You Are Loved

A weekly post from Associate Pastor, Stephen Salvas

07.19.24

Hi, dear Grace!

If you are reading this on the afternoon of Friday, July 19, Blair and I are probably traveling somewhere between Texas and Georgia on our way to a cabin in the mountains. In the past when I was away, you would often find a retread here – something I wrote and posted previously and posted again so that I didn’t have to worry about writing while on vacation. This time, however, I decided to write original content weeks in advance for posting on the dates I would be away. I share this in case something of significance has happened recently. Because this is being written ahead of time, there will be no mention of current events in this space this week or next. Thank you for understanding, and thank you for your prayers while I’m away.

I have written about my basketball-playing days many times, but have I talked about my most memorable basket? The shot that makes me smile the biggest whenever it comes to mind? The one I’ll never forget?

To be sure, there were several baskets that were meaningful in my career. That basket in double overtime with 32 seconds left to propel us to the fourth and final seed of the NCCAA Division II regional playoffs? Yeah, that was a big one. Or that dunk? The only dunk I ever had in a game? Definitely memorable! (Special thanks to the refs for not giving me a technical foul for hanging on the rim afterward.) Or that shot that put me over 1,000 points in my collegiate career? Honestly, I don’t remember that one. I know we were playing at Gallaudet University, but the actual shot? No, I just don’t know which shot it was. Still, it was a big deal. But of all the shots I have taken in my lifetime, it was a shot from the foul line that I will never, ever forget. Let me set it up for you.

It was win-or-go-home on this particular night, and the outcome of the game would be decided on this one free throw. If I make it, we win. If I miss, we lose. Competitors love being in this situation, and usually I would love it, too. But I was not particularly confident when I stepped to the line. So I went to the well and drew on the experience of the thousands of free throws I had taken in games and in practices and in my backyard from the time I was a little kid to this point right here. Just relax, Steve. Muscle memory. Look up at the rim. Deep breath and let it out slowly. Now look down. Three dribbles of the ball. Watch the ball hit the ground and come right back up into the hands each time. Now lock in on the rim. Grip on the ball is soft. Three light flexes at the knees, bringing the ball up to my forehead on the third. Full extension here, releasing the ball and stretching toward the rim on the follow through. Never looking at the ball, but with my eyes and my pointer finger both directed toward the center of the rim in front of me. Everything in slow motion. What was I ever worried about? Swish and victory. Woo hoo!

I turned to see if I could find my family in the crowd of people, and I saw Lindsey first. As you may remember, Lindsey is my daughter. She must have been … what? Five years old? Maybe? But she had the most excited expression on her face. In that moment, I was her hero. That’s because this wasn’t a college basketball game for me. Instead, it was the end of a long but very fun family day at an amusement park. Lindsey saw a stuffed lion at the free throw challenge booth, and she wanted me to win it for her. Uh, have I told you I don’t like to lose? And are you aware the rims at these games are often smaller and slightly higher than regulation baskets? And does it feel to anyone else like I’m just giving away money and disappointing my precious daughter at the same time when I agree to “try my luck” at this? It was only as we were leaving the park – with Blair trying to talk me into one free throw attempt, Lindsey disappointed, and Andrew probably sleeping – that I finally snuck over to the booth and handed my money to the booth operator. The booth guy handed me the ball; I thought I had just wasted two dollars (or was it five?); and then I blocked everything out and went into game mode. Seriously, Grace, most memorable shot ever for me – probably because of the reaction I saw on Lindsey’s face when I turned to look for her. She came running and screaming. Before she got to me, I turned to the booth guy and said, “I want the lion.” He gave it to me, and I then ran to Lindsey, scooped her up in my arms, and received the best hug ever from her.

You know, it feels good to be someone’s hero. That night, Lindsey (and Blair, too) thought I was the best dad in the whole world. It's that lion and the thought of being a hero that prompts this week’s post. The lion is the king of the jungle and the hero of C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia series. And the lion is a symbol of Jesus, whom the Bible describes as the Lion of Judah. I like what the writer of the Proverbs wrote – “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1 NKJV). “The wicked flee when no one pursues …” Why? Because of a guilty conscience. When the wicked are up to no good, even the fluttering of a leaf may make them run away in fear thinking someone is after them. “But the righteous are bold as a lion.” Why? Well, perhaps we first should establish that there is none righteous in and of ourselves (Psalm 14:3; Romans 3:10). But thanks be to God, we who place our faith in Christ are made righteous in His sight (Romans 3:22; 2 Corinthians 5:21). This faith is our confidence. Even in times of persecution and hardship, we can face the world boldly knowing Jesus – the Lion of Judah – is our defender. Praise Him, Grace!

Today, Blair and I are celebrating our 38th wedding anniversary. Thank You, Lord, for Your marvelous grace in our lives.

And thank you, Grace, for reading to the end. You really are so, so loved.


Steve

07.12.24

Hi, dear Grace!

In two days, Blair and I will be leaving for a much-needed vacation. We will first head south to Florida, where we will get to see Lindsey briefly. Then it’s on to the Lone Star State to see some very dear people we haven’t seen in years. Our nephew is married with three boys – two of whom we have never met. Blair played a big role in Joey’s coming to know Jesus as his personal Savior and Lord. We look forward to seeing him and his family and enjoying a sweet visit. And then we will see someone who is like a son to me and Blair. We have known Ben his entire life. He and our son Andrew graduated from high school together, and Andrew was a groomsman in his wedding. Ben and his wife moved to Texas from Maryland several years ago and now own a farm. We are really excited to connect with them and see their new home.

One week from today is our 38th wedding anniversary, and we will be on the road heading east that day. Oh, we will stop somewhere and celebrate with a nice dinner and a night in a hotel along the way, but our destination is a cabin in the Georgia mountains the following day. Seven nights … lakeside … alone with my favorite person in the whole world. My books are already set aside for the trip – my Bible, a commentary, a book on leadership, a book on biblical rhythms, a book to read with Blair on God’s promises, and two books of fiction. A puzzle and an activity book are also set aside, as are shoes for hiking, bathing suits for swimming, snacks and drinks for munching, and much more. No fishing pole, though. As you may recall, that was a total bust last year.

Would you pray for us, Grace? Pray for safety in travel, please. Pray too for wonderful visits in Texas. And pray – please pray – for both me and Blair … for rest of mind and body, restoration of joy, reconnection with one another, and renewal with the Lord. Ministry is hard. Caregiving is hard. Stress takes a toll. How thankful I am, then, for the words of Jesus – “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 NKJV). Oh, I do understand the context of this verse and what Jesus is saying. And Blair and I do have the rest promised to us through trusting Christ and being yoked to Him by faith. Still, we will be coming to Him in need of physical rest in hopes of returning from our vacation with the strength and energy to continue to serve Him (and my dad) well. We believe He will meet us where we are and provide what we need, by His grace. Thank you, dear church, for praying.

You will be missed while we are gone. Always know you are much, much loved.

Steve

07.05.24

Hi, dear Grace!

If I seemed distant on Sunday, I sincerely apologize. May I explain?

Last week, Blair and I were blessed when friends from our church in Maryland contacted us. They happened to be in Bluffton for the weekend and wanted to know if we could get together. Don and I had been in a discipleship triad together back home. He is a wonderful brother in Christ. Unfortunately, Blair and I hadn’t seen Don and his wife since our arrival in Hilton Head four-and-a-half years ago, so we readily said ‘yes’ to dinner. We met up at a local restaurant on Friday evening and enjoyed great food, great fellowship, and a great time. No surface talk – just deep, meaningful conversation with a like-minded couple. When we parted, we were already talking about getting together again before they left on Sunday. There were hugs, pats on the back, and plenty of smiles before going our separate ways. Blair and I really enjoyed the evening. Unfortunately …

On Saturday morning, Blair received a text from Don’s wife. Don wasn’t feeling well, and they were going to start back home earlier than expected. Don has battled cancer and other health-related issues, so their concerns were warranted. Later in the day, we learned Don’s wife took him to the hospital upon their arrival home. He reallywasn’t feeling well, and concerns were heightened. Not long after, we got the news – Don had tested positive for Covid at the hospital. Ugh! They were embarrassed and apologized over and over again. Of course, Don seemed perfectly fine on Friday evening, and surely he would not have wanted to meet up with us if he knew he had Covid. Blair and I assured them it was okay, and we meant it. Still, we do care for my dad at home. And while plenty of people equate Covid with the flu or a bad cold, I would rather avoid both – especially for the sake of my dad and others.

As a result, I kept my distance from others on Sunday. While I had no symptoms, I just don’t want to be responsible for anyone getting sick. Oh, I did talk to people at Worship at the Park. Perhaps the outdoor service put me at ease, although I still tried to keep some separation between me and anyone I spoke to. The problem? It’s unnatural for me not to shake hands with people when I greet them. And if anyone wants to come in for a hug – real hug, side hug, “bro” hug, whatever – I oblige them. But on Sunday? I can’t tell you how many times I had to back away from people and apologize with my hands up as if someone had a gun pointed at me. “I’m really sorry, (name here), but I’m not shaking hands or hugging anyone today. I was exposed to Covid this weekend. I feel fine, but I just don’t want anyone to get sick because of me.” Some of you backed away at the mere mention of Covid. “Yikes! Thanks for telling me.” A few of you looked at me like I had two heads. During the meet-and-greet time, I walked away from the crowd to avoid having to tell more people that I couldn’t greet them with a handshake or hug. Seriously, Grace, it was hard for me, and I didn’t enjoy it.   

Six days later and still feeling well, I think Blair and I are in the clear. I sure hope so, because I’m finally starting to relax my “no handshakes or hugs” policy. Why is this so important to me? Why is it so difficult to back away from people who offer a hand or a hug to go along with their greeting? Because physical touch or a sincere expression of affection is biblical. Huh? Yes, it’s biblical. Five times in God’s Word – FIVE TIMES! – the Bible says we are to greet one another with a holy kiss. Check it out for yourself in Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; and 1 Peter 5:14 (where it’s actually referred to as “a kiss of love”). Of course, kissing one another was a genuine display of affection in the first century churches of the Middle East, Europe, and Asia. (Also, please note the requirement of a holy kiss, as opposed to any other kind of kiss.) Today in the American church of the 21st century, we give “holy” handshakes and “holy” hugs, along with a greeting of welcome and glad tidings. As you know, my dad likes that. And so do I. So be ready on Sunday, Grace. I’ll have a handshake (or a hug) ready for you.

As I write, it is the afternoon of July 4. I pray it has been a wonderful day for all of you. May Your blessing be on our nation, Lord. While we celebrate her independence today, we also declare our complete and total dependence on You for all things good. Thank You for Your marvelous grace. Amen.

God bless you, dear Grace. You are so loved.

Steve

 

06.28.24

Hi, dear Grace!

Twice in the past week, I have received a text message from my banking institution. Each text has thanked me for calling the bank. Each has provided a code and urged me to share said code with only the agent who is assisting me. Each then concluded with this – “Didn’t call us? Contact us at (phone number of my banking institution here)” Since I hadn’t called … since I hadn’t asked for a code … and since I was encouraged to call if I hadn’t called, I called. (Did that last sentence make sense?) The first time this happened, I didn’t really understand what the “agent” was telling me. Something like maybe someone has a similar phone number to me and there was a mix-up? It was confusing, but the guy on the other end of the line assured me everything was okay with my account. He may have said something about flagging my account for security reasons, but there was no panic from me or from him. The second time this happened, I understood exactly what was going on. So I called again. I’ll get to that in a moment.

Twice in the past week, yet separate from the above texts, I have received a call from my banking institution. The first was last Saturday, when a female caller from Winston-Salem, NC, asked if I was home. Huh? The caller ID on my phone only said the call came from Winston-Salem – not that it came from my bank. I was confused again. This time, however, I learned that someone entered a branch in Winston-Salem and attempted to withdraw a large amount of money from my account. What? The teller saw that something wasn’t right, and the guy left when the bank continued to stall. A flag was definitely put on my account at that time. Unfortunately, a second call on Monday revealed another attempt to withdraw money from another branch in North Carolina. The police officer in me is becoming very frustrated right about now.

It was on Tuesday that I received the second text mentioned above (see first paragraph), and it was Tuesday that I called the number of my banking institution a second time to let them know I had not called them. What’s going on? Well, it appears someone was now trying to gain access into my online banking account. I was advised to go into my account and change my password right away. Password changed. I was also advised to go into my local branch, close out our checking account, and reopen a new account. That is scheduled to happen today. In the meantime, as I tried to check my online account earlier – using my brand new password – I was locked out due to too many attempts to get in. Not good!

I share all of this not to get anyone in a panic on my behalf. As of now, our money is safe. The bank assured me of that. But all of this, while very frustrating (and even angering) to me, also makes me think. Solomon wrote, “The way of the wicked is like darkness” (Proverbs 4:19a NKJV). And the Apostle Paul wrote, “For you were once darkness …” (Ephesians 5:8a NKJV). Ouch! I can easily make the connection between wickedness and darkness when I think of someone who is trying to fraudulently access my bank account and steal what Blair and I have worked hard for. But then to remember I once walked in the “way of the wicked” … I once walked in “darkness” … I once was that thief, that liar, that evil thinker. As the Bible says, “All have sinned” (Romans 3:23a). Oh, but here’s the other half of that verse in Ephesians. I’ll start from the top again – “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8 NKJV). Thanks be to God, dear reader. Yes, thanks be to God for His grace. As Christians, we who once were wicked and walked in darkness are now “children of light.” We walk in darkness no more. Praise Him today! Lord, there is a man or woman out there who has my personal information and who is trying to use it for wicked means. May he or she be drawn to the light of Jesus Christ, seek forgiveness of sin, and be saved. You know who the person is. Please, Lord, save him or her. Thank You.

Don’t forget one service this Sunday at Jarvis Park as we celebrate our freedoms in Christ and in the USA. Start time is 10 AM, followed by a cookout. I look forward to seeing you there.

God bless you, Grace. You are so loved.


Steve

 

06.21.24

Hi, dear Grace!

If I confess my Achilles’ heel to you today, would you extend me much grace? If I admit my greatest area of weakness, would you kindly offer forbearance and, where needed, even forgiveness? If I allow you a peek into a hidden area of my life, would you overlook my imperfection?

Ahhh … there it is. That last question opened the door to a room I prefer to keep closed. I am embarrassed to tell you this, dear Grace, but I am a perfectionist. What’s that? Some of you already knew? Well, I guess it’s a hard secret to keep. Unfortunately, the problem isn’t keeping the secret; it’s the being perfect. Oh, sure, there’s a Perfect Attendance Award or two in my past from when I was in elementary school, but that’s about it. In no other area have I ever been perfect … even though I demand perfection from myself in everything I do. So what happens when I strive for perfection? On the milder side, it takes me longer to complete a project because I’m so focused on getting every detail right. But on the heavier side? Those times when I seek perfection on the aforementioned project and yet never – and I mean NEVER – attain it? When only an “A” is acceptable to me but the result is a “B+” or worse? It’s failure … self-criticism … back to the drawing board. Of course, at the root of perfectionism is pride. The Bible makes “perfectly” clear that God hates pride. “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverse mouth I hate” (Proverbs 8:13 NKJV). In his classic Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis calls pride “the great sin.” And so I try to throw off pride and perfectionism, confessing my sin and longing for victory in these areas, only to find them lurking in a corner closet of my life and ready to pounce when the moment is right.

Yes, Grace, while I often still pursue perfection, I recognize it will never happen due to my efforts alone. But in Christ, perfection is near. As I shared on Sunday, “But whoever keeps His (God’s) word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him” (1 John 2:5 NKJV). Did you read that? For those who truly know the Lord, the love of God is perfected in him/her. That means I can love my wife better … my children better … others better. It’s no coincidence that the Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, identified “love” first in his list of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Oh, and here’s another verse – “And He (the Lord) said to me (Paul), ‘My grace is sufficient, for My strength is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:9a NKJV). Wow! BIG praise here! I don’t have it in me to be perfect. But in Christ, God’s love in me is perfect. His strength in me is perfect. And His grace is sufficient. Thank You, Lord, for such amazing grace.

Well, Vacation Bible School is ending today. Over one hundred children were in attendance. YES! Thank you for your prayers for a successful week. God is faithful! The building was full of energy, children were excited to sing and learn, and Charlynn and her team are finishing well. Please continue to pray that the seeds that were planted in the hearts and minds of these little ones will bear much fruit for the kingdom of God moving forward.

Finally, I am preaching again on Sunday. Sure would appreciate your prayers for me.

Thanks, as always, for reading. You, dear Grace, are so, so loved.

Steve

06.14.24

Hi, dear Grace!

As young parents in the early 1990’s, Blair and I had a video recorder that we heaved onto our shoulders to record Lindsey and Andrew and all of their goings-on from the time they were born. When we packed up our home in White Plains, MD, four-and-a-half years ago to head south to Hilton Head Island, SC, our U-haul truck included several boxes of VHS tapes that we hadn’t watched in years. Two years ago, when I was again in Maryland to pack up my dad’s house for sale, I found a box of 8-mm film reels. What those reels contained I didn’t know, but it had to be home movies of when my brothers and I were young. Yes, I brought those home, too.

Recently, Blair packed a box with of selected VHS tapes and 8-mm film reels and shipped them to a company in Arizona to digitize their contents. Earlier this week, we received the first batch. With the use of an app on our Smart TV, we can now stream our home movies just like we stream a Netflix show. And for the past several evenings, that’s exactly what we have been doing – for hours at a time! There’s a video of Lindsey when she was a baby – sleeping in her crib, sleeping on our living room floor, sleeping with Daddy. Either she did a LOT of sleeping when she was a baby, or we recorded her only when she was sleeping. Of course, as first-time parents we loved to watch her sleep, and we apparently wanted to record it often. Oh, and there’s a video of Blair entering Calvert Memorial Hospital to give birth to Andrew. And there’s a video of Blair entering the same hospital five days later for another try at delivering Andrew. And there’s a video of Blair entering the same hospital a third time – this one being the charm – and then there’s Andrew only minutes old and being weighed in at 10 lbs., 5 oz. And hey! There’s a grainy video of another baby. The dad is in a police uniform ... but wait! That’s MY dad in uniform! And that baby is ME! I don’t recall ever seeing this video footage. My dad is leaning over me … picking me up with a proud smile on his face … kissing me on the cheek and hugging me. There is no audio, so I can’t hear what he’s saying. And there is my mom, looking beautiful as ever. Later, there’s Chuck and I as toddlers. I’m mesmerized by what I’m watching. These home movies are well over half a century old! Tears are welling in my eyes as I watch.

Truthfully, these home movies contain only a snapshot of our life as a family. They captured moments in time, but so many other moments were never recorded or even photographed. Still, this streaming app is gold to us. Yes, I admit it – Blair and I are binge-watching these videos, and we are doing it without guilt. To see our children – so young, perfect, innocent, and fully dependent on their parents. To see my mom and my brother – both of whom are with the Lord today. And to see my dad – alert, strong, and yet tender at the same time. Precious moments are these! But these moments are also a reminder to me of the brevity of life. Just this morning, I read the words of Moses as recorded in the Psalms – “Our lives last seventy years or, if we are strong, eighty years … indeed, they pass quickly and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10 CSB). And elsewhere, the Bible says, “For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14 NKJV). It’s so true, Grace. Not only do I see it in the mirror and feel it in the aches and pains of life in my 60’s, but I see it in these home movies. There’s my mom – young, happy, smiling, beautiful. And there’s my brother – a newborn in one video, a toddler in the next. Both are now gone, as are nearly every aunt and uncle who attended the Hall family reunion in 1992 (also captured on video). And then there’s my dad – 27 years old in one video, and 87 years old as I stare at him today. If he could, he would echo what I’m writing here – Life is short. Oh, Grace, may we not live life trying to squeeze in all of the fun we can have before our years here are over. Instead, may we live life striving to squeeze in all we can do to win more people to Christ. Please, Lord, give us success in this.

Please continue to be in prayer for the family of Ian Lee. By now, you surely are aware that Ian, the primary drummer on our Worship Team, passed away last Saturday. He was only 33 years old. It is a devastating loss to his family and all who knew and loved Ian. Thank you for your prayers.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. And Happy Father’s Day to all of the Grace men. Whether you have children of your own or you are pouring into the life of someone else’s child, thank you for what you do to lead well and influence them in a positive way for the Lord. May God bless all of you in a special way for your faithful investment.

Yes, dear Grace, you are so, so loved.


Steve

 

06.07.24

Hi, dear Grace!

Last week my e-mail went down. More specifically, my church e-mail went down. Or maybe it didn’t go down. Maybe I just couldn’t find it. Either way, for nearly 24 hours last Thursday through Friday, Steve@gracehhi completely disappeared from my computer. In-box? Gone. Sent e-mails? Gone. Archived files? Drafts of e-mails (including future weekly posts)? Junk folder? Gone. Gone. And … well, good riddance to the junk folder.

So how did I handle this predicament? Was there panic? Not necessarily. Had it been my phone, there MAY have been some panic (although, admittedly, a break from my phone may also be healthy for me). Then again, I do still communicate by e-mail with the staff and with many of you. As a matter of fact, my weekly post is sent to Stacey by Friday morning via – you guessed it – e-mail. And that’s where today’s post comes in.

Because my e-mail was gone last week, I was forced to craft my post from my personal e-mail. It is an account I don’t often see – full of advertisements, promotions, notifications, and requests to connect with people I don’t know on LinkedIn. On a rare occasion, something will come through that captures my interest. Therefore, it is not something I use often. But there I was last Friday morning, putting the final touches on a post that celebrated the third-year anniversary of our midweek prayer service. At 8:22 AM, a quick click of the ‘send’ button launched that post into cyberspace – where it apparently remained for hours. That’s right … Stacey never received it, prompting her to write the words “No Post Submitted At Time Of Publication” where said post should have been on our website. A faithful reader saw that note and contacted me. “Where’s this week’s edition of ‘You Are Loved?’” they asked. “Are you falling down on the job?” By this time, Steve@gracehhi was working again. Post forwarded. Disaster averted. All was made right in the world again.

But seriously, Grace, for those twenty-four hours I did miss my church e-mail. Of the three most common means of communication via the use of technology, the order of priority for me is the following: 1) a phone call (which is asking for an immediate response); 2) a text (which is asking for a response as soon as possible); and 3) an e-mail (which is asking for a response whenever it is convenient for you). Still, my desire is to respond to e-mails on the same day I see them. That doesn’t always happen, but it is important for people to know I place high value on their communication to me by whatever means. As a result, my stress level was somewhat high when my e-mail disappeared.

The truth is, the first thing I do when I open my computer is check my e-mail. And when I return to my office after being out for any length of time, I check my e-mail. As a matter of fact, I check my e-mail several times throughout each day and evening just to be sure I didn’t miss anything from the staff or one of you. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but what would my response be if my Bible went missing? Would I miss it as much as I missed my e-mail last week? My answer is an absolute yes, but the inability to send and receive e-mail last week did make me ponder the question. And it reminded me of God’s words to Joshua after He announced the death of His servant Moses – “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it” (Joshua 1:8 NKJV). Hmm … “day and night” … Am I as diligent in meditating on God’s Word as I am in checking my e-mail? Here’s another passage I was reminded of – “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1–2 NJV). There are those words again – “day and night.” Oh, Father, help us all in this. Whether it’s e-mail or social media or news feeds or something else, may nothing take precedence over Your Word in our thoughts and lives, and may You be glorified in us.

As you may have heard by now, the Worship Night that was scheduled for this evening has been postponed to an as-yet-unidentified date. This decision was made out of a deep sense of love, respect, and sensitivity for the Grace Praise Team and for the family of Ian Lee, our drummer. As I write these words, Ian remains in ICU in critical condition. Please continue to pray for Ian and his family, as well as for everyone at Grace who loves them.

God bless you, dear reader. You are so loved.

Steve

05.31.24

Hi, dear Grace!

In two days, an anniversary is happening. It will come and go quietly, but it's a special one to me. Yes, it was three years ago on Wednesday, June 2, 2021, that our first midweek prayer service took place. What's that? You didn't know we have a midweek prayer service? Then let me take a moment to tell you about it.

Three years ago, Matthew went away for a 12-week sabbatical. In his absence, several of us thought it was important to gather in prayer one evening per week to pray for Matthew, for his family, for the staff, and for the ministries of Grace. The service would last for one hour and begin with singing and a brief devotion on prayer. We would then break up into groups to pray through a list of prayer requests that were provided by Matthew (prior to the start of his time away) and by the staff. Each week, attendees had the opportunity to complete a prayer card that included a section asking for names of loved ones who do not know Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. Those names were also added to the prayer list. After our time of prayer, which lasted about 35 minutes or so, we would gather to sing one more song before dismissing in a final prayer. Our intention was to do this for the twelve weeks Matthew was gone, but when those twelve weeks were up, a remnant asked if the service could continue. 

Today, we continue to gather every Wednesday evening for prayer. We continue to open with songs or hymns of worship, and we are currently working through a study of the Apostle Paul's letter to Philemon. Our group is small - sometimes as small as five people - but no matter our number, the most important thing we do is pray. We continue to pray for Matthew and his family. We also continue to pray for the staff and their families, for one another, and for all areas of ministry at Grace. AND we continue to pray for a list of unsaved loved ones. Yes, dear Grace, in three years that list has grown to 107 names, and each week every person is prayed for. By God's grace, three of those names have been crossed off because they have confessed with their mouths the Lord Jesus and believed in their hearts that God has raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9) since first being added to the list. With each name crossed off the list, we rejoice. Praise the Lord!

There is a beautiful verse in the book of 1 Samuel that I can't help but think of when the midweek prayer service comes to mind. Speaking to the people of Israel, Samuel said these words - "Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you" (1 Samuel 12:23aNKJV). Believe me, Grace, I'm no Samuel, but I agree with him on this. It is a privilege to pray for Matthew, Seth, Charlynn, Andrew, Susy, Stacey, Kelsie, Mary Jane, Kimberly, and their families. It is a privilege to pray for the ministries of Grace. And it is a privilege to pray for you and for your loved ones who do not know Jesus. Speaking for myself here, to not pray would be a complete failure on my part toward you and (in the words of Samuel) a sin against the Lord. Oh, Father in heaven, thank You for our pastor. May Your face shine on him and his family today. Thank You for our wonderful staff, whom I love with my whole heart. Bless them and their service to the people of Grace. Bless their families, as well, and continue to provide for their needs. And thank You for every member, attender, and friend of Grace. As I often pray, have Your way in them, dear Father. Together, may we be a maturing family of believers with a heart for the lost. And, oh God, PLEASE bless our loved ones who do not know You as their Savior and Lord - some of whom are hostile to the gospel. PLEASE soften their hearts and draw them to Yourself. Oh, how we look forward to rejoicing with the angels over their salvation one day. In Jesus' powerful name, Amen.

I invite you to join us on a Wednesday evening at 7 PMfor prayer, dear reader. But if you cannot come, there's no guilt here. Just please spend some time in prayer for for one another. Isn't it great to know we pray to a God who hears and answers prayer?

Thanks so much for reading to the end. You are so, so loved.

Steve 

05.24.24

Hi, dear Grace!

I have shared with you previously that I am reading through the Psalms this year. Perhaps I haven’t shared with you, however, my Bible reading plan for the year. As the new year was approaching, I decided to spend ALL of my Bible reading in 2024 in the Psalms. At the same time, I would read through a commentary to go along with my Bible reading for the day. With 150 psalms in the book, though, it won’t take a full year to read through them. Therefore, my goal is to read through the Psalms four times during the year, using a different translation and a different commentary each time. It has been really rich.

My first read-through was out of the New King James Version. At the same time, the Nelson Study Bible served as my commentary. My second read-through is happening now out of the Christian Standard Bible, with Tony Evans providing the commentary. This has been really good for me. Several days ago, I read a verse that I had to read several times. The verse is a promise, and it blessed me as I read it over and over. But first, let me give some backstory as to why the verse spoke to me the way it did.

As you know, I played a lot of sports growing up. Of the three Salvas boys, Chuck (the middle son) was the most gifted athlete. What came to him naturally, I had to work hard for. Perhaps it’s because he played with me and my friends in our neighborhood, so when he played against kids his own age in competitive sports, he had an advantage. And it showed on his trophy shelves! Yes, that’s shelves (plural). My one shelf had a smattering of awards on it – none of which were for Most Valuable Player. Chuck, on the other hand, received MVP awards in every sport he ever played – football, basketball, baseball, and even soccer. He was dunking a basketball long before I was. Unfortunately, while he could have played any sport he wanted to at the college level, he lost interest. Sports were fun for him, but he wanted to do other things. Me? Well, let’s just say my priorities weren’t in order back in high school and college. Playing basketball and being the best I could be was everything to me.

Here's the problem – I put my body through a lot when I played. More than one person told me I would have regrets in my 50’s and 60’s because of how I played. And the truth is, I do live through pain today. The pinky finger on my right hand is permanently damaged because it was jammed (and probably broken) going up for a rebound. My back is constantly sore. My knees hurt. And I sprained my ankle so many times that they are weak and actually give way when I don’t step with purpose. And that’s where today’s post comes in.

In the New King James Version, Psalm 18:35–36 is translated this way – “You have also given me the shield of Your salvation; Your right hand has held me up, Your gentleness has made me great. You enlarged my path under me, so my feet did not slip.” The King James Version, the New American Standard Bible, the English Standard Version, and the New Living Translation all translate that last phrase (“so my feet did not slip”) similarly. But the Christian Standard Bible and the New International Version translate it differently. Here it is from the CSB – “You have given me the shield of Your salvation; Your right hand upholds me, and Your humility exalts me. You make a spacious place beneath me for my steps, and my ankles do not give way.” As I read verse 36 several days ago out of the CSB, that last phrase leapt off the page at me. May I continue here, dear reader, in order to explain why I take this as a promise? The start of Psalm 18 says, “I will love You, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust” (Psalm 18:1–2a NKJV). The psalm is written by David and celebrates God’s marvelous grace in his life. Do you see how David describes the Lord in verses 1 and 2? As his strength, his rock, his fortress, his deliverer, and his strength again. And he says God is One in whom David can trust. When David writes in verse 36, “… and my ankles do not give way,” he is writing of himself, as well as the man or woman like him who trusts in the Lord. And while some might argue that David is speaking militarily here as he battles his enemies (see verses 37 and following), I disagree. Instead, I believe he is speaking in accordance with God’s will for my life. Proverbs 3:5–6 say, “Trust in the LORD will all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Another translation says, “… and He will make your paths straight.” On Sunday during the message, I said those words could be translated, “… and He will make your path a smooth one.” So there is a correlation between Psalm 18:35–36 and Proverbs 3: 5–6. The command? Trust the Lord! The promise? He will make a spacious place for my steps, and my ankles will never give way. Oh, my ankles may physically fail me from time to time, but God’s will for me will be plain and sure. All I have to do is step with purpose by trusting and following Him. Let’s do that together, Grace.

The truth is, I have no regrets about how hard I played basketball. The wins, losses, awards, injuries … all were worth the wonderful memories I have of playing. Any regrets I have are saved for those times when my attitude on the court didn’t reflect my faith in Christ. Thank You, Lord, for your grace and forgiveness in that.

 

And thanks to you, dear Grace, for hanging in there to the end. You are so, so loved.

Steve

05.17.24

Hi, dear Grace!

Over the course of nearly 38 years of married life, Blair and I have spent our share of time apart. Whether it was due to week-long training for work that was out-of-state (me) or a weekend women’s conference (Blair) or an overnight men’s retreat (me) or a trip with girlfriends (Blair), we have had to fend for ourselves without one another on plenty of occasions. Of course, there used to be a time when – if something came up and one of us had to go somewhere that wasn’t exclusive to the other – we would make every effort to go together. Unfortunately, that’s pretty hard to do at this stage of our lives.

Yes, Grace, I spent the past week alone at home. Well, not totally alone. Blair and Andrew (our son) left for Orlando on Sunday to help Lindsey (our daughter) move into a new apartment. I would gladly have gone with them, but someone needs to stay home to care for my dad. The opportunity for Blair to spend Mother’s Day with the two precious people on earth who call her Mom meant that I would spend the week as a bachelor/caregiver. And that’s okay. Blair set me up with plenty of help for the week so that I could spend several hours of the day in the office and even cover the midweek prayer service. The fridge was packed with food, so neither my dad nor I starved. With the exception of a hiccup or two, all went smoothly. Thank You, Lord, and thank you to everyone who provided help or checked on me this week.

You know, each time circumstances dictate that Blair and I are apart, I realize anew the truth of God’s words in Genesis chapter 2 – “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone’” (Genesis 2:18a NLT). Oh, sure, I survived the week. When Blair arrived home yesterday afternoon, the house looked relatively close to what it looked like when she left. The kitchen sink was empty of dirty dishes. Some (though admittedly not all) laundry was done, folded, and put away. The bed was made. I also got some reading done this week and even caught some reruns of The Andy Griffith Show. Not bad, in my opinion, but that still doesn’t mean I’m ready to be alone full-time. As a matter of fact, Blair and I sometimes debate which of us is going to die first. (Is that morbid?) Seriously, it HAS to be me. Genesis 2:18 cannot be argued in my house – It is not good for Steve (the man) to be alone. But Blair has a different take … and while I appreciate her position and reasoning, the debate continues. Ideally for us, we’ll go out like the ending of a Nicholas Sparks’ novel and it won’t be an issue for either of us. Speaking of endings, I love how the Lord ended His statement after viewing Adam’s situation. Let me start from the top again – “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him’” (Genesis 2:18 NLT).

If you are or ever were happily married, dear reader, take a moment to thank God for the one whom He determined to be “just right” for you. Yes, Lord, thank You. May our marriages be a reflection of the relationship between Christ and His Church to a lost and hurting world.

I’m preaching on Sunday, Grace. Thank you in advance for your prayers as I prepare. God bless you.

Welcome home, Honeybunch. I’m so glad you’re back. To you and to all of Grace, you are so loved.


Steve

 

 

05.10.24

Hi, dear Grace!

 

It’s been a wonderful week of celebrating milestone events. It started on Saturday as family and friends gathered to honor the accomplishments of a Grace graduate. God is doing a wonderful work in this teen’s life, and he has an exciting future ahead of him as he looks forward to college and beyond. He and his parents have become very dear to me and Blair in the nearly four-and-a-half years we have been at Grace. It has been a joy to watch him grow and mature. Bless him, Lord, and all of our high school graduates as they prepare to head off to college. May they stand strong in their faith and make many Christian friends on campus.

 

Then on Sunday, the church celebrated the baptisms of nine people at Driessen Beach. As I have shared many times in the announcements on Sunday mornings and in this space here, Baptism Sunday is always a highlight of the year. It surely was again on Sunday. The fellowship we enjoyed during the picnic at the park was terrific. Thanks to everyone who stood at the grill or provided food or helped with set-up. Thanks too to everyone who came in support of those who made a public profession of faith through believer’s baptism. What a joy to hear their testimonies and to rejoice with them over God’s grace in their lives! The water was rough, but God is so good. Thank You, Lord, for each person who boldly shared their testimony and then was baptized in the waters of the Atlantic. May they continually draw near to You and grow in faith and much grace in the years ahead.

 

Then on Tuesday, the church staff gathered together for our weekly meeting and celebrated the upcoming birthdays of Kelsie (May 14) and Mary Jane (May 16). At each meeting where a staff birthday is being recognized, our practice is to laud the birthday guy or girl – or in this case, two godly women – with words of affirmation. Specifically, each staff member expresses in words a quality or strength or blessing that the birthday girl is to each of us. Yes, Grace, there were some tears spilled in the room as we loved on Kelsie and Mary Jane. We also laughed together, we ate together, and we presented gifts to them. You, dear Grace, have a special team of people on staff who are family. We really do love one another, and it is our joy to serve together. Oh, God, thank You for the team You have assembled at Grace. And thanks especially for Kelsie and Mary Jane. We are so blessed by their selfless service.

 

And then there was Wednesday. Shayla Brewer, Stacey’s daughter, married Ethan Reese here at the church. It was an outdoor wedding, with an arch at the circle in front of the church and chairs set up along the walkway there. Shayla was beautiful. The wedding was exceptional. The entire evening was wonderful. Former members of Grace – some who have moved away and others who are still in the area – were there. What a joy to catch up with them all! There was delicious food, joyous fellowship, much laughter, some dancing, and a great celebration of God’s grace in the lives of two young people who are starting married life out in the right way. Father, thank You for the wonderful gift of marriage. Bless Ethan and Shayla and their life together. May their marriage be a reflection of the relationship between Christ and His Church, and may they thrive as a married couple.

 

You know, the Bible says, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven … a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance …” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4 ESV). Yes, Grace, there has been a lot of laughing and dancing this week, and even some tears (happy ones) – all in celebration of some very special people at Grace. But it’s not just events and people we celebrate. Listen to this paraphrase of a well-known verse written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by the Apostle Paul – “Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in Him! (Philippians 4:4 MSG). Yes, Lord, we do celebrate You. Praise Him today, dear Church!

 

Before I close, this Sunday is Mother’s Day. Moms, we celebrate you! Yes, Lord, bless the moms in our lives – those who raised us … those who raised our children with us … those who may not have had children of their own but poured into our children by loving them, teaching them, encouraging them, and pointing them to Jesus. Please bless them in a very special way this weekend. Thank You in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

To every mom and to all of Grace, you are deeply loved.

 

Steve

05.03.24

Hi, dear Grace!

I’m a little embarrassed this morning. Somehow, the National Day of Prayer snuck up on me without my realizing it. Many of you are probably aware that yesterday was the National Day of Prayer – a day set aside each year for Christians to pray for our nation. Unfortunately, it was only yesterday that I realized said day had arrived. For the past couple of years, Grace has held a prayer service at noon and invited the community to attend. Many did, and it was always a special time together. Not only did we pray for our nation and her leaders, but we prayed for our state, our communities, our police and first responders, and churches all over the Island and in Bluffton. I apologize for missing it this year, Grace, and I promise to do better in the future.

The source of the following quote is in question, but many attribute it to John Bunyan. It’s a good one, and it would do us all well to keep it in mind. The quote is this  – “You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed. Pray often, for prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge to Satan.” And to that I say, “Amen!”

Last night I was invited to pray at the start of a gala that was hosted by Memory Matters. The event included dinner and dessert, a silent auction, and a live auction. The setting was beautiful, and the program was entertaining and very successful. It was a privilege to open the gala with prayer, asking God’s blessing on all that would take place. Later in the program, I had an opportunity to share a testimony of the incredible impact that Memory Matters has had on my dad and on our family. And that’s the focus of today’s post – not the actual testimony, but the rules of public speaking.

There are several rules to abide by when anyone is speaking in public. All would agree the most important rule is to keep to the allotted time. I had 3 – 5 minutes to speak, and while I can’t say for 100% certain, I’m pretty sure I stayed within that time limit (or kept it pretty close). Another important rule is to be prepared. No one wants to listen to someone fumble and stumble through a speech. That is agony for everyone. And a third important rule is this one – Be aware of your microphone! No, I’m not talking about “hot mic” moments, although avoiding such career-flushing occurrences is tremendously important. Instead, I’m talking about being sure everyone in attendance can hear you. Unfortunately, I may have failed to keep this rule.

