“Please come to our wedding!”

“Please come to our wedding!”

Earlier this spring, when Bobbie and I received an invitation to Armando Lucas and Sophi Santee’s wedding in Lawrence this coming August it brought back to me a flood of memories from our Amigo Team mission trips to Mexico.

I first met Armando in 2006 at the Children’s Haven International’s children home in Reynosa, to which we as a Grace Community Church family had been taking annual mission trips since 1999.

Armando arrived at the home that year as a 12-year-old with huge needs. Over the course of multiple Amigo trips, we had the privilege of seeing the incredible work that God did in Armando’s life through the life-giving, Christ-centered family environment of the Children’s Haven home.

As he grew, Armando trusted Christ as his Savior and excelled at school. Following graduation from high school, he attended and finished dental school.

Each time we visited the children’s home, we got to see Armando’s love for Jesus and his heart for service increase. He went on several mission trips with his church in Reynosa and became an older brother in the faith to all the younger kids at the home.

Now, God has led Armando to a godly young woman and he’s ready to launch a new chapter in his life, planning to emigrate to the United States and marry Sophi in Kansas as soon as he receives his dental license from the Mexican government.

Many of you know that after taking 20 Amigo mission trips to Reynosa over the years, we didn’t take a team this past March. It was a weird March for me, not being able to connect with the children at the home.

However, there has been in my heart what I believe is a God-given desire to take one more team of families down to Reynosa next year and lead one final Amigo Trip—“Amigo 21,” we’ll call it. Dates are February 29 (Saturday) through March 7 (Saturday), 2020, and you’ll be hearing more about registration later this summer.

I hope you and your family will pray about joining our twenty-year tradition of more than 230 adults and children from our church who have been the hands and feet of Jesus and shared his love and served his purposes in the lives of children like Armando.

I’m looking forward to this Sunday when we will recognize our graduates and hear a sermon from one of our Igniter alums, Gage Weller!

Pastor Steve

Room for Mystery

I love mystery stories.

I love the sense of awe and wonder when I get to the big reveal and I am totally amazed at how the hero (probably a certain mid-nineteenth century British consulting detective) sifted through the misdirection and minutiae to uncover the truth.

I also love the process of taking in all the information for myself and trying to figure out what is going on before I get to the end. (The more insignificant it seems the more important it really is, right?)

I enjoy this process so much that I like to go back and reread the same mystery story again because I pick up different details/clues/hints along the way. Each new detail that I discover reveals more of the story and the more I am drawn into it.

This is what all the studying for my Theology courses this semester has been like.

Just like going back to the same mystery story mining for more details, the more I study who God is the more details I pick up. And the more details I see the more I am in awe of Him.

That is a beautiful truth about our infinite and perfect God.

Because God is Creator and we are his creatures, we can only know God insomuch as he reveals himself to us. Even then, we are unable to fully grasp who he is because of our fundamental difference in nature: he is infinite and we are finite; he is perfect and we are broken.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying this is a “you’ll never get to the end of the story so don’t bother starting” situation. No, this is a “the story is indescribably beautiful so keep keep drinking in its beauty with each day of your life” situation.

It is a noble task to devote oneself to knowing him more and more each day even though we will not know God fully until the day we stand face-to-face with him. That is why I believe there is also room for mystery in getting to know God.

In my recent reading I came across this prayer from Augustine’s Confessions in which he captures the beautiful mystery of God’s nature:

Most high, utterly good, utterly powerful, most omnipotent, most merciful and most just, deeply hidden yet most intimately present, perfection of both beauty and strength, stable and incomprehensible, immutable and yet changing all things, never new, never old, making everything new and “leading” the proud “to be old without their knowledge” (Job 9: 5, Old Latin version); always active, always in repose, gathering to yourself but not in need, supporting and filling and protecting, creating and nurturing and bringing to maturity, searching even though to you nothing is lacking: you love without burning, you are jealous in a way that is free of anxiety, you “repent” (Gen. 6: 6) without the pain of regret, you are wrathful and remain tranquil. You will a change without any change in your design. You recover what you find, yet have never lost. Never in any need, you rejoice in your gains (Luke 15: 7); you are never avaricious, yet you require interest (Matt. 25: 27). We pay you more than you require so as to make you our debtor, yet who has anything which does not belong to you? (1 Cor. 4: 7). You pay off debts, though owing nothing to anyone; you cancel debts and incur no loss. But in these words what have I said, my God, my life, my holy sweetness? What has anyone achieved in words when he speaks about you? Yet woe to those who are silent about you because, though loquacious with verbosity, they have nothing to say.

What an amazing sense of wonder and mystery at our good and great God who is immutable yet changing all things, who is wrathful yet tranquil, who pays debts despite owing nothing.

So my challenge to you is to embrace the mystery of getting to know God. Continue searching for more and more details that unravel a fuller picture of who God is. But also take time to sit and enjoy the glorious mystery of his incomprehensible nature.

I love you, Church!
Nathan Ehresman

National Day of Prayer 2019

Prayer can have the feeling of duty and at other times delight.

When prayer is mostly about a discipline in our lives that we are suppose to do, then we sometimes fall into the trap of feeling like prayer is a duty. But when prayer is mostly about delighting in knowing, talking, and listening to God then it can become a way of fellowshipping with God often resulting in a co-laboring with God to accomplish good and advancing His will on earth.

Today is the National Day of Prayer. It is a day set up to focus on how we need God’s help and wisdom as individuals, communities, and as a nation.

This year’s theme of “Love One Another” comes from John 13:34 where Jesus says “...love one another: just as I have loved you...”

