Christmas Sunday Gifts

Christmas Sunday is just a few days away and if it is anything like last Sunday, it is sure to be a beautiful, celebratory and full worship service! Grace kids are getting ready for the annual presentation of gifts to the Christ Child, and this year, our gifts will be for the neediest Karen refugee children at New Life International Baptist Church. It is not too late to bring wrapped gifts–toys, clothing or gift cards–but please do bring the gifts to the donation bins at the back of the sanctuary by Sunday morning. You can label each gift with the age and gender of the child the gift is intended for, and we will make sure the appropriate Karen child receives it in time for Christmas.

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Not certain who to buy for? Just look at all these beautiful children! As you can see, there is sure to be a child to match with whatever gift you bring. Do you notice the little boy in the lower right corner? That would be my son, Felix. I didn’t know where he was when I was snapping photos last Sunday, and I was so surprised to find him in this picture when I got home. He was right down there with all his new Karen friends!

Felix chose a gift for a boy his age, and you could do something similar. How about choosing a gift that your granddaughter would love, or something that would be perfect for your next door neighbor’s son? It doesn’t need to be large or expensive to be a meaningful gift. One of my best Christmas memories as a young child was when I received a small stuffed animal from an anonymous person at our church who said it was a present for me from Jesus. The item itself didn’t matter–but the love and generosity I experienced made a lasting impression on my young heart and convinced me that Jesus really did see me and care about me.

Thank you for extending the love and generosity of Jesus this year to the Karen children and their parents. May you be blessed with the joy of giving! See you on Sunday!

New Life International Baptist Church

We had a wonderful service at Grace yesterday. My kids were thrilled upon entering the sanctuary from 12th Avenue and finding the Christmas tree next to the fireplace, and the whole sanctuary bedecked for the great celebration of the Christ Child! The best part of the service, though, was that we were joined by our wonderful family from New Life International Baptist Church. We enjoyed several musical pieces from our guests. We also had a special visit from the prophetess Anna (think Luke 2)! Thank you to everyone who contributed to decorating the sanctuary and participating in the service yesterday, especially New Life International Baptist Church–we love you!

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Leadership Retreat 2014

We had a fantastic leadership retreat at Fort Columbia State Park this last weekend. As you can see from the photos, we had a wonderful group of people and an action-packed weekend. We spent much of our time talking through our desires and goals for the upcoming year at Grace Bible Church. It was also a great opportunity to get to know each other better! Thank you, Ken, Sharon, Roger, Jeanie, John, Kathy, Bethany, Brian, Luke, Shelby, Fiona, Felix and Judah for what you added to our group this weekend and for your investment in our church by being at our retreat!

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Update: Mercy Ships Madagascar

by Jackie Bailey

Last Thursday I volunteered to help with patient screening that was held at a local hospital.  There were about 2,000 people lined up to be screened for possible surgeries on board.  It was an extremely hot, humid day and people had been standing in line since 4:00 a.m. Many had traveled some distance to reach Tamatave, but there was no pushing or shoving. People were very patient and kind to one another, offering seats and sharing shade and water.  It was very different from other patient screenings I have seen.

I signed up to be on the prayer team that prays with the people we couldn’t help. The experience was very moving, incredibly sad and yet beautiful in many ways.

Please pray for the following young people we encountered in the prayer room who had to be turned away for medical treatment:

We sent away several mothers who had babies with encephalitis. Babies tied to their mothers’ backs with tiny bodies and huge heads are images you never forget.  Please pray for these families and their babies who will soon die. Mercy Ships has sent a palliative care team to try and help them through the dying process.

A man led his two blind children to us, each holding on to his arm–a 13 year old boy and an 11 year old girl. They were waiting to be seen in the hopes of restoring their eyesight.  They had their vision until age 7 or 8, but had untreated glaucoma. I’m not sure why they had it so young, but our eye team was not able to help them.  This family and their situation was particularly sad to me because there are no services or help for the blind. I guess the only bright spot was that they had each other.

A 16 year old girl came with a 9 month old baby that looked like it was about 2 months old. This baby was clearly not going to live.  The mother was also pregnant with a second baby. She was unmarried and confided that she was about to have an abortion.  God magnificiently intervened and she not only committed to not abort the baby, but also committed her life to Christ.  It was amazing!

Keeping Near to Jesus

Running has become a significant aspect of my life in the last 18 months. Part of the appeal is how effortlessly I can will myself to run, and I do. No one is ever chasing me, and my legs don’t usually turn to lead running knee-deep through mud like they do in some of my night dreams. On really good days, I even feel weightless as I propel down the street and I begin to imagine what it would be like to fly, my feet no longer pounding on pavement.