The emcee for the evening did a terrific job. He was very attentive to the microphone. I was somewhat taller than the emcee, though. I therefore tried to raise the mic to my level after being introduced. By raising it, however, the mic was pushed more to my left. Meanwhile, my notes were on the podium and more to the right. My allegiance was divided now. Do I keep my head up and to the left in order to speak into the mic, or do I keep my head down and to the right in order to refer to my notes? Halfway through my testimony, someone came to the podium and tried to move the mic stand into a better position. Uh oh! They apparently can’t hear me! Should I start over? Should I plow through? Should I ignore my notes altogether and wing it? In the end, I kept going … I kept referring to my notes … and I kept wondering if anyone was hearing what I had to say.

Hmm … There may be an application in this somewhere. Yes, Grace, just as I must always be aware of the location of the microphone when speaking in public, I must always be aware of the presence of the Lord when living out my faith in the world. The Bible says, “I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved” (Psalm 16:8 NKJV). Another translation says it this way, “I am always aware of the Lord’s presence; He is near, and nothing can shake me” (Psalm 16:8 GNT). As I said before, if I am not mindful of the microphone, people to whom I am speaking will miss my testimony. Likewise, if I am not mindful of the Lord and His presence always in my life, people may miss my testimony. Why? Because in moments when I am not mindful of God’s presence, I will likely not be living out my faith in a way that makes a real difference in the lives of people. Thank You for Your presence in me, Lord. Thank You for Your Spirit which resides in me. Keep me ever mindful of You living in me. Keep me ever mindful of Your Word. And by Your grace, help me to live it out so that others may be drawn to You. In Your holy and matchless name I pray, Amen.

On a very personal note, thank you to ALL of you who prayed for my family while my dad was in the hospital. He was released yesterday and is recovering well from his surgery. Your prayers, calls, cards, texts, e-mails, and kind words sustained us over the past week. The visits … the meals … oh, Grace, mere words cannot express how blessed we were by you. Blair and I thank you so much for everything. We are humbled by you. You really are so, so loved.

Don’t forget the all-church picnic and baptism service at Driessen Beach Park this Sunday from 5 – 7 PM. It is going to be a special day. Please come. You will be blessed if you do.

I love you, Grace. May God bless you in a very special way today.


Steve

 

04.26.24

Hi, dear Grace!

Recently, I checked the mailbox at home and found a letter addressed to me. I immediately frowned when I saw it. Oh, the letter started out kindly enough. “Welcome!” it said. Thanks, I thought. But welcome to what? The letter continued, “Your name has been chosen …” Wow! My name has been chosen! This sounds promising … NOT! “Your name has been chosen from a random selection of registered voters …”

Yes, dear Grace, I have been summoned – randomly, per the letter – to appear at the local Magistrate Court for jury duty service. And while I confess I’m not too excited about it, I also know jury duty is an important part of the criminal justice system and civil jurisprudence. I understand and fully support the rights of a defendant to be tried before an impartial pool of citizens from his/her community to determine, based on the testimony and evidence presented, a verdict of guilty or not guilty.

In my previous profession, I spent a LOT of time at the Court House. As a matter of fact, there was a six-and-a-half year period when I was at the Court House nearly every day – testifying before a Grand Jury, testifying in a criminal trial, meeting with a judge to request a search warrant, meeting with a prosecutor to review a case file or argue for charges against a suspect, etc. I actually enjoyed the legal process. But not everyone does. While I have been summoned for jury duty service, others have been summoned as defendants. Yes, I’ll be out of the office for a couple days, but I’ll also be going home when each day is over. Their day, on the other hand, could possibly end in handcuffs and a trip to the county jail. Still others have been summoned as witnesses. My day will be filled with waiting, answering questions to determine my ability to be fair and impartial, and possibly even being seated as a juror. For many witnesses, their day will be filled with stress.

All of this makes me think of a verse from the Psalms. It says this – “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Psalm 84:10 ESV). You have probably heard this verse before. But have you heard verse 2 from the same Psalm? Verse 2 says this – “My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God” (Psalm 84:2 ESV). The word “courts” here doesn’t refer to a Court House where a defendant is tried, although I could argue for such an application. (Because of His grace and His faithfulness, I would much rather be tried by the God of Heaven than tried by anyone else to determine my fate. Praise You, Lord!) No, the meaning has more to do with being where God is … being in His presence. The sons of Korah, to whom this Psalm is attributed, are saying, “I would rather be in the presence of the Lord for just one day doing menial labor in His house than to spend a thousand days separated from Him in the lap of luxury.” Oh, dear Grace, may that be the desire of all of us. May we truly long to be in His presence and serve Him with our whole hearts in whatever He has called us to do. May we flee from the company of the wicked and lean in to the Lord. And may He be glorified in us always. In Jesus’ holy name, Amen.

You know, it’s funny. That letter I received from the Court began with such a friendly tone welcoming me to jury duty, but it ended with threats of what may happen if I don’t appear. By the time I was done reading, it didn’t make me feel very welcome. (Note to the Court: I’ll be there.)

Thanks for reading, dear Grace. You are so, so loved.


Steve

 

04.19.24

Hi, dear Grace!

Hard to believe, but it has been over four years since Blair and I moved to Hilton Head Island. In that time, we have tasted an eclectic assortment of Island cuisine at the many restaurants located here. And we have enjoyed the beaches and the fishing and the boating and the “salt life” that Hilton Head has to offer. (I sure hope I used that “salt life” phrase correctly.) And we have walked and even biked along the many miles of trails here. And we have been to Daufuskie Island and to Pinkney Island and to other highlight locations in the area. But it was just yesterday that I was finally immersed into the culture of Hilton Head Island in a big way. Yes, Grace, although I have lived on the Island for over four years now, I finally attended the RBC Heritage for the first time. And it did not disappoint!

Before I continue, let me give a shout-out to Matthew, who had an extra ticket and invited me to go. And let me say, too, that Matthew is quite the celebrity. We couldn’t go far without his seeing someone he knew and stopping to talk. I met many new people yesterday as a result of just being with him. And, of course, I saw several of you there, too. I learned quickly that The Heritage isn’t just a sporting event – it’s a social event. And I found it fun just to take it all in.

As a sports fan, I have attended many professional sporting events in my lifetime. And as a result, I have seen many famous athletes (and even met some in person) over the years – Roger Staubach, Joe Theismann, O.J. Simpson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, David Robinson, Jim Palmer, Cal Ripken, Eddie Murray, Alex Ovechkin, Sugar Ray Leonard, and many others. Yesterday, I added Rory McElroy and Webb Simpson and other great golfers to that list. Pretty cool!

But you know something else that struck me as I observed my surroundings at the Harbor Town Golf Links? It was how many people it takes to pull off an event like The Heritage. Yes, there were police officers and security officers and paid personnel there, but there were also many, many volunteers who came together to make South Carolina’s premier PGA Tour event happen. To be honest, it impressed me. And it made me appreciate the many volunteers who make Grace the wonderful church that we are. A church cannot succeed without the willingness of God’s people to serve as elders, deacons, Bible teachers, life group leaders and/or hosts, greeters, hospitality coordinators, children’s ministry teachers/helpers, musicians, A/V techs, sound and livestreaming engineers, office help, ministry team members, helping hands through set-up and tear-down before and after events … the list can go on and on. All of these require the dedication of willing volunteers. So on behalf of Matthew, the staff, and the leadership of Grace, thank you to ALL of you who give of your time and talents to serve the Lord. May God bless you for your sacrifice and commitment.

The Bible says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:10–11 NIV)

Did you notice that last sentence? “To Him be the glory and the power for ever and ever.” That’s why we do what we do at Grace Community Church – so that God will be glorified. If you would like to serve the Lord in some way at Grace, please reach out to me. I would love to connect you to a serving opportunity that would bless you and others for the sake of the gospel.

As always, thanks for reading. You are so loved.

Steve

 

04.12.24

Hi, dear Grace!

It’s Friday morning as I type these words. I am in Port Republic, MD, staying with some very dear friends. My purpose for being 570 miles from home is a funeral that is happening tomorrow on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. A great uncle passed away at the age of 91. He was like a brother to my mom, and his son is my age. We grew up in close proximity to each other, so I saw their family regularly. It was important that I come. So why am I here in Port Republic, still 200 miles away from the funeral location but just miles from the home where my family moved when I was fifteen and where my dad lived for over 40 years? Well, let me tell you.

My trip began on Wednesday when I left Hilton Head Island and traveled to Gordonsville, VA, to see my former pastor and his wife. The words “former pastor” are misleading, however, as Carmon Hartsfield will forever be my pastor. I have mentioned him to you before. By God’s grace, I was saved and baptized under his ministry at Landover Hills Baptist Church. He subsequently became the Apostle Paul to my Timothy, pouring into me in a big way. What a joy to spend Wednesday evening and Thursday morning with him and his dear wife! I’ll talk more about that visit in a few moments.

After leaving Gordonsville on Thursday, I traveled here to see a friend of fifty years and his wonderful wife. Blair and I claim their children as our own, just as they do ours. We were up late last night talking and laughing and catching up on family and kids and health and … well, everything. After breakfast, I’ll drive a few miles north and stop by the cemetery where my mom is buried. With my dad now living with us on the Island, it’s been a while since flowers have been placed at her gravestone. My travels will then take me across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to a small cemetery in Somerset County where my brother is buried. I hope to see my sister-in-law and niece after that. Then it’s on to a hotel near to where the funeral will be held at 2 PM tomorrow. By God’s grace, I’ll be home by midnight or so tomorrow night.

So let me go back now to that visit with Pastor Hartsfield. He is 86 years old now – one year younger than my dad. He walks with a cane, yet he still holds the hand of his wife of 67 years as they go from here to there. Among our topics of discussion during my visit were preaching, pastoral ministry, the blessing of Christian fellowship, the power of prayer, the beauty of God’s creation, the gift of marriage, the certainty of death, and the hope of heaven. To be honest, Pastor Hartsfield did most of the talking. That’s because I am a sponge when I am in his presence. Everything he says is gold to me, and I just want to listen. We ate together. We laughed together. We prayed together. And we shed some tears together. It was the most wonderful of visits! Leaving was hard. Saying good-bye … hugging him for what could possibly be the last time on this side of heaven (though I hope not) … shedding several more tears … yes, it was hard.

You know, the Apostle Paul actually addressed a similar good-bye to his young son in the faith. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul wrote these words – “I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day, greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy, when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you” (2 Timothy 1:3–5a NKJV). In these verses, Paul is probably referring back to an incident in Acts 20, where the Bible says – “And when he (Paul) had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. Then they all wept freely, and fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him, sorry most of all for the words which he spoke, that they would see his face no more” (Acts 20:36–38a). While we don’t know with certainty whether Timothy was among those with whom Paul knelt, prayed, and cried, we do know there was a good-bye at some point in his life that resulted in tears for Timothy. But Paul “greatly desired to see” Timothy again. And Pastor Hartsfield hopes to see me again. He said so as I walked toward my vehicle. “Anytime you come up, there’s an extra bedroom always available for you,” he said.

You never know when it’s the last time you will say good-bye to anyone, dear Church. While I knew it was the last time I would ever kiss my mom and say good-bye to her nearly fourteen years ago, I really thought I would see my brother again before he died. Although he had terminal brain cancer, I just didn’t expect him to die when he did. But here’s the thing – As believers, heaven awaits. I will see my mom again. I will see Chuck again. And whether I see Pastor Hartsfield at his home in Gordonsville, VA, or at his mansion in heaven, I will see him again, too. (I just sure hope it’s in Gordonsville.)

Well, I started this post this morning, and it’s now late evening. I am VERY late getting this in to Stacey. But the day has been good. Everything I hoped to do … everyone I hoped to see … was accomplished today. Thank You, Lord. 

And thank you for reading, Grace. You are so, so loved.

Steve

04.05.24

Hi, dear Grace!

I am preaching on Sunday. As a result, today’s post is from the archives of the past. This one was introduced to you on March 2, 2022, and was entitled “Expectations vs. Disappointments, A Great Week, A Muted Welcome, Thoughts on Heaven, and Some Announcements.” It seems appropriate for today as we prepare for two funerals over the next seven days. I hope it blesses you.

__________

 

Have you ever gone into something with high expectations and came out disappointed? Maybe it was a date with someone you thought was “the one.” Or maybe it was a recommended restaurant or a specific selection on a menu that just wasn’t as good as advertised. Or maybe it was a purchase – a car that turned out to be a lemon or a clothing item that faded quickly. Or maybe it was a big game that turned into a blowout or a new television show that turned out to be a dud. High expectations, big disappointment.

 

I spent Monday through Friday of last week in Pickens, SC, on study leave. There was a lot of reading, studying, planning, and praying that happened. It was a very productive time for me. My expectations were high, and there was no disappointment. But I’m just getting started with this story. On Thursday evening when my wife and I talked on the phone, she suggested we meet at the Cracker Barrel in Okatie on Friday for a late lunch. Since we hadn’t seen one another all week, that sounded great to me. I left Pickens on Friday morning at about 10:00 with an estimated arrival time to Cracker Barrel by 2:30 or so in the early afternoon. While the thought of fried catfish and three country sides made me smile, what excited me more was seeing Blair. Call me corny, but I had visions of music playing in the background and fireworks going off as I swept Blair off her feet and planted a big, wet kiss on her lips. No, I’m not exaggerating, and yes, I have probably seen too many rom-coms. But surely, she will be just as excited to see me … right?

 

We timed it perfectly. Blair had apparently just pulled into a parking space at Cracker Barrel as I arrived. With a space open next to her, I eased my way there, fully intending to get out of my car and to be met by her leaping into my arms to welcome me home. Instead, Blair exited her van with her phone to her ear. She saw me pulling in and waved at me before walking to the other side of the van to continue her conversation. Let me say that again – She WAVED at me and then WALKED AWAY. My first thought was she didn’t realize it was me. With the music in my head suddenly going flat and the fireworks fizzling out, I tried to regroup. I got out of my car and walked to the other side of her van to announce my arrival, but I was met with her pressing the phone more tightly to her ear. Wow! That definitely didn’t go as I had planned it. My high expectations plummeted to earth in crushing disappointment.

 

Before I continue – and to be fair to my wife – let me explain. As she was parking, Blair received a call from a friend. It was a call she had to take. This friend has struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts after the death of her husband two years ago, and Blair has been there for her for the past year. This was ministry in the moment, and I completely understand the importance of Blair’s taking the call and giving her full attention to her friend. Once she got off the phone, we were able to recover. It was somewhat muted from what I had in mind, but it was good.

 

In keeping with that theme, I have been thinking a lot about heaven recently. My mom is there, as is my brother. Jim Culpepper is there today, too. Can I share with you some thoughts I have about our first moments in heaven? I imagine as we pass from this life to the next, there is a finish line. 

 

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it” (1 Corinthians 9:24 NKJV).

 

And as we cross that finish line into heaven, I imagine “so great a cloud of witnesses” cheering us on – “Yay! Way to run the race! Welcome to heaven!”

 

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1 NKJV).

 

And among those witnesses are Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, David, Samuel, and others mentioned by name or referred to anonymously in Hebrews 11. In addition, Peter, James, John, Stephen, Mark, and Timothy are in the crowd cheering for us. The Woman at the Well is there. Blind Bartimaeus, too. Perhaps we will even meet the men who inspired the parables of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan. Oh, and don’t forget the likes of preachers like Charles Spurgeon and Billy Graham, or missionaries like Jim Elliot and Nate Saint and others. And, of course, there are loved ones who went home to be with the Lord previously – perhaps a husband or wife, a child, parents, grandparents, siblings, dear friends, and even that man or woman who led you to the Lord years before. It moves me so deeply to think of the reunion, the welcome, and the magnificence of the place that Jesus prepared for you and me. And as I imagine that reunion – the hugs, the joy, the introductions (“Hi, I’m Paul, and this is Silas. So good to meet you!”) – I imagine that crowd of people parting, and there stands the Lord … nail-scarred hands reaching out, beckoning you to come to Him. And, oh, to hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” What a day that will be!

 

Am I close to how our first moments in heaven will happen? I don’t know, but probably not. And that’s okay, because what I do know is this – When it comes to heaven, the Bible describes an incredible place. My expectations are high. It may not be how I imagine it, but it will absolutely not disappoint me. You won’t be disappointed either, dear Christian. Praise Him today!

__________

 

You know, as I look back at last week and the events that took place here, how thankful I am to the Lord and to you. Thank you to everyone who helped with the Maundy Thursday service, the Good Friday service, the sunrise service, and/or the two Easter services here at the church. Thanks too to those of you who invited a friend to any of our services. What a great turnout! God is doing an amazing work in us, Grace. Yes, Lord, please continue to have Your way in us.

God bless you, dear Grace. You are so, so loved.

Steve

03.29.24

Hi, dear Grace!

It’s an exciting week! Yes, Holy Week has arrived. It all started with two wonderful Palm Sunday services. Last night, we gathered for our Maundy Thursday service. What a special time that was as we observed Christ In The Passover with “Aunt Shoshannah” from Jews for Jesus. Today, we will gather at noon to remember the events of Good Friday. And on Sunday, we are partnering with Hilton Head Presbyterian Church for a sunrise service at Driessen Beach at 6:30 AM. Following the sunrise service, we will celebrate the empty tomb and our risen Savior at 9 AM and 11 AM here at the church. We look forward to an awesome morning of singing, preaching, and rejoicing over the victory we have in Jesus by God’s marvelous grace.

Easter brings many memories of days gone by for me and Blair. We LOVED this day! Every year, we dressed Lindsey and Andrew in new outfits and went to church. We would then go to my parents’ house, where we would enjoy lunch with PopPop and Nina Salvas. After lunch, I would hide Easter eggs outside, and the kids would toddle around the backyard finding the eggs. As they got older and more grandchildren were born, the Salvas’ family Easter egg hunt grew. Later, we included dear friends and their children and moved the event to our own backyard. By this time, Blair and I had a nice home with an acre of property – plenty of room to hide plenty of eggs. Unfortunately, we hid so many eggs that we would find some of them weeks later after running over them with a lawn mower. (We should have created a map to remember where we hid all of those Easter eggs!)

Yes, Grace, it was a lot of fun having little ones with whom to enjoy the holidays. It’s still fun to remember those days. All of the kids who came to the Salvas’ Easter egg hunt had a great time. But I confess none of our Easter egg hunts could match what happened here last Saturday at the annual Easter egg hunt at Grace. The day was absolutely fantastic, but there were concerns during the run-up to the event that it might not happen. And that’s what I want to write about today in my weekly post.

All of last week, I and many others were watching the weather for Saturday, March 23. And all week, the weather forecast was for rain. I repeat, Grace, weather forecasters all week were predicting rain for the day of the Easter egg hunt. Days before the event, the church started receiving calls asking if the Easter egg hunt was still going to happen. Our response? Yes, and we will confirm that decision early on Saturday morning. As late as Friday, the weather app on my phone was saying it was going to rain through the night and much of the following day. But here’s the thing – The Easter egg hunt had been bathed in prayer for months. And all week, as the weather forecasters were continuing to anticipate rain, we were continuing to pray. Not only that, but Charlynn and her team were moving forward with plans for the event. And they were doing so with great faith. By now, you know the result. The day could not have been more beautiful. The temperature was perfect. The sky was blue. The sun was shining. Not only did we need sunglasses, but we also needed sunscreen! And all of us were left humbled by God’s goodness and grace in answering our prayers.

As I have shared previously, I am reading through the Psalms this year. Several days ago, I was struck by this verse – “He who planted the ear, shall He not hear?” (Psalm 94:9a NKJV). And while the context leans more toward God’s having the ability to hear the senseless words of the foolish person, it also means this to me – The God who fashioned the ears on the side of your head is a God who can hear the prayers of His people. The Bible says, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months” (James 5:16b–17 NKJV). These verses were lived out here last Saturday, dear Church. We prayed – not that it wouldn’t rain for three-and-a-half years, but that it wouldn’t rain for a window of time to allow the Easter egg hunt to happen in dry, nice weather. And that’s what happened! God is so good, Grace. To be true, if it had poured rain last Saturday and the Easter egg hunt had been canceled, God would still be good. But how thankful we are for His grace and favor! Praise Him today!

I hope to see you on Sunday morning, dear Grace. As I mentioned earlier, the sunrise service is scheduled for 6:30 AM at Driessen Beach. And we anticipate a great crowd at the church at the 9:00 service and the 11:00 service. Don’t forget the nursery, toddler class, and Kids Church are available for both services at the church on Sunday. Hallelujah! Jesus is risen!

You are so loved.


Steve

 

03.22.24

Hi, dear Grace!

At the start of the new year, I began a personal study of the Psalms. My study includes a reading of the Psalms and a reading of the commentary that goes along with each psalm. It has been really good, and I am enjoying my time in the Word. Several weeks ago, I read these words from Psalm 59 – “Deliver me from my enemies, O my God; defend me from those who rise up against me … I will wait for You, O You his Strength; for God is my defense … But I will sing of Your power; yes, I will sing aloud of Your mercy in the morning; for You have been my defense and refuge in the day of my trouble. To You, O my Strength, I will sing praises; for God is my defense, my God of mercy.” (Psalm 59:1, 9, 16–17 NKJV)

Psalm 59 was written by David during the time when King Saul was pursuing David with the intention of killing him. Notice David’s plea to the Lord in verse 1 – “Defend me …” And notice his declaration in verses 9, 16, and 17 – “For God is my defense … For You have been my defense … For God is my defense.” I have a question for you, Grace, and my question is this – What do you think of when you think of the words “defend” and “defense”? If you are like me, you think about sports. And if you like sports, then you surely have heard sayings like, “The best offense is a great defense,” and “It’s defense that wins games.”

I played a lot of sports growing up, but my all-time favorite sport was basketball. As most of you know, I played basketball at the college level and even played competitively into my late 30’s and early 40’s in church league games and Sheriff’s Office vs. State Police charity fundraiser games. In basketball and in every sport I know, the goal of the defense is to keep the other team from scoring. So to be clear, my responsibility as a defender in basketball is to keep the other team’s ball out of their basket. In the greatest sports movie ever made – that would be Hoosiers for those of you who aren’t sure – the Hickory High School team makes it all the way to the state championship as a decided underdog. In an iconic scene, Coach Norman Dale (played by Gene Hackman) takes the team to the gymnasium where the game will be played. The boys are in awe of the size of this gym, so Coach Dale orders one of his players up onto the shoulders of another and measures the height of the basketball rim, which measures exactly 10 feet. Coach Dale was making a point to his team – Don’t worry about the size of the gym; just know that the dimensions of the court and the dimensions of the baskets are the same as those we have played on all season back home.

So here’s another question – What would happen if the rim were raised to 20 feet, or even 12 feet, or even 10 feet, six inches? I’ll tell you the answer – The shooting percentage of the other team would go way down, because they are used to shooting at a 10 foot rim. Muscle memory is everything – how a player releases a basketball when shooting … how high his/her arc must be … how strong or soft a shot should be attempted depending on where the shooter is on the court. So if the rim is raised, muscle memory must be relearned quickly in order to make shots from every area of the floor. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for “defend” means to set on high, and the Hebrew word for “defense” means a high place of refuge. In basketball, this means if I can play defense in a way that makes the rim SEEM to be much higher than it really is, I have an advantage. And in the Christian life, it means when God comes to my defense, He sets me in a high place where the enemy – who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (see 1 Peter 5:8 NIV) – cannot reach me. I like that image. It blesses me. I hope it blesses you, too.

Please be in prayer for our Easter Egg Hunt outreach, which is scheduled for tomorrow from 11 AM to 1 PM. We look forward to a day of fun and a day of connecting with our community. In the case of poor weather, the church will communicate a decision as early as possible on Saturday.

As always, thank you for reading to the end, dear Church. You are so, so loved.

Steve

03.15.24

Hi, dear Grace!

My wife hates shoes. If she had her way, she would walk around barefooted everywhere. Because that might be frowned upon in public places, however, her naked feet only make an appearance when we are home. But I’m starting to get a little suspicious about something. Let me explain.

Last week, Blair was lying on our bed reading a book. I was reading in a chair next to her and happened to glance over at her. That’s when I noticed the bottoms of her feet, which were quite dirty. She had obviously been outside without shoes – which is an often occurrence when we are home. I got up out of my chair, found a package of baby wipes in the bathroom, and brought them back to our bedroom. I then lifted Blair’s feet onto my lap and cleaned her feet. She loves having her feet rubbed, and although this was different, she still appreciated the gesture – perhaps a little too much. Let me explain (again).

Several days later, Blair’s feet were on full display again. And yes, they were dirty again. And yes, I gladly found that package of wipes and cleaned her feet again. And yes, she enjoyed it again. So much so that she showed up with dirty feet on the bed a third time, making sure I noticed this time. And yes, I went through the whole routine once more – gladly but with some suspicion that she is purposely going outside and grinding her feet in the dirt just so I’ll clean them at night. Well, that suspicion was all but confirmed on Wednesday evening when I arrived home from the midweek prayer service. As she does every Wednesday evening, Blair had a bowl of soup on the table waiting for me for dinner. After I ate and after we visited some, we then retired upstairs to our bedroom. There she plopped onto the bed, wiggled her bare toes at me, smiled wide, and said, “Okay. Time to clean my feet.”  Yeah, I’m thinking this will become a regular thing with her.

But you know what? That’s okay. Because as I was wiping off Blair’s feet the other night, I thought about what Jesus did for His disciples on the night He was betrayed. The Bible says after Jesus and His disciples had finished supper, “He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel” (John 13:5 NKJV). Several verses later, the Bible continues, “So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them’” (John 13:12–17 NKJV). Several years ago, I was the officiant at the wedding of a young couple who washed one another’s feet during the ceremony. It was a beautiful visual of what married life should be about. Most conservative commentators agree that the purpose of Jesus’ washing the disciples’ feet was to teach them to serve one another and to forgive one another. As a husband who is called to love his wife like Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25), it is my responsibility to wash Blair’s feet – sometimes literally and other times figuratively through serving her and forgiving her. Not only that, but I am called to “cleanse her with the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:26), which speaks not only to forgiving but also to encouraging, edifying, and building her up in Christ. It is my strong desire to be obedient to the command of Jesus in this area. And although I will often fail, those times of failure give Blair the opportunity to wash my feet through the act of forgiveness. But whether you are married or not, dear Grace, may all of us take personally the example of Jesus and commit to washing one another’s feet by loving one another, serving one another, forgiving one another, and building one another up. What a witness that would be to a world in need of Him!

Dr. Harry Fletcher, a dear friend of Grace and the Global Ambassador for Good News Jail & Prison Ministries, will be preaching this Sunday. Please join us at 9:00 or 11:00 AM. You will be blessed.

Well, I better close this post and get to the store. We are quickly running out of baby wipes at home. Sure hope those things are on sale 😊

I love you, Grace.

Steve

03.08.24

Hi, dear Grace!

Has something ever escaped your lips and you wondered, “Where did that come from?” No, I’m not talking about gibberish or swear words or a mean comment out of frustration. I’m talking about something totally wrong … totally random … totally embarrassing. I’m talking about something said in error that disqualifies you from ever speaking in a similar setting ever again. Maybe I’m not explaining this well, so let me give you two examples.

Example #1 – My precious wife taught for fifteen-and-a-half years at Grace Christian Academy of Maryland, where both of our children attended and graduated. As an involved husband/dad, I helped out where I could. One area that I loved to help was with the basketball team. For several seasons, I assisted the head coach of the girls’ team and really enjoyed it. And every now and then, the guys’ coach would ask me to handle the player introductions and opening prayer for the boys’ game that followed. I always did this gladly and without the “Let’s get ready to rumble!” overkill that some player introductions contain. On one particular occasion, however, after introducing the visiting team I then moved to the home team – i.e., the players who played for my wife’s school and my children’s school and the school I volunteered to coach for. Here’s how it went – “And now the starting lineup for YOUR Grace Christian Academy … Eagles!” The problem? The mascot for the Grace Christian Academy “Eagles” wasn’t the Eagles; it was the Knights! How could I forget THAT? Of course, I was never asked to handle player introductions ever again.

Example #2 – The Southern Maryland Criminal Justice Academy is the police and corrections training academy for the three counties that make up the Southern Maryland region – Charles, Calvert, and St. Mary’s. Keep in mind that I graduated from said police academy prior to being certified as a sworn police officer with the Charles County Sheriff’s Office. Members of the Sheriff’s command staff are expected to attend the graduation ceremony of every entrance-level training class that completes a program. So there I was, happy for those who had been through what I had been through twenty-four years earlier, when the Director of the academy came up to me hurriedly and said, “The Chaplain canceled at the last minute, and we need someone to open the ceremony in prayer. Would you mind doing it?” Of course, I said yes. I was really glad to be asked. The problem? As I prayed for God’s blessing and protection over our newest police officers, I referred to them as graduates of the Southern Maryland ChristianAcademy. I actually heard an audible gasp as the words escaped my lips. And, yes, I realized immediately what I said. I paused, asked the Lord’s forgiveness for misspeaking, thanked Him for knowing my heart and what I meant to say, and then moved on. Unfortunately, the damage was done. You know what’s worse? Southern Maryland Christian Academy – which, by the way, is a real school – is the archrival of Grace Christian Academy where Blair taught, where my children graduated, and where I blundered my way through player introductions. Ugh!

Do you remember the Southwest Airlines commercials that asked the question, “Wanna get away?” Well, I wanted to get away on both of the above occasions REAL bad. But here’s the thing – No matter where I retreat to after an embarrassing situation, I can never get so far away that God is not there. The Bible says, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast” (Psalm 139:7–10 NIV). Isn’t that encouraging news? And here’s more great news! God’s promise to me is that He will never leave me nor forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:8; Hebrews 13:5b). Yes, Grace, the Lord will always be there for me as a refuge and source of strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1). And to that, I say, “Praise Him!”

Wanna good laugh? Then go to your favorite search engine and type in the words “Southwest Airlines Wanna Get Away Commercials” and enjoy. Wanna good blessing? Then please join me at Grace on Sunday morning at 9 or 11 AM, when Matthew concludes our preaching series out of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians. I hope to see you there.

You are so loved, dear Church.

Steve

03.01.24

Hi, dear Grace!

For the first time in a very long time, I had cereal for breakfast this morning. It’s not that I oppose cereal for breakfast; it’s just that I have other preferences. Blair knows those preferences and happily obliges me, negating my need to resort to a lesser-loved selection (like cereal). But, alas, cereal was the lone choice today, so I entered the pantry and grabbed a box of LIFE cereal. To be clear, it was Original LIFE cereal – not chocolate-flavored, not vanilla-flavored, and certainly not cinnamon-flavored. You remember Original LIFE, right? The kind Mikey, the kid who hated everything, was supposed to hate in the commercial from the 70’s? (“He likes it! Hey, Mikey!”)

After gathering the box of LIFE, as well as a bowl and a spoon, I went to the fridge to get the milk. Unfortunately, the milk wasn’t immediately evident to me. There was no gallon jug, nor was there a half gallon that I saw. But there was a quart-sized carton, blue in color, with the word Silk imprinted on it. This made sense, since we don’t often drink milk at my house anymore. Okay, Silk it is. I sat down at my spot at the table, opened the box of LIFE, and filled my bowl. I then opened the carton of Silk and poured it over my LIFE. It looked a little thick to me, but I dismissed that as being the consistency of Silk rather than milk. And then, like Mikey in the commercial, I plowed in. The first bite caught me by surprise. It was really sweet. Either LIFE cereal is much sweeter than I remember, or the Silk is sugar-flavored. I looked at the carton of Silk and saw the words “oat” and “vanilla.” Hmm … okay, so it is oat milk I poured onto my LIFE, which may explain the thickness of it. And the oat milk is vanilla-flavored, which may explain the sweetness of it. I took another bite. Wow! That is REALLY sweet! After one more bite, I took a much closer look at the Silk carton. Wait a minute! Creamer? I poured coffee creamer over my LIFE? Realizing what I had done, Blair shook her head and went to the fridge, where she pulled out a half gallon of milk that I obviously missed in my first search. Yes, dear Grace, your Associate Pastor is losing it!

This episode reminded me of what the Apostle Peter wrote in his first letter – “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2–3 ESV). What Peter is saying here is this – Like a baby desires milk, Christians should desire the Word of God. The words “long for” in verse 2 above literally mean wanting something with all of our being. When hungry, an infant “longs for” milk. And if he or she doesn’t get milk, you will hear about it … loudly. That baby wants milk with all of his/her being. Similarly, we should desire … long for … want with all of our being the only “milk” that is pure, holy, and undefiled. Or maybe this word picture will be more helpful – Just like Mikey dug into his bowl of LIFE cereal, believers must dig into the Scriptures – the words of which are “living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12) – for a growing, maturing, fulfilling, and abundant life. And just like Mikey, I guarantee you will definitely like it. Why? Because there in His Word, you will find the Lord. And He, dear Grace, is so, so good.

I hope you will join me this evening at 6:30 PM for our Worship Night at the church. Seth and the Team will be leading us in hymns and contemporary worship songs. Matthew and I each have the privilege of sharing a short devotional, as well. It is going to be a special evening. I look forward to seeing you there.

Hmm … I wonder what’s for breakfast tomorrow. Hopefully not cereal again. (Just kidding, Blair 😊)

God bless you, dear Grace. You are so deeply loved.

Steve

02.23.24

Hi, dear Grace!

Over the years, Blair and I have been blessed with wonderful neighbors living next door to us. We were always the young married couple living next to much older folks who watched over us like another set of parents. Whether It was the Walkers (our first neighbors after we were married) or the Frazers or the Mastrostefanos or the Fritz’s, we loved them all and held them in high regard. And when our children came along, they considered these neighbors almost like grandparents. Seriously, we do not take for granted the favor God has shown us as it relates to the neighbors we have had. But while the memories of these dear people bring a smile to my face, not every memory is pleasant. Let me explain.

Next to our three-bedroom rambler in the community of Hope Acres – where Blair, Lindsey, Andrew, and I resided for 18 years – was the home of Bob and Brigitta Fritz. They were known as Mr. Bob and Miss Bridgett to our kids, and they were so kind to us. In addition to Bob and Bridgett, their daughter Lisa and grandsons James and Richard lived there with Sasha (their beautiful yellow lab). But, apparently, Sasha wasn’t the only animal living in Bob and Bridgett’s home, because when they planned a family vacation to Florida one year, they asked us to take care of Richard’s pet. No, it wasn’t Sasha (who must have stayed at a kennel for the week). It was Richard’s pet frog, which he raised from a tadpole. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not a fan of frogs. When I was a kid, my brother and I would go down to the creek and catch frogs or check under rocks and catch toads, and I thought nothing of it. But something happened in my teenage years that I can’t explain. Suddenly, frogs disgusted me. As a matter of fact – and I know you’re going to think I’m really weird here – but I can’t eat whole pickles because I can’t get the image of a frog out of my head when I see them. A sliced dill pickle is fine, but nope, you will never get me to eat a whole pickle. And yet I digress … Richard politely asked if we would watch his frog while he was on vacation with his family for a week. Now at the time, Richard may have been 8 years old, and he was such a cute boy. Of course, we agreed to watch his frog. Ugh! Big mistake!

We kept Richard’s frog on the coffee table in the living room of our home. We took good care of that frog. We fed it as directed. There was absolutely no reason for it to go belly up. But, alas, I came home from work one day to find my dear wife with a mortified look on her face. “Richard’s frog is dead,” she said, “and you have to tell Mr. Bob.” Great! Just great!

This obviously wasn’t a conversation I was looking forward to, but when our neighbors arrived home, I met Bob at the fence and asked him about his trip. We made small-talk for a while before I dropped the news. “Listen, Bob, I’m really sorry, but Richard’s frog died. I have no idea what happened.” His response surprised me. “Oh, don’t worry about that. It wasn’t going to live forever.” Wow! I immediately felt better. We talked some more, and then I went inside and told Blair, “Bob says that frog was no big deal. He’s fine with the news.” Unfortunately, here’s where the story gets hard. The following day, Richard and his mom knocked on our door. There I stood alone. (I think Blair was hiding in the kitchen.) Here’s how the conversation went –

Lisa (handing me a gift) – “We bought a gift for you while we were away. Thank you for watching Richard’s frog.”

Me – “Uhhh …”

Lisa – “Richard, what do you have to say to Mr. Steve?”

Me (looking down into the eyes of a grieving little boy) – “Uhhh …”

Richard (looking up at me with tears in his eyes) – “Thank you (sniff) for watching my (sniff) frog.” 

Me – “Uhhh … Lisa, I am so sorry for what happened.”

Lisa – “It’s okay. We love you guys, and these things happen.”

That’s about it. They walked off our porch and back to their home, while I closed the door holding a gift and feeling horrible. As you can tell, I was at a loss for words when Richard and his mom stood before me (with a gift, no less!) to express their thanks for killing – I mean, caring for – that frog. But what do you say to a little boy who raised a tadpole from infancy to full-on frog adolescence? 

Yes, Grace, that was one instance when I was at a complete loss for words. Of course, it’s not the only time I didn’t know what to say in a given situation. As a matter of fact, I may have shared in this space previously that I have a recurring nightmare of standing in the pulpit with no notes and nothing prepared to share. Perhaps that’s why I spend so much time in study and prayer before each opportunity to preach. But you know what? Jesus said there could come a time when I don’t have to know what to say. This is what He said – “But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matthew 10:19–20 NIV)

Do you get that, Grace? Do you understand what Jesus is saying here? In the context of sending His disciples out to preach a message of salvation to the lost, He told them there would come a time when they would be persecuted – even arrested and put on trial – because of their obedience. But He told His disciples not to worry about what to say in their defense. Instead, through the power of the Spirit of God, we will be given the words to say in the right moment. Yes, Jesus is speaking to His twelve original disciples in this passage, but I do believe this promise applies to His disciples today, too. And God is faithful to His promise. So while I hope I never stand in my doorway speechless looking down at a sad eight-year-old boy, I have confidence in knowing I’ll never be speechless if I ever stand before a hostile judge and jury while answering for my faith. Praise Him!

Don’t forget this Sunday we are having ONE SERVICE at 10 AM, followed by lunch and then our Annual Meeting. Please join us. I hope to see you there.

As always, thanks for reading, dear Church. You are so, so loved.

Steve

02.16.24

Hi, dear Grace!

Valentine’s Day was two days ago. The card I received from my wife tells me she loves me. So do the candies and the gift. On a related note, I’m sore today … really sore! So how is my soreness related to Valentine’s Day and my wife’s love for me? I’ll tell you.

As a gift of love to me, Blair signed me up at a gym. And while I could easily go down a rabbit trail and wonder what message she is trying to send me – like how I’m getting soft or how my “dad bod” is now starting to look like an “old dad bod” (which may be true) – I have committed to going to the gym two days a week. My first workout with the trainer was three days ago. It was fast-paced, compact, and hard. And yes, I’m still feeling it three days later, which is not good since my next workout is today. Ugh! 

Like most people, I was in the best shape of my life in my 20’s and 30’s. I was exercising regularly, playing basketball and tennis and other sports often, staying active with my kids when they were young, and taking care of myself. Then came a health challenge that I continue to deal with … and a desk job at the Sheriff’s Office … and the aforementioned “dad bod.” And since moving to Hilton Head, my exercise regimen has been limited to walking (semi-regularly) and shooting baskets at the local park (hardly regularly). Excuses are easy to come by, but truthfully I just don’t make the time. A quick workout at the gym twice a week at 6:40 AM, however, is doable. So thanks, Blair, for loving me enough to gift me with a gym membership. I promise to make the most of it.

