God's perfect love that casts out fear

Each summer we take a crew of middle school students to LifeChange Camp in Clinton, Missouri. It is always a great time for our students to be refreshed and challenged in their faith. This year I would say they were also profoundly encouraged. Our speaker spent some time sharing how our fears can be significant challenges to our faith, even preventing us from living out our faith in God.

During one of our morning sessions he asked everyone to be honest and write down every fear they have been struggling with recently. I didn’t know how this was going to go. Would the students open up and be vulnerable (a fear for many people)? How would they respond? I was anticipating all kinds of silly answers - which are also legit fears - things like heights, spiders, snakes, etc.

Then that evening our speaker took the whole session and one by one read every fear out loud and asked everyone to stand when he said their fear. The fears he started to read were not silly-answer-fears but fears that can truly overwhelm and cause a person to live according to the fear and not faith. They were also unique to what life is like as a middle school student. Looking back this was a gutsy thing to do and so many of the students were brave enough to stand when their fear was called out.

But he didn’t stop there, because he then used God’s word to speak truth, hope, and love into each fear that was mentioned.

I was once again reminded of how fear plays a big role not only in the lives of students but in everyone’s life. Something I appreciated was seeing how the truth of God’s word can expose the lies associated with each fear. The biggest truth that can begin to expose any fear is the truth of God’s love, his perfect love that casts out fear (1 John 4:18). I pray we may know Him and that we may live by faith in Him because of his great love for us.

Grace and peace,
Pastor Loren

Expanding Your Comfort Zone

“Nathan, I'll tell you more than I know!”

In typical Grandpa fashion, my Papa is never short on stories to tell. Amidst the tales of hitchhiking across the state of Illinois to college and wooing & marrying the secretary on his army base in France, one nugget of wisdom stands out:

“Don’t think of something new and different as being outside your comfort zone; think of it as expanding your comfort zone.”

That is perhaps the most helpful piece of advice I have ever received.

I’m very much a stay-inside-my-comfort-zone kind of person, and I often lament the fact that my microscopic comfort zone keeps me from using the gifts God has given me. I need to be reminded that something new does not need to be scary and overwhelming, but it can expand my comfort zone if I have the right attitude.

I am writing this to myself because I need to be reminded of it consistently. But I also want to share it with you in case you experience the same tension I do between wanting to answer God’s call and not feeling equipped or comfortable.

Six months ago, this introvert did not expect occasionally speaking from the stage to be part of his ministry at Grace. And, yet, that is where I have found myself several times in recent weeks. Each time, in the moments before climbing those stairs, I nervously think 'Why did I agree to this...?' And then, as soon as it is over, I am able to thank God for giving me the strength to step out in faith and praise Him for speaking despite my weakness.

As I look back on these last six months, I can see how God was using a series of experiences and a truth-speaking support group to prepare me for this new development in my ministry. By nudging me outside my comfort zone  and using people to encourage me along the way, God is expanding my comfort zone and building in me confidence. From now on, it is my prayer that in future ministry opportunities I remember how God's strength carries me through rather than letting my comfort-zone-seeking self shrink away.

So now I encourage you to do the same – to look back on the last six months and pray about how God might be using experiences and people to equip you with unique gifts and call you to serve according to unique passions. And as opportunities arise, don't get stuck in comfort zone paralysis, but step out in faith that God will give you strength.

Last Sunday, Pastor Jack gave us a simple, practical spiritual gifts test: however you love to meet the needs that you see, that is probably your spiritual gift.

So, what needs do you see? What makes you excited as you think about meeting those needs? How is God calling you to expand your comfort zone in order to use your gifts to serve His family and to serve your community?

If you are feeling God's prompting to expand your comfort zone and serve but don't know where to begin, this list of ways to serve at Grace or with the community-minded ministries we support is a great place to start: gcc-online.org/engaging-grace.

 
 

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This Sunday, Pastor Kyle will be preaching to us out of 2 Corinthians 2 and exploring ways we can Engage Grace by serving your community. I hope you will come be equipped, be encouraged, and worship with us!

What do you put your hope in?

Hope: to look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence (dictionary.com).

Have you ever truly stopped to think about what you put your hope in? To what you look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence?

Over the past few weeks I've been thinking about what I put my hope in. I've realized that I have put my hope in hiring an XP. I know for most of you having an XP means nothing to you. For us in the office, it will greatly enhance our systems and development. If you read the first part of today's This Week at Grace email you saw that our latest candidate has declined the offer of being GCC's XP.

So now what? With it being summer time and staff taking vacations, the search team is going to take a break and talk about next steps in July. We don't know what the next steps are at this point. Please be praying for the search team and the Elders.

