Articles & Announcements
Grace Downtown’s pastoral intern Andrew Russell shares some of what God has been teaching him through his family.
My wife and son have shown me what it means to be forgiven by God.
First of all, my wife is an amazing woman. Sometimes I don’t treat her like the queen that she is. I say things that sometimes hurt her. And do things that sometimes break her heart. When I’m wrong, she’s quick to forgive me. She sees me with all my flaws and all my failures and she still wants to be married to me! Now if that is not a godly woman, then I don’t know what is! My wife’s forgiveness makes me want to be a more faithful and loving husband.
Secondly, my two-year-old son has shown me what true forgiveness looks like. A few days ago I had to discipline him for something. I explained to him that I am disciplining him because I love him and don’t want to see him get hurt. After I disciplined him, he started crying and ran to my wife. We had to go somewhere, and so my wife started to help him put on his shoes. He declined my wife’s offer and said to her, “No, I want Daddy do it!” He ran to me and gave me his shoes so that I can put them back on. I almost started crying. I thought my son was about to hold a grudge against me, but he didn’t.
God sees us with all of our flaws and failures, but he doesn’t hold grudges or seek to lash out at us when we hurt him. He constantly reminds us that Jesus Christ bore our punishment for the wrongs we have done so that we can have a restored relationship with him. God not only forgives us when we confess our wrongs, but he also restores us because he is in the business of making people new, complete and whole. There is no greater power than new creation power, and if you are in Christ you are a new creation; old things have passed away. Behold—everything is new! (2 Cor. 5.17)
The Christian life means being called to follow Jesus. Kate Harris, executive director of the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation and Culture, expands our understanding of what it means to be called to follow Jesus in every area of life.
This special event took place on June 9.
Every Thursday in June, we’re sharing reflections from some of the Grace DC members who participated in our March panel on cultural intelligence. This week, Hlase Baloyi discusses why he has often felt out of place at Grace DC churches—and why that has prompted him to stick around:
The reason I took part in this cultural intelligence discussion is because I’ve found the theological side of my experience at Grace Downtown to be excellent, but I’ve struggled mightily to find myself connected to the community. This disconnect has been a result of cultural differences or failures to understand one another, or failures to acknowledge the difficulty in connecting.
I really do believe in community and singleness of Spirit. We are all one in Christ Jesus. We are all serving and loving and worshipping the same God. Yet we all come with our unique selves, and sometimes we come from divergent communities, which shape our identity and frame of reference. Those things matter in terms of connectivity.
My hip-hop background, which in and of itself generates a slew of frames of reference, is something I found very scarce in the Grace DC community. In fact, what I found was that most of the people who attend Grace DC either had no black friends, or had no exposure to the black subculture, which is rich and expansive in its own right.
I want to share more of this with people. I want them to know more about me, not so that I can aggrandize myself, but so people can connect with me more deeply as I likewise hope to do with them. That first begins, of course, with a discussion, one that informs its listeners about the climate in our church community, and how we can move forward.
How can there be a good, loving, compassionate God, a God who is both omniscient and omnipotent, if he often holds back his hand from delivering those in need?
Grappling with this question can be lonely. This isn’t a popular topic to bring up at parties. Even in small groups, getting into this question can be uncomfortable, especially when there are no clear answers to prevent suffering from occurring.
When I bring up my questions related to the problem of pain, people frequently shut down the conversation by either referring me to a Bible verse; giving me a platitude like, “God will work it all out in the end, just trust him”; telling me to listen to a sermon; referring me to a book on the topic; or telling me that I need to talk to a pastor or counselor.
I end up walking away feeling more alone, but I don’t think I’m the only person who struggles with these questions. The death of a loved one, the loss of a cherished relationship, a sudden and unexpected tragic turn of events, or a slow demise of one’s hopes and dreams—deep pain can happen to anyone at any time without notice. Job had these questions and was very familiar with the same kinds of “comforts” his friends offered. David, one of God’s favorites, expressed his angst towards God in the Psalms. So I’m not alone! And I want to find others who will join me in exploring and struggling over how to respond to suffering.
I’ve found Philip Yancey’s thoughtful and honest book Where Is God When It Hurts? to be a great place to start thinking through questions like
- How can viewing pain from an eternal perspective change how we respond to it?
