awaiting and to make that promised reality the greatest hope and joy of our hearts.

We believe. We put our faith in the idea that (and live our lives like) the future we have in Christ really is the greatest thing we could ever possibly have.

We remember. We remember, not the lives we once lived, but the life Christ lived. And we remember that just as he was true to his word in giving his life for those who believe in him, he will be true to his word in returning for those who trust in him.

Lastly, we encourage each other. We hear and remember what God has done and wait for what he will do. Not just through our own thoughts, but in the lives and words of those around us. After all, we were not saved by ourselves and we will not live by ourselves in the new heavens and new earth. We will live with all our brothers and sisters in Christ. So we should remind each other of what we we’re waiting for while we wait.

So, we pray. We believe. We remember. We encourage. But must of all, we wait for our Savior. And while we wait, we find strength from God (Isa. 40:31). So, brothers and sisters in Christ, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Ps 27:14).

The four gospels you'll find in the Bible are the only biographies of Jesus that can be dated to the first century AD.

As a follow-up to our recent two-part sermon mini-series on the Bible's trustworthiness and authority, take a look at this interview with Michael Kruger, president of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC. Watch the full eight-minute conversation to hear Kruger discuss the authenticity of the book of Hebrews, how we settled on the specific books of the Bible, and more.

via The Gospel Coalition.

Last Sunday, Russ gave a sermon from Hebrews 2:1-4, reminding us to not neglect such a great salvation as we have in Jesus Christ. We should not drift away, but should keep our focus on Christ, “the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). As a reflection on this, I wanted to share some thoughts about what it means to not neglect such a great salvation.

In the first place, what does it mean to neglect? It may be easier to say what it is by saying what it’s not. The opposite of neglecting is paying attention. So if we’re not to neglect our salvation then we need to pay attention to it. But what does it mean to pay attention to such a great salvation? Well, it means many things – a lifetime worth of things to discover and grow in. But I want to mention a few here:

First and foremost, paying attention to our salvation means we pay attention to the One who saves us: God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Let me help explain this with an example:

At the Franciscan Monastery in NE DC, there’s a cardboard cutout of Pope Francis. If I told you, “Get to know to the Pope,” you wouldn’t go to the Monastery and stare at the cardboard cutout. Why? Because the Pope is a real person. You’d listen to his speeches, read books about him, try to meet him, etc. Likewise, our salvation is not just some lifeless, cardboard cutout thing called ‘salvation’ that we’re supposed to get to know. Rather, our salvation is in, through and to the God who saves us.

So, in paying attention to our salvation, we’re paying attention to the God who saves. We’re paying attention to the Father, who gave the most unimaginable gift to make redemption possible: his Son (John 3:16). We are paying attention to the Son: the unimaginable gift himself, through whom we have eternal life when we call on him in faith (John 3:36; 6:40). And we are paying attention to the Holy Spirit, who comes to us and makes Christ known to us (John 16:13-16). It is this three-in-one God we’re given to know and it is God himself, not a doctrine or a concept, who calls us to know him. Let us pray that He comes alive to us more and more each day.
In fact, part of paying attention to the God who saves is praying that the Holy Spirit gives us to pay more attention. This is because, left to our own, we would, have and will neglect such a great Savior. We just will. We find it hard enough to pay attention to our kids, our friends, our spouse, etc., let alone the invisible, Triune God. We know it’s hard. We know life is busy. We know we are weak in and of ourselves, particularly when it comes to paying attention to the things that matter. But the beauty of our salvation is not that we are strong, but that our God is strong and his power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Co. 12:10). So then, like Paul, we don’t lament our weaknesses and inabilities. Instead we rejoice in them as opportunities to stop relying on ourselves and to rely on our God, who raises the dead (2 Co. 1:9).

