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The Strongest Day, the Longest Mile

I can confidently say that last weekend was one of my most memorable in the 14 years I've been at Grace Chapel.

On the ministry side, we enjoyed one of our strongest Sundays ever at Grace. With the help of hundreds of volunteers and a dedicated staff, we were able to serve over 6000 people on Easter Sunday, in 15 services across 4 locations! By all reports things went smoothly in all venues, with people being warmly greeted, personally engaged, and spiritually inspired. Once again I was humbled and amazed by the talent, commitment, and passion of the many people who make things like this happen at Grace. Being able to step up and preach in that kind of atmosphere was a joy and privilege.

But it wasn't the attendance or logistics that made it such a great day, it was the message we celebrated and proclaimed - that LIFE is stronger than death! The four faith stories we heard made that message clear, personal, and believable. They reminded us that stories like that are unfolding every week in the lives of thousands of people touched by the ministry of Grace Chapel. How blessed we are to be able to worship, grow, and serve in such a vibrant church community!

Thanks to all who served, prayed, invited friends, and gave to support what God is doing at Grace!

On the personal side, I got to participate in one of the best Boston Marathon's ever! Over 30,000 runners on a picture-perfect day - with safety and beauty and Boston pride on display everywhere. The first 15 miles went by quickly, and I was right on pace, cheered along by quite a few Grace Chapel folks along the way!

The Newton hills took a toll, and the final miles were tough. This Yankee fan was never so happy to see the Citgo sign looming down the road; it signals two miles to go. Getting to that sign just about did me in! Hearing, "right on Hereford, left on Boylston" revived my spirits, and I crossed the finish line 4 minutes short of my goal - but happy to have beaten my NYC marathon mark from 20 years ago!

I did some praying along the way, which helped pass the time and the miles. I gave thanks for a wonder-filled Easter Sunday, and prayed for the other pastors who are part of the Greater Things for Greater Boston network. As I came into town, I began praying for the city. Just as I began, someone yelled from the crowd, "Go greater Boston!" I have no idea who said it or why, but in my semi-delirious state, I took it as a word from God that He was, in fact, doing greater things in greater Boston, and in HIs purposes Grace Chapel is part of it!

All this to say it was truly a Boston strong weekend for me. I'm feeling grateful to God and to the community at Grace Chapel to be part of all that God is doing here for His glory!

- Pastor Bryan

The Boston Marathon Tragedy and Holy Week

We find ourselves in the middle of Holy Week one year since the Boston Marathon bombings and I can't help but see the similarities of the innocent dying at the hands of evil men.

What is it about our depraved hearts that allow for such a propensity to hurt people we don't even know? How does one convert their soul to follow a self-righteous philosophy of hate, pain and death? What possible narrative could have been created that would have deluded one into thinking such actions contained any virtue or honor? How does one build a bomb whose sole purpose is to kill people cheering for their family and friends at a marathon of all places?? We attempt to find a handle on such misdirected passion but often we walk away infuriated and increased cynicism.

When it comes to the crucifixion story of Jesus, we could also ask how does one decide that an innocent man should be hung on the cross because a powerful establishment despised him? We find a similar depravity, a self-righteousness and similar to loading shrapnel and nails into a pressure cooker, the enemies of Jesus stirred lies and accusations into a pot that destroyed anyone they convinced themselves worthy of dying.

We know pressure cookers and political systems are actually intended to feed and provide stability but in a world that is compromised by evil, even well-intended devices and constructs can bring suffering. In light of all this, how does one have hope, find meaning and stay strong?

The stories of the crucifixion of Jesus and the Boston Marathon bombing are tragedies and sadly our world is filled with them. With the two, we find other similarities like both begin with streets lined with people cheering and sadly a terrifying event that takes place in the most public of places. Both had different purposes but instead were hijacked by evil. Both created fear and threatened our hope. But the similarity I'd like to focus on is what happened next.

Though bleeding and grieving, Boston responded with a spirit of unity and one that was committed to move forward in a way that honored those who died and who were wounded. Further, Boston refused to give into the hate, cynicism, and the pain of it all. They even said next year's marathon would be better, not just with a higher emphasis on safety but that it would include more people and so more could take part and the city could stand proud.
The city started planning, people started training and people kept moving forward throughout the year. Every day, we read someone's story of why they are running this year (Grace Chapel's senior pastor, Bryan Wilkerson, has his own story behind running Boston this year). On Marathon Monday, runners, families, friends, the city of Boston, our nation, and people all over the world will remember the fallen, and celebrate the spirit of perseverance.

Which brings me back to the Easter story. After Jesus' death on the cross, the disciples scatter and grieve. Has not all been lost? But their lament is interrupted when they are told the tomb is empty. Could it be that Jesus is actually ... alive? Can one be brought back from the dead? Is Hope back in business?

The resurrection of Jesus proclaims many things and among them is that though the innocent are senselessly attacked and that tragedies are a terrible part of this life, the story continues. Evil is not final, death is not control, hate can be overcome. Jesus' resurrection shows us that goodness, life, love and the power of God trumps all. Those who believe this cannot help but lift up their hands and cheer.

When we see the signs that say "Boston Strong," we remember the fallen, we remember our collective resolution. Perhaps we can also remember the God who made us strong and gives us the grace to persevere. The God who has suffered, the one who is near all who suffer near and far. Perhaps God himself is wearing one of those blue and yellow shirts and can't wait to watch the marathon the day after Easter too.

- Pastor Tim Ghali