Below is a link to a prayer guide for today:

Tonight from 6:30-7:30pm in the Worship Center we will be hosting a community-wide prayer and worship gathering for the National Day of Prayer. Everyone is welcome to attend as we unite with other believers across our city in worship and prayer. We’ll pray for the local Church, for our community, our state, and our nation. Our hope for tonight is that we can delight in prayer together and be co-laborers with God and one another as we seek to love as Jesus has loved us. We hope you'll join us.

Grace and peace,
Loren

Welcoming Others as Christ has Welcomed Us

The second greatest commandment in the Bible is to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39), or simply “love people” as we say here at Grace.

I’m constantly praying that we would grow in our love for people! I pray that we would be known for how we love people, and I pray on Sunday mornings that we would welcome one another as Christ welcomed us (Romans 15:7).

Yesterday presented me with an opportunity to do this. I met someone who looked like a man, but was dressed like a woman. I felt an initial reaction in my flesh that I had to fight. I could sense myself becoming judgmental and I didn’t like it. My heart wrestled, wondering if I would find myself in a predicament not knowing how to address him.

How would I hide my confusion about simply starting a conversation with him? Would my expression show that I think dressing like that is wrong, and would he simply feel judged? How would I love this person? 

I’m so thankful for God’s Spirit within me.

After an initial reaction of judgment, the Holy Spirit stirred up in me a strong desire to simply love this person. I needed to treat him like a person created in God’s image. I needed to treat him as I would want to be treated.

After I got my dinner I went and sat across from him. I simply made conversation and asked him how his day was. We talked about work, and his new phone, and where he’s from.

One thing that I found out in talking to him is that I never had to think about whether he wanted to be known as male or female. When I talked to him I simply addressed him as “you”. There wasn’t any awkwardness in the conversation with him at all. It’s actually when I talked about him to someone else (my friend who was there with me) that it was awkward and I found myself wondering if I should say he or she. I want to say I was talking with my friend to figure out how to talk with this transgender, but now I’m pretty sure that conversation simply ended up being gossip.

We’ve been called to love people, and we’ve been called to show hospitality to strangers. I’m saddened that the church is “known” for hating people who are different, and I’m saddened that media is simply perpetuating that. Yes, we are committed to God’s Word. Sin is sin, and we won’t call it ok when God says it’s not. But I want the church to be known for how we love people, not for what we are against. I can love people and I want to love people because God loved me when I was his enemy. He loved me when I was unlovable.

Will you join me in praying that God would grow our love for people, and that we would welcome others just as Christ has welcomed us?


My Rightnowmedia pick of the month is a good one for parents in this age of cell phones and social media! Check it out here:

 
 

For His Glory,
Pastor Kyle

Elder Connection: A Letter From Our Elders

[Editor’s Note: This is a special-edition Staff Journal written by Marc Friesen, the chairman of our elder board. This letter from Marc is kicking off a series of quarterly updates from the elders as a way to create an open line of communication from the hearts and minds of the elders to you, the church.]

Greetings Grace!

This letter is the first installment of what the elders hope to be another line of communication to the body. We are aiming for this quarterly letter to update you with what is on the hearts and minds of the elders. This need has been communicated. We hope this forum will better inform you, but that it will also highlight concerns and correspondingly the great things God is doing in this body for both celebration and prayer. The elders want to emphasize that we are here for the body.

The first thing we want you to know is in our monthly meetings one of the very first things we do is pray. We take an extended time of prayer. We pray for the body. We pray for individuals. We pray for conflicts, health issues, and other worries. We also pray to celebrate the joyous, the awesome, and the big and small.

Looking forward, we are surveying how GCC can encourage connection both here and in the Newton community and greater area. We are looking at communications, programs, and even our physical buildings and grounds. All these factors can, and should, work together to make GCC a place of encouragement and connection to Jesus. Our directional team does a lot of this work.

March was our first meeting with a report from our new XDM (Executive Director of Ministries). Juli has been busy diving into her new role, taking on several tasks that the elders have accumulated over the past several years just waiting for somebody like her to take. Two of those projects are developing employee evaluation tools and growing council unity. These tasks are in addition to the ongoing search for a new Children’s Ministry Director. The elders are grateful for someone like Juli in this role.

One of the mainstay agenda items of our meeting is the stewardship report. It is easy to become complacent when this area is running smoothly. The Stewardship Council does a lot of the work aiding the elders in what we are entrusted. We are grateful for all that He provides in His beneficence, and we want to be diligent in that management. 2019 is off to one of the better starts in recent memory from a financial perspective, which is even more reason for the diligence.

We also have been working on revising the church bylaws and employee handbook. Both projects involve many people, varying considerations, and a significant amount of detail.  The undertakings are slow, but steadily, moving forward.

In closing, I find myself continually struck and humbled by our familiar sending -- “YOU are the Church. Now go BE the Church.” My challenge is how I can embody and respond every day. I hope you also feel that same Spirit-led urgency.

Blessings,

Marc Friesen


We would love to have you join us for our two Holy Week services!

A reflective service focused on the cross and capped off by celebrating communion.

Two identical services celebrating the resurrection and highlighted by 17 (!!) baptisms.

"This is the best day of my life!"

With tears in his eyes, at only six years old, he told us: “This is the best day of my life.” One day, I hope he knows it was one of the best days of our lives too. 

Russell, our second-born, made a profession of faith on Super Bowl Sunday (02/03/2019). It all began as a normal Sunday. I’m not that into football or the Super Bowl, but it was a great day at church, and we had plans to stay home and rest as a family. Like many Americans, we had pizza and Courtney made some dip for us to enjoy.

I turned on the game, not expecting to watch it. However, the game actually kept my attention. The score and teams always seemed evenly matched against one another. It came down to the last 2+ minutes of the game, and I wasn’t sure who was going to win.

Out of nowhere, Russell sat on the couch and said he wanted to ask Jesus to forgive him and that he wanted to be a Christian.