In the meantime, I will cling to Lamentations 3:19-23

"Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness." (Italics mine)

I will choose to put my hope in God and not in a man or any other person.

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

Ministering together,
Janelle Paden
Office Manager

Executive Pastor Update

 
Executive Pastor update.jpg
 

Our most recent candidate for Executive Pastor has declined the position offer. Good news: his three reasons had nothing to do with our church family, and he made it a point to emphasize that his only regret was not being able to work with our church staff. We took this as great encouragement. We will regroup later in the summer and keep you all informed. We pray, "Give us wisdom and clarity. And no matter what, may Your will be done." Thanks for your prayers church family.

Pastor Jack

Using Summer Quest to reach our neighbors

We have now lived in the Springlake neighborhood in Newton for 4 years. Over those years we’ve had some new people move into the neighborhood and we’ve gotten to know some of our neighbors fairly well! Our kids like to play outside on bikes, scooters, and dirt piles, and they love to play with the neighborhood kids! That has provided some great opportunities for us, as we love to join our kids and play outside with them!

It kind of saddens me that many of the parents don’t play with their kids outside, but about a year ago a really neat family who loves Jesus moved into our neighborhood, and they play outside with their kids, and love the rest of the neighborhood kids very well! It’s great having the Powells on our cul-de-sac, and part of our church family now as well!

It has been neat to watch the relationships with our neighbors strengthen over the years. It just made sense that we would host a Summer Quest in our neighborhood and use that to minister to the kids and deepen our relationships with them!

Honestly, there was a bit of fear and anxiety in hosting Summer Quest. Would the kids come to our backyard? Would the unchurched parents who know we are part of Grace and know that I work for the church allow their kids to join us four nights in a row in our backyard to “brainwash” them? 

And we are the “strict” parents on our cul-de-sac who don’t let our kids go into the neighbor’s homes. The neighborhood kids know that our kids can’t come over for sleepovers, and that they aren’t even allowed in the neighbor’s homes, so why would they come to ours? These types of questions lingered, but we decided to host Summer Quest anyway! 

We did a prayer walk with the Powell family in our neighborhood the week before Summer Quest, praying for everyone whose names we knew, asking that the invitation to Summer Quest would be received well, and I believe God answered those prayers! Summer Quest went really well! We had some unchurched kids join us, and even come back each night! They had fun, and even the parents thanked us for doing it!

So the next step was to invite them to worship services on a Sunday morning! Leading the music at Summer Quest made for a great opportunity!  “Hey kids, if you come to Grace on Sunday morning, I’m going to invite you up to the stage to sing some of these songs with me!” 

One of the girls in our neighborhood taught me the floss dance during Summer Quest, so I even agreed to do it if she showed up on at our worship service! Sure enough, Alyssa and her parents showed up, and she MADE SURE that I knew she was there! So being a man of my word, I did the floss for a few seconds. It was embarrassing, but totally worth seeing the family in our worship service!

Maybe you wrestled with hosting a Summer Quest in your neighborhood, and decided not to. I don’t blame you, it’s kind of scary, but I ask that you strongly consider hosting next year! It will be worth it! God has “sent” all of us to our neighborhoods to point people to Jesus!

If that feels intimidating to you, start with prayer. Learn the people’s names in your neighborhood and begin praying for them regularly! When you take a walk, pray for your neighbors as you pass their homes! Then look for opportunities to get to know them. Don’t even bring up spiritual matters in your first conversations; just show a genuine interest in them! Church, let’s grow together in our love for the people around us!


Our family is excited to do this study from Philippians, my RightNow Media pick of the month:

 
 

This Sunday Pastor Jack will be sharing a Father’s Day message and Tom Unruh will be leading worship through song, as Mary and I celebrate 15 years of marriage on a beach in Mexico!

I love you church, and I’ll see you on Sunday June 24th!

For His Glory,
Pastor Kyle

Eruptions of Grace

There’s something fascinating and horrifying at the same time about the destructive power of volcanic eruptions!

I was a missionary kid on summer vacation in the mountains of Karuizawa, Japan when I experienced my first seismic explosion. Ten miles away, well-known and active volcano, Mount Asama, rumbled into action one afternoon, emitting a cloud of gas and ash that shook our town. I remember windows vibrating and rain coming down black. Other than the shock and noise, however, in the mercy of God, we experienced no ill effects.

Maybe you’re someone who’s been to Hawaii for a vacation. Having had the privilege of visiting years ago, my heart goes out to the residents of Hawaii’s Big Island. In contrast to my fleeting and non-traumatic childhood experience, these folks have been living in daily anxiety and overwhelm for over four weeks, as Kilauea and its environs continue to disgorge rivers of lava and smoke. According to news reports, thousands of residents have been evacuated and nearly a hundred homes have been consumed by rivers of red molten destruction. Paradise it is no longer!