You know, Grace, my muscle soreness makes me think of the Apostle Paul’s words to Timothy – “For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come” (1 Timothy 4:8 NKJV). Or as the New Living Translation says it, “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” Do you see what Paul is saying here, dear Church? Working out at a gym is good. It is healthy. It offers a release from the stresses of day-to-day life. But it is only good for this life. What is more important is the pursuit of godliness, which one commentator defines as obedience to the gospel in all areas of life. The benefit of godliness is good not only for this life, but also for the life we look forward to in eternity. To that end, I invite you to be part of a Life Group or Bible study. Or perhaps you are interested in a discipleship relationship. If any of these opportunities appeal to you, please contact me. I will gladly get you connected to what works best for you.

As I close, I ask for your prayers as I prepare to preach this Sunday. Thank you in advance. And thanks, too, for reading to the end.

You are so, so loved.

Steve

02.09.24

Hi, dear Grace!

This Sunday evening, over 100 million people are expected to tune in to the Super Bowl. As a matter of fact, the Super Bowl will likely be the most-watched television event of 2024. Of those who tune in, most will be interested in the outcome of the game (which will be played by the Chiefs and the 49ers). However, plenty will be interested only in the commercials … or in who is singing the national anthem … or in who is performing at halftime. Nevertheless, each year the Super Bowl is must-watch TV. 

But the Super Bowl is not the only big event of next week. As a public service, I write these next words as a friendly reminder to all married men – Valentine’s Day is Wednesday! Husbands, be sure to purchase a nice card, pick up some flowers, make plans for dinner, and make your wife feel special. Of course, I am reminded each year of my first married Valentine’s Day. It was 1987, and I thought I would bless my wife with a special gift. Unfortunately, she didn’t think it was so special. I have shared this once before in a previous post. Do you remember what it was that I gave to Blair on our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple? Yes, Grace, it was a vacuum cleaner. In my defense, we needed one. I thought it was practical. I learned that day that Valentine’s Day and practicality do not go together. Hahaha!

But there’s an even bigger event that Blair and I will be celebrating next week. Sure, we will enjoy the Super Bowl. And, yes, Valentine’s Day will be special. But on Tuesday, February 13, Blair and I will celebrate the birth of our daughter, Lindsey. When Blair and I married in 1986, a doctor told us we had a one-in-a-million chance of ever having children. After several years of tracking Blair’s basal body temperature to determine her optimal monthly conception window, enduring too many embarrassing medical tests, undergoing one surgery, researching adoption options, praying many prayers, and shedding many tears, Blair finally became pregnant. As a result, Lindsey’s birthday is a BIG deal to us. The day will include a phone call and flowers to Lindsey. She already received her gift from us last month when we were vacationing in Florida. What do you think we got her? Wait for it – We bought her a vacuum cleaner! No, Grace, I am not kidding. Not only is a vacuum cleaner what Lindsey needed, but it is also what she wanted. (Note to self: Valentine’s Day and vacuum cleaner for Blair? No! Birthday and vacuum cleaner for anyone other than Blair? Okay!)

Under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, David wrote the words of Psalm 30 in praise to the Lord for delivering him from death after an apparent serious illness. His words describe our own experience when Lindsey (and later our son, Andrew) was born – “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, to the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever” (Psalm 30:11–12 NKJV). Yes, Lord, thank You! As we celebrate Lindsey this week, we praise You for Your grace to us. To You be all the glory. Amen.

I hope to see you Sunday, dear Grace, as Matthew continues our preaching series through the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians. And later in the day, I hope you enjoy the Super Bowl.

As I close, it occurs to me that Sunday is the 70th birthday of our own Michel Dion. Hmm … I wonder if Michel needs a vacuum cleaner 😊

You are so, so loved.

Steve

02.02.24

Hi, dear Grace!

I had the wonderful privilege of preaching last Sunday. During the message I shared with you my love of mysteries. I love to read, and when I read, it’s mostly books on ministry leadership, church growth, evangelism/discipleship, marriage, and prayer. Biographies of Christian leaders are also on that list. As a matter of fact, Franklin Graham’s autobiography is already checked off my reading list for 2024. Oh, and a book on preaching as worship is marked at the halfway point next to my bed. Really good! Of course, I read my Bible regularly, too. To start the new year, I began a slow read/study through the Psalms. What a blessing it has been! But my dear wife is often on me to read a “fun” book. Yes, she knows the books I read enrich me, but she also believes they keep my work engine running. A “fun” book will provide an opportunity for me to relax and separate from the stresses of ministry for a few moments each day. At least, that’s the theory.

My love of mysteries began when I was ten years old and a cousin gifted me my first Hardy Boys book. It was called The Hunt for Hidden Gold. To this day, fifty years after reading that book, I still remember the villain of the story. That book captured my attention in a BIG way, and it started me on my way to reading through the entire original Hardy Boys mystery series. It was a treat to go to the bookstore with my mom or dad to pick out a new “whodunit” to be solved by Frank and Joe. After working through the entire series, I graduated to other mystery thrillers and even true crime capers. Whether the story was centered on a police investigation, a courtroom drama, or a real-life case, the escape while reading was fun – hence, the “fun” book reference. Yes, Grace, I still enjoy a good mystery. Blair and I even enjoy cuddling up together to watch a Hallmark Murders & Mysteries movie every now and then. They are clean, a little hokey, but still fun to watch (and solve). 

In the New Testament, the word translated “mystery” from the Greek is used 27 times – twenty of them in the letters of the Apostle Paul to various churches. And while our understanding of a mystery in the American culture is related to a riddle or a case to be solved, the Bible’s definition is that of a hidden truth that has now been revealed. The Bible actually defines the term this way – “Now to Him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith – to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen” (Romans 16:25–27 NIV). As I shared on Sunday, one of these revealed mysteries is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27 NKJV). Another – one that I enjoy as Blair and I facilitate a weekly Life Group for married couples – is the relationship between a husband and wife and its symbolism to the relationship between Christ and His church (see Ephesians 5:27–33). There are more, but my point today is not to list every mystery that has been revealed to believers in the New Testament. Rather, it is to encourage you, dear Grace. God’s truth is revealed to us in the Scriptures. So if you want a good mystery, delve into His Word and be blessed. What can be more fun – by the way, “fun” here is spelled I-M-P-O-R-T-A-N-T – than that?

As I close, may I ask you a favor? Think of someone you haven’t seen at Grace in a while and reach out to them. Let him or her know they are missed. Thank you, Church.

You are so, so loved.

Steve

01.26.24

Hi, dear Grace!

In honor of my wife, whose birthday was earlier this week, I thought I would share one of my favorite posts from the past. It was first posted on September 23, 2022. I hope it blesses you.

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Would you like to know how I knew Blair was THE ONE for me? Would you like to know what solidified in my head that she would be my wife? It’s not some deep theological nugget that will change how people determine who their future spouse will be. It is, however, something I had never experienced before and was quite revelatory to me. But before I get to that, let me share some backstory. 

Despite what you may think, I am quiet and reserved by nature. Yes, I can be loud and boisterous about things that excite me – the Bible, my family, God’s grace, Grace Church, sports … the list is long and varied – but to be honest, while I am surely less restrained about some things, I really am an introvert. I liked girls in high school. The problem? I liked basketball more. And baseball. And my friends. And … well, let’s just say girls could be found on the list of things I liked, but you would have to look at that list closely to find them on it. Things started to change when I was a senior and took the following year’s homecoming queen to the Junior-Senior Banquet. Dressed in a tux, pulling up to her home in my light blue ’76 Chevy Chevette, and carrying a corsage to her door, I was feeling pretty good about myself. The banquet itself was great. My date was great. The time with my classmates was great. And the Senior Awards were great. (I was voted Most Easy-Going Guy of the Class of ‘81.) However – and I hate that there’s a “however” to this story – I was stressed out the entire time I was with my date in the car. As we were driving to the banquet … as we were driving to the after-banquet party … and as I was driving her home, I felt such pressure to keep the conversation going. If a moment of silence passed between us, I panicked. As dumb as it may sound, a lull felt like the end of the world (or, at the very least, the end of my dating relationship). By the time I was a sophomore in college, I was much more confident in myself. Not only that, but you didn’t have to look too closely on “The List of Things Steve Likes” to find girls on that list. Unfortunately, when I was with a girl, I continued to struggle when a hush fell over us. Oh, no! What do I say? She probably doesn’t want to talk sports. I was at a total loss. 

And then Blair came along. Blair was outgoing. She was fun. She loved to laugh. She loved sports – YES! And although her faith was very new to her, she deeply loved the Lord. I was very attracted to her and began to wonder if she could be THE ONE for me, but it wasn’t until we went on our first date that I knew for certain she was definitely THE ONE. Why? Because with her, I was at total peace – even in times of quiet. As a matter of fact, I didn’t immediately notice when silence happened between us. Only after these times passed did I realize a hush had taken place and I didn’t panic. That was big for me – really big! I’ll say it again … With Blair, I was at total peace even in the quiet.

You know what? The Lord wants this with me, and He wants it with you, too. Sadly, how I felt in silence with a date years ago is sometimes how I feel in silence before the Lord even today. Sure, I spend time reading my Bible daily. And yes, I spend time in prayer. But spending time in the quiet of God’s presence? I really don’t do that too well. Perhaps it’s because I have so much to say to Him. Or perhaps it’s because I have so much to do. Either way, my excuses are all about me. The Bible is clear – There is a time to keep silent (Ecclesiastes 3:7). Oh, dear Grace, how I long to be obedient to the Scriptures in this area! Do you remember the words of Moses to the Israelites as they stood between the Egyptians and the Red Sea? “Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and watch God do his work of salvation for you today ... God will fight the battle for you. And you? You keep your mouths shut!” (Exodus 14:13–14 MSG). Do you remember the words of David in the Psalms? “Be silent before the Lord and wait expectantly for Him” (Psalm 37:7a HCSB). Or the words of God in the Psalms? “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a NKJV). Or the words of the Prophet Jeremiah in Lamentations? “It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:26 NIV). Or the words of the Prophet Zechariah? “Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord, for He is aroused from His holy habitation” (Zechariah 2:13 NKJV). Forgive me, Lord, when I do all of the talking in prayer. Forgive me when I fail to spend time in silence before You. Help me – please, help me – to be still in Your presence more often. And in that stillness, allow me to simply bask in Your peace and presence, knowing You alone are God. Thank You, and Amen. 

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This Sunday, I’ll be continuing our preaching series through the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Please pray for me as I prepare the message. Also on Sunday is our Discover Grace opportunity. Discover Grace will happen after each service. It is a time to meet the pastors, staff, and leadership of Grace and to learn more about the ministry here. If you are not a member and would like to know more about us, I invite you to come.

To Blair, you are still THE ONE for me. Happy birthday! Thank you for an awesome 37 years (and counting). And to the family of Grace, you are such a blessing to me and my family. Hard to believe, but January 1 marked my four-year anniversary as your Associate Pastor. Thank you for making my time at Grace so wonderful.

You are much, much loved.

Steve

01.19.24

Hi, dear Grace!

As you know, Blair and I went away last week to rest and reconnect. What a great time we had together! Of course, it couldn’t have happened without the help of several people – one of which is my brother. Please indulge me as I head down memory lane and then as I express my appreciation to him here.

As I have shared with you previously, my parents had three sons – Stephen, Charles (whom we called Chuck), and Allen. We also had several foster siblings at various times when I was young, but by the time I was ten it was just the three of us boys. There was a seventeen-month difference in age between me and Chuck and a four-year difference between me and Allen. The three of us were very close growing up. Oh, the memories of how we tore up the house when my parents weren’t home! Sure, we fought at times. But it’s mostly how we played – always fun but always rough – that comes to mind as I write these words. Like when we would play tackle football in the living room – pushing every piece of furniture aside to widen our “field.” Because Allen was smaller, Chuck and I would play on our knees. A piece of plastic fruit from the lamp served as our football (since it would do less damage than a real ball as we tossed it around). Or like when we would run through the house playing a game of tag. (That hole in the cabinet under the kitchen sink happened that way.) Or like the World Wrestling Federation moves we would use on one another. These names may not mean anything to some of you, but professional wrestlers like Superfly Snuka and Rowdy Roddy Piper and Randy “Macho Man” Savage and others were pretty cool to us back then. Thankfully, none of us were seriously hurt. (Note that key word “seriously” in the last sentence.) Yes, Grace, God was surely looking out for us. Thank You, Lord.

Allen has always been business-minded. Always! When he was in elementary school, he would take a hand-held computer game and charge his classmates 25 cents to play it. He would also sell candy and sodas to his friends. After graduating from high school, he got a job in the stock room at the Foot Locker in Annapolis, MD, and that was his launch to success. He rose to the position of manager at a Foot Locker and was named Manager of the Year on numerous occasions. He later worked for Finish Line, another athletic clothing and footwear company, and he currently works for Dick’s Sporting Goods. He lives in Florida and has three grown sons and a granddaughter. 

Our mom passed away over thirteen years ago. Sadly, Chuck passed away five years later of a deadly brain tumor. So today it’s just me and Allen (and my dad, of course). Allen is faithful to call my dad once or twice a week to check on him. Those conversations are often very short, as my dad can’t sustain a lengthy conversation with anyone now. Last year, Allen offered to come up twice a year to care for my dad so that Blair and I could get away for a week at a time. You have no idea how much that blessed us. Last week was our second time taking advantage of his offer. His coming to Hilton Head Island allows him to be with my dad, which he enjoys. It also allows him to see firsthand what Blair and I experience on a daily basis. This shared experience has brought a deeper connection between us, for which I am thankful.

The Bible says, “A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need” (Proverbs 17:17 NLT). Allen has been exactly that to me – a true help in a time of great need. And so have many of you here, dear Grace. This verse speaks of you, too, as my brothers and sisters who help, support, encourage, and pray for us in our time of need. Sincerely, thank you! Blair and I are so blessed by you. May God bless you with grace in abundance for how you have blessed us since my dad’s arrival.

As always, thanks for reading to the end. I hope you never get tired of reading these final words, because I’ll always keep writing them – You are so deeply loved.

Steve

01.12.24

Hi, dear Grace!

The past Sunday was the first Sunday of the new year. Didn’t you love it? What a great start to the new year and to the new preaching series! Excellent worship! Excellent message! Praise the Lord! For the past couple of months, I’ve been thinking about another “first Sunday of the year” and another message. Allow me to tell you about it, as well as its aftermath.

Two years ago, I preached a sermon that I entitled “A Prayer for Grace in 2022.” I used the Apostle Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians (chapter 3, verses 14–21) as my text. At the conclusion of his prayer, Paul prayed these words – “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20–21 NKJV). Think about that, Grace. God can do so much more than I can even ask or think. 

I have a dear friend in Maryland. He has three children, all of whom I love as if they were my own. It was about ten years ago that his middle son – I’ll call him Bryan – went through a very difficult period. Bryan was making poor decisions. He was experimenting with drugs. He was involved in an unhealthy relationship with a girl. He was questioning his faith. While the term “prodigal” may be overused in some cases, Bryan was well on his way to becoming one. Since Bryan’s dad and I had been best of friends for years – 50 and counting as I write these words – we talked a lot. Among the topics of conversation between us was our children. And I remember Bryan’s dad telling me one day that he had changed the way he prays for Bryan. Oh, he was still begging the Lord to grab hold of Bryan’s heart and life, but he added these words, “Whatever it takes, Lord. Whatever it takes.” That scared me, because I know what “whatever it takes” means. And I confessed to Bryan’s dad that I can’t pray that with him.

But here’s the thing: Since that conversation, I have meditated on the words of Ephesians 3:20–21 – that God is able to do so much more than I can ask or even think. And I have considered the grace He has poured out on me – grace upon grace. So if I truly believe what I say I believe about Jesus and about His Word and about God’s love for me, then YES, Lord, do Your work in the lives of my children – whatever it takes. I will trust You with them. And do Your work in me and in Blair. Have Your way in our marriage. And that led to my prayer for Grace Community Church in 2022 – that God would have His way in us – whatever it takes. Through the preaching ministry, through Life Groups and Bible studies and discipleship, may we know Him more.

Since preaching that message on January 2, 2022, God is surely having His way in me. If you have been reading this space for any length of time, then you know how hard the past two years have been for us as Blair and I care for a parent with dementia while juggling the demands of ministry. It got so bad that I took an unpaid leave of absence from the church a year ago and even sought counseling to deal with the pressure. And yet God is faithful. He is answering my prayer even in this. And while His work is not yet done in me, He IS at work and He IS doing whatever it takes to make me who He wants me to be as a husband, dad, son, friend, pastor, and co-laborer in the ministry. By no means has it been easy, but it is refining work. And because I trust Him, I pray God continues to have His way in me in 2024 and beyond.

I pray that in the life of Grace, as well. Do Your work, Lord. Have Your way in us – whatever it takes. In all that we do, may we know You more in 2024. And out of that knowledge may we live lives of grace and forgiveness and forbearance and Christlikeness. And may we see people saved and lives changed for the sake of the gospel. Our mission at Grace is to win people to Christ, disciple others, and duplicate ourselves in service. We cannot accomplish our mission without Your intervention. So please do so much more than we can ask or even think through this ministry. In Jesus’ matchless name, Amen.

Thank you for reading, dear Grace. You are so, so loved.

Steve

P.S. – If you are wondering, Bryan is doing great today. He is happily married to a wonderful girl who loves the Lord. He is connected to a local church, and he is drug-free. God answers prayer. Praise Him today!

01.05.24

Hi, dear Grace!

Well, we are five days into a new year. And with the new year comes a new preaching series starting this Sunday, the start-up of Life Groups and Bible studies that took a break over the holidays, and – yes, Grace, I’m going to say it – the fast approaching Easter season. Easter arrives early this year. As a matter of fact, Good Friday is only twelve weeks from today! Preparations are already happening for our annual Easter egg hunt outreach, the Maundy Thursday service (which will highlight a missionary from Jews for Jesus teaching an interactive lesson about Christ in the Passover), the Good Friday service, our Easter sunrise service at the beach, and the Easter services here at Grace. Wow! I’m already getting excited just thinking about it!

Allow me to share with you how the new year got started for me and twelve other men of Grace. Yes, a total of thirteen men arrived at the entrance to Driessen Beach at 7 AM for our first annual Grace men’s polar plunge, only to find the entrance closed for renovations there. Alas, none of us were deterred. All thirteen men headed to Burke’s Beach with determination to make the plunge happen. After a time of prayer, eleven men – including yours truly – stripped to their bathing suits. (Two served as photographers and videographers for the group.) With people on the beach staring in disbelief, the men then sprinted … well, some of us jogged … uh, would you believe limped? … into the frigid waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Yes, eleven men of Grace took the plunge. And let me just say this – Diving into that water definitely let me know I was alive! 

Interestingly, the New Living Translation translates the words of the Apostle Paul in his first letter to Timothy this way – “But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:9–10 NLT). Money itself is not a bad thing. As a matter of fact, much good can happen when money is invested wisely to ensure all people have access to the gospel, to clean drinking water, to quality health care, to safe schools and communities, to building healthier marriages and stronger families, and to food, clothing, and shelter. The problem comes when money becomes an idol – something we pursue at all costs – or, as the NLT puts it, something we crave. The result? “Some … have wandered from the truth faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.” Count me as one who would rather plunge into frigid waters on New Year’s Day than one who would ever want to plunge into idolatrous living and wander from my faith in Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life. 

God bless you, Grace, and Happy New Year! You are so, so loved.

Steve

12.29.23

Hi, dear Grace!

In August 2009, Blair and I made the 8½ hour trip from White Plains, MD, to Anderson, SC, to drop off our firstborn child for her first semester of college. Lindsey had chosen Anderson University over Liberty University and Eastern Mennonite University – the latter two schools being in Virginia and much closer to home. But Anderson was the best choice for her, and she had an incredible four years there. We are thankful for the education she received, the friends she made, and the experience she had while there.

Lindsey handled the drop-off experience well – much better than her mom and I did. She was fine when we said our final good-byes, while Blair and I were a wreck driving back to our home in Maryland. But the following weekend, I started doing something that continues to this day. I wrote Lindsey a handwritten letter. The letter was written in a card and told her how much Blair and I missed her, how much we loved her, and how things were going at home. Often, a gift card was included as a treat. After her graduation from Anderson, Blair and I made another drop-off – this time in Orlando, FL, as Lindsey began Disney’s College Internship Program. She remains with Disney today. And with the rare exception of a few weekends since she went off to college – yes, Grace, for the past fourteen years – I have continued writing letters to Lindsey on a weekly basis. And, yes, my letters continue to express our love for her. They express how proud we are of her. They are meant to encourage her in her faith and to remind her of our daily prayers for her. They still regularly contain a gift card of some kind for her. And they often contain sports updates about the Nationals, Orioles, Capitals, and even the lowly Wizards. Nothing on the Washington Football Team, though. (Go, Jaguars! Go Panthers!)

Something I started doing early on as I wrote to Lindsey (and later to Andrew when he went away to college) was to write out a prayer for her at the start of a new year. That’s been a tradition I have kept for years. This Saturday, I’ll write out a prayer for Lindsey for 2024 and drop it in the mail. And as I think about that, it seems appropriate that I start the same tradition here in my weekly post. So here’s my prayer for 2024 for Grace Community Church. As you read, please pray these words with me.

Father in Heaven, thank You for Your marvelous grace! Thank You for loving us so much that You would send Your Son to die on the cross for our sins. Thank You for Your church and for Your promise that the gates of hell will never prevail against it. And thank You for the local church that gathers at 450 Spanish Wells Road. You are at work in us, Lord. Thank You for all you are doing in and through the family of Grace.

Please, dear Father, bless our pastor and his family. Thank You for his commitment to the ministry of Grace. Bless him as he prepares to preach each week. Bless his leadership. And bless him as a husband and dad – especially in a year when he will see his own firstborn child head off to college in the fall. May Your grace be on Matthew and Penny during such an exciting yet emotional time.

Thank You for our wonderful staff. Please bless Seth and his beautiful family. Thank You for how You have gifted him. Bless his marriage, grow his children healthy and in love with Jesus, and keep his voice strong as he sets the tone for worship each Sunday. Thank You for Charlynn. What a blessing she is to the families and children of Grace! Bless her home, her marriage, and her son as he, too, prepares for college life this fall. And as I pray for Charlynn, I pray too for Kimberly. She is the perfect person to serve with Charlynn in Children’s Ministries. Thank You for their friendship and their partnership in ministry. Please bless Andrew and his work in Student Ministries. Bless his efforts as he connects with teens and encourages them in faith and in life. Lord, have Your way in the lives of our children and students, and grant wisdom to Charlynn and Andrew as they pour into them and as they teach them to become Jesus-loving servant leaders among their peers.

I’m so thankful for Susy and all she does to promote missions at Grace. Oh, God, may we maintain a strong missions focus here. And may we be a missions-minded people – pointing people to Christ, inviting them to Grace to hear the gospel message, and supporting the efforts of our missionary partners in the U.S. and overseas. Bless Susy and continue to keep her in good health. Thank You for Stacey and all she does at Grace. Please bless her parents, her daughters, and her grandsons. And especially bless her as she plans a wedding for Shayla soon. We are celebrating with her. Thank You for Kelsie. Bless her home and her marriage. Thank You for her sweet spirit and her work in keeping the church finances in order. Please continue to provide for the ministry here, Lord, as our annual budget continues to rise. Thank You for Your faithfulness, and thank You for the faithful giving of Your people. Thank You so much for Mrs. Hoey, who serves as the first face that people see when they enter our doors and the first voice that people hear when they call. How blessed we are by her! Please protect her health and her eyesight as she ages.

I thank You, Lord, for our elders and deacons. Bless them and grant them wisdom as they lead and serve the people of Grace. Thank You, too, for those who willingly and humbly serve in the many areas of ministry at Grace as Life Group leaders and/or hosts, Bible study teachers, disciple makers, greeters, singers, musicians, A/V and livestreaming techs, or volunteers in hospitality, the nursery, the toddler class, Kids’ Church, Vacation Bible School, Men’s Ministries, Women’s Ministries, local missions and outreach, the prayer team, the meal train, and any other area of ministry not mentioned here. Thank You, Lord, for their willingness to serve You and others. Please bless these dear folks in a special way.

And finally, Lord, thank You for the members and attenders of Grace Community Church. May Your blessing fall on them and their families in 2024. May loved ones who do not know You as Savior and Lord be drawn to You because of what they see in us. Oh, God, give us the joy of celebrating with one another as loved ones place their faith in Jesus alone for their salvation. I pray for every guest and visitor to Grace in 2024. May they feel at home here. May they sense Your presence here. Yes, Lord, fill us to overflowing with Your presence so that others might see You at work in us.

Above all, dear God, have Your way in us in the coming year. We commit the year and all that happens here to You. Oh, may You be glorified in us at Grace Community Church. In Jesus’ holy name, Amen.

God bless you, dear Grace. Thank you for a great year in 2023. I look forward to an even greater year in 2024, by God’s marvelous and amazing grace.

You are so, so loved.

Steve

12.22.23

It’s Friday and time for my weekly post,

And I find myself thinking of that heavenly host,

Who appeared to the shepherds to announce the good news –

The Messiah has come to save Gentiles and Jews.

 

The world thinks of Santa at this time of year

And of gifts and of elves and of flying reindeer

And of red-suited men shouting ho-ho-ho

And of trees and of lights and of mistletoe.

 

But the real reason of Christmas is none of these things.

I think about Jesus and the joy that He brings

To all people who call Him their Savior and Lord

Because of His death and the blood that He poured

For all the whole world at Mount Calvary.

Thank God for His grace that saves you and me.

 

So people of Grace, keep Jesus your reason

For celebrating Christmas and the hope of this season.

And never forget, please always believe

How much you are loved by me, Pastor Steve.

12.15.23

Hi, dear Grace!

Birthday milestones bring a variety of responses from people. Most milestones happen every ten years, but there are some – mostly in the teen and young adult years – that are also a big deal. Whether it’s becoming a teenager at 13 or getting a driver’s license at 16 or reaching the age to vote at 18 or hitting the magic number at 21 or the quarter century mark at 25, celebrations become bigger on these occasions. Sadly, it’s the birthdays that follow these that can be depressing. Turning 30 is traumatic for some. Turning 40 is worse. When I was a kid, someone in their 40’s seemed ancient. Turning 50? Oh, no! Soon, solicitations from the AARP will start arriving in the mail! And what about the age of 60? Some call 60 “the new 40,” but I don’t know many 40 year olds who are starting to think about collecting social security and looking at Medicare options. Ugh! Then comes 70 (maybe) and, if the Lord wills it to be, 80 will follow. 

Some birthdays really are more special than others. I recall my 13th birthday as being a big deal for me. Sixteen, of course, was a big deal, too. But the birthday that messed with my head – the one that I dreaded – was one that most people don’t really think about. The hardest birthday for me was not when I turned 30 or 40 or even 50. It was the birthday on which I turned 35. To me, young 30’s still sound young. But 35? Halfway to 70? It just seemed like maturity was expected from someone 35 and older. Not that I was immature, mind you, but it just felt like I was now expected to be mature.

I’m writing about birthdays and birthday milestones today because … well, I have a birthday coming up. And yes, dear Grace, it’s a big one. And I’m really not liking it. No, I’m not necessarily dreading it. As a matter of fact, I feel better about turning (cough cough) than when I turned 35 – except that for the past year, I have felt more aches and pains in my back, my hip, my knees, and my neck. And I’m seeing more hair in the sink and less on my forehead. And speaking of seeing, my eyesight is getting blurrier with age. No, Grace, I’m not enjoying this at all. 

Aging is not easy. But I’m encouraged to read these words from the Apostle Paul’s letter to Titus – “Encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness, and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us” (Titus 2:6–8 NIV). Why do these verses encourage me? First, if I am interpreting a note in John MacArthur’s Bible Commentary correctly, a young man is defined as being between the ages of 12 and 60 years old. If that’s true, I have one more year of being called a young man. (Big smile here!) On the other hand, another commentary suggested young men top off at about 50 years old. (Boo! Hiss!) But seriously, these verses in Titus give me purpose as I get older. This is what God has called me to do – to “preach the Word … in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2 NKJV) and to set a godly example for younger generations to follow. May all of us who are older invest in the lives of those who are younger and set for them an example of what it means to live out the gospel in a practical way in our homes, workplaces, and communities. Please help us in this, Lord. 

The Christmas party on Sunday evening was a great success. Thank you to all who came. More so, thanks to those of you who helped with any aspect of the evening to make it so memorable. May God bless you for your willingness to serve.

I have the wonderful privilege of preaching this Sunday. Thanks in advance for your prayers as I prepare. Hope to see you there.

You are so dearly loved, Grace. 

Steve

12.08.23

Hi, dear Grace!

Have you ever served as an umpire in a sport? Perhaps you have been an umpire for a baseball game or for softball or volleyball or tennis or other athletic event. While I’ve never been an umpire, I did serve for one season as a referee for basketball games in a county rec league. It was … interesting. Parents complaining. Players complaining. Coaches complaining – and flirting! Nope, not kidding! At a girls’ game with two female coaches … well, let’s just say I was a little bit uncomfortable with how they were trying to manipulate calls in their favor.

Speaking of umpires, the Bible says, “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful” (Colossians 3:15 NKJV). Look at those words again – “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts.” That word “rule” is an interesting one. In the Greek the word is brabeuo, and it literally means “to act as an umpire.” It can also mean “to arbitrate.” Just as an umpire calls the balls and strikes and close plays at the plate in a baseball game, so the peace of God – in which God keeps those who trust in Him (Isaiah 26:3) and that Jesus gave to His followers before His death on the cross (John 14:27) and which we have as part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22) – should be calling the balls and strikes and close plays in every relationship between Christians. Yes, dear Grace, peace should be the deciding factor in our homes, in our communities, and in our churches. May that be true in us, and may others recognize the peace we have in Christ and desire it for themselves – all to the glory of God.

On Sunday, Matthew will continue our Advent preaching series. As it happens, the title of the message this week is “The Light of Peace.” Later in the day, we will celebrate the season at our church Christmas party. There will be great music, great food, great giveaways, and great fellowship. Start time is 5:30 PM. I hope to see you there. Oh, and don’t forget our toy drive to benefit children who were victims or witnesses to a crime this year. Thank you, Grace.

 Peace to you, dear Church. You are so, so loved.

Steve

12.01.23

Hi, dear Grace!

“There is a special place in heaven for you.”

Has anyone ever spoken the above words to you? I heard them a few times about twenty-five years ago. After people learned of my assignment at the Sheriff’s Office as a child abuse detective – perhaps because there really was nothing else they could think to say – a few would blurted out, “Wow! There is a special place in heaven for you.” I rarely followed up with a comment, because there really was nothing I could think to say, either. While I loved my assignment, I just didn’t like talking about it with people I didn’t know really, really well.

As many of you know, last week Blair and I spent many hours at the hospital with my dad. He was admitted for a serious infection, and we were very concerned about his prognosis. The care my dad received from the nurses while at the hospital was great. Blair and I appreciate each one of them for their professionalism and attention. Of course, having a patient with dementia is surely not easy, but even at the hospital my dad was kind-hearted and compliant. One particular nurse, when she learned we care for my dad at home and are committed to caring for him as long as we possibly can, said to us, “There is a special place in heaven for you.” This time, I muttered something like, “By God’s grace,” to her. That ended it.

“There’s a special place in heaven for you.” It’s a kind thing to say, but is there really a special place in heaven for me just because I investigated horrible crimes against children in a former life? Is there a special place in heaven for me and Blair because we care for an aging, dementia-riddled dad at home? To both questions, the answer is a resounding no. How concerned would you be with my eternal destiny if, when asked why I believe I will spend eternity in heaven with the Lord, my response to you went something like this – “Hey, I used to be a child abuse detective. And if that’s not enough, I also cared for my dad in my house when he was old and had dementia.” I hope you would be pulling out your Bible and sharing the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew to me – “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21–23 NKJV)

Those words – “I never knew you; depart from me” – should send chills down the spine of every “Christian” who is counting on his or her works to save them. No matter how honorable your works, they are nothing but “filthy rags” in God’s sight (see Isaiah 64:6). It really is by God’s grace (see Ephesians 2:8) and the gift of His Son (see John 3:16) that we have any hope of spending eternity with Him. It’s not about what we DO that saves us. No, it’s about what we BELIEVE about Jesus that truly saves (see Acts 16:31 and Romans 10:9–11). Only then will the process of sanctification begin and good works flow out of that (see 2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 5:22–24, and Philippians 2:12–13). Thanks be to God, dear Grace, for the indescribable gift of His Son to us (2 Corinthians 9:15)!

By the time you read this post, the Kenya team should be home. By all accounts, it was a highly successful and awesome trip. Please pray for rest for the members of the team. We look forward to hearing their reports in the near future.

May God bless you with grace in abundance. You are so, so loved.

Steve

11.24.23

Hi, dear Grace!

Am I a horrible person? Am I being selfish here? And are any of you like me in the following regard?

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, today’s post is about … driving. Yes, you read that correctly. The topic of today’s post is driving. In my opinion, I’m a good driver. Despite my former career as a police officer, I (usually) do the speed limit when I drive. I come to a full stop at (most) stop signs. I am not (very) aggressive when I drive. I don’t (often) take what’s not given to me. I’m patient. (Well, “patient” may be somewhat of an exaggeration.) So all of this to say, maybe I’m not a perfect driver. Still, I’m a good driver. 

I’m also a polite driver. Need to squeeze in when you are in a right-turn only lane and you want to go straight? Sure, I’ll let you in. Need to merge into traffic when your lane is ending? Not a problem. Need to cross two lanes of traffic in front of me to get to a left turn lane? Just watch for me. I’ll gladly slow down and give you room to do whatever you need to do to get where you are going. But here’s the thing, and here’s where the opening questions of today’s post come into play. When I have the right-of-way and yet yield to another driver’s need for my lane, all I ask is for said driver to give me a wave of thanks. Just throw a hand out the window with five fingers extended and express your appreciation for my kindness. Yes, Grace, all I want is for a driver to show some gratitude. And when that happens, I promise to wave back to the driver in receipt of his thanks. Does that make me a bad guy? 

You know, over and over again the Bible commands the Christian to give thanks. As a matter of fact, giving thanks is God’s will for us. The Bible says, “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NKJV). Please take note of that prepositional phrase at the start of the verse – “in everything.” Yes, dear Grace, in every circumstance – whether good, bad, happy, sad, easy, or difficult – we are to give thanks to the Lord. Hmmm … Is the expectation I have of other drivers the same expectation I have of myself? Am I mindful to thank the Lord immediately when things go well for me? More importantly, what about when things don’t go so well? Am I thankful then? Lord, forgive me when I expect from others what I don’t freely and immediately give myself. Thank You for Your faithfulness in my good times and my hard times. You are ever gracious to me. Praise be to the Lord!

Happy Thanksgiving, dear reader. You are so, so loved.

Steve

11.17.23

Hi, dear Grace!

Today’s post is one big prayer and praise letter. God is at work at Grace Community Church, and it really is exciting. But when good things are happening in the church, the enemy doesn’t like it. The Bible is clear – The Christian must be sober and vigilant. Why? Because we have a common enemy, the devil, who “walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8 NKJV). With that in mind, please pray with me for the matters below that are in need of prayer. Please also praise the Lord with me for the good He is doing at Grace.

In obedience to Jesus’ command to “go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19 NASB), twenty dear members of our Grace family will be heading to Kenya tomorrow for twelve days of ministry. The team will have opportunities to teach, attend worship services, visit an orphanage, conduct a Vacation Bible School, dedicate a mission station and a water well to the Lord, participate in a water walk, meet and interact with village residents, and connect with our missionary partner to the Pokot people, Reuben Meriakol. Please, Grace, pray for the team. Pray for God’s blessing and protection over them. Pray for good health while they are serving in a foreign land. Pray for strength, energy, and unity of purpose. And pray for their safe return.

Among the twenty members of the Kenya team are our Lead Pastor, Matthew Palmer, and our Missions Coordinator, Susy Rardon. In Matthew’s absence, Andrew Cannell will be preaching this Sunday. The following Sunday, I will be preaching. Both messages will be Thanksgiving-themed. Please pray for Andrew and for me as we obey the Apostle Paul’s command through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to “preach the word of God” (2 Timothy 4:3 NLT). Pray for clarity of thought and speech as we stand before the people of Grace over the next two Sundays to proclaim messages of thanks to the Lord. And, above all, please pray that God will be highly exalted in our worship services.

More prayer is needed for our Worship Pastor, Seth Shirley, and his family. Seth’s beautiful wife, Melody, is due to give birth to their fifth child in the very near future. Seth and Melody are expecting a son, whose name will be Christian. Please, Grace, pray for baby Christian’s healthy arrival. Pray too for a safe and healthy delivery for Melody. And pray for Seth, as he will be taking an extended time of leave to help care for things at home after Christian is born. Oh, and praise the Lord for the blessing of new life. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above …” (James 1:17 NKJV). That includes the gift of a child. Thank You, Lord.

With Seth’s anticipated leave and with Susy in Kenya, prayers are appreciated for our Worship Team. The Worship Team does such a great job of setting a wonderful tone for worship each week. The Bible says, “Worship the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs” (Psalm 100:2 NIV). Praise the Lord for the musical talent He has blessed us with. Of course, Seth and Susy are such a huge part of the Worship Team, so much will fall on the shoulders of others in this area. Please pray for all of the members of our Worship Team – especially those who will be taking on more of a lead role while Seth and Susy are out.

Wednesday, November 22 is the day before Thanksgiving. On that day, a group from Grace will be heading over to the Old Savannah City Mission to distribute winter clothing to the homeless and to possibly help with the serving of lunch. The Bible says, “Blessed is he who is generous to the poor” (Proverbs 14:21 ESV). Please pray for a wonderful time of connecting, serving, and loving on others at the mission. Thanks so much to Dean Van Keuren for leading this charge. I know Dean would appreciate your prayers for safety in travel to and from Savannah, as well as for a great time of ministry that day. 

As I type these words, an awesome team of Grace volunteers have delivered our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes to the drop-off center. A total is in. Are you ready for this? Drum roll please. The total number of boxes we delivered to the drop-off center is … On second thought, maybe it’s best that you wait until Sunday to find out. (But I have a really good feeling about it.) Whether we reach our goal or not, though, every shoebox is a gospel opportunity. Praise the Lord, dear Grace, for every shoebox that was packed. And please, please pray for each child who will receive a shoebox this year. May God draw them to Himself by His marvelous grace. Yes, Lord, “let the little children come … for of such is the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14 NKJV).

Well, I began with a verse out of chapter 5 of the Apostle Peter’s first letter. I think I’ll end with one, too. The Bible says, “May the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:10–11 NKJV). I think all of us can join with Peter in agreement and say, “Amen, Lord. Amen.”

There is much to pray for, dear Grace. There is also much to praise the Lord for. Thank you for your prayers and your praise. And thanks too for reading to the end.

You are so dearly loved.

Steve

11.10.23

Hi, dear Grace!

Twenty-one years ago – in October 2002, to be exact – the Washington, DC, region was paralyzed by a sniper firing on unsuspecting people over a three-week period. In that span of time, ten people were killed and three more were critically injured. The oldest victim was in his 70’s, while the youngest was only thirteen years old. Victims were shot while shopping, pumping gas, walking to school, mowing grass, and reading a book while seated on a public bench. Shootings happened in Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Northern Virginia. One of the shootings actually occurred just a few miles outside the county line where I worked. Citizens were afraid to go outside, and police officers were on high alert looking for the suspect vehicle or for any suspicious activity. It was a scary time for people who lived in and around our nation’s capital.