“What?! Now? Is this happening!?”

Before I could respond, he ran to his room. Now, I know I will be judged by some. But the truth is the truth; for a moment I thought, “Surely I can talk with him after these 2 minutes are up.” But of course, the Holy Spirit gave me that “really?” feeling, so I came to my right mind and followed him to the room.

He jumped on the bed and immediately began praying. It was as genuine a prayer as you could imagine. He asked God to save him from his sins, confessing that he believed Jesus died on the cross for him. It all happened in what felt like a brief second. He said “Amen,” and I just knelt in shock and wonder.  

You see, Russell had the knowledge that Jesus died on the cross for him, and he had said prayers before acknowledging this, but we had yet to see a heart change or any fruit in his life. I had been praying for months that God would give Russell a pure heart; that Russell would walk after God and follow Him all the days of his life. I had faith, but I suspected it would take decades for any assurance. God answered that prayer much sooner than I expected.  

After we went back in the living room, Russell hugged his mama and sat on the couch. I just stared at her in disbelief. Seeing the tears in my eyes, she knew it was real.

As we silently celebrated together, Russell shocked us both again. Within a minute or two of sitting back on the couch, he started crying real tears and said, “This is the best day of my life!” As he wiped away his own tears, we began releasing ours. This was a true moment of sincere humility and repentance.

I never did see the end of the game. I don’t remember who won. But that evening was a night I’ll never forget.

I don’t know what you’re praying for. I don’t know the odds stacked against you or your hopes. But I do know one thing: God is able. He is able to answer those impossible prayers. He is able to change a heart. He is able to move a mountain. Trusting in Him is always worth it. You never know exactly what He’s going to do, but you can always trust Him. I’m glad we did. And I’m eternally grateful that Russell did.

I love you guys and hope to see you this Sunday! We’ll be looking at James 2:14-26. That passage has a special place in my heart, and I can’t wait to share it with you.

God bless!
Pastor Jack

Broken Brackets

March may be over, but the “Madness” continues!

This coming weekend’s Final Four competition in Minneapolis will crown another national champion in the NCAA men’s basketball league, and alas, my bracket is totally “busted”!

I filled one out several weeks ago just for personal enjoyment, not anticipating how engaged I would become in the process. I swelled with pride when I guessed right on a majority of the early Round of 32 contests, but then hit the skids on my Sweet 16 picks. My national champion choice didn’t make it out of the Elite Eight!

My broken bracket notwithstanding, the reality of the tournament is that 67 out of 68 teams exit the competition without hoisting the championship trophy. While there are some beautiful Cinderella stories to be celebrated--a Big 12 team that’s not KU is in the Final Four!--a lot of dreams have been shattered during these days.

Expanding the analogy a bit, I think it’s safe to say that life has a way of breaking our brackets and smashing our dreams. All of us have tasted the pain of defeat and disappointment. Whether it’s a loss of livelihood, a cancer diagnosis, or the death of a beloved spouse, child, sibling, or parent, we’ve all tasted grief and been battered by our sorrow. I can’t remember a season in my 21 years here at Grace when we’ve had as many funerals in such a short span of months as we’ve had recently.

Some of us have had our “marriage bracket” broken by the loss of peace, oneness and hope, and we wonder if there’s a “consolation bracket” for wounded hearts!

I love how author Dallas Willard responds to that when he writes,

“The human soul is a vast spiritual (nonphysical) landscape, with resources and relationships that exceed human comprehension; and it also exists within an infinite environment of which, at our best, we have little knowledge. We only know that God is over it all and that the soul, if it can acknowledge its wounded condition, manifests amazing capacities for recovery when it finds its home in God and receives his grace.” (Renovation of the Heart, p. 202)

Enter the grace of Jesus Christ!

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6)

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)

See you Sunday, as Pastor Jack continues his sermon series on “Real Faith” from the book of James.

Pastor Steve

The Heart Behind Our Sending

If you have been with us regularly over the last few months you may have started to pick up on a pattern in the way we end our services.

We end our services with what we call a “sending.” We call it that because we see the end of our service as the beginning of your week of living out your faith—we are being sent to go live out the truth we just sang and heard.

Sometimes the sending is a reflection on the sermon we just heard, sometimes it is a benediction from Scripture (like the priestly blessing from Numbers 6), and sometimes it is what we call our sending. Our sending is something we wrote as a staff that we feel captures God’s heart for our church.

So, as the words of our sending are hopefully becoming familiar to you, I wanted to take a few minutes to share the heart behind them.

I will break our sending down into a few chunks and add some commentary on each chunk. Here’s the first part:

We have been motivated by the love God has shown us in Christ.
We have been united in our worship of the living God together.
We have been encouraged by our fellowship with one another.
And We have been equipped by the preaching of God’s Word.

These lines get at what we see as the purpose of our Sunday morning services. Our services are designed so that we would be a church that is motivated, united, encouraged, and equipped.

Motivated to love God and others because He first loved us. United as one body, worshiping the one true God together. Encouraged to persevere and grow by sharing life with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. And equipped to apply the Truth in our own lives, as well as to minister to those around us.

It is our prayer that by gathering together for an hour (or so) on Sunday, we would all be better equipped to go be a gospel witness for the other 167 hours of the week.

Now, go in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is the power in you each and every day. Isn’t that kind of crazy to think about?! But it’s true: “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you,” (Romans 8:11).

So, think about what that means for you: you do not have to wonder if you said the right thing when your coworker asked about your faith—it’s the Spirit’s job to change hearts. You do not have to rely on your own strength to get through the pain of heartache—the Spirit gives you strength. You can lean into the Spirit’s leading and trust Him to do the work only He can do.

