Updates from Pastor Mike
Friday, June 5, 2020
Greetings Grace Church,
This week’s update certainly comes with mixed emotions. There’s a sense in which I’m excited as we approach our first in-person service this Sunday. It will be wonderful to see so many of you and to worship together in-person. At the same time, I feel some trepidation. As we move forward we need to be careful and cautious, taking one another’s health and safety into consideration. And while I do have a sense of joy regarding Sunday, it’s an intentionally incomplete joy, in light of the knowledge that so many of you aren’t ready to be here. While we whole-heartedly support your decision, we are going to miss you and we will feel that on Sunday. And, of course, all of these feelings are underlined by a deep sense of grief and sorrow over the events that have transpired in our nation in recent weeks. A man’s life was taken from him at the hands of one who had been entrusted to uphold and protect it. That sorrow in my heart has only been multiplied in the aftermath as many have resorted to violence and acts of destruction. And quite honestly, even the way I see so many people talking at each other on social media, instead of talking to each other and really listening and seeking understanding, my heart is heavier than I can remember it being in a long time.
I do want you to know that as your pastor I do believe I have a responsibility to bring God’s word to bear on this situation. However, I have intentionally refrained from doing that on social media. For me personally, I don’t think that’s the most productive way to have this conversation. And, more important than giving my opinion or even sharing my feelings, I first and foremost want to bring God’s word to bear on this. And so, this Sunday, as we had already planned to begin a new series in the book of Psalms, I think God has a very timely word for us from Psalm 13. And so, in light of this coming Sunday, I just want to focus a little attention on how we are planning to gather this Sunday.
I hope everyone had a chance to look at the “Reopening FAQ” that Pastor Cole posted on Realm just a few days ago. In addition to giving you all the details of how we plan to be together safely, there’s also a link for you to RSVP. You only need to do that if you are planning on coming, and we need you to do that so we can plan ahead and ensure we are able to maintain social distance.
As you arrive on Sunday, things will look a little different. Please be patient with us as we greet you and as ushers show you to your seats. We realize that this will feel inconvenient and maybe even a little strange. Please give us grace as we are trying to be respectful and safe as we resume meeting.
And really, I want to take a moment to speak to what I know can become a potentially contentious issue for us if we’re not careful. And that’s the issue of wearing masks. We realize that different agencies have made different recommendations as to whether they should be worn. Ultimately, based primarily on the guidance of local health care professionals that have been advising us from the very beginning of this situation, we are recommending that you wear a mask. As I’m not a medical professional, I don’t really want to address the medical reasons for that. Though I do want to address more of a pastoral reason you’d wear a mask, even if you don’t think they’re that effective. One of the best reasons I think you could choose to wear a mask is primarily out of love and care for our brothers and sisters who might feel more at ease if more of us are wearing them. I realize that the result of that is that some of us might be inconveniencing ourselves for the sake of others, but I think that is the very thing that Christ-like love and service call us to.
As soon as I say that, I also need to highlight the fact that for some, wearing a mask may be more than just an inconvenience. Ultimately, we leave the decision to you. We will welcome you all the same regardless of your decision. And here’s where I want us to be extra cautious, not merely with our safety but even more so with our hearts. If someone chooses to wear a mask, or if someone chooses not to, please don’t assume they are making a statement or choosing a side. Instead, let’s all begin with the assumption that we don’t know what someone’s reasons were, and let’s commit to assuming the best about one another as we move ahead. And that, I think, is the most important to note to strike, as we move forward and begin carefully meeting together again, let’s also be careful to remember why we are meeting: it is because God has shown us His great love and we, in turn, are to love one another. Let’s make sure we are as eager to love another as we are eager to be back together. And until then, let me leave you with these words:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…. (1 Corinthians 13:1–8)
See you Sunday,
Friday, May 29, 2020
Greetings Grace Church,
As I write yet another update during this COVID-19 situation, this one feels markedly different. Perhaps this year more than normal, the weather has impacted our feelings and even our sense of hopefulness. This very moment, the weather outside my office window is absolutely beautiful; the sun is shining, a light breeze is blowing, birds are chirping, buds and blooms are appearing and opening as life is springing up all around. All this, seemingly, makes things a little easier as we work to trust the Lord together as we move forward. I pray that this update will also help contribute to that sense of hopefulness, as I am now able to communicate when we plan to begin having in-person services again.
We will resume in-person services on Sunday, June 7th, at our normal time at 9:30 AM. This decision was made after many meetings, and even more hours, of prayer, discussion, collaboration with health professionals in our own congregation, and careful consideration of recommended guidelines from county officials.
I also want to be careful to communicate that this decision is not intended to suggest that we think the COVID-19 situation is over. We recognize that there is a highly contagious virus that is life-threatening to some, for which there is currently no treatment or vaccination. Along these lines, when we begin meeting together in-person on June 7th, things will be different for a time. We will be taking precautions, many of which may feel inconvenient. However, it is precisely because of these precautions, undergirded by a sense of God’s guidance and provision, that we feel like we can gather safely and responsibly as soon as Sunday, June 7th. Next week, we will send out written and video updates with all the details concerning those precautions. That’s coming soon.
