Statement from the Elders

Statement to the Grace Family from the elders about Orlando on June 19, 2016:

Your elders want you to know that we take very seriously Paul’s description of elders in Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3, and his instructions directly to them when he was in Ephesus. Acts 20 and especially verses 28–30 record his charge:

28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 men will arise and distort the truth.31 So be on your guard!

Faithful shepherds must always be scanning the horizon for danger and ask, “From where are the attacks coming in our culture?” We believe they’re coming from several places and at an alarmingly increasing rate. News, and perspectives informed by an unholy mix of agendas bombard us and coax us to look at the world from their view. Sometimes the challenges are so loud we want to lift our voice and address them directly and so I speak on behalf of all them when I say the following from my own heart:

Exactly a week ago [June 12] I stood before you to open Psalm 19 but was unaware that just a few hours before fifty souls in Orlando had suddenly and prematurely stepped into eternity. When I heard the news my first reaction was disbelief because the number was so high. I was horrified, and then angered when I learned the background of the terrorist, and then when I found out the specific location of the attack—in the most transparent confession I can express to my church family— in my heart the tragedy seemed . . . a little less tragic.

I had just preached about blind spots, areas of sin of which we’re unaware, and we prayed that God would reveal them to us and save us from them.  The meditations of my heart were not pleasing in God’s sight—they were wicked. I didn’t mean to think it, it just arose from somewhere within me and revealed that there was no truth in the innermost part.

As I considered my thoughts in light of the Law of the Lord I realized a few things:

  • I was reflecting the spirit of Jonah who waited outside the city of Nineveh hoping that God would change his mind and destroy the enemies of Israel rather than have mercy on them. He who had just received the mercy and rescue from God now wanted to withhold it from others. He somehow, in his twisted thinking, thought he was deserving of grace, but they weren’t. His selfishness judged personal comfort from a plant to be more important than 120,000 eternal souls who did not know their right hand from their left. Jesus, was more comfortable seeking the lost sheep and had pity on them, but saved his harshest words for those who felt they needed no mercy.
  • If I think I am better or that I could never have been a part of such a horrible scene I again misunderstand Grace. Imagine where I would be or you would be if our parents were born in Afghanistan and we were raised with extremist voices promising you salvation through violent sacrifice. Without the grace of God where would we be? Perhaps you say you would never be involved in such sexual sin. Are some sexual sins now worse than others in God’s eyes? Do I thank God that I am not like other people or is my prayer “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner?”
  • We don’t know if any of those who died had placed faith in Jesus, but if they hadn’t the tragedy is that they no longer have a chance to repent, no longer have the opportunity to change their eternal destiny. Fifty image-bearers, whose souls are worth more than the entire world, have now been lost. Human dignity is grounded in God himself. This is an assault on God’s image-bearers, and we should mourn that. In order to mourn murder we don’t need to ask if they were gay/straight, white/black, young/old, American/foreign, or Christian/atheist. We only need to know that they are God’s image-bearers, created for his glory.
  • Has the grace of God penetrated my heart so that I could sincerely wish it could have been me who died instead of them? That’s exactly what Jesus desired and did. Paul felt the same way toward his fellow Jews who killed Jesus and were trying to kill him. In Romans 9:3 he would have taken their place in hell for his place in heaven if possible. These are the meditations that are acceptable in his sight because they are his.

Others might be entertaining thoughts about the goodness of God in this event and wonder where God was. Where was God? In the same place he was when his son was dying—on the throne of the Universe, grieving over the sin of his children and the consequences they were suffering because as a race they freely chose to turn to self-destruction.

I’m not implying that the victims of these attacks brought these immediate consequences upon themselves. Jesus directs our thoughts away from such speculation to what we know to be true. We don’t and can’t know exactly why things happen as though God immediately rewards every sin. Listen to his words from Luke 13:

“There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.

When the world gets lost in the details of whom to blame and issues of security and gun-control and gay rights, the Church needs to double down on the most important issues of evangelism and compassion modeled by Jesus, and the boldness and convictional kindness inspired by the Spirit. We reject a tolerance that requires affirmation of choices but embrace an unconditional acceptance that Jesus died for all and nothing lies outside his ability to redeem. At times like these we also feel pain with the world and as the Psalms teach us we genuinely lament. We lament sin, we lament death, we lament the destructive forces of evil, we lament the choice of Adam and the way all his offspring repeat that choice on a daily basis. We lament the absolute hopelessness of the mess of a world we live in, except for the absolute cure of the Cross and the certain anticipation of Messiah’s return.