In all that you do, love God boldly.
In whatever neighborhood, whatever workplace, whatever school God has placed you, love people sacrificially.
In whatever stage of life you find yourself, look for opportunities to faithfully lead others to do the same.

This is our purpose as a church: to love God, love people, and lead others to do the same. This purpose is something that can permeate all aspects of your life, no matter where you are or what season of life you are in.

We believe God has you in your specific neighborhood, your specific job, your specific school because you are part of His plan for reaching that neighborhood/workplace/school with the gospel.

We also believe that whether you have been a Christian for ages or your faith is just blossoming, there is someone you can learn from and someone who can learn from you about loving God and loving people. Be diligently seeking out those people, and make the most of the opportunities you get.

YOU are the church. Now go BE the church.

The church is not a building; the church is a people. It can be tempting to think it is the church’s job to teach people about God, or it is the church’s job to visit the vulnerable in their affliction. But remember: you are the church. So, yeah, it’s “the church’s job”—but that means it’s your job… it’s our job.

We won’t always end our service with these words, but we will frequently because we believe they echo God’s heart specifically for our church—for you. It is our prayer that hearing this sending gives you a more clear understanding of how God is calling you to be part of what He is doing in and through Grace Community Church.

I love you, church!
-Nathan Ehresman

Preparing for Easter

Ever have the holidays or a special occasion sneak up on you?

I have.

This usually puts me into a last minute scramble of trying to find a present, or write a note, or make appropriate plans. It’s stressful to say the least, and after the event passes I’m always left wondering why I can’t seem to remember that I want to remember these important moments or I’ll have a sense of shame for missing out on the significance of celebrating something or someone in the way it or they should be celebrated.

I share that because this is something I’m working on.

We are headed towards Easter. Can you believe it?

Remembering and celebrating Easter is one of those significant occasions that can sneak up us.

Paul, writing in 1 Corinthians 15, says, “and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain… and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins… if in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

Needless to say, the resurrection is a big deal.

I want to walk into church on Easter Sunday having already prepared to deeply appreciate and celebrate Jesus as the risen Savior and Lord that he is.

One way many have found helpful in preparing to draw one’s attention to the significance of Easter is to walk through the season of lent prior to Easter. If you look it up on Wikipedia you’ll see that lent is for the believer to prepare “through prayer, doing penance, mortifying the flesh, repentance of sins, almsgiving, and denial of ego.” Many traditions will do a fast of some sort to create space for prayer.

In my experience, lent has proven to be an extended time of digging into my profound need for Jesus. It has been an opportunity to practice and invite God to do what the Psalmist says in Psalm 139:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!”

Every year, I gain a greater appreciation for Jesus as he continues to do his good work in my life. Often he has tenderly dealt with my weaknesses, addressed pride, and my tendency toward wandering.

Then when Easter comes my soul swells with gladness. 

Jesus being raised from the dead confirms he is who he said he is and his offer of forgiveness and new life can be trusted.

Easter is coming. I'm praying it won't sneak up on us but that we can meaningfully rejoice and in our risen Savior and Lord.

I look forward to worshiping with you on Sunday as we continue in our Real Faith series, exploring “An Obedient Faith” from James 1:22-27!

Grace and peace,
Pastor Loren

Praying During Our Services

So there I am on Sunday morning, gathered with a couple dear brothers in Christ praying for God to move in our church in mighty ways:

  • We’re reading and praying through scripture, calling on God’s promises and faithfulness that His word will accomplish His work (Isaiah 55:10-11)

  • We’re praying for our hearts to be like good soil, to receive God’s truth (Matthew 13:23)

  • We’re praying for the living and active word of God to expose our hearts (Hebrews 4:12)

  • We’re praying for the Holy Spirit to move among us, to convict us, to empower us (John 16:8; Acts 1:8)

It shouldn’t surprise me that the very first time we have a dedicated group of people praying during the service that a projector crashes on us. Thankfully we have 2 projectors!

We know God wants us to get teams of people praying for the services, and we know that Satan doesn’t want that. I’ve been expecting attacks from Satan and I expect that we’ll have more challenges as we continue to get prayer warriors together to pray during the services.

If you are interested in being on a once-a-month rotation to pray during the 9am or 10:30am service, please let me know!

For some of us, praying for an extended time is easy, for some it may be a challenge. Some of us prefer praying silently, while others prefer praying out loud. Some of us pray while kneeling, some of us pray while pacing back and forth in a room. Some of us like it really quiet, for others we like to have worship music playing while we pray. 

It really doesn’t matter how experienced you are, how comfortable you are, or how you prefer to pray, if God is stirring in your heart to do this, contact me! [Editor’s note: you can send Kyle an email at kyleschanbachergcc@gmail.com]

If you’re not sure how to pray during the services, I’ll be working with Debby Graber to have some material to help guide us in our prayers, and we’re working on a space in the church facility to provide a secluded prayerful atmosphere for our teams to gather. We also know that many of you may want to walk around the church facility while you pray and that of course is encouraged as well.

2019 has started out with a great emphasis on prayer, and we are committed to growing the ministry of prayer at GCC. We are dependent upon God, and we want to see him work in mighty ways!

Also, you may not know that every Thursday at 3pm in the Worship center a group of people gathers to pray! If you can be a part of that, we’d love for you to join us! And even though it’s really early, you can come pray with me in the worship center on Sunday mornings at 6am! I have to warn you though, I like to play worship music fairly loud while I walk through the chairs praying for people as they come to mind and praying for the service.

I’m looking forward to singing praises together on Sunday morning, and continuing in the book of James! This has been such a great challenging series so far! Hope to see you then!

For His Glory,
Pastor Kyle

Stiff-Necked

I went to a chiropractor for the first time. I woke up with a neck that decided it wasn't going to turn anymore. And when I tried to fight against its will, I lost. 