I also realize that even with precautions in place, many of you will not feel ready and will decide to stay at home a little longer. We want you to know that we support you in that decision as well. We don’t want you to feel pressure to return sooner than you think is wise. Resist the temptation to feel any sort of shame or embarrassment about that decision. We will continue to provide the Livestream so that you can worship from home. I pray that the Lord will strengthen your confidence that even in this situation you are every bit a part of the Grace Church family. In fact, if there’s anything else we can do to support you as you remain at home – a phone call, prayer, resources of some kind – please let us know.
And for all of us, the same gospel-purchased, Spirit-wrought virtues that we have needed to demonstrate to one another before, will be the same ones we will need to embody, perhaps all the more so, as we begin to reopen. Again, look for detailed updates next week as to how we can work together to be here safely and responsibly on the 7th. Until then, may the Lord bless us all with a deep sense of confident faith and unwavering hope in Him, and may…
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Cor 13:14)
On behalf of the elders,
Thursday, May 21, 2020
Hello, again, Grace Church Family,
Thank you all for your patience, graciousness, and above all, your prayers for the leadership of Grace Church as we now turn our attention towards reopening. As I mentioned last week, our primary motivation is honoring the Chief Shepherd by both leading and protecting His church, as well as loving our neighbors and providing a good witness in our community. Once again, if this results in a slower, more cautious approach than you’d prefer, please continue to give us patience and grace as we navigate this. We want to reopen soon and safely. Here I’ll return to the when and how.
Regarding the when, the most we can say with certainty is that we will not be having in-person services on Sunday, May 24 or Sunday, May 31. Beyond that, again, the most we can say, is that we are hopeful. Thankfully COVID-19 rates are flattening in most areas—just not in ours! We’ve been in almost daily contact with medical professionals in our healthcare system who have uniformly advised us to allow for the above time period to keep an eye on things as they unfold here locally. Again, even as we proceed cautiously, we remain hopeful.
How Are We Preparing?
Regarding the how, we have teams of uniquely qualified members developing our policy and plan for reopening. Trust me when I say the details are numerous. Every aspect of our corporate gathering, even our coming and going, has to be considered in detail so that we can safely reopen in a way that is consistent with local county health guidelines. We will share this plan with you once it is finalized to make sure you’re well informed.
How Can You Help?
I want to reaffirm that it is our desire to reopen soon and safely. There are two things you can do to help us: (1) We’ll be sending out a survey to get a sense of how many will return to in-person services once we begin. This will help us greatly in our planning and ensuring safety measures. Please fill that out! (2) Please continue to pray! Pray for wisdom, guidance, and discernment from the Lord. Even pray that the Lord will lead us to reopen. Pray for the health and safety of our church family and community. Pray for our unity. And pray that we will present a loving witness to the watching world around us.
Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. (Colossians 4:2)
Steadfast & watchful with you,
Friday, May 15, 2020
Greetings Grace Church Family,
This morning I took a moment to glance back at previous updates from the last eight weeks. In some ways I find myself feeling a bit like I did when I sent out the first one: things have been unfolding very quickly and information seems to be changing by the day, if not every few hours. Even as the elders met to pray and plan last night, our county has since released new guidelines that we now need to revisit as we prepare both the how and when of our reopening. I want to address both of those – the how and when – with as much clarity as I can. I realize that it will likely not be the level of clarity that many of us would prefer. I’ll do my best to address that as well as we continue to honor and glorify God together.
So first, the when. The most I can communicate at this point is that we will not be having in-person services this Sunday, May 17. Both our staff leadership team, as well as our elder council, easily came to a consensus that it would be unwise to move that quickly. As we communicated with other local churches in our area, that was consistent with their discernment as well. We want to be wise and intentional as we move forward, even if that means going slow and cautious. It is my hope that next week we will be able to communicate a much clearer picture of a timeline for when we can be back together.
Now comes the how. After the first few weeks of not gathering, I began to imagine our first Sunday back as a massive service, marked by prolonged greeting times, much hugging, and an overall spirit of exuberance that things have returned to normal. As that day now approaches, we need to be prepared that it won’t be quite like that. It will be celebratory, but different. We will likely need to have two services to allow for distancing. Many will exercise their freedom to remain at home a little longer. We will continue to Livestream to enable them to tune in. I don’t say this to put a damper on the goodness of that day, but only to help us prepare; when we come together it will be less like throwing open the doors and turning on the lights and more like dipping our toes and slowly wading in.
I want to acknowledge that this will come as a disappointment to many. While I don’t enjoy that, I am glad that many of you are so eager to be back at church. I am too. I am confident we will get there. Soon. Please know the primary motivation of our church’s leadership is not public opinion, but honoring the Lord, upholding His word, protecting our church, and loving our neighbors. If those motivations have resulted in an approach that feels unnecessary or overly cautious, I simply ask that you continue to show us patience and grace as we navigate this together.