- How do we develop a much longer view of God’s goodness?
- How do we hold out hope for God’s deliverance in the land of the living (Psalm 27.14), while knowing that the ultimate deliverance will not occur until his Kingdom comes in full?
- How do we walk alongside each other compassionately as we grapple with suffering?
- What is the difference between empathy and sympathy/pity?
If you’re in the midst of grappling with these questions, if you’ve gone through them and come out the other side or if you know someone who is beset by them now, please join me for a weekly or biweekly discussion of Yancey’s book. As we struggle together and learn from each other, we will be able to find a firmer foundation in our faith—as eternity becomes more real and relevant to us, we can be free to live in and be thankful for the here and now.Learn more about the Where Is God When It Hurts? discussion group.
Every Thursday in June, we’re sharing reflections from some of the Grace DC members who participated in our March panel on cultural intelligence. This week, an anonymous Grace DC member shares how they first became interested in the subject of cultural intelligence:
My interest in this topic began with the question, “How does God, our Father, view diversity in culture, race and ethnicity? Why is it part of his plan for us to be different in these ways? What does the answer to that question say about how we are to humbly engage the people of our city?”
Our society’s conversations about race, ethnicity and culture are important, but I don’t want to stop where our society stops. My hope is that Christ’s Spirit will show our church how our cultures reflect him—ultimately equipping us to love one another better.
When I joined the Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center’s Board of Directors in 2012, I expected to contribute some time to a good cause: If I believe expectant mothers should carry their babies to term, I have a responsibility to help make that choice feasible for them. The Pregnancy Center does this by counseling expectant mothers and fathers, providing them with crucial supplies and connecting them with a support system.
I didn’t expect to also learn an ongoing, powerful lesson about God’s provision for the needs of his children—yet that’s what happened.
The Pregnancy Center serves thousands of clients every year on a shoestring budget, less than the salary of a single typical mid-career lawyer at a big DC firm. And while resources are tight, many clients’ situations are overwhelming. Many are pregnant teenagers whose mothers have threatened to kick them out of the house if they don’t get an abortion. Nearly all of the clients are poor, disadvantaged and unmarried.
When I started spending time with the Pregnancy Center team, I first noticed constant prayer—and I noticed that these prayers were more often prayers of thanks than prayers of angst. The chance to minister to a new client, a supporter’s donation of a used baby stroller, an opportunity to set up a parenting class at an additional local high school—the Pregnancy Center team enthusiastically thanks God for all these things, all the time.
The Pregnancy Center team’s prayerfulness and thankfulness show that they know God loves them, loves the clients, loves the work. Their confidence in God’s love buoys them, powers the organization, and shows up in energetic service.
Meanwhile their prayers keep getting answered in improbable ways. One month, giving might increase unexpectedly. The next, a stranger might walk in and offer to pay for new carpeting. Or a former client might stop by to share news of her healthy, happy family. All these things have happened.I tend to base my own decisions and actions on whether I feel powerful—not on confidence that God loves me and purposes to bless me “exceedingly abundantly” beyond what I could ask or think (Ephesians 3.20). The Pregnancy Center team’s prayerfulness and thankfulness have challenged that.
God provides for his children—never in the ways we’d expect, always “exceedingly abundantly” better than our expectations, and always with perfect love and perfect knowledge. Knowing this truth means we can relax, celebrate, and work without desperation.
» Pray for CHPC’s mothers, fathers and children; for CHPC’s funding and resources; and especially for continued confidence in God’s love.
Grace Downtown is participating in the Pregnancy Center’s annual Baby Bottle Fundraiser. Learn more about how to participate.
Every Thursday in June, we’re sharing reflections from some of the Grace DC members who participated in our March panel on cultural intelligence. This week, Kenny and Tianna Gibbs share why cultural intelligence is important to them as members of a Grace DC congregation:
If we are going to be effective in living up to our callings as a church—being “in and for the city,” “in/of/for our neighborhoods,” and having “unity in diversity”—we have to aim to be a culturally intelligent congregation. We cannot love people well if we are not aware of, and sensitive to, where people are coming from. This is the case whether they are from similar or different cultures.