And not only do we pray for more attention, we try to pay more attention. We do that in community, with the help and encouragement of others. We do it through time and effort. We do it through focus. We do it through practice. We learn to pay attention like we learned to use our hands or feet (or if we weren’t gifted with hands and feet, like we learned how to do life without them). That learning didn’t happen over night. Our parents (and any current parents of young children) can attest to that. It was awkward. It was slow. It was painful at times. But little by little we learned how, through trial and error. And with support and encouragement, we grew in it.

Likewise, God grows us in paying attention to him not outside or against our human nature, but in it and through it. He grows us in time and through circumstances. But that growth will not happen over night. It will not happen in a week. It will happen over a lifetime and it will overflow into eternity because again, we are not paying attention to something, but someone. And that someone is the dynamic, beautiful and eternal God we get to live with forever and ever.

So, let’s spend more time getting to know who He is and what He has done for us. Let’s pray for more attention to the God who saves us. And let’s do it together because we’ll be doing it together for eternity.

Are you a mom looking for community? We have two options for moms at Grace Meridian Hill:

Wednesday Mornings starting 9/16: 9:30am-11:30am
Thursday Evenings starting 9/10: 8pm-10pm (this groups meets bi-weekly)

 

Here is a short reflection from Rachel Davis on the Moms’ Group kick-off a few weeks ago.

Urban Hiking

Old trees arched over the pathway, as nearly a dozen moms from Grace Meridian Hill trekked down the steep hill in groups of threes and fours. The sun was muted, the humidity was low, and temperatures were just perfect for an early Saturday morning hike to kick off the fall semester, encouraging women to read a book by Rose Marie Miller called The Gospel-Centered Parent. The group made its way to Beach Drive, where energetic cyclists and runners swerved past. Eager for conversation, the women chatted and laughed, exchanging stories, catching up and getting to know each other more deeply. There may have been some sleeping babies (and there may have been some crying babies); but there were definitely some happy, refreshed, thankful for the chance at conversation. After a half hour, they headed back, bracing for the uphill slog. (It wasn’t that bad!) Then they were back in the sunlight, returning to the city, saying farewell.

The Engine Room, our monthly prayer meeting, will meet again on Wednesday, September 16 at Mount Rona Missionary Baptist Church on 13th Street NW and Monroe Street NW. Doors open at 7pm and prayer will begin at 7:15pm. Childcare will be provided. Below is a reflection on The Engine Room by Patrick Zhou. We hope you’ll join us!

Wired

The joy and curse of memories and favorite stories are that they are revisited often. They are the ones that our close friends shake their heads to at parties. In My Father’s Brain, Jonathan Franzen details a frequently told story that he affectionately refers to as his “Outrageous Mother Incident” where on Valentine’s day in 1996, he received a package from his mother containing a romantic greeting card, candy, and one copy of a neuropathologist’s report of his father’s brain autopsy. The hilarious and absurd account loses none of its hilarious detail (“She was saving thirty-two cents’ postage”) or vitality, despite Franzen’s admitted overuse.

“Each succeeding recollection and retelling reinforces the constellation of images and knowledge that constitute the memory. At the cellular level, according to neuroscientists, I’m burning the memory in a little deeper each time, strengthening the dendritic connections among its components, further encouraging the firing of that specific set of synapses… Those memories that I do retain I tend to revisit, and, thereby, strengthen. They become literally—morphologically, electrochemically—part of the architecture of my brain.”

But Franzen’s story proceeds beyond conventional dinner party fare. He unspools the relationship with his father as the elder Franzen grappled with Alzheimer’s—as his family faced the requisite annoyances, guilts, fears, death, and kisses in the wake of illness.

It is not uncommon: What is then becomes the stuff we now are. Where thoughts go to dwell—what we recall of ourselves and re-tell to others—if we are to believe Franzen’s neurologists, can literally change our mind. Yet, the neurologists’ findings are unsurprising, and nearly self-evident. Of course.

