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First Thoughts Blog

Day 21, Saturday (March 30) - Living into His Name

JESUS SAID, "I AM"

One with the Father
Day 21   Saturday

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EXPLORE THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

JOHN 10: 24-34
So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” 
 
The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’?”
 
CONSIDER
Jesus outrageously claimed, as a man, that he was “one” with God the Father. That means that who we see Jesus to be is what God is actually like. That means that what we see Jesus do is what God actually does in us and for us. That means there is no hidden God behind the back of Jesus. There is no secret God who will turn out to be other than who we see and hear Jesus to be.
 
What does Jesus’ oneness with the Father have to do with his declaration that he gives his sheep eternal life?
 
What does it have to do with our security that no one can snatch us out of his hand?

__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, one with the Father, you are I AM,
the one true God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is no other.

__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7).

1 CORINTHIANS 12: 12-13, 26-27
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 
 
If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 
 
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
 
CONSIDER
Jesus is one with his Father in the bonds of the Spirit. He declares that we who are joined to him are one body with him, the one who is one with the Father.
That means we are one with each other for we share the same Spirit.
 
How does this reality challenge my idea that spirituality is an individual choice?
 
What does this oneness of Christ’s people have to do with the choices I make to pursue others who belong to him? To pursue reconciliation? To love those who are harder to love? To gather wandering sheep? To make the effort to show up? To open my heart? To seek greater expression of oneness in Christ who is one with the Father?
 
Close by singing these verses from the mystical ancient hymn “Of the Father’s Love Begotten:”
 
Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, he the source, the ending he,
Of the things that are, that have been, and that future years shall see,
Evermore and evermore!
 
At his word, the worlds were framed. He commanded; it was done.
Heaven and earth and depths of ocean in their threefold order one;
All that grows beneath the shining of the moon and the burning sun,
Evermore and evermore!
 
He is found in human fashion, death and sorrow here to know,
That the race of Adam’s children doomed by law to endless woe,
May not henceforth die and perish in the dreadful gulf below,
Evermore and evermore!
 
Aurelius Prudentius, AD 400, trans. John Mason Neale. Of the Father’s Love Begotten. 1854.

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

 

Day 20, Friday (March 29) - Living into His Name

JESUS SAID, "I AM"

The True Vine
Day 20   Friday

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EXPLORE THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

JOHN 15: 1-11
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
 
CONSIDER
Grapevines were all over ancient Israel. Wine was a staple of life and vineyards were crucial to the life and economy of God’s people. Also, Israel herself was likened to a vineyard planted by the LORD (Isaiah 5). Across the Temple was a gilded grapevine symbolizing a special people. But the prophet declared that the people had failed to produce a harvest. They were barren of faithfulness.
 
How does this context help us understand why Jesus likened himself to a vine?
 
How is Christ’s faithfulness necessary to our faithfulness and fruitfulness?
 
How does Jesus tell us to remain, or abide, in him, the Vine?

__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, True Vine to my small branch,
hold me fast today and grow your fruit through me
that the world might taste you. 

__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7).

PSALM  52: 8-9
But I am like a green olive tree
in the house of God.
 
I trust in the steadfast love of God
forever and ever.
I will thank you forever,
because you have done it.
I will wait for your name, for it is good,
in the presence of the godly.
 
GALATIANS 5: 22-25
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.
 
CONSIDER
The fruit of living from Jesus the Vine is a life that tastes like this Galatians passage. What tips does Psalm 52 give us for things we can do in order to live more as a fruitful vine?
 
What is the connection between living from Jesus and living for Jesus?
 
Close in prayer as you meditate on lines from this hymn, 
 
Thou true life-giving Vine, let me thy sweetness prove;
Renew my life with thine, refresh my soul with love.
Rough paths my feet have trod, since first their course began;
Feed me, thou Bread of God, help me, thou Son of Man.
 
John S. B. Monsell. I Hunger and I Thirst. 1866.

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

 

My Cup Overflows

In well-known Psalm 23, David is so content, so overwhelmed with emotion in light of God’s provision and promised blessings that he proclaims, “My cup overflows!” Women, in some capacity or another, all yearn to feel like David in this psalm. We are all thirsty for God’s Word and God’s grace and blessings. We want to be “filled up” to the brim, to the point of overflowing! We show up with our empty cups, ready to be filled with God’s goodness and joy.
 
But often, we underestimate our ability to pour into other’s cups. We believe the lie that we can’t really contribute unless our own cup is overflowing.  Or maybe we miss opportunities to pour into others because we believe that we have nothing to offer, that our presence doesn’t really matter. Or more boldly, we don’t pour into others because it’s inconvenient or uncomfortable for us, or because it means sacrificing something we don’t want to give up like our time or energy. But the truth is, on a daily basis, we can simultaneously feel “full” in some ways and “empty” in others. And so it’s possible to approach each day with an empty cup in one hand and a water pitcher in the other. 
 
Women’s ministry requires all of us. We are a complex gender, full of wants and needs, desires and dreams and emotions. We are absolutely not one size fits all. So we need all hands on deck. We need to retrain our brains to believe the truth that we do have something to offer, that our presence DOES matter. After all, God created us for a reason, giving each of us our own characteristics. And wherever he has put us, we express the gifts and strengths he’s given us. Even in our everyday lives, we have endless opportunities to be ministers of the gospel. God can use anyone (and we mean anyone!) to spread gospel truth and to be his hands and feet. We are all different, but we are all united in Christ.
 
So come thirsty. Come with an empty cup in one hand because the good news, more than anything else, is that God’s Truth is sufficient to fill us up. God is always ready and willing to pour out his grace. Come ready to drink up God’s goodness and joy.
 
But also come with a water pitcher, ready to serve his life-giving water to others. Come willing to be inconvenienced. Come willing to move into empty spaces and stir one another up in love using the gifts and talents he has instilled in you. Come willing to nurture other women in their relationship with Christ. It’s a weighty and important responsibility, but oh, what a privilege it is!    
 
We believe that God has intentionally placed every woman in this church, not only to grow our faith upward, but also to grow it outward, with one another. Our prayer is that Women’s Ministry would be a safe, honest, God-glorifying place where we can come together in study and prayer, serve one another in love, and connect in deep, meaningful ways. Our prayer is that we come together with compassion, attentiveness and grace-filled sacrifice, and then we take our water pitcher outside of the church walls, outside of Sunday morning and into the mission fields God has called us to. Our prayer is that each of us come with an empty cup in one hand and a water pitcher in the other. Let’s encourage a culture of water pourers, and may our cups overflow!
 
By Elizabeth Parker
Women's Ministry Director
 

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1: 6-8).

 

Day 19, Thursday (March 28) - Living into His Name

JESUS SAID, "I AM"

The Way, the Truth and the Life
Day 19   Thursday

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EXPLORE THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

JOHN 13: 36-14: 9
Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.
 
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 
 
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”
 
CONSIDER
On the last night before his crucifixion, Jesus’ disciples were worried that he was leaving them. They wanted to know where he was going and how they could follow him. Jesus did not give them a map, or even a list of instructions on how to reach him in heaven. Jesus assured them that he himself is both the road and the destination, both the goal and the plan. He is all, and we must be in him, not just knowing about him. 
 
In the 4th century, Augustine preached, “Christ-God is the country where we go, Christ-man is the way by which we go.” Jesus the man provided the way that we might go to live in and with Christ Jesus our God. 
 
What is the hard news in Jesus being the exclusive way to the Father?
 
What is the good news in Jesus being the way? 
 
What does it mean for your life that Jesus himself is the truth about God, life, the world and everything?

__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, Sure Way and Only Truth,
lead me forth in your truth and teach me, 
for apart from you I have no good. 

__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7).

PSALM 16: 1-2, 11
Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
 
CONSIDER
Recall times in your life when you “sought your own truth” apart from God. What were the effects of that?
 
Recall times when you “sought fullness of joy” apart from Christ. Describe the disappointment in such independent quests. Consider how the presence of the Triune God actually does fulfill us. What activities enhance the experiences of that presence?
 
Close by singing three verses from this hymn based on John 14: 7. The tune is the same as “Rejoice, the Lord Is King.”
 
You are the Way to God, Your blood our ransom paid;
In you we face our Judge and Maker unafraid.
Before the throne absolved we stand,
Your love has met your law’s demand.
 
You are the living Truth! All wisdom dwells in you,
The Source of every skill, the one eternal True!
O great I AM! In you we rest, 
Sure answer to our every quest.
 
You only are true Life! To know you is to live
The more abundant life that earth can never give.
O risen Lord! We live in you
In us each day your life renew!
 
Edith Margaret Clarkson. We Come, O Christ, to You. 1946.

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

 

Long Live God!

I had only recently come awake to Christ. My heart was full of praise. I  was eager to enter the drama of his saving acts. Around that time, Godspell became a hit Broadway musical. I had the soundtrack and one Easter Sunday, my father took me to see a visiting production. The crucifixion scene against a chain link fence was simple, searing and sad: 
    “O God, I’m dying,” sang Jesus.
    “O God, you’re dying,” echoed the disciples.
    “O God, I’m dead,” and Jesus sang no more.
    “O God, you’re dead,” mourned the disciples.
 
Then quietly, the music turned. All our hopes rode on a simple, wistful call:
    “Long live God. Long live God.”
 
Then, as resurrection dawned on the disciples, the band struck up and the soft wish became jubilant proclamation, “Long live God!” Jesus was alive. The show ended by taking us all the way back to the beginning lyric, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!” 
 
Back then, there wasn’t much music that sang of Jesus in a style similar to songs I liked on the radio. Godspell filled an important gap. It brought me deep in the story of Jesus. Though several decades have passed, this musical still works to bring us Jesus exuberantly, creatively and winsomely. This April 5-7, it will be a great prelude to Easter. 
 
