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First Thoughts Blog

Category Archives: Thoughts from the Staff and Leaders

First Presbyterian and Kids Hope USA

Why does the wealthiest nation in the world have the highest rate of teen suicides, incarcerations and pregnancies? These are the questions Virgil Gulker asked himself 25 years ago. After conducting research, Gulker determined that one hour, one-on-one sessions between an elementary-age child and a loving adult could change the trajectory of that student’s future. Thus, Kids Hope USA was founded; a faith-based mentoring program offering effective training, prayer and support for the volunteer mentors. 
 
In September 2019, First Presbyterian Church officially partnered with Kids Hope USA by committing to be a positive influence at Gardere Community Christian School. We currently have eight volunteers but the goal is to mentor 50 students and make a positive, hope-filled difference. 
 
Here is a testimony about a successful Kids Hope USA mentor/mentee relationship. When Mr. Layne cautiously became a Kids Hope USA mentor, he had no idea the impact it would have. He was matched with Terrance, a 2nd grade boy who was recommended to KHUSA as his father had sadly been killed in a shooting. Soon after, Layne’s brother died and the two helped console each other. They met once a week, did some school work, played games and talked about making good choices. Mrs. Ginger, another Kids Hope USA volunteer, prayed for them.  
 
A great relationship was blooming, when Terrance’s mother felt it best to move back to Alabama.  Layne and Terrance kept in touch through emails and phone calls. Mrs. Ginger continued to pray.
 
Fast forward to June 2018. Layne received an invitation for he and his family to attend Terrance’s high school graduation; with a football scholarship!  
 
Kids Hope USA believes that some are called to be a mentor or prayer partner. If you believe you are being called, please contact Annette Lamond, Kids Hope USA Director and member of First Presbyterian Church (annette@fpcbr.org or 225.773.8745). 
 
 

You Are My Tribe; My Ministry

I am fairly certain I had never uttered the phrase “social distancing” before all of this began. I was just starting to get to know you. Then we were literally forbidden to visit with one another. As we pivoted to livestream worship, I found myself peering into the camera each Sunday with such a desire to connect to you that it probably sometimes looked like fidgety energy. I know you are accustomed to seeing me less animated and more subdued. (Ha!) 
 
The realities of a global pandemic were not on my calendar as I anticipated my first Lent and Easter season with you here at First Presbyterian. Despite having been warned about the donkey, I was anticipating the grandeur and celebration of Palm Sunday. I wanted to experience Maundy Thursday with its darkness and striking visuals. I wanted to see who wore fancy hats for Easter Sunday. Gerrit would say, “He is risen!” and we would say, “He is risen indeed!” 
 
The realities of the Lenten and Easter seasons were a different and strange story. Yet even in all this strangeness and interruption, something wonderful has come into clear focus for me. 
 
I believe that our God, in his gracious sovereignty, has brought me here. I needed you. You are my tribe. My people. It is hard to fully explain. My time in ministry here has not been long. There is surely much we will learn and walk through with one another in the coming years. But my dear brothers and sisters, you have my heart. It is my deep honor to serve you. There is a satisfying ‘click’ in my spirit. It is the click of a good, solid fit. 
 
We have returned now to gathered worship in our beautiful Sanctuary. While it is not the grand and massive reunion I imagined, seeing your masked faces brings me joy. Thank you! Thank you for welcoming me into this wonderful faith family. Thank you for entrusting me to lead you in giving glory to our most worthy Lord. Thank you for joining your voices with mine to sing the deep truths of the faith.
 

Deeper in Christ, Further into God's Economy

When Gerrit joined us as Senior Pastor 16 years ago, he said that his goal was to take us “deeper in Christ and further into the world.” Since then the average pledge (or estimate of giving) has increased $4,052!!! How can that be? Martin Luther said that three conversions must take place if one is to truly have an intimate relationship with Christ: a conversion of the head, the heart and the purse.
 
Going deeper in Christ changes us. It makes us generous. It makes us generous with our time, our affections, our love and, yes, our money. 
 
From my vantage point as one of only two on our staff who handle receipts, I am privileged to see first-hand what has happened over the years. And it is remarkable. 
 
The first year I was on board one year after Gerrit arrived, Katrina paid us a visit. Our purses opened wide to assist those devastated by this calamity. Then came Gustav and we lived out the principal of “blessed to be a blessing.” The Floods of 2016 presented another opportunity. Gerrit and I were honored to distribute your “gifts” to 27 church families in the amount of $10,000 each! And now, COVID-19.
 
Your Session approved an initiative called Neighbors Helping Neighbors, during the month of May. The goal was to give the Baton Rouge Food Bank and the Downtown Outreach Center $10,000 each. Any gifts received over and above that would go into our Helping Hands Fund from which we would provide direct financial assistance to members needing help. We reached that milestone of $20,000 early in May. And as promised we have cut checks to the Food Bank and Outreach Center. As of this writing (May 26), gifts are over $57,000. The Helping Hands fund balance is over $37,000 and we’ve begun receiving requests.
 
