Back to School

Here we go. I’m pretty sure there is no one in our city, ok, in the entire world, that is feeling normal about anything. Back to school is this whole thing. And for many, it’s exciting. Excitement about all the new: new teachers, new supplies, new clothes, new routines, new learning. Fall is supposed to feel like we’re ‘back at it’ after the summer break. Clearly this year is oddly different.

I’m watching all the social media posts of kids going back to school, in creative fun ways. My niece posted one of the best:

Moms and dads, families, students: You got this!

I just want you to know, I’m praying for each of you families as I see your posts about school starting (this week and over the past couple of weeks).

Teachers and everyone in education! You also face challenges you didn’t exactly sign up for. But as the kids and families work to make it all happen, we know you also will make it.

There’s clearly a broad spectrum of how education is happening right now. Let’s encourage one another and pray for one another as we see the Day approaching and as we get through this season that the Lord Jesus is fully aware of. Heb 10:24-25

He’s got you right where you are. Trust Him and live fully in the moment.

Think of someone you can reach out to today and encourage. Pray for them, perhaps send a quick text or even a coffee gift card. Let’s hold each other up. It’s what we do best.

The Prayer.

Some faith traditions recite it.

Some memorized it as kids.

Most pastors have taught it, at least once.

Sometimes it seems like a good “go-to” when you don’t really know what else to pray.

The Lord’s Prayer. Jesus’ most famous teaching on prayer is sometimes called The Disciple’s Prayer.

The variation of name is due to Jesus actually teaching the disciples how to pray. That would include us. Perhaps the Lord’s prayer would then be best described in John 17, or even His brief prayer in the Garden. For now, we’ll agree that what we know as the Lord’s Prayer given in the Sermon on the Mount serves us as a model for praying today.

“Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. ‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. ‘Give us this day our daily bread. ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.]’.

NASU (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Mt 6:9–13.

It’s good to read and re-read. It’s great to think on and even memorize.

One good exercise is to say each phrase and pause. Pause for as long as you’d like. Think about that one phrase and the realities of it. Think of His words for us as going back to Him for His glory and for our good. Go ahead. Give it a try. Don’t be in a rush. It’s especially helpful if you’re out on a walk, run, row or just swinging in your hammock.

I’d love to hear from you how it went. Comment below. Even if you don’t, I hope you’ll be blessed. PM

My Leap-Year Mother

Today my mom would be 96.  Actually she’d only be celebrating her 24th birthday.  I think of my mom often. At least every Mother’s Day, and usually February 28th.

In my family, it’s not uncommon for any one of us at any given time to say something like, “Well, I’m a Smith after all”.  Honestly, we don’t always mean that in a super-positive way. We’re usually expressing a strong opinion, or showing our ability to exercise impatience, or simply just being kinda loud about something.

My dad was a really good dad.  He was a great preacher, missionary and leader among those he worked with and those who knew him well. However, he was not known for being patient, nor was he the quiet, passive type.  He was affectionately known as “Big Jim” by pastors and church members of the places he and mom visited as missionaries. I often wondered if people called him that for more than being a tall man.  If he was in the room, everyone in the room knew it. And I love him for all that and so much more. 

Today, I woke up thinking about mom.  Helen Josephine Darling.  And I wondered why we never said, “after all, I am a Darling”.  I know the last name is carried on by the father’s line. I get that. But I do see a lot of the “Darling” in my siblings as well as the stronger, more dominant, “Smith”. I’m thankful the Lord gave us both!

Mom was quieter. She was a worker. She was patient and kind. Always made room for whoever was going to show up.  She loved her kids. She was always present, always active. Her ten kids were never in the house all at the same time (thank goodness!), but there was always a full table. She kept the entire operation moving along.

We’ve all shared various memories of mom over the years, since her death at age 63. Most recall as kids coming down what seemed like a long hallway in the early morning to find mom sitting in her chair by the front window with her Bible and her Daily Bread devotional book.  I don’t remember her talking a lot about it. She just did it.

This morning I read Proverbs 29:23  “A humble spirit will obtain honor.”

Today, along with my 7 remaining siblings and a host of grands and great-grands, we honor mom.  I would like to be known as a “Darling” as much as anything.  Wouldn’t you? I miss her.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Gal 5:22–23

Luke For Christmas

Along with many others, I saw various challenges put out to read the Gospel of Luke during the month of December.  One chapter a day, finishing on Dec 24th. Since our church has been going through Luke’s Gospel for sometime, I thought it a great plan to read familiar passages each day.

