State of Grace
Well, it happened. I ended up at a church service because of a tweet. It was from @gracechurchreno, and it said, “It’s a festive morning at Grace! If you’re not in the Christmas spirit yet, you definitely will be after services today!”
I’ll be honest; Christmas can leave me cold at times. I feel religious holidays should be celebrated in religious ways. And Christmas is often about as secular and sacrilegious as a holiday can be. But I think the way Grace Church kicked off the season was great. I found the Christmas chorus inspiring and lovely.
But I get ahead of myself. I’ve covered various aspects of Grace Church over the years, from their podcast to their youth ministry, but I’ve never made it to a full Sunday service. Loosely described, it’s one of these modern, community-based, music-based, evangelical ministries. The sanctuary is a large, multimedia-equipped room that seats hundreds of people. It looked basically the same it did when I attended the youth service, with the addition of Christmas wreaths, lights and a riser on the stage/chancel.
The service started with music, announcements and an opening prayer. This particular Sunday, the choir was made up of 29 members, a director, and what I took to be the regular band—drums, keyboards, electric and acoustic guitars and electric bass. The choir performed about 40 minutes of beautiful Christmas carols—some traditional, some new. I’m disappointed to say the giant Christmas choir only performs the first weekend in December. Be that as it may, if you like or are unfamiliar with this type of upbeat Christian music-based service, you should give Grace a shot pretty much any time of year.
Small groups pastor Tony Slavin—not senior pastor Dan Frank—gave the sermon at the 10 a.m. service Sunday. It was coincidental: Apparently the very thing I find offensive about Christmas also rubs the pastor the wrong way. I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but he was ringing my bell.
I’ve said at various times that I like sermons where the pastor gives “real world” advice to people about how to live. This was not that. The pastor actually had the audacity to speak about the nature of God and “the reason for the season” and the importance of people’s spans upon this Earth vs. eternity.
“Christmas is a festive time, celebrating the birth of Christ,” he said. But, the pastor said, drawing from Philippians 2:5-11, we can’t forget the reason we celebrate the birth: It’s about Jesus’ descent in humility from God’s side to a human baby’s body to live a perfect life, and then be killed in the most degrading way possible and rise in splendor.
Slavin went on to tell the story of Jim Elliot, which his wife, Elisabeth, wrote about in Through Gates of Splendor. Essentially, Jim Elliot was a young man of great potential who chose to go—with four other couples—to Ecuador, in the 1950s, to preach Christianity. Elliot was accused of being a fool, of wasting his life by proselytizing to this dangerous Ecuadorian native tribe. “He is not fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose,” Elliot was said to have replied.
The five men were killed by the indigenous tribe, but some of the wives continued to preach and eventually converted the tribe to Christianity.
The pastor made the point that even though Elliot’s life was short; his life on Earth—developed because he had the courage of his convictions—is timeless. It was readily apparent that pastor Slavin was drawing a parallel between Elliot and Jesus Christ.
“How many of our lives in 60 years will even be remembered?” he asked.