A more profound challenge arises, however, not in the remembering of past events, but in the echo of interpretation. Retelling stories from which you draw despair builds despondency. Remembering moments from which you draw confidence fosters courage. In the era of multiple mediums, we confront the torrent of sparring interpretations. Long before modern neurology, the scientifically lay Jesuit Michel de Certeau harped on a similar finding and observation:

“Seized from the moment of awakening by the radio… the listener walks all day through a forest of narrativities, journalistic, advertising and televised, which, at night, slip a few final messages under the door of sleep. More than the God recounted to us by the theologians of the past, these tales have a function of providence and predestination: they organize our work, our celebrations – even our dreams – in advance. Social life multiplies the gestures and modes of behavior imprinted by the narrative models: it continually reproduces and stores up the ‘copies’ of the narratives.”

Yet again, this is no secret. We are painfully cognizant, explicitly or implicitly, of the competing and cascading narratives of what can make us happy, beautiful, successful, powerful, meaningful, just, good, and whole. Not only do these narratives instruct us but we proceed to reinforce them to ourselves and to each other. Rivers of synapses cut and forge along increasingly fortified lines that resemble: “If only you had/did/were this”. And we know what this requires. And we never have it.

Or worse yet, we do have it and revel.

Recently, my church began a prayer night once a month, where our entire congregation is invited to partake in shared prayer. We pray out loud, we pray silently, we pray corporately, and we pray personally. We pray for plans, people, and things. I myself am not a natural pray-er as my own personality insists that prayer is too passive and docile, impractical relative to other beneficial “spiritual activities”. But the more I partake in these multi-hour prayer sessions with my church, the more curious I become.

While I know what prayer is, I wonder what prayer does—not in the future, but in its immediacy.

Can each prayer recollect that the Jesus who says, “seek and you will find” can be trusted? Can each bowed head retell that the sovereign and almighty Creator and Deliverer accepts even puny petitions? Can clasped hands reinforce that the God who has not yet turned away his ear and embrace will not cease to do so now?

I suppose, what I am curious of, is whether or not prayer, the continual and earnest type, can truly, for the benefit of our spirits, reorient our minds. Mustard seeds can move mountains. Can they also rewire faulty neurons?

But I hope not to overstate my case by posing the leading question. I am clouded by the notion that I think prayer ought not to be used solely to alter circumstances, external or internal to me. Prayer shapes something more fundamental when I do it sincerely and consistently, although I have not decided what exactly yet.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which will surpass all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”

Patrick is a young, outgoing, DC professional of medium build and also a die-hard Boston sports fan. He likes traveling and adventures but also enjoys a nice evening at home watching the Fast and the Furious 3: Tokyo Drift or Notting Hill. He likes long walks on the beach and candlelit dinners. Wait, what bio is this for again?

There's nothing like a good welcome.

This past week my daughter started her first day back at high school. Her friend came to pick her up and when my daughter opened the front door, her friend applauded. The applause was probably because my daughter woke up on time, but that simple act showed the kindness of welcome. All of us have experienced it: returning home to see family or friends, someone making a space for us at the dinner table, a co-worker reaching out during our first day on a new job.

God has always desired for his people to be a welcoming community:

You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God (Leviticus 19.34)

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares (Hebrews 13.1)

The greatest example of this welcome is found in the gospel, where we learn that God sacrificed his beloved Son for our sins, so that we might be welcomed into his presence. As the hymn goes, "He brings a poor, vile sinner, into his house of wine."

The longer you're somewhere, the easier it is to forget what it's like to be new. A few years ago I walked by someone who was moving in a block down from my home. As I walked by, I didn't bother to make eye contact, smile or say anything. As I passed I heard them say, "Well, nice to meet you too!"

Ouch.

At Grace Downtown, we want newcomers to experience the welcome of God, because it's an experience of the gospel of grace. If you're new to our church—whether you're looking into the Christian faith for the first time, new to the city, returning to church after some time—welcome! We were all new like you at one time. We know it's not easy, and we want you to know how glad we are that God led you into our community.

If Grace Downtown is your "home," would you help make it feel that way to someone new? Each time you do, you'll be reminded of God's delight in welcoming you.