One Big Island native, a lady who witnessed the unexpected and overwhelming sight of her house burning up in minutes, lamented, “It feels really hard to know you have nowhere to go and nothing to your name.”

Life on this earth is full of the unexpected and overwhelming. Whether it’s a financial, relational, or physical drastic turn of events, many of us know what it’s like to live with emotionally painful disruptions of our worlds.

Back in March, I wrote about Bobbie’s older sister, Beth Sandoval’s, battle with reoccurring leukemia in Mexico, where she and her husband Chalo have been church planting missionaries for over 40 years. Chemo treatments have failed to eradicate her cancer, so Beth needed a transfusion of blood-producing stem cells from a donor’s bone marrow to have any hope of surviving. 

As you may recall Bobbie was a perfect match. Many of you prayed for us as Bobbie and I set out on a ten day “bone marrow donation trip” to Puebla, Mexico back in April, and we thank you so much for your love and support! Doctors were able to harvest her stem cells, taking double what Beth needed just in case. Those stem cells were immediately frozen, waiting in the ensuing weeks for Beth to undergo her final round of chemo and other medical preparations in order to finally be ready to receive them.  

That transfer hasn’t happened yet, but we’re hoping and praying that somewhere around June 18, Beth will begin benefitting from the overflow of life that came from deep within Bobbie’s bones!

Jesus said in Luke 6:45 “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Overflows can be destructive or beneficial, depending on what’s in our hearts and how connected to God we are.

My prayer for my own heart and for ours as God’s people is that this summer we will experience life-giving “eruptions of grace” from deep within our souls, produced by the overflow of living in sync with Jesus!

I love that Summer Quest “life flow” has drawn lots of kids closer to Jesus this week in an amazingly blessed four days. Thanks to all of you who’ve sacrificially been sharing God’s heart of love with our neighbors.

I look forward to seeing you this Sunday, when we gather to celebrate God’s abundant grace, and Pastor Jack unpacks the “Tower of Pride” story from Genesis 11.

Pastor Steve

Stop, Rest, Delight, and Contemplate

Why is it so hard to rest? How is it possible I could be falling asleep in the middle of something I find valuable, yet not be able to sleep at bedtime? When it's something important, my eyelids grow heavy, I blink extra long… maybe I'm describing your experience as you listen to me preach, lol. 

On the other hand, when I intend to quiet my mind and heart, immediately I develop attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Just recently I changed my weekly schedule. I realize that I have gone through a lot of transitions this past year and some of them put a strain on me emotionally and spiritually. It was hard for me to disconnect from work and connect with God. It was hard for me to be around my family, and even though I love them so very much and enjoy spending time with them, I couldn't feel at rest at home. I realized something was wrong. Not with them, but with me. So after the sermon from Genesis 2 on how the Sabbath Day is about stopping and focusing on God, I realized this was a missing element in my life.

God sent me another sign (I sometimes learn slowly…) through the ministry of Peter Scazzero (emotionallyhealthy.org). He identifies a Sabbath rest as taking a 24-hour period each week to stop, rest, delight, and contemplate God. It is not a day off, but a day given to God. I realized that I had not been resting well. So my new Sabbath rest is from Sunday evening to Monday evening.

This past Monday was my first try at this new schedule. I slept-in until close to 8 AM, thanks to my wonderful wife. I left the house around 9 AM… and if it were not so comical it would be embarrassing. I sat in the driver's seat of my car and didn't know what to do next. I looked around and laughed out loud because I couldn't believe where I was sitting. I genuinely didn't know where to go. I had made all these plans to go to a number of places to get some rest and delight and within four minutes of leaving my house, I felt lost in the church parking lot.

Nathan pulled into the parking lot. Walking over with a slightly confused expression, he greeted me through the passenger side window of my car and said, "So, this is your super secret spot to enjoy your Sabbath rest?" We both laughed. 

I'm a beginner all over again!

I left the parking lot and decided to head toward Wichita. I wasn't sure where I was going to end up, but I knew I needed to get away. Thankfully, God led me to a wonderful spot where I was able to enjoy rest and silence in the midst of His beautiful creation. One of the sweetest days I've had in a long time.

There was no wi-Fi, but the connection was amazing.

So, how is your Sabbath rest going each week? Are you enjoying the restoration of silence? Are you ceasing from your work to hear from God? I sincerely hope that you are. I know it can be difficult, but I don't know how we can manage through such a busy environment without setting time aside to quiet our souls and meditate/contemplate on God.