I thought of the sniper attacks earlier this week. Not only did people fear for their own lives, they also feared for the lives of their children and loved ones. Daily, residents were being bombarded with the latest news and updates on the sniper shootings via television, radio, and the newspaper. In the early morning hours of October 24 at a rest stop in Maryland, the suspect vehicle was located with two men sleeping inside. Their arrests, along with the recovery of the sniper rifle and other weapons in their vehicle, brought a huge sigh of relief to millions of people in the D.C. area. 

I share this because of a conversation I had with a woman this week. I’ll call her Velma (not her real name). I have met and spoken to Velma perhaps only twice prior to this week. Our interaction would never be classified as a conversation. There were pleasantries exchanged between us in the past – perhaps even a question asked and an answer given – but no more than that. It was always polite, professional, and business-related. But this week was different. This week, Velma needed to talk. Velma knows I am one of the pastors here at Grace. Maybe that’s why she felt she could share so openly with me. And I’m glad she did. You see, Velma is tired. She is physically exhausted. She cannot sleep. She cannot eat. She is racked with anxiety. Her stomach is in knots as she worries about the safety of her children, her grandchildren, her friends, and others. Sadly, some would judge Velma because of her worrying. Judgement for her worry, however, would be very unfair. Why? Because Velma’s worry and her sleepless nights began one month ago on October 7. Most of you may remember what happened on that day. For those of you who don’t remember, let me remind you. October 7, 2023, is the day Hamas attacked Israel. Velma is Jewish. To hear of the massacre of October 7 … to hear of the 1,400 deaths … to hear of families and children murdered … and to hear of the hundreds of hostages taken … it’s all too much for Velma. And then to hear of attacks on Jewish people in cities around the world and to hear of protests against Israel – protests against Israel!! – on university campuses … well, you can see why Velma needed to talk. As for me, mostly I just listened. Oh, I was sure to tell her of my own support for her people, as well as the support and prayers of all of us at Grace on behalf of Israel. And while I don’t recall exactly what she said that prompted it, I even mentioned the grace of God to her. That resonated with Velma. She was hopeful for such grace. 

Please pray for Velma, Church. And please pray for the peace and protection of Israel. The Bible says, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, prosperity within your palaces.’ For the sake of my brethren and companions, I will now say, ‘Peace be within you.’ Because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek your good” (Psalm 122:6–9 NKJV).

When I saw her later, Velma was so kind in her comments about Grace. She talked about how nice people are here and how hospitable we are. No, she has never been here on a Sunday morning, but she has been here during the week. She has met several members of the church staff. She likes it here. That really blesses me. I hope it blesses you, too. Thank you in advance for your prayers for Velma and for Israel. 

God bless you, Grace. You are so loved.

Steve

11.03.23

Hi, dear Grace!

Last week I wrote about a memory from my high school basketball days. Today’s post is from another high school sports memory, but this time it’s about baseball. Full disclosure here – I was a much better basketball player than I was a baseball player. Basketball was (and remains) my favorite sport. And while I love baseball and enjoyed playing the game, my hand/eye coordination was far short of spectacular. Interestingly, I did accomplish something in baseball that I never accomplished while playing basketball in high school. I was actually named to the All-Conference Team during my senior season as a first baseman.

This story, however, is not from that impressive senior season at first base, but from my less than impressive junior year as an outfielder, utility player, and bench warmer. My final game that season was being played at Watkins Regional Park, several miles from our school. Note the key word in the previous sentence – “My final game …” To be honest, I don’t recall that game being the team’s final game, but it definitely was for me. That’s because Coach Van Gordon penciled me in to start at catcher that day. I hadn’t caught all season, but Coach decided to give me a try behind the plate as the season was nearing an end – perhaps to see if I was a catching prospect for the following year. Unfortunately, that question was never answered due to a disastrous incident during warm-ups. As Coach was hitting ground balls to the infield and fly balls to the outfield before the game, I was standing next to him wearing the catcher’s chest protector, knee/shin guards, and mitt. Notice what I wasn’t wearing – the catcher’s face mask. Big mistake, although I couldn’t imagine why I needed one at the time. As I was catching balls that were fired to me from everywhere and feeding Coach Van Gordon ball after ball, he was peppering baseballs all over the field. Fielding practice during warm-ups is quick-paced and coordinated, but there can be hiccups. And, boy, was there a BIG hiccup! Several balls were lying at my feet when I fed Coach the last ball in my hand. I then bent down to pick up a ball that had been rolled in by one of the infielders, but our star shortstop wasn’t paying attention. And neither was I! He threw a fastball to home that struck me hard in the face. Yes, Grace, I went down in a heap, and my high school catching career ended before it began. My penciled-in name at catcher was erased, and I spent the entire game on the bench with ice on my face. When I got home, my parents took me to the emergency room, where X-rays determined my nose was fractured. The black eye that followed was an embarrassing reminder for over a week of how my season ended. 

How did my season end, Grace? How did my nose get broken? Because neither the shortstop nor I were paying attention to what the other was doing. Thankfully, my injury wasn’t worse. But it’s the importance of paying attention that prompts today’s post. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Peter wrote these words – “And so we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19 NASB). The “prophetic word” in this verse is speaking of God’s Holy Word, the Bible. Peter says we will “do well to pay attention to” God’s Word. As a matter of fact, he insists the Bible should be valued like “a lamp shining in a dark place” until “the morning star” (Jesus) returns. The Bible says of itself, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105 NKJV). Yes, Church, pay attention to the Word. Read it. Value its message. And have confidence that it will light your way as you live out the Christian life in a dark, dark world. 

As of this writing, we have collected 296 shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child with three Sundays to go before the OCC season ends. Our goal is 550 boxes. Keep those boxes coming in, Grace. I have a bet to win. (BIG smile here.) My wife and I thank you so much for your support.

Be sure to check out the Grace Weekly for more that is happening at the church. And please be sure to pray for the peace and protection of Israel. 

You are so, so loved.

Steve

10.27.23

Hi, dear Grace!

Wow! I’m still blown away by the worship service on Sunday morning. If you were there, you know what I mean. The testimony Dariush and his wife shared of how they came to place their faith in Jesus Christ moved me and so many of you. Yes, God is at work in Iran and throughout the Middle East, and Muslim people around the world are leaving the religion of Islam and embracing Jesus as “the (only) way, the truth, and the life.” As Dariush said, it is only in Jesus that true peace will be known and centuries-old enemies will eschew their hatred for one another. Praise the Lord! At the end of the calendar year, I predict we will look back on Sunday, October 22 as a highlight of 2023 at Grace Community Church. 

Speaking of the service on Sunday, I loved the hymn we sang together at the start of the service. If you have a copy of the 1991 edition of the old Baptist hymnal, you can find “Victory In Jesus” at Hymn #426. It’s a Salvas family favorite – one we often sang in the car as we traveled on vacation when I was a kid. But there’s another memory of “Victory In Jesus” that prompts today’s post, and it’s a memory from high school.

I went to high school at Capitol Christian Academy in Upper Marlboro, MD, where I played basketball and baseball. Of course, basketball was always my preferred sport. During my junior and senior seasons, Capitol had a strong team. We were conference tournament champions in my junior year, and we went undefeated in conference play when I was a senior. Our rival in the Christian Schools Athletic Association, which boasted eight teams in Maryland and Northern Virginia, was Camp Springs Christian School. As an aside, Chris Rice played basketball at Camp Springs. Yes, Grace, I played against Chris Rice, who won a Dove Award in 1999 for Male Vocalist of the Year and is best known for the songs “Welcome To Our World” and “The Cartoon Song”. Chris also released an album called “The Living Room Sessions,” an instrumental collection of hymns featuring his talents as a classical pianist. He is a talented guy.

Anyway, after every game Capitol played against Camp Springs – whether it was at our gymnasium or theirs and whether they won or lost – their players, coaches, and fans all gathered at halfcourt to sing “Victory In Jesus.” I and many of my teammates and many of our fans joined them. Of course, it was always easier to join in after we won, but even when we lost I found myself at halfcourt singing those familiar words. It’s a special memory for me. No matter what sport I played, I always played to win. But singing that particular hymn at halfcourt with players from our rival school really spoke to me. Victory on the basketball court is nice, but it doesn’t compare to the victory we have in Jesus Christ by God’s grace through faith. (“For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith. And who can win this battle against the world? Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God.” – 1 John 5:4–5 NLT) And while my maroon-and-gold jersey may have separated me from the red-white-and-blue colors of the Camp Springs players, it cannot separate me from what unites us together as brothers in Christ. (“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, there is neither Capitol nor Camp Springs; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” – Galatians 3:28 NKJV, italics added) Yes, victory and unity are ours in Christ, dear church. Praise Him today!

Sunday is a big day. Each service will be followed by our Discover Grace opportunity. Discover Grace is for those who are new to Grace and who want to learn more about the ministry here. At Discover Grace, you will hear from Matthew about the mission and vision of the church. You will meet our elders, deacons, and staff. You will leave with a folder containing information about our doctrinal position, equipping ministry, etc. And you will enjoy some food and wonderful fellowship. Afterward, if you decide Grace is where you would like to plant your roots in membership, we will schedule a time to meet together for the purposes of answering any specific questions you have about the ministry and hearing your personal testimony of faith in Jesus. Please join us if you can. 

Continuing the theme of Sunday being a big day, our Trunk or Treat outreach is scheduled for Sunday evening from 4:30 – 6:30 PM. Invite the kids in your neighborhood to join us. Hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, and plenty of water to drink will be served. There will also be plenty of candy distributed. Please pray for a great event.

And, finally, I will be preaching from the Gospel of Mark chapter 15, verses 1 to 20 at both services. Sure would appreciate your prayers for me as I prepare the message. 

I love you, Grace.

Steve

10.20.23

Hi, dear Grace!

Wow! I’m going way back in time for this week’s post. How old was I at the time? 18? 19? So it was at least 40 years ago that this happened, and yet it seems like so much more recently. I’m smiling as I think about it.

My brothers and I took a camping trip with several friends. There were six of us – all between the ages of 14 and 19. There were no parents and no adults with us on this trip. Oh, sure, by age I would have been classified as an adult, but I was as green and naïve as the youngest one in our group. We pitched our tent at Shad Landing State Park, located by the Pocomoke River on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. And what a great week it was! We ran a trot line and caught an incredible number of catfish. We lost several fishing lures that week, but we still caught several bass, too. We cooked everything on an open fire, we sang Oak Ridge Boys songs by the same fire, and I even melted a pair of rubber-soled shoes trying to dry them out by that fire. We spent one day of the week at Ocean City, but most of our time was spent at our campsite by the fire or in a flat-bottomed “jon” boat out on the river. And it’s a memory of that boat on the river that prompts my thought for the day.

There were three of us in that boat – my brother Chuck, my friend Cliff, and me – when we stopped at a nice fishing spot near the shoreline of the river. With the current moving toward the Chesapeake Bay, we decided to drop anchor so that we wouldn’t drift from our location. Chuck threw the anchor over the side, and the three of us watched as the chain – followed by the rope – went over the side with it. Dumbfounded, the three of us looked at one another in silence. Our expressions did all of the talking, with all three of us thinking the same thing – “Which one of you two dopes didn’t tie off the anchor?” Since it was Cliff’s dad’s boat, it was also Cliff’s dad’s anchor. None of us wanted Cliff’s dad to be angry at us, so Chuck jumped into action … literally. Yes, Chuck jumped overboard in hopes of retrieving the anchor. It was probably ten or twelve feet deep where we were. I still can’t believe he dove into the water to go after that anchor, but more so, I can’t believe he came up out of the water with the anchor in his grip and a big smile on his face. 

The purpose of an anchor is to secure a boat so that it doesn’t drift with the wind or current. You know, as important as an anchor is to the boater, hope is equally important to the Christian. The Bible says, “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast” (Hebrews 6:19 NKJV). Yes, dear Grace, God’s promises are guaranteed to all whose hope is secure in Christ. That hope is your sure and steadfast anchor in times of difficulty and hardship. One of my favorite Christian songs of all time has the line in it, “The Anchor holds in spite of the storm.” Praise the Lord for His faithfulness, and keep your hope in Him.

Please continue to pray for Israel as she defends herself from terrorism. Our friends at Jews for Jesus sent us a correspondence recently, asking for prayer. Included among the requests for prayer for those taken hostage and the protection of the Jewish people globally was this one – Pray for hope for Israel, that their eyes would be fixed on the God Who saves. Yes, Lord, may the Jewish people know the hope of Christ as a secure anchor for their souls. Protect, defend, and save them by Your mighty hand. Amen.

May God abundantly bless you, Grace. I hope to see you Sunday. You are so, so loved.

Steve

10.13.23

Hi, dear Grace!

It sure has been a tough week for Maryland sports fans. The Baltimore Orioles, who had a spectacular 101-win season this year, were swept in their playoff series against the Texas Rangers. Devastating! The Baltimore Ravens gave up two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. Disappointing! But it might have been the University of Maryland’s loss to Ohio State in college football on Saturday that was most crushing of all. This was supposed to be the year! No, not necessarily that Maryland would beat Ohio State, but that they would at least be competitive … that the game would at least be close … that the Terps would start to be taken seriously in Big Ten football. But, alas, it wasn’t to be. After a respectable first half, Ohio State turned on the jets and ran away with the game. Demoralizing!

The school mascot of the University of Maryland since 1932 has been the Terrapin. As you may or may not know, the diamondback terrapin is a turtle that is prominent in the Chesapeake Bay region. It is also the official state reptile of the great state of Maryland. And for the past twenty years or so, the slogan “Fear the Turtle!” has been the rallying cry of all U of MD sports teams. As a matter of fact, since that slogan made its debut, the Maryland athletic program has been averaging one national championship per year spread out over men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s lacrosse, men’s soccer, and the field hockey and competitive cheer teams. Sadly, it doesn’t look like the football team will be winning a national championship anytime soon.

Fear the Turtle! I don’t know why, but it’s a slogan that makes me smile. Over and over again, however, the Bible says, “Do not fear.” And 2 Timothy 1:7 says God has not given us a spirit of fear. But lately, I have been thinking about a different kind of fear – a healthy and holy fear. The Bible says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7 NKJV). The Bible also says, “Behold, the fear of the Lord is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding” (Job 28:28 NKJV). The fear that Solomon and Job are referring to here is not one of terror – although surely those who have not placed their faith in Jesus Christ for their salvation should fear the Lord in this way. Rather, the fear in these verses refers to a deep reverence and even awe of what God has done and can do. The starting point of real wisdom (and having a true understanding of anything) is a healthy reverence of the Lord. I don’t want worldly wisdom, and I don’t want that for my wife or my children or for you. Instead, I want the wisdom that comes out of a healthy and holy fear of the Lord. May all of us at Grace desire that wisdom, and may our hearts be in agreement with the lyrics of the song, “I stand, I stand in awe of You. Holy God, to Whom all praise is due, I stand in awe of You.”

Please pray for me, dear Grace, as I will be preaching this Sunday out of Mark chapter 14, verses 32–42. Thank you in advance for your prayers. And don’t forget – We will be gathering on Sunday at 4:30 PM at Driessen Beach Park for an all-church picnic, followed by a baptism service in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Our baptism service is always a great time of fellowship and celebration. I hope you can come in support of those who are following the Lord in believer’s baptism.

Finally, our goal for Operation Christmas Child is 550 boxes. The deadline to turn in your shoeboxes is November 12. Oh, and if you prefer to build a box online, here’s a link to do that – https://build-a-shoebox.samaritanspurse.org/view/a8abff2e-2118-4e70-b1b2-b622e1ade3e1. Thank you in advance for helping us reach our goal.

May God bless you with grace and peace in abundance, dear church. You are so, so loved.

Steve

10.06.23

Hi, dear Grace!

I was perhaps 11 or 12 years old when I was watching a television show called S.W.A.T. with my brother in the living room of our home. My dad walked into the room and asked, “What are you watching?” My response? Not a good one … at least, not a good one when a son is speaking to his police officer dad who demands that his boys respect the law enforcement profession. “It’s called S.W.A.T. It’s about a bunch of …” – and here’s where I made the mistake – “… cops.” In that moment, let’s just say my dad’s tone turned from inquiring to quite stern. And let’s just say his message came through loud and clear – Chuck and I were NEVER to refer to a police officer as a “cop” ever again. Yes, Grace, I am obedient son. Although many of my fellow officers proudly referred to themselves as “cops” throughout my 25-year career, I never did. And it’s all due to my poorly chosen words to describe a television show and my dad’s lecture in the mid-1970’s about the honorable profession of policing.

But here’s the thing – While there is some debate about the origin of the word, most people believe the word COP is actually an acronym that stands for Constables On Patrol. Of course, S.W.A.T. is also an acronym. It stands for Special Weapons And Tactics. As a matter of fact, the law enforcement profession is riddled with acronyms and abbreviations – like CID (Criminal Investigations Division), OPR (Office of Professional Responsibility), FSU (Forensic Science Unit), EST (Emergency Services Team), SRO (School Resource Officer), and [ironically] COPS (Community-Oriented Policing Services). And what about all of the federal alphabet agencies? You know, like the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigations), USPP (United States Park Police), NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board), and more. Alphabet agencies also exist locally – like MSP (Maryland State Police), MVA (Motor Vehicles Administration), DSS (Department of Social Services), etc.

This calls to mind the many Christian acronyms that are out there today – acronyms like JOY (Jesus, Others, and You), GRACE (God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense), HOPE (Hold On, Pain Ends), and FAITH (Forwarding All Issues To Heaven). Then there are the funny acronyms, like FROG (Fully Rely On God), and the famous abbreviations, like WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?). One of my favorites is GEPC, which stands for … What’s that? You have never heard of GEPC? Oh, perhaps that’s because it’s not so much an acronym or abbreviation as it is a mnemonic device. Where I come from, GEPC stands for God’s Electric Power Company. Others say it stands for Gentiles Eat Pork Chops, while still others (like our dear pastor) says it stands for Girls Eat Peppermint Candy. It’s just a way to remember the order of the Apostle Paul’s letters to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians in the New Testament.

Today’s post is brought to you by one of the letters out of God’s Electric Power Company – specifically, the Apostle Paul’s Electric letter (i.e., his letter to the Ephesians). In it, Paul writes under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:17–21 NKJV). Here we find that God’s will is for us to “be filled with the Spirit.” Interestingly, there is a parallel passage in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Company (i.e., to the Colossians). The Bible says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:16–17 NKJV). Notice this, dear Grace – Where Paul exhorts the Ephesians to “be filled with the Spirit,” he exhorts the Colossians to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” This leads us to believe if you want to be filled with the Spirit, then you must know “the word of Christ” (God’s Word), meditate on it, and then share it with others through speaking, teaching, and admonishing (warning) them. The result? Joy! No, not the acronym of Jesus, Others, and You. Real joy! That’s what “making melody in your heart” and “singing with grace in your hearts” means. It is the evidence of joy overflowing from your heart because of the richness of God’s Word and His grace residing in you. Such joy then breeds a heart of thankfulness to the Lord. Oh, may the people of Hilton Head Island, Bluffton, and the surrounding areas see that kind of joy in us here at Grace Community Church, and may they be drawn to the Lord because of it.

Don’t forget the all-church picnic followed by baptism on Sunday, October 15 at Driessen Beach Park. If you would like to profess your faith in Jesus Christ publicly through believer’s baptism, please see me. I would love to speak with you. Also, if you are interested in membership at Grace, there will be a Discover Grace event between services and after the second service on Sunday, October 29. You will have an opportunity to meet the pastors, staff, and leadership of Grace, receive some important information about the church, and hear from Matthew about our mission and vision. 

Well, I guess that’s it for this week. Thanks for reading, dear Church. And to those of you who are teaching in Children’s Ministry, helping out in Student Ministry, leading or hosting a Life Group or Bible study, supporting Missions locally or abroad, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with a family member or friend, or simply inviting someone to church, thanks for being COPS – Christians Obediently Preaching Salvation. I am proud to be serving with you.

You are so loved.

Steve

09.29.23

Hi, dear Grace!

Today’s post is dedicated to the memory of the greatest third baseman to ever play baseball. With all due respect to those of you who are fans of the Phillies, Royals, Red Sox, and Braves, I am not referring to Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Wade Boggs, or Chipper Jones. No, I am referring to the man who played his entire 23-year career with the Baltimore Orioles – #5 in your program but #1 in our hearts – Brooks Robinson. 

As I was scrolling through my news feed on Tuesday, I was surprised and deeply saddened to learn Brooks Robinson had died at the age of 86. When I was only eight years old, the Washington Senators left DC to become the Texas Rangers. That move turned every baseball fan in the Metropolitan Washington, DC, area into orange-black-and-white wearing Orioles fans. Mostly, I watched the Orioles on television or listened to the Orioles radio broadcast. But every now and then, I traveled with family or friends to Memorial Stadium (and later Camden Yards) to see Brooks Robinson, Boog Powell, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken, and many other Oriole greats in person as they battled for the American League pennant. Brooks was near the end of his playing career by this time, but I got to know him better after his retirement when he started doing color commentary for Orioles games on television. 

Not only was Brooks Robinson known as “Mr. Oriole,” he was also known as “The Human Vacuum Cleaner” for his acrobatic play at the hot corner. He was the winner of 16 Gold Gloves, two World Series championships, one World Series MVP award, and one regular season MVP award. In 1971, he was immortalized in a painting by Norman Rockwell. And if you don’t take my word for his being the best third baseman ever, then perhaps you’ll take the word of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in the movie Sleepless in Seattle. As one of many female suitors seeking the affection of Tom Hanks (the lonely widowed dad of a son), Meg Ryan writes him a letter. In said letter, she writes, “Let’s just say right now that Brooks Robinson was the best third baseman ever. It’s important that you agree with me on that because I’m from Baltimore.” Tom Hanks’ son, who wants his dad to get married, then says, “She thinks Brooks Robinson is the greatest. So do you.” In response, Tom Hanks says, “Everyone thinks Brooks Robinson is the greatest.” And to that, I say, “Yes, we do, Tom. Yes, we do.”

I can’t really articulate why the death of a baseball player has affected me so much this week. Perhaps it’s because he was larger than life to me when I was a kid. Perhaps it’s the realization that even my heroes are mortal. And perhaps it’s because my dad is the same age as Brooks Robinson. Whatever it is, it is also a reminder of the truth of God’s Word. The Bible says, “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:27–28a NIV). No one will escape death, dear Grace. All will die and face judgement. But thanks be to God for Jesus, Who died to take away our sins and offer us eternal life by grace through faith. Praise Him today!

It really is an exciting time at Grace. The church is growing. People are connecting to the Lord and to one another through Life Groups, Bible studies, youth events, and other opportunities. Soon, teams of people will be traveling to Selma, AL, and to East Pokot, Kenya, for short-term mission purposes. Please pray for these teams – for safety, for unity, and for the fulfilling of The Great Commission. And speaking of missions, serving the church is local missions. Would you please prayerfully consider an area of service here at Grace? There are needs in the Children’s Ministry (for teachers and helpers), the Worship Team (for a drummer and another pianist), Connections (for greeters), the Sound Room (for sound, visual, lighting, and livestream techs), and other areas. Thank you in advance for your consideration.

I sure hope to meet Brooks Robinson in heaven one day. And Elvis, too. And many others, of course. And to those who are reading this, I sure hope to see you there, too. If you do not know where you will spend eternity after you die, please contact me. I would love the privilege of sharing with you how you can know for certain that you will spend eternity in heaven with the Lord. Nothing is more important, dear reader. Nothing.

You are so very loved.

Steve

09.21.23

Hi, dear Grace!

As you read these words, Blair and I are in the mountains of North Carolina with friends from Maryland. It has been several years since all four of us couples have been together, so we are excited about a long weekend with one another. We left yesterday (Thursday) and will return on Sunday evening. Please pray for safety in travel and for a wonderful visit with dear friends. Thank you.

With limited time to write this week, I’m going to the archives for today’s post. With the thought of mountains on my mind, this one comes from June 8, 2022. You’ll understand the connection to the mountains as you read.

________

As you know, I was away for about nine days dealing with my dad’s house in Maryland. Thanks so much to those of you who prayed for me while I was gone. It was a very productive (and, at times, emotional) trip for me. While there, I saw many photographs I had never seen. I found letters from my dad’s biological mom, as well as letters from his foster mom. I found his Marine dress blues and my mom’s wedding dress. All of it and more was packed into my rental vehicle and is now in my home to go through more thoroughly. I also found case files from back when my dad was with the Metropolitan (DC) Police Department. They too were brought home and will be shredded. Oh, and I found a box of old newspapers – and I mean old! One is dated November 23, 1963, with the headline, PRESIDENT KENNEDY SHOT DEAD. Others are about historic events like the Apollo moon landing, Watergate, Nixon’s resignation, and the death of Elvis Presley. Hey, Elvis’ death may not rise to the level of all the other headlines, but to my mom that was huge (and really sad) news!

Finding these old newspapers made me think of a verse out of the book of Isaiah. Perhaps you know it already. It says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns’” (Isaiah 52:7 ESV). There wasn’t much good news in that box of newspapers I brought home. How thankful I am, then, to share in the privilege of bringing “good news” to you here at Grace Community Church! You know, if anyone else were to compliment my size 12’s, I would say that’s weird. But because I preach news that brings life and peace and freedom from sin, God says my feet are beautiful. And to that I say, “Only by Your grace, Lord.”

_________

Thanks to all of you who invited someone to join you at Grace on Back To Church Sunday. It was a terrific day, and all comments from those who visited us for the first time were very positive.  

There’s so much happening, Church. Please check it all out in the Grace Weekly. And if you want to get connected in service or in discipleship, do not hesitate to reach out to me.

To all of you who share the good news of the gospel with a child, a friend, a neighbor, a co-worker, or anyone else, thank you. By God’s grace, you too have beautiful feet. May He bless you in a special way this weekend, dear Grace. I miss you when I’m not here. Always know how deeply loved you are.

Steve

09.15.23

Hi, dear Grace!

Have you ever said the words, “Make yourself at home,” to a guest at your house? Did you mean it when you said those words? If you are being honest, probably not. Instead, what you meant was this – Make yourself at home within the confines of the rules we have established for our home.

My daughter was very young when she was invited to a friend’s birthday party. At some point during the party, a group of girls (including Lindsey) found their way up to the birthday girl’s bedroom, where they were being giddy and being loud. And when the mom of the birthday girl went to investigate, she scolded Lindsey because Lindsey was jumping on the bed. Now please understand me – I’m not offended that another mom scolded my kid. If you don’t want her to jump on the bed, then by all means tell her to stop. What I am offended by is the question she asked Lindsey after she scolded her – “Do your parents let you jump on the bed at your house?” Lindsey was embarrassed and didn’t answer, so I’ll answer for her. Yes, we do!

Our kids jumped on the bed all the time at our house. And to tell you the truth, Blair and I jumped on the bed with them. It was fun. Of course, I had to be careful not to hit my head on the ceiling, but we jumped on the bed with our children. I’m smiling now just thinking about it. And when our children had friends to our house and they wanted to jump on the bed, that was okay with us. The only rule was they were not allowed to get hurt. The point is this – When I say, “Make yourself at home,” I am being sincere but not so sincere that I want you to cross any lines. I really don’t want you to draw on my walls, watch TV all night at a high volume, or turn my A/C down to 60 degrees in the summer. And I really don’t want you to be going through my closets and my drawers and my attic looking through my personal stuff.

It's that last thought – invading personal spaces and looking through personal stuff – that prompts this week’s post. In Ephesians 3:17, the Apostle Paul prays “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (NKJV). This has to do with allowing Jesus Christ to be at home in you – not merely as a guest, but as a homeowner with complete control of your life. In other words, Paul is praying that we would allow Jesus Christ to abide in us – giving Him full access to every corner of our lives (the attic, the crawl space, the checkbook, everything). Are you there yet, Grace? Have you surrendered it all to the Lord? Carrie Underwood sang the words, “Jesus, take the wheel.” Are you able to sing those words with her? Yes, Lord, in every area of life, please take over. May our thoughts, our actions, our money, and our priorities be Yours to do with as You will. Invade every corner of our lives, and rid us of sin and junk that gets in the way of exalting You. To You be all the glory. Amen.

This Sunday is Back 2 Church Sunday. Please invite someone to church. Matthew will be delivering the message, and it promises to be a good one. If it is truly our desire to reach the Hilton Head Island and Bluffton areas for Christ, it starts with all of us. We look forward to a packed sanctuary at both worship services. Please pray for the Spirit of God to do a wonderful work in us on Sunday morning.

This Sunday also marks the official start of our fall ministry season. As I say often, there is much happening at Grace. Please check out the Grace Weekly to learn more.

Thank you for reading, Grace. You are so, so loved.

Steve

09.08.23

Hi, dear Grace!

As I consider what to write about this week, my mind is drawn back to ten days ago. It was then that we were preparing for a tropical storm, which many forecasters thought might arrive here still in hurricane form. Thankfully, the storm blew west of us and we escaped major damage. But there’s something about a storm that Blair and I enjoy. When we were first married, we lived in a mobile home with a tin roof. We loved hearing the rain batter that roof during a storm. While we no longer have a tin roof, we still love to listen to the rain. And we like hearing the wind howl. Of course, these statements apply only to those moments when we are listening to the rain and hearing the wind from the safety of our home. And it’s only when everything in our yard is secured with no threat of blowing away. Yes, dear Grace, this is the lead-in to a story.

After two years of living in that mobile home – our first home and one that still brings a smile to our faces – Blair and I bought a home in Shady Side, MD. Yes, Shady Side was the name of our town. Neighboring towns were Edgewater, Friendship, Tracey’s Landing, and West River. And then, of course, there was the city of Annapolis only twenty or so minutes away. But I digress … One evening, Blair and I were watching Monday Night Football and listening to a storm outside when we heard a crash. I leapt up and looked out our window, only to see my shed turned over on its roof. It was a metal shed, which I had put together but apparently didn’t secure properly to the block-and-wood foundation I built for it. (Never have I claimed to be gifted in the area of construction. Ugh!) Several neighbors joined me as I dragged that shed between my house and our next door neighbor’s house. We then piled everything that had been IN the shed ONTO the shed so that it wouldn’t blow away. Needless to say, the shed was ruined.

Prior to hearing the crash of our shed coming off its foundation and ending up on its roof, I recall hearing a strong wind outside. The sound of that wind was powerful. And in thinking about the power of that wind, I am reminded of what happened in Acts chapter 2 at the birth of the church. Read what verses 1 and 2 of Acts 2 say about it – “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting” (Acts 2:1–2 NKJV). As you consider the scene, consider also the testimony of those who have lived through a tornado. Every testimony I have heard begins with, “I heard a sound like a train was coming.” Imagine that, Grace. The sound the people heard in Acts 2 was the sound “of a rushing mighty wind,” kind of like that of a tornado (or an oncoming train!). What’s interesting, however, is there appears to be no wind – only the “sound” of wind. And that sound announced the arrival of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church of Jesus Christ. Two thousand years later, here we are! Please, Holy Spirit, come. Fill every crevice of Grace Community Church with Your presence. Fill Your people, Lord, and please do so much more in us than we can ask or even think. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Last Sunday we finished a series of messages called “God’s Values & Grace Church,” during which four different preachers highlighted the seven values that drive Grace Community Church. Continuing the theme, Matthew and I will be preaching a two-part series of messages starting this Sunday on the church of Jesus Christ. What’s so important about the church? Why are we commanded to “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together?” It’s going to be special, and I invite you to come. Please bring a friend, as well. Oh, and don’t forget Back To Church Sunday is scheduled for Sunday, September 17. 

Be sure to check out the Grace Weekly for all that is happening here. The fall ministry season is kicking off with Bible studies, Life Groups, Operation Christmas Child, and so much more available. Oh, there’s even a karate class forming. Cool! 

Thank you for reading, dear Grace. You are so, so loved.

Steve

09.01.23

Hi, dear Grace!

First, I pray all of you made it safely through the storm on Wednesday. If there are any benevolence needs or prayer needs as a result of storm damage or other reasons, please be sure to contact the church office. Your church loves you and wants to care for you well. 

This Monday is my mom’s birthday. I think of her every day, but I remember her especially on the fourth of September each year. Of course, Monday is also Labor Day, and this week’s post comes to you in recognition of the American worker. More specifically, it comes as a result of the wisdom my dad imparted to me and my brother when we were just youngsters. To set the stage, you must know laziness was never tolerated in the Salvas home. My dad worked hard, and he expected his sons to work hard. This expectation came from a hard life. As I have shared before, my dad was raised in two separate foster homes. He and his foster siblings were expected to contribute to the operation of the home by doing chores and working hard. As a young teenager, he got his first “real” job working on a milk truck. After high school, he joined the Marine Corps, and when his enlistment period ended he joined the Metropolitan (DC) Police Department. So when Chuck and I were boys, my dad sat us down and gave us firm instruction on the importance of work. That conversation went something like this – “Boys, as you get older, work must be number one. Do you hear me? WORK is number one. If you don’t work, you don’t eat. If you don’t work, you can’t provide for your family. If you don’t work, you can’t have a home or a car and you can’t support the church through your giving. Your job must always come first.” After that talk and out of earshot of my dad, I remember looking at Chuck and saying, “I don’t think that’s right.” Of course, I would have never said that to my dad. What he told us was very real to him. And years later, understanding where he came from helped me to understand why he said what he said. But here’s the thing – When it became obvious that my mom could no longer be alone due to her advancing dementia, my dad threw that “fatherly wisdom” out the window. Without a doubt, I know my dad would have continued to work if he could have, but my mom needed him. Never will I forget him saying to me, “Your mom took care of you boys while I was working shift work all those years. It’s time I stay home and take care of her.” Wow! My eyes still get wet remembering those words!

You know, work was never intended to be a curse. When God put Adam in the Garden of Eden to work – the Bible says “to tend and keep it” (Genesis 2:14) – work was a blessing and a good thing. It was only after sin entered the world that work became toilsome, sweaty, and hard (Genesis 3:17–19). Yes, work can be all of those things, but there can still be fulfillment in it. And while I never passed along that particular “wisdom” from my dad about work to my own children, what I continuously pass along to them are these words from the Apostle Paul, who wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (Colossians 3:23 NIV). If you are not yet retired, dear Christian, may your labor be a witness for Christ in your workplace. And may those who work WITH you, FOR you, and OVER you see Jesus IN you and in all that you do.

Believe it or not, it’s time to start talking about Christmas. More specifically, it’s time to start talking about Operation Christmas Child. Please consider packing one, two, or more shoeboxes to be sent to a child overseas. Or you can pack a box online. It’s easy. It’s fun. And it’s a great way to bless a child with a gift and to share the gospel message with him or her at the same time. Check out the Grace Weekly for more information. 

The fall ministry season is right around the corner. With it comes a calendar filled with opportunities to grow in Christ and to serve Him. Life groups and Bible studies are still being formed. Stay tuned for more information about them. The Kairos Prison Ministry event at the Ridgeland Correctional Facility is less than a month away. There’s also a women’s conference scheduled for October 7 featuring Lysa TerKeurst and Proverbs 31 Ministries. And FamilyLife is bringing the Weekend to Remember marriage conference to Hilton Head Island in February 2024. Again, check out the Grace Weekly to learn more about these opportunities.

Sunday concludes our currently preaching series titled “God’s Values & Grace Church.” Matthew will be bringing the message. I hope to see you there.

You are so loved, dear Grace.

Steve

08.25.23

Hi, dear Grace!

Have you kept up with the news this week? Wow! There was a LOT happening in our universe. Russia failed to successfully land a spacecraft on the moon, while India succeeded. In the midst of a hurricane, California experienced an earthquake. Eight candidates squared off in the Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee. News of violence. The release of a mugshot. Yes, it was a busy week in the news. But the news that most captured my attention was the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin. If you read the news at all, you know Prigozhin was the leader of a mercenary group that is active in Africa, in the Middle East, and in the war in Ukraine. Two months ago, Prigozhin and his fighters attempted a coup of Russia and President Vladimir Putin. That coup ultimately failed, and Prigozhin negotiated an agreement to avoid charges of treason. He then fled in exile. Many anticipated his quick demise, and it came this week as he was aboard a plane that crashed without explanation. The circumstances surrounding his death are highly suspicious, and many are pointing the finger directly at Putin. But the story is complicated, because Yevgeny Prigozhin is no hero or martyr. He is a murderer. He and his group are suspected of serious human rights abuses and war crimes. And he held no regard for God or others. Speaking of death, he once said, “We will all go to hell, but we will be the best in hell.” Very sad!

But you know what? There was happier news this week. Did you hear about the one-of-a-kind birth in Limestone, Tennessee? At a family-owned zoo there, a female giraffe was born without spots. She may be the only spotless giraffe in the world today. Oh, this has happened before, but the last time was over fifty years ago. The giraffe has not yet been named, and the zoo has invited the public to take part in a contest to name her. It’s a neat story – one that actually brings a smile to your face instead of sadness.

That spotless giraffe reminds me of the Apostle Peter’s words in his first letter – 

“For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God … Through Christ you have come to trust in God. And you have placed your faith and hope in God because he raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory.” (1 Peter 1:18 – 19, 21 NLT)

Yes, dear Grace, Jesus is “the sinless, spotless Lamb of God” Who died on the cross so that whoever believes in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life. He Who was perfect died for me, who is imperfect. And He died for you, too. Thank You, Lord, for Your marvelous grace that saves through faith. May others know and experience Your grace as we are obedient to the Great Commission. Amen.

I’m excited about Sunday, when Dr. Sasan Tavassoli will be here to preach the message at both services. Grace is a mission-focused church. Dr. Tavassoli will share all that God is doing in the Middle East, and he will encourage us in our efforts to reach Hilton Head Island, Bluffton, and all the world for Christ. It will be an exciting day. I hope to see you here.

God bless you, dear Grace. You are so, so loved.

Steve

08.18.23

Hi, dear Grace!

Among the items packed away in our attic at home are boxes of videocassette tapes. These tapes contain family memories of our daughter and son (Lindsey and Andrew) when they were babies, when they were learning to walk, when they were learning to ride a bike, when they were playing sports, and when they were in school plays and school programs. They contain memories of Christmases past with my parents, my brothers, and their wives and children. Thanksgiving get-togethers and Easter egg hunts are included in those memories, too. And one of those videotapes contains an interview with Lindsey when she was four years old. She and her classmates were being interviewed by their teacher for a family night at Lindsey’s school. The teacher asked questions like, “What’s your name?” (Lindsey Rochelle Salvas) “How old are you?” (Four) “What’s your favorite color?” (Pink) But one question stands out to me and Blair because of the answer Lindsey gave. Mind you, she was only four years old. The question was this, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Lindsey’s response? Shyly and with a sweet smile, she said, “A butterfly.” It was cute and perfectly Lindsey at that age. Blair and I melt every time we see it.

Switching gears – but on a related note – for years Andrew drove our old minivan after getting his driver’s license. It was a 2001 Ford Windstar with over 200,000 miles on it, and he drove it back and forth to Liberty University and back and forth to work until finally wanting a reliable vehicle he could call his own. (Toward the end, that minivan was not very reliable and had never been his own.) So several years ago, he bought himself his own vehicle – a KIA Soul. It’s bright red in color so people can see him coming. He paid it off early and takes really good care of it.