As ever, we will enter the story of Holy Week through a joyful Palm Sunday service, followed by egg hunts, a crawfish boil and tons of games and fellowship. The mood turns contemplative on Thursday with the Service of Shadows. Once again, we will enter the passion narrative through the voices of our great actors. This year, for the first time, we will mark Holy Saturday with a simple service called “The King Sleeps.” We will read and pray as we consider the prayers at hand for Jesus as he underwent death. Such entry into the sorrow releases great joy on Easter Sunday. We gather in the terraced garden for the sunrise service and then two festive services in the Sanctuary. These are the days when we draw closest to Christ Jesus as we join ourselves to his story. See you at the House! And know that especially in these holy days, I love being your pastor,
 
Gerrit

 

Day 18, Wednesday (March 27) - Living into His Name

JESUS SAID, "I AM"

The Resurrection and the Life
Day 18   Wednesday

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EXPLORE THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

JOHN 11: 17-27
Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
 
CONSIDER
How would you define resurrection?
 
In what way is Jesus himself the resurrection?
 
How does Christ’s resurrection affect our future resurrection?
 
Our present spiritual resurrection?
 
In what areas of your life do you desire to see resurrection?
 
What does the hope of future, embodied resurrection do for your daily life now?

__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, Resurrection and the Life, 
you wept over Lazarus as a man yet raised him as God; 
so by such tender mercy raise me to life in you.

__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7).

ROMANS 6: 8-11, 13A
Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 
 
Do not present your members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life.
 
CONSIDER
Paul considered that the literal events of Jesus’ death and resurrection have spiritual effects in us right now. 
 
Based on the hope that we will live in Christ, how are we to live right now? If you’ve ever had to leave home for work, you know it’s important to “present” yourself so your boss and coworkers know you are there and ready to go. Every day, we have to “show up” to our work as those who are in Christ by making a choice about who our boss is. By presenting ourselves either to the old life of sin or the new master, Jesus the resurrection. 
 
In what areas particularly do you feel led to renew your choice to be dead to sin and alive to God?
 
Will you claim the resurrection power of Jesus today for victory?
 
Close by singing these verses from Charles Wesley’s famous Easter hymn,
 
Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia!
Christ has opened Paradise. Alleluia!
 
Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia! 
 
Charles Wesley. Christ the Lord Is Risen Today. 1708.
 

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

 

Day 17, Tuesday (March 26) - Living into His Name

JESUS SAID, "I AM"

The Good Shepherd and the Door
Day 17   Tuesday

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EXPLORE THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

PSALM 23: 1-3
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul. 
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
 
JOHN 10: 7-15
So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.
 
CONSIDER
If Jesus is the door, where does entering through him lead?
 
What can happen if you try to get in some place without using the door?
 
Go back through the three verses from Psalm 23 and describe how Jesus fulfills each of the shepherding functions.
 
In John 10, what qualities of being a good shepherd does Jesus give?
 
What does it mean to you that Jesus your shepherd knows your name?

__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, Shepherd of the Sheep, call me by name and tell me again that I am your own. Lead me through the Door of life. 

__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7).

1 PETER 2: 24-25
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
 
MATTHEW 7: 12-13
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.   
 
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.”
 
CONSIDER
Recall times when you felt as if you were straying like a lost sheep. Recall how Jesus your Shepherd brought you home. From what far pastures might you need to return today?
 
The paths of sheep on hillsides are quite narrow: describe a narrow way you are called to walk amidst the broad ways of this present culture.
 
Close by singing these two verses from the hymn:
 
Savior, like a shepherd lead us, much we need thy tender care;
In thy pleasant pastures feeds us, for our use thy folds prepare:
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus, thou has bought us, thine we are.
 
We are thine, do thou befriend us, be the Guardian of our way;
Keep thy flock, from sin defend us, seek us when we go astray:
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus, hear, O hear us when we pray.
 
Dorothy Ann Thrupp. Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us. 1836.
 

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

 

Day 16, Monday (March 25) - Living into His Name

JESUS SAID, "I AM"

The Bread of Life
Day 16   Monday

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EXPLORE THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

JOHN 6: 29-35
Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 
 
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
 
JOHN 6: 48-56
“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
 
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”
 
CONSIDER
In the days following the Exodus, the LORD’s people journeyed through the wilderness. God fed them by providing a bread-like substance called manna. It appeared every morning, just enough to satisfy the day’s needs. 
 
What improvement on manna, the bread from heaven, does Jesus declare in these passages?
 
What is the “health benefit” of eating Jesus, the bread of life?
 
How does he say that we “eat” of him? 
 
Recall a time or season of life in which Jesus sustained you with the bread of life through the wilderness.

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PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, Bread of Life who alone can satisfy,
fill me with yourself this day. 

__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7).

PSALM 145: 15-19
The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
You open your hand;
you satisfy the desire of every living thing.
The LORD is righteous in all his ways
and kind in all his works.
The LORD is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
he also hears their cry and saves them.
 
1 CORINTHIANS 10: 16
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?
 
CONSIDER
How is communion a participation in Jesus the Bread of Life?
 
Why does it matter that we partake of the Lord’s Supper together?
 
How is the cumulative effect of the Supper more important than any one Sunday’s partaking? (As someone said, “I may not remember exactly what I had for lunch last Wednesday, but I know I’ve eaten!”)
 
In what ways have you found Jesus to be as necessary as basic food to your life?
 
Close by singing this verse from a hymn by Martin Luther:
 
Then let us feast this joyful day on Christ, the bread of heaven;
The Word of grace hath purged away the old and evil leaven.
Christ alone our souls doth feed, he is our meat and drink indeed.
Faith lives upon no other. Hallelujah!
 
Martin Luther. Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands,  
adapting the medieval prayer called Exultet. 1524. 

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

 

Day 15, Sunday (March 24) - Living into His Name

JESUS SAID, "I AM"

In Exodus 3, God revealed to Moses his sacred name: I Am who I Am. The name in Hebrews is just four letters, and we write in English as “The LORD.” Our God is not just any old God. He is the LORD I AM, the one who is pure being and pure freedom, pure potential: I will be who I will be. The ancient Hebrews reverenced this name as infinitely holy.
 
The fourth Gospel, however, places this name on the lips of Jesus as a way he identified himself. The shock to a Jewish audience cannot be overstated. “Before Abraham was, I am,” (John 8: 58) Jesus declared. No wonder they picked up stones to kill him for blasphemy! They knew Jesus knew what he was saying. 
 
Seven other times in John, Jesus made “I am” statements attached to a particular image which explained his person and work. “I am . . . the door, the way, the resurrection, the vine, the life, the bread of life, the good shepherd and the light of the world.” The mighty God in flesh came to be known through these basic images.
 
This week, we consider one of the earliest mosaics in Ravenna. It depicts Jesus as the Good Shepherd. His face is beardless and young, though clearly powerful. He affectionately feeds a sheep from his own hand. This is not a detached God, a shepherd by proxy. He is among his sheep. His staff is the cross, by which he has cleansed us from sin and protects us from evil. The placidity of the flock, set against a peaceful backdrop of deep blue, reveals that they each know how the shepherd calls them by name and leads them gently through the world. The great I Am is our tender guardian.
 

The Light of the World
Day 15   Sunday

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EXPLORE THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

JOHN 1: 4-5
In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 
 
JOHN 1: 9-13
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
 
JOHN 8: 12
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
 
CONSIDER
The contrast between light and dark strikes deep in the human soul. Across times and cultures, the night represents stumbling, lostness, fear and death. Light represents hope, direction, healing and life. 
 
From earliest childhood, we long for light to shine in the darkness to dispel our fears, give us safety and bring a better day. John’s Gospel boldly begins with the recognition that humanity is in the dark and under the power of darkness. But Jesus has come to shine his light and so give us his life.
 
Could you come up with at least three endings to this sentence:
If Jesus is the light of the world, it means. . . . 
 
In which areas of darkness would you particularly like Jesus to shine this day?
 
__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, Light of the World, shine in the darkness of my heart 
and light the way before my feet. 

__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7). 

JOHN 12: 35-36a
So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.
 
MATTHEW 5: 14-16
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
 
CONSIDER
Jesus alone is the true light of the world. But he also called his disciples the light of the world. We catch fire from his flame. We shine with his life within us. We illumine dark places with the love of the gospel.
 
When have you felt especially called upon to be light in a dark place?
 
Into which dark places will you go this week with the light of Christ?
 
How will you pray to let that light shine more brightly?
 
Close by singing the words to this simple yet deep worship song, 
 
Light of the world, 
You stepped down into darkness,
Opened my eyes, let me see.
Beauty that made this heart adore you,
Hope of a life spent with you.
 
Here I am to worship,
Here I am to bow down,
Here I am to say that you’re my God.
You’re altogether lovely,
Altogether worthy
Altogether wonderful to me.
 
Chris Tomlin. Here I Am to Worship. 2009.
 
 

Day 14, Saturday (March 23) - Living into His Name

WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?

Christ: The Messiah
Day 14   Saturday

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EXPLORE THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

MATTHEW 16: 13-18, 21
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
 
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.
 
LUKE 24: 44-47
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
 
CONSIDER
The word “Christ” means anointed one. It is the Greek equivalent to the word “Messiah,” which also means anointed one. In the Old Testament days, kings were anointed with oil. They were set apart for the special office of leading the LORD’s people as the LORD’s chosen representative.
 
In Isaiah 61, one of the prophetic songs about the coming servant of the LORD who will redeem the LORD’s people, we read, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news. . . .” The coming Messiah would be anointed not with oil but with the Holy Spirit himself.
 
In his first recorded sermon, Jesus read from Isaiah 61 and then declared, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4: 21). Jesus understood himself to be the Christ, and he knew that this name meant not only power and glory, but the deep suffering of his faithful ministry and atoning death. 

__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, anointed by the Spirit, you heal and you save, you bring hope and peace, for you brought the Kingdom of heaven to earth through your living, dying, rising and ascending; come again to set all things right!

__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7).

2 CORINTHIANS 2: 14-16a
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.
 
CONSIDER
The anointing oil used on kings had a powerfully pungent aroma. To the friends of the King, this aroma meant the life and peace of a good king reigning. To the enemies of the LORD’s anointed, this aroma meant the threat of his rule interrupting their plans and their personal sovereignty. Even today, we who smell Christ-like, as those anointed with his Spirit, find that some are attracted and some are repelled by our Christ in us. 
 