But there are these ridiculous long runs I signed up to do in preparation for a half marathon in December. A 30-minute run on a weekday morning is no big deal. I’m home for breakfast before I start to think about giving up. But running for 60 minutes, then 90 minutes, and so on, is another story. Sometimes it feels like I am running in place like in those night dreams I dread. I’m finding that I can’t do my long runs alone.

Every Saturday morning, I join a group of women training for the same half marathon. We break off into compatible pace groups, and then we log the mounting miles together. Last weekend it looked like I was going to be alone in my pace group and I was certain I couldn’t muster the strength or the motivation to run 8 miles solo. But one of the women came along beside me and said, “You can do this. I’m going to run with you.”  I would have finished early and gone home well before reaching the goal if it wasn’t for her support.

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References to running in the Bible have become especially meaningful to my spiritual health as I pursue running for physical health. When I read of the great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 12, I think about my Saturday morning running group as well as all the cheering friends and family who crowded the street a mile before the finish line at my first half marathon this spring.

After running so many miles, my legs were heavy and my feet so tired. My mind was sinking in despair—I have how much further to go?! WHY am I doing this?! But with the blessed support of friends and strangers both, some cheering from the sidelines and some running beside me, I pounded out the miles and reached that daunting goal of 13.1 miles.

Our real lives can be so doggedly hard, like running a half marathon. We get flat out tired and bogged down. It seems like we are running with lead legs, knee-deep in mud. Our circumstances pound at our peace and joy, and our own shortcomings result in one failure after another. Disappointments and surprises crash against us. People break trust and our hearts can hurt so deeply. But we don’t have to face any of this alone or without hope.

Paul writes in Hebrews 12:1-3:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

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I love how there is a crowd of onlookers in this passage—they are ahead of us, as described in the amazing “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11, and they are next to us and behind us. Some have finished the race, others are right there with us, and still others are taking up the rear and following in our steps.

We all take part in cheering each other on in this life of faith. I think about the community that gathers at Grace Bible Church every week, and I am grateful for the support I find there. We have the opportunity to love and carry each other when we think we can’t take another step in life. We are all in this together and we don’t have to face life alone.

But beautifully central to this race is the Lead Runner. He is ahead of the pack, he has already busted out the miles, and he shows us how it is done. We don’t stop running, though our legs and lungs and everything between defies us to continue. We glue our eyes to his back and we keep going—he is Jesus, the very one who gave birth to our first trust in him and the one who cultivates our dependence upon him. He is the mark we can set our minds and hearts on because once and finally, he fixed his own eyes on the joy of sitting at the right hand of his Father and the prize of winning his children—and in so doing, he won it all!

Sometimes, life is effortless. But more often, we are tired, sweaty, and thirsty; our knees start to ache and we wonder when it will all end. But our Jesus has already run and won this race for us! We don’t grow weary and lose heart, even though the race looks so ridiculously long and hard from here.

I want to let myself be supported in this life by the people God brings me, but most of all, I want to keep near to Jesus, hot on his tail in the midst of whatever is happening in my life. I want him to fill my vision, not my own struggles or the circumstances that send me soaring and the ones that weigh me down. With my sight set on him, I will think less and less about myself and all the running I am doing. The relentless grace of God I find when I look at the goodness of Jesus is the part in my running where I begin to feel weightless and fly—I can run with no burden to finish first, or to finish with glory, or to finish period. There is only Jesus ahead of me who already said it is finished. The ultimate race has been won!

Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…he has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them!

(Psalm 68:19, 1 Peter 1:3, Eph 1:3, Luke 1:68)

May you experience God’s love for you in the people he graces your life with this week, and most of all, may you keep near to Jesus, running your race with perseverance and resting in the freedom that Jesus has done it all for you.

11/2: Daylight Savings Time Ends

Some of us love it, some of us hate it, but many of us forget it: Daylight Savings Time! The official end of Daylight Savings Time is 2 AM on Sunday morning, November 2.

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Don’t forget to “fall” back an hour before you go to sleep this Saturday night, otherwise you will be early for our regular service at 11 AM.

If you do find yourself at the church early, or you are wondering what to do with that extra hour in your day, why not join the Bible study downstairs at 9:30?

As always, we look forward to seeing you at Grace this Sunday!