So what do an interview with our four year old daughter and a vehicle purchase by our adult son have in common? Well, besides being the subject of this week’s post, they are prayer triggers for me and Blair. Yes, we pray daily for our children – usually in the evening before we go to bed. But whenever we see a butterfly – no matter the time of day – we stop and pray for Lindsey at that moment. The prayer is only a few sentences long, with Lindsey as our focus. (“Lord, please bless Lindsey right now. Watch over her and give her a good day. May she be a light for Christ in her workplace and in her community.”) The butterfly is a “trigger” for us to pray for Lindsey right then. Likewise, when we see a KIA Soul on the road, it “triggers” our prayers for Andrew. (“Lord, bless Andrew right now. Give him a good day at work. Open doors of opportunity for him there, and have Your way in his life.”) Other “triggers” are a sunrise (which prompts us to thank God for His creation) or a rainbow (which prompts us to thank God for His promises).

You are familiar with the Apostle Paul’s admonition to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17 NKJV). These words mirror his admonition to the church at Colosse to “continue earnestly in prayer” (Colossians 4:2 NKJV). But here’s the thing – Paul didn’t just write these words; he lived them out. Just a quick search of Paul’s letters will reveal evidence of his prayer life. Paul prayed constantly for the church of Jesus Christ and for God’s people. He prayed “without ceasing” and “always” for the Romans (Romans 1:9 NKJV). He gave thanks “always” for the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1:4 ESV). He “(did) not cease to give thanks” and pray for the Ephesians (Ephesians 1:16 NKJV). He thanked God “always” and “upon every remembrance of” the Philippians “with joy” (Philippians 1:3–4 NKJV). He prayed “always” for the Colossians (Colossians 1:3 NKJV). He “always” thanked God for the Thessalonians and “continually” mentioned them in his prayers (1 Thessalonians 1:2 NIV). He remembered Timothy in his prayers “without ceasing … night and day” (2 Timothy 1:3 NKJV). And he mentioned Philemon “always in (his) prayers” (Philemon 1:4 NKJV). 

Yes, Paul was faithful to pray. And so must we be, dear Grace. I hope you have a set time to pray during the day. But how about throughout the day? Have you identified any “triggers” that might prompt you to stop and pray at any time of day for your spouse, your children, a friend, an unsaved loved one? Is there anything that might “trigger” a prayer for your Lead Pastor and his family? For someone on staff? For the ministries of Grace? What is it that might help you to maintain an attitude of prayer always, continually, and without ceasing? I recommend you identify prayer triggers. They really are helpful. Oh, may we be a praying church, and may God be glorified in us.

On Sunday after the second service, there will be a meeting of all Life Group leaders, facilitators, and hosts. If you serve in any of these capacities or if you perhaps have an interest in serving in the Life Group ministry at Grace, please come. Lunch will be served. I hope to see you there.

Next Thursday at 6:30 PM, a new year of men’s Bible study will commence. The men will begin with a study of Philippians and then move to the books of Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, and 1 John. It promises to be a great year of study, fellowship, and iron sharpening iron. Please, men, consider being part of it.

You are such a source of blessing and encouragement to me, Grace, and you are so deeply loved. May God bless you in a special way today.

Steve

08.11.23

Hi, dear Grace!

You are reading this on Friday, but I’m writing it on Sunday afternoon. What prompts me to write my Friday post so soon in the week? Well, as I sit here typing away, I’m not in a good mood. Oh, please don’t get me wrong. It’s been a good day. The services this morning were wonderful. The singing, the message, the Lord’s Supper, the fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ … all of it was awesome! Afterward, Blair and I enjoyed a lunch date. Yes, it’s been a good day. So why am I not in a good mood? Let me tell you.

I pride myself on having a good memory. I feel good about remembering names. Unfortunately, more and more I’m getting names wrong. Just ask Mark, whom I called Chris for months before finally getting it right. Ugh! I’m happy to say, however, that I saw Mark today and called him Mark. Victory! At least I thought it was victory. At the conclusion of the second service, I was posted outside to meet and greet many of you as you exited the church. While talking with some, I waved or shook hands with others as you walked by. I enjoy this time. What I don’t enjoy is what happened while all of this was going on. As I was speaking with a family, a dear member of Grace stopped and got my attention. I smiled and called her by name. No problem so far, but behind her was her daughter. Not only have I met this daughter, I have spent time talking to her and praying with her. But I don’t see her regularly. Perhaps I should have quit while I was ahead, but no. Instead, I plowed on. Smiling, I said, “Hi, Wrong Name Here! Great to see you!” Immediately, I didn’t feel right. Immediately, I wondered if I called her by the wrong name. I brushed off the thought and went back to my conversation, but I couldn’t let it go.

As Blair and I were traveling to lunch, I asked her, “What is Correct Name’s daughter’s name? Is it Wrong Name Here?” In a moment, my great mood became a sour mood. I had called her by the wrong name. Seriously, calling someone by the wrong name really affects me – perhaps more now than ever. I have a dad living with me who has dementia. While he knows my name, he doesn’t remember Blair’s name, our son’s name (even when our son is my dad’s namesake), nor my brother’s name. As I have mentioned before, my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and passed away over twelve years ago due to its complications, so dementia-related conditions run in my family. Has it caught up to me? These are the things I think about when I forget someone’s name. Of course, all of you have been so kind when I err. Thank you for your patience, dear Church. By God’s grace, I vow to get better.

You know, this isn’t just a pride issue (or a potential dementia-indicator issue) for me. It’s an obedience issue. The Bible commands, “Greet the friends by name” (3 John 15 NASB). I recall my pastor at the church where I was saved and baptized as a boy often concluding the service with this same admonition. Why? Because being part of a Christian community demands that we know one another. But it’s hard to say I know you if I don’t know your name. In his third letter, the Apostle John encourages Gaius (his intended recipient) and all of us to know one another, to be personal with one another, and to care for one another. Yes, greeting a person by name shows that person that he/she is important to me. And it shows that I care enough to know them. So be sure to greet one another by name this Sunday. I’ll do the same. (But if I get your name wrong, do not hesitate to correct me. Thanks.) 

If you haven’t heard, Matthew and I had the wonderful privilege of baptizing a visitor to Grace earlier this week. Brian is from Ohio, but he was vacationing here on Hilton Head Island. His sister and brother-in-law attend Grace, and they brought Brian to church with them the past two Sundays. Brian recommitted his life to Jesus Christ as a result of the message he heard, and he asked to be baptized before returning home. What a joy it was to baptize him in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean on Monday afternoon! Praise the Lord!

This Sunday we will be honoring all teachers and educators as they begin a new school year. We will present each of them with a gift and pray over them during the service. Please, Church, pray for our teachers. Lord, please bless our teachers – and, yes, our students, too – with a safe and successful year. Amen.

Speaking of teachers, thanks to all of you who will be teaching and serving in our Children’s Ministry on Sunday mornings while Charlynn is away. Parents, please remember there are no children’s classes during the 9:00 service until Charlynn’s return. Thank you for understanding.

Peace to you, dear Grace. You are so loved.

Steve

08.04.23

Hi, dear Grace!

I have been back in the office for two weeks now, but my mind is still on the vacation Blair and I enjoyed last month. As a matter of fact, even as I type these words my mind is going back to that cabin, that front porch, that lake, and that peace we felt just being alone together.

As my mind pictures the scene where we spent the week, it goes to a hammock between two trees in the side yard. In my head, I’m there on that hammock again now. I’m lying on my back with Blair on my right. She is lying on her left side with her head on my shoulder. Her right hand is resting on my chest, and her right leg is draped over my thighs. Everything is perfect in this moment. I love what I feel right now. And I love what I see. The colors are vibrant from my viewpoint. I’m looking up to see the woody gray-brown color of a tall oak tree extending to the sky. The leaves of this tree are a bright green. Through the leaves I can see a beautiful blue sky and brilliant white clouds. The contrast of these colors against each other is incredible. Oh, and then there are the sounds I hear. Blair’s breathing tells me she’s asleep. A slight rustling in the leaves of the trees above tells me there’s a breeze in the air. Birds – many birds – are all singing away and wanting to be heard. I enjoy them all as a chorus of calls and songs before trying to distinguish each one as a solo voice. In the tiny fish pond next to the gazebo that stands about twenty yards away, there’s a man-made waterfall that I can hear. A bullfrog apparently longs to be heard over the waterfall and the birds. In the distance, a motor boat races along the lake. And then, suddenly, I hear the bouncing of a basketball nearby – not what I expected, but it makes me smile.

I love what I feel and see in that hammock, but it’s the hearing part of this equation that prompts today’s post. During the week of my vacation, I took some time to read through and study the book of Leviticus. Each morning on that front porch at the cabin, I sat with a glass of iced tea, my Bible, and a commentary. It was a really wonderful time with the Lord. Among the many verses that stuck out to me were these – “And he (Moses) brought the second ram, the ram of consecration. Then Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the ram, and Moses killed it. Also he took some of its blood and put it on the tip of Aaron’s right ear, on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot” (Leviticus 8:22–23 NKJV)

In consecrating Aaron as a priest, Moses dipped his finger in the blood of a sacrificed ram and placed a drop of blood on the lobe of Aaron’s right ear, on the thumb of Aaron’s right hand, and on the big toe of Aaron’s right foot. May I remind you, dear Grace, of the Apostle Peter’s words here? “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people” (1 Peter 2:9a NKJV). Yes, Christian, YOU are part of a royal priesthood. And while I have no intention of painting your ear lobe, thumb, and big toe with a dab of blood, I do want to help you understand what this all means. The blood on the ear was to remind Aaron to hear the Word of God. The blood on his right thumb was to remind him to do the work of God in service. And the blood on his right big toe was to remind him to walk in the way of God in obedience. Of course, you cannot serve and you cannot obey if you do not first hear the Word. I remember a godly professor at Washington Bible College who used to say, “Get everything you can, every time you can, from every man of God you can.” Yes, Grace, hear the Word. Read the Word. Study the Word. Get everything you can from the Word. And as you do, put it all into practice through service and obedience. People will take notice when you do. May they be drawn to Jesus because of it.

Please be in prayer for our amazing Director of Children’s Ministries, Charlynn Bonham, as she takes some time away from Grace to rest, to be restored, and to be with her family. Pray too for safety as she, John, and Gideon take time to travel and make memories together as a family. Finally, pray for those who will be teaching and serving in our children’s programs during Charlynn’s absence. If you would like to help in any way, please contact Mary Jane Hoey in the church office. Thanks so much.

I hope to see you this Sunday as Matthew continues our current preaching series titled “God’s Values & Grace Church.” Matthew’s focus this week? We are Spirit Empowered. Pray for Matthew as he prepares and preaches the message.

Thank you for praying for the ministry of Grace. Thanks too for reading to the end. You, dear Church, are such a blessing to me. And you are so, so loved.

Steve

07.28.23

Hi, dear Grace!

Let me begin by thanking you for your prayers for me and Blair while we were away last week. We had an AWESOME time! The mountains were beautiful. The lake was peaceful. Our cabin was comfortable. And the weather was incredible – low 60’s (and once in the upper 50’s) when we woke up. Every morning, we sat outside on the covered porch of our cabin enjoying the cool weather with hot coffee (for Blair) and iced tea (for me – and, yes, it was sweet!). We also enjoyed reading, resting, hiking, boating, visiting with Blair’s aunt and cousin, and seeing the old Montgomery farm and the family cemetery. Everything about the trip was great. Uh, well, almost everything.

Over the course of a week, I spent about 10 to 12 hours fishing. While I fished, Blair sat next to me, enjoyed some sun, and cheered me on. Claytor Lake is filled with bass, trout, perch, catfish, and even walleye. Three fishing rods were at my disposal – one my own and the other two borrowed from Blair’s cousin – and all three made their way into the water (often at the same time). Two held baited hooks and a bobber, while the third held my favorite lure. 

So you would think after about 10 to 12 hours of fishing, I would have caught something … but no! I caught zilch. Zip. Zero. Nada. Nothing. Oh, there were some bites, but in the end it was a shutout. To make matters worse, on Friday evening I had two bobbers bobbing away in the water. All the while, I was casting my lure toward the dock next door. There was a nibble, but nothing latched on. Then Blair and I saw a really nice bass boat making its way toward us from the left. He was trolling slowly with an electric motor and casting between the docks. When he saw me and my three poles, he asked, “How far are you out from the dock?” 

I appreciated his courtesy, but I was having no luck. “I’m about twenty yards out,” I said, “but that’s okay. Let me reel mine in for you.” I set my rod with the lure down and pulled the other two lines in. As he continued to cast, I coveted his boat. “How are you doing so far?” I asked.

“Caught five so far,” he answered. “But a bad day fishing is better than a good day at work.”

Bad day? I’d love to catch five. Hey, I’d love to catch one!

About that time he tossed his lure between our dock and the dock next door – right where I had been. Nothing. And then he did it again. Wham! That fish hit his lure hard. It wasn’t big, but it WAS number six for him. And it was still zero for me. He wished us a good evening as he trolled on by, continuing to cast that lure between the docks along the shoreline. And I packed up and gave up for the evening. That was definitely enough for me.

The Bible says when Jesus called His disciples, He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19 NKJV). Just as we must be properly equipped to catch fish, we must also be properly equipped to share the gospel with others. By inviting the disciples to follow Him, Jesus was saying He would teach them and invest in them so that they could accomplish The Great Commission and “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19 NIV). You know, reeling in a nice fish is a thrill, but nothing thrills me more than to share the good news of the gospel with someone. Absolutely nothing is greater than leading someone to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. I hope you have had that experience. But if not, I implore you to continue being a witness to others. Recently, I read a book called Honest Evangelism by Rico Tice. This line in the book jumped out at me – “Conversion isn’t the mark of a successful witness – witnessing is.” Amen! Keep being a faithful witness for Christ, dear Grace. The Holy Spirit will do the rest. You can trust Him in that.

Please pray for me, as I will be preaching the second in a series of messages titled “God’s Values & Grace Church.” My topic? We are Gospel Driven. I’m excited about it. Thank you in advance for your prayers.

You are so, so loved.

Steve

07.21.23

Hi, dear Grace!

As I shared with you last week, Blair and I are away celebrating our 37th wedding anniversary. I am therefore taking a break from writing my weekly post. But do not fear, dear Church! See below for my post from two years ago this week, when Blair and I had just returned home from a quick trip to celebrate our 35th anniversary. It was only two months later that we brought my dad to Hilton Head Island to live with us. Hard to believe!

This one was titled “Favorite Places, A Wonderful Time Away, A Serious Question, and A Place for Me.” Enjoy!

________

When our children were young, we took a lot of fun vacations. We were by no means world travelers, but we made such wonderful memories wherever we went. Our two favorite vacation spots were Shenandoah, VA, and Hilton Head Island, SC (of course). On road trips of any distance, we would always count the number of states we could find on license plates. Our record was 47 out of 50 states – not bad! 

As you probably are aware, my wife and I spent the past several days away celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary. We had a wonderful time together. Thanks to those of you who prayed for us while we were gone. We talked about the past, dreamed about the future, laughed at stuff that may be funny only to us, acted like we were still on our honeymoon, and counted license plates. (Only 41 states on this trip – Boooo!) We returned home late last night feeling refreshed and ready for the final sprint through the summer months.

A question I have asked several of you since our arrival to Hilton Head is this – Where do you vacation when you already reside in a place like this? Seriously, we LOVE it here! Back home, we always looked forward to planning a vacation. Now, however, we live in our favorite place. What could be better than this? (Feel free to send me suggestions. Thanks 😊)

As wonderful as it is here, I am struck by how awesome Heaven must be. The Bible describes Heaven in wondrous terms, but when I think of Heaven, I don’t often think about gates of pearl or streets of gold or tears wiped away. Rather, I think of Jesus’ words, “I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2 KJV). That’s all I need to know – that Jesus has prepared a place for me. I trust Him fully. If He has prepared it, then it must be wonderful – even more wonderful than Hilton Head Island. That excites me!

________

Wow! That comment about dreaming about the future? Little did we know then … But thankfully, God is in control, and Blair and I still trust Him fully with our future. Thank You for Your grace, Lord. And thanks too for Grace Church. How blessed we are!

Lord willing, I will return to the office on Monday. May God bless you in a special way, dear Church. You are so, so loved.

Steve

07.14.24

Hi, dear Grace!

As the old bubble bath commercial used to say, “Calgon, take me away!” 

It’s vacation time for me and Blair. Tomorrow, we will be going away for about nine days to celebrate our 37th wedding anniversary. By the time you read this, my brother will have arrived from Delray Beach, FL, to care for my dad while we are gone. Blair and I will take some time to introduce Allen to some people he will need to know. We will also show him the ropes in regard to my dad’s care. Then around noon or so on Saturday, we will head north to rural Virginia, where we have a cabin waiting for us overlooking Claytor Lake. Woo hoo!

It's been a year since Blair and I had at least a week away together, so we are pretty excited about this trip. Several books are already set aside for reading. A fishing pole will surely make its way to the van. A hike has already been marked on the map. And a visit with Blair’s 90-year old aunt is written in ink on the calendar. After that, however, all I really hope to do is rest, recharge, and reconnect both with the Lord and with my precious wife. Please pray for us as we go, dear Grace. We need this time together.

You know, as much as we love Hilton Head Island and our home and the ministry and my dad and everyone here, the need to get away is real. Jesus even encouraged it. In Mark chapter 6, as you may recall, He sent His disciples out two by two to preach the message of repentance, to cast out demons, to heal the sick, and to serve people (see Mark 6:7–13). Upon their return, this is what the Bible says – “The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to Him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, He said to them, ‘Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’” (Mark 6:30–31 NIV). Did you catch that, Church? After a time of intense ministry, the disciples were invited by Jesus to come with Him to a quiet place to rest. 

I don’t share this with you to defend my need for a vacation, dear Church. No, I share it to encourage you to get away yourselves. As Christians, we live in a world that can often be hostile to the gospel. Living the Christian life outwardly – loving others, serving others, meeting the needs of others – can be exhausting. Oh, it is surely rewarding, but it is also physically and emotionally demanding. Please don’t just take my word for this. Please do, however, take the advice of our Savior – Join Him in a quiet place and get some rest. You won’t regret it.

Thanks to all of you who came out yesterday in support of our blood drive in memory of Brennen Reeves. How about this for a praise report? One Blood sets a goal for each blood drive they do. Because of your response, we blew away that goal. As a matter of fact, people were being turned away during the last hour due to the number of donors who arrived. Awesome!

Please be sure to check out the Grace Weekly for all that is happening at the church. One highlight I would like to mention is The Savvy Caregiver class that will be offered by Memory Matters starting Thursday, August 17. The class will meet here at Grace on Thursdays for five weeks from 10 AM to noon. This course is designed to help family members who are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia. Blair took this course last year and loved it. It was very helpful to her as we care for my dad. It may be helpful to some of you, as well. 

Thank you in advance for your prayers as Blair and I head out for our time away, Grace. As we go, you may know for certain that we are praying for you, too. You will be deeply missed, and you are much, much loved.

Steve

07.07.23

Hi, dear Grace!

You are reading this on Friday, but I’m writing it on Tuesday. All the while, I’m thinking about Sunday. What a good morning it was at Jarvis Creek Park as we gathered for Worship at the Park. Having an outdoor service is not something we do often, but when we do it is always a success. Just think about it, Grace. Every sunrise service we have held … every baptism service … all have been a wonderful blessing. Of course, having an all-church cookout afterward is quite a bonus. Thanks to all of you who were in attendance. It really was a special day.

Have you heard any of the stories of Sunday? A visitor to Grace pulled into the church parking lot right before 9 AM and found it nearly empty. He was greeted and invited to join us at the park. Not only did he come, but he had a great time meeting the people of Grace in a relaxed setting. I heard about another guest who would not have felt comfortable entering the doors of a church but who was comfortable checking us out at the park. That person enjoyed it so much that she said she would be back. Several families who brought their children to the playground came over to hear the music and message. Some even joined us at the cookout afterward, and one family has already said they would be here this Sunday. And finally, there was a young gentleman who appeared homeless. He approached us from the woods and asked if he could have something to eat. It wasn’t yet time for lunch, but this young man was encouraged to join us at the service and then return for as much food as he wanted. He was blessed with food from the Word and food for his belly. Please pray for him and for all of these who experienced Grace on Sunday.

All of the comments I heard about Worship at the Park were positive – from the wonderful music and worship led by Seth and our Praise Team to the encouraging message by Matthew to the great food prepared by a team of great people to the awesome fellowship. And while there were plenty of comments about how warm it was, none were negative. The day was surely warm, but there was plenty of shade to go around. And that reminds me of a passage in the Bible that says, “Then the Lord will create over all of Mount Zion and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over everything the glory will be a canopy. It will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain” (Isaiah 4:5–6 NIV). Did you read that closely, dear Grace? Isaiah is writing of a day to come when God’s glory will be a canopy over His people. That means God is a protector – He will protect His people from harm. How so, you ask? He will be the “shelter and shade” for those who are caught in the heat of the day, and He will be a “refuge” for those caught in a storm. Yes, cover us with Your glory, Lord. And may we be ever mindful of Your care and protection.

Today is Independence Day. It’s a day for grilled chicken, grilled sausages, potato salad, and watermelon. As an appetizer, we are having a homemade salsa with pita chips. It’s a great day to be free. Thank You, Lord, for the freedoms we enjoy in Christ and in our nation.  

God bless you, dear Grace. You are deeply loved.

Steve

06.30.23

Hi, dear Grace!

I met my wife in 1985, and we were married the following year. During the get-to-know-you phase of our dating relationship, we talked about the stuff every guy and girl talks about as they are starting out. It all has to do with what you have in common with one another, what differences exist, family history, etc. It’s funny, but one of the biggest concerns for Blair about me had to do with sports. She was attracted to athletic guys, and I was definitely an athlete, so that wasn’t it. Instead, her concern had to do with my rooting interest in sports. The Washington Nationals? They didn’t exist in 1985. The Baltimore Orioles? I was (and remain) a big O’s fan. That was cool with her. The Washington Bullets (as they were known then)? She wasn’t a huge basketball fan – sacrilege! – but that didn’t cause an issue between us. The Washington Capitals? Nope. That wasn’t it, either. The issue was this – When we met, I was a BIG Dallas Cowboys fan. (That all changed in 1989 when the greatest coach in NFL history and a godly Christian man was fired by the new owner, but that’s another story.) To be honest, Blair really didn’t have an issue with my allegiance to the Cowboys. Her real concern had to do with how her family would respond. To say her family loved the Washington Football Team would be an understatement. As a result, I had to hide my team preference from them. (Her brother learned the truth about two years after we were married. That was dicey, to say the least.)

Today’s post has nothing to do with sports, but it does have to do with one of Blair’s favorites. Very early on – as a matter of fact, probably before we officially started dating – I learned Blair’s favorite movie. Maybe you have heard of it. Nominated for thirteen Academy Awards and winner of eight (including Best Picture), Blair’s favorite movie of all time is Gone With The Wind. It was her favorite when I met her in 1985, and it remains her favorite today. Was that a problem between us? Not for me, but it was for her. Why, you ask? Because I had never seen it. Sacrilege (to her)! Blair just couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen a love story that is set during the Civil War and that runs for nearly 4 hours. A love story? During the Civil War? Four hours long? Really, Honeybunch? Of course, one of our dates had to be a 4-hour movie night with popcorn and Kleenex. (Popcorn for me – Kleenex for Blair.) And I’ll say this about the evening – The popcorn was good. So was sitting so close to Blair for 4 hours. The movie? Well, let’s just say Blair loves me anyway. 

Believe it or not, it was eighty-seven years ago today – that is, June 30, 1936 – that the book Gone With The Wind (upon which the movie is based) was published. Interestingly, while Margaret Mitchell (the writer of Gone With the Wind) reportedly got the title for her book from a line in a poem, she could easily have gotten it from the Bible. Here are the words of the Psalmist-King as inspired by the Holy Spirit:

“Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die. The wind blows, and we are gone—as though we had never been here. But the love of the Lord remains forever with those who fear Him. His salvation extends to the children’s children of those who are faithful to His covenant,of those who obey His commandments!” (Psalm 103:15–18 NLT)

Consider these words again – “The wind blows, and we are gone—as though we had never been here.” Yes, dear Grace, compared to eternity, life here on earth is short. There will be a day when we are gone with the wind. But praise be to God, our hope is not in this life. Our hope is in Him and in His faithfulness to His Word. David continues, “The love of the Lord remains forever with those who fear Him.” Yes, Church, for those who give God His rightful place – believing in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross – His love for us will continue beyond the grave as we dwell with Him for eternity. Oh, what a promise! To God be the glory!

Don’t forget this Sunday – ONE SERVICE at 10 AM at Jarvis Creek Park. Please bring a chair to sit in. This will be a God-honoring and patriotic service, followed by a cookout to celebrate our nation’s independence and freedoms. To those who are able to walk comfortably, please park in the further spaces or at The Children’s Center across the street. Please allow the parking spaces up front to be filled by our older members. Thank you for your consideration. Check the Grace Weekly for more information about the service.

The church office will be closed on Monday and Tuesday, July 3 and 4, in celebration of the holiday. With much planning and preparation for Sunday’s service at the park, the staff deserves the extra day of rest. The office will reopen at 9 AM on Wednesday morning. Thank you for your support and understanding.

Happy Independence Day, dear Grace. You are much, much loved.

Steve

06.23.23

Hi, dear Grace!

I’m pulling from the archives, as I am busily preparing the message for Sunday and had no time to write this week. As you read the below post from August 18, 2021, you will see why I selected it. Matthew was just days away from returning from his sabbatical when I wrote these words. It was a fun (but very busy) summer for me. Nearly two years later, this post still applies today. Enjoy! 

____________

I can become distracted very easily. As I’m studying in my office for the Sunday message, my computer “dings” to notify me that a new correspondence has arrived in my Grace e-mail. Well, I can’t just let that e-mail sit there without checking it, so I pause in my study to see who needs me. Oh, it’s only a notification from Verizon – not important right now. But, hey, since I paused from studying, I may as well check my personal e-mail. Nothing! That’s okay, since now is a good time to send my wife a note to tell her I’m thinking of her. Once that’s done, I wonder what’s happening in the news. So I jump on the internet and check my favorite news source. Hmm … not much has changed since the last time I checked. Ding! Blair just wrote me back. After several e-mails and/or texts back and forth, it dawns on me that I should probably stop drinking sweet tea. Time for a walk down the hall to the men’s room. Suddenly, an hour has passed and I have gotten NOTHING done. Ugh!

All of the above is exaggerated, but there is some truth to it. That’s why last week I made a conscious effort to manage my time better. I blocked out time for everything – studying for the message, meetings, studying for the Wednesday evening devotion, writing, studying for discipleship, returning phone calls, more studying for the message, checking e-mails, etc. Incredibly, by Friday I was further along in my sermon preparation than I had been all summer. That was exciting to me! Then, of course, I ran out of time on Sunday morning as I was delivering the message! Apparently, I need to apply time management principles to the actual preaching of my sermon – Hahaha!

Did you know the Bible actually talks about time management from the Christian perspective? In his letter to the Church at Ephesus, the Apostle Paul wrote these words – “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16 NKJV). Another translation of verse 16 says this, “… making the most of every opportunity …” (NIV). To “redeem the time” literally means to buy up every opportunity. As Christians, we must be buying up every opportunity we have for Jesus Christ. Free moments are opportunities to pray, to read God’s Word, to write a note to encourage a friend, to call someone to check on their welfare, to do the dishes to bless my wife … The list is a long one. Moments with others are opportunities to love, edify, and point them to Jesus. I like what Dr. Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, writes – “Eternity affirms that our lives mean more than mere time can contain. (How we spend time) must be measured by an impact that is eternal rather than temporal.” Help us in this, Lord. May our time on earth be spent in view of eternity, and may we recognize every opportunity as one to be used for Your glory in these difficult days. 

____________

Tonight we will gather at the church for a night of worship. Seth and the Praise Team will be here to lead us in singing hymns and contemporary worship songs. Andrew and I will each share a brief devotion, as well. It will be a special evening. Start time is at 7 PM. I hope you can come.

Be sure to check out the Grace Weekly for more of what’s happening. From Worship in the Park on July 2 to a Christmas in July event to Bible study opportunities, there’s much to be excited about.

Now it’s time to get back to my sermon preparation. But, first, I wonder what’s happening in the news. (Just kidding!)

I love you, dear Grace. 

Steve

06.16.23

Hi, dear Grace!

Let me begin by thanking your for your prayers for Vacation Bible School. It has been an exciting week. With today being the final day of VBS, please now pray our investment in the lives of these dear children will reap an eternal reward. Thank you for being a praying church!

As you know, Sunday is Father’s Day. Because of this, my dad is the inspiration for today’s post. I’m smiling as I type these words, because it’s funny what a kid hears when an adult is speaking to him or her. More specifically, it’s funny what I would hear in my head when my dad said something. It was kind of like listening to the teacher speak to Charlie Brown. I would hear sounds and letters and yet have no idea what my dad was saying to me. Let me explain.

I recall as a young boy riding with my dad in the car. My dad’s vehicle was named Nellie Belle. I don’t know where he came up with the name, but that’s what he called every vehicle he drove. He would turn the key, and that car would shake and rattle and struggle to turn over, and all the while my dad would be saying, “Come on, Nellie Belle. Come on.” And when Nellie Belle finally started, my dad would pat the dash like she did something good. Anyway, I would be in the passenger seat next to him – no air bags (which didn’t exist), no seat belts (which did exist but were rarely if ever used), and no second thoughts about not using either – as my dad coaxed Nellie Belle away from the curb and onto the roadway. As he drove, it was at every intersection that I become confused. It was at every intersection that I heard gibberish out of my dad. That’s because whenever he would stop at a stop sign, my dad would say the same three letters. He would look left and then say, “K O A?” He always said it like it was a question, and he always said it as if he were talking to me. He would then look my way (i.e., right). I had no idea what the letters K, O, and A stood for, but it must have meant something because he said it every time. And I never had to say anything back. I just knew he would say the letters “K O A” every time we came to a stop sign and then eventually look my way. He would then slowly enter the intersection and proceed to the next one, where he looked left, asked me, “K O A?” again, and proceeded into the intersection again. Can you put it together, Grace? Do you know what my dad was asking me at every intersection? It took years before I realized my dad was asking me, “Is anything coming your way?” Here’s the problem, all my kid-brain heard was KOA, but my dad was asking me if it was okay (or safe) to enter the intersection. He wasn’t saying letters; he was saying, “Okay your way?” Or more quickly, he was saying, “’Kay yo’ way?” (Well, maybe he wasn’t saying it exactly that way, but that’s how it sounded to me.)

No, I definitely wasn’t the smartest kid in my class when I was a kid. But neither were the disciples. On the night before His death on the cross, Jesus told His disciples that they soon would not see Him, and not long after they would see Him again. How did the disciples respond? “Then some of His disciples said among themselves, ‘What is this that He says to us? … We do not know what He is saying’” (John 16:16–18 NKJV). Although Jesus had told His disciples THREE TIMES that He would be delivered into the hands of men, crucified, and then be raised from the dead on the third day, the disciples never understood what He was telling them. But to be honest, there are times when I read my Bible and am just not sure what it is saying to me, either. Yes, there are times when I’m confused ... kind of like when my dad asked, “K O A?” 

Here's the thing – The Apostle Paul wrote, “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33 NKJV). God wants His people to know and understand His Word. He wants ALL of His people to have this understanding, but for today, I want to specifically challenge our dads. Men, you have the awesome responsibility of raising children and pointing them to Christ. In order to do that, however, you must spend time in God’s Word for yourself. You must seek to hear from the Lord so that you can pour into your own children. So in those times when the Bible seems unclear, I encourage you to pray the words of the psalmist – “Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law; indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart” (Psalm 119:34 NKJV). Yes, Lord, give me … give our dads and all of the people of Grace … understanding so that we may be obedient to Your perfect will. And may You be glorified in us. Amen.

Please check out the Grace Weekly for all that is happening at Grace. While Vacation Bible School is coming to an end, there is a new Bible study beginning next Thursday evening. And that’s not all. Not only that, there’s the Summer Book Club, Worship Night, Christmas in July, and much more. 

Happy Father’s Day, men! May God bless you in a special way this weekend.

Thanks for reading, Grace. You are so loved.

Steve

06.09.23

Hi, dear Grace!

The church is bustling with activity this week, as Charlynn and her team are busily decorating rooms in preparation for Vacation Bible School. The building is being transformed into a kingdom. There will be a castle, a king’s throne room, knights, and even a dragon. On Monday, the children will arrive and hear all about Jesus and putting on the armor of God in the battle against evil. It is going to be an exciting week! Please continue to be in prayer for Charlynn and all of the teachers, leaders, and helpers at VBS. And please also pray for the children who will be in attendance. May they have ears to hear the gospel message, and may their week at VBS make a lasting impact on their lives for Jesus Christ.

As I was walking the halls of the church earlier this week, I passed by a room where I heard someone humming a hymn to herself as she was assisting with the set-up for VBS. It made me smile to hear her. As a matter of fact, whenever I hear anyone singing, whistling, or humming a hymn or worship song, it is a joyful sound to me. Such joy comes from the heart, and it is contagious. It builds me up and fills my own heart with joy.

So here’s an embarrassing story for you – one more among the many that I have already shared with you in the past (and will likely continue to share in the future). At the age of 31, I was a married dad of two toddlers. I was also a rookie officer with the Charles County Sheriff’s Office, assigned as a student to the Southern Maryland Criminal Justice Academy to become certified by the Maryland Police and Corrections Training Commission. On this particular day between classes at the academy, I happened to be quietly humming a tune to myself. As an aside, this still happens. If a song gets stuck in my head, I replay it over and over and it will often spill out of me in an audible way that others can hear. And that’s where the embarrassment comes in, because as I was humming this particular ditty, one of the guys in my class looked over at me and said, “Are you singing The Little Mermaid?” BUSTED!!!! And while there is no grace from fellow student officers given to anyone humming a song from a Disney movie, please understand my situation and show me a little grace, dear Grace. With two precious toddlers in the house, The Little Mermaid was totally in my wheelhouse at the time. Never did I consciously decide to hum this particular tune. In that moment, however, this just happened to be the song that spilled out of me. Ugh! (But, on the other hand, how did my academy classmate know the song was from The Little Mermaid if he hadn’t seen it himself? Hmmm.)

To those who love the Lord and place their hope in Him, the psalmist wrote, “But rejoice, all who take refuge in You. Sing for joy forever! And may You shelter them, that those who love Your name may rejoice in You” (Psalm 5:11 NASB). Notice the two commands here – “Rejoice” and “Sing for joy forever.” Let me concentrate on that second command for a moment. As Christians, the fruit of the Spirit is in us. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22). Surely, there are many ways to express joy, but one of those ways is through singing. And remember, this is a command to the people of God. To be true, this doesn’t mean we should be singing any old song. Our singing should be an expression of our worship of the One in Whom we take refuge … the One Who shelters us … the One Who provides protection in the storms of life. And hey, your singing doesn’t have to sound great to be worshipful. Remember the beginning words of Psalm 100? “Make a joyful NOISE unto the Lord” (Psalm 100:1 KJV). What may be noise to others is a sweet sound to our gracious God. So sing, dear Church, and sing loud. By doing so, you will share your joy in Christ with others. It really is contagious.

To the dear sister in Christ who was humming that hymn, thank you for the blessing of allowing me to hear you worship the Lord in such a way. May all of us at Grace feel the freedom to sing, whistle, and hum in worship. Others may just join in. Oh, and if any of you catch me singing, call me out if it happens to be a Disney tune. 

You are so loved, dear Grace.

Steve

06.02.23

Hi, dear Grace!

Well, I can’t say I wasn’t warned. Many of you told me and Blair to expect guests to visit us once we arrived on Hilton Head Island. We live in such a beautiful location, you said. People will want to visit us here, you said. And, yes, we have had friends and relatives come, and it has been wonderful. However, last weekend was different. We had a surprise guest. Not only did he show up in our driveway unannounced, but he stayed for two nights. With all of the bedrooms in our home spoken for, we were forced to set our guest up in the garage. Yes, we put him in the garage! To make matters worse, this guy is really finicky. He will eat only what he wants to eat. Being completely unprepared for his arrival, Blair had to go out and do some quick shopping specifically to meet his dietary demands. While the visit never affected my dad, it stressed me out. Blair didn’t sleep well for those two nights, either. Surely, you must think we are horrible hosts. But did I mention our guest was a cat?

Yes, dear Grace, a cat – nay, a kitten – found his way to our home last Saturday. As I was reading in my chair in the bedroom, I could hear a cat meowing outside. The cat sounded like it was possibly in distress, so I began searching the trees to see if it was stuck and unable to get down. Instead, Blair saw a tiny kitten peek out from my tire well before making its way to the engine compartment of my vehicle. Ugh! All Blair could imagine was my starting my car to go to church on Sunday morning and sending that little kitten immediately to kitty-cat heaven. With that awful picture in her head, she took several hours to coax the kitten from my engine compartment. Unfortunately, because my son and I are highly allergic to cats, we had to keep him in the garage ... on a holiday weekend … when no shelters were open. As a result, we welcomed this little kitten into our home – uh, make that garage – providing him with free food, drink, and no-frills accommodations. Most of all, he was safe (to my dear wife’s delight).

Full confession here – The Salvas family is a dog family. When I was a kid, it seems we always had a dog in our home. Our dogs would never be candidates for first in show, but we loved them from the time we picked them out of a litter until it was time to say good-bye. However, we also had cats. And it’s funny, because every cat we had – I recall three – was a stray that just showed up at our home one day. This prompted us to feed the cats, which prompted them to stay, which resulted in our being cat owners. Do you get the difference? We sought, we pursued, we invited dogs into our home. Cats apparently sought us, pursued us, and invited themselves into our home. And we would always welcome them in. Not only that, we adjusted to their being in our home. (Example: I got allergy shots for years so that they could stay.)

Based on the events of last weekend, cats are still finding us. And we are still welcoming them into our home. Which reminds me of God’s love for you and me. Consider the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 15 – “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 5:5–7 ESV). Jesus is our example. He has welcomed us into His family. How blessed we are, dear Church! As a result, we are to welcome – the better translation may be to accept – one another. Sadly, Christians can be really hard on one another. But just as God has welcomed and accepted me and all of my quirks and imperfections, we are called to welcome and accept one another – quirks, imperfections, and all. The result is unity, and the result of unity is the glory of God. May the glory of God always be our aim.

There’s a lot happening here at Grace this summer. Vacation Bible School, Summer Book Club, Old Savannah City Mission, Savannah Bananas games, a co-ed Bible study, and more are all on the calendar. I’m thankful for all of the ways we have to serve and to connect with one another. Please take advantage of these opportunities as you are able.

Finally, on this date two years ago a group of us met for our first midweek prayer service. We sang a few songs together, and a brief devotion was shared. Afterward, we spent the remainder of our time in prayer for Matthew, for one another, for loved ones in need of salvation, and for the ministries of Grace. We continue the same format today. Please join us on a Wednesday evening in the future. We would love to have you.

By the way, we were able to find a nice home for the kitten. No more garage for him, and no more allergy shots for me. Win-win!

Thanks for reading, Grace. You are so loved.

Steve

05.26.23

Hi, dear Grace!

Feel free to tell me if I’m wrong here. You have my permission to admonish me if I’m being insensitive. You are welcome to chide me if I’m coming across as rude, but I just don’t get it. Let me explain.

Soon after my dad moved in with us, Blair asked me about having someone come in to clean the house on a regular basis. Of course, I agreed. Having my dad with us comes with many extras – extra laundry, extra dishes, extra grocery shopping … you get the idea. And we are happy to take it on, but it’s nice to get some help. Enter a woman who is scheduled every other Monday to come to our home and do a thorough cleaning – vacuuming, sweeping, mopping, dusting, scrubbing, and much more. We do our own dishes and laundry, but what she does is really helpful. And the house smells so fresh when she’s done. We love her and are really thankful for her service to our home and family. None of this is worthy of a complaint. 