This can be an important teaching moment in the life of our church, for all of us. God has providentially seen fit to have us right here in this moment, for His purposes and for our good. I certainly don’t imagine that he has led us here in order to see this situation divide us. In fact, it is precisely in this season when many of us have strong and divergent opinions that we have the opportunity to grow in and display some of the most unique Christ-like qualities that seem to be in scarce supply in our day: humility and kindness.
I recently read these comments online: “Have you noticed how remarkably confident so many of us are in our views right now? Unfounded certainty—on the part of laypeople, leaders, modelers, and “experts” alike—is a contagion at least as viral as COVID-19 itself. We could all use a bit more humility, and the church should lead the way.” We are keenly aware that this applies to the church’s leaders as well. Please hear us not as experts who know we are right but as loving shepherds who are trying our best to do the right thing. Even still, if anyone remains certain that you are right, no matter what side of this situation you are on, let us treat one another and speak to one another – even think about one another – with such a spirit of kindness that none of us will mind if we end up proven wrong in the end.
Another update will come next week. Please continue to pray for wisdom and guidance for our elders and leadership team.
I… urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1–3)
Grace & Peace,
Thursday, May 14, 2020
Grace Church Family,
This will be a quick update!
We simply want you to know that we are aware of the recent developments concerning the Supreme Court’s ruling regarding the “Safer at home” order. Throughout the day today, our staff team has been meeting, talking with other local churches in our immediate area, as well as contacting our local county authorities as we continue conversations that were already underway about exactly when and how we will begin to meet together again. The elders of Grace Church will be meeting this evening to discuss the very same things.
Again, at this point, we simply want you to know that we are aware and we are doing everything we can to navigate this with wisdom, and, as we’ve said from the beginning, in a way that is honoring to the Lord. In the meantime, I want to put out a very personal appeal to all of you and ask you for both patience and grace in this season. We need a lot right now, including wisdom, and, chiefly, your prayers. I’m asking for your patience and grace as well.
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)
Stay tuned. You’ll hear back from me again tomorrow!
Thursday, May 7, 2020
Hello Grace Church Family!
I hope that you and your family are staying healthy and safe. We pray not only for your physical health, but also your emotional health. We also pray that you are fully experiencing the joy of the Lord during this time. Hopefully, you continue meeting with him regularly through his Word in pursuit of knowing him more and more.
This week I want to take the opportunity to update you on how our missionaries are being impacted by the pandemic. We have been blessed to connect with several of them over the last few weeks via video calls. Below are some brief updates along with some prayer requests.
Aaron and Bethany Gloss (World Team—Cambodia)
The Glosses need only $400 monthly to complete their support raising! As soon as the final supporters are found—and the international travel restrictions are lifted—they will transition to Cambodia. Aaron and Bethany have also started language school. During the lockdown, classes went online enabling them to join from here. While this is a blessing to them, the time difference isn’t. The class is taught live from Cambodia and meets from 1:30-5:00am on Tuesdays and Thursdays!
- Pray that God would provide the final supporter necessary for the Gloss family.
- Pray that they will make progress learning the Khmer (kuh-mehr) language.
Craig and Brenda Rebro (Sinani—South Africa)
The Rebros have been on lockdown since late March, though they have been self-quarantined since March 16. The communities where they serve lack quality healthcare and medical services. Thankfully their daughter was able to fly in from college one day before the South African border closed. Sinani has been providing meals to 1,100 children each week, which led to Sinani being featured in a local newspaper article for their service.
- Pray for the Rebros and other Sinani leaders for wisdom as they weigh new ministry opportunities.
- Pray for those in their communities, especially the poor who are desperate in light of the lockdown.
Rick and Donna Martin (SAM—Peru)
The Martins have been on home ministry assignment (HMA) since last year. Rick and Donna were seven hours from boarding their flight back to Peru when the Peruvian president closed the border! They have been staying with their daughter and son-in-law in upstate New York. On the plus side, they were present for the birth of their second grandchild!
- Pray for the Martins as they transition to stay in Virginia until they can travel back to Peru.
- International travel into Peru is expected to resume in July. Pray they would be able to return sooner!
Frank and Karren (Pioneers—Indonesia)
Frank and Karren were able to join us for a Zoom prayer meeting last Friday. They updated us on their situation and how their ministry has been impacted. Thankfully they are healthy and are trying to continue work through video chats and social media. They are also trying to get food to the most needy in their area.
- Pray that Karren will be allowed to resume volunteer teaching ESL at the Islamic University in the fall.
- Pray that God would open hearts in Indonesia, especially during this season of Ramadan.