As we cheer on workers and their work this Labor Day, shouldn’t Christians be the loudest cheerleaders of all? After all, the Bible unequivocally affirms that work was designed by God; that it is intrinsically “good”; that all kinds of work — from the simplest to the most complex, from the highest paying to the lowest paying to the not paying — have immense dignity and value; and that God uses human work to carry out his purposes of providence and redemption in this world (Gen. 1:28; Gen. 2:15). We therefore celebrate the good work of all people, all bearers of God’s image, out of gratitude for their contributions to the common good and as tribute to the One who made us like him as workers in this world. So, yes, Happy Labor Day, everyone, very much so.

Again, God delights in the work of all image-bearers and so should we. But does this then mean that there is nothing unique about the way a follower of Christ conducts her daily work? No, it does not mean that. So what makes a Christian’s work distinctively Christian?

It is not only the intentionality with which you seek opportunities to share the gospel with co-workers or customers, as a Christian is called to in every sphere of life (Col. 4:5; 1 Pet. 3:15). It is not only the moral integrity with which you conduct yourself on the job, laboring with honesty, diligence, self-sacrifice, and loyalty (Prov. 21:5; Eph. 6:6-7) — and not just when it benefits you but even when it costs you. It is not only the unique spiritual fuel that propels you through the day, even in the face of frustrations and failures — knowing that you’re working for the Lord and not for men, freed from having to prove your worth having already having been approved in Christ (Col. 3:23; 1 Cor. 10:31; Rom. 5:1). It is not only the commitment to invest in meaningful relationships with those around you — loving and serving your workplace neighbor with a listening ear, helping hand, or priestly heart (Gal 6:10; Rom. 12:14-15). It is not only the Missio Dei, God’s mission to make all things new, to which your daily work allows you to contribute as the “hands” and “feet” of Christ (Acts 1:1-2; Rev. 21:5) — serving the kingdom and common good, announcing the reality of the Resurrection, giving foretastes of the final Feast, displaying “sneak previews” of the world as it ought to be and one day will be. With each meal cooked, the chef serves hors d’oeuvres of the Lamb’s heavenly Feast (Rev. 19:6-9). With each push of the broom, the street-sweeper approximates those incandescent streets of gold (Rev. 21:21). This is the Grand Story we narrate from “nine to five.” Don’t you know? Your work tells a story.

Indeed, it is not only this or that or one thing or another, but all these things — the evangelistic, ethical, motivational, relational, and missional dimensions of our daily labor — that together make a Christian’s work distinctively and richly Christian. It is therefore an inestimable honor to be called as a worker in God’s world in the name of Christ.

Happy Labor Day.

At Grace Downtown, we believe that God's transforming grace doesn't just change our spiritual lives and the way we treat one another—it also renews our city socially and culturally. Because learning to love and serve the way Christ loves means becoming more deeply invested in the life of the city around you, we are re-introducing two new tools for Grace Downtown members to get to know one another and our city.

The Grace Downtown Sports Listserv and Arts Listserv are easy, convenient ways to let the Grace Downtown community know about upcoming events around DC—or arrange an upcoming event yourself. Using the form below, anyone can sign up to get emails from the respective listservs, but you need to either be a Grace Downtown member or have a Grace DC Online account to send messages to the group. This is a great way to get to know our church community and the city we love.

Join the listservs today

Know. Be. Do.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Travis Drake. I’m the new Seminary Fellow for Grace Mosaic. Both my wife (Esther) and I are so glad and grateful to be back with you all – the family that sent us out and the family that has welcomed us back. And we are looking forward to getting to know those of you at Mosaic we haven’t met yet!

We’ve been welcomed back to you through the invitation of a seminary fellowship. That term might be a little unfamiliar to you (it was to me at first). So, what does it mean? What does a seminary fellow do? Well, the fellowship means a few different things.

