Grace Bible Church is a small but vibrant church, in between Grace Christian Center and Grace Lutheran Church in a central part of town. I have had several friends tell me they attend this church, and one dear friend taught two women's Bible studies there. Before she moved with her husband to Germany, another friend and I had sat together over several Sundays' worth of worship. This church and I have a history, and it is mostly a warm and friendly connection because of my friends.
Entering the church, I was warmly greeted and handed a bulletin. The bulletin has a page for sermon notes (I love this), plus leaflets about church activities and welcome information. It clearly lists contact information, including elders and ministry leaders. They have made a real effort to let people know the organization of the church and the priorities of the congregation. I see notations about women's ministry, counseling, youth, and even a recovery ministry and a mercy team. This church prominently displays that they have a Celebrate Recovery ministry. Within the church bulletin are the October memory verses, which members are encouraged to memorize, and a long October Bible Reading Plan with verses for each day.
Did I mention this is a vibrant church?
During the praise and worship music, I notice that every song has a Bible verse shown on the screen during musical bridges. I really love this, as it relates the song directly to biblical teachings.
Lamentations 3:21-24 --
21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
During this we sang a song about "Your Grace is Enough," but I have no idea if that is the title to the song or not. None of the songs were familiar, and most had complicated melodies that made it difficult for me, at least, to follow along with the music.
I think this is the song we sang.
There were several other verses shown, all about "my portion" and "His grace is sufficient". I had no idea there were so many verses about that. The reminder was appreciated during this week when I kept hearing one person talking about how much other people made versus what she was paid, or even versus what I was paid. I took these verses to heart and reminded myself that I love my job and there are benefits besides a paycheck to consider.
The pastor, one I have not seen before, began his sermon with a discussion about distractions. How there is so much competing for our attentions and keeping us from hearing Him and His word. This was just a quick snippet, and then on he went into the last part of a series called "A New Identity."
Let me pause here by saying that, as a person who has had to move many times and who is still not finding a "church home," all of these sermon series get kind of tiring. Even if the pertinent lesson is designed well and can stand on its own, as in the case with this visit and most others I've attended, it is still something that always makes me feel like I'm not a part of that church. Especially in this area, where so many of us move and transition and change everything else, do we really need another reminder that we are missing out? That we are coming into the middle of things? I'm not sure what the answer is, here, but I still feel a weariness inside me every time I sit down and hear "part of a series..." and I know I am coming in halfway through.
At any rate, this particular sermon began with Ephesians 1:15-23. The pastor said that it could be used as a prayer for ourselves, that it was Paul's prayer to Ephesus.
This is one time where my notes, and the actual verse, don't quite fit. The verse talks about how he prays for these people with thanksgiving, and that God's power for those who believe is the same as that which raised His Son from the dead. But what the pastor talked about was that our name and our title are not who we are. We are more than that as soon as we believe. Where I might have been "Casey, daughter of Linda and Ed," now I am "Casey, child of God." This is powerful. He also asked what we pray for-- do we pray for only little things, such as "Lord, I need to get going...can you please help me find my keys?" or do we truly pray for the big things, for our families and our country. I couldn't help but think of "pray without ceasing."
The pastor reminded us that God is head over all-- over disease, over cancer, over accidents, over our finances. He truly has all the power. This is a really good reminder, especially for anyone going through any sort of test or ordeal.
He also talked about a diagram with "needs" at the center. Our needs inform our beliefs, which inform our goals, which in turn create our behavior. All are linked. When we look at our children, I would imagine having this diagram in mind would be helpful.
I honestly have no idea, looking back, if he actually showed this diagram or if it's just something I jotted down. I still take notes like I'm in college, so either of these could be true. I am not sure how much I believe this to be true, but it makes sense in a way so I'll think about it more. I am not entirely sure what that has to do with my identity, other than having many layers that all are based on needs. To have a lasting change on behavior, one must first fulfill needs.
My post title this week was "Missing Friends," because as I sat there listening to a sermon I'm not entirely sure I understood and singing music I couldn't quite follow along with, I really missed the company. This is a friendly, very involved and energetic congregation and I always felt very welcome at the women's Bible studies. Any church refers more to its people than to the lessons, however, because one will back up the other. While I am learning a lot from, and enjoying, this yearlong church journey, I am also still a visitor every Sunday. I'm "new," and 99% of the time I sit alone. It gives me food for thought. I don't want to choose a church home based solely on the friends I sit with (or the fact that I sit with anyone), but it's so much easier to build a connection with a church through Bible studies and small groups. I don't mind large churches, but eye contact with the other congregants or acknowledgements that there is someone sitting close by would be much welcomed.
Lots to think about this week.