Gimy and Cristina Caballero (Fundena—Bolivia)
The lockdown in Bolivia (since March 22) has been really difficult for the Caballeros. During this time Gimy has experienced some significant health issues, including a broken bone in his leg. Also, a woman who lives with them was hospitalized with the Coronavirus. Thankfully, she has recovered and returned home. To this point, the Caballeros have not experienced any symptoms. They are currently self-quarantined.
- Pray that the Caballeros remain free from symptoms despite their exposure to the Coronavirus.
- Pray that Gimy would be able to get treatment for his ailments after their self-quarantine period.
Dave and Marilyn Simmons (SAM—Peru)
Pucallpa (the city nearest to the Simmons) is full of COVID and the situation is quite terrible. Since they live outside the city, they are in a good spot, but many they know are suffering. Also, their daughter-in-law scheduled to have a baby by C-section this week (Thursday).
- Pray for the city of Pucallpa as they endure the COVID outbreak and for the Simmons’ health.
- Pray for Tiffany, their daughter-in-law, and for the safe delivery of her baby.
Erica Kienzle (TEAM—Mexico)
Erica serves at a ranch camp in La Paz, Mexico. The ranch is currently shut down and not taking campers. Though their area is quarantined, the ranch is located in a very poor area. Those living at the ranch are trying to distribute food to those in need, especially children.
- Pray that Erica would find a work-life balance. This is hard when you live where you work.
- Pray for wisdom for the TEAM leadership as they strive to help those in need during the pandemic.
While this is only a handful of our missionaries, it is important to keep all of them in prayer. Hearing how they are dealing with the pandemic helps us to keep our own situation in perspective. It reminds us that many in the world are being significantly impacted by this health crisis. Also, I want to invite you to consider joining us on the first Friday of each month for our missionary prayer time (7-8p). In this Zoom-era, we’ve been blessed to be joined by some missionaries from around the globe.
May the Lord bless you and keep you healthy!
Friday, May 1, 2020
Greetings, once again, Grace Church Family,
I hope this note finds you well. We’ve been praying for your physical safety, emotional health, and above all, your spiritual well-being as, Lord willing, you continue to bear fruit during these trying times. Selfishly, I’ve been asking the Lord for a bit more sunshine, yet, “not my will but Yours be done.”
In some ways, not much has changed for us since the last few updates. We continue to remain “Safer-at-home” while we do our best to connect virtually. I hope that you have been able to tune in on Sunday mornings to our Livestream service, and I pray that it has been a source of some encouragement to you, as we all eagerly look forward to being together in person again. I hope those of you who have been presented with any significant need during this time, have felt the freedom to reach out and get help, and I pray that you have been met with the Lord’s care and provision. And as we get ready to turn the calendar from April to May, I want to encourage us all to press on.
I also just want to provide you with some very brief updates about some things that our staff team has been working on or talking through in recent days and weeks.
The current “Safer-at-home” order remains in effect through May 26. I know that many of us are still hopeful that things might “reopen” even sooner. Regardless of when that time comes, we know that reopening will happen in phases. For now, I simply want you to know that our staff team has already begun to pray and plan for what it might look like for us to be a church in each of the proposed phases. As that day approaches and our plans become firmer, we will communicate to you exactly what we can all expect and look forward to at the appropriate time.
I know we’re all missing different aspects of our corporate worship gathering each Sunday. We’re grateful for the technology that allows us to Livestream, but we know it’s not a true substitute. That’s especially the case when it comes to taking the Lord’s supper together. I know some of you have asked if there’s a way for us to do this remotely. Obviously, there are great challenges in the coordination of something like that, though not insurmountable. But, more importantly, I feel very strongly that we would be best served as a church to wait until we can come together. Our celebration of this meal isn’t only a remembrance of the Lord’s work for us individually, but it is meant to be a corporate – “together” – reminder of the reality that Christ has purchased us and made us into a new, special people for himself. That’s why the Apostle Paul in his instructions to the church in Corinth repeatedly describes the Lord’s supper as something to be done specifically, “when you come together.” (1 Cor 11:17-34) Rest assured, on our first opportunity to “come together” as a church in corporate worship, we will celebrate this meal together, Lord willing.
Worship Arts Director
As you know, we’ve been without a full-time Worship Arts Director since the beginning of February. We have been so blessed to have Amy Wolfe serving us in the interim. She’s been doing a wonderful job and I know all of you so appreciate how she and the worship team have continued to serve during this time. At the same time, we don’t want to lose precious weeks or months in this search process. So, just in the last few weeks we have received interest from five qualified candidates and have conducted initial interviews with three of them, with more to follow next week. We will not make a hiring decision without being able to have some in-person interviews, but we want to make as much progress as we can in this time and we’ll continue to keep you posted as things progress in the coming weeks. Please continue to pray for the Lord’s provision, even as we give thanks to him for the wonderful job our current team is doing.
We’ll continue to communicate with you on a weekly basis. You can always find our updates on Realm, Facebook, and our website(www.graceinracine.com). I want to let you know how personally encouraged I am by so many of you and how you have been so faithful during this time. As I have said before, let’s all continue to press on and keep our eyes fixed on the One who is with us.