In very practical terms, the fellowship means I will go to seminary at the DC campus of Reformed Theological Seminary to finish my Masters of Divinity. It also means I will be on staff at the church as a long term pastoral intern, learning from Russ what it means to be a pastor in the real world (not just the academic world of seminary) and serving alongside you all.

In more conceptual terms, the fellowship will mean a focus on these three words: “Know. Be. Do.” I know they probably sound pretty vague. So, what do they mean?

In many ways, I still have to find out! But what I know about them so far I’ll share with you in hopes of letting you know more about what I’ll be doing and in hopes that you might be impacted by them – in and through the gracious work of Jesus Christ.

“Know. Be. Do.” Though they are three distinct words, they are deeply interconnected. For through our knowing we become who we are and who we are shapes what we do.  Let’s take that a bit further.

It is in knowing God that we discover who we are now (through Christ’s life, death and resurrection) and who we were meant to be: children of the living God.   And as children of the living God we are simply, as Herman Bavinck says, to “Become what [we] are!” We are to live out our faith in actions, not so we might have everlasting life in Christ, but because in Christ we already have it.

Our life of active faith then is one that stems from and grows out of our identity in Christ. We draw on him like branches drawing on a vine (John 15:4-8) and so our works flow from our identity in Christ. Like grape vines we grow and produce fruit because we are connected to the root. We don’t produce fruit so that we might be connected to the root. We do it because we are connected to the root. Our fruit, our works come from our identity in Christ and through Christ that identity produces good works. Consequently, in all that we do through and for our faith in Christ, we do it not to earn our salvation, but to exhibit it. Our action comes from our being God’s and our being God’s people comes from knowing him – personally, relationally, intimately – as our Father.

So then: Know. Be. Do. Know the God who reveals himself to us. Be his children because in our union to Christ we are his children. Do good to others because as God’s children, goodness is now our identity – not in or from ourselves but in and from Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Know. Be. Do.

This is what I’m starting to learn. I hope you will join me and pray for me in that learning, even as I hope to likewise join with and pray for you in the time we have together.

Grace and peace from Jesus Christ our Savior,

Travis

In commemoration of our Ten-Year Anniversary, a number of Grace Downtown’s partner ministries have sent us letters thanking our community for the support you have provided them over the years. This week, we’re sharing a letter from The Porch, which provides mentorship and spiritual support to kids and teens throughout the District:

Dear Grace Downtown,

We thank God for the gift of you all and the opportunity to partner in ministry with you!!

This year has looked different for The Porch and has had unexpected surprises. Yet in all, we have seen the faithful love of the Lord over and over again. He has worked and provided in ways that encourage our hearts and faith and have helped share his love with the youth.

One of the ways we have seen his faithful love is through Grace Downtown. We thank God for you and for all the ways in which you support, care for and join in with us, from

Pastor Glenn speaking to the Adult Leadership Team and encouraging us

to Tuesday morning prayer faithfully praying for us

to ALL the many Community Groups and members who volunteer rides, their time, homes and food

to Grace Downtown’s financial support of The Porch!

We thank you and praise God for you. We also pray that you all are encouraged and refreshed, too.

The Porch loves Grace Downtown!

Love and Prayers,

Courtney and Heidi
Co-Interim Directors

“My heart is steadfast, O God…I will awake the dawn!” (Psalm 108:1-2)

Celebrating the LORD is such a priority for David that it’s the first thing he wants to do in the morning: he wants to wake up the dawn with his praises! He wants to make the Sun come up, so that the light of day can be a manifestation of God’s glory! Perhaps your response to this is, “Well—good for David…that’s not me. I’m just an ordinary, struggling person…”

I can sympathize with that. Yet, the truth is, whatever we set our hearts upon first in our day, is usually an indication of what we are living for…

For instance: what does the workaholic on my block and the alcoholic on my block, have in common with King David? One morning I walked to the “corner store” (as we call them in Philly!) with my 2 year old son to buy some milk so that dad could make his “famous pancakes,” and I noticed that my neighbor, a federal banking agent, had already left for work—since he leaves at 5:30 a.m. to make it there by 6 a.m. When my son and I got in line to buy the milk, I noticed in front of us and behind us were men who were buying a few 32 ounce cans of Steel Reserve (Malt Liquor Beer)—at 7:30 a.m!