I don’t want to complain or whine... most of my friends have been through this and worse. But it's my first time. And you know how the "first time" can seem intense.

Throughout the day I could barely look down or turn my head to the right. Depending on how I moved my arms, I got a shooting pain that stopped me in my tracks. The doc said it should get better; to call if it’s worse; and I met with him again two days later.

I realized throughout the day that it was a trial meant to humble me. God and I both knew I had ignored His "quiet voice" the previous day, I just wasn't bringing it up in prayer.

Do you ever have those moments where you try to pretend that everything is fine because you're not committing major sins? 

NEVER. WORKS.

Here's how it started: The morning before, I felt the urge to fast and pray. It was a normal Tuesday, but I really needed to seek God's face about some things. But instead, I ended up renting a movie to watch after the kids went to bed. To make it worse, I stayed up even later than that watching comedy (clean) and political videos online. What a waste of time! These are not bad activities within themselves... but I knew Jesus was asking me to fast and pray, and I decided to ignore the prompting. I was what the Bible refers to as, "stiff-necked" - pun intended. 

So I prayed in pain, realizing that I had some fessing up to do. I gave into the entertainment and food idols I’ve been flirting with since I was a kid. I don’t know why I constantly find myself going back to those empty buckets with holes at the bottom… I already know better. 

I know the difference between right and wrong, most of the time. But certain moments/days/seasons I feel extra tempted. Extra tired. Extra selfish. I've learned from older saints that I shouldn't waste time focusing on the temptations themselves, but ask God, "What is the root of this? Where am I not trusting you? Why am I not going to You instead?"

I'm glad He doesn't give up on me. I tell Him: "I'm really young in that area... always feeling like an infant. Would you fill me with Your Spirit, and transform my heart? I am a child. I am helpless. Would you help me? I know You're better than anything the world has to offer. Help me be honest... I can't do it without You." 

Amazingly, He wants to answer those questions WITH me. Even though I don't always know what to ask for, I am always grateful that He meets me in those moments, desiring to "process" my pain and addictions with me. He does not shame me or guilt me. He ministers to a contrite heart. He never turns away the repentant sinner.

My interactions with Him reminds me, “If He couldn't work with a sinner or saint needing grace, He wouldn't have anybody to work with.” That's not an excuse, just the truth.

It took a sore neck and chiropractic appointment to open my eyes. But I’m glad He gave it to me. I know it’s because He loves me.

I look forward to this Sunday. [Nathan’s note: Don’t forget to set your clocks forward an hour on Saturday night! Or, you know, count on your phone to do it for you.] We’ll be talking about temptations and the power of pleasure.

I’ll see you there,
Jack Napier

5 Things We Want You To Know about Juli as XDM

We are thankful to announce that our very own Juli Dirks has accepted the new role of Executive Director of Ministries! In the wake of this news, here are 5 things we want you to know about Juli taking this new role:

  1. Juli’s title will be Executive Director of Ministries

    As the Executive Director of Ministries (XDM), Juli will help to communicate, mobilize, and implement the vision for our church as given by the Elders at Grace. Hers will be a vital role in bringing unity to the many ministries happening under the Grace Community Church umbrella. For more details on her specific job description, check out this page.

  2. This has been a long, thorough process

    Our elder board has been talking for years about an executive pastor, but the search began in earnest during fall 2017. Over the course of numerous months, the search team received many resumes and interviewed a number of candidates, but none of them felt like the right fit for one reason or another. Then, in fall 2018, the search team and the elders reevaluated our needs and felt God leading us to consider the possibility of an executive director. Once we expanded the search to include executive director candidates, we received 12 applications. From those 12, we identified and interviewed our top 3. From those, Juli clearly rose to the top. The search team then recommended Juli to the Elders, who had their own interview with her.

  3. The Elders are unanimous in their support of this decision

    After interviewing Juli, the Elders reached the joyful and unified conclusion to offer Juli the position of Executive Director of Ministries (which we are so thankful she accepted!). Through interviewing Juli, it became obvious to the Elders that she is gifted with organizational skills and that she has a humble servant’s heart. Hiring Juli for this position is the culmination of many hours of prayer and discussion, earnestly seeking God’s will for our church.

  4. We believe God has called Juli to this position at this time in the life of our church

    At the same time God was taking our church on a journey to be ready to receive Juli in this role, He was taking Juli on a journey to prepare her to take this role. Over the last 18 months, God has been revealing to Juli that He wants her to move from being a “manager of doers” to a “leader of leaders.” It wasn’t until one search team meeting when the question was raised, “Is there someone already in our church who God has gifted to fill this role?” that Juli began to wonder if this was the new role that God had been preparing her for. And, as it turns out, we believe it is! We are so thankful for the way God has provided for our needs, and that He did it from within our own church family.

  5. GraceKids is in good hands

    Juli’s first day as XDM is tomorrow, March 1st. That leaves us temporarily without a GraceKids Director, but we are confident that because God moved Juli into a new role He will also bring in someone who will take GraceKids to the next level. In the meantime, Juli’s team of leaders will take up some extra responsibility and the awesome team of volunteers will remain in their roles. Meanwhile, Juli and her search team will be accepting resumes, interviewing candidates, and praying that God brings the right person to be the next GraceKids director in His good timing.

If you missed last Sunday’s service - or simply want a refresher - you can watch the video below to hear more details about the process, the job, and how God has been at work throughout from several of our elders and Juli herself:

Finally, we want to thank you, church, for praying through this process over the last 18 months. Although the journey to get to this point was unexpectedly long, we can clearly see how God was at work preparing both Juli and us as a church for this next season of ministry. We are grateful to our good and loving Father for His wise provision!