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isaiah 43:1b-3a)
Friday, April 24, 2020
Dear Grace Church Family,
Two weeks ago, obviously not knowing what would unfold, I wrote to you suggesting there were two things that we really needed to grab hold of in this season: perseverance and hope. In light of the “Safer at Home” order being extended for many more weeks now, this is where we need to continue to lean into those things all the more.
My sense is that for some of us, our patience and our perseverance are beginning to be tested. For some, it might just be the frustration of feeling cooped up at home for far too long. For others there is the very real sense of loss; from income, to graduations, to vacations, and, of course, far more weightier than all that, some of you have even lost loved ones through this. And yet, as the future remains uncertain, we can continue to persevere precisely because of the hope we have. We know that since Christ is risen from the dead, COVID-19 will not get the last word.
At the same time, we can persevere in hope not just because of our confidence in what God will do with our future, but we can persevere in hope because of our confidence in what God can get done in us now. Yes, these are trying times. But it’s the trials that prove the genuineness of our faith, which is more precious than gold, also tested by fire (1 Pet 1:6-7). It is precisely in times like these, when we bring our hearts before the Lord, that our frustration can be turned into fruit. Remember the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead is alive in us even now (Romans 8:11). Remember, then, the fruit of that same Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). As God’s people, let us be increasingly marked by these things even as we bear fruit together through this.
We can also be encouraged that God is still at work all around us. Despite our current challenges, good things are still happening. I want to encourage you to continue to tune in to our Livestream services on Sunday mornings at 9:30 AM. This Sunday, during our announcements, I’ll take a brief moment just to highlight some of the good things happening in our church family, good things that we can give honor and thanks to our good and gracious God for.
And speaking of honor, let me conclude by encouraging us all, as we bear fruit, to continue to honor the Lord by honoring the authority He has placed over us for our good (Rom 13:1-2; 1 Pet 2:13-17). I am well aware that some of us may be experiencing frustration with leaders and authorities if we disagree with their decisions, or we may feel frustration with our brothers and sisters in Christ, or our neighbors if they have differing opinions about those same decisions. Regardless, no matter which of those more resonates with you, we are called to show honor and respect to those over us, and to speak with kindness and gentleness with those around us. We need to be in prayer for our leaders at every level (1 Tim 2:1-2). Let’s make sure our speech and our social media posts are reflective of the One who laid down his life for us. And above all else, let’s put on love.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and… above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:12–14)
Grace & Peace,
Pastor Mike Matheson
Wednesday, April 8, 2020
Dear Grace Church Family,
As I write this update, we are rounding the corner on a month of not being able to gather on Sunday mornings, and two weeks since we’ve been remaining “safer at home.” As I reflect on what has been a difficult time, I’m greatly encouraged by how so many of you have handled this crisis with faithfulness. Many of you have sent prayers and notes of encouragement. Many of you have taken it upon yourselves to check in on each other. Many of you have gone to our website to sign up to help others who are in need. Many of you have remained generous by either signing up for online giving or mailing checks to the church building. Many of you have indicated that you are spending more time in God’s word and in prayer than ever before. As less than ideal as this situation has been, I’ve drawn great encouragement from how God has been at work in you.
Perseverance and Hope
Even as I reflect on the last month, and especially the last two weeks, my mind begins to turn to what might be in store ahead. At this time, we don’t know how long we will need to continue our life together in this way. As the novelty begins to wear off for some, and the adrenaline begins to wear off for others, the weeks ahead may prove to be the most challenging. This is when our patience might be tested the most. This is when our relationships with those under our own roof may become most strained. This is when we might be most tempted to despair. This is when we might be most fearful that our faith will fail.
Grace Church, I promise that I don’t bring any of this up to discourage you or to sound negative. I say this so that we can all be aware together, and, most of all, so that we can be ready to persevere together. What we need to grab hold of right now are perseverance and hope. Thankfully, those two things go together. We need to persevere together, as what we hoped would be a quick sprint turns into an endurance test, we need to persevere in hope. One of the ways we can do that is by reminding ourselves that God uses the suffering of the present life to actually bring about not only endurance itself in us but also godly character as he shapes us, more and more, into the likeness of His Son, Jesus. Not only that, but we also need to be reminded that nothing in what we are currently facing can actually take away from our ultimate hope: resurrection life with the Risen Lord Jesus himself. While everything around us seems to be changing, when it comes to the true source of our life, and the ultimate goal of our lives, nothing has changed.
The Week Ahead
I can think of no better reminder of this great hope than Holy Week and especially Easter Sunday. I know in some ways this week of being apart may be harder than the previous, as this week is special to us. At the same time, God, in His providence, has us here now. What better time to look at the cross of Jesus Christ afresh, where grace and mercy meet? What better time to be reminded that the One who came, lived, and died for us, also rose again, overcoming Satan, sin, and death? What better time to be reminded that because He did, we can face, not just today but also tomorrow? What better time to be reminded that life is worth the living, and therefore, enduring, just because He lives?