Here's where I’m confused, though. As I said, Hazel (not her real name) arrives every other Monday to clean the house. Yet on the Sunday afternoon prior to her first coming to our home, I heard these words from my precious wife – “Hazel is coming tomorrow. Would you help me straighten up the house?” Uh … what? (Imagine a record scratch sound and a befuddled look on my face here.) To me, straightening up the house and cleaning the house are synonyms. So we have to clean the house before Hazel comes to clean the house? Someone help me understand this logic. Never have I said to Blair, “The landscaper is coming tomorrow. I think I’ll go out and mow the lawn. Maybe I’ll do a little edging, too. Just want the yard to look good for when he gets here.” Not one time has she ever heard me say, “The trash truck comes tomorrow. I think I’ll make a run to the dump.” Nor have I ever said, “Before I take the car to the mechanic in the morning, I’m going to change the oil and rotate the tires.” When it comes to having the house cleaned, however, a “pre-cleaning” is apparently in order.

You know, this reminds me of the words of the Apostle Paul to the Romans, who wrote the following under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NKJV). Did you catch that, Grace? The Lord did not wait for me to clean up my act before He sent Jesus to die on the cross for me. He didn’t wait for me to rid myself of sin before He loved me enough to save me. Instead, while “my house” was still dirty, Jesus paid the price to make me clean. All He asks is that I admit I’m a sinner (Romans 3:23), believe that Jesus died on the cross for me (Romans 10:9), confess Him as Lord of my life (Romans 10:9 again), and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). When that happens, I am made clean (Hebrews 9:13–14). No “pre-cleaning” necessary. Praise the Lord!

Vacation Bible School is fast approaching. Please be in prayer for all of our VBS leaders and helpers, as well as every child who will be in attendance. Only by God’s grace and the faithful prayers of His people will the week be a success. Thank you in advance for praying.

Oh, before I finish, let me assure you the difference between straightening up the house and cleaning the house has been explained to me. That befuddled look may still appear from time to time as I’m “pre-cleaning” the house, but I do it gladly. It’s actually a wonderful reminder of God’s goodness and grace to me.

You are so loved, dear Church.

Steve

05.19.23
Hi, dear Grace! Have you watched The Chosen? The Chosen is a television series about Jesus and His disciples with three seasons under its belt. Most Christians agree the show is very well done. Sure, there are some liberties taken where there are unknowns. One example is from episode 2 of season 1, when Mary Magdalene is speaking with Nicodemus. Nowhere do we find such a conversation in the Scriptures, but the conversation as depicted in the show is nonetheless a beautiful one. Nicodemus is questioning Mary about how she was healed from demonic possession, and Mary is unable to explain anything about her healing or even Who made it happen. She doesn’t even know Jesus’ name in this scene yet. What she does know, however, is a powerful testimony of Jesus’ work in each of our lives as we place our faith in Him. This is what Mary says – “Here is what I can tell you. I was one way, and now I am completely different. And the thing that happened in between was Him.” The show has been quite successful. Financial support is raised through a crowd-funding effort that has generated millions of dollars to reach millions of people. T-shirts and hats are also sold online for additional support and for marketing purposes. My dear wife has one of these shirts. As a matter of fact, the shirt bears the line that I just mentioned – “I was one way, and now I am completely different. And the thing that happened in between was Him.” That shirt and what happened when Blair was wearing it recently are the subjects of today’s post. Several weeks ago, Blair was with a friend on the beach when a couple took notice of her shirt. This couple wasn’t familiar with the message of the shirt, and they felt comfortable enough to approach Blair and ask what it meant. What an opportunity! Blair told them about The Chosen – that it is a television series about the life of Jesus and His disciples. She told them Who Jesus is to her – her Savior Who died on the cross for her sins. And she shared with them her testimony – how she was one way (lost in her sin), how her dad died when she was a teenager, how after his death she wrestled with anger toward a God she did not know, how she was wonderfully saved in college, and how Jesus has made all the difference in her life since then. The entire exchange took only minutes, and the couple politely listened. When Blair was done, the couple thanked her before continuing their walk. A seed was planted, and that was that. Perhaps the Lord will use it one day to draw this couple to Himself. Here's my purpose for sharing all of this with you this week – The Bible says, “Honor Christ and let Him be the Lord of your life. Always be ready to give an answer when someone asks you about your hope” (1 Peter 3:15 CEV). With that in mind, let me ask you a question, dear Grace. If someone notices the Grace Community Church window sticker on your vehicle … or if they notice the “Jesus Loves You” shirt you are wearing … or if they simply notice you speak and act differently than the world speaks and acts … are you ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within you? Are you ready to share a testimony about God’s goodness and grace in your life? Are you ready to tell them about Jesus? “Always be ready” is what the Bible says. For the Christian, this is a command. If you are not sure you are “ready” to do this, please feel free to contact me by phone or e-mail. I would be happy to meet with you personally to discuss how you can be ready. This Sunday, the message will be from the first twelve verses of Mark chapter 12. Matthew will be preaching. I hope to see you there. God bless you, dear Grace. You are so, so loved. Steve
05.12.23

Hi, dear Grace!

I am humbled each week by your positive comments about my weekly post. You bless me with your kindness. To be honest, however, my ramblings often write themselves. For example, consider the headline of this week’s post –

WIPEOUT!

ROGUE WAVE TAKES DOWN LOCAL PASTOR

Concerned Parishioners Left To Wonder, “If We Laugh, Are We Still Loved?”

What’s that? Some of you are confused? You weren’t there at the Baptism Service last Sunday? Well, here’s a quick summation of the events that took place: It all started with a wonderful picnic at Driessen Beach Park. Well over a hundred people gathered for a joyous time of fellowship and the sharing of a meal. Afterward, we heard sweet testimonies from Asher, Emelia, and Wendy – all of whom shared their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord, as well as their desire to publicly profess that faith to the world through baptism. We then sang together, prayed together, and made the trek to the beach together. The water was cold and rough as Matthew, the elders, and I entered the surf, but our hearts were warm and expectant. Baptism Sunday is always a special day. Asher was first to be baptized, followed by Emmy. It was good to have their dad, our own Seth Shirley, join us in the water to assist in baptizing his beautiful girls. Wendy was last. Despite the rougher-than-usual waves, all went smoothly – that is, until … None of us saw it coming. A monster wave (at least in strength if not in size) crashed into our group and swallowed us whole. Six were in the water at the time; only four of us were left standing. Yes, dear Grace, I was one who went down. Ugh!

To those of you who saw all of this transpire, how did I look going down? Was I graceful? If being knocked over by a wave were an Olympic event, would you have given me a 10? Was I more Buzz Lightyear (falling with style) or Vinko Bogataj (the “agony of defeat” guy from the opening of ABC’s Wide World of Sports)? Yep, I can already hear the chants of “Pastor Vinko” now. But that’s okay. Not only does Baptism Sunday remain one of my favorite days of the year, this one provided me with something to write about today. 

As I drove away from Driessen Beach on Sunday evening, I was thinking of these verses from God’s Holy Word – “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:5–6 NKJV). The context of these verses is “various trials” and “the testing of our faith” (see James 1:2–3). James describes the one who is driven and tossed like a wave as a “double-minded man” (see James 1:8). The word “double-minded” literally means to be “two-souled.” It is a split faith – i.e., going back and forth between faith in God and faith in myself and the world. When we go through trials, will we trust the Lord fully? Will we seek the wisdom of God to learn through such trials and endure to the end? If we do, the Bible promises we will be “perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (see James 1:3–4). Sadly, if we choose our own wisdom or the wisdom of the world, we will get just the opposite and lack everything. I want what the Bible promises. I don’t want to be two-souled. Lord, continue to have Your way in me and in all of us at Grace, and give us the means to trust You fully in all You bring our way. Amen.

As a reminder, this Sunday is Mother’s Day. Please pray for me, as I have the wonderful privilege of sharing the message. To all of the women of Grace – Whether you are a mother by birth, by adoption, by marriage, or by the impact you have had on a child as a “spiritual” mom, Happy Mother’s Day to all of you. May God bless you in a special way this weekend. The men of Grace salute you.

Yes, dear Grace, you are still so deeply loved.

Steve

05.05.23

Hi, dear Grace!

I love sweet tea. That’s not news to you, since I have shared this with you before. What I haven’t shared is this – Since January 2 of this year, I no longer drink sweet tea. Whenever Blair and I go out to eat, I now order unsweet tea with a lemon. This is a health decision more than anything else. With a mom who passed away over twelve years ago as a result of Alzheimer’s Disease and a dad who now struggles with dementia, two doctors have told me I need to take it easy on the sugar intake. Apparently, too much sugar has been found to contribute to cognitive decline. When my wife heard this, sweet tea was banned from our home. While a long life is no guarantee for me, my hope is to avoid dementia and other brain disorders for as long as possible.

Several weeks ago, Blair and I went to lunch with a dear friend. As I have for the past four months, I ordered my unsweet tea with lemon, and that’s just what I received. However, our waitress apparently forgot my original order. Why do I think that? Because when she gave me a refill, it was sweet … and I mean “sweet” in every good sense of the word! Now please understand it wasn’t a full glass of 100% sweet tea. When the waitress refilled my glass, there was still some unsweet tea in it. Still, it wasn’t exactly half-and-half – definitely more sweet than unsweet. And, boy, was it good! I sucked that second glass down quickly. My third glass? Yeah, it was all sweet. That glass was empty faster than you could quote John 3:16. And that’s the problem for me. When I used to drink sweet tea, I could drink four glasses of it during a meal and then take a to-go cup home with me. That’s way too much sugar! When I drink unsweet tea, my glass doesn’t empty so quickly. Two glasses is enough, and I’m not always interested in a to-go cup.

That episode several weeks ago taught me a lesson. I can easily fall back into the habit of drinking sweet tea again. Before I do, however, I must answer the question – Would that be good for me? The answer, not necessarily for you but for me, is no. And while drinking sweet tea is NOT sin, I find a correlation there for me. The Bible says, “Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1–3 CSB). Sin can easily ensnare us. The word translated “ensnares” in verse 1 suggests sin – like sweet tea for me – has an advantage to prevail over us. As Christians, we must therefore “lay sin aside” and “run the Christian race with endurance.” How do we successfully do this? By looking at the example of Jesus. Only in Him will ever have victory over sin and everything that is looking to trip us up in our walk with Christ. So press on, dear Grace. Endure to the end. What a day that will be when we are counted among the “large cloud of witnesses” in heaven cheering on those who come after us!

This Sunday, May 7 is the date of our all-church picnic and baptism service at Driessen Beach Park. Start time is 5 PM. You have heard me say many time that Baptism Sunday is a highlight of the year for our church. Please come. You will be blessed if you do.

As I sit here typing the conclusion to this post, I’m staring at a half-empty glass of unsweet tea. It would be empty by now (and probably refilled two or three times over) if it were sweet tea. And yet this is victory for me. By God’s marvelous grace, may victory over sin come as easily for all of us. To Him be the glory.

Oh, dear Grace, how loved you are.

Steve

04.28.23

Hi, dear Grace!

Last weekend, Blair and I were able to get away for the weekend. Our trip was fast. We left on Friday morning and returned late on Sunday. The main focus was a surprise 98th birthday party for Blair’s aunt in Northern Virginia. It was so good to see the three surviving sisters of the original Montgomery clan, all of whom are aged 90 and above. Blair’s mom died several years ago at the age of 95, so the Montgomery females have an incredibly strong gene pool. I jokingly tell Blair she will be a widow for a long time, because I surely won’t live that long. She doesn’t think that’s very funny, though.

While it was really good to see Blair’s aunts, siblings, and cousins, the highlight for us was simply being together. Time alone is a luxury we don’t take for granted anymore. Thanks to our son and a dear member of Grace, we turned the trip into a weekend getaway. I slept better than I have in months, for which I’m so thankful to the Lord. Unfortunately, there was a lowlight to the trip. After the party, which lasted several hours at a really nice Italian restaurant, one of Blair’s cousins invited all of the attending Montgomery cousins to her home, which was only 30 or so minutes away. What hospitality she showed us! We had a wonderful time at her home. It didn’t exactly get off to the best start, however. Why, you ask? Well, when Blair and I arrived, I parked right in front of their home. It looked like we were the first ones there, and I thought it appeared rude of me to take the primo spot along the curb. As a result, I decided to pull down further and open up the curb at the front of the house to others who arrived after us. Big mistake! A street gutter extended a full foot from the curb. (Sorry, that was an exaggeration. It was more like a full inch, but it really doesn’t matter.) Yes, dear Grace, as I crawled along the curb, I struck the street gutter, which was protected by a metal lip. Blair immediately said, “I hope we don’t have a flat tire.” With a don’t-be-ridiculous tone in my voice, I said, “Don’t be ridiculous. We do not have a flat tire.” But, alas, I was wrong. Not only was our tire flat – the sidewall was punctured and beyond repair. Great! Just great! We were able to change the punctured tire with a spare “donut.” A call to the local tire repair shop got us an appointment when the store opened on Sunday morning at 9 AM. Not wanting us to travel on the Washington Beltway on a spare tire, Blair’s cousin encouraged us to take her car back to our hotel, which was very kind. Although our Sunday morning arrived earlier than we anticipated, we were able to return the car to Blair’s cousin, enjoy breakfast at her home, pack our van, and get to the tire repair shop in a timely manner. Thirty minutes later, the spare was replaced with a new tire and we were on our way to a local church where a friend is the pastor. Our visit with him was great. Our worship was great. His message was great. And then we hit the road southbound to return to Hilton Head Island. We arrived home at 11:30 PM – exhausted but really pleased with the weekend we enjoyed together.

Switching gears here, but on a related note, I carry a basketball in my car. Last summer, Blair encouraged me to keep it there and stop by the park every now and then to shoot some baskets. When I was a teenager, I did my best thinking about life, my best dreaming about the future, my best praying through all of my cares with a basketball in my hand. Hundreds of shots from all areas of the court were very healthy for me physically, mentally, and spiritually. Years ago, I shared this with Blair. She remembered, and she thought it would be healthy for me once again to shoot baskets and work through some things in my head. I took advantage of it for a while, but slowly that basketball went flat. It’s still in my car, but right now it’s just a deflated basketball waiting for me to put air in it.

That punctured tire and that basketball with no air in it are the inspirations for this week’s post, dear Church. Here’s my question to you – Have you ever felt deflated? Sometimes, an event can be so traumatic that you feel deflated immediately – kind of like my punctured tire. And at other times, the stressors of life beat at you and beat at you until, over a period of time, it takes its toll – kind of like a slow leak in a basketball. If either of these situations describe what you are going through right now, I have good news for you. The Bible says this –

“O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul,‘There is no salvation for him in God.’ But You, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. (Psalm 3:1–3 ESV)

Meditate on these words with me for a moment, dear Grace. David, the psalmist king, writes, “Many are my foes. Many are rising against me. Many are saying God is not on my side.” It was enough to make him feel deflated. Better, let’s just call it what it truly is – David was deeply depressed over his situation. And yet, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he was able to respond with these words – “Many are my foes … but You, O Lord, are a shield about me. Many are rising against me … but You, O Lord, are my glory. Many are saying God is not on my side … but You, O Lord, are the lifter of my head.” As David’s shield, the Lord was his protector. We can count on Him to be our protector, too. As David’s glory, the Lord was his confidence. Even as the king of Israel, David knew he was nothing without the God Who sets up kings and deposes kings (Daniel 2:21). David’s full confidence was not in himself, but in the Lord. May that be true of us, as well. And as the lifter of David’s head, the Lord was his encourager. A deflated spirit pushes the head and the eyes downward. But thanks be to God, He lifts our heads up, where our eyes are focused on Him. Be encouraged in the Lord, dear Grace. Your deflated spirit will be lifted as you keep your eyes on Him. 

Please be in prayer tomorrow for the Women’s Spring Luncheon. Many of our ladies will be here from 11 AM to 2 PM to worship the Lord, meet new friends, and be challenged by a message from our own Sunnie McCaghren. Thanks to Jessica Maples, our Director of Women’s Ministries, and her fabulous team for their work in preparation for this great event.

Next Thursday, May 4 is the National Day of Prayer. As we have for the past two years, we will host a guided prayer service at noon. I invite you to come. Stay tuned for more details.

Don’t forget next Sunday, May 7 is the date of our all-church picnic and baptism service. If you have questions about baptism, please see Matthew, me, or one of the elders. We would love to speak with you.

How thankful I am for you, dear Grace. You are so, so loved.

Steve

04.21.23

Hi, dear Grace!

During the twenty-five years that I served at the Charles County Sheriff’s Office, I had several recurring dreams. In one, I was involved in a foot chase, but I could barely lift my legs to run. It was as if I was running in slow motion, while the person I was chasing was running like a rabbit. I could never catch him. In another, well, I know it sounds morbid, but I got shot. I don’t know how many times I had that dream, but I got shot in my dreams way too many times. But while the dream of being shot was always a bad one, it’s not the worst dream I ever had. When I was a kid – and I mean probably as young as 6 or 7 years old – I had a nightmare that I still can’t shake. That dream haunts me deeply whenever I think about it. This week’s post isn’t about dreams and nightmares, but it is about a real-life situation that could have been a nightmare. In the end, it turned out to be pretty funny – but when it happened, there was absolutely nothing funny about it.

Lindsey and Andrew were young – perhaps 6 and 4 years old respectively when this happened. They were sound asleep – as were Blair and I on this particular date at 2:00 in the morning when something woke both of us up. I recall opening my eyes and thinking, “Did I just hear that?” Blair must have done the same, because she said to me, “Did you just hear that?” Neither of us had moved. We were still lying in bed, still under the covers, but with our eyes wide open and our minds racing. “Yes, I heard it,” was my response. We just lay there for several more minutes listening to nothing but silence. Blair began to relax, but I couldn’t. And then, of course, we heard it again. I bolted upright in the bed, threw off the covers, and ran to the kids’ bedrooms. I checked on Andrew, whose bedroom came first, and then on Lindsey. Both were still sleeping, still breathing, still safe, and still perfect. Blair and I? Not sleeping. Hyperventilating. Not so sure any of us were safe. And definitely not perfect. Oh, sorry about that. You’re wondering what woke us up. You want to know what turned a peace-filled night of rest into a horror movie for us. Are you ready for this? It was … and I’m not making this up … a high-pitched, cackling laugh. It came from nowhere, and yet it came from everywhere in the house. After checking on Lindsey and Andrew, I searched high and low for anything that didn’t seem right. Nothing upstairs, so I went downstairs. The living room checked okay. So did the dining room, the kitchen, and the downstairs bathroom. No way! Could what we heard really have come from the basement? Down I went to search for the source of that awful laugh. Meanwhile, Blair was upstairs – not wanting to leave the kids alone. And then I heard her panicked yell for me – “Stephen, it’s up here! I just heard it again!” Back up the stairs I charged, determined to find whatever it was that was laughing at us. By this time, every light in the house was on. How our children continued to sleep through all of this, I will never know!

Blair took our bedroom while I took the kids’ bedrooms. I checked in their closets, under their beds, through their dressers … everywhere I could think. Finally, it happened … we identified the location. That laugh happened again, and Blair knew from whence it came. To the bathroom she and I ran. Cabinet? Nope. Under the sink? Nothing. Behind the toilet? (Hey, every inch of that bathroom was searched.) It wasn’t until Blair threw back the shower curtain and looked in the tub that we discovered the culprit. Yes, dear Grace, lying in the bathtub was evil disguised in innocence. What was it, you ask? It was a McDonald’s Happy Meal toy. More specifically, it was a plastic Nemo toy – you know, from the Disney movie Finding Nemo. If you are not familiar, Nemo is a clownfish. That stupid orange-black-and-white striped fish was smiling up at us from the bottom of the tub. Lindsey and Andrew were so excited when they got this Nemo toy in their Happy Meals. Each time they pushed a button on Nemo, he would say one of about five different lines from the movie. Or, he would simply laugh. Because they loved Nemo – and because Nemo was a fish – they took Nemo in the tub, where, of course, water eventually made its way to Nemo’s insides and messed with the sound circuitry. That caused Nemo’s laugh to be distorted from a cute, clownfish laugh to a high-pitched, evil laugh. I’ll never know why all of this started at 2:00 in the morning – the entire incident lasting for approximately 20 minutes – but Nemo laughed no more after that. That’s because I took Nemo to the basement and beat him to death with a hammer. Nope … not kidding. That Nemo toy was in a hundred or more pieces when I got done with it. No way it was ever going to cackle again in my house. (Breathe, Steve. In with the good … out with the bad. Everything is okay. It was just a plastic clownfish.)

The Bible says, “Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You. In God (I will praise His word), In God I have put my trust; I will not fear. What can flesh (or a demented Happy Meal toy) do to me?” (Psalm 56:3–4 NKJV). Later in verse 9, David, the writer of this psalm, gives the reason for his trust in the Lord – “… because God is for me.” He is for me, dear Grace, and He is for you, too. So trust Him in your circumstance – whether it’s an in-the-moment, middle-of-the-night, freak-out situation like the one I described above or a years-long fight for your life. God is for you. Praise Him today!

Tomorrow (Saturday, April 22), a group of people will be traveling to the Old Savannah City Mission to sort through and organize donations in their warehouse. Our help in this area has been a real blessing to the small staff at the mission. It has also been a blessing to everyone from Grace who has participated. Thanks to all of you who will share in this service opportunity.

The Ladies’ Spring Luncheon is scheduled for next Saturday, April 29 from 11 AM – 2 PM. Much work and much prayer have gone into the planning for this event. Please see Jessica Maples, our Director of Women’s Ministries, or call the church office if you are interested in attending.

Baptism Sunday is scheduled for Sunday, May 7. The baptism will be preceded by an all-church picnic at Driessen Beach Park. After the picnic, we will trek to the beach for the baptisms. If you are interested in publicly professing your faith through believer’s baptism – or if you have any questions about baptism as an ordinance of the church – please call the church office and schedule a time to meet with Matthew or me. 

Finally, tickets are available for the Savannah Bananas game on Thursday, May 11. Tickets are $25 apiece, which includes dinner. Please contact Charlynn Bonham, our Director of Children’s Ministries, if you would like to attend.

Thank you for hanging in there and reading to the end, dear Grace. You are such a source of blessing and encouragement to me, and you are deeply loved.

Steve

04.14.23

Hi, dear Grace!

Wow! What a great eight days of Easter events and services we enjoyed at Grace Community Church! From the Easter Egg Hunt to Palm Sunday to the Wednesday evening prayer service to Maundy Thursday to Good Friday to the Sunrise Service to both worship services here on Easter Sunday morning, God was glorified in it all. Praise Him! To everyone who volunteered in some capacity to make it all happen, thank you so much. Because of you, over a thousand people were touched with the message of the gospel last week. Again, praise the Lord!

I confess when I got home from church on Sunday afternoon, I was exhausted and slept for two hours. That never happens. Usually, Sunday afternoon is when I begin my Friday post. So because my time this week is dedicated to studying in preparation for the message this Sunday, the following is a throwback from July 28, 2021. That was back when these posts were sent via e-mail on Wednesdays and came with a title. This one was titled Writer's Block, Writing "Books", Meaningful Contributions, and Habakkuk. It’s been edited slightly, in that I was in the midst of a preaching series through the Minor Prophets at the time. The part about Habakkuk, which remains one of my favorite books in the Bible but which is not the focus of this Sunday’s message, has therefore been deleted. Enjoy, dear Grace.

__________

I started this e-mail yesterday. I also re-started it yesterday, and I re-started it again this morning. Writer’s block stinks! And then suddenly, by God’s grace, I remember something my pastor once said that I’ll never forget. Of course, it’s related to writing.

I was saved and baptized and discipled under the ministry of Pastor Carmon Hartsfield. Seriously, I love Pastor Hartsfield like a dad. Of the many people who have invested in my life as a follower of Jesus Christ, no one has had the impact on my spiritual growth like he has had. He is retired and living in Virginia now, and to my shame I don’t call him enough. But there is rarely a day that I don’t think about him or about something he taught me.

Many years ago, I remember asking Pastor Hartsfield what he would like to do after he retired from preaching. He said he would perhaps like to write a book. Well, any book that Pastor Hartsfield writes is a book I would want to read. So years later, I asked him when he was going to write his book. It was then that Pastor Hartsfield placed his hand on my chest and said these words to me – “You’re my book.” (I can hardly write these words without being moved to tears remembering them.)

The Apostle Paul wrote something similar to the Corinthian church – “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:2-3 NIV). Let me run with this imagery for a moment. Every day, Church, you are contributing to “letters” and “books” around you. They come in the form of spouses, children, siblings, parents, friends, neighbors, co-workers, employees, students, strangers – the list could go on – who are carrying on their hearts a sentence, a page, a chapter, or more that reflects your influence for Christ on their lives. Here is the question I ask you to consider today – Has your contribution to these “books” been meaningful? Oh, Father in heaven, may we make every encounter with others be meaningful for the sake of the gospel! May people see in us our commitment to Christ and our love for others, and may the pages we contribute to their lives count for eternity! 

Now I think it’s time I give Pastor Hartsfield a call. I need to thank him (again) for his investment in me.

__________

As a reminder, please mark your calendar for Sunday, May 7 for our all-church picnic at Driessen Beach Park, followed by a baptism service in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The time will be confirmed later. Among the best days of the year are the two Sundays that we host the picnic and baptism service. I hope you will come. If you do, you will be blessed. Oh, and if you would like to follow the Lord in believer’s baptism or if you would like to know more about what baptism is all about, please call the church office or see Matthew or me. We would love to speak with you. 

May God bless you in a special way this week, dear Church. You are so, so loved.

Steve

04.07.23

Hi, dear Grace!

Deep and meaningful conversations with my dad are impossible anymore, but we still talk. It’s just that the interaction between us now is in the immediate. That means we talk about what’s right in front of us – the weather, the food, the church service that just ended, the phone call he just received. Hmm … those phone calls! Only two people call my dad now. One is my brother, Allen, who lives in Florida. Allen is faithful to call at least once a week to hear my dad’s voice and to assess for himself how my dad is doing. My dad doesn’t do a lot of the talking on his end, but he does laugh and he tries to chime in every now and then. Despite already knowing the answer, at the conclusion of the call I always ask my dad from whom he heard. He will think a moment, chuckle, and say, “The guy from down there.” Down there is Florida. The guy is my brother – my dad’s son. He regularly forgets Allen’s name, which saddens me.

Several months ago, I was seated at the kitchen table with my dad. He was eating his dinner, and I was there just to be close to him. No real back-and-forth was happening between us at that moment, so it surprised me when he asked a question. It was a doozy of a question, too, and one he just blurted out. Even now – so many months later – the question evokes deep well of emotion in me as I think about it. “Have you heard from Chuck lately?” he asked. I was able to squeeze out a response, something like, “No, but I’m sure he’s doing really well right now,” before turning my head away from my dad and choking back tears. For those of you who are new to this space, my parents had three sons – Stephen, Charles (whom we called Chuck), and Allen. We were a close family, and Chuck, Allen, and I were very close as brothers. Unfortunately, Chuck passed away in August 2015 after a three-year battle with brain cancer. Until that day at the kitchen table, my dad hadn’t mentioned Chuck’s name in a long time. His question overwhelmed me with heaviness – partly because of the reminder that Chuck was gone, and partly because of the realization that my dad’s loss of memory was worse than I knew. Eventually, I was able to excuse myself from the table and recover. It took some time, though.

Think back with me now to the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. Think about those who loved Him … those who watched Him die. Think about the seeming finality of it all. On three separate occasions Jesus told His disciples that He would be beaten, killed, and raised from the dead, yet the disciples “understood none of these things” (Luke 18:34a NKJV). And then it happened. Jesus was arrested. He was tried. He was scourged. He was crucified. He was buried. And His followers all thought it was over. That “raised from the dead” part? They didn’t get it! Oh, but – glory be to God – on the third day they found Jesus’ tomb to be empty! Hallelujah!

Now think back to my dad’s question – “Have you heard from Chuck lately?” Of course I haven’t! Chuck died seven-and-a-half years ago! But just for a moment, apply my dad’s question to Jesus. Imagine, after Jesus’ death on the cross, asking the question, “Have you heard from Jesus lately?” And imagine the responses you would receive from …

  • Mary Magdelene (days after Jesus’ death) – “Yes, I spoke to Him at the tomb! I thought He was the gardener, but He called me by name. I then recognized Him. It was definitely Jesus!” 
  • Cleopas and another man (days after Jesus’ death) – “Yes, we spoke to Him as we walked along the road to Emmaus! We didn’t recognize Him at first, and we told Him about all of the events that took place in Jerusalem over the past several days. He then explained the words of Moses and the Prophets to us. Eventually, our eyes were opened and we recognized Him. It was Jesus!”
  • Ten of His disciples (days after Jesus’ death) – “Yes, we were hiding behind a locked door when Jesus entered! We were afraid, but He breathed peace on us. He even ate with us, and He opened our understanding of the Scriptures!”
  • Doubting Thomas (over a week after Jesus’ death) – “Yes, I saw Jesus! He knew I didn’t believe He had resurrected from the dead, so He invited me to touch the holes in His hands and place my hand in His side. Jesus – my Lord and my God – is alive!”
  • The Apostle Peter (over a week after Jesus’ death) – “Yes, Jesus spoke to me on the shore at the Sea of Tiberias! He asked me three times if I loved Him. And He told me to follow Him. Me! Jesus wants me – the one who denied Him three times – to keep following Him! I feel restored, and I’m blown away by His grace!”
  • The Apostle Paul (years after Jesus’ death) – “Yes, Jesus met me as I was on the road to Damascus! He spoke to me, and He changed my life! I went from persecuting the church to planting churches! Believe it – Jesus lives!”
  • The Apostle John (approximately 60 years after Jesus’ death) – “Yes, I heard from Jesus the other day and put what I heard into writing. He said He is the Beginning and the End. He explained what we should be looking for as we await His return, and He explained what happens after that. Even so, come Lord Jesus!” 

Count ‘em, Grace. That’s sixteen testimonies from people who saw Jesus after His death on the cross. Sixteen testimonies from people who spoke to Him after His body was placed in the tomb. Sixteen testimonies from people who know for certain He rose from the dead. And there are more testimonies from hundreds of others who saw Jesus – others who spoke to Him! Jesus is risen! He is alive today! Prior to His death, Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2b–3 NKJV). What a promise! And because of this promise, there will be a day a million years from now when someone will ask me, “Have you heard from Chuck lately?” And I’ll be able to say, “Yes, I have. As a matter of fact, he lives in the mansion right around the corner. Let me introduce you to him.” Thank You, Lord!

Don’t forget the Sunrise Service at Driessen Beach at 6:30 on Easter morning. This will be a service that is shared between Grace Community Church and Hilton Head Presbyterian Church. I hope you can come. Oh, and be sure to invite someone to one of our Easter services here on Sunday at 9 and 11 AM. We anticipate a good turnout as we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection and His victory over death. I look forward to seeing you there. 

You may know two things for certain, dear Grace. First, Jesus is risen! And second, you are so deeply loved.

Steve

03.31.23

Hi, dear Grace!

I love to read. Yes, I have shared that with you before. But have you ever read something that you just couldn’t keep to yourself? Have you ever read something you just HAD to share with a friend? Perhaps it was a new insight into a previously misunderstood passage of Scripture … or an interesting take on a topic of importance to you from the latest book you are reading … or ground-breaking information from a news article … or maybe even a deep and meaningful thought from the latest post by your favorite blogger or Associate Pastor. (Haha! Just kidding on that last one!)

As you may know, Blair and I are leading a Life Group for married couples. Our study is from the Kingdom Marriage video series by Dr. Tony Evans. Several months ago, Blair and I started reading the book Kingdom Marriage – also by Tony Evans and upon which the video series is based – in preparation for our Life Group. We read several pages a night and discuss it together. As a matter of fact, this is something we have done since the start of our marriage – reading a devotional or a marriage-focused book before going to bed. As an aside, Blair will often fall asleep as I read. She says my voice puts her to sleep. (Wow! Not exactly the words any preacher wants to hear!)

One evening about six weeks or so ago, I was reading to Blair and came across an illustration that will forever stick with me. It’s one I have never heard before, but it excited me so much that I have already shared it with several people. I still can’t get it out of my mind, so I’m sharing it with you this week. Before I proceed, let me emphasize this illustration is not mine. While I am telling it in my own words and making it my own here, Tony Evans deserves full credit for it. Also, while the illustration is applied to marriage in the book, it applies universally to all relationships between believers. So here you go: When I was a kid, I loved mustard. It was my condiment of choice. If I was eating a hamburger, I wanted mustard on it. Lots of mustard. Bologna and cheese sandwich? Mustard. Ham sandwich? Chicken sandwich? Tuna fish sandwich? Mustard. Mustard. And, yes, I even wanted mustard on my tuna fish sandwich. It’s funny how tastes change as you get older. Don’t get me wrong – I still like mustard, but on many of my sandwiches today, I prefer mayonnaise. But only when I read this illustration in Kingdom Marriage did I ever think about the ingredients of mayonnaise and how it is made. As a matter of fact, while my practice has been to pick up a jar of Hellman’s or Miracle Whip at the grocery store, I have learned how easy it is to make homemade mayo with a few simple ingredients. Two of the ingredients are oil and vinegar. As you know, oil and vinegar do not play nice with one another. They just don’t mix together. Because of this, an emulsifier is needed. An emulsifier is something that brings two things (like oil and vinegar) together and that keeps them from separating. In the case of mayo, the emulsifier is a raw egg. Oil likes eggs. Vinegar also likes eggs. Because both like eggs, oil and vinegar like one another when an egg (the emulsifier) is added. 

The Bible says we are “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). What’s interesting about that phraseology is the implication that we already have unity in the body of Christ. Whether it is in marriage or in working relationships or in the church – we already have unity. Our responsibility is simply to keep that unity. But the truth is this – that can sometimes be hard. Each of us has a personality that differs from others. Each of us has lived through experiences that left scars. And, to be honest, sometimes we just don’t mix well with others – kind of like oil and vinegar. But here’s the point of this week’s post, dear Grace – As Christians, the Holy Spirit lives in us. And the Holy Spirit serves as the emulsifier in every relationship we have with other believers. It is the Holy Spirit that brings us together and gets us through any differences we might have. I love the Holy Spirit. You love the Holy Spirit. Therefore, no matter how different we may be, we love one another because of the emulsifier – the Holy Spirit – in us. Praise Him!

Please pray for all of our Easter events and services, starting with the Easter Egg Hunt on Saturday, April 1 from 11 AM to 1 PM. Please pray for our Director of Children’s Ministries, Charlynn Bonham, as she leads this community outreach. Pray too for every volunteer, visiting family, and child who attend. Pray for good conversations, good connections, and a good (and safe) time for all. 

Pray too about whom you can invite to one of our Easter services. We are excited about our Palm Sunday services this Sunday, the Maundy Thursday service at 6:30 PM, the Good Friday service at noon, the Sunrise Service at Driessen Beach at 6:30 AM on Easter morning, and our two Easter services at Grace. We anticipate a great turnout. Please pray that the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection, providing forgiveness of sin and the hope of eternal life, will be heard and received by many over the next week.

I’ll end with the words to a song we used to sing at youth group years ago – “We are one in the Spirit. We are one in the Lord … And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Yes, dear Grace, you truly are loved. Thanks for reading.

Steve

03.24.23

Hi, dear Grace! 

Packed away in a box in my garage at home is a children’s book of Bible stories. The book is small in size and bright yellow in color. It contains 40 stories from the Bible – twenty from the Old Testament and twenty from the New. The title of the book is My Very Own Bible, and it is intended to be read by (or to) little ones. When Lindsey and Andrew were toddlers, I read to them from this tiny book. They loved the stories of Noah, Moses, David, Naaman, and Jonah, among others of the Old Testament. And they loved the stories of Jesus’ birth, the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and Doubting Thomas from the New Testament. But there was one story they loved the most. There was one story they wanted to hear every night. There was one story that made this little book for children a treasured possession in our home. I’m smiling even now as I think of it.

Before I go on, it's important that you know about my reading style. Whenever I read aloud – and especially when I read to children – I read in an animated way. Whether I was reading Pat the Bunny and What’s That? (when they were still nursery age) or Dr. Seuss and Curious George (when they were toddlers) or How To Eat Fried Worms (when they were older elementary students) or The Chronicles of Narnia (when they were young teens), I read in character. What I mean is this – If a character in the book was excited, I read with an excited voice. If a character was sad, I read with a sad voice. If a character whispered, I read in a whisper. And if a character shouted, I read in a very loud voice. And that brings me back to My Very Own Bible and Lindsey and Andrew’s favorite story. Because of their response to this story as I read, it became one of my favorite stories in all of the Bible.

On page 74 of this special book is found a story called “Blind Bartimaeus.” You know how it goes, because Matthew’s message last Sunday was from Mark 10:46–52 – yes, the story of Blind Bartimaeus, who was begging on the side of the road when he heard a crowd of people coming his way. When he heard Jesus was among them, Bartimaeus was so excited he cried out to Him with a loud voice. Do you remember Bartimaeus’ words? “JESUS! SON OF DAVID! HAVE MERCY ON ME!” When the people told Bartimaeus to be quiet, Bartimaeus shouted even louder, “JESUS! SON OF DAVID! HAVE MERCY ON ME!” When Jesus heard Bartimaeus’ cries, he called Bartimaeus to Himself and asked what he wanted. Bartimaeus answered, “Lord, I want to see.” So because of his faith, Jesus healed him.

The story of Blind Bartimaeus is beautiful. But it’s also fun – as in fun to read aloud to two precious children. It really is a good thing I liked this story, because every night I would ask what story Lindsey and Andrew wanted me to read, and every night they gave the same answer. Now remember, they were toddlers. Neither of them were able to pronounce Bartimaeus’ name correctly. But they were able to say the one name they most remembered from the story. And they said it loudly, like I did as I read to them. What was the name? “JESUS!” Yes, dear Grace, at the top of their little lungs my children shouted the name “JESUS!” when I asked what story they wanted to hear each evening, which simply meant they wanted me to turn to page 74 in My Very Own Bible and read the story of the blind beggar who received his sight.

You know, I loved hearing my children call out to me when they were toddling around the house. To hear them call out “Daddy!” was music to my ears. But as I think of them calling out in their high-pitched toddler voices the Name that is above all names – “Jesus!” – well, it still moves me. I mentioned Matthew’s message earlier. Perhaps it is because the story of Blind Bartimaeus is one of my favorites, but I absolutely loved the sermon on Sunday morning. And I really loved this line in particular – “Jesus always has time for those who cry out to Him.” Of course, there is a difference between crying out to Jesus in faith and crying out to hear a favorite story, but still … to hear the Name of Jesus escape the lips of my children when they were so young is a very special memory to me.

I hope you will come tonight as our Worship Team will be here to lead us in an evening of praise and worship. We will praise the Lord together by singing a blend of hymns and contemporary worship songs. This is always a great evening of worship and fellowship. Start time is 7 PM here at the church. Drinks and light refreshments will be provided. 

If you are interested in knowing more about the ministry of Grace, please join us on Sunday evening from 6:00–7:30 PM for our Discover Grace Dinner. You will have an opportunity to meet the pastors and staff, as well as several of our elders and deacons. While it doesn’t commit you to membership, this is the first step toward becoming part of the family at Grace Community Church. So that we can plan accordingly for food, please RSVP to the church office or sign up on Sunday morning. We look forward to meeting you there.