Galatians 6:9-10,
Jack

Pressing into God during transition

Around our house we really like the transition toward more sunshine. We have recently been enjoying evening bike rides, eating dinner outside, watching eggs hatch in a sparrow’s nest, and all kinds of other outside activities. Our youngest is by far the happiest when he is outside. When he is inside he can be a restless mess, but outside he turns into an excited explorer. He loves to wander around the yard doing his best to keep up with his siblings all the while grunting and yelling for us to join him in his adventure.

Transitions are a big part of life. There isn’t any way of avoiding transitions; nature itself has transition built into it. Have you ever noticed how a transition can affect so many levels of your life?

What I’ve found in myself when going through transitions is that I always seem to have to work through my own weaknesses in character and personality before I get to the strengths that God graciously gives, reveals, or reminds me of. Each transition has its own effect on me and depending on how “big” the transition feels this process either takes more or less time. I’ve also found transitions still take me by surprise in some sense.

There is a C.S. Lewis quote that I keep in my head: “Surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of man he is.”

Some of the “evidences” aren’t always what I would hope to see in myself, but at every transition, by God’s grace, I’ve gotten through and I’ve been able to see his hand and good heart. Whenever I’ve pressed into him, I’ve experienced a growth in character and virtue. I’ve learned that every transition takes effort, which sometimes I’m open and excited about and other times I’m not. But I do think transitions can be God’s way of continuing his transforming work in our lives.

Speaking of transition, May is graduation season and many young lives are in transition. This Sunday we will be celebrating with our graduates, because this transition should be celebrated! I’m looking forward to it. I hope to see you there.

Grace and peace,
Pastor Loren.

What's in a name?

Did you know that in many cultures last names were assigned based on a person’s occupation?

If your last name is Smith, then someone in your ancestry was probably a blacksmith. If your last name is Miller, then someone in your ancestry probably operated a flour mill. If your last name is Napier, someone in your ancestry probably made table linens (napier… napkin…).

The significance of those names is largely lost to history, but what is not lost is the fact that the names we use go a long way toward shaping the way we see- and think about the world.

Addie and I chose to name our son Caleb Timothy largely because of the meaning (Caleb = faithful, bold; Timothy = honors God). Knowing the meaning of his name shapes the way we pray for him: it is our prayer that he would grow to be faithful and bold in honoring God.

Similarly, the names we use for God shape the way we think about who He is. Two people can both be talking about “God” but by no means be talking about the same god. Exploring the Bible for the way God’s people have talked about Him can be extremely helpful in filling out our understanding of who He is.

You can find a detailed list of Old Testament names of God here. These are a few of my favorites:

  • Jehovah Nissi - The Lord My Banner: God is the banner we march behind; He is our signifier and the reason for our hope (Exodus 17:15)

  • Jehovah Jireh - The Lord Will Provide: Just as God provided a ram for Abraham to sacrifice in Isaac’s place, so too does He provide for our every need (Genesis 22:14)

  • Jehovah Rapha - The Lord That Heals: as the giver and sustainer of life, God is the one who heals His people (Exodus 15:26)

Many of the names of God found in the Old Testament are proclaimed in direct response to something God has done. When God interacts with His people (by providing, by healing…), He reveals part of His identity (Provider, Healer…).

These names can also be a helpful tool for shaping the way we pray.

  • I pledge my allegiance to you, Jehovah Nissi, and I will follow wherever you go...

  • Jehovah Jireh, thank you for providing food for us today, as you do each and every day..

  • Please heal my body in the way that only you can, Jehovah Rapha...

I have found that knowing and proclaiming these names of God has helped me to be more in tune with the wide-ranging attributes of God, and having new language for talking to Him has been life-giving in my prayers. I encourage you to explore that list and find a new name to call our great God!

I love you, Church!

-Nathan Ehresman

PS, if your last name has an interesting origin story, I would love to hear it!

Don't just talk about it... do it!

As our Bolivia church plant and the executive pastor search have on my heart, I have found myself praying for them, a LOT!!

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the book Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. I listen to a podcast - Renovare - by Richard’s son, Nathan Foster, where he has been highlighting a different discipline each month to mark the anniversary. The month of April was focused on prayer. Nathan had on different guests to talk about prayer, but the last episode was a Q&A he did with his father.

I love this quote by Richard Foster on that episode: “....in dealing with the subject of prayer, one of the biggest dangers is to talk about it and not do it.”

I remember memorizing Ephesians 6, and verse 18 stood out to me: “praying at all times, in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (ESV). That seemed to be contradictory, “with all prayer and supplication”... isn’t that the same thing?

So I asked God to show me what was meant by that. God, in His gracious way, did! He showed me that sometimes my prayers are prayers of thankfulness, praise, gut wrenching honesty cries out to Him, lifting up a loved one that has a need, lifting up a loved one when He puts them on my heart, or not knowing what to pray so allowing the Spirit himself to intercede for me with groanings too deep for words (Rom 8:26).