Along those lines, I want to encourage you to do three things this week: (1) Set aside time on Friday to work through the Good Friday Devotional resource included on our website under ‘Resources’ on our current homepage, as well as posted on Realm and Facebook. This resource includes Bible readings, devotional material (many thanks to Pastor Ryan Boyer), and a link to a Spotify playlist (many thanks to Amy Wolfe). Bring your family together on Friday evening and work through the material as we reflect on the cross of Christ together, even while we are apart. And of course (2) join us Sunday morning at 9:30 AM on Facebook as we Livestream our Easter Sunday service (I know, I can’t believe I’ve been encouraging everyone to use Facebook! These are strange times, indeed!). And lastly, but most importantly, (3) persevere. Press on and do so with hope.
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3–5)
He is (still) Risen,
Pastor Mike Matheson
Thursday April 2, 2020
Dear Grace Church Family,
This is now the fifth update as we all begin attempting to settle into what will be our new reality for at least the coming month of April. I want you to know that no matter how long we need to continue distancing for each other’s safety, the wellbeing of our community, and the effectiveness of our local health care system, I will never quite feel “settled” with our not being able to gather. In fact, it is my hope that you, too, with every passing week will experience an increased longing to gather again as a church. In the meantime, I want to provide you with a very brief update and encouragement.
Good Friday and Easter
In keeping with national recommendations and local mandates, all our normally scheduled activities will remain canceled until further notice. That’s been hard for all of us as it is, but especially as we approach one of the most important weeks of the year in our church calendar. I want to encourage you to tune in this Sunday, Palm Sunday, as we continue in our series in the gospel of John. We will not be having a Good Friday service, but early next week we will be sending out a Good Friday devotional, scripture readings, and a Spotify playlist for your personal or family use. And then, of course, we will still celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus on Easter Sunday via Livestream, as we look at Romans 8:18-25. My hope is that we will be encouraged by being reminded of the hope that we have in Christ, which so far outstrips any suffering we may experience now; it’s not even worthy of comparison. I want to encourage you to engage your family, friends, and neighbors (while maintaining distance) and invite them to join us online on Easter Sunday.
At times like these, when we get knocked out of our normal rhythms, it can be easy to become complacent, especially with our spiritual lives. We think, “I’ll pay attention to that when things go back to normal.” But I want to encourage you to do the opposite; take this time to be very intentional to lean into God more strongly than ever before. Be faithful with your daily scripture intake. Be faithful in your prayer life. Be faithful in guarding your heart and your thought life. Give every anxiety, care, and concern over to the Lord who is able to bear them all. And be faithful in your financial giving. Between our local ministry here in Racine as well as our missionaries all over the world, many people are depending on your faithful giving. But even more importantly than that, we can continue to be faithful by giving with a cheerful heart to a God who has given us more than we could ever ask or imagine. And ultimately, what I want to ask you to do in being faithful is nothing less than leaning fully into our incredibly faithful God.
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:22–24)
Serving our Faithful God together,
Pastor Mike Matheson
Thursday, March 26, 2020
Greetings, again, Grace Church Family,
I just wanted to provide you with an update as we continue to navigate this very unique situation together as a church. First, I just want to let you know that my family is doing well. Katie and the kids are feeling healthy and our kids are still learning as we get a taste of what homeschool families do on a regular basis. Aside from any inconvenience we may feel, we mostly just long for the day when we can meet together as a church again when we can see all of your wonderful faces.
In the meantime, we will continue to Livestream our Sunday morning services. While certainly not an adequate substitute for our gathering, it is still a way for us to remain somewhat connected to each other as we sing, pray, and hear from God’s word at the same time together. Many of you have expressed concern about our ability to continue this after additional measures were taken last week to further restrict social interaction. Thankfully, the Governor’s “Safer at Home” order specifies that local churches are essential business and so long as we can continue to put together healthy teams, with less than 10 people, 6 feet apart, we will continue to provide a Livestream. Please note: if you do not have a Facebook account you can join our Livestream on a computer. However, if you want to watch on a tablet or smartphone, you will need to have a Facebook account.
In light of this commitment, please be attentive each week to those who continue to lovingly serve our church body in corporate worship during these challenging times. Pray for their health, safety, and ministry. As you are able, consider sending them a note of gratitude for their personal encouragement. Many of you have done that for me during this time. I am so grateful for that, and for you, and I want our other servant leaders to be able to experience the same encouragement from you that I have.
Ministry In the Days Ahead
Obviously, these changes will affect much more than just our Sunday gatherings in the days ahead. It is not really feasible, or even necessarily desirable, to simply try to move all of our meaningful ministry to online, virtual environments. But I want you to know what the church elders and staff will be focusing on in the immediate days and weeks ahead.