Migrating to the Mitten

brandondienekeAfter eight years calling Portland home, Dieneke and her husband, Brandon, are taking the long way back to the “mitten”–more precisely, Michigan–to start a new life in their hometown of Kalamazoo. By “long way,” I mean that they are stopping by at Lassen, Yosemite, Death Valley, Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon before parking in Kalamazoo at the end of this month.

If you have spent any time with Dieneke and Brandon, you know how much they will be missed in our Grace family. But if you have heard any of the details surrounding their move back to Michigan, you will also know how assuredly God has arranged everything for them. Kalamazoo is just the place he has prepared for them in the next chapter of their life together.

I always knew that returning to the Midwest was part of Dieneke and Brandon’s 10-year plan, but God surprisingly turned that into a 2-1/2 month plan! While Dieneke was with her family in Kalamazoo this summer, she received an unexpected call from a former employer offering her a job. The details rapidly fell into place. It was so much more than Dieneke ever imagined would happen, and in many ways was an answer to the increasingly courageous prayers she has been praying this year.

dienekeOn her last Sunday at Grace, Dieneke described some of the things she has learned in the last few months. God provides for every detail, even the small things we don’t think of on our own. All of these details come together for the bigger work God is doing in and through us. Dieneke has learned not to make such long-term plans–God often changes them! Instead, we must focus on the day-to-day in front of us, pray boldly for miracles only God can do, then wait for him to do his work. He will do it! This was proved to Dieneke in the way God so beautifully wrapped up their time in Portland and made a way for her and Brandon to return to Michigan.

We never know what is happening behind-the-scenes when we call on God to intervene in our lives. There is usually more than one person involved in the puzzles we seek God’s help in. Dieneke was a wonderful answer to my prayers for a friend in the last few years. Saying goodbye last week was very sad for me, and I know many in our church will be missing Dieneke’s warmth, wisdom and friendship. But I’m certain that Dieneke and Brandon’s move back to Michigan is a wonderful answer to their families’ prayers. Who knows–maybe there is someone in Kalamazoo who has been praying for a friend, and they are about to be blessed incredibly by a beautiful friend named Dieneke!

dieneke3Isn’t God so kind in the ways he generously meets each one of us in all our needs? We are grateful to him for the good work he has done in and through Dieneke in her five years at Grace, and we are praising him with her for his leading back to Michigan.

Dieneke and Brandon, we love you and look forward to hearing good things from your new life in Kalamazoo! 

 

Using her gifts: Jackie Bailey with Mercy Ships

Jackie Bailey was in her 50s before she started volunteering on a regular basis. Her office requires employees to put some hours into the community, so Jackie started serving with Shepherd’s Door, Portland Rescue Mission’s transitional care facility for women. When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Jackie felt compelled to go. She went to New Orleans with Forward Edge, and it was there that Jackie’s desire was sparked to keep going and giving what she can in the world.

Since 2005, Jackie has been on numerous short-term mission trips as well as one six-month trip with Mercy Ships in Sierra Leone. On Saturday, Jackie is heading out for another eight months with Mercy Ships, this time to Madagascar!

Jackie glows when she talks about Mercy Ships. She had many highlights to share of her time in Sierra Leone and she expects the same in Madagascar.

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The Mercy Ship is a 16,500-ton, fully-equipped hospital ship. Over 400 people from 40 different countries volunteer their time and expertise to provide free treatment to thousands of patients while in port. Their emphasis is maxillofacial, reconstructive, plastics, orthopedic, ophthalmic and dental surgeries for those who have little or no access to this specialized healthcare.

“The challenge is enormous, but don’t let the statistics numb you. Every number has a name, a face and a story. And they will break your heart,” writes Mercy Ships of the problem. Their solution? For over 30 years, they have “followed the model of Jesus to bring hope and healing to the world’s poor one life, one community and one nation at a time.” Since 1978, Mercy Ships has visited over 70 countries, treating more than 2.5 million people!

Jackie will fly to Capetown, South Africa this coming weekend to meet The Mercy Ship. On this tour, Jackie will assist the Crew Physician and the Screening Team, which means she will be screening potential and incoming patients. Jackie says this is exciting for her because she will have more interaction with the patients as well as the locals who come on board during the day as interpreters, drivers, or other various workers.

There is something to do on-board The Mercy Ship every night of the week. There are Bible studies and worship services as well as ongoing professional training in specialized topics. There is even an accredited K-12 school for volunteer families! Volunteers are encouraged to worship with local churches on land. In Sierra Leone, Mercy Ships partnered with local churches to show the Jesus Film. Other opportunities include observing surgeries, and visiting or praying with recovering patients.