As Christians, we have “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism” (Eph 4.5), yet too often our lines of race, ethnicity, and class divide us. As the church, we are called to redeem, not reinforce, the divisions of our city. Cultural intelligence, is key to God’s redemptive work.
This Monday, Grace Downtown will welcome Kate Harris, Executive Director of the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation and Culture, as she leads a discussion on the meaning of vocation and how it applies to our lives. Ahead of this special Faith & Work event, Grace Downtown member Jonathan Ng recaps our last Faith & Work forum, led by Erik Lokksmoe.
The latest installment of Grace Downtown’s Faith & Work ministry brought together DC and Hollywood, with Erik Lokksmoe, a former Grace DC member who now works in Hollywood speaking on his experience in the entertainment industry.
Erik currently works for a marketing and publicity agency called Different Drummer, which helps with movie marketing. During his talk, he provided a sweeping synopsis for why faith and work matters and shared observations on how this applies to his work and specifically, the evolving art form of telling stories through film and television to connect with audiences. He said great art, like well-crafted movies, “creates margins and haunts the audience.” Essentially, this means to be persuasive and compelling in our culture today does not mean telling people what to do or believe; instead, it requires giving people the space to explore what it means to be human, to reach conclusions on their own and be left seeking more. If that’s effective for Hollywood, then how might we apply that same approach to engage the rest of our culture through our work?
Erik reminded us about the Biblical framework for how to engage culture. The right approach lies somewhere within the myriad shades of gray between the black and white extremes of either sharing one’s faith loud and publicly (truth, borne out of our desire for control) or quiet and privately (love, borne out of our desire for approval). Ephesians 4.15 reminds us, however, that neither extreme is sufficient alone; instead, we should speak the “truth in love.”
What then, does this balance look like? Such a path down the middle depends on a variety of circumstances and may even be different each day, but it’s our job as thoughtful Christians to constantly reflect to determine what that looks like. Our current culture demands a more nuanced approach to effectively engage culture than what we’re used to seeing from mainstream Christianity, particularly as the church has recently tried to engage (or withdraw) in the public sphere on hot-button political issues.
Within the context of engaging culture through our work, Erik first argues that faith and work is important for three reasons based on theological, generational, and cultural grounds. Theologically, we see in Genesis 2 that God gave us work as a means to participate in His creation and that work was inherently good before the fall. Generationally, Christians used to believe that our faith was reserved for church on Sundays while our work was simply what we did during the rest of the week. But if Christians truly believe that the gospel changes everything, then we should be more intentional about thinking through how our faith affects the way we do our work. And culturally, we are called to co-create with God through our work, which means engaging in and influencing culture.
So if intentionally applying our faith in our work is important, then how do we do it? The gospel already gives us all the resources we need; it’s our job to daily think out the implications for what this means when applied to our work. Erik offered a few practical tips:
- Relax. Christ has already claimed victory over sin, so that takes the pressure off us to feel like we need to justify ourselves through our work. When we are reminded that we already have everything we need, it frees us up to be genuinely humble.
- All work can be done for His glory. Erik points out that we should view work more holistically, not only as our job during a typical work day. In Genesis 2, we see that work is a gift from God given to us as a means for participating in His creation and that it was inherently good before the fall. This means that from God’s perspective, there is no ultimate end goal to our work; instead, the act of participating in work is a good in itself. As such, any activity involving any interaction with His creation such as raising a family or doing seemingly simple chores around the house matters and deserves our same effort and attention. We also need Christians participating in every industry, not just in ministry or the social sector.
- Think small, serve well. Reflecting on the gravity of God’s grace each day should lead us to re-align our motivations for work as a response of gratitude to Him for what He has already done for us. That realization should radically change our motivations for achievement – rather than just doing a good job, we should attempt to enable human flourishing to reflect God’s common grace. This also means we are freed up to focus on doing quality work in everything we do out of gratitude and obedience to Him, not because He needs us.
Even as we struggle through how God’s grace transforms our approach to and motivations for our work, it will always be a challenge for how we try to thoughtfully integrate our faith into our work.
To capture this subtle, but powerful shift in thinking, Erik provided examples to describe how change is happening in Hollywood. He described how effective moviemakers understand how to more thoughtfully engage their audiences by shifting from traditional messages of telling you what to do to inviting the audience to participate in, and add to, the conversation.