Suffice to say, there are a LOT of ways to pray.

I used to try and emulate how someone else would pray or to use their method of praying. Now I realize that God, in His creativity, has lots of ways for us to communicate to Him in prayer and graciously allows me to use all of them.

Let’s take the words of Richard Foster and pray, not just talk about it. But not just today, every day, all day long.

Updates

I gave you updates on the Bolivia church plant and the executive pastor (XP) search in the last staff journal I wrote. Here’s another quick update on both, plus some office news.

Bolivia church plant: I am elated to tell you that GCC sponsored 109 children from our Bolivia church plant, and over 200 total together with all four Grace network churches! My heart swells up when I think of so many lives being affected by our helping to build the church and sponsor children.

Executive pastor search: And… we had our top XP candidate and his wife visit GCC last weekend! We are all very excited about the possibility of this couple coming to be on staff here. I can’t share details at this time, but we are continuing to talk with them and will keep you updated. Please keep praying with us for both them and the search team.

Office news: In an effort to be good stewards of money and staff, the office will now be closed on Fridays. The new office hours are Monday through Thursday, 8am-12pm and 1-5pm.

Ministering together,
Janelle Paden
Office Manager

God is our help in times of need

It was like adding a surprise family member. After looking through the packets of children and praying, we made a final decision. We have now added David Llaveta Chambi to our lives and prayers! This little 5-year-old boy in Bolivia is loved by God, and now we get to be a part of that love. Maybe, just maybe, we will meet him in the near future. That would be something.

Sometimes it's intimidating to make a 12+ year commitment. But, after 5 children, I ain't scared, lol. God is the One who truly cares for me and my family. If you've ever experienced God's help in your time of need, you know what I mean.

I wanted to share a few pictures with you, all worth more than a thousand words (click on a photo to enlarge). God has really blessed my family with comfort and provision these past couple of months. Even when everything around is shifting and changing, He never does. His care never ends.

This Sunday we’re going to sing "Come Thou Fount." It is such a sweet song for the heart that knows God’s help in time of need. In one of the lines we sing, “Here I raise my Ebenezer.” What is an Ebenezer if not a Scrooge, right?

Well, Ebenezer means “stone of help.” It comes from 1 Samuel 7, where God gave victory to Israel over the Philistines. He even restored cities back to Israel that were previously taken captive. That stone commemorated God’s help. Every time they walked by it, every time a little boy asked why this huge stone was placed between Mizpah and Shen, they could tell the story of when God came to the rescue after His people prayed and humbled themselves.

We all need those “stones of remembrance” in our own lives to remind us of God’s faithfulness to help us in times of need. Maybe it’s an actual physical object, looking back on pictures, or reading an encouraging card from a difficult season in your life. Whatever it may be, we do well to remember His faithfulness in order to gain strength for today and the days ahead.

I love you, church family.

Pastor Jack

Parenting is hard!

Parenting is hard!

I’ve been pondering these questions lately: How can I inspire my children? How can I give them a hunger for God’s word? How do I combat the selfishness and entitlement that our culture propagates? How do I change my kid’s hearts?  

The answer is simple. I can’t. 

I’m in desperate need of God’s help to shepherd my kids! He is the one that changes hearts! Parenting has a way of reminding me of my weaknesses, my failures, my inconsistencies, and my desperate need for God’s work in my own heart!

The most effective thing I can do for my children is pray! I pray for wisdom and strength for myself. I pray for my children, that God would draw them to Himself. I pray that they would see their need for Jesus and trust Him as Savior. I pray that their love for God and for others would grow.

The next most important thing I can do for my children is to saturate our home with the Scriptures! Deuteronomy 6:4-9 reminds us of the need to teach our children the Scriptures and talk about them as often as possible. Verse 7 says “You shall teach them [God’s words] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”  

Much of the artwork in our home has Scripture on it. We talk about the Scriptures a lot, and even do quite a bit of memorizing. AWANA has been a great supplement for getting the Scriptures into our home. We frequently have worship music playing in our home, which is full of God’s truth, and every once in a while we will sing those songs together!  

Just plain reading to my kids out of the Bible can be a struggle, especially for the younger ones (although the picture book Bibles work pretty well). We’ve found that Phil Vischer’s Bible studies on RightNow Media are very well done and engage our 11, 8 and 5 year old really well! If you haven’t gone through those, I highly recommend them for any home with children up to the age of 13 (I love these video studies, and would find an excuse to go through them even if I didn’t have children at home). If you do them, start with 1st John, and then do Ephesians, and then 1st Peter.

Parenting is hard! For those of you that feel like you are struggling, I’m there with you! Let’s pray earnestly to God for our children, and do everything we can to saturate our homes with His word!