One of my favorite stories Jackie told of Sierra Leone was the weekly Celebration of Sight when people blinded by cataracts danced on The Mercy Ship deck, their sight completely restored by a simple surgery they could never have accessed in their country. I also loved hearing about the Living Blood Bank. Whenever a patient with your blood type is in the operating room, you can be on-call to donate. Later, you can actually meet the man or woman who now shares your blood!

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As we talked about the great needs in the world, Jackie reflected on the huge number of retiring Baby Boomers with health and resources to share. But what are they going to do with these gifts? “There is always enough to go around,” Jackie said. It is the principle of loaves and fishes—God always multiplies the little that we give. What if more Baby Boomers gave their time and resources to help other people? What if all of us did that? There are many opportunities to serve in other countries, but there are also many opportunities to serve in our own neighborhoods.

The great needs of those around us belong to people with names and stories. What if each of us committed to following Jesus in giving what we have to bring hope and restoration to the people he places in our lives? One by one, the people around us would be transformed, and this would spread throughout our community, our nation and our world.

Thank you, Jackie, for sharing your story with us and for inspiring us to each do our part in loving others, changing the world one person at a time! We love you and can’t wait to hear the ways God multiplies what you are about to give in Madagascar!

 

Connecting Through the Details

This weekend we will celebrate 140 years as a church in downtown Portland. We have a rich history of compassionate service among the poor and sick as well as training and outreach for young people in this community. To this day, we continue to love and serve our neighbors in this great city!

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Our beautiful building is now positioned in the heart of downtown Portland, but when it was first built it was surrounded by large, Victorian homes on its quiet, suburban corner of SW 12th & Clay. The freeway wasn’t background noise, and sermons and Bible studies were conducted in German.

Behind the historical records of our church, there are countless personal stories of the people who have crossed the threshold of Grace Bible Church in the last century. Even now, our church continues to fill with people who have stories to tell—and every one of us does.

The chance of any of us meeting in our regular lives is slim. We all live, work, and recreate in different corners of this city, and yet we have crossed paths at Grace Bible Church. On Sunday mornings we stand shoulder to shoulder in those well-worn pews, worshiping God together.

That is what I love about our church. I have friends I would never have met if it weren’t for one Sunday or another at Grace. And imagine—our small church in Portland is just a slice of the great Church that belongs to Christ—across all time and borders!

We all have stories to tell of how we came to this particular church and what God is doing in our lives today. We also have stories we wouldn’t think to tell of our interests and quirks and weekly routines.

Though we often have opportunities to meet new people over coffee or lunch at the church, it takes time, and sometimes guts, to really know others and let ourselves be known. In addition, there is so much noise in the world; it’s easy to think the details don’t matter anyway.

But we believe that the details of our lives matter to God.

Since God cares to know about his children, it stands to reason that we should care, too.

What if our church was made up of people who knew the commonplace as well as extraordinary details about each other? What if we formed relationships of interest in one another that reflected the care God has for each one of his children?

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You probably don’t know that Pastor Ken’s go-to comfort food is warm vanilla pudding, or that I have an aversion to playing board games. I doubt Brian Martin has ever told you about the summer he biked across America, and you probably didn’t know Jackie Bailey is about to embark on her second volunteer tour with Mercy Ships in Africa.

When we learn the background details about each other, we start to form bonds of familiarity that lead to genuine concern for one another. We also catch a glimpse of God’s creativity and his immense love for people! He took time to make us just as we are, and he is actively making something beautiful with the whole story of our lives.

This week I had the great privilege to spend time with Jackie Bailey before she embarks on that second volunteer trip with Mercy Ships. We both shared bits of our stories, and we connected over a common desire to use the resources God has given us to make a difference for others.

On Monday, I will post some of what Jackie shared about her previous experience with Mercy Ships and what she will be doing with them for the next eight months. You are going to love hearing about it! In the meantime, be sure to join us this Sunday as we send Jackie off with our love and prayers, and don’t forget to celebrate with us in the Fellowship Hall–140 years and still going in downtown Portland! I hope to see you there.

We Relapse…He Restores (Gen 20)

Big Idea:  The God who redeemed you from sin is the God who restores you when you sin.

I.  Abraham relapsed into lying to protect himself 1-2

1 Abraham moved away from there into the Negev Desert. He lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar.  2 There Abraham said about his wife Sarah, “She’s my sister.” Then Abimelech sent for Sarah and took her. He was the king of Gerar.