Consider then, how this may apply to our own message for how our faith impacts our work in our workplace, either directly or indirectly, in word and in action. Our daily struggles at work may hardly be as epic or heroic as what you’d find in a Hollywood script. But we ultimately know that what awaits us after this world is something far greater than what any Hollywood ending could provide.
Jonathan Ng is general counsel for Ashoka, a global social entrepreneurship NGO based in Arlington, Virginia.
Every Thursday in June, we’re sharing reflections from some of the Grace DC members who participated in our March panel on cultural intelligence. This week, Kelly shares why being part of a church that is paying attention to cultural and cross-cultural issues is important to her:
The great commission calls us to make disciples of all nations and that is why a diverse church is important to me. As we seek to spread the Gospel, Jesus said that one way people will know we belong to him is by our love for one another. In a world where people often divide by race, class, political views, or education, it is noticeable when people cross these divisions in the name of Jesus.
I’ve seen the power of this in my own life. My hometown is pretty starkly segregated. Aside from a few areas, you just don’t see white people. Ever. A few years ago a black pastor and a white pastor decided to plant a church together and I had an opportunity to hear them speak about their experience. They explained that people from the neighborhood were so startled to see white people mulling around on Sunday mornings, that they would come inside the church just to see what on earth was going on in there. Through coming into the church, many people came to know Christ.
This is the power of having a community that looks different from the divided world around us—it can help draw people to the gospel. So while there are other reasons why cultural intelligence is important to me, spreading the gospel is the main one!
Grace Downtown member Josh Wade shares what he has learned about “calling” through making the decision to go to graduate school.
In college I majored in both Economics and Religious Studies. Advisors, parents and friends all asked the same question: What are you going to do with that? I picked my strange majors because I had come to believe that my “calling” was to help build communities that contribute to the peace and well-being of the world around them—what the Bible calls shalom.
However, I have some reservations about the way that the idea of “calling” can be used. When we talk about calling, there is at least a possibility of focusing on overly idealistic notions rather than on what God has revealed about his will, which includes such calls as to know and follow Jesus and to love our neighbor. Nevertheless, there is certainly truth in the notion that we are created in unique ways, and it makes sense to seek to work in light of how we have been created.
As college came to a close, I was still considering various ways that I might pursue this calling to build shalom in a specific job. I had looked at a lot of different types of grad school—seminaries, PhDs in Economics and law school! I decided to come to DC and work as an economic consultant. This job allowed me to work with both economists and lawyers, and to see what those careers looked like. Through my job, I learned that I was good at legal thinking and research, but didn’t want to spend my life deep in econometric modeling.
At the same time, my experience and relationships at Grace Downtown allowed me to see more what full-time ministry would look like. I learned that I was passionate about the church’s role in addressing injustice in the world, but thought that I wanted more ‘hands-on’ interaction with injustice than I would be afforded as a traditional pastor.
Through this process I came to believe that law school was the best intersection of my abilities and God’s desires for the world. I saw something unique about practicing law that resonated with the person God has made me to be, and this excited me. I applied to law school and was accepted. After getting in, I lined up an internship with International Justice Mission for this coming summer where I will be focused on supporting churches around the world as they work for justice in their individual contexts. I look forward to seeing how God will use these passions and skills He has cultivated in me for the good of his kingdom.
As all of this was being ordered, God has been teaching me to trust in him. It has been very easy for me to consider my other hypothetical options and to wonder if I made the right decisions. However, God, frequently through my Grace Downtown family, has been leading me into a restful trust of him. I’ve been reminded that God’s primary will for me is to know and love him. I’ve been reminded that God’s sovereignty extends over my decisions (even my bad ones!), and he will use them to his glory. And I’ve been reminded that he loves me, not for what I do or the decisions I make, but because of who he is. It is in this truth that I’ve been able to rest.
Throughout this story, regardless of my motivations, God has been faithful and sought me, and I have found life in him. This is comforting. In a world and culture where we hope to find so much satisfaction through our careers, it is great to know that whether I have a “successful” career or not, I can be satisfied in Jesus.
For more on calling, vocation and how they apply to you, register for “What Is Vocation?” on June 9.