Ultimately, it is our prayer that God’s kingdom would grow as a result of Juli’s ministry as our Executive Director of Ministries. Would you join us in that prayer?

Lost and Formed

I’ve worn my stocking cap a lot these days, largely because I’ve believed something which is evidently not accurate!

I read recently that the oft-repeated claim from well-meaning folks (myself included) that in frigid weather we lose eighty percent of our body heat through our heads, is not exactly true! When it’s chilly we lose body heat from any exposed part of us, say those who care about accurate perceptions of life and health.

Still, with these cold and snowy days we’ve had this past week, imagine my disappointment last Monday when I realized that I had lost my favorite wool stocking cap! Regardless of the eighty percent heat loss myth, the fact that something important to me was missing was not a pleasant feeling!

I retraced my steps from the morning and called around to the places I’d been. No hat anywhere!

Over lunch with Bobbie, I glanced out of our living room window and commented off-handedly about a squashed plastic bottle lying on our driveway. It’s too bad I didn’t follow my good impulse to throw it in the trash.

Imagine my relief when later in the afternoon, Bobbie texted me that the “squashed bottle” in the driveway was actually my stocking cap, which had evidently fallen from my coat pocket when I checked the mailbox at noon.

Pondering this little “lost and found” vignette, I got to thinking that the “Something’s missing in my life” feeling is more common to us than we probably care to admit, especially when it comes to our Christian lives.

I resonate with how David Takle, author of the “Forming—Change by Grace” course that we are offering starting next month, puts it: “Most of us have experienced the heavy weight of knowing all the things we should be doing and all the things we should not be doing, and the exhaustion of being forever behind where we think we ought to be by now. Giving more and trying harder seem to be the only alternatives we know.  Many of us have virtually given up hope of becoming more of what God wants us to be, because we have no idea how to add any more to what we are already doing.”

What’s missing?

What God really wants to do in us, Takle says, is to change us from the inside out.  Instead of us trying hard to do the right things and hoping our inner being will somehow catch up, God wants to first grow and change our heart so we are naturally inclined to live better. This is what is called “being formed into the image of Christ.” (Galatians 4:19).

I would really love to have you join me this spring in our 12 week Tuesday night “Forming” class (March 12 through June 4) as we explore how to “sail” under the direction and power of God’s Spirit, instead of just asking for strength to “row harder!”

In “Forming” we’ll learn how to develop a genuine relationship with God and to engage him for the transformation we long for.

If you sense that’s what’s missing in your life, let’s dig into real growth and restoration together!

Detailed information is available here or at the Sign Up Station in the foyer on March 3.

See you Sunday when Pastor Jack continues his new sermon series on “Real Faith” from James.

Pastor Steve

Jesus > Kit-Kats

Valentine’s Day was pretty fun growing up. It usually started out with some kind of cherry-flavored baked good for breakfast, then it was out the door with my home-decorated shoebox-turned-mailbox, ready to collect a pile of cartoon-themed valentine cards. Or, more importantly, to collect the pieces of candy taped to the pile of cartoon-themed valentine cards.

The day always started out well enough, but then my sin-nature inevitably reared its ugly head.

After all the valentines were passed out we would dump them out on our desks and sort through them all to assess the haul. No matter how many valentines and pieces of candy I received from my classmates, I wasn’t happy if I got the one with Raphael instead of the one with Leonardo (the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, not the Renaissance artists; my friends weren’t that sophisticated). I wasn’t happy if I got the one with the Butterfinger instead of the Kit-Kat.

I have this bad tendency of comparing myself - or what I have - to other people and what they have. I am happy with who I am or what I have until I see someone who is more or has more.

No matter where my eyes fall, temptation lies in waiting.

It’s kind of like how I set our 10-month-old son Caleb down in the middle of the room and the first thing he wants to crawl for is the electrical cords. So I turn him away from the cords and he crawls over to the stairs. So I turn him away from the stairs and he crawls into the bathroom and tries to pull up on the toilet.

The sin inside of me is always pulling my heart toward the things - whether it is a new gadget, an additional skill, or the ability to dunk a basketball - that I don’t have.

While none of these things are inherently bad, the longing for what I don’t have distracts me from thanking God for what He has already given me.

Recently, God was stirring in my heart an awareness of this propensity to sin, and then He brought Philippians 3:7-11 to my attention:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

… the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

I am constantly getting lost in longing for what I don’t have. What I so easily forget is that what I do have is everything.

Because I am in Christ and he is in me, what I do have is of surpassing worth beyond anything else that I could ever long for.

What a humbling truth.

But, at the same time, what an encouraging truth!

My heart is stirred to praise when I consider the grace of God to offer me resurrection from the dead by no means of my own, but by the loving gift of Christ’s righteousness.


I hope you will join us for worship on Sunday! I’m excited because Pastor Kyle (and a worship choir!) will be introducing a new song to our repertoire and Pastor Jack will be kicking off a new sermon series on the book of James, during which we will be challenged to consider the question Is what’s true in the Bible real in my life?

I love you, Church!
-Nathan Ehresman

Pouring out your heart before God

I appreciated our focus on prayer through the month of January. The dynamic of prayer that really stood out to me was how prayer should be like a relationship between a good father and his children. In prayer we pour out our hearts to God in praise, petition, confession of sin, and thanksgiving.

We should do what Psalm 62:8 leads us towards, which is to “trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.”

Even so, the “what should be” of our prayer life can be a struggle and perhaps, if we are honest, non-existent. We need the reminding of who God is, and the encouragement of what it’s like to engage him as Father. For this I’m grateful.

The A Praying Life seminar helped to bring some revitalization to my “asking” God for what is on my heart. I’ve also decided to “track” my prayers more closely this year. And I’d like to share a couple of highlights that have already happened.