On top of all of that and in the face of economic and financial uncertainty, your tithes and offerings to your church exceed the budget through the first four months of the year.
 
Deeper in Christ? Yes, Deeper in Christ! You demonstrate everyday a generosity that could only come through life change; life change brought on by and through Christ in you. The Triune God of the universe bought you at an inestimable price. You’ve come to know what it is to participate in his economy. You’ve come to acknowledge that everything is his; that our role is to be good stewards of all that he has given us and to look on the needs of others with compassion and generosity.
 
From where I sit, I get to see glorious giving by the members of First Presbyterian Church of Baton Rouge. What a view it is! What a privilege to see. What an honor to be a part of it all. 
 
PS: If you’ll put Neighbor’s Fund in the memo line of your check, we will still accept your gifts to help out our members in need even though May is in the rear view mirror. 
 

The Proper Perspective In the Midst of Life’s Problems

Sometimes it’s difficult to realize that God is in control even when things seem to be out of control or at least beyond our control. Psalm 46 offers us the proper perspective in the midst of life’s problems that can lead to our peace. After reading Psalm 46, please consider these thoughts that I pray will keep you in his peace.
 
We can keep a proper perspective by looking for, reflecting upon and remembering four things about God that would lead to having peace in Christ.
 
First, God’s presence (vv. 1-3) is within, above and beyond the troubles we face. 
 
Second, God’s power (vv. 4-6) is doing what we alone cannot do. 
 
Third, God’s purpose (vv. 8-10) in tearing down any human kingdom to build up a holy kingdom, being known to his people that they may make him known to others. This cannot happen if we are not still, outwardly and inwardly.
 
Fourth, God’s promise (vv. 7 & 11) to never leave you nor forsake you because he loves you. 
 

Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you . . . Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid (John 14: 27).”

 

What a Joy It's Been!

It has been a true joy and honor to serve as your Children’s Ministry Director for nearly a decade. The children at First Presbyterian are absolutely amazing. I am blessed by the opportunity to see children come to Jesus, to hunger for him, ask questions about him and get excited at the sound of his name. I have enjoyed walking alongside parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, sisters and brothers. Serving as your leader in Children’s Ministry has been a privilege. Now it is time to take the next step of our journey. Life is journey after all isn’t it? 
 
Kinch has been blessed with a wonderful opportunity to advance his career in Ft. Worth, TX. Our children, Robert and Helen, will begin 4th and 6th grade come fall at Ft. Worth Christian School. We are all very excited about this new adventure and will be moving in the next couple of months. First Presbyterian has been home for 12 years and is truly what has made Baton Rouge special to us. I have always said it is the people that makes living in Baton Rouge great. You are those people! 
 
Thank you for letting me teach your children about Jesus. Thank you for helping me to grow. Thank you for loving my family and me so well. Thank you for being you. 
 
I hope the waters of isolation will be parted soon so we can bid you a formal farewell. Or at least give you an air-hug. If not, trust that we will return to you when time allows. 
 
 

City Ministry Immediate Needs

During the pandemic, our primary City Ministry partners have been extremely busy. I would like to give you a brief update on each. 
 
Christian Outreach Center is in need of large quantities of supplies for men, women and children of socks, underwear, hygiene products (soap, toothpaste, razors, deodorants, shaving cream, toothbrushes and feminine hygiene products) and diapers for ages infant to pull-ups. Please drop off at the church on Tuesdays or Thursdays near the 8th Street kitchen door from 10 am to 2 pm. We need volunteers immediately to help sort all these items.
 
Gardere Community Christian School is very grateful for the food that has been donated the past five weeks to make large boxes of non-perishable items for families. To date, we have delivered 150 boxes to the families of GCCS from March 23 to April 30. A big thank you to Nancy Zito, Julia Keblani, Lisa Head, Hans Othmer, Annette Lamond and Chelsea and Luke Haskew for their help in organizing this food drive! Please continue bringing non-perishable food items to the 8th Street kitchen door Tuesdays or Thursdays from 10 am to 2 pm through May 31. Items needed: red beans, long grain rice, peanut butter, grape jelly, green beans, peas, corn, black beans, baked beans, mixed vegetables, mac and cheese, thin spaghetti, spaghetti sauce, chicken noodle soup, canned tuna, cereal (corn flakes, frosted flakes, rice crisps), mashed potato packs, grits packs, applesauce, chocolate drink, paper towels and toilet tissue.
 
Open Air Ministry under the leadership of Pastor Joseph Moore has continued to provide bags of food for the homeless and poor of our community every Sunday from 12 noon to 1.30 pm. First Presbyterian has been to their ministry site behind St. Vincent de Paul for the past four Sundays and has delivered 50 boxes of food. As of April 30, First Presbyterian Church had provided boxes of food for a total of 200 families.
 