How does it help you to know that both reactions to Christ are normal?
 
Would it be helpful to get the “smell” of Christ off of us so no one would have to be disturbed by our association with him?
 
How does the anointing of the Spirit upon us advance the spread of the Gospel?
 
How do we get more and more of the “smell” of our Christ upon us?
 
Close by praying through song this verse and chorus from Chris Tomlin,
 
He became sin, who knew no sin;
That we might become his righteousness;
He humbled himself, and carried the cross.
Love so amazing, love so amazing.
 
Jesus, Messiah; name above all names;
Blessed redeemer; Immanuel.
The rescue for sinners, the ransom from heaven;
Jesus, Messiah, Lord of all.
 
Christ Tomlin. Jesus Messiah. 2008.

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

 

Day 13, Friday (March 22) - Living into His Name

WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?

Master
Day 13   Friday

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EXPLORE THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

LUKE 5: 4-6
And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 
 
LUKE 8: 22-25
One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?”
 
CONSIDER
The master is the one who knows how to get it done. The master knows more than the others and has the wisdom born of experience to use knowledge correctly. If we “master” a skill, it means we can wield that skill successfully, be it woodworking or surgery or plant-grafting.
 
The master is the one who has the right and authority to ask for obedience.
Over what does Jesus show mastery in these passages?
 
What did wind and waves represent to ancient people? To us?
 
What kind of authority does our Master, Jesus, have in the world? Why?
 
Into which waters and winds of life would you most like him to exert mastery today? Would you ask him?

__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, Master of the storm and seas, save me when I sink, 
and rescue me from perishing. 

__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4

PHILIPPIANS 2: 5-7
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God . . . emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.
 
COLOSSIANS 4: 1
Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.
 
CONSIDER
Jesus had the raw power to compel the obedience of the wind and waves. He certainly had the authority to compel obedience from humanity. Why, then, did he choose the way of servanthood?
 
How do we draw close to our Master when we exercise servanthood?
 
How can we act as servants even when we must exercise the leadership of “masters” in our work, family or professions?
 
Where today would you most like Christ to assist you in emptying yourself for others?
 
Close by singing this hymn:
 
O Master, let me walk with thee
In lowly paths of service free;
Tell me thy secret, help me bear
The strain of toil, the fret of care.
 
Help me to slow the heart to move
By some clear, winning word of love;
Teach me the wayward feet to stay,
And guide them in the homeward way.
 
Teach me thy patience! Still with thee
In closer, dearer company,
In work that keeps faith sweet and strong,
In truth that triumphs over wrong;
 
In hope that sends a shining ray
Far down the future’s broadening way
In peace that only thou canst give,
With thee, O Master, let me live.
 
Washington Gladden. O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee. 1879.

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

 

Day 12, Thursday (March 21) - Living into His Name

WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?

Prophet
Day 12   Thursday

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EXPLORE THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

DEUTERONOMY 18: 15-19
“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.
 
JOHN 6: 11-14
Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”
 
CONSIDER
A Biblical prophet is not a fortune teller. Nor a clairvoyant about the future. A Biblical prophet speaks the Word of God into a present situation with immediate actions for God’s people to take. The prophet speaks of the future only in regard to two present realities. 1) The LORD’s promises to the people based on his continuing character of covenant faithfulness. 2) The LORD’s warnings about future consequences based on how the people respond to him today.  
 
Moses was a great prophet because he relayed the LORD’s Word, both to the Pharaoh and to the LORD’s people, with constant application to present action. 
 
Moses foretold that the LORD would one day send again a prophet of his stature. By Jesus’ day, people were looking for a Messiah to save them from oppression and set the world right. They often called this expected Messiah the Prophet.
 
When Jesus began his ministry of miracles, people were reminded of the miracles that occurred in the days of Moses, and they hailed him as the long-awaited Messiah Prophet who brought God’s Word in power to a desperate people. 
 
So through the centuries theologians have considered Jesus to have three “offices,” or roles, he fulfills with authority. One of these is the office of prophet, for like no other he who is the Word made flesh brought God’s Word to bear in the present moment as he gave people hope that the future kingdom of God would indeed dawn.

__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, giver of the law of love, prophet of truth and architect of earth’s future, shape me by your Word this day.

__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4

1 CORINTHIANS 14: 1, 3
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy . . . the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 
 
CONSIDER
The office of prophecy continues in the community of Christ’s people. Again, this was not magical foretelling of random events. This was, and is, the present application of God’s Word to particular circumstances that also have future implications.
 
How are sermons and Bible studies prophetic?
 
Recall a time when you heard Scripture explained in a way that seemed to address exactly a situation you were going through. 
 
How do you hope Jesus would fulfill his title of Prophet in your life today?
 
Close by singing through these verses from Isaac Watts. The words fit the same tune as “Rejoice the Lord Is King.”
 
Great Prophet of my God, my tongue would bless thy name:
By thee the joyful news of our salvation came, 
The joyful news of sins forgiven, 
Of hell subdued and peace with heaven.
 
My Savior and my Lord, my Conqueror and my King,
Thy scepter and thy sword, thy reigning grace, I sing:
Thine is the power, behold I sit in willing bonds beneath thy feet.
 
Isaac Watts. Join All the Glorious Names. 1707.  

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

Day 11, Wednesday (March 20) - Living into His Name

WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?

Teacher
Day 11   Wednesday

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EXPLORE THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

MARK 1: 21-22
And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.
 
MATTHEW 22: 15-22
Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.
 
CONSIDER
What was the quality of Jesus’ teaching that so astonished his listeners? The word authority here literally means “out of being.” Jesus knew what we talked about because he knew the mind of his Father. How do you see Jesus’ brilliance as a teacher in his reply to the question of taxes?

__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, Teacher of truth, 
you have the words of eternal life: speak to me today.

__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4

JOHN 20: 15-18
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.
 
CONSIDER
Jesus surprised Mary in the garden, calling her by name. The title “Rabonni,” teacher, was the first word out of her startled mouth. What does that tell about her relationship to Jesus?
 
Why do we feel affectionately toward those who have taught us important things?
 
What new information about his future did he give Mary to share with the other disciples?
 
How might we consider Mary’s words to the disciples to be the heart of our witness to Jesus our Teacher?
 
COLOSSIANS 3: 16
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
 
CONSIDER
Life in Jesus our Teacher means a continuing dynamic: we learn from him and we teach others of him. We receive and we give. All the while we discover the wonderful truth that never did you learn something so well as when you teach it.
 
Thus, a community of Christ is always a vibrant gathering to be sent, learning and teaching, being filled and pouring out, loving and being loved with the truth of our Teacher at the still center of our pulsing life together.
 
Speak to Jesus this morning of all you have learned from him. Thank him for things you know about him. Thank him for insights you have received recently. Speak, or sing, back to him who you have discovered him to be.
 
Close by singing these hymn verses:
 
Savior, teach me, day by day, love’s sweet lesson to obey;
Sweeter lesson cannot be, loving him who first loved me.
 
Teach me thus thy steps to trace, strong to follow in thy grace,
Learning how to love from thee, loving him who first loved me.
 
Love in loving finds employ, in obedience all her joy;
Ever new that joy will be, loving him who first loved me.
 
Jane Leeson. Savior, Teach Me, Day by Day. 1842.

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

 

Day 10, Tuesday (March 19) - Living into His Name

WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?

Son of Man
Day 10   Tuesday

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EXPLORE THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

DANIEL 7: 13-14
“I saw in the night visions, 
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,        
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.
 
MARK 2: 10-11
But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 
 
MATTHEW 26: 63-64
But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
 
CONSIDER
To the people of Jesus’ day, the title “Son of Man” meant more than just being another human being. Son of Man harked back to the mighty vision of Daniel 7, in which a mysterious figure, who was like us, but more than us, was given all rule and authority.
 
The mystery of Daniel 7 could not be unraveled until the Son of God incarnated as the Son of Man and then, following his redeeming work, was exalted in his ascension as the Son of Man who now rules over all things. 
 
Note how Jesus claims this title for himself before the high priest. Just before he was condemned to die a shameful death, Jesus had faith to predict his coming his ascension and return!

__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of Man, at the Father’s right hand 
who reigns in power, I bow to you as Lord this day.

__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4

MATTHEW 5: 44-45

“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
 
CONSIDER
How does Jesus show us what it means to be truly human? 
 
How does Jesus put the lie to the phrase “I’m only human” as an excuse to act according to animal instinct?
 
How does loving enemies and praying for persecutors particularly elevate us to the image of the Son of Man?
 
Close by singing these verses from the hymn “At the Name of Jesus:”
 
Humbled for a season, to receive a name
From the lips of sinners, unto whom he came,
Faithfully he bore it spotless to the last,
Brought it back victorious when from death he passed.
 
Bore it up triumphant, with its human light,
Through all ranks of creatures, to the central height,
To the throne of Godhead, to the Father’s breast,
Filled it with the glory of that perfect rest.
 
Caroline Noel, At the Name of Jesus. 1861.

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

 

Day 9, Monday (March 18) - Living into His Name

WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?

Beloved of the Father
Day 9   Monday

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EXPLORE THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

ISAIAH 42: 1-7
Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.

MARK 1: 9-11
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
 
JOHN 5: 20, JOHN 17: 25-26
For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing.
 
O righteous Father . . . I made known to them your name . . . that the love with which you have loved me may be in them.”
 
CONSIDER
We pick up the first verse from the Isaiah passage we studied Saturday. The servant of the LORD is one in whom the LORD delights. He is the beloved. And we discover that he is Jesus. This prophecy of Isaiah was echoed in the baptism of Jesus when the Father spoke, “You are my beloved Son.” 

__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, beloved Son in whom the Father delights, 
I find his acceptance through you alone.

__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7). 

EPHESIANS 1: 3-6 (NEW KING JAMES VERSION)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love, having predestined us to adoption as son by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, by which he has made us accepted in the Beloved.
 
EPHESIANS 5: 1-2
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
 
CONSIDER
The Father has made us accepted in his Son, the beloved one! We are beloved in the Beloved. Because the Beloved One has joined himself to us forever. And the Spirit has joined us to the Beloved One through faith.
 