On a personal note, we have and will continue to pray that our kiddos will come to know the love of God that is found in trusting Jesus. Anne and I are grateful for a church who focuses on this, an extended family that demonstrates this, and a social environment that is shaped by this. Our kiddos are saturated in God’s love. Yet we still know they have to come to an understanding of their need for this love for themselves and for them to make a personal decision.

Well, God has begun to answer this prayer as our oldest son, Maxwell, made a decision to trust Jesus!

Next, I’m excited to see how God is stirring in our young adult crowd as there is a group forming! We have been praying as a church for several months that God would bring together the right group and leaders to get something started. Praise the Lord as they are planning on kicking off this coming Sunday night! Please continue to pray for this group as they get started and move forward.

I’d like to end by sharing something I’m praying about and looking forward to.

On the high school side of Igniter we are going to do a six week series called “Girl Talks and Guy Talks” where will separate the girls and guys in order to focus on key subjects unique to each gender. We have been praying and planning for several months for this. Please join me in praying for our students to be encouraged and challenged in their walk with Jesus and for our speakers to have freedom and joy as they share from God word and their lives.  

Grace and peace,
Pastor Loren

Practicing the Presence of God

"A picture is worth a thousand words."

You've probably heard that phrase before. But I'm seeing it in a little different light this week as I've been pondering my prayer life during our emphasis on prayer this month. It brought to mind another phrase that I feel God has been leading me in lately - "practicing the presence of God."  

'“Practicing the presence of God' means not only staying aware of Jesus throughout the day . . . [but also] living every activity of the day with Jesus, by his side, sharing every experience with him." -Fr. John Bartunek 

I have been working towards increasingly inviting Christ into all the moments of my day.

He's already there, of course, but the busyness of the day takes my focus away from the One who goes before me, walks beside me and hems me in behind. 

I've found that picturing Jesus physically in the room with me has allowed me to create room in my mind and heart for being with him and sharing my life with him more fully.

Sometimes I picture him riding in the front seat with me as I drive to work; his hand on my shoulder and a loving smile on his face. Sometimes I picture him sitting with me in our front room early in the morning as I drink tea and quiet myself for Bible reading, or holding his hand as I take a walk in the sunshine. Sometimes his arm is around me expressing understanding for frustration I'm feeling or he's embracing me in a big bear hug and just letting me cry. No need for words between us. Just me with him and him with me. 

It's here that "a picture is worth a thousand words" for me. Here I can most easily find my true identity and stability in him.

Sometimes words aren't enough to express what's really in my heart and my words get in the way of Jesus sharing what's on his heart. The picture of him with me and the quiet connection between us is worth a thousand words.

Psalm 16:11 says,

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

Though I will continue to pray boldly, humbly, specifically and with scripture (as we’ve learned so much about this month), I also want to prioritize making space in my day and my heart for his presence, where my heart and his heart can align.

Will you make space for Jesus this week?

We look forward to worshiping with you this Sunday! Join us as we hear from Nathan Ehresman, our Creative Arts Director, on sharing the Gospel faithfully wherever the Spirit is leading you.

-Juli Dirks

"He who sings prays twice"

“He who sings prays twice”

This quote is often attributed all the way back to St. Augustine. Although it’s debatable who actually said this originally, it’s been quoted for centuries, and there’s some great truth in it.

Have you noticed that some songs could simply be read as prayers? Have you ever thought of the songs we sing as prayers to God?

So many of the lyrics of the songs we sing are words I would and do find myself praying.

“Lord I need You, oh I need You, ever hour I need You”

“Let Thy goodness like a fetter bind my wandering heart to Thee. Prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart Lord take and seal it, seal if for thy courts above”

“Turn my eyes away from searching for lesser glory, turn my eyes. Teach my heart with all Your wisdom to live for heaven, teach my heart”,

“Build Your Kingdom here, let the darkness fear, show Your mighty hand, heal our streets and land.”

One of my favorite worship bands is “Citizens and Saints”. I use a lot of their music in my private worship. I especially love their “In Part” album.

Last Sunday we shared their song “Father You Are All We Need” which is based on the Lord’s Prayer that Jack has preached on the last 2 weeks. I’m not sure if we’ll actually add the song to our repertoire, but we are going to sing it again this Sunday. The song is worshipful, and prayerful.

This month, my mind has been in awe of our almighty Creator, who invites us to talk to Him and address Him as Father! Wow!

I’ve also been graciously reminded of my helplessness. I need God, I need Him to work in my heart. I need Him to work in my kid’s hearts. I need His strength and wisdom as I walk with brothers in Christ through hard things. I need His grace and forgiveness day after day!

Church, let’s continue to make 2019 a year of prayer.

Would you join me in some specific prayers?

Would you join me in praying for strengthened marriages and restored relationships? Would you join me in praying for increased impact from our Sunday morning services? Would you join me in praying that our love for God would grow, that our love for people would grow, and that we would take every opportunity to lead others to love God and love people?

See you Sunday! 
- Pastor Kyle

"Our Father in heaven..."

Jack 1-17-19.png

Amelia is only 3 years old. However, you wouldn’t know that if you took her shopping with you.

Allow me to elaborate.

Last Saturday I decided to take her with me to a major grocery store in Newton. She wanted to go on a “daddy-daughter date.” So, Courtney dressed her up and got her ready.

She looked beautiful. Her hair was brushed and put up, her outfit was cute, and she kept smiling and saying, “I’m going on a date with daddy!”

On the way there, she requested to peruse the toy section. I obliged, just happy she wanted to be with me.

But would you believe that it took us 25 minutes to even get to the toys! We could not pass a single endcap without her saying, “OHHHH!!! I really wanted to show you this!!!” Or, “AHHH! I always wanted to get this!” 