My RightNow Media pick of the month is the newest family Bible Study from Phil Vischer on 1st Peter.

 
 

This Sunday is Compassion Sunday! We’ll worship through song, explore God’s word together, and you’ll have an opportunity to sponsor a child from our Bolivia church plant for $38 a month, providing that child with regular Christian training, food, education opportunities, health care, hygiene supplies, and more! You’ll be able to write letters back and forth with this child and will pray for him/her regularly as if he/she were your own child! Our children know that we pray for Peria and Abigail several times a week. Now we will be praying for Anyelo from Bolivia as well!

Looking forward to Sunday!
-Pastor Kyle

Sitting Calmly in the Back of the Boat

Sometimes just breathing can be hard work. Do you ever feel that way?

I'd describe life for me lately as "rainy season". Worries and struggles have been raining down and flash flooding has snuck up on me. The enemy has been busy pelting me with his lies. Honestly, his efforts to distract, discourage and derail have been pretty effective. I've found myself just that - distracted, discouraged and derailed. Sometimes just breathing can be hard work . . . but it's not because God isn't here with me. He hasn't lost control of me or my life. He's waiting for me to trust him so he can show me more about who he is. 

I've been teaching a series of lessons to my 2nd grade class in Newton Weekday Bible School on the miracles of Jesus - how God showed us his power and glory through Jesus. Last week I demonstrated to the class, rather animatedly, how the disciples panicked when a raging storm hit their boat as they crossed the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4). Thunder boomed loudly, huge waves crashed over them, the boat rocked wildly and began to take on water. While the disciples despaired for their lives, Jesus slept calmly in the back of the boat. They must have thought he was crazy! Didn't he care that they were going to drown?! But then, he stood and with only his voice commanded the storm to be quiet, and it obeyed. 

My class sat in awe of my dramatic demonstration (ha!), but I was struck with the realization that I've been reacting much like the disciples. I've been feeling frenzied and frightened, grasping at ineffectual means and methods to help me control my boat in a sea of crazy. But God hasn't been worrying. He knew the storm was coming. He's been waiting for me to trust him. He has power, even just in the sound of his voice, to calm this crazy. Instead of panicking or despairing, I want to make my way to the back of the boat, sit down next to Jesus and let his nearness calm me until he decides to calm the storm. The storm will surely obey him! 

If you're distracted, discouraged, derailed or despairing will you join me there in the back of the boat? Let's stick close to the One whose power and love are unmatched. Our hope in him can hold us steady until he calms the storm. Isaiah 43:2, "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you."

On a lighter note, I want to express gratitude to the Lord for drawing kids to himself! We can't celebrate enough that we've had at least eight GCC children (that we know of) come to accept Christ as their Savior in the last 4 months. We're blessed to see him at work in and through our families and ministries for kids! We want to be more intentional about celebrating these decisions, so please be sure to share with me or one of the pastors if you or your child makes a first time decision for Christ or a recommitment. Be praying that God will do this changing work in the hearts of kids through Neighborhood Summer Quest, coming June 4-7. Be watching for ways to be involved in the coming weeks!

In HIS power,

Juli Dirks
Children’s Ministry Director

Cozy Conversations

The season leading up to Easter and the day itself is always a bright spot and this year was no exception. There are so many reasons why Easter is the highlight it is, but this year I’m thankful for the conversations it stirred up in my kids.

Our normal routine after each Sunday morning is to ask our kiddos what they learned during Sunday school and we do our best to dig in a little deeper than their first responses. But on Palm Sunday our son Max launched into a full-on retelling of the story about Jesus coming into Jerusalem on a donkey and the crowd shouting “hosanna!” It was impressive what details he was remembering and the excitement he had in sharing.

Later that day the kiddos went to go see Cozy the Lamb. They went with their mom while I stayed home with our youngest but when they got back they were pumped. I asked them a few questions and with incredible joy they each shared about what they saw. Max was enthusiastic about the shepherd, the dog and the wolf and Lizzy shared about all the dancers as she herself danced around the dining table.

I asked them if they knew that Jesus told a story like Cozy’s story and they said they knew that already.

Of course they did, what was I thinking.

I asked them if the shepherd who helped Cozy reminded them of Jesus at all and they each said yes. In the days to follow “Cozy conversations” kept happening.

Easter was such a blessing. To sing about our risen Lord, to remember and read the story, and to be reminded that we shouldn’t be fooled about Jesus was tremendous.

He is who he said he is.

I’m still marveling.

After the services and lunch our little family had an egg hunt. I hid the eggs outside for the kids to find, in the cold and drizzle, because an indoor egg hunt wouldn’t be “official.” Needless to say, it went quick.