So Paul goes on to show us how knowing the wonderful romance of this truth leads to direct application: be imitators of God the way beloved children imitate the parents who love them.
 
What qualities of the Beloved do you especially wish to show forth this day?
 
Close by making this French baptismal prayer your own, 
 
For you, little child, Jesus Christ has come, 
he has fought, he has suffered. 
For you he entered the shadow of Gethsemane and the horror of Calvary. For you he uttered the cry, “It is finished!” 
For you he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven and there he intercedes — for you, little child, even though you do not know it. 
But in this way the word of the Gospel becomes true. 
“We love him, because he first loved us.” 
 
James Torrance, Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace
Downers Grove: IVP, 1996.

TODAY'S PRAYER

 

Day 8, Sunday (March 17) - Living into His Name

WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?

For thirty years, Jesus lived in relative obscurity in Nazareth, learning the carpenter’s trade from his stepfather Joseph. But as Jesus turned 30, he stepped onto the public stage when he was baptized by his cousin John. He soon called 12 disciples to join him.

 
This week’s image is also from S. Apollinare Nuovo. It comes from a row of mosaics above the procession to the newborn king described last week. This upper row depicts scenes from Christ’s ministry. So today we see Jesus’ calling to the fishermen Peter and John. Their nets have snagged a wondrously large catch of fish. Peter, seeing the miracle, would fall to his knees as he realized that Jesus was indeed God come among us. And Jesus would summon Peter with the mission, “from now on you will be catching men” (Luke 5: 10).
 
Peter was always bold in his declarations, for better or worse. So Peter would come to display his great heart of faith the day Jesus asked the question, “Who do you say that I am?” After Christ’s mighty miracles and amazing teaching, everyone was talking about him. Who can speak about the Scriptures as if he wrote them? Who can open the eyes of the blind and raise the dead? Peter spoke aloud what no one had yet dared to say, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” (Matt. 16: 16).
 
The question of Jesus’ identity continues to be the question for everyone who encounters him. Jesus does not allow us to stay indifferent to him. He demands a response. This week, we will explore names given to Jesus during his ministry and how we can enter the faith of his earliest followers.
 

Creator Word of God
Day 8   Sunday

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EXPLORE THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

JOHN 1: 1-3
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
 
1 CORINTHIANS 8: 5-6
For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
 
CONSIDER
John 1 starts like Genesis 1: In the beginning. In Genesis a first curtain is pulled back on the stage of the world, and we see that the earth exists because God made it. In John 1, a second curtain is pulled back and we see that God the Father created the world through his Word, Jesus his Son.
 
In the Corinthians passage that we read every day this Lent, we see another astounding insight. It explodes as if Paul had split the atom! Watch:
 
Deuteronomy 6: 4 is the great confession of the Hebrew faith, recited daily by faithful Jews. It is a bedrock affirmation, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” There is no other god. Only the LORD I AM is God and he is one, unique, complete. The phrase “The LORD our God” is a profound assertion of monotheism. There is only one God. In the world where the ancient Hebrews lived, this was the pulling back of the curtain to expose all the local pagan gods as nothing compared to the LORD. 
 
But with the coming of Jesus, another curtain was pulled back. And so Paul splits the atom of Deut. 6: 4. He sees in the phrase “The LORD our God” room for Jesus the Son.  
 
So he says, for us there is one God, the Father from whom are all things. And one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things. The Creator God is the Father and the Son. The world was created by the Father through the Son.
 
Further reflection would reveal that the Spirit is also God. After all, as far back as Genesis 1: 2, we read that the Spirit hovered over the waters, shaping the young world. And so latent in Scripture is the idea that would be developed in the coming years: the one God is three. 
 
Today, let your mind reel with this news! The man who walked among us as Jesus spoke to the wind and the waves as if he had made them. Because he had!
 
__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, Word of the Father, through whom all things were made, by a mighty act you have made me new.  

__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7). 

COLOSSIANS 1: 15-16, 19-22
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 
 
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. 
 
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.
 
CONSIDER
By the Son of God all things were made. This Son came to us as a man. He gave his life to reconcile the world he had made. His very body is the place where God and man meet, the place where God and man are made one again.  
 
If this is true, that Jesus the Creator is Jesus our Reconciler, how will you live today?
 
This prayer can be sung to the tune of “Rejoice, the Lord Is King,”
 
We come, O Christ, to you, true Son of God and man,
By whom all things consist, in whom all life began:
In you alone we live and move, and have our being in your love.
 
Margaret Clarkson. We Come, O Christ, to You. 1957.

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

 

Day 7, Saturday (March 16) - Living into His Name

COME, LONG EXPECTED JESUS!

Servant King of the Nations
Day 7   Saturday

__________________________________________________

EXPLORE THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

ISAIAH 42: 1-7

Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be discouraged
till he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his law.

Thus says God, the LORD,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people on it
and spirit to those who walk in it:
“I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness;
I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
a light for the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
 
ROMANS 15: 8-9
For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,  
 
“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles,
and sing to your name” (2 Sam. 22: 50).
 
CONSIDER
This passage from Isaiah 42 is the first of four “servant” prophecies in which the LORD promises salvation through the work of a faithful redeemer who represents his people in triumph that comes through suffering. What personality qualities of this servant do you find in this passage?
 
What are his activities on behalf of the people?
 
Where do you see the promise of this prophecy extend beyond Israel?
 
How does Paul confirm this world-reaching work of the servant king in our Romans passage? 

__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, sent as servant to save the nations, 
reign as king in my heart and throughout this world. 

__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7). 

MATTHEW 2: 13
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”
 
MATTHEW 20: 26-28
It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
 
CONSIDER
When the wise men came to worship the newborn king, Herod immediately considered Jesus to be a rival. In what areas of life do you consider Jesus to be a rival to your desires?
 
In Jesus’ words from Matthew 20, we see that our King, the desire of nations, considered himself to be a servant of all. Jesus goes on to liken our mission to his mission as the servant. To what kind of life are we thus called?  
 
In what areas of your daily life might such service play out today?
 
Close by praying this name of Jesus, our Servant King, first through the more literal translation of this O Antiphon, 
 
O King of the nations, and their desire
The cornerstone making both one;
Come and save the human race,
Which you fashioned from clay.
 
And then, by singing this verse of “O Come, O Come, Immanuel,”
 
O come, O King of nations, bind 
In one the hearts of all mankind.
Bid all our sad divisions cease, 
And be yourself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel 
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
 
O Come, O Come, Immanuel. 
Ancient Latin prayer, trans. 
John Mason Neale. 1851.

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

 

Day 6, Friday (March 15) - Living into His Name

COME, LONG EXPECTED JESUS!

The Sunrise
Day 6   Friday

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EXPLORE THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

ISAIAH 60: 1-3
Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the LORD will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.
And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising.
 
MALACHI 4: 2
But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.
 
LUKE 1: 76-79
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
 
CONSIDER
Sunrise brings hope. As Psalm 30: 5 so famously says, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” The days of Jesus among us were like a sunrise. What greater day does his dawn promise in these passages?
 
Where in this weary world do you particularly long for light to shine in the darkness?
 
What is it like when the reality of Jesus dawns on us?
 
For which people in the dark do you most ardently pray?

__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, radiant light of the Father’s love, dawn in my heart, 
and shine through every word and deed this day.  

__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7). 

MATTHEW 2: 1-2
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
 
CONSIDER
What three things did the wise men do when they saw the star of the king?
 
How do they provide a pattern for our conversations and life in Christ today?
 
Close by praying this name of Jesus, first through the more literal translation of this O Antiphon, 
 
O Morning Star, splendor of light eternal
And sun of righteousness;
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness
And the shadow of death.
 
And then, by singing this verse of “O Come, O Come, Immanuel,”
 
O come, thou Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, 
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel 
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
 
O Come, O Come, Immanuel.
Ancient Latin prayer, trans. 
John Mason Neale. 1851.

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

 

Day 5, Thursday (March 14) - Living into His Name

COME, LONG EXPECTED JESUS!

The Key of David
Day 5   Thursday

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EXPLORE THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

ISAIAH 9: 6-7
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given; 
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
 
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore. 
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
 
ISAIAH 22: 22
And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.
 
REVELATION 3: 7
“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.’”
 
CONSIDER
Today’s name continues the theme of David’s everlasting kingship being fulfilled in Jesus. Keys can be symbols of authority. The one who has the key has the authority to open the door. It could be the door to a treasure house, throne room, armory, intimate chamber or secret passage. Having the key means access, including the right and the power to use it.
 
From our passages today, how do you imagine Jesus wielding the power of David’s keys?
 
What doors in particular would you like Christ to unlock or seal shut?

__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, Key of David, key to the everlasting promises of God,
open my mind to know you and my heart to receive you.  

__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7). 

ACTS 14: 27
And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.
 
1 CORINTHIANS 16: 9
For a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries. 
 
CONSIDER
How have you seen Jesus open doors of faith in your life and in the lives of others?
 
Pray particularly for doors to open for Christ’s work through you today.
 
Close by praying this name of Jesus, first through the more literal translation of this O Antiphon, 
 
O Key of David and scepter of the House of Israel,
You open and no one can shut;
You shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house;
Those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
 
And then, as you sing this verse of “O Come, O Come, Immanuel,”
 
O come, thou Key of David, come 
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high, 
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel 
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
 
O Come, O Come, Immanuel.
Ancient Latin prayer, trans. 
John Mason Neale. 1851.

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

 

Day 4, Wednesday (March 13) - Living into His Name

COME, LONG EXPECTED JESUS!

Root of Jesse and Son of David
Day 4   Wednesday

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EXPLORE THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

ISAIAH 11: 1-5, 10
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. 
And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. 
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, 
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins.
 
In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.
 
LUKE 1: 67-72 (ZECHARIAH)
And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,        
 
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us 
in the house of his servant David,  
as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,  
that we should be saved from our enemies 
and from the hand of all who hate us; 
to show the mercy promised to our fathers 
and to remember his holy covenant,
 
CONSIDER
Isaiah 11 is a prophecy of the coming Messiah. In this passage, note how the prophet speaks of both a shoot from Jesse and the root of Jesse. Jesse was the father of David, Israel’s great Shepherd/King. The idea of a shoot from Jesse’s lineage makes sense. The Messiah would be a distant offspring of King David.
But how could a man yet to be born be the root, the source, of Jesse who lived long ago?
 