These are some of the meditations of our hearts about Orlando that would be acceptable in his sight. We want to cultivate a Church culture of transparency. We don’t want any shred of a pharisaical mindset that pretends to be better than we are. We want to strive for personal and genuine holiness and we want to reach out to all who need a savior. Ray Ortland, pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, TN opens his worship service every week with the following welcome (and we do as well):

To all who are weary and need rest; To all who mourn and long for comfort; To all who feel worthless and wonder if God cares; To all who fail and desire strength; To all who sin and need a savior; This church opens wide her doors with a welcome from Jesus Christ, the ally of his enemies, the defender of the guilty, the justifier of the inexcusable, the friend of sinners.

LORD, may the words of our mouths and the meditations of our thoughts be acceptable in your sight because you are our Rock and our Redeemer.





Connections through the Psalms

In this past Sunday’s service, Pastor Mike opened up God’s Word to Psalm 23 and in doing so he allowed for us to understand the faithfulness of God as our Good Shepherd. Throughout his message we engaged the Psalm seeing the faithfulness of God to provide and protect His people.

As we continue in our Psalm series, let us be consistent in engaging God’s Word throughout the week. An article from Desiring God, able to be found at this link, provides a great connection to the satisfied one we see in Psalm 23, and the afflicted one we experience in Psalm 22 and the anointed one we find Psalm 24. This article is a great resource, especially in order for us to gain a better understanding of some of the other Psalms we will not be able to cover during our summer series.

Here is a brief excerpt from the article:

So we see affliction and a glimmer of hope in Psalm 22. We celebrate a victorious monarchy in Psalm 24. And Psalm 23 comes right in the middle. So what’s its role?

Psalm 23 serves as the bridge between affliction and triumph. Both for Jesus, and for us.

The pain of the afflicted one in Psalm 22 is translated into contentment and trust in Psalm 23. There is pain, real pain. Darkness surrounds this suffering one. Insults are blasted. The mouth of the lion opens wide. The wild ox readies its head for a jab. But God is the rescuer. God is the shepherd. He leads and restores. Even though the afflicted one walks through the valley of the shadow of death, God is there to guide and rescue and comfort (Psalm 23:4).

The afflicted one is forsaken, but not utterly forsaken. And therefore, the afflicted one doesn’t fear. In fact, he’s satisfied, he “shall not want.” God prepares a table for him in the presence of his enemies. They are so defeated that he will feast in front of them — he is more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37). He is victorious, and God anoints him (Psalm 23:5). So he speaks, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Yes, even through the affliction. Even through the valley. Even through the grave. God’s goodness and steadfast love — God’s unswerving faithfulness — will pursue me to the uttermost.


5 Ways to Respond

This blog was posted earlier today on our Facebook page, but it is a helpful resource to read through and think about in light of this weekend’s tragedy. Continue to pray, pause, grieve, love and hope, but do so only under the guide, power and peace of the Holy Spirit.

It happened again.

In the dark hours of this Sunday morning some 50 people were killed and another 53 were injured in a terror attack in gay nightclub in Orlando. President Obama has called it an “act of terror and an act of hate,” and it’s being described as the most deadly shooting in American history.

The news of such violent atrocities comes to us so regularly nowadays that we may feel numb, helpless to know what to do or say after such events. But as followers of Christ we can’t simply shut out the pain and despair. We must bring light and healing.

These horrible events of recent years have targeted a wide variety of people: military personnel, movie-goers, elementary school children, and now patrons of a gay nightclub. All have dignity as made in the image of God. The death of any leads to mourning, whether they were targeted at random or not.

Over the years several writers for TGC have provided wise guidance on how to respond. These five calls to action apply to the most recent in a strring of tragedies.



No matter how frequently such tragedies occur, our first response should always be the same: turning to God in prayer. After the Newtown, Connecticut, shooting in 2012,Scotty Smith provided a model for how to pray in the midst of pain:

Dear Lord Jesus, we abandon ourselves to you tonight—we come running with our tears and our fears, our anger and our anguish, our lament and our longings. We collapse in your presence, with the assurance of your welcome, needing the mercies of your heart.

Some stories are just too much for us to absorb; some evil just too great to conceive; some losses beyond all measurability. We need your tears and your strength tonight. That you wept outside the tomb of a beloved friend frees us to groan and mourn; that you conquered his death with yours, frees us to hope and wait.