Then we gathered around the table and the kids opened up eggs and snacked on jelly beans as we read the Easter story once again from John 20. What was fun to see was the parts of the story where the kids jumped into tell and share their thoughts.

And just yesterday as we were driving around town Max asked Lizzy if she loved Jesus. Lizzy said, “Yes, Max. I love Jesus. Do you love Jesus?” Max replied, “I love Jesus, Lizzy.” Anne and I smiled at each other.

I asked Max why he loved Jesus and he said, “Because he died on the cross for my sins.” Then Lizzy chimed in, “And he isn’t in the tomb and he is coming again and we are going to get new bodies…”

If you ever ask Lizzy, she is really excited about the new bodies we get when Jesus returns.

It’s such a joy to see the seeds of the Word and faith grow in your children. I’m profoundly grateful for these moments and opportunities to talk with my children about Jesus. I’m thankful to the whole crew who put on Cozy the Lamb, I’m thankful for the children’s ministry and specifically my kid’s teachers and leaders, and I’m thankful for a church that celebrates Easter well.

Grace and peace,
Loren

Holy Week Word Play

One of the cheapest forms of entertainment for me happens to be something the pleasure of which I inherited from my dad. I like to play with words!

Honestly, I’m not a huge word nerd, but what I do enjoy is tweaking combinations of expressions and thoughts, or mixing similar sounding words that end up bringing a smile to my face and groans (of joy) to others. I like to juxtapose things that others might not think of.

OK, I admit, I had to look up the spelling and meaning of “juxtapose” juxta minute ago! You’re getting the picture… I hope! “Juxta” is Latin for “beside,” and so “juxtapose” means “to place alongside of for the purpose of comparison or contrast.”

Thinking about this upcoming Holy Week weekend, I can’t help but shake my head at the crazy juxtaposition of events that are flowing together to vie for our focus. We’ve got the profound mixed with the profane (Easter Sunday and April Fool’s Day), and the climactic events of our faith intertwined with college basketball’s biggest weekend! We’ve got the Final Countdown in Jerusalem and the Final Four in San Antonio calling for our attention!

A lot is at stake in each of the arenas of faith and sports.

Could it be, I wonder, that there’s more similarity to be found here than at first glance? Words like “sacrifice” and “unselfishness” are being bantered around in both worlds, and nobody makes it to the Final Four weekend without hard work and painful effort.

My goal in the next several days is not only to enjoy the games, but even more, to savor the sacrifice of Jesus my Savior and to open my heart and respond appropriately to the outpouring of his love.

I recently read of the brave and heroic French policeman who died while attempting to trade places with a woman hostage when a terrorist attacked a supermarket in Trebes last week. Referring to officer Arnaud Beltrame’s courageous act, France’s Minister of the Interior said, “France will never forget his heroism, his bravery, his sacrifice.” Beltrame is being honored because he gave his life for the freedom of the hostages.

Perhaps you, too, would step forward to help someone you love.

Bobbie and I have been recently burdened with the news of her sister, Beth’s, recurring leukemia, for which the only solution now is evidently getting a bone marrow transplant. The other day, without hesitation, Bobbie sent in the test kit and ended up being a perfect match! That means that we’re trying to figure out how to squeeze in a week and a half trip to Puebla, Mexico (where Beth and Chalo live and serve as missionaries) in the next month so Bobbie can make this life-saving donation! I am so proud of her courage and willingness to do something sacrificial.

This all reminds me of Jesus who, with a heart full of love, willingly bled and died to save not just his friends, but his enemies!

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)

I was helpless and weak, an enemy of God, and Jesus showed God’s incredible love by laying his life down to pay for my sins so that I could be reconciled to God and live with him as his beloved child forever!

For that sacrifice and for that incredible victory of death three days later, I am completely indebted to my Savior and King.

I’m so grateful to belong to his family now and look forward to celebrating with him for eternity.  In the meantime, I’ll raise my hands and offer my heart to the true hero of the ages until I see him face to face, lifting the ultimate trophy of final redemption! 

See you Easter Sunday!
Pastor Steve

Pastor Jack's "not-so-quiet" time with God

Here is an inside look at my "not-so-quiet" time with God, which includes talking, tears, laughter, and a lot of confession. It begins with what is most important to me…

The highest priority in my life is to love God (Matthew 22:34-40; 1 John 4:19; 1 Peter 1:8). As a way to stay accountable to Him (there are other ways), I repeat these 7 statements of truth and commitment nearly every day. I only repeat the first two sentences: a biblical truth plus bolded commitment.

If I feel conviction from the bolded sentence, I read the rest of the paragraph and even look up the Scripture passage. I always ask God to search my heart.

And He does.

Every time.

Most mornings I shed tears of humility and thankfulness for His unending love in spite of my weaknesses and failures.