Manners of the Heart is doing well, and they are extraordinarily busy as they minister to East Baton Rouge Parish Schools: Cooking with Wilbur on Fridays and Storytime with Jill on Mondays. Jill is recording IHeart messages every week which air each day.

Caring to Love is also doing extraordinary ministry during the pandemic. We praise God for Dorothy Wallis and all she does for women seeking counsel on what to do with their pregnancy.

Abounding Love Ministries is doing well as they have received help with the Payroll Protection Program. We praise God for our sister church and all that God is doing through them. Albert and Adriane White, John Norwood and other church members pray at the state capital for our elected officials each Saturday morning during the pandemic.

 

God Paved a Path for Me

I am beyond honored and humbled to step into this important role as your Women’s Ministry Director. In some ways, I’m an unlikely choice! I’m just your average small-town Louisiana girl with a business degree from Alabama (the horror!), a wife and a mom of three busy kids. But as I reflect on these past several years, I can see how, in God’s great sovereignty, he has been paving this path for me; leading me to this place. I feel certain I am exactly where he wants me. 
 
It’s been such a joy to serve voluntarily and on staff, and this opportunity is a wildly unexpected answered prayer. So despite my (many!) shortcomings, I promise to continue to work passionately for you and more importantly, for the Lord, always seeking his wisdom and guidance. I have been an expository Bible teacher for several years and love to help others encounter the Scriptures in a way that conforms us to the incarnate Jesus. More than that, I am an ever-eager student of the Word, ready to learn and grow alongside of you.  
 
I love this church and the women of this church more than I can put into words, and I pray that together, we grow deeper in our individual and collective relationships with the Lord Jesus Christ and encourage each other as ambassadors of the gospel. 
 

God Paved a Path for Me

I am beyond honored and humbled to step into this important role as your Women’s Ministry Director. In some ways, I’m an unlikely choice! I’m just your average small-town Louisiana girl with a business degree from Alabama (the horror!), a wife and a mom of three busy kids. But as I reflect on these past several years, I can see how, in God’s great sovereignty, he has been paving this path for me; leading me to this place. I feel certain I am exactly where he wants me. 
 
It’s been such a joy to serve voluntarily and on staff, and this opportunity is a wildly unexpected answered prayer. So despite my (many!) shortcomings, I promise to continue to work passionately for you and more importantly, for the Lord, always seeking his wisdom and guidance. I have been an expository Bible teacher for several years and love to help others encounter the Scriptures in a way that conforms us to the incarnate Jesus. More than that, I am an ever-eager student of the Word, ready to learn and grow alongside of you.  
 
I love this church and the women of this church more than I can put into words, and I pray that together, we grow deeper in our individual and collective relationships with the Lord Jesus Christ and encourage each other as ambassadors of the gospel. 
 

The Expression of Truth Through Art

As a musician I often think about beauty and the expression of truth through art. If we use the most puritanical lens, beauty could be seen as a distraction-maybe even a temptation. Do we really need form as long as we have function? Aren’t frills frivolous?
 
Since her time hiding in the Roman catacombs, the church has struggled to define her relationship to beauty. Augustine worried about being seduced by the artistry of the singer rather than the sublime truth of the text being sung. At times, the church has adorned her sanctuaries with painting, sculpture and iconography. At other times, she has abandoned this adornment, shattering stained glass and choosing white walls over detailed murals.
 
For me, many answers to questions about beauty can be found in the existence of a tiny little critter called the peacock spider. The peacock spider will fit on the tip of your finger with room to spare. You could easily miss him. You may have squashed him. If you get really close, however, you will see a work of art. These tiny arachnids carry on their backs paintings worthy of wall space in a fine gallery. Do an image search in your web browser and discover the delights of the peacock spider’s plumage. 
 
The existence of the peacock spider tells us something about the nature of our God. He made a cosmos that is extravagantly, unnecessarily beautiful. Creation is as much a canvas as it is a construction. God designed a sturdy creation that functions well. He also made something gorgeous. As creatures, we must praise such a Creator. We can delight in his stunning artistry. We can celebrate our individuality. 
 

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
    who alone does wondrous things.
Blessed be his glorious name forever;
    may the whole earth be filled with his glory!
Amen and Amen! 

Psalm 72: 18-19

 
 

Sing Aloud His Righteousness!

We have only been with you for a few weeks. Yet, we already feel like part of this wonderful Church. The friendly handshakes and “Welcome to First Presbyterian!” introductions are appreciated. I believe that the Lord in his gracious, sovereign providence has brought us together. I am asking the Lord to build his Kingdom through us. I look forward to leading you to “pour forth the fame of God’s abundant goodness and sing aloud of his righteousness” (Psalm 145: 7).