But we turn our thoughts from ourselves to the families who have suffered an unconscionable violation of heart and all sensibilities. Bring your presence to bear, Lord Jesus, by your Spirit and through your people. May your servants weep with those who weep and wail with those who wail. Extend your tear wiping hand—reach into this great tragedy with an even greater grace.


In the wake of mass violence, a common pattern is emerging among tech-literate, socially connected Christians. Rather than hearing the news and turning to God, we turn first to social media.

If we wanted to learn the facts about the incident we would look to news agencies. Too often, though, we’re actually looking to revel in the partisan divide. Even without looking we know the various angles that will be played out (e.g., gun control, the violence of Islam) and want to jump into the fray to join our “team.”

“Perhaps due to the callousness of our hearts or the fact that mass shootings have become common,”Trevin Wax wrote after the Umpqua Community College shooting last October, “we now rush to the computer to vent our frustrations rather than turn to God and to each other to express our grief.”

I understand how the feeling of helplessness intensifies the desire to just do something—to promote some person or push some policy. Make a statement. Pass a bill. Do whatever it takes to help us at least feel like we’re making progress in preventing these senseless horrors.

What troubles me is not that these tragedies lead to advocacy for policy change, but that our country’s imagination is held captive to the idea that the only place where such change can take place is in the legislature or courthouse.

On days like this we may need to guard our heart (Prov. 4:23) by avoiding social media altogether. Out of consideration for those who are suffering and in pain we can refrain from engaging in the polemics and adding to the din of divisiveness. Instead of tweeting and posting, we should seek to take practical actions, such as donating blood. (Even if we don’t live in the Orlando area, this event can remind us that daily tragedies occur and blood donations are always needed in your community.)


As Christians we are called to weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). Yet in times of tragedy we may be tempted instead to try to explain and justify rather than to simply be silent and grieve with those who are grieving. As Trillia Newbell has written,

When your friend is weeping it’s hard to say, “I don’t know, I don’t understand.” We want to know. We want to bring comfort, but in our attempt to “fix it” we can forget that there’s a real person in deep sorrow. Your friend, coworker, or relative is not a faucet to be fixed—they are flesh and blood to be loved. Those moments when you’re anxiously trying to find the perfect words are often the best moments to humbly embrace your weakness and lack of knowledge.

To be clear, waiting doesn’t mean never sharing perceived wisdom. Waiting might actually involve acknowledging you do understand. You understand your friend’s sorrow enough to be willing to bridle your tongue, to speak carefully and thoughtfully, to pray and wait.


The death of any humans should lead to mourning, whether they were the victims or the perpetrators. AsAngela Price wrote after the domestic terror attack last July,

Loving those who are different is not easy. It’s a sacrifice, but Jesus did it for us. When he came to rescue us, we were all lost in sin. We were “risky” for him, even to the point of crucifixion. Yet he entered into a world filled with filth, and willingly laid down his life in love. This is how we share Christ with those desperate for saving grace.


Christians should be the most realistic people on Earth. While we may support certain policies and solutions that we believe can foster peace, we must always be quick to admit that the root cause of violence and hate is sin.

As Erik Raymond wrote after the mall shooting in Omaha in 2007,

First and foremost an event like this is a heart-wrenching reminder of the devastatingly painful and absolutely brutal result of sin. The basic answer to the question as to why the trigger was pulled once, never mind 40 to 50 times, is a rebellion from and a hatred of God. At its must fundamental sense this tragedy is rooted in a rebellion from God. The fact that people had to die today in this mall is a testimony to the vicious recourse of sin. The Scripture is clear that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6.23). Death is the sword of sin, it cuts deep and far, and spares none.

Such tragedies, Raymond adds, should cause us to look away from superficial hope.

Yes sin is devastating; death is relentless. And if you and I do not have a true sovereign that can defeat such things with certainty then we are ourselves hopeless. But there is one who is just this sovereign and just this good. The Scripture tells us of Jesus who himself being God became a man with the expressed purpose of defeating death by disarming sin of its power. It is Jesus Christ, the Son of the most high God, who is Sovereign and good, and able to save sinners from the deadly enemy of death. It is Jesus who gave his life as a sufficient sacrifice to pay the death penalty due to rebels like us. He died upon the cross and rose victoriously from the grave. The Scripture says he was “declared the Son of God with power” (Rom. 1.4). His resurrection from the dead is the proof that death and sin have been defeated.

One day there was a tragedy with a similar story as the one that we have today. Many folks died and the people questioned how they should react to it. Jesus answers was amazingly short and profound. He said, “Unless you repent you too will perish” (Luke 13.3).