Reminder – Please be in prayer all of next week for the Easter Egg Hunt that is scheduled for next Saturday, April 1. Much planning and preparation has gone into this outreach, but we are fully dependent upon the Lord for a successful day of ministry. The fervent prayers of God’s people will go a long way in determining whether this happens. Thank you in advance for lifting the Easter Egg Hunt – as well as every volunteer, every child, and every visiting family – to the Lord in prayer. 

How thankful I am for the promise of Scripture, dear Grace! The Bible says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13 KJV). He will never turn His back on you when you call out to Him – no matter your circumstances. Praise the Lord! 

Thank you for reading. You are so loved.

Steve

03.17.23

Hi, dear Grace!

Last weekend my wife traveled to Hillsville, VA, to celebrate her aunt’s 90th birthday with family and friends. Aunt Janette was married to Pastor Elmon Thompson for 69 years before he went to be with the Lord just three years ago this month. While I always miss Blair when she is away, I am happy she had the opportunity to celebrate her aunt’s life and to be with her oldest brother, several cousins, and many others on this occasion. 

When Blair is away, I try to redeem the time with my dad and son. My dad really enjoys cornhole, so we spent some time playing last weekend. Or better, hespent time playing last weekend. My role is not as his competitor, but as his gofer. My dad throws all eight beanbags – averaging four bags in the hole each time – and I then retrieve the bags, bring them back to where he is standing, and hand them to him one at a time so that he can throw all eight bags again. Maybe that’s why he loves it so much. Haha! Meanwhile, my son (Andrew) and I watched a few movies that wouldn’t appeal to Blair – i.e., movies not found on the Hallmark channel. And Sunday, after getting my dad settled and ensuring he was taken care of, Andrew and I spent some time at lunch together after church. That lunch is what prompts this week’s post.

So if you think I’m getting ready to bore you with a restaurant recommendation or a menu item selection, that’s not it (although we were very happy with our location and our lunch). Or if you think I’m getting ready to share the details of our deep and probing conversation with one another, that’s not it either (although we did talk about some important things in spite of how loud the music was). Ah, there it is – that mention of the music! Actually, it was a particular song that caught my attention as we sat in our booth enjoying our meal and conversation. That song took me back to a place in my memory from the fall of 1988. I can narrow down the date because I recall my circumstances – married but without children (pre-1991), teaching in a Christian school (pre-1990), and a fan of the Dallas Cowboys (pre-1989, when a new owner purchased the team and fired the greatest coach in the history of the NFL and a strong Christian man). But I digress … let me get back to the song and that place in my memory. Blair and I were invited to a party at the home of some friends. Everyone at this party was associated with the Christian school where Blair and I were teaching at the time. They were teachers, employees (secretary, finance person, etc.), spouses of teachers/employees, and parents of students. All were wonderful Christian people. Blair and I still keep in touch with many of them today, while others are already with the Lord. So what does a group of wonderful Christian people do when they gather together for a party? Well, back in the 1980’s – and I promise I didn’t know this until we arrived – we created our own music videos. Yes, dear Grace, in the basement of this home, our hosts had set up a drum kit and guitars. All were fake – no music could be played on them. Also set up was a videocassette recorder in front of the “stage” where our “instruments” were set up. We each drew a number from 1 to 4, and all those with a matching number became a band. We then had to decide what song we were going to lip-sync to while being recorded on video. Sorry to disappoint you, Grace, but none of these wonderful Christian people chose “Amazing Grace” for their song selection. Ugh! I shudder even now realizing – unless it was destroyed sometime in the past thirty-four-and-a-half years – that there is a VHS tape out there with a recording of Dan on lead guitar and sax, Jamie on bass guitar, Lisa on drums, and yours truly lip-syncing to Huey Lewis and the News’ “Heart of Rock-n-Roll”.

Let me now fast-forward to last Sunday. As Andrew and I were enjoying lunch and talking over the music, what song do you think started blaring over the sound system in this restaurant? Yes, it was “Heart of Rock-n-Roll” by Huey Lewis and the News. I cannot recall when I last heard this song, but you know what? I remembered nearly every line. It was brand new to Andrew, and I told him the story I just shared with you. (Really, Dad? Music videos? How embarrassing!) But what struck me as I remembered back to 1988 and a party and a particular song was this – Music is powerful! And our brains are wired in a way to remember music even after decades have passed! And I like that, because although my mind is filled with a bunch of useless songs from the radio or theme songs from television shows or even jingles from commercials – going back even to the late 1960’s and early ‘70’s – my mind is also filled with the songs I sang so long ago in Children’s Church, songs from Vacation Bible School, songs from youth retreats, and songs from the worship service at Landover Hills Baptist Church where I was saved as a boy. They make me smile even when life gets hard. And that’s the message of today’s post.

The Bible says, “Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:18b–19 NKJV). These verses identify three evidences of the Spirit-filled life – all of which center on music. “Speaking to one another” is in the sense of communicating or encouraging one another. How? With God-centered music (psalms, hymns, and “spiritual” or worship songs). “Singing” is not just about singing any old song, but rather those “songs, hymns, and spiritual songs” that were just mentioned. And “making melody in your heart” is indicative of the joyful expression that such music brings. Yes, music is powerful. It uplifts the spirit and brings joy to the heart. So sing loud on Sunday morning during the worship set, dear Grace! Let your voice and your joy fill the sanctuary this week! Not only will you be blessed, but all who hear you will be blessed, as well. Praise the Lord!

Speaking of songs, hymns, and worship songs, Seth and the Worship Team will be here next Friday (March 24) at 7 PM for a night of singing, special music, and more. Drinks and light refreshments will be served. I hope you can join us.

Of course, there is so much more happening. The church calendar is full. Please check the Grace Weeklye-newsletter for details on all of it.

Funny, but as I wrap this up I’m no longer thinking of the words to “Heart of Rock-n-Roll”. Instead, I’m thinking of a song that was written by Matt Redman in the late 1990’s. The words go like this – “I’m coming back to the heart of worship, and it’s all about You. It’s all about You, Jesus.” Amen.

You are so loved, dear Grace.

Steve

03.10.23

Hi, dear, Grace! 

On March 10, 1876 – yes, that is 147 years ago today – the first-ever telephone call was placed. Alexander Graham Bell, sitting in his laboratory, placed a call to Thomas Watson, who was sitting in an adjacent room. Bell’s words to Watson? “Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you.” Watson then walked to the laboratory from where Bell placed the call. Bell’s telephone invention had worked!

Phones have come a long way since 1876. There was the old upright telephone (also called the “candlestick” telephone), the hand-crank telephone, the rotary telephone, the touch-tone telephone, the cordless telephone, the cell phone, the flip phone, and now the smart phone. Whew! That’s quite an evolution of the telephone! Today more than ever, it’s easy to reach someone simply by placing a call. Why? Because while a phone may have been a luxury as recently as 60 years ago – when nearly half of all families in South Carolina had no phone available to them at all – it is now a necessity today. In 2023, it seems everyone has a phone in their pocket. As a result, anyone and everyone is within our reach – as long as we have their number, of course. And God forbid we lose our phone. Panic sets in … we are shut off from the world! Oh, no! But consider, dear Grace, this question – If we were ever to be shut off from the Lord – if the privilege of prayer were ever to be taken away – would panic set in? If our access to the Lord were to be severed, would it change us the way a missing phone changes us?

The Bible says, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Prayer – unceasing prayer – is a command. Are we being obedient in this? I have a picture in my head of what it means to pray without ceasing. This “picture in my head” is actually a memory of my son, Andrew. He was perhaps six years old at the time. I arrived home from work and walked in the door, only to find my son seated on a beanbag chair in front of the television. He had our TV hooked up to a video game console, and he was playing a game – probably Mario Kart or something similar. He had no idea I had come in. He was completely focused on what he was doing. So what’s this got to do with praying without ceasing? Nothing yet, but I’m getting to it. At first glance, it appeared Andrew had a toothache or some type of injury to his jaw. Then I looked more closely, at which time I saw that my dear son had tied one of my tube socks around his head. Surprisingly, an antenna appeared to be sticking out of the sock. I finally realized what was going on – The sock that was tied around Andrew’s head was holding a cordless telephone to his ear. As he was playing a video game, he was talking to his best friend, Alex. Since he wanted to play his game and speak to Alex at the same time, he created his own version of a “hands-free” device by fastening our phone to his ear with my sock!

I want my prayer life to be just like that phone tied to my son’s head, dear Church. Whether I’m at the office or at home – whether I’m working hard or resting easy – whether I’m reading a book or watching the birds – I want an open line of communication with the Lord. In all things and at all times, I want to have an attitude of prayer. In a moment when something good happens, I immediately want to praise the Lord. In a moment of selfishness, I immediately want to confess it to the Lord. In a moment of worry for a sick friend, I immediately want to bring that friend and his/her situation before the Lord. As I’m going about life from day to day, I want to be always conversing with the One Whose ears are always open to our prayers (1 Peter 3:12). Oh, but please don’t think this is a one-way conversation, Grace. I also want my ears to be always open to what the Lord has to say to me through His Word and the work of the Holy Spirit in me. Whether I am praying for blessing over my family or the salvation of a loved one or the healing of a friend or the needs of others or the ministries of the church, at the same time I want to pray the words of 1 Samuel 3:9–10 – “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (NIV). Yes, Lord, speak … and have Your way in me.

BIG reminder – It’s “Spring Forward” time. Be sure to set your clocks ahead one hour before going to bed this Saturday night.

Quick reminder – If you volunteered to fill Easter eggs, please remember to return the filled eggs to the Children’s Ministry table by Sunday, March 26.

New reminder – Ladies, save the date for the Women’s Spring Luncheon on Saturday, April 29 from 11:30 AM – 2 PM. More information will be forthcoming. Stay tuned.

Finally, I’ll end this post with a quote on prayer by C. S. Lewis – “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God. It changes me.”

You are so loved (and prayed for), dear Church. 

Steve

03.03.23

Hi, dear Grace!

I was framed! It was a set-up! You can’t pin this on me! I am not a crook! Innocent, I tell you! Besides, I was just a kid!

Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m thinking back to an incident that occurred years ago. I was perhaps 10 years old, although I could have been younger. (I sure hope I wasn’t older. If so, my plea of innocence might not even convince me.) As I have shared in this space previously, vacations when I was a kid were to the family reunion or to the home of relatives. On this particular occasion, my parents took us to the Garden State for a visit with my uncle, aunt, and cousin. While there, I recall going to the grocery store with my brother and cousin. An adult was with us, although which adult it was I do not recall. It really doesn’t matter, except that he or she should have been paying a lot closer attention to what we youngsters were doing. Near the produce section of this grocery store was a large barrel full of peanuts. I paid the peanuts no mind until my cousin walked over and grabbed a handful, shelled them, and started popping them into her mouth. My brother took my cousin’s lead and did the same. “Hey! You can’t do that!” I said incredulously. “That’s stealing!” My cousin’s response was completely calm, as if it was no big deal. “It’s okay to eat a few,” she said. “It’s a courtesy sample.” Well, even as a kid I knew what the word “courtesy” meant – kind, polite, considerate. But I had never heard the word used in this context. The gray matter in my head did some deductive reasoning and concluded the word “courtesy” must have a second definition, and that definition is free! I grabbed a handful of my own, enjoyed some free peanuts, and wondered why the grocery stores in the Great State of Maryland weren’t as “courteous” as the stores in New Jersey. Unfortunately, I snapped back to reality very quickly when my cousin quietly yet sternly scolded me by saying, “What are you doing? Don’t let anyone SEEyou!” My eyes went wide, and visions of prison danced in my head. Apparently, courtesy samples weren’t offered freely; they were taken in secret! Ugh! Yes, dear Grace, I – the apple pie-faced rule-follower who would grow to become an enforcer of the law and a minister of the gospel as an adult – turned into a shoplifter that day.

I like that word “courtesy”. Although it doesn’t appear in the list of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22–23, it’s a word that should be lived out in the life of every believer. The Apostle Peter wrote in his first epistle, “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil” (1 Peter 3:8–9a NKJV). The Greek word translated “courteous” in this verse is related to the Greek words that are translated humble and lowly elsewhere in Scripture. Hmmm … courteous, humble, lowly. The idea is of putting others before self. The Bible says a lot about this concept – nowhere more directly than in Philippians 2:3, where the Apostle Paul writes, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (NKJV). Two verses later, Paul writes, “Let this mind …” – the mind of verse 3, that lowliness of mind that esteems others better than self – “… be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5 NKJV). Imagine with me, Church, the impact we might have on our community if we were to truly live this way – thinking of others before ourselves in every situation. Wow! Oh, dear Father in heaven, may my pride and selfishness be stripped away. May the needs of others be more important than my own. Transform my mind into the mind of Christ, and may the heart of Jesus be lived out in me. And to You, and only You, be all of the honor and the glory. Amen.

Starting this Sunday, Children’s Church will be offered for children in Kindergarten to 5th grade during the 9 AM service. Thank you to those who have volunteered to serve for this purpose during the early service. Unfortunately, more teachers and helpers are needed before we can offer a nursery or a program for toddlers at 9 AM. As a matter of fact, you may not know it takes two teachers in each classroom every week for a nursery and a toddler class to happen. That means we need an additional 16–20 people (depending on the number of Sundays in a particular month) who are willing to love on children and pour into their lives by teaching them the truths of Scripture. This is a service opportunity, and I encourage you to pray about how God might use you in this area. Of course, all children’s programs will remain available during the 11 AM service. 

Also, our Annual Easter Egg Hunt is fast approaching. The date is Saturday, April 1 from 11 AM – 1 PM. This is a huge community outreach, and we are excited about the day. Please be in prayer for a successful day of ministry. We are still in need of people to help in the following areas: hiding Easter eggs, helping with set-up, and manning the cupcake table and the Bible giveaway booth. Please stop by the Children’s Ministry table on Sunday to sign up to serve or to have any questions answered. 

Despite dipping my toe into the waters of criminal activity so many years ago, by God’s grace I was able to avoid becoming a juvenile delinquent in my youth. And it will be by His grace, too, that I become better each day at putting the needs of others – my wife, my dad, my children, my neighbors, the staff, my church family, and even the driver who cut me off this morning – before my own. Surely, it will take a wonderful work of the Spirit to make this happen. Do Your work, Lord, in me and in all of us.

Thanks for reading, Church. You are so deeply loved.

Steve

02.24.23

Hi, dear Grace!

First, let me thank all of you for your very kind welcome on Sunday. After ten weeks away, it sure was good to be back and to see so many of you. What a blessing you are to me and my family!

Fifty-four years ago next month, Frank Sinatra released a song that included the following lyrics – “Regrets … I’ve had a few. But then again, too few to mention.” The song is called “My Way”. It’s not exactly the anthem of the Christian life. Rather, the words of the song reflect a man giving himself a pat on the back for getting through life successfully by doing things his own way. So why do I begin this week’s post with these lyrics? Because regrets have been on my mind a lot recently. Let me explain.

During my recent leave, I was talking to someone about stressors and responsibilities and the strong desire to be right in my decision-making. After listening to the stream of consciousness that was spilling out of me, this person responded, “Instead of looking at all of this from where you sit now, work ahead in your mind to twenty or thirty years down the road.” He then challenged me with this question: “What regrets do you not want to have in twenty to thirty years?” 

Obviously, our conversation centered on my current situation as a caregiver to an aging parent and how that situation affects me now and into the future. It’s been many weeks – perhaps even months – since this conversation took place, yet I cannot escape his question to me. Yes, I have thought much about the question in light of my circumstances at the moment. But the question doesn’t simply apply to my dad’s care; it applies to every area of my life. I have considered this question as it relates to my marriage, to my children, to my health, to the ministry. It has caused me to evaluate my priorities, to reconsider some expectations I have of myself, and to reaffirm God’s call on my life. Perhaps the question will be helpful to you as you deal with your own circumstances. Just know answers may not be easy to come by initially.

About regrets, the Apostle Paul wrote, “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10 NASB). In a previous letter, Paul had confronted his readers with a sin issue. Their response? Godly sorrow, which produced a repentance that results in salvation and comes with no regret whatsoever. In contrast, worldly sorry leads to longstanding guilt, shame, and even death. Thanks be to God, who is a forgiver of sins when godly sorrow and true repentance take place. In Him is no regret. Praise the Lord!

Don’t forget the conversational evangelism class that will take place after the second service this Sunday. The purpose of the class is to provide you with tools to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others in a non-threatening way. Thanks to David Spahr and Dave Homiak for leading this effort. Lunch and child care are provided.

Also this Sunday after the second service, there will be a meeting for those who are interested in going to Kenya for a short-term missions trip in November of this year. Questions will be answered, and an itinerary will be provided. Again, lunch and child care are provided.

Thank you for reading, dear Grace. As we ponder our answers to the above question about regrets, may we seek to be faithful to the Lord in each moment. To Him be the glory.

You are so, so loved.

Steve

02.17.23

Hi, dear Grace!

Did you miss me? Haha! I returned to the office on Monday (February 13), and it sure is good to be back! Thanks so much for your prayers, calls, cards, texts, words of encouragement, meals … the list could go on! I am returning much healthier than when I left, and your support over the past ten weeks is a big reason why. I’ll talk more about my leave at a later time, but something else is on my mind today. Read on for more.

While I was away, I missed celebrating and/or recognizing some pretty big events with you. There were birthdays (my dad, my own, my Savior 😊, my pastor, my wife, and many others), holidays (Christmas, New Year’s Day, MLK Day), weddings (Christina, Alli), disasters (earthquakes, mass shootings, and weather-related events), and some sad remembrances (the anniversary of my mom’s death being the biggest for me). There was also plenty of news in sports (the College Football Playoffs, the Super Bowl, my introduction to pickleball) and some news on the injury front (sadly related to the aforementioned introduction to pickleball). But since I arrived back to the office on Monday, I didn’t miss Valentine’s Day. For the sake of your marriage, husbands, I sure hope you didn’t miss Valentine’s Day either! Anyway, Valentine’s Day – rather, a particular Valentine’s Day gift – is the subject of today’s post.

Thirty-six years ago on Valentine’s Day – that would be February 14, 1987 – I was teaching 4th grade at a Christian school while Blair was finishing up her Bachelor’s degree and waitressing part-time. We were living in a small mobile home, totally poor, and happy as could be. Oh, and we were also celebrating our first married Valentine’s Day. Now before I continue, let me make one thing clear. Up until Valentine’s Day 1987, my gift-giving skills were never in question. Gifts to Blair on her birthday or on special days were never expensive, but they always made her feel loved. Sure is funny how the second most expensive gift I ever gave her up until then – the first most expensive being a modest diamond engagement ring – is the gift I’m still reminded of way too often as the worst Valentine’s Day gift ever. As you continue reading, dear Grace, please extend me plenty of grace and understanding.

As I shared, Blair and I had very little in our first year of marriage. Even so, we were really happy and loved being married. It was important to me to make that first Valentine’s Day a special one. However, I also wanted to be practical, since we were in no position to waste money. This was back when I tried to pay for everything in cash. Any time I received a dime in change, I would put it in a jar. Over time, those dimes added up to enough money to go out on a dinner date. They would have added up more quickly if I had saved all of the quarters, nickels, and pennies with the dimes, but we needed those coins in order to meet our budget. Anyway, that year I decided to couple a special gift with a practical gift. (At the time, it seemed like a good idea.) So what gift did I come up with to present to my dear wife on Valentine’s Day? I’m embarrassed to type these next words … It was a vacuum cleaner! Yes, Church, for my first married Valentine’s Day I bought my beautiful, sweet, loving Valentine a vacuum cleaner! My expectation of hugs, kisses, and a debt of gratitude was immediately dashed to smithereens. Instead, I was greeted with hurt and deep disappointment. Instead of appreciating me for my practicality, Blair interpreted a vacuum cleaner as a criticism of her housekeeping skills. To be clear, that was absolutely NOT my intention. Needless to say, the day did not end with hugs and kisses for me. On a positive note, however, I got the “dud” gift out of the way early in our marriage. There was no place to go but up from there.

Speaking of gifts, the Bible says, “… the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23b KJV). Surely, there is no greater gift, and this is the message we boldly proclaim through the preaching and teaching ministry at Grace Community Church. But it’s a message you can also share with others through your faithful testimony and witness. If you are unsure about how to share your faith, I encourage you to attend a class on conversational evangelism that is being offered by Dave Homiak and David Spahr over the next two Sundays immediately following the second service. In this class you will learn how to share your faith – not in a confrontational way, but in a non-threatening, relational way. Lunch will be provided. Please know this, dear Church – God can use YOU to reach others with the gospel message. Perhaps this class will give you the tools you need to win a loved one to Christ. What a joy it would be to celebrate such an occasion with you!

Thank you for reading. I have missed you, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday morning as we gather for worship.

You are so loved.

Steve

12.02.22

Hi, dear Grace!

Did you miss me? Haha! I returned to the office on Monday (February 13), and it sure is good to be back! Thanks so much for your prayers, calls, cards, texts, words of encouragement, meals … the list could go on! I am returning much healthier than when I left, and your support over the past ten weeks is a big reason why. I’ll talk more about my leave at a later time, but something else is on my mind today. Read on for more.

While I was away, I missed celebrating and/or recognizing some pretty big events with you. There were birthdays (my dad, my own, my Savior 😊, my pastor, my wife, and many others), holidays (Christmas, New Year’s Day, MLK Day), weddings (Christina, Alli), disasters (earthquakes, mass shootings, and weather-related events), and some sad remembrances (the anniversary of my mom’s death being the biggest for me). There was also plenty of news in sports (the College Football Playoffs, the Super Bowl, my introduction to pickleball) and some news on the injury front (sadly related to the aforementioned introduction to pickleball). But since I arrived back to the office on Monday, I didn’t miss Valentine’s Day. For the sake of your marriage, husbands, I sure hope you didn’t miss Valentine’s Day either! Anyway, Valentine’s Day – rather, a particular Valentine’s Day gift – is the subject of today’s post.

Thirty-six years ago on Valentine’s Day – that would be February 14, 1987 – I was teaching 4th grade at a Christian school while Blair was finishing up her Bachelor’s degree and waitressing part-time. We were living in a small mobile home, totally poor, and happy as could be. Oh, and we were also celebrating our first married Valentine’s Day. Now before I continue, let me make one thing clear. Up until Valentine’s Day 1987, my gift-giving skills were never in question. Gifts to Blair on her birthday or on special days were never expensive, but they always made her feel loved. Sure is funny how the second most expensive gift I ever gave her up until then – the first most expensive being a modest diamond engagement ring – is the gift I’m still reminded of way too often as the worst Valentine’s Day gift ever. As you continue reading, dear Grace, please extend me plenty of grace and understanding.

As I shared, Blair and I had very little in our first year of marriage. Even so, we were really happy and loved being married. It was important to me to make that first Valentine’s Day a special one. However, I also wanted to be practical, since we were in no position to waste money. This was back when I tried to pay for everything in cash. Any time I received a dime in change, I would put it in a jar. Over time, those dimes added up to enough money to go out on a dinner date. They would have added up more quickly if I had saved all of the quarters, nickels, and pennies with the dimes, but we needed those coins in order to meet our budget. Anyway, that year I decided to couple a special gift with a practical gift. (At the time, it seemed like a good idea.) So what gift did I come up with to present to my dear wife on Valentine’s Day? I’m embarrassed to type these next words … It was a vacuum cleaner! Yes, Church, for my first married Valentine’s Day I bought my beautiful, sweet, loving Valentine a vacuum cleaner! My expectation of hugs, kisses, and a debt of gratitude was immediately dashed to smithereens. Instead, I was greeted with hurt and deep disappointment. Instead of appreciating me for my practicality, Blair interpreted a vacuum cleaner as a criticism of her housekeeping skills. To be clear, that was absolutely NOT my intention. Needless to say, the day did not end with hugs and kisses for me. On a positive note, however, I got the “dud” gift out of the way early in our marriage. There was no place to go but up from there.

Speaking of gifts, the Bible says, “… the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23b KJV). Surely, there is no greater gift, and this is the message we boldly proclaim through the preaching and teaching ministry at Grace Community Church. But it’s a message you can also share with others through your faithful testimony and witness. If you are unsure about how to share your faith, I encourage you to attend a class on conversational evangelism that is being offered by Dave Homiak and David Spahr over the next two Sundays immediately following the second service. In this class you will learn how to share your faith – not in a confrontational way, but in a non-threatening, relational way. Lunch will be provided. Please know this, dear Church – God can use YOU to reach others with the gospel message. Perhaps this class will give you the tools you need to win a loved one to Christ. What a joy it would be to celebrate such an occasion with you!

Thank you for reading. I have missed you, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday morning as we gather for worship.

You are so loved.

Steve

11.25.22

Hi, dear Grace!

It was almost two weeks ago that I preached a Thanksgiving message using Psalm 136:1 as our theme. At the conclusion of the service, we read the entire Psalm – all 26 verses – together as a responsive reading. I then challenged you to write your own Psalm 136 – your own psalm of thanksgiving – and share it with someone. Here’s mine. I am blessed to share it with you today.

Pastor Steve’s Psalm 136

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.

His love endures forever.

 

In the beginning He already was. 

His love endures forever.

 

And even then He already loved me.

His love endures forever.

 

He loved me even in my sin.

His love endures forever.

 

And even when I was still in my sin, God sent His Son to die for me.

His love endures forever.

 

He blessed me with incredible parents –

His love endures forever.

 

a Marine for a dad and a Mama Bear for a mom –

His love endures forever.

 

who nurtured me, disciplined me, and taught me right from wrong.

His love endures forever.

 

He blessed me with two awesome brothers –

His love endures forever.

 

and memories of a wonderful childhood. 

His love endures forever.

 

He saved me through the ministry of Pastor Carmon Hartsfield and Landover Hills Baptist Church –

His love endures forever.

 

where my family grew in faith, grew in grace, and grew in the knowledge of God and His Word.

His love endures forever.

 

Through my family, through the church, through my Christian school, and through Bible college –

His love endures forever.

 

through sports, through friends, and through life – 

His love endures forever.

 

godly men poured into me.

His love endures forever.

 

By God’s grace, their investment prepared me for adulthood, for marriage, for parenthood, for work, for ministry, and for now, 

His love endures forever.

 

By His grace, God prepared me even for loss.

His love endures forever.

 

Yet by His grace, I will see my mom again – and my brother and others.

His love endures forever.

 

God blessed me with the perfect wife –

His love endures forever.

 

a true help meet, and truly the better half of me. 

His love endures forever.

 

He blessed me with two amazing children.

His love endures forever.

 

My love for them has taught me how much the Lord must love me.

His love endures forever.

 

He allowed me to work what I thought was my dream job for 25 years –

His love endures forever.

 

and watched over me in some really dicey situations.

His love endures forever.

 

He called me to what I have learned is my dream job –

His love endures forever.

 

to you, dear Grace –

His love endures forever.

 

with a pastor I love, a staff I adore, and a people I am humbled to serve. 

His love endures forever.

 

By His grace, my cup overflows with blessing.

His love endures forever.

 

Because of His grace, my heart overflows with thanksgiving.

His love endures forever.

 

To Him be the glory forever.

His love endures forever.

 

Give thanks to the God of heaven.

His love endures forever.

Sunday begins our Advent season, and Christmas is around the corner. There is much happening at Grace through the month of December. Take advantage of it all, if you can. You will be blessed if you do.

I pray you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, Church. There really is so much for which to be thankful. May God bless you today and all through the Christmas season.

I love you.

Steve

11.18.22

Hi, dear Grace!

Next to the desk in my office is a corkboard on the wall. On that corkboard is my calendar. It sure is packed with meetings, events, plans, and opportunities. Looking at it makes me feel busy. There are checklists, reminders, appointment notices, a newsletter, and a Building 4 Impact update on that board, as well. Hmmm … nothing fun yet. Ah, but then there are things that bring a smile to my face. There’s a paper tie, decorated in bright crayon colors, stickers, and gems. It was gifted to me by Naomi on Father’s Day this year. What a blessing to me! I smile when I see it. There’s a painted drawing by Charlie, coloring pages from Asher and Emelia, and crafts and cards from other children of Grace. All are precious to me. I’m smiling again. Oh, there’s a small, square card with a mustard seed glued to it and the words, “Sow the seeds of the Gospel wherever you go.” Verses out of the Gospel of Mark from the parable of the mustard seed are highlighted on that card. I was humbled by the dear lady of Grace who gave it to me. More smiles here. And then there is a card with a quote by Andy Rooney. You remember Andy Rooney, right? He served for 33 years as a commentator on the CBS news program 60 Minutes. The card is from my wife and says this, “No one is perfect … until you fall in love with them.” Big, big smile now.

I’m not perfect. I think I made that clear last week. But I’m glad to know my wife thinks I am. Regarding perfection, the Bible says, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience …” - the NIV uses the word perseverance – “… have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2–4 NKJV). Think about that, Church. Trials in my life are for the purpose of testing my faith. The testing of my faith produces perseverance. The result of perseverance is a stronger faith that leads to “perfection” (which is better interpreted as maturity in Christ). I want that! But very often, I don’t want the trials that test my faith that produces the perseverance that leads to the maturity I so desire. I just want maturity, holiness, and perfection to happen without the trials. Surely, I’m not alone in this. But here’s the analogy I often use – The guy who wakes up one day and decides he wants to be the next Michael Jordan doesn’t go to the gym once, shoot a few baskets, and turn into Jordan overnight. It takes years of hard work – years of missing shots – years of getting knocked down and getting back up again for another go at it. And just like we can be thankful IN all circumstances, we can have joy in times of trial. God is still doing a perfect work in all of us, Grace. Praise Him!

Today, a wonderful group of Grace people gathered at the church to load our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes into vans, trucks, and SUV’s and transported them to the Island drop-off center. The final number is in. I’ll share it with you on Sunday. Stay tuned.

As a reminder, I challenged you last Sunday to write your own Psalm 136. This will be your psalm of thanksgiving to the Lord. When you are done, please share it with someone. I’ll share mine with you next week.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! There is much for which to be thankful. I surely thank God for you, dear Grace. You are so loved.

Steve

11.11.23

Hi, dear Grace!

I’m drawing from my basketball archives for this one. Thirty-nine years ago this month – can it really be? – I was a junior at Washington Bible College and playing forward for the men’s basketball team. We had traveled to Clarks Summit, PA, as we did every year to play in a pre-season tournament hosted by Baptist Bible College. Eight teams participated in that tournament, to include Lancaster (PA) Bible College, Philadelphia (PA) College of the Bible, Valley Forge (PA) Christian College, Circleville (OH) Bible College, Cincinnati (OH) Bible College, and Fort Wayne (IN) Bible College. We won our first-round game handily and landed in the winner’s bracket. Unfortunately, we lost in the second round to Baptist. Neither game is consequential to this post, however. It’s that third game – the consolation game – and, more specifically, the end of regulation, that I draw your attention to. Our opponent? Fort Wayne. The score? I don’t recall, but the game was tied. Time left in the game? 00:03. (That’s three seconds to anyone unfamiliar with a game clock.) Situation? Timeout. Our possession. Coach is drawing up the play in the huddle. Feeling among the team? Total confidence. The result? Keep reading, dear Grace. I’ll get to that.

We were taking the ball in from the sideline on the other side of half court right in front of Fort Wayne’s bench. Tim Fowler was throwing in the ball. I was at the left elbow at the top of the key. Fort Wayne was playing a man-to-man defense (as they should have). As I recall, my guy was between me and the basket. When the referee blew the whistle and gave Tim the ball, my defender surely thought I was heading toward the low post to set a pick. Big mistake, since the play was designed to go to me. I posted the guy up right there at the top of the key. Tim fired a perfect pass, which I stepped toward to retrieve. When it hit my hands, I heard my defender say, “Oh, no!” At about 19 feet from the basket, I took one dribble with my back still to the player guarding me before lofting a turnaround jump shot over the guy’s outstretched arm. The natural fadeaway turned a 19-foot jump shot into a 22-foot jump shot, which would have been beyond the 3-point line had I played today. (Yes, kids, I played my college ball when there was no 3-point line.) I felt so good when that ball left my fingertips. It was a buzzer-beater for the win … until it wasn’t. The ball clanged off the back of the rim, and we ended up losing that game in overtime.

You know, I don’t often think about the shots I made. There were some big ones, for sure. But the shots that come to mind most often – the ones that haunt me – are the shots I didn’t make. I don’t recall ever taking a shot that I knew I would miss. That’s because I expected to make every shot I took. But the truth is, the average NBA player misses more shots than he makes. As a matter of fact, the average shooting percentage in the NBA last year was 46%. Does that surprise you? Worse than that is the average batting average for a Major League Baseball player. To be considered an exceptional batter in the MLB, a player will record an out seven times in 10 plate appearances. Think about that! A player to whom teams are willing to pay millions of dollars per year only has to get three hits in every 10 at-bats!

I hate failure. I hate not living up to my end of the bargain. I hate letting people down. I let my team down by missing that shot against Fort Wayne, but it only motivated me to get better. And yet here’s the thing – Even though I got better, I still missed plenty of big shots in my collegiate basketball career. And I still miss plenty of shots today, too. No, I’m not talking about missing shots on a basketball court anymore, but in so many other areas of life. This may surprise you, dear Church, but I continue to “miss shots” … continue to fail … continue to let people down every day. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to the Lord so much … why I need Him so deeply … why I long for Him to have His way in me. I absolutely love the verse that says, “My flesh and my heart may fail …” – along with my jump shot, my support, my promise, my plans, my (fill in the blank here) – “… but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26 ESV). Yes, I will fail to meet my own expectations of me. Sorry to say, but I may even fail you and your expectations from time to time. But please read these next words slowly – GOD – WILL – NEVER – FAIL – YOU. Praise Him, dear Grace, and press into Him! May He be our strength and may He be enough – loosely, that’s what “our portion” means – forever!

Matthew returns from his final week at the Soul Care Institute today. Please pray for a safe flight home and a wonderful reunion with his family. 

This Sunday, we begin a two-week Thanksgiving series. I’m excited to be sharing the message this week. Thanks in advance for your prayers as I put the final touches on the message.

We will also be praying over our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes on Sunday. While the final number won’t be confirmed until the following week, the Steve Salvas goal for OCC is 500shoeboxes. I’m keeping the faith here, Church! Haha! Please bring your boxes with you on Sunday so that we can include them on stage for our time of prayer.

To all of our military veterans, THANK YOU! May God bless you for your service to our nation. And to all of the family of Grace, thanks for reading. You are deeply, deeply loved.

Steve

11.04.23

Hi, dear Grace!

For the past 36 years – that’s as long as Blair and I have been married – we have purchased a vehicle based on family need. When we first got married, Blair was driving an old 4-speed Datsun B210, while I was driving a 1981 Chevy Chevette. My Chevette was in pretty good condition, but Blair’s Datsun was on its last legs. We therefore traded it in for a Ford Escort, which was a good first car for the newly married us. It was all we needed, and it was all we could afford. After our daughter came along – but before the birth of our son – we purchased an Escort wagon. It had more room for car seats, play pens, and everything else that comes with having children. Years later, that wagon was traded in for our first minivan … which was later traded in for our second minivan. (As an aside, that second minivan – a 2001 Ford Windstar – became the vehicle Andrew drove back and forth to college. It also limped to Hilton Head Island with us when we moved here. I may talk more about that van in a future post.) Because Blair loved sitting up high and the room that a minivan provided, we later bought her a Toyota Sienna with all the bells and whistles. Blair was in love with it. To her deep chagrin, however, that vehicle was totaled in an accident. (Thank You, Lord, for watching over Blair and Andrew that day.) All of this leads to the vehicle she drives today – another Toyota Sienna, not as nice as the previous one but just as reliable. It’s getting up there in mileage and in age today, but it’s been a good vehicle for the longtime married us. As for me, car-buying has been pretty easy. That ’81 Chevette is a good indicator of what I used to drive back-and-forth to work every day. As a matter of fact, including the Chevette there were a total of only three vehicles for me – all used, all small, all deathtraps, and all driven until they screamed to be put to rest. But in October 2001, things changed. Let me explain.

For the twenty-five years prior to my arrival at Grace, I served as a police officer in Southern Maryland. One of the best days after graduating from the police academy and completing field training is the day a new officer is assigned an Agency vehicle. And one of the best perks of being a police officer is the Agency vehicle take-home policy. Yes, if an officer lived in the jurisdiction where I served, he or she could take their Agency vehicle home, park it in their driveway, use it to run errands in the County while off-duty, and so on. They could even drive their family to church or to school or to a ball game. It was great! The problem? I lived outside of my jurisdiction. I therefore had to go to and from work in my used, small deathtrap that was screaming to be put to rest … that is, until I moved into the County in October 2001. (Cue heavenly choir music here.) Free vehicle. Free gas. Free oil changes. Free repairs. Free insurance. Sure, there are trade-offs. The policy was put into effect to promote more police vehicles on the County roadways. How many times did I make a traffic stop while off duty? Or handle an accident scene? On one occasion I even dropped Blair and our kids off at the public library so that I could respond to an emergency call for service in the area. But still, it was awesome!

As I got closer to retirement, I started looking forward to purchasing my own vehicle. Driving a police vehicle is great, but the thought of purchasing a non-used (i.e., new), non-small (i..e., mid-sized or bigger), non-deathtrap (i.e., safe and solid), non-screaming (i.e., a full life to give) vehicle was exciting to me. It would be a gift to myself after a wonderful career. And then, I went car-shopping for the first time in many years – not for family need, but for me. It didn’t go well. I entered the dealership with a lot of confidence. I left without a new car. I have heard of sticker shock, but I never experienced it firsthand until that day. All of this brings me to the point I want to make today.

The cost of a new vehicle is expensive. But you know what? So is the cost of discipleship. I loved Matthew’s message on Sunday. Toward the end of chapter 8 in the Gospel of Mark, the Bible says, “And He summoned the crowd together with His disciples, and said to them, ‘If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it’” (Mark 8:34–35 NASB). The cross was a symbol of humility and death. When a man was sentenced to crucifixion in Rome, he carried his own cross to the place of execution. It was a one-way ticket; there would be no return. And there were people along the route who would see this. To take up your cross, then, is a pronouncement to the world that “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). My allegiance is to Him, and ALL of me – my life, my will, my possessions, my goals, my everything – is His. Expensive? Sure, it is. Worth it? Absolutely!

Thanks to all of you who participated in Trunk or Treat last Sunday. It was a tremendous event. Hundreds of children and their families came for food, fun, and games. Many were introduced to Grace for the first time. If you see Charlynn or Andrew, please express your appreciation to them for their great work in making it all happen.

Our men will be gathering tomorrow morning at 9 AM at Legendary Golf for breakfast and a mini-golf tournament. The cost is $10 per person. 

This Sunday is Missions Sunday. There will be ONE SERVICE at 10 AM, and it’s going to be special. I hope to see you there. By the way, don’t forget to set your clocks back one hour before you go to bed on Saturday night. 

Operation Christmas Child is coming to a close. There are only two more weeks to turn in your filled shoeboxes. From what I hear, 109 boxes have been filled and returned so far. Thanks to ALL of you who are participating in this wonderful missions opportunity to reach children with gifts and the gospel.

Tuesday is Election Day. Before you vote, please pray. After you pray, be sure to vote. And after you vote, please pray more. Thank you, Grace.

Oh, last week I registered my dad’s 2004 Toyota Highlander with the SC Department of Motor Vehicles in my name. No new car for me in the foreseeable future, but that’s okay. I am thankful for God’s provision and His timing. He is so, so good.