We want to focus our time and energy on identifying and serving those who are most significantly impacted in day-to-day life by our current situation. More specifically, we have in mind checking in on those who live alone, as well as with students and younger people who have been displaced from school while a parent/parents must continue to work away from home through this crisis. We also want to connect with, pray for and encourage those who work in areas that are likely to have increased stress on themselves and families during this time, like healthcare workers, grocers, and delivery drivers, as well as those who work in administrative roles supporting them. If someone comes to your mind, please don’t wait for us; don’t hesitate to reach out with a phone call, prayer, and a word of encouragement.
Our church website (graceinracine.com) is an important tool for supporting the ministry we want to see happen. Along those lines, we have adjusted our home page to best facilitate that. There’s a clear place to get every update, which you can expect will be at least once per week from here on out. There’s also a clear way to go straight to our Livestream, as well as access resources to serve you and your family as you prepare for worship. We included an easier, more streamlined way to give online. And lastly, we have added two very important categories: you can let us know if you need help during this time (food, toiletries, prayer, conversation), and you can let us know if you are willing to provide someone else with help. If you are in need of help during this time, please let us know. If you are eager to help others, please let us know.
Above All, Guard Your Hearts
Most importantly – and I really mean that – most importantly, be sure to pay careful attention to what is going on in your heart during these times. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” Right now I am confident that many of us are being almost constantly bombarded with news, updates, and information. While I am thankful for all the things that technology can enable us to do, at the same time, I don’t believe we were designed to handle the near-constant stimuli that is coming at us. That becomes compounded even more when much of that stimulus is negative or creates uncertainty. If we’re not careful, the cumulative effect of all that can wreak havoc on our spiritual lives.
So, Grace Church, please be careful. Pay attention to what’s going on in your hearts. Make sure – take great care in ensuring that you have time when you shut the TV off, turn the phone off, turn the noise down, and quiet your heart before the Lord. Now as much as ever, spend time reading God’s word. If you don’t have a current reading plan, just start reading a few Psalms every day. And pray. I am asking God to work in my heart through this situation and to show me where I need to know Christ more in all of this. Friends, God loves to answer that prayer.
The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him. (Psalm 28:7)
May you all remain firm in your faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel.
PS – Have a prayer request? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have an offering? Give online at graceinracine.com or mail a check to Grace Church, 3626 State Road 31, Racine, WI 53405.
Grace Church Family,
At times like these first and foremost, what we need are anchors for the soul: The Lord is our refuge and strength. While we may feel like we are surrounded by uncertainty, we have a sure and steady anchor in Him.
These are unprecedented times, both in terms of COVID-19 itself and the drastic measures that are required to slow it’s spread, as well as how quickly the news cycle is moving and information is changing. It can feel like as soon as you come to terms with one measure, it changes. Along these lines, as Grace Church’s leadership makes decisions about how to best honor God and care for His people during this time, we want to avoid having to make those decisions on a week-to-week basis. At the same time, we don’t want to simply cancel indefinitely, even though we realize that may need to become a reality in the future.
For now, we have decided to cancel all Grace Church activities through Saturday, April 4th. This includes our Sunday morning worship gatherings (3/22 and 3/29), as well as Life Groups. We will keep the church building closed while the staff continues to work remotely until at least March 31st. In the meantime, we will continue to provide a Livestream of Sunday morning worship at 9:30 AM through Facebook Live. https://www.facebook.com/graceinracine. Our hope is to be able to provide that as long as we can do so responsibly, practicing social distancing and having less than 10 people gathered at once.
We are very much aware that these measures may need to extend beyond the timeframe mentioned above. We will be watching things very closely over the next few weeks, while we remain in close contact with medical professionals and local authorities who are able to give us good counsel.
During this time, the Grace Church staff will be working on creative ways we can find connection together as a local church during this period of social distancing. Also, look for a video update for the congregation coming soon. In the meantime, there are some very important things that we are asking you, the Grace Church body, to do:
Please commit to joining us on Facebook Live on Sunday, 3/22 and, 3/29 at 9:30 AM. While we cannot be together, we can still have some level of connection with each other as we all tune in together to sing, pray, and hear God’s word. We will continue our normal sermon series through the gospel of John. I am struck by how remarkably well God’s word is able to speak directly to our situation, even though we planned to be in this part of God’s word months ago, long before anyone had heard of COVID-19. So please continue to gather your families together and have your Bibles open as we worship together.
During this time we have a wonderful opportunity to engage the world around us and empathize with the sense of concern and fear that many people are experiencing. Even more so, we have the opportunity to point them to the one true anchor of our souls and let people know why we can come through all our anxiety and fears by casting them on the one who cares. Very practically speaking, you can invite friends and neighbors to join us on our Livestream Sunday mornings as many people may be more inclined to listen now than ever before.