I listened to her talk (somewhere in the vicinity of 200 wpm) as she walked down every aisle of the shopping store, telling me every thought that entered into her mind.

And I couldn’t have been happier.

A passerby even stopped to tell me, “You are so blessed.” And she was right.

Now remember, this was a normal shopping errand to a simple store, 1 mile away from our house. Not a holiday. Not a birthday. Not a carefully marked date on the calendar. But for us, it was special. Very special.

Why? Because I love being with her. I love it when she talks with me and wants to be with me. I could listen to her share her heart forever.

The time we share is special to me. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I love her, she is my baby girl. 

And I believe this is similar to how your Heavenly Father feels when you spend time with Him.

He loves you so much. He longs for those “regular, non-holiday, uneventful” times where you talk with Him. When you tell Him about your day and week and heart and thoughts. When you open up to all that is swirling around. 

I’m glad I get to share a little of my life with you in these staff journals. I know you love us and think of us often.

In the words of the Apostle John, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (3 John 4, ESV)

May you walk with God, knowing that He is your Father in Heaven who knows and cares.

Matthew 6:9,
Pastor Jack

Highway to the Throne Room

Since one of my “hobbies” is creating quizzes, I thought I’d throw out a random question for you. 

Here it is:  “What do Sacramento, Winnipeg, Mexico City, and Washington, DC have in common?”

If you answered, “Cities that God loves,” give yourself a pat on your soul.  Good answer, but it wasn’t the one I was thinking of. 

If you came up with “Cities all connected by highways which intersect in Newton, Kansas,” congratulations! You hit the geographical nail on the head!

I still remember the day when little ole’ quiz-loving, map-junkie me discovered that our humble little community sits at the crossroads of North America!!

That’s right! I haven’t tried this, but I’m told that if one takes Main Street (Highway 81) as far north as possible, one winds up in Winnipeg, Manitoba! Follow Main Street as far south as the road will go, and one will be driving into Mexico City!  

Head west on Highway 50, and with enough tanks of gas, you’ll be pulling into Sacramento, California. Take off east on Highway 50, and you’ll find yourself passing right by the White House! 

Impressed?

How does this sound? President Trump lives “just down the road” (a mere 1240 miles) from Newton, KS! 

OK, we’re not exactly neighbors—not even acquaintances—and simply because of our “Newton Connection,” the chances of me getting an audience with him in the Oval Office are slim to none. But somehow the thought that there’s a “direct line” from my town to his house is a sweet thought to me.

Which leads me to ponder in amazement the privileged access those of us who belong to the Lord through faith in Jesus Christ have into the throne room of the universe!

When I open my heart to my Heavenly Father and talk to Him about my desperate need or my deep appreciation, it’s like there’s a direct line into the command center of the King of kings!

I can think of no other relational activity that means more to God or to me than interacting with Him in prayer. And I can think of nothing more powerful to do for or with someone than to bring them before the throne of the true sovereign of the ages, our incredibly gracious God who, at great personal expense and effort, has opened the door for us lost ones to come home and become members of His family forever!

Prayer is our powerful and greatest privilege because God loves us, welcomes us, and has chosen to let us partner with Him in His mission to reveal his beauty and goodness, his wisdom and saving power to our world.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

I am so grateful to hear that over 200 people have signed up for A Praying Life seminar coming up next weekend!

Wouldn’t it be amazing if, in response to awakened prayer in our lives, God would do something so wonderful in us, our church family and our community that Sacramento, Winnipeg, Washington DC, and Mexico City would be impacted for the glory of God!

See you this Sunday, as Pastor Jack continues his sermon series on prayer.

Pastor Steve

A Prayer for 2019

How successful are you with New Year resolutions?

Journal daily… drink 3 Nalgenes full of water each day… don’t use the snooze button…

These are all resolutions of mine from years past. I have had varying levels of success, but almost inevitably lose focus and fail to carry the momentum of a New Year resolution through the full 365 days.

A few years ago, Addie introduced me to a new way of doing beginning-of-the-year reorientation: choosing a “word of the year” on which you regularly mediate. It could be anything you want; the idea is to choose something that, by being reminded of this word, will draw you closer to God.

My 2018 word of the year was immutability, which refers to God’s attribute of being absolutely unchanging. This proved to be a perfectly fitting word for what turned out to be my most change-filled year yet (new job, new baby, new house). Because I had chosen immutability as my word of the year, I was constantly reminded that no matter how much things change in my life, God never changes. I found great peace in that.

This word of the year practice has been far more beneficial to me than any set of resolutions ever was, so I plan on continuing it for 2019.

(Can we pause and say, ‘Whoa! It’s 2019?!’)

I have decided to put a twist on it this year, though.

During the month of January, we are focusing on prayer here at Grace:

Drawing on that prayer focus, I have decided to write a short daily prayer based on my 2019 word of the year: value.

Gracious, Almighty Father God,
Thank you for Your steadfast love which endures forever. I pray that You transform my understanding of value this year. Help me to see that my value lies in Your love for me, rather than in anything I do or don’t do. Help me to value each and every person I encounter the way You do; may my interactions with people be filled with a reflection of Your steadfast love. Help me to value each moment - big or small - and how it can be used for Your glory.
Amen.

It is my prayer that, by reading my attempt at reorienting my focus on finding my value in God and understanding value the way He does, you will be inspired to choose your own word of the year and write your own prayer.

May 2019 be a year in which God draws you near to His heart in new and deep ways!

-Nathan Ehresman

PS, I hope you’ll join us this Sunday as we worship through song together and explore how Jesus prayed in Mark 1:35 and Luke 5:16. We will also be voting to confirm the three elder candidates presented by the current Board of Elders. And, finally, if you want to learn more about Grace, join us for Starting Point immediately following the 10:30 service!