II.  God rescued Abimelech’s people and Abraham’s people from ruin. 3-13

A.  God’s rescue of Abimelech and his people 3-7

1.  He intervened in Abimelech’s actions 3

3 God came to Abimelech in a dream one night. He said to him, “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken. She is already married.”

2.  He interacted with Abimelech 4-6

4 But Abimelech hadn’t gone near her. So he said, “Lord, will you destroy a nation that hasn’t done anything wrong? 5 Didn’t Abraham say to me, ‘She’s my sister’? And didn’t she also say, ‘He’s my brother’? I had no idea I was doing anything wrong. I’m not guilty.” 6 Then God spoke to him in the dream. He said, “Yes, I know you had no idea you were doing anything wrong. So I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her.

3.  He instructed Abimelech on what he was to do 7

7 “Now return the man’s wife to him. He is a prophet. He will pray for you, and you will live. But what if you do not return her? Then you can be sure that you and all of your people will die.”

B.  God’s rescue of Abraham and his people 8-13

1.  He confronted Abraham’s sin through Abimelech 8-10

8 Early the next morning Abimelech sent for all of his officials. He told them everything that had happened. They were really afraid. 9 Then Abimelech called Abraham in. He said, “What have you done to us? Have I done something wrong to you? Why have you brought so much guilt on me and my kingdom? You have done things to me that shouldn’t be done.” 10 Abimelech also asked Abraham, “Why did you do this?”

2.  He compelled Abraham to publically explain his behavior to Abimelech 11-13

11 Abraham replied, “I thought, ‘There isn’t any respect for God in this place at all. They will kill me because of my wife.’ 12 Besides, she really is my sister. She’s the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother. And she became my wife. 13 “God had me wander away from my father’s house. So I said to her, ‘Here is how you can show your love to me. Everywhere we go, say about me, “He’s my brother.” ‘ “

III.  God restored Abraham, Sarah, Abimelech and his household…and the world  14-18

A.  …the restoration of Abraham 14-15, 17a

14 Then Abimelech gave Abraham sheep and cattle and male and female slaves. He also returned his wife Sarah to him. 15 Abimelech said, “Here is my land. Live anywhere you want to.”  17 Then Abraham prayed to God.

1.  Materially 14-15

2.  Spiritually 17a

B.  …the restoration of Sarah in her marriage and her reputation 16

16 He said to Sarah, “I’m giving your brother 25 pounds of silver. It will take care of the problem we caused you. And all those who are with you will know that you aren’t guilty of doing anything wrong.”

C.  …the restoration of Abimelech and his household 17-18

17 Then Abraham prayed to God. And God healed Abimelech. He also healed his wife and his female slaves so they could have children again. 18 The LORD had kept the women in Abimelech’s house from having children. He had done it because of Abraham’s wife Sarah.

Cf. 12:3:  Note, the Abrahamic Covenant remains despite disobedience in God’s people—that is the nature of an unconditional covenant.

D.  …the restoration of hope for the world: the Promised Child would be born to the old couple!

The threat to the paternity (who the father was) of the child that would be born the next year (!) was removed.

Application: How God responds to relapses at Grace Bible Church.

A preliminary observation about Relapse and Recovery: We all are prone relapse into sinful habits and behaviors and patterns.  The bible doesn’t present these stories to tell us to “Be like Abraham,” or, “Don’t be like Abraham,” as if “being like Abraham” could save us.  No, the Bible’s message to me is, “You’re just like Abraham already.  He failed.  You fail.  He got up.  You get up.  He struggled with longstanding issues of disobedience in his life—you struggle with the same.  He found salvation in simply believing in God—you find salvation in simply believing in God.”  My point is—you don’t have to try to be like Abraham—you and I are already like Abraham—that’s our problem!

Rescue from Relapse:  How does our merciful God Father restore us when we’ve relapsed into sinful habits?

He reveals our sin: By many varieties of communication, God confronts our sinful behavior.

He requires that we admit our sin: Though it offends our pride, we are required to “own up” to what we’ve done or said.

1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  Confess = “homo” + “Lego” (to speak)  Confession is agreeing with God about your sin.

Psalm 32:1 A Psalm of David. A Maskil. How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! 2 How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit!  3 When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away Through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. Selah.  5 I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I did not hide; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”; And You forgave the guilt of my sin.

He replaces the trust we had in our own efforts with a trust in Him alone to continue to save and bless us.