1. "God loved me first while I was at my worst, and He will always love me. Therefore, I believe God loves me and remember His love and forgiveness through the gospel of Jesus Christ."  (John 3:16; 14:6; 1 Jn. 4:19; Galatians, Ephesians 2:8-10; Titus 3:4-7). I can only love God as much as I am loved by Him. I need the truth of the Gospel every day. It is the fuel for my relationship with Him and foundation of the Christian life.

2. "I want and need to hear from God, my Father. Therefore, I read Scripture daily." (John 8:31, 15:7-11; Acts 18:24; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Colossians 3:16) I care about what God says. I want to hear from Him. I need His direction in my life. 

3. "God is my Father who wants to hear from me and respond to me. Therefore, I pray with a poured-out heart." (John 15:7-11; Matthew 7:7-11; Luke 11:5-13; Mark 11:22-24; Acts 4:31; 1 Peter 4:7; Psalm 80:18; Romans 5:3-5) I will talk with Him always. I will cast my cares on Him. I will share each moment and thought and concern with Him. I will voice what is in my heart. I will be open and honest about the hard stuff too.

4. "God never lies or tempts me. Therefore, I trust God completely."  (John 14:1-11; 15:3-8) There isn't anything He wants that I don’t believe is best. He alone knows what is best. In Jesus there is no darkness. My circumstances will not deter me from trusting Him. I will not focus on "the waves" (Peter's experience with walking on water). I will focus on Jesus. Trusting Him is not always easy. 

5. "God’s direction is always best for me. Therefore, I obey God immediately."  (John 14:15-24; 1 Peter 1:22-23) He has complete ownership of my life. My mind and thoughts belong to Him. I will fight for a pure mind. My actions and efforts belong to Him. I will do what He wants immediately. Delayed obedience is disobedience. When I am not obeying, it’s because I don’t believe His direction is coming from a heart of love.

6. "God deserves my worship and expression of love. Therefore, I worship God intimately."  (John 4:23-24; Colossians 3:15-17; Psalm 100:1-2) God is Holy, Holy, Holy; and worthy to be praised! I am a living sacrifice. I bow down to Him out of love. I will sing to Him because I love Him. I love to bless His name.

7. "God is the ultimate and everlasting source of joy. Therefore, I pursue my ultimate joy in God." (Jeremiah 2:9-13; Psalm 16:11; Matthew 13:44-46; Luke 14:26-33) "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him." He will be my ultimate source of Joy. I will seek no satisfaction before Him, and I will find no pleasure above Him.

These are not the only truths in Scripture about loving God. You would have to copy and paste all of Scripture to include everything.

Still, these biblical pillars have kept the fear of the Lord in my heart and mind countless times.

Galatians 6:9-10,
Pastor Jack

Executive Pastor and Bolivia Updates

Welcome to my first edition of writing for This Week at Grace. We have developed a Directional Team consisting of Jack, Steve, Kyle, Loren, Juli, Nathan and myself. The purpose of the Staff Journal is that we take turns to give you a glimpse into our hearts. So I would like to share with you 2 things that are on my heart.

Executive Pastor

The first is filling the position of Executive Pastor (XP).

Today is the last day that we are receiving resumes; we have received 16. The Directional Team and Elder representative Audrun Siebert will meet on March 19 and narrow the resumes down to three candidates, then we will begin contacting them for more information. In reality, whoever we choose probably won't start before June 1.

Please pray for us as we make this important decision.

I'm excited to have the XP come on staff to help with policies and procedures, as well as other things. We have a great team working here in the office, so I'm eager to see how the XP will fit in. He will be part of the Directional Team; in fact, he will probably lead it!!

Bolivia

Bolivia is the second thing that is on my heart.

The trip I was able to take with the team down to Bolivia was amazing!!!

I learned so much about Compassion International, how they not only have child sponsorships but also a child survival program for pregnant moms and children up to 1 year old. They also have a GAP program for students after high school.

Compassion’s model for church planting is very unique and incredible.

Then vs Now.jpg

A highlight of the trip was being able to see our church plant, which was awesome. They have purchased the land (thank you to all who bought a duplo(s) and contributed to the church plant) and have started construction. They already have about 200 children attending on Sunday mornings!

But the moment I will never forget is seeing an elderly lady singing and praising God. Below is a picture I took with her.

 
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Please be praying for the Bolivia church plant and be praying and asking God if He is wanting you to sponsor a child from the plant. April 22 is our Compassion Sunday, when you will have the opportunity to choose a child to sponsor. GCC's goal is to sponsor 100 children.

Feel free to ask if you have any questions about the XP or Bolivia. They are both pretty big things that will be happening in 2018!!

Ministering Together,

Janelle Paden
Office Manager