This is the message in this tragedy. Yes this is horrible. Yes it hurts. But the greater tragedy is to turn away from such things without repenting, or turning from sin.

As the English writer Samuel Johnson once said, people need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed. We probably don’t need to be instructed about how to react. We know what to do. We’ve faced this situation before and will face it again all too soon. We just need to be reminded of our call to muster the courage and respond in a way that brings honor to our Savior.

This is an article that can be found at this link.

Spurgeon on Psalm 1

Yesterday we began our new summer series, where we will be studying different psalms. We kicked off our series with Psalm 1 that deals with the contrast of the blessed and the wicked. Let us engage this passage throughout the week as we look to delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on it day and night. (1:2)

The following is an excerpt taken from Spurgeon’s Treasury of David. To read his full text on the first chapter, as the below text covers verse 1, click here.

Verse 1.  “BLESSED”—see how this Book of Psalms opens with a benediction, even as did the famous Sermon of our Lord upon the Mount! The word translated “blessed” is a very expressive one. The original word is plural, and it is a controverted matter whether it is an adjective or a substantive. Hence we may learn the multiplicity of the blessings which shall rest upon the man whom God hath justified, and the perfection and greatness of the blessedness he shall enjoy. We might read it, “Oh, the blessednesses!” and we may well regard it (as Ainsworth does) as a joyful acclamation of the gracious man’s felicity. May the like benediction rest on us!

Here the gracious man is described both negatively (verse 1) and positively (verse 2). He is a man who does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly. He takes wiser counsel, and walks in the commandments of the Lord his God. To him the ways of piety are paths of peace and pleasantness. His footsteps are ordered by the Word of God, and not by the cunning and wicked devices of carnal men. It is a rich sign of inward grace when the outward walk is changed, and when ungodliness is put far from our actions. Note next, he standeth not in the way of sinners. His company is of a choicer sort than it was. Although a sinner himself, he is now a blood-washed sinner, quickened by the Holy Spirit, and renewed in heart. Standing by the rich grace of God in the congregation of the righteous, he dares not herd with the multitude that do evil. Again it is said, “nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.” He finds no rest in the atheist’s scoffings. Let others make a mock of sin, of eternity, of hell and heaven, and of the Eternal God; this man has learned better philosophy than that of the infidel, and has too much sense of God’s presence to endure to hear His name blasphemed. The seat of the scorner may be very lofty, but it is very near to the gate of hell; let us flee from it, for it shall soon be empty, and destruction shall swallow up the man who sits therein. Mark the gradation in the first verse:

  He walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly,
  Nor standeth   in the way     of     sinners,
  Nor SITTETH    in the SEAT    of     SCORNFUL.

When men are living in sin they go from bad to worse. At first they merely walk in the counsel of the careless and ungodly, who forget God—the evil is rather practical than habitual—but after that, they become habituated to evil, and they stand in the way of open sinners who wilfully violate God’s commandments; and if let alone, they go one step further, and become themselves pestilent teachers and tempters of others, and thus they sit in the seat of the scornful. They have taken their degree in vice, and as true Doctors of Damnation they are installed, and are looked up to by others as Masters in Belial. But the blessed man, the man to whom all the blessings of God belong, can hold no communion with such characters as these. He keeps himself pure from these lepers; he puts away evil things from him as garments spotted by the flesh; he comes out from among the wicked, and goes without the camp, bearing the reproach of Christ. O for grace to be thus separate from sinners.
And now mark his positive character.  “His delight is in the law of the Lord.”He is not under the law as a curse and condemnation, but he is in it, and he delights to be in it as his rule of life; he delights, moreover, to meditate in it, to read it by day, and think upon it by night. He takes a text and carries it with him all day long; and in the night-watches, when sleep forsakes his eyelids, he museth upon the Word of God. In the day of his prosperity he sings psalms out of the Word of God, and in the night of his affliction he comforts himself with promisesout of the same book. “The law of the Lord” is the daily bread of the true believer. And yet, in David’s day, how small was the volume of inspiration, for they had scarcely anything save the first five books of Moses! How much more, then, should we prize the whole written Word which it is our privilege to have in all our houses! But, alas, what ill-treatment is given to this angel from heaven! We are not all Berean searchers of the Scriptures. How few among us can lay claim to the benediction of the text! Perhaps some of you can claim a sort of negative purity, because you do not walk in the way of the ungodly; but let me ask you—Is your delight in the law of God? Do you study God’s Word? Do you make it the man of your right hand—your best companion and hourly guide? If not, this blessing belongeth not to you.