Now the act itself of going to work early as a diligent employee is not evil, nor is the act of having a beer or 2 the main issue. Rather, the issue that God is most concerned with, which the Scriptures speak to, is the motives of our hearts. It is when our lives (and mornings) are driven by these things that we are hoping in to bring us satisfaction and true “life,” instead of the Living God, that makes it sin (Romans 1:22-25). So what’s the difference between David, who wanted to wake up the dawn with worshiping the LORD, the banker who wanted to wake up the dawn with a head start on the banking world, and my main man who wanted to wake up the dawn with his Steel Reserve brew?

On one level, NOTHING! They are all worshipers, whose hearts were set on the “god” of their choice, and serving their “god” was the priority of their day! That’s because we were all made to be worshipers—we are “all very religious!” (Acts 17:16, 22). On another level, while the workaholic and the alcoholic both are prioritizing their day based on who or what they are serving, David, in serving the living God, is free to joyfully serve the Master he was made for, while the workaholic, alcoholic, or the “fill in the blank” addict are enslaved to serve their masters resulting in emptiness, destruction, and death (Rom. 6:16; 21-22). There are no “neutral” servants.

What are you living for? What drives you? How do you “wake up the dawn?” What’s on your mind as you roll out of bed? Who or what is the first priority of your day? Who or what is your master? Perhaps anxieties arrest you in the morning, since you are enslaved to being in control of your world. Or maybe you don’t awake the dawn at all, but dread getting out of bed; the gloom and misery of depression from whatever you were hoping in didn’t quite pay back the way you thought it would.

Apart from the rescuing mercy of God, because of the sinful corruption of our motives and desires, we are all deeply committed to serving God-substitutes that cannot and will not deliver true life, relief, refuge, or joy (Isaiah 28:15). Even for David, who began Psalm 108 by saying, “My heart is steadfast, O God,” we know at times his wicked desires led him into a pit of sin.

For this reason, Jesus Christ, the Son of David, became the True-Man, fully hu-man, in order to renew-man. He alone had a heart that was completely “steadfast.” This Hebrew word refers to a moral steadfastness, namely—a heart that is directed rightly unto God (see Psalm 119:5). The Man Christ Jesus was the ultimate human worshiper, in such a way that every single motive and desire of His heart was directed in celebration and honor of the True God. Whether waking up very early like the banker (Mark 1:35), or drinking wine (Matt. 11:19), He did all to the glory of the LORD (1 Cor. 10:31)! Jesus Christ, the Last Adam, in obedience to His Father in His suffering death for our sins, woke up the dawn of the New Creation by His resurrection, and aroused the light of the morning of the New Heavenly Age! As the King of Life and the Sun of Righteousness, the Son of God says, “I, Jesus, am the descendant of David, the bright Morning Star!” Only He can remove a ruined, hardened heart, and replace it with a new heart that is “set rightly” on finding our all in His love!

If awaking each morning to celebrate the LORD’s goodness feels too hard or unrealistic, please know that the God-Man Christ Jesus is the one who gives all who are united to Him by faith, the desire to seek Him. Those who come desperate, get filled (Matt. 5:6). He is the one who reproduces in us His steadfast heart. On that note, this word for “steadfast,” is also used in Psalm 51 of the human heart that has turned away from loving sin/evil, but has been re-created and renewed: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a STEADFAST spirit within me!” This prayer He will answer.

Therefore, come to Christ now, whether for the first time, or the millionth time, and daily receive resurrection, eternal life that is in Him! Soon He is coming back to make a New Earth, where the earth will be full of the knowledge and celebration of God’s glory, just like the waters cover the sea. Then it will be eternal dawn, as the radiant-daylight of His Face will brighten the land of the living forevermore!

And our hearts will always be steadfast.