Only the One who is both God and man could exist before David, yet be born after David. Paradoxically, Jesus is both the Son of God who created the world and then came in a particular time to us as a particular man, born in the lineage of King David himself. 
The LORD had made promises to David of an eternal line of kings (see 2 Sam. 7: 13). When Israel went into exile, it appeared those promises were broken. But then Jesus, David’s long distant heir, entered the world to become king, not only of Israel but of the world. 

__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, father of David and son of David, 
you are the eternal promise come true. 
Extend your steadfast love and faithfulness to all the earth.  

__________________________________________________

Live into the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7). 

REVELATION 22: 16-17
“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” 
 
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.
 
CONSIDER
The last chapter of the Bible records Jesus himself taking up the title of both the root and descendant of David. There follows the longing of Christ’s bride, the church, for this new David to return. And there follows an invitation for all who thirst to drink from the deep roots of the true David, to be grafted into his family tree.
 
Take some time today to acknowledge the eternal story of Jesus and invite him to graft your life’s story into his great redeeming plan.  
 
Close by praying this name of Jesus, first through the more literal translation of this O Antiphon, 
 
O Immanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Savior:
Come and save us, O Lord our God. 
 
And then sing this verse of “O Come, O Come, Immanuel,”
 
O come, O Branch of Jesse’s stem, 
Unto your own and rescue them;
From depths of hell thy people save, 
And give them victory over the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel 
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
 
O Come, O Come, Immanuel.
Ancient Latin prayer, trans. 
John Mason Neale. 1851.

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

 

Day 3, Tuesday (March 12) - Living into His Name

COME, LONG EXPECTED JESUS!

Son of God
Day 3   Tuesday

__________________________________________________

EXPLORE THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

ISAIAH 9: 6
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

LUKE 1: 30-33 (MARY)
And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

CONSIDER
Imagine how strange this news was to Mary. The God who made her would be born from within her! The one who fashioned her being would be fashioned inside her womb. The God who spoke the world into being would humble himself to speak only infant cries against her breast.

When we confess that Jesus is the Son of God, we do simply mean that he was a child of God like any created human being. We mean that he is the eternal Son of the Father, through whom all things were made, stepping into our world in flesh and blood as Mary’s son. That same person would, when his work was done, return to his Father as the ascended King of all.

Let your mind stagger at such joyful paradox today!

__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, eternal Son of the Father, 
who came in time as Mary’s son, include me in your Sonship. 

__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7). 

GALATIANS 3: 26-27
For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

1 JOHN 3: 2-3
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

CONSIDER
Jesus the Son of God became one of us in order to include us in his Sonship!

He took up our humanity so that he could adopt us into his eternal relationship with his Father as he gives us to share in his own Spirit.

Jesus is far, far more than a good man who showed us a good way to live and so came to be called a son of God. He is the eternal one opening up his Triune family to us. We are God’s children through Jesus his Son: right now!

Close by praying (and singing!) this verse from “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.” 

Christ, by highest heaven adored';
Christ, the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of the Virgin’s womb:
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail the incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Immanuel.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King.”

Charles Wesley. Hark! the Herald Angels Sing. 1739.

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

Day 2, Monday (March 11) - Living into His Name

COME, LONG EXPECTED JESUS!

Immanuel: God with Us
Day 2   Monday

_________________________________________________

EXPLORE THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

 
ISAIAH 7: 14
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
 
MATTHEW 1: 22-25 
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
         
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel
 
(which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
 
CONSIDER
In what way were Joseph’s circumstances the fulfillment of a prophecy made seven centuries earlier?
 
The name Immanuel means that God is with us. What would change if the meaning of Jesus’ name was “God is beyond us?” Or, “God is against us?” Or, “God is within us?”  
 
Try finishing this sentence several ways, “Because God is with us in Jesus. . . .”
 
__________________________________________________
 
PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST
 
Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another.
 
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
 
Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!
 
Lord Jesus Christ, God in flesh, who simply would not be without us, 
draw near to me today.  
__________________________________________________
 
LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST
 
He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine nature . . .
For this very reason, supplement your faith with virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7).
 
2 PETER 1: 3-8
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
 
CONSIDER
This passage contains the fuller context of the verses we pray every day in this section. According to Peter, for what purpose has God given us his precious and great promises?
 
Based on God’s gift in Christ of “all things that pertain to life and godliness,” what are we to do now, according to this passage?
 
Which one of this list of qualities would you like to focus on doing today?
 
Several days this week, we will close using the ancient Latin prayers called the “O Antiphons.” An antiphon is a type of short prayer used in worship. They each begin with “O” and they each speak of one of the prophecies about Jesus in Isaiah. The first paragraph below is the O Antiphon literally translated to English. The second is the way the O Antiphon was set to music in the Advent carol, “O Come, O Come, Immanuel” if you wish to sing your prayers!
 
O Immanuel, our King and lawgiver
Expected of the nations, and their Savior,
Come to save us, O Lord our God!
 
O come, O come, Immanuel, 
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here, 
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
 
O Come, O Come, Immanuel.
Ancient Latin prayer, trans. 
John Mason Neale. 1851.
 

Day 1, Sunday (March 10) - Living into His Name

COME, LONG EXPECTED JESUS!

In the Hebrew Scriptures, the LORD I AM promised he would visit and redeem his people. Though humanity had fallen into a cycle of sin and death, God pledged to break through and recreate his world.  His own particular people Israel repeatedly failed in their mission to be a blessing to the world. Yet the LORD continued to promise that he would enter the world to make things right.
 
The accounts of Jesus’ birth indicate that the first Christians saw Jesus as the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies. His very name “Jesus” means “The LORD saves.” This week we will explore how from his conception and infancy Jesus received mighty titles indicating that he embodies the hope of the Scriptures. 
 
The mosaics in the Basilica of S. Apollinare Nuovo were completed in the early 500s. They run along the length of both sides of the sanctuary. In one row, a procession of consecrated women flow toward the infant Jesus on his mother’s lap. They are preceded by the three wise men bearing gifts to the newborn king. In this week’s mosaic, you can see Jesus making a sign of blessing as he receives those who come to him. Jesus is depicted as appearing older than he was in the Biblical account, an early artistic way of showing the paradox that he was both truly human and truly divine.
 
This is the child for whom Mary and Joseph have waited. This is the Redeemer for which the world has pined! He is here now, the desire of nations and the hope of every heart, drawing people to himself. The incarnate Son of God is the key that unlocks centuries of prophecy by his surprising arrival. This week, we will explore the prophecies expecting Immanuel, God with us.
 

Jesus: The Lord Saves
Day 1   Sunday

__________________________________________________

EXPLORE THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

ISAIAH 60: 1-2; 16b
Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the LORD will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.

And you shall know that I, the LORD, am your Savior
and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.
 
MATTHEW 1: 18-21
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
 
CONSIDER
The name Jesus means, “the LORD saves.” This is not any old god! This is the LORD I AM, the Triune God of Grace who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is the God who created the heavens and the earth. 
 
He called a particular people, Israel, to himself with a plan that they should bless the world with the knowledge of the one true God. This is the LORD who came himself to save us when we had gone astray.
 
The way he chose to come to us was as the child Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. As we think of his name, we wonder, “From what do we need to be saved?” 
 
Keep pondering until you come up with at least three items!
 
How is it that only the LORD can save us from these things?

__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, Savior of your people, be your name to me today; 
be Jesus, the LORD who saves. 

__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7). 

LUKE 2: 11, 15-16
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.
 
Consider
The angels announced the arrival of the God who had made the journey from heaven to earth to be our Savior. 
 
What did the shepherds have to do?
 
In what ways could we today “go to Bethlehem” to see what God has done? And to make it known?
 
Pray through the words of this hymn (It’s to the tune of “Love Divine, All Love Excelling” if you want to sing it!).
 
Jesus! what a friend for sinners! 
Jesus! Lover of my soul.
Friends may fail me, foes assail me, 
He, my Savior, makes me whole.
Hallelujah! what a Savior! 
Hallelujah! what a Friend!
Saving, helping, keeping, loving, 
He is with me to the end.
 
J. Wilbur Chapman. Our Great Savior. 1910.

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

Introduction (March 9) - Living into His Name

Your name is the desire of our soul (Isaiah 26: 8).

 
The earliest devotion to Jesus was the same as that given to God. His name was reverenced. Titles quickly became associated with his name. “My Lord and my God!” cried out Thomas (John 20: 28). “Our Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul called him often (Eph. 1: 3, Rom. 5: 11). So did Peter (1 Pet. 1: 3) and Luke (Acts 28: 31). In another letter Paul went even further, speaking of “Our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Tit. 2: 13). More than 80 times, though, he uniquely used the address, “Christ Jesus.” The title “Christ” magnifies the name “Jesus” with both adoration and awe. What man has ever evoked such ardor across the centuries?
 
From the beginning Jesus inspired hymns to be written about him full of ascriptions of majesty (See Col. 1: 13-20 and Phil. 2: 5-11). His birth was sung by angels, “For unto you is born this day . . . a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2: 11). And in the book of Revelation a combined earthly and heavenly choir sings: “Worthy is the lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5: 12). The words and works of Jesus of Nazareth have awakened the mightiest powers of adoration in human language. 
 
Exalting the name of Jesus brings us into relationship with him in the most intimate way. While no ordinary human could live up to such praise, nor handle the worship, with Jesus it is most appropriate. In fact, we know that no matter how much we say about him, we have never said all that he is, nor proclaimed his glory sufficiently.  
 
So exploring the names associated with Jesus will necessarily engage our minds and hearts, our thoughts and affections. We will seek to gush over the titles for Jesus revealed to us in Scripture. We will stretch our minds to reach toward the heights and depths to which he has gone to save us. We will strive to sync our daily lives up with the will of the Lord Jesus Christ for his creation.
 