We are so grateful that God has enabled Grace Church to be a particularly faithful and generous church in the area of giving. I know for many of you that giving is best expressed in person on Sunday mornings. I know that many of you just like the physical act of bringing your offerings to the church in order to give as an act of worship during our worship gathering. As that is not a possibility during this season, we want to ask you to give online, at least as long as we are not able to worship together in person.
It’s pretty easy to set up. Just go to our website at https://graceinracine.com/giving/. If you need help setting it up, you can call our church office. Even though our building is closed, you can leave a message and we will respond back promptly. If you are unable to use one of our online giving tools, you can also mail a check to Grace Church, 3626 State Road 31, Racine WI 53405.
While we look for creative ways to connect during this time, please don’t wait. Take advantage of all the online tools that are available, be proactive, and connect with others in our church. Start a post on Realm in your Life Group and ask what people are doing to stay busy and grounded during this time. Use Facetime, Skype, or Zoom to connect with other members. Especially consider those you know who live alone; reach out to them to make sure they are healthy, safe, and have some level of ongoing connection.
Most importantly, please pray. To say that another way, let’s trust God together during this time. We can do that primarily by demonstrating our dependence on Him through prayer. Pastor Ryan Boyer put together a prayer guide for our daily use during this time. You can access that here: https://secureservercdn.net/18.104.22.168/m0h.914.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Prayer_Guide.pdf.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. (Psalm 46:1–3)
On behalf of the Grace Church Elders, grace and peace to each of you!
Pastor Mike Matheson
Dear Grace Church Family,
I am sure that many of you have been following the news of COVID-19 as things have been unfolding very quickly. The situation seems to be changing by the day, if not every few hours. Along those lines, last night (Thursday, March 12) the elders came together to very intentionally slow ourselves down, seek wisdom and counsel from trusted medical professionals, consider the requests of the authorities that God has placed over us for our good, and, most importantly, to pray, asking God what is the most caring thing we can do for our church and what will honor Him most? Even after much prayer and discussion, we decided to sleep on it, continue in prayer, and touch base again today (Friday, March 13) to make a final decision.
Based on the uniform recommendation of multiple local medical professionals, as well as local and state government requests, out of a desire to honor God’s authority over us by honoring the authorities over us (Rom 13:1-2), and out of a desire to love another and our neighbors by considering their health and wellbeing, we have decided to cancel all Grace Church activities for the coming week (3/15 – 3/21) beginning with our Sunday morning worship gathering (3/15).
We will continue to monitor the situation very closely while we continue to pray and seek wisdom, guidance, and discernment. Please be aware that there is a possibility that these measures may need to continue for some time. You can be confident that our goals will be to glorify God as we seek to uphold the best interests of our beloved church family. We will also do our best to communicate with you as soon as we make any decisions concerning the weeks ahead.
In the meantime, we need to remember that God is still at work. And while we may not be gathering together as a church body this Sunday, that doesn’t mean that God is not able to work in us. So, this Sunday (3/15), we want to invite you to tune in to our worship service on Facebook Live at 9:30 AM (https://www.facebook.com/graceinracine/). On Saturday night, take a look at the songs we’ll be singing (check the Facebook page or our website to see the Worship Guide). Read John 3:22-36 in advance. Prepare your heart to worship by hearing His word. On Sunday morning, set up your computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone. Moms and Dads, gather your little flock around you. Have your bibles open. Sing together. Say “Amen” together as we pray. Know that God is able to build His church even through this situation.
These may seem like troubling times. But remember what our Lord Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me.” (John 14:1-2)
Grace & Peace,
Pastor Mike Matheson
March 13, 2020
Dear Grace Church Family
In response to a request from state health officials regarding COVID-19, starting Sunday, March 15th, we are canceling all events scheduled and held at Grace Church until further notice. This includes Sunday morning worship service, all mid-week programming, and Seniors Bible Brunch Ministry. This decision is being made in response to a request from the Wisconsin Department of Health that gatherings of 250 or more should not meet in order to slow the spreading of germs through our community. You can learn more here. We want to be wise and proactive in caring for our church family and the Racine community.
While we will not be gathering this Sunday on our church campus, we will be on Facebook Live Sunday morning at 9:30 a.m., sharing worship and the sermon for your spiritual growth and encouragement. Please join us on Facebook in your homes! You can access this from our Facebook page here. You can also access our podcast on our website at graceinracine.com.
We will be evaluating this situation week to week and keeping you informed every step of the way. During uncertain times like these, we each have an opportunity to share the gospel and care for our neighbors. Please be looking for ways to share Christ during this time with your friends, family, and neighbors. Let’s keep our eyes and hearts focused on Him during this time!
We also want you to know that we are here for you! If you need to talk or pray, please call the church office at 262.632.2111 – we would love to connect with you!
None of us want to cancel church and ministry, but out of an abundance of caution, praying, seeking counsel, and following the guidelines from the State – the elders are unanimous in canceling all Grace Church activities held on our church campus starting Sunday. We will be deciding week to week whether we are holding services and other ministry events or not in the coming weeks.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13
Grace Church Elder Council