Thanks for reading to the end, dear Grace. You are deeply loved.

Steve

10.28.22

Hi, dear Grace!

I love to read. Recently, however, my reading sparked a comment from my wife that I just can’t shake. You see, Blair and I read differently. While I read books, Blair studies them. Along with her book, she has a highlighter, a pen, and a notebook with her when she reads. Currently, she is reading/studying two different books. The first is a book for women based on the Titus 2 model of older women coming alongside younger women to encourage them in their roles as thriving people in the church and the home. She has been “reading” this book for months. The second is a book on faith by a former professor we had at Washington Bible College. I am excited to read this book when she is done, but I’ll probably not have it for myself until sometime in 2023.

So about that comment Blair made. Each night, I read aloud a devotional for married couples before we go to bed. Admittedly, however, sometimes we miss a night. Because it’s a year-long devotional, I may therefore read two devotions on another night so that we finish by the end of the year. Blair doesn’t like that. She would rather read one devotion and discuss it, digest it, and master it before moving on. (Huh? My brain says if it’s a 365-day devotional, then we have to complete it in 365 days. Blair’s brain definitely doesn’t work like mine.) So while I contend that Blair takes forever to read a book, not because she is a slow reader but because she squeezes everything out of it that she can – not a bad thing, by the way – she accuses me of not reading books but conquering them. Ouch! But you know what? The truth hurts. If Blair is reading a book she doesn’t like, she stops reading it. To be honest with you, I cannot do that. If I start a book, I WILL finish it – even if I hate it. Yes, I guess that means I will conquer that book. (Wow! As I read those words back to myself, it sounds so dumb!) 

But what about my daily Bible reading? Do I go into my reading of God’s Word in the morning with the thought that I just have to get it done before I start my day? If so, I’m wasting my time. Time spent in God’s Word should be the most important part of my day. But Blair’s comment to me has me thinking – Do I read my Bible simply to get it over with, or do I read my Bible to spend time hearing from the Author of the Book I’m reading. Is my Bible reading an item to be checked off a list of things to get done, or is it an investment in my walk with Christ? Am I conquering my reading of God’s Word, or am I allowing God’s Word – through the power of the Holy Spirit – to conquer me? Having asked myself these questions and examined my own heart, I now approach my Bible reading more purposefully. It’s too important to be a checklist item that I squeeze into my already-packed day. Rather, it’s a time to be prioritized. If any of this resonates with you – if you approach your Bible reading with the intent to conquer it or to just get it done – I encourage you to be more purposeful and to make it more meaningful. May God bless you as you examine your own heart about these things. 

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Rome, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37 NIV). Think about that. You, Christian, are more than a conqueror. The Greek word literally calls you an “over-conqueror.” And Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, isn’t talking about conquering books. No, he is talking about conquering “all these things,” which are identified in verse 35 as trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness (i.e., poverty), danger, and sword. Paul’s purpose here is to encourage you, faithful believer, in knowing that overwhelming victory awaits you today (because nothing can separate you from God’s love) and in the future (because nothing can separate you from eternity with the God Who loves you). Praise Him! Of course, don’t forget the two most important words in this verse, “… through Him who loved us” – that is, Jesus. It is only through Him that victory will ever be ours. Praise Him again, dear Grace! I encourage you to read Romans 8:35–39 for yourself. You will be blessed when you do.

Trunk or Treat is this Sunday, October 30 from 4:30 – 6:30 PM here in the parking lot of the church. There will be free food, some games, and plenty of candy. As I write these words, there are twenty-six (26) vehicles signed up to participate. Our goal is forty (40), so if you are available to join us, I hope to see you there. The link to sign up can be found in the Grace Weekly E-newsletter. If you cannot come, please pray for a great turnout, good weather, and strong connections with people from our community.     

In lieu of the Saturday morning men’s breakfast here at the church, our men will gather at Legendary Golf on Saturday, November 5 for breakfast and a putt-putt tournament. Legendary Golf is located at 900 William Hilton Parkway, Hilton Head Island. The cost is only $10. It should be a good time of food, fellowship, and fun.

The mission of Operation Christmas Child is to demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way to children in need around the world. There is a little more time left to pack a shoebox with gifts for a child this Christmas. You may do so by picking up a box at the OCC table this Sunday, or you may pack a box online by clicking this link – https://build-a-shoebox.samaritanspurse.org/view/08aac289-8cf1-4a27-809a-226ea9e3421e. Please note online boxes must be packed by Saturday, November 5. However you choose to participate, thank you for your support of this wonderful ministry.

I better stop writing now. If we are going to finish this devotional for married couples by the end of the year, I need to read a couple devotions to Blair before going to bed. (Just kidding, Honeybunch.) 

Thanks for reading, dear Grace. Know for certain how loved you are.

Steve

10.21.23

Hi, dear Grace!

Have you ever recommended something to a friend? Maybe a great book? Maybe a good movie? Maybe a new restaurant? And has that friend ever come back to you and said that book, movie, or restaurant was just okay – or worse?

I have a tendency to talk up stuff I like. If I read a great book, I want everyone to read it and get the same blessing out of it that I got. If I see a good movie, I want everyone to see it and enjoy it as much as I did. If I try a new restaurant and experience quality service and mouth-watering food, I want everyone to try it and have the same experience I had. Of course, everyone has their own preferences and tastes, so not everyone is going to like what I like. While I understand that in my head, it’s hard to accept sometimes. (What? You didn’t like it? Do we have anything in common?!?!)

For the past several weeks, I have been talking up Sunday, October 16. I said over and over that it would be the best day of the year. To those of you who were here Sunday, tell me – Did I oversell it? Did all of the hype exceed reality? Is there a chance you were disappointed in the day? Was it just “okay” to you? Let me recap the events of Sunday for you – Nineteen (19) people were introduced as new members to the family of Grace. Yes, nineteen people! Wow! Later in the day, over one hundred (100) people gathered for an all-church picnic at Driessen Beach Park. The food was good, but the real blessing was the fellowship ... and the singing … and the testimonies. Ah, the testimonies! After we ate and after we sang, thirteen (13) people covering every area of life – from children to teens to young adults to thirty-somethings to forty-somethings to sixty-somethings – shared why they wanted to be baptized. One by one, they professed their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Oh, what a joy to hear! Of course, all of this was followed by a walk to the beach, where these thirteen people were baptized in the cool – some would say verycool – waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Praise Him, dear Grace!

Admittedly, we did have a baptism service back in May of this year, so perhaps it’s best to say Sunday, October 16 is TIED for the best day of the year. Haha! Either way, I don’t believe I oversold anything. Sunday was an amazing day and is one I will never tire of. As a matter of fact, I’m already looking forward to our next baptism service. YES!!!!

David, declaring his unwavering faith in our God Who alone is worthy of our praise, wrote these words – “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in His temple” (Psalm 27:4 NIV). All David wanted was to bask in the beauty of God’s presence every day of the rest of his life. This was his only request. It was all he sought. Having considered the words of David, I can’t help but mull over the following questions – Was I in the presence of the Lord on Sunday at Driessen Beach Park? (Yes!) Did I feel His presence as I enjoyed the fellowship of like-minded believers at the picnic? (Yes!) Was I moved by His presence as I listened to the testimonies of those who were going to be baptized? (Yes!) Did I bask in His presence as I had the privilege of sharing in the baptisms of Luke W, Nolan, Jackson, Eevie, Olivia, Adyson, Conner, Caroline, Jessica, Nam, Luke B, Karen, and Jim? (Yes!) And did I witness His beauty as I stared at over 100 of you and many other dear friends of Grace on the shoreline with the sun setting behind you? (Absolutely yes!) With that settled, let me ask one final question – Can you imagine every day being like Sunday? David could, and he desired it. I desire it, too – for me and for all of us. Oh, Father in heaven, may David’s desire be our desire. May every day feel like Sunday felt to me. May I – may we all – bask in the beauty of Your presence daily – whether we are gathered in corporate worship or whether we are alone. And thank You for the promise of Jesus that He is with us always. We praise You for that, Lord! Amen.

If you are interested, several of us from Grace will be taking CPR/AED training at the Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue Headquarters, located at 40 Summit Drive off of Dillon Road, on Tuesday, October 25 from 10–11 AM. As one person said to me recently, you don’t know how important such training is until an emergency presents itself right in front of you. There is a maximum number of people who can attend the training, so please contact the church office if you would like to reserve your place.

In a little over a week, Trunk or Treat will be here. The date is Sunday, October 30 from 4:30–6:30 PM. Please consider signing up to participate. Trunk or Treat is intended to be a fun event for the children of Grace, while at the same time being an outreach event to children in our community. There will be free food, some games, and lots of opportunities to make every child feel loved and welcome. If you have any questions, please contact Charlynn Bonham or Andrew Cannell. 

Thanks to all of you who are supporting Operation Christmas Child this year. Several of you have already turned in your filled shoeboxes. Awesome! As I said on Sunday, these boxes are filled with the two G’s – Gifts for a child who may not otherwise receive a Christmas gift this year, and the Gospel to point that child to Jesus. Remember, too, that you can pack a shoebox online by clicking the following link – https://build-a-shoebox.samaritanspurse.org/view/08aac289-8cf1-4a27-809a-226ea9e3421e. It’s easy, and it’s fun. Thank you again for participating in this wonderful ministry.

So here’s a good movie recommendation for you, dear Grace. Blair and I love this movie, and I know you will, too. It’s called Seven Days in Utopia. You can find it on several streaming platforms, or you are welcome to borrow the DVD from me. Seriously, this movie has the BEST ending of any movie I have ever watched. I look forward to your thoughts after you see it.

This Sunday, I’ll be continuing our preaching series through the Gospel of Mark. Sure hope to see you there.

You are so loved.

Steve

10.14.22

Hi, dear Grace!

Thank you for your prayers as Blair and I were away last weekend. The wedding was beautiful, and my challenge to the bride and groom was very well received. Keith loved the NASCAR angle – Haha! It was really good to see so many friends from our former church. Blair and I had a great time, but we sure are glad to be home.

Because of the twenty-five years I spent in my former profession, I am an observer of traffic. I was never a big “traffic guy” during my career – I was much more interested in criminal investigations – but I did write a few tickets and many more warnings in my day. But after years of patrolling the roads of Charles County and enforcing the rules of Maryland, I still notice violations of motor vehicle and traffic laws. Expired tags. Vehicle registration covered up. Headlight or taillight out. Failure to use a turn signal. Of course, the worst will always be a driver who cannot stay in his or her traffic lane. In those cases, they are likely either texting while driving or driving while impaired. It’s not that I’m looking for such violations, but after so many years, it has become second nature to me. 

So what would you say is the most common traffic violation I have witnessed here on Hilton Head Island since my arrival almost three years ago? No, it’s not speeding. It’s not being on the phone while driving, either (although that one may be a close second). Here’s the answer – Almost every day, I watch someone run a red light right in front of me. Now please understand, I live 3.2 miles from the church. I don’t drive far to get to the office. Therefore, in the span of 6.4 miles – that’s a round trip from home to work to home again – I witness at least one vehicle run a red light almost every day. It’s so bad that I have told Blair – and I suggest to all of you who drive on the Island – to wait before pulling out into an intersection when your light turns green. If the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office were to purchase red light cameras for all of the major intersections here, I can only imagine how much money would be generated for emergency responders or education or infrastructure or even – gasp! – lower taxes. More important than additional revenue, however, is how effective these cameras can be in getting drivers to stop for a red light. 

On the day of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, the disciples were hiding behind locked doors when Jesus miraculously appeared before them that evening. Thomas, however, was not with them. When he heard the disciples had seen the risen Lord, Thomas refused to believe it. One week later, the disciples were again gathered together in a home. Although the doors to the home were shut and locked, Jesus again appeared before them miraculously. This time, Thomas was present. In that moment when they came face to face with one another, Jesus said to Thomas, “Stop doubting and believe” (John 20:27 NIV). I love the response of Thomas, whose words – “My Lord and my God!” – proclaim the Lordship (“My Lord …”) and the deity (“… and my God!”) of Jesus. (John 20:28 NIV). May that be our proclamation, as well.

To those of you who may wrestle with faith, stop your doubting. Jesus, the One Who died such a cruel death on the cross, is risen today. He is alive, and He is interceding for you. Praise Him! Are there times when you may experience a crisis of faith? Sure. Perhaps some of you are experiencing that right now. If so, I encourage you to pray the prayer of the father of the demon-possessed child, who cried out in tears to Jesus, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24 KJV). You can be sure He will make Himself known to you. Praise Him again!

Thanks to our Director of Women’s Ministries, Jessica Maples, and her incredible team for their hard work. All of the reports I heard about the Fall Women’s Conference last Saturday have been very positive. Awesome!

This Sunday is Baptism Sunday. I have said it many times – Baptism Sunday is the best day of the year. I hope to see you at Driessen Beach Park at 5 PM for our all-church picnic. The church will provide hamburgers, hot dogs, and drinks. If you are able, please bring a side dish or dessert to share. The picnic will be followed by a baptism service in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. If you come, you will be blessed.

Trunk or Treat is coming! The date is Sunday, October 30 from 4:30 to 6:30 PM. We hope to have 40 cars with full trunks of candy to pass out to children. This is an outreach event to our community. Please see Charlynn Bonham, our Director of Children’s Ministries, to learn more about how you can help.

A special thanks to all of you who are packing shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. The goal this year, as set by my wife, is 400 boxes. As I have shared with you, however, my goal is 500 boxes. I’m smiling as I type these next words – Let’s reach my goal, dear Church! Oh, by the way, you can also pack a box online by clicking the following link – https://build-a-shoebox.samaritanspurse.org/view/08aac289-8cf1-4a27-809a-226ea9e3421e. It’s easy, and it’s fun. Thank you, Grace, for reaching the world for Christ through the ministry of OCC.

Drivers, stop for a red light. You may avoid an accident and serious injury to yourself or someone else. And Christian, stop your doubting. The Bible is true. If you are experiencing a crisis of faith, I would love to pray for you and even meet with you. Please feel free to reach out to me anytime. 

Thanks for reading, dear Church. You are so loved.

Steve

10.07.22

Hi, dear Grace!

Can it really be twenty years since I started teaching the young adult class at Grace Brethren Church in Waldorf, MD? That’s hard for me to believe, but it’s true. For nine-and-a-half years, you could find me and Blair at 9:00 every Sunday morning on the first floor of the E-wing of the church, feeding breakfast and God’s Word to kids from 18–29 years of age. (I know they were adults, but they still felt like kids to us.) I had been teaching young adults for over five years at a sister church when our family moved to a neighboring county to be closer to my work. By doing so, we left a healthy and thriving young adult ministry to start a new ministry at the Waldorf church. I smile as I think of my first Sunday. It was August 2002. Breakfast was set up, my lesson was prepared, and ½ a person was in attendance. Yes, you read that correctly – one-half of a person showed up on my first Sunday. I say that because one person came but stayed for only half the time because he had another obligation. The following week, one person came (and stayed for the entire hour). In the weeks that followed, more started coming until we grew to over 30 young adults gathering for food, prayer, and Bible study every Sunday morning. As time progressed, many of them started getting married. As more weddings took place, a couple approached us about starting a ministry to married couples. It was an emotional transition for us as we left the “kids” we loved to take on this challenge, but it was a blessing to us. 

It may be sappy to say, but Blair and I love weddings. I tell you this because as this week’s entry is being posted in the Grace Weekly, Blair and I will be in Maryland for the wedding of one of the “kids” from that young adult class. Keith was a college kid back then, but he is 38 years old today and finally met the girl of his dreams. One of my greatest joys has been to participate in the weddings of people like Keith – people that Blair and I had the privilege of loving and pouring into for many years. Those relationships run deep for me. With my head filled with wedding preparation right now, I thought I would share some points with you from the message I will share with Keith and his bride on Saturday at 4:30 PM at Running Hare Vineyard in Prince Frederick, MD, where the wedding will take place. I’m still putting this together, so there may be some edits between now and Saturday due to time or to the Lord’s leading on some things. Thanks in advance for your patience and grace as I get my thoughts together

First, it’s important to know that Keith is a big NASCAR fan. With that in mind, I’m going to lead with the following mnemonic device – Elliott Wins Daytona. Stenhouse Finishes Last Place. For those of you unfamiliar with NASCAR – like me – Chase Elliott and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. are NASCAR drivers. The Daytona 500 is the biggest NASCAR race of the year. (As little as I know about NASCAR, I did know about the Daytona 500.) For someone like Keith, this mnemonic device will be easy to remember. And for a strong marriage that will last, it is important to remember. Why? Because …

  • “E” is for Elliott and stands for the word Encourage. Encourage one another. Every day, say something that expresses value to your spouse. They need to hear it. The Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up.” This is a must in marriage. Always seek to build up your spouse.
  • “W” is for Wins and stands for the word Worship. Worship together. Make this a priority. It doesn’t simply mean to worship in the same location, but to really worship together. Exalt the Lord together. Serve Him together. Grow in faith together. The Bible says, “I will extol the Lord at all times; His praise will always be on my lips … Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt His name together.” (Psalm 34:1, 3 NIV)
  • “D” is for Daytona and stands for the word Dream. Dream together. Up until your wedding day, all of your dreams were individual dreams. Starting today, all of your dreams – all of your goals – all of what you hope for in the future – are for the both of you. Amos 3:3 (KJV) – “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” Dream together. Set your goals together. And pursue those dreams and goals together.
  • “S” is for Stenhouse and stands for Serve. Serve one another. The letter “S” does not stand for Self. Marriage cannot be all about me. As Christians, Jesus Christ is our model, and He came to serve. The Bible says, “Through love, serve one another” (Galatians 5:13 NKJV). Follow the model of Jesus, and serve one another.
  • “F” is for Finishes and stands for Forgive. Forgive one another. There are two words you should know well in marriage. They are forbear and forgive. Colossians 3:12–13 say this, “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another … even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.” There are little issues that are not sin issues, but they still irritate. Squeezing the toothpaste tube from the middle of the tube instead of from the bottom is not a sin issue. I must forbear the little things. That means I must bear with or put up with those things. Forgiveness isn’t necessary for such occasions – only love and grace and much forbearance. Forgiveness is for the sin issue. I have been forgiven much by God. I must therefore forgive others – including my wife.
  • “L” is for Last and stands for the word Love. Love one another. The best definition I have ever heard for the word “Love” is this one by Dr. Tim Kimmel, who wrote a book called Grace-Filled Marriage – “Love is a commitment of my will to your needs and best interests regardless of the cost to me.” Love is not limited to a feeling. Feelings come and go. But my commitment to love my wife will never go away. In Jeremiah 31:3, the Lord is speaking and He says these words – “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” Love your spouse like the Lord loves you!
  • And finally, “P” is for Place and stands for the word Pray. Pray FOR one another, and pray WITH one another. Take the words of the Prophet Samuel seriously – “Moreover as for me, God forbid that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you” (1 Samuel 12:23 KJV). I promise if you pray for one another and with one another, you will experience more closeness in your marriage – more intimacy in your marriage – more romance in your marriage – and more blessing in your marriage. Pray for your husband. Pray for your wife. And pray with one another. You will be happier in marriage if you do.

As I said, there may be some edits between now and 4:30 on Saturday afternoon, but this is where I am right now. I’m excited about it. But more importantly, putting this together has been a good reminder to me of my own responsibility to Blair. Perhaps it will be a good reminder for those of you who are married, as well. I sure hope so.

A lot of work and a lot of prayer have gone into the planning for tomorrow’s Fall Women’s Conference. Thank you to Jessica Maples and to ALL of those who pitched in to make this event a reality. To those of you who are attending the conference, I am praying for you. To those who cannot attend, please pray with me for a great day of worship, fellowship, and solid teaching for our women. I am excited to hear testimonies that come out of the conference.

I am also excited about Baptism Sunday next week at Driessen Beach Park. We will begin with an all-church picnic, followed by a celebration of those who are publicly professing their faith in Jesus Christ through baptism in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Praise the Lord!

Our church has partnered with the Hilton Head Island Fire and Rescue Squad to bring CPR training to Grace. Dates are being scheduled now, but the first is set for Tuesday, October 25 at 10:00 AM. The training is free and lasts for one hour. You will learn CPR and how to use the AED in the event of an emergency. Please contact me or the church office if you are interested in attending.

Trunk or Treat is several weeks away. It is scheduled for Sunday, October 30 from 4:30 – 6:30 PM. There will be free food (hamburgers, hot dogs, and chips) and plenty of candy for children in our community. This is an outreach event. Please pray about how you can participate. Thanks so much.

Blair and I will miss seeing you on Sunday morning, as we are returning home late that day. Thanks for your prayers as we travel. 

How loved you are, dear Grace! 

Steve

09.30.22

Hi, dear Grace!

I have always liked to write. However, I never kept a journal – ever. This week’s post feels like a journal, though. That’s because I started jotting notes for it on Tuesday. I starting writing on Wednesday with another thought in mind. I then started it again yesterday. It’s Friday morning now, and I need to get this entry to Stacey in time for the Grace Weekly. Since it might interest you to know how my mind works as I write, I thought I would share the evolution of my weekly post.

The following are notes I jotted down on Tuesday, September 27 – Discover Grace Dinner on Sunday. Great meal. Great turnout. Great testimonies. By His grace, God is doing great things at Grace. Also, track the storm in the Gulf to see where it is. Some are saying it could become a hurricane and affect our area. (No way!) If so, maybe start with that and go with a question like, “Speaking of hurricanes, have you ever felt like you had a hurricane roiling around in your head?” Develop this. Talk about peace. Maybe use Isaiah 26:3 – “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee; because he trusteth in Thee.”

I scrapped the above and started down another track on Wednesday. A hurricane roiling around in your head? Really, Steve? So here is what I started on Wednesday, September 28 – As I write, today is Wednesday. The temperature is quite comfortable, but the winds have increased. Some might even describe it as a blustery day. I believe Winnie the Pooh referred to a similar day in the Hundred-Acre Wood as “Winds-day.” Of course, two days from now when this entry gets posted on the church website, we could be experiencing high winds and heavy rains due to Hurricane Ian. At least that’s what the latest forecast is saying. Whether the storm arrives in the Lowcountry in the form of a full-on hurricane or as the remains of one, you can be certain many of us here at the church are praying for you and all who are in the path of this storm. 

All the talk of a hurricane heading this way has me thinking about the prophet Elijah. Perhaps you recall the story. After confronting and destroying the 450 prophets of Baal, Elijah traveled to Mount Horeb (called “the mountain of God” in 1 Kings 19:8) and met the Lord there. The Bible says, “Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:11b–12 NIV). 

Unfortunately, that’s as far as I got two days ago. I planned to develop my thinking on the above passage yesterday (Thursday), but with the latest news on the storm, I started over. The following is what I started on Thursday, September 29 – I have started this post several times this week. Due to the alert that just came over my phone, however, I’m starting over one more time. Perhaps you received the same alert on your phone – There is a Hurricane Warning for the Hilton Head / Savannah area. Hurricane Ian left quite a mark through central Florida. Although it has been downgraded to a tropical storm now, weather forecasters believe Ian will move out to sea where it will gain strength and make landfall near us. Today is Thursday, and landfall is expected sometime tomorrow. 

The alert on my phone included instructions on how to stay safe. It said, “Urgently complete efforts to protect life and property. Have food, water, cash, fuel, and medications for 3+ days. Follow instructions from local officials.” Wow! That sounds pretty serious!

In the conclusion of his letter to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul gave urgent instructions when he wrote, “Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love” (1 Corinthians 16:13–14 NLT). I like how the New American Standard Bible translates the first part of verse 13 – “Be on the alert!” Yes, like the alert I received on my phone, the Apostle Paul shared an “alert” with the believers at Corinth – and to all believers. The Corinthians were an immature people. Paul’s desire was for them to move from a baby faith to a strong faith. Therefore, they (and we) must constantly be on the alert. The Bible says we are in a battle. We have a clear enemy. Fight hard! Stand firm! Be courageous! Oh, and love others!

Well, it’s Friday morning now. The plan was to put the finishing touches on what I wrote yesterday and get this to Stacey. It rained all night, but it appears the storm has moved more north of us. Does what I have from yesterday still apply, or should I scrap it and start over? Do I talk about the uncertainty of a weather forecast as opposed to the certainty of God’s promises? That He is coming again? That the signs point to His soon appearing? Maybe another time. After much consideration, I think I’ll share how this week’s post got started and its transformation through the week. Sure hope there’s something here for you to chew on, dear Grace. 

The Discover Grace Dinner on Sunday really was a great success. It is such an encouraging event for the staff to hear the testimonies of those in attendance. Among the questions we ask are these – What brought you to Grace, and what kept you here? Often, people talk about being invited to the church by a friend. Or they are new to the area and found us online. But what is it that keeps them coming? Overwhelmingly, it is YOU, dear Grace. Yes, they enjoy Matthew’s preaching. They love Seth and the Worship Team. They rave about our Children’s Ministry, our focus on Missions, and every other aspect of the ministry here. But the most common response to that question is this one – “It just feels like family here. The people are so kind. I felt so welcomed that first Sunday here.” Thank you, Church, for being a loving and welcoming church. The Lord is surely pleased, and I am so blessed by you.

Tomorrow morning, the men are planning to gather at 8 AM for breakfast, fellowship, and prayer. This will take place at the church. If you come, you won’t be disappointed.

Ladies, don’t forget the fall conference next Saturday, October 8. You may visit the church website – www.gracehhi.org – to register. Contact Jessica Maples, our Director of Women’s Ministries, with any questions about the event.

Finally, we will host an all-church picnic and a baptism service at Driessen Beach Park on Sunday, October 16. If you know of someone who wants to follow the Lord in believer’s baptism, please have them contact the church office. 

Sorry I’m a little late this week, Stacey. Thanks for your patience. And thanks to you, dear Grace, for reading my ramblings. I hope to see you Sunday. You are so loved.

Steve

09.23.22

Hi, dear Grace!

Would you like to know how I knew Blair was THE ONE for me? Would you like to know what solidified in my head that she would be my wife? It’s not some deep theological nugget that will change how people determine who their future spouse will be. It is, however, something I had never experienced before and was quite revelatory to me. But before I get to that, let me share some backstory. 

Despite what you may think, I am quiet and reserved by nature. Yes, I can be loud and boisterous about things that excite me – the Bible, my family, God’s grace, Grace Church, sports … the list is long and varied – but to be honest, while I am surely less restrained about some things, I really am an introvert. I liked girls in high school. The problem? I liked basketball more. And baseball. And my friends. And … well, let’s just say girls could be found on the list of things I liked, but you would have to look at that list closely to find them on it. Things started to change when I was a senior and took the following year’s homecoming queen to the Junior-Senior Banquet. Dressed in a tux, pulling up to her home in my light blue ’76 Chevy Chevette, and carrying a corsage to her door, I was feeling pretty good about myself. The banquet itself was great. My date was great. The time with my classmates was great. And the Senior Awards were great. (I was voted Most Easy-Going Guy of the Class of ‘81.) However – and I hate that there’s a “however” to this story – I was stressed out the entire time I was with my date in the car. As we were driving to the banquet … as we were driving to the after-banquet party … and as I was driving her home, I felt such pressure to keep the conversation going. If a moment of silence passed between us, I panicked. As dumb as it may sound, a lull felt like the end of the world (or, at the very least, the end of my dating relationship). By the time I was a sophomore in college, I was much more confident in myself. Not only that, but you didn’t have to look too closely on “The List of Things Steve Likes” to find girls on that list. Unfortunately, when I was with a girl, I continued to struggle when a hush fell over us. Oh, no! What do I say? She probably doesn’t want to talk sports. I was at a total loss. 

And then Blair came along. Blair was outgoing. She was fun. She loved to laugh. She loved sports – YES! And although her faith was very new to her, she deeply loved the Lord. I was very attracted to her and began to wonder if she could be THE ONE for me, but it wasn’t until we went on our first date that I knew for certain she was definitely THE ONE. Why? Because with her, I was at total peace – even in times of quiet. As a matter of fact, I didn’t immediately notice when silence happened between us. Only after these times passed did I realize a hush had taken place and I didn’t panic. That was big for me – really big! I’ll say it again … With Blair, I was at total peace even in the quiet.

You know what? The Lord wants this with me, and He wants it with you, too. Sadly, how I felt in silence with a date years ago is sometimes how I feel in silence before the Lord even today. Sure, I spend time reading my Bible daily. And yes, I spend time in prayer. But spending time in the quiet of God’s presence? I really don’t do that too well. Perhaps it’s because I have so much to say to Him. Or perhaps it’s because I have so much to do. Either way, my excuses are all about me. The Bible is clear – There is a time to keep silent (Ecclesiastes 3:7). Oh, dear Grace, how I long to be obedient to the Scriptures in this area! Do you remember the words of Moses to the Israelites as they stood between the Egyptians and the Red Sea? “Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and watch God do his work of salvation for you today ... God will fight the battle for you. And you? You keep your mouths shut!” (Exodus 14:13–14 MSG). Do you remember the words of David in the Psalms? “Be silent before the Lord and wait expectantly for Him” (Psalm 37:7a HCSB). Or the words of God in the Psalms? “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a NKJV). Or the words of the Prophet Jeremiah in Lamentations? “It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:26 NIV). Or the words of the Prophet Zechariah? “Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord, for He is aroused from His holy habitation” (Zechariah 2:13 NKJV). Forgive me, Lord, when I do all of the talking in prayer. Forgive me when I fail to spend time in silence before You. Help me – please, help me – to be still in Your presence more often. And in that stillness, allow me to simply bask in Your peace and presence, knowing You alone are God. Thank You, and Amen. 

To those of you who are not members of Grace, you are invited to attend our Discover Grace Dinner this Sunday at 6 PM. You will have an opportunity to meet the staff and several of our elders and deacons. You will also hear about the mission and vision of Grace. Child care is available. An RSVP is required so that we can prepare adequately for food. We look forward to a great evening together with you.

Ladies, don’t forget the Fall Women’s Conference – Knit Together In Christ, Sewn Together In Love – scheduled for Saturday, October 8 from 9:00 AM – 3:30 PM. Dawn Camp is the featured speaker. A continental breakfast will be served, as will lunch. Tickets are only $15.00 per person. It promises to be a great day. You may visit our website to make your reservation. See our Director of Women’s Ministries, Jessica Maples, if you have any questions about the conference. 

We are planning an all-church picnic celebration, to be followed by a baptism service, later in October. Stay tuned for more information on that. If you know someone who is interested in being baptized, let them know. This is always one of the highlights of our year.

I hope to see you Sunday, dear Church, as I will continue our preaching series through the Gospel of Mark. Thank you in advance for your prayers. 

To Blair, you are still THE ONE for me. Thank you for an awesome 36 years (and counting). And to the family of Grace, you are such a blessing to me and my family. Thank you for a wonderful coming-up-on 3 years. 

You are so loved.

Steve

09.16.22

Hi, dear Grace!

One of our family’s favorite movies is called The Emperor’s New Groove. It is an animated feature by Disney that came out twenty-two years ago. Lindsey and Andrew were 9 and 7 years old then, and they watched this movie over and over to the point that they can still today say many of the lines from the film by memory. As an aside, many of you with children and grandchildren from the Frozen era may be experiencing this now. Anyway, Blair and I laugh hard as we listen to our kids – now 31 and 29, respectively – go back and forth with dialogue from the film. One particular scene involves Yzma (the protagonist) and Kuzco (the emperor who is turned into a llama by Yzma). Yes, he is turned into a llama. Remember, this is an animated movie. While not one of my favorites, it really is funny. In this particular scene, Yzma is talking incessantly while Kuzco is paying no attention to her. Rather, he is looking at her quizzically and – in his head – asking questions like, “What is holding this woman together?” He then spots a piece of spinach in her teeth and wonders, “How long has that been there?”

That scene from The Emperor’s New Groove leads me to recall a time … Ugh! Am I really sharing this with you? Yes, and here goes – Lindsey and Andrew were students at Grace Brethren Christian School, so this goes back about fourteen years or so. There was an evening assembly of some kind at the school. Since Blair was a teacher there, I arrived separately. As I climbed the steps and entered the doors leading to the sanctuary where the assembly was to take place, I saw several people who greeted me and shook my hand. One was even a fellow elder of the church. I remember a double-take from him, which seemed odd, but I didn’t think much of it. I still hadn’t seen Blair or our kids yet, but I did see two friends – Cliff and Sheryl, a husband and wife who are very dear to me and Blair. I received no greeting from them, though. Instead, Sheryl looked at me, pointed her finger, and said, “You need to go into the bathroom and get that off your face. I can’t look at that all evening.” Having no idea what she was talking about, I went into the men’s room and promptly looked in the mirror. In that moment, the words of Kuzco were my own. HOLY COW!!!! HOW LONG HAS THAT BEEN THERE?!?! AND WHY DIDN’T MY FELLOW ELDER SAY SOMETHING TO ME?!?!

Yes, I was quite embarrassed. But you know what? I really appreciate Sheryl for speaking up. And since then, I speak up, too. Food in your teeth? Something in your nose? Bad breath? Zipper not zipped up? I’m probably going to say something to you – not to embarrass you, but to keep you from being embarrassed. Similarly, if a sin issue has overtaken a brother Christian, it’s likely that I will say something. The Bible says, “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself” (Galatians 6:1 NLT). I’m not talking about judgement here. I’m talking about a brother Christian who has fallen into sin – sin as obvious as that thing on my face – who doesn’t need judgement, but restoration. Of course, this is to be done by one who is mature (godly) in the faith. It should also be done gently and in humility. Perhaps I would come alongside a brother more gently than Sheryl did for me – that was brutal, but she did it because she loves me. And love is the motivation in all of this, in hopes that restoration will happen. May we love one another enough to live this verse out at Grace. I pray you will do it for me, dear Church, and I pray you know how much you are loved if I ever have to do it for you.

Many of our Life Groups have started meeting. A few openings are available if you are interested in joining. Community Bible Study also kicked off on Tuesday and figures to be really good. The men’s Bible study through Romans has been meeting for several weeks, and the ladies’ Wednesday morning study through Colossians started up again this week. The ladies’ Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit study also met for the first time last night. Other studies are available, as well. If you are interested, do not hesitate to contact me. I will work to connect you to a Life Group or Bible study that will fit your current schedule and life situation. 

On Sunday, September 25, we will host a Discover Grace Dinner at 6 PM. This event is for those of you who are interested in knowing more about Grace Community Church or who are considering membership. You will enjoy a wonderful meal, have an opportunity to meet our staff and others in leadership, and hear about the mission and vision of Grace. Please contact the church office if you are interested in attending, as an RSVP is required. Child care is also available.

Ladies, don’t forget the Fall Women’s Conference – Knit Together In Christ, Sewn Together In Love– scheduled for Saturday, October 8 from 9:00 AM – 3:30 PM. Dawn Camp is the featured speaker. A continental breakfast will be served, as will lunch. Tickets are only $15.00 per person. It promises to be a great day. Visit www.gracehhi.org to make your reservation.

As you can see, there’s a lot happening at the church. None of it will matter, however, apart from the work of the Spirit in us. We are fully dependent on the Lord and His amazing grace. Please, Lord, have your way in us.

Thank you for reading, dear Grace. You are so loved.

Steve

09.08.22

Hi, dear Grace!

First, thanks so much for finding me among all that is in the Grace Weekly E-newsletter. As you can see, my musings – formerly known as “The Wednesday E-mail” – now have their own space on the Grace website, as well as a new name. Thank you so much to all of you who weighed in with suggestions. You made the decision very difficult, but several of you referenced how I close each edition of my weekly posts. As a result, this corner of our website will now be known as Pastor Steve’s You Are Loved. Enjoy, dear Church!

Each year in September, the Maryland Police Chiefs’ Association and the Maryland Sheriffs’ Association hold a professional development training conference in Ocean City, MD. Chiefs, Sheriffs, and Command Staff personnel from agencies all across the State of Maryland attend this conference. One evening of the week is dedicated to hosting an Awards Banquet for officers whose actions went above and beyond the call of duty or who displayed exemplary work in a particular field. Twenty-three years ago, Blair and I were at that banquet. I was less than five years into my career at the Charles County Sheriff’s Office at the time and serving as a detective in the Criminal Investigations Division when someone apparently thought highly enough of my work to nominate me for an award. That nomination resulted in my being named the Maryland Sheriffs’ Association’s Deputy of the Year for Outstanding Contribution to Profession in 1999. In front of an untold number of high-ranking law enforcement officials, I thanked my wife for her love and support, and I thanked my Sergeant and fellow detectives for their example and their commitment to our calling. I then talked about my brother Chuck, who was a Maryland State Trooper and who had been named Law Enforcement Officer of the Year in St. Mary’s County, MD, several years earlier for heroic actions he took during a response to a shooting incident. I also talked about my brother Allen, who had been named Manager of the Year for Foot Locker (an international sportswear and footwear retailer) on more than one occasion in the past. With that, I honored my mom and dad. My award, I said, and my brothers’ awards are reflections of our parents, who instilled the character values of sacrifice, service, and a strong work ethic in each of us. I then dedicated the award to them before finally thanking the Maryland Sheriffs’ Association and getting off the stage.

Fast forward with me now to last Friday, when Blair and I were in Orlando, FL, to witness our daughter receive The Walt Disney Legacy Award. Allow me to be a bursting-with-pride dad for a moment here. The Legacy Award is named for Walt Disney and his mission to dream, create, and inspire. Recipients are nominated by their peers, and less than one percent of all Disney employees will receive the award. Lindsey is a mover-and-shaker, she is a lover of people, and she is being salt and light to those who work below her, above her, and beside her at Disney World. The Legacy Award is a really big deal there, so when Blair and I got a call to notify us of Lindsey’s selection, we made arrangements to be there in person. Oh, we were also sworn to secrecy; the award was a surprise to Lindsey. Yes, there were tears. It was a very special time for our family, and we sure were happy to have all of us – including our son Andrew – together to celebrate the occasion. 

You know, the Bible says, “For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body” (2 Corinthians 5:10 NLT). Yes, dear Grace, there will come a day when we stand before the Lord and answer for the life we have lived. And if we are found deserving on that day, we will receive our reward. Please don’t misunderstand me here – I don’t live a life of faithfulness so that I can receive a reward in heaven. I live a life of faithfulness because God has called me to be faithful. But a life of faithfulness will never go unnoticed – not here on earth, and certainly not on that day when we stand before Him. Oh, dear Father in heaven, may we be found worthy of a reward as we stand in Your presence. What a joy and privilege it will be when we – like the 24 elders in Revelation 4 – cast our rewards at the feet of the One who truly is worthy of all glory and honor and praise! (See Revelation 4:10–11 for reference.) 

Don’t forget this Sunday is Back To Church Sunday. There’s still time to invite someone to church. If you do, please introduce them to me. I love meeting new people and welcoming them to the greatest church on the Island.

Also on Sunday is the first gathering of the new ministry season for our youth. Teens and their families are invited to Jarvis Park from 5:00–7:10 PM for a time of food, fellowship, and games. If you know of a student in middle or high school, please make them aware of this event. We are hopeful for a great turnout.

Oh, one final thought – To my mom and dad, Lindsey may have received a Legacy Award named for the founder of a global entertainment empire, but your legacy lives on through her and all of your grandchildren. Thank you for your example of faithfulness, commitment, and hard work. Lindsey’s award is your award. Feel free to add it to the many rewards you have received (in the case of my mom) and will receive (in the case of my dad) in heaven. We can lay them all down at Jesus’ feet together one day.

You are so loved, dear Church. Thanks for reading.

Steve