Like the other Gospels, Luke ends with the resurrection and ascension of Christ.  Yesterday, the 23rd, I was reminded of the cruel cross and the evil plot of the enemy to silence once and for all the Son of God. That move by hateful people was superseded by the very gracious plan of God all along.

Jesus was born to die. So that when we die, we live.

Repeatedly in Luke, we’re told why He came and what would come of His journey to Jerusalem.

Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  Luke 24:6-7, 44

I love the story of Jesus on the road to Emmaus.  The best part was when the men realized who they’d been listening to along the way.  Later that same day Jesus appeared to the other disciples and the same thing happens. Here’s how Luke says it:

30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight.

45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  Luke 24:30-31, 45–47

By the telling of the story of Christ through all the Scriptures, by the breaking of bread (how familiar that must have seen!) and the prayer of Jesus, He opened their eyes. When Jesus again articulates His complete mission in vs 46, He then leaves them with the commission to carry it forward. Our eyes have been opened.

Are we helping others see Jesus?

Imagine, watching the Son of God ascend into the heavens.

Reading that on Dec 24th as we gather to celebrate His first coming reminds us of the mission. To look for His coming and tell everyone about repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Merry Christmas, with eyes wide open for His return!

 

 

Twins for a week

Remembering Sandra

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Today, my younger sister would have turned 57.  I’ll turn 58 in a few days. My sweet sister passed away this past year on May 29th.

It was a Sunday morning in 1962. My mother knew it was time. My eldest sister, Janet took care of things on the homefront while mom and dad made their way to the hospital. It would not be until the evening when 15 year old Janet would get a call saying that she had a new baby sister but not to get too excited because she may not make it home.

Sandra was born with a hole in her heart. The doctors in 1962 were not too optimistic.  Thankfully, Sandra Kay did come home.

Like all of her siblings, she grew up knowing the love of godly parents and a home that made a priority of knowing Christ and being faithful to His work, in missions, in the local church, in all of life.

Sandra loved life. She laughed easily.

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She loved Jesus and the church and being a part of whatever was going on. Sandra mostly loved to sing. She loved hymns and choirs and any chance to participate in singing.  After her funeral, the family gathered and sang a few hymns around the piano. While we struggled to remember all the words it didn’t escape any of us that it was Sandra we missed. She new all the words. Of all the verses.

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I miss my sister. I know God’s ways are greater than ours. Instead of wondering why she died so young, I choose to praise Him that she came home from that hospital and lived an amazing life that impacted hundreds of people through her love of teaching and singing and brightening up every room she ever walked entered!

Sandra’s favorite dessert was cookies. So today I enjoyed a cookie. Okay, maybe two.  Sandra would have it that way.

Counting down

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days until we board the plane for Israel!

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days until Grace Community celebrates our 25th anniversary

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days until we meet again for Sunday Worship

 

My wife taught me an important lesson in how to take a vacation.

PLAN IT.

It’s no secret, I don’t mind “winging it” here and there. But when it comes to a vacation, there are many reasons to plan ahead. Not the least of which is to anticipate.

When we look out ahead and start counting, we anticipate.

I anticipate finishing a degree program I’m in.

I anticipate going to Israel.

I anticipate our church gathering at Pepsi Amphitheater for our 25th anniversary.

And, I anticipate gathering with our church family, each and every Sunday. Like we’ve been doing for 25 years.

What do you anticipate?

How does anticipating, counting down the days, help you be ready?

What are you looking forward to?

Here’s one thing I’m looking forward to more than anything else…

 

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.

Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.

Therefore comfort one another with these words.

New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Th 4:16–18.

Come to Israel with Grace Community

I really am excited about the group that is forming for our trip to Israel this October. And, I’d love for you to join us!

We’ll be flying out of Phoenix on October 3, returning on the 13th.  We’ll see many of the significant sites around Israel from the life of Christ. You’ll see places you’ve read about in both the Old and New Testaments.  It truly is an amazing experience.

This Sunday right after our morning service at Grace Community, we’ll have another “Israel Trip Information” meeting. This is the place to learn more about the trip and have your questions answered.  For those already signed up, please come and meet the others and I’ll give some tips on what to do to be prepared.  If you can’t make it, but are interested in the trip, please comment below or click for the brochure and information here. 

