After more than a decade of dreaming, praying, and planning, and after millions of dollars have been invested in breathing new life into an iconic 100-year-old building, yesterday – April 19th, 2020 – was the big day: Grace City Church’s Grand Opening in the heart of downtown Denver!
We’ve actually been meeting in our new location at Asterisk since late January, holding what church planters these days call “preview services” (which, I think, are just like regular services except that you readily acknowledge you’re still learning and working stuff out). It’s been a dream come true to faithfully proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ at the corner of Park Avenue and Broadway. And, in spite of our fairly low profile, we’ve enjoyed connecting with more of our new neighbors with each passing week. At the end of each weekend’s “dress rehearsal,” we’ve continuously reevaluated and made adjustments to communicate love for God and neighbor as best as possible.
Over the past few months, we’ve talked a lot about what it looks like to love our city well. And we’ve prayed earnestly for a new moving of the Spirit that unleashes the power and hope of the Gospel on our neighborhood. Friends new and old have been energized by stepping into our new, urban “home,” which is both beautiful and functional. It should be – it was designed for them from day one.
All along, we’ve been counting down to this special Launch Sunday – a day filled with invitations and expectations, hospitality and hugs, praise and laughter and celebration! We would throw open our doors to the busy street, welcome all of our neighbors, proclaim the extravagant grace of Jesus, and party long into the afternoon, surrounded by good friends and good food.
But Launch Sunday came and went, and none of this actually happened. Check that – we did proclaim the extravagant grace of Jesus. But we didn’t launch. We didn’t host a grand opening. There were no food trucks pulled inside our building. In fact, we didn’t even get together.
The reality is I preached to my laptop camera on Friday afternoon, some of my best friends recorded some worship music from their basement studio, and we patched it together on Facebook Live. At 10:00 AM on Launch Sunday, I was sitting with just my immediate family in our living room, watching our service on a TV screen. My two youngest thought my sermon was unremarkable. I love to sing, but I was disappointed at the sound of my own voice: on key, but not good. After an hour, we were dismissed with these words from Numbers 6:24-26:
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Our “failure to launch” wasn’t a mistake. It’s also not some act of divine retribution. We’re simply living in the middle of the worst global pandemic in more than 100 years. COVID-19 has forced everyone to change their plans. Adapt. Lick their wounds. And figure stuff out on the fly. All while suffering tremendous loss.
I could be frustrated or angry, but I’m not. The words of Numbers 6 encompass my soul like a comfortable, warm blanket. Through the person and work of Jesus, he has been gracious, he has given peace, to me. I am kept by the love of God for me. His face and his favor are upon me. Does it feel like grace and peace and blessing right this moment? Nope. But God specializes in showing up in our brokenness and pain. I believe that with all my heart because that’s what his Word says and because I’ve lived it.
Humanly speaking, our plans have changed; but God is not on Plan B. He hasn’t taken his hands off the wheel or taken his eyes off the road. He’s not frustrated or panicked right now, wondering where things went wrong. He’s doing what he always does: he’s working with broken, sinful people in a broken, sinful world to write a beautiful love story of redemption and hope. If he can bring the greatest triumph out of the darkest tragedy – which is what Good Friday and Easter are all about – he can certainly leverage the Coronavirus pandemic for our good and his glory.
One day, Lord willing, we’ll have our Launch Sunday. It’ll be great, and I’m still looking forward to it! But in the meantime, we’ll worship, serve, and enjoy God in other ways. And that’ll be great, too.
grace + peace