When I began this study, I wondered if I could find 42 names for Jesus in the Bible. Now I am sorry we are limited to just 42! I’m glad you’re along for this journey of praise of our only Redeemer and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ!
 
How to Use This Study 20 Minutes a Day
 
I invite you to spend the next six weeks exploring day by day 42 of the many names in Scripture for the person and work of Jesus. Each day we will take up a new name. Plan to spend about 20 minutes in the process. The day’s work is always divided into three sections: 
 
1) Explore the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Here we will read Scriptures that include the day’s name. We will use our minds to ponder the significance of the name through comments and questions. The daily names are grouped into themes for each week. I was astounded to see the rich tapestry of revelation and praise contained in the Biblical titles for Jesus. 
 
2) Pray the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. In this middle activity, we want to let what we learned sink down into our hearts even as it rises in our praise. I will invite you to take up specific prayers exalting the name of Jesus. This, I believe, will be the most formative part of our daily work. 
 
We will use daily the ancient Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This prayer fits naturally into the rhythm of breathing. Repeating it several times actually opens our souls. The testimony of millions of believers is that this prayer takes us far beyond any fear of “rote repetition” we might have into deepening intimacy with Jesus. 
Then, we will add a prayer in the same style that expresses the particular name of Jesus for that day. Again, we will pray it for about a minute straight so the words sink deeply into us. 
 
3) Live into the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Here we will read Scriptures that direct us to the application of the particular name of Jesus in daily life. And once again I will invite you to pray, this time using the reliable words of hymns both ancient and modern. 
 
Often, I will invite you to sing (!) during these prayers. I have consistently found that my experience of connecting to Christ Jesus strengthens as I sing as well as say prayers. Don’t worry, no one will hear you! We provide audio recordings on the church app should you want to hear or sing with the tunes.
 
The Challenge: What Can You Get for 14 Hours of Your Time?
 
The most striking thing I am going to ask you to do each day this Lent is read and pray repetitively. 
 
I’m going to ask you to trust the process. To keep going past the strangeness until this becomes a natural way to pray. To realize this ancient method is not “too Catholic” or “too spiritual.” It arose in the Christian soul long before we were separated into Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant believers. I’m asking that you ask the Spirit to form you through the repeating of Scriptures and prayers just as much as through study of the new passages each day.
 
By the end of Lent, I want you to have studied over 100 passages teaching you the meaning of the names of Jesus and how these titles apply to your life in Christ today.
 
I want you to have memorized two passages of Scripture because you have read and prayed them every day for 42 days. Trust that these two verses are potent enough to bear 42 days of exploration. And when you are finished, they will belong to you, for they will reside in your memory!
 
I want you to have prayed the ancient Jesus Prayer more than 200 times so that it will always be a part of your life, part of your very breath. 
 
I want you to have prayed each of the 42 names of Jesus multiple times as you meditate on the Biblical meaning of these titles and thus allow the knowledge of Jesus to move from your head to your heart.
 
All of this in just 14 hours! That’s 20 minutes a day for 42 days. 
 
I promise if you take this challenge, you will know Jesus in a fresher and deeper way.
 
Because the Scriptures are that powerful. 
 
The Spirit is that faithful. 
 
These forms of prayer are that reliable.
 
And Jesus is that worthy of our attention. 
 
Fare forward, beloved congregation! How great will be our joy Easter morning when we sing of the Risen Savior after these 42 days of prayer together!
 
A Word About This Year’s Art
 
Each of our six images come from churches in Ravenna, Italy which date back to the fifth and sixth centuries. They are mosaics: pictorial representations created from thousands of tiny pieces of colored glass. Their vivid colors have endured through the centuries.
 
Ravenna is a small city in central Italy, near the Adriatic Sea. Beginning in 402, this little metropolis became for several decades the imperial capital of the western Roman empire as the pressure of “barbarian” invasions made Rome itself unstable. In the 500s Ravenna came under control of the eastern Roman Empire for several centuries. East and West met with this infusion of Christian artistic energy and imperial wealth. So in the century between 450 and 550, stunning churches were built which contain unsurpassed mosaic art.
 
Today, little Ravenna contains eight buildings designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites.
 
The spiritual impact of the Ravenna mosaics surpasses even their technical artistic beauty. Pilgrims feel caught up in the worship of Jesus Christ when surrounded by these mosaics. Personally, I experienced a mystical quality of being taken up into the world of Scripture and the adoration of the Triune God. The theme of offering flows across the individual churches. In the mosaics, we see in dozens of ways how God offers himself to humanity: through his prophets, the revelation of his Word and above all in the life, death, resurrection and reign of Jesus Christ. In the mosaics we also see how we give ourselves back to God through the offering of faith and worship, especially from those who sacrifice their lives in martyrdom.   
 
I hope you feel drawn upward to Christ through the reproductions of these six beautiful mosaics.  
 
Gerrit Dawson
Senior Pastor
 
 

Far and Near - Missions Conference Report

The 2019 Global Missions Conference was a joy to see the Holy Spirit work in the hearts of our missionaries in Lebanon, Peru, and Malaysia. Rebecca and Nour Botros from Beirut, Lebanon shared their hearts with us, and were vulnerable about what God is doing in their lives as they pour into Syrian refugees. Ralph and Marilynn Toliver from Peru presented our church with a New Testament that they spent thirty years translating into the Ambo-Pasco-Quechua language. MacGregor Magruder shared all the Lord is doing in their family as they serve in Malaysia.
 
Valerie Gastinel and the IFP team planned an International Friendship Luncheon in the gym that was a blessing for the 50 international students who attended along with 150 from the FPC family. If you are interested in being an International Friendship Partner, please contact Valerie Gastinel, 225.241.1386.
 
On Sunday morning, Scott Castleman preached from Ephesians 2 “Preaching Peace Far and Near.” His passion for missions was evident in his heart as he poured his life into us. God is leading us into a season of renewed enthusiasm as we prepare for our next mission trip to Romania, June 7-16. Our next Romania meeting will be Sunday, March 10 after worship from 12.15-12.45. Please join us in room 202 in the Educational Building if you are planning to go to Romania this summer. 
 
By Whitney Alexander
Associate Pastor of Missions
 
 

Press into Jesus

As for me, it is good to be near God (Ps. 73: 28). This verse became my personal theme last summer as I had the luxury of intentional time to be with the Lord. Out of those times of personal worship and deep meditation came our study for Lent. I’m eager to share it with you, and personally eager to return to the practices that refreshed me so much. 
 
Lent begins this Wednesday! As ever, we will host a noon service in the chapel. This includes the marking with ashes as we prepare for this intentional season of focusing more on Christ.
 
Then, I heartily invite you to participate vigorously in this year’s theme: Living into His Name. We will be raiding the vaults of Scripture for treasure! Each day we will bring forth a jewel, a beautiful name for Jesus. We will study it and pray it, inviting Christ more deeply into our hearts as we more robustly praise him through his names and titles. 
 
What’s new this year is the ways in which we will strive to move through head knowledge to heart-knowing. Every day I will invite you to close by praying in song: and there will be links to our website where each song will be presented by our own team of Lauren Honea and Joshua Staes, accompanied by Rachel Reese and Steve Gustafson. You can sing with them! Every day I will invite you to use the ancient Jesus Prayer. We will have an opportunity to discover something most Presbyterians have never been taught: how a repetitive Scriptural prayer can dramatically deepen intimacy with Christ. In the home groups we will study Bible passages and also practice time-honored forms of prayer by which Christ can fill our hearts. In our Sunday messages, we will extol the name of the Lord Jesus Christ by working through the great Bible themes of his person and work.
 
I can promise you: you won’t be bored! But you will be nourished, stretched, comforted and challenged. If you and I engage this study daily for 42 days, trusting the process, we will, without doubt, know Christ in a marvelously deeper way. Dive in with me! As for me, it is good to be near God. And, as ever, it is good to be your pastor!

Safety, Beautification and Budget

If you really invest your spiritual energy in your church, which would include time on campus, it won’t be long before you realize that there are layers upon layers of life-giving and even life-altering aspects of First Presbyterian “church life.” Over time, the truth that’s borne on each sermon or Lenten lesson or small group study takes root and bears fruit. God’s Word discerns the thoughts and intentions of our hearts and draws us into God’s grace and life in his Beloved Son. Life flourishes. Lives are altered. One begins to recognize the subtleties of hallway embraces and the roar of Sunday worship greeting time and see how we love one another. It becomes evident in so many ways. We teach and care for kids and families in our community through Mother’s Day Out. We display the art of members who’ve been gifted to speak through charcoal and pastels and oils. We grace our place with seasonal decorations and care for this grand old structure to ensure it will live even into the 22nd century (God willing); the recent waterproofing and roofing project gives testimony. As the chill of a winter morning is cut by an outdoor fire on our multi-tiered terrace or as guests are welcomed into our Sanctuary for the annual Christmas pilgrimage or we welcome those who visit our campus to mourn the loss of friends or loved ones, Christ’s love is extended graciously. It comes, literally, as second nature to us as we live out new life in Christ Jesus.
 
And the not so apparent layers provide foundation for it all. Recent decisions of our Session to proactively provide an added layer of protection for our people has launched Security Response Teams that are present at each of our services and major events. Should there be a time of trouble or danger, they are equipped to respond. These same decisions ushered in an effort to improve the basic security of our campus, particularly enhancing the inner perimeter entrances, landscaping and fencing (similar to our playgrounds). All this while enhancing the beauty of this place at the same time. The final architectural rendering for these improvements will be reviewed next month. Work will begin in the spring. 
 
Layers upon layers of testimony and prayer, preaching and teaching, worship and the Table, attending to the work of missions abroad and ministries at home, our church is alive, living and active, unified in life and love so that the world may know that God sent his son to save us.
 
And then, there’s the budget. The reality of the western world. The cost of doing business. We maintain no inventory nor do we sell products or services. We don’t rely on fundraisers or benefactors. We rely on each other to recognize the financial reality of what’s required to be the church. We trust that the Lord will draw us into his economy to invest in his kingdom. We examine our blessings and resources and we know from whence they come. And then . . . we cheerfully give.
 