If you or someone you know might enjoy the opportunity to walk the land that Jesus walked, please come on Sunday and find out how to make it happen.

You can find our brochure and all the needed information by clicking here.

I’ve been praying for the group that the Lord is putting together to experience this amazing trip.  Please let me know if you have any questions.

AZ1.27 a new ministry opportunity for all of Grace Community Church!

I often say whether in a sermon or a prayer, “let us be the hands and feet of Jesus here in Flagstaff”!  I love that.  I know many of you are loving and serving Christ throughout your place of work, your classes and your neighborhoods.  Here is another opportunity for us to do something together.

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”  James 1:27

Arizona 1.27 is a state-wide movement of churches working together to see every child in foster care placed in a loving home.

Grace Community is partnering with AZ1.27 to learn all the ways we can help kids and families.  On Monday night, April 29 we will be hosting an AZ1.27 Orientation. This orientation will help those that have interest and questions about fostering and/or adoptions here in Arizona.  But, just as important are all the ways the rest of us can lend a hand.  Together we’ll learn ways the local church can help kids and families.  I can’t wait for you to join me on April 29.

Grace Community Ministry Center 6pm-8:30pm

Go here for more information.

Go here to register.  Registration is not mandatory, but it really does help!  Thanks.

Oh, Martha, Martha…

Martha loved Jesus. My guess is, it didn’t take long for Martha to know that Jesus loved her too.  Her way of showing love was through serving. Biscuits.  Maybe a pie.  She loved to serve and if something needed to be done she saw no reason not to get after it and get to work.

What I love about the passage in Luke 10:38-42 that we studied last Sunday, is that Luke gives us a glimpse of something so very ordinary.  This wasn’t a huge scene. There would be no need for background music.  Not much of a build up. Just a regular day, doing regular stuff.  Jesus stopped by.  How cool is that, by the way!  Kind of reminds me that Jesus is always with us as well.  We don’t go looking for Him. He found us. We’re His now. By His choice and design, He lives within us!  I just love, “Christ in you”.

So, it’s a regular day. Jesus stops in and Martha is going to make sure no one starves.  Mary sits in the living room with Jesus and maybe the others, assuming Jesus was traveling with the 12 at this point.

Do you ever just “get to work” on something, maybe even something for Jesus without ever stopping to ask Him? Just sit with Him and listen first.

What we hear as Jesus calls out her name, is Him calling out our name too.

“Oh, [insert name], [insert name].”

A loving, gentle, but clear redirection.  “Come, spend some time with Me.”  Listen.

Perhaps you too can testify that on most days, spending a little time with Jesus and His Word helps me throughout the day.  Hear His word. Make application from what you’re hearing, then go live the ordinary day.  Biscuits. Pie. It’s all good.

 

 

 

Blessed Christmas

It’s Christmas.

We just enjoyed 3 great Christmas Eve services, where we were able to welcome many guests and share with a few hundred the wonder of coming Home for Christmas. I am so thankful for the many people of Grace Community that worked and gave extra to help us have amazing Christmas services.

“We are never more at home than when we are enjoying the presence of Christ in us.”

This Christmas morning I share with you the words from Oswald Chambers:

His birth and our new birth

Behold, a virgin shall bring forth a son, and they shall call His name Emanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Isaiah 7:14 (R.V.).

His Birth in History. “Therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Jesus Christ was born into this world, not from it. He did not evolve out of history; He came into history from the outside. Jesus Christ is not the best human being, He is a Being Who cannot be accounted for by the human race at all. He is not man becoming God, but God Incarnate, God coming into human flesh, coming into it from outside. His life is the Highest and the Holiest, entering in at the lowliest door. Our Lord’s birth was an advent.

His Birth in Me. “Of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you” (Gal. 4:19). Just as Our Lord came into human history from outside, so He must come into me from outside. Have I allowed my personal human life to become a ‘Bethlehem’ for the Son of God? I cannot enter into the realm of the Kingdom of God unless I am born from above by a birth totally unlike natural birth. “Ye must be born again.” This is not a command, it is a foundation fact. The characteristic of the new birth is that I yield myself so completely to God that Christ is formed in me. Immediately Christ is formed in me, His nature begins to work through me.

God manifest in the flesh—that is what is made profoundly possible for you and me by the Redemption.

Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest: Selections for the Year (Grand Rapids, MI: Oswald Chambers Publications; Marshall Pickering, 1986).

Blessings on each of you this season.  -Mark