Our Stewardship this year has exceeded any before. Through you, God has provided for his church. Your estimates of giving for 2019 exceeds $3,000,000. It will provide full support for all the layers of mission and ministry God has called us to. We can look forward to the coming year with great expectation for what he is going to do in us and through us. Thank you for your faithfulness and cheerful giving. 
 
Grace,
Barry Phillips
Ministry Executive
 

The Power of the Name

I used to dread Lent. The austerity and sheer length of it daunted me. But now I eagerly anticipate this season. Why? Because I finally get to share with you what I’ve been working on for eight months! This year we’re focusing on Lord Jesus Christ: Living into His Name. When I began preparing our guide book last summer, I wondered if I could find enough names and titles of Jesus to fill 42 days.
 
Silly me! The challenge was actually limiting the selection of amazing titles given to Jesus in the Scriptures. And each one is a pathway into knowing him better and praising him more.
 
I’m stunned by how powerful it is to pray the names of Jesus.  Each title is like the facet of a diamond. As we admire a particular facet, discovering and rehearsing its beauty before the Lord, the splendor of the whole stone lights us up. Names are intimate. They speak of the essence of a person. They grant entrée into someone’s life. As we pray the names of Jesus, we know him better and therefore love him more. Loving him through his names, we discover how he transforms us. 
 
This Lent, I want to lead you into the kinds of prayer that opened up the names of Jesus for me. I long to guide you down paths of contemplation which I had seldom walked but now cherish.  I’m eager to read and pray daily with you, to be in small groups with you, and to take up these gorgeous names of our savior each week in worship.
I sincerely believe this could be the most powerful Lent we’ve yet experienced. Not because anything that comes out of me is so great. But because Jesus is so magnificent. And his Spirit leads us to experience that glory as we take his names on our lips and offer him the praise that arises from deep consideration of his Word. 
 
Please, please plan now to attend a Lenten home group. Sign-ups begin February 17. Books will be distributed March 10 with groups beginning that night. You will also be able to sign up for e-delivery which includes access to songs and hymns we have recorded to go with the series.
 
Stewardship Update
 
You continue to amaze me! The final count on our Christmas offering for city ministry has now topped $60,000! Gardere Community Christian School and the Christian Outreach Center will put these funds to great use. Meanwhile, our estimates of giving for 2019 have broken all records. We’ve had a significant increase in the number of people making estimates of giving, and therefore a wonderful increase for the mission and ministry of the church. This was truly great timing and answered prayer.Several years ago, we used some special funding for Sunday worship enhancement. As those funds conclude, the augmenting of our worship music needed to be picked up by our regular budget. Now we can do that! And of course we will be expanding mission and church programming as well. God has worked through you to keep our church strong and surging forward. I’m so thankful!
 
Congregational Meeting
 
The session has called a congregational meeting for Sunday, February 24 at 10.15 in the Sanctuary. The purpose is to receive a report on 2018, hear a presentation on our 2019 budget, elect at-large members to the nominating committee and conduct any other business that is before us. These annual meetings give us a great opportunity as one church to give thanks for all that God has done and is doing in our midst. There will be no adult Sunday school classes that day.
 
By Gerrit Dawson
Senior Pastor
 

The Power of the Name

I used to dread Lent. The austerity and sheer length of it daunted me. But now I eagerly anticipate this season. Why? Because I finally get to share with you what I’ve been working on for eight months! This year we’re focusing on Lord Jesus Christ: Living into His Name. When I began preparing our guide book last summer, I wondered if I could find enough names and titles of Jesus to fill 42 days.
 
Silly me! The challenge was actually limiting the selection of amazing titles given to Jesus in the Scriptures. And each one is a pathway into knowing him better and praising him more.
 
I’m stunned by how powerful it is to pray the names of Jesus.  Each title is like the facet of a diamond. As we admire a particular facet, discovering and rehearsing its beauty before the Lord, the splendor of the whole stone lights us up. Names are intimate. They speak of the essence of a person. They grant entrée into someone’s life. As we pray the names of Jesus, we know him better and therefore love him more. Loving him through his names, we discover how he transforms us. 
 
This Lent, I want to lead you into the kinds of prayer that opened up the names of Jesus for me. I long to guide you down paths of contemplation which I had seldom walked but now cherish.  I’m eager to read and pray daily with you, to be in small groups with you, and to take up these gorgeous names of our savior each week in worship.
I sincerely believe this could be the most powerful Lent we’ve yet experienced. Not because anything that comes out of me is so great. But because Jesus is so magnificent. And his Spirit leads us to experience that glory as we take his names on our lips and offer him the praise that arises from deep consideration of his Word. 
 
Please, please plan now to attend a Lenten home group. Sign-ups begin February 17. Books will be distributed March 10 with groups beginning that night. You will also be able to sign up for e-delivery which includes access to songs and hymns we have recorded to go with the series.
 
Stewardship Update
 
You continue to amaze me! The final count on our Christmas offering for city ministry has now topped $60,000! Gardere Community Christian School and the Christian Outreach Center will put these funds to great use. Meanwhile, our estimates of giving for 2019 have broken all records. We’ve had a significant increase in the number of people making estimates of giving, and therefore a wonderful increase for the mission and ministry of the church. This was truly great timing and answered prayer.Several years ago, we used some special funding for Sunday worship enhancement. As those funds conclude, the augmenting of our worship music needed to be picked up by our regular budget. Now we can do that! And of course we will be expanding mission and church programming as well. God has worked through you to keep our church strong and surging forward. I’m so thankful!
 
Congregational Meeting
 
The session has called a congregational meeting for Sunday, February 24 at 10.15 in the Sanctuary. The purpose is to receive a report on 2018, hear a presentation on our 2019 budget, elect at-large members to the nominating committee and conduct any other business that is before us. These annual meetings give us a great opportunity as one church to give thanks for all that God has done and is doing in our midst. There will be no adult Sunday school classes that day.
 
By Gerrit Dawson
Senior Pastor
 

Walking the Talk

Although I grew up in a very religious home, I became agnostic during my high school and college years. Eventually, as I entered the business world upon college graduation in 1989, through the guidance of an older, wiser and more educated sister, I took some steps toward having not so much a religion about God but a relationship with God. Elizabeth was there for me when I needed her most, bringing joy out of sorrow during a difficult time in my life. Although a few people I knew believed in miracles, I didn’t. I had suffered from many unanswered prayers in seeking peace in the midst of many problems that caused me lots of pain along my path. Nevertheless, many years later, following more spiritual growth, I found myself serving as a former businessman turned Protestant minister in a role as an Associate Pastor for a very large church in Connecticut. I had already been married to a wonderful woman with whom I had been blessed to become a dad of two beautiful daughters, affectionately known as my “princesses.”
 
One day in early spring 2003, someone in the church brought to my attention another man who was also married to a beautiful wife with whom he had two wonderful girls. Described as a “man’s man,” William Cox was not only rough and tough but also very hard working and capable in his role as a custodian. Unfortunately, he was very seriously injured while moving furniture. His prognosis was sobering. At best, he would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, most likely paralyzed from the waist down, never to walk again. At worst, he would die.
 
William’s wife, Joanne, invited me to join her and some other believers in praying for William at the ICU of Danbury Hospital. This dear woman of faith recently revealed to me that she felt God had given her a list of those he wanted there that night. 
 
In line with guidance found in the New Testament book of James, we anointed William with oil and prayer in the name of Jesus, the ultimate Wounded Healer, who stated that “with God all things are possible.” When I laid my hand on William’s head, I felt compelled to ask for what seemed to be the impossible. I was certain that as crazy as it may have seemed given this man’s current medical condition, I was to swallow all pride when it came to managing the perception of others and simply ask God to completely heal William. At that very moment, I felt a strange heat sensation I had never previously experienced running through my hand, which I had placed on William’s head.
 
My foremost concern in that moment was learning William’s wife and daughters had accepted Christ but he had not. Yet, like me, they wanted him with them—not only temporally on earth but eternally in heaven. 
 
While laying my hand on William’s head, before I could even think, the following words came out of my mouth: “Lord Jesus, you’ve created the universe and blessed it with William who lies here not yet knowing you and your love for him. Please do not let him leave this earth without making a conscious decision as you have requested of all to accept you as his Savior and follow you as his Leader. Your Word tells us that with God all things are possible. Though these good earthly physicians have done all they can, we know that you, the great Heavenly Physician, can do what they can’t. We beg you to go beyond medicine in fully healing William not only physically but also spiritually so that he can one day enjoy you eternally. We ask this in Your Name. Amen.”
 
Several weeks later, William WALKED into my office! He looked at me and smiled. I was simultaneously astonished, excited and amazed! Goose bumps, which I have since called “God bumps,” ran up and down my arms while the hair on my arms and the back of my neck stood up. His only question for me, even though he had never previously spoken to me, was this: “What do I need to do to know God? I’m ready.” As you can imagine, I ran with that! William understood that God gave him a second chance at life—and he took it! A man who at times had been bitter and resentful soon miraculously became better and peaceful. The peace that replaced his anxiety inwardly continues to shine through his life outwardly. 
 
Although many years have passed since I’ve last seen William, not a day has passed when I don’t believe in miracles, as he is a walking one. 
 
Jim Solomon
Associate Pastor of Pastoral Care and Prayer
 
Previously printed in “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope and Miracles.” Soul Publishing, LLC.
 

Preaching Peace Far and Near

The world cries for peace. Restorative peace. Personal peace. Spiritual peace.  
 
Daily our peace is challenged by economic conditions, shifting social dynamics, medical conditions, family and political strife. These challenges similarly plague families across the globe. Ultimately peace is a gift from God. It can only truly be sustained through our relationship with the Prince of Peace.
 
First Presbyterian has a long history of supporting our congregational members spreading God’s peace far and near. On February 2-3, Rebecca and Nour Botros will host FPC’s 2019 Global Mission Conference. The conference will transport us to the ministry of peace and reconciliation among the Syrian refugees in Lebanon, among the Ambo-Pasco Quechuas in Peru and with our international students here in Baton Rouge. 
 
Here at home, we are blessed to bring our disagreements and discord to God in prayer to sustain our peace. But, we often find ourselves in conversations with others resistant to God’s peace because of disappointment.  Nour and Rebecca will kick off a Saturday morning session on February 2. Learn from the Botroses how they minister in an aggressively discouraging environment leading Syrian refuges into relationship with the Prince of Peace. Don’t let your children miss out on an “adventure in missions” activity tract on Saturday morning. International themed activities will be provided including passport travel activities, food, games and songs from foreign lands. Let us plant a seed in your child’s heart for international Christian peace.  
 
Saturday morning will conclude with an International Friendship Partners lunch at noon. LSU International Students will join us for conversation and ministry. The International Friendship Program mentors international students here in Baton Rouge. International mission efforts can start here at home by extending God’s friendship and peace to these interested students before they return home.  
 
Wycliffe missionaries Ralph and Marilynn Toliver will transport us to the mountains of Peru to the Ambo-Pasco Quechua people group during our combined Sunday school hour. We will celebrate the completed translation of the New Testament into the Ambo-Pasco language; God’s word in their own language for the very first time!
 
Sunday morning, February 3, our guest preacher Pastor Scott Castleman of Ocean Springs, MS will join us and share about his missionary work. As we learn of the struggles of ministering afar, God will encourage us to overcome our own struggles to be more effective here at home. 
 
Get your passports ready!  Prepare your hearts through prayer! Please make plans to join us for the 2019 Global Mission Conference and celebrate those dedicated to Preaching Peace Far and Near. 
 
 
Posted in: Missions

The Church Distributed

That’s a great title for a book about how God sends his people throughout the world as leaven that causes the whole dough to rise. As the New Year begins, we rejoice in the Christmas celebrations we had and all the homecomings we enjoyed. And we also return our gaze outward to see what the Triune God of Grace is doing and hear how he calls us to be part of it.  
 
January is our Global Missions Month. We give thanks that several missionaries were called from this congregation and are now serving throughout the world. Ashley and MacGregor Magruder didn’t feel far enough away in Kenya: they’ve relocated to Malaysia! Their work continues in training indigenous leaders to share the gospel. Rebecca [Lunceford] and Nour Botros have been on the front lines of ministering to Syrian refugees in Beirut. They’re home for rest right now, which means we will get to hear firsthand from them at our missions conference.  
 
The young Jesus knew what it was to have to flee violence in the middle of the night; to seek refuge in another country, arriving with nothing more than the clothes on his back. Jesus’ church sees the worldwide refugee crisis as an opportunity to extend the hospitality of gospel love. That’s why your church session recently approved up to $42,000 for medical mission trips to war-ravaged Syria. But here’s the kicker: these mission trips will be conducted by our Egyptian partner church Kasr El-Dobara, enabling more work to be done at a fraction of the cost.  
 
Meanwhile, we hear great reports from Brian Miller in Medellin, Colombia. A gift from our church contributed to his successful efforts to build a “safe house” for girls escaping sex trafficking. Wycliffe missionaries we have supported for years, the Tolivers, this year presented the work of a lifetime: the Bible translated into a Peruvian dialect. For the first time thousands will hear God’s Word in their native tongue!
 
Don’t you love being connected to Christ’s work around the world? You will love our Global Mission Conference February 2-3. We will hear from the Botroses and the Tolivers. And we will engage personally in Global Mission by doing what we do best: hosting a lunch for international students. Finally, we’ll hear from one of the best young preachers I know as Scott Castleman from Ocean Springs preaches to us on “Bringing Peace Far and Near.” As we look outward this month, we can see with wonder what God is doing.
 
Meanwhile back home, I’d like to highlight two hidden jewels of ministry. Every first Friday of the month a group of volunteers conducts reCess at our church: a night out for families of special needs kids. We keep the kids and their families enjoy an evening. And Threads of Love continues its quiet ministry of resurrection hope. These ladies sew garments for infants who have died, lending dignity and comfort to families who have lost children through miscarriage, still birth or infant illness. Both of these quiet ministries touch people deeply.
 
It astounds me to see all the ways our congregation serves and as a New Year begins I love, more than ever, being your pastor,
 
Gerrit Dawson
Senior Pastor
 
 

The Church Distributed

That’s a great title for a book about how God sends his people throughout the world as leaven that causes the whole dough to rise. As the New Year begins, we rejoice in the Christmas celebrations we had and all the homecomings we enjoyed. And we also return our gaze outward to see what the Triune God of Grace is doing and hear how he calls us to be part of it.  
 
January is our Global Missions Month. We give thanks that several missionaries were called from this congregation and are now serving throughout the world. Ashley and MacGregor Magruder didn’t feel far enough away in Kenya: they’ve relocated to Malaysia! Their work continues in training indigenous leaders to share the gospel. Rebecca [Lunceford] and Nour Botros have been on the front lines of ministering to Syrian refugees in Beirut. They’re home for rest right now, which means we will get to hear firsthand from them at our missions conference.  
 
The young Jesus knew what it was to have to flee violence in the middle of the night; to seek refuge in another country, arriving with nothing more than the clothes on his back. Jesus’ church sees the worldwide refugee crisis as an opportunity to extend the hospitality of gospel love. That’s why your church session recently approved up to $42,000 for medical mission trips to war-ravaged Syria. But here’s the kicker: these mission trips will be conducted by our Egyptian partner church Kasr El-Dobara, enabling more work to be done at a fraction of the cost.  
 
Meanwhile, we hear great reports from Brian Miller in Medellin, Colombia. A gift from our church contributed to his successful efforts to build a “safe house” for girls escaping sex trafficking. Wycliffe missionaries we have supported for years, the Tolivers, this year presented the work of a lifetime: the Bible translated into a Peruvian dialect. For the first time thousands will hear God’s Word in their native tongue!
 
Don’t you love being connected to Christ’s work around the world? You will love our Global Mission Conference February 2-3. We will hear from the Botroses and the Tolivers. And we will engage personally in Global Mission by doing what we do best: hosting a lunch for international students. Finally, we’ll hear from one of the best young preachers I know as Scott Castleman from Ocean Springs preaches to us on “Bringing Peace Far and Near.” As we look outward this month, we can see with wonder what God is doing.
 
Meanwhile back home, I’d like to highlight two hidden jewels of ministry. Every first Friday of the month a group of volunteers conducts reCess at our church: a night out for families of special needs kids. We keep the kids and their families enjoy an evening. And Threads of Love continues its quiet ministry of resurrection hope. These ladies sew garments for infants who have died, lending dignity and comfort to families who have lost children through miscarriage, still birth or infant illness. Both of these quiet ministries touch people deeply.
 
It astounds me to see all the ways our congregation serves and as a New Year begins I love, more than ever, being your pastor,
 
Gerrit Dawson
Senior Pastor
 
 

The Church Distributed

That’s a great title for a book about how God sends his people throughout the world as leaven that causes the whole dough to rise. As the New Year begins, we rejoice in the Christmas celebrations we had and all the homecomings we enjoyed. And we also return our gaze outward to see what the Triune God of Grace is doing and hear how he calls us to be part of it.  
 
January is our Global Missions Month. We give thanks that several missionaries were called from this congregation and are now serving throughout the world. Ashley and MacGregor Magruder didn’t feel far enough away in Kenya: they’ve relocated to Malaysia! Their work continues in training indigenous leaders to share the gospel. Rebecca [Lunceford] and Nour Botros have been on the front lines of ministering to Syrian refugees in Beirut. They’re home for rest right now, which means we will get to hear firsthand from them at our missions conference.  
 
The young Jesus knew what it was to have to flee violence in the middle of the night; to seek refuge in another country, arriving with nothing more than the clothes on his back. Jesus’ church sees the worldwide refugee crisis as an opportunity to extend the hospitality of gospel love. That’s why your church session recently approved up to $42,000 for medical mission trips to war-ravaged Syria. But here’s the kicker: these mission trips will be conducted by our Egyptian partner church Kasr El-Dobara, enabling more work to be done at a fraction of the cost.  
 
Meanwhile, we hear great reports from Brian Miller in Medellin, Colombia. A gift from our church contributed to his successful efforts to build a “safe house” for girls escaping sex trafficking. Wycliffe missionaries we have supported for years, the Tolivers, this year presented the work of a lifetime: the Bible translated into a Peruvian dialect. For the first time thousands will hear God’s Word in their native tongue!
 
Don’t you love being connected to Christ’s work around the world? You will love our Global Mission Conference February 2-3. We will hear from the Botroses and the Tolivers. And we will engage personally in Global Mission by doing what we do best: hosting a lunch for international students. Finally, we’ll hear from one of the best young preachers I know as Scott Castleman from Ocean Springs preaches to us on “Bringing Peace Far and Near.” As we look outward this month, we can see with wonder what God is doing.
 
Meanwhile back home, I’d like to highlight two hidden jewels of ministry. Every first Friday of the month a group of volunteers conducts reCess at our church: a night out for families of special needs kids. We keep the kids and their families enjoy an evening. And Threads of Love continues its quiet ministry of resurrection hope. These ladies sew garments for infants who have died, lending dignity and comfort to families who have lost children through miscarriage, still birth or infant illness. Both of these quiet ministries touch people deeply.
 
It astounds me to see all the ways our congregation serves and as a New Year begins I love, more than ever, being your pastor,
 
Gerrit Dawson
Senior Pastor
 
 

Keeping Christmas

There’s a rule in our house about Christmas movies. We must start with A Christmas Carol. And it has to be the 1951 version with Alastair Sim (who, by the way, taught speech to divinity students in Edinburgh!). The final lines of Dickens’ classic always choke me up: “And it was always said of Scrooge, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, 'God bless us, every one!'" Keeping Christmas well. Isn’t that what we long to do every year?
 
That’s a passion I see in our staff and leadership. In every way, we are trying to keep Christmas well for our beloved congregation. We want church to be the place where you get taken back to the wonder of the first Christmas. To see the Live Nativity and imagine that holy night. To hear the Scriptures recounting the story explored through messages and music. To feel the festive welcome of the season whenever you step on campus. To find gatherings of cherished FPC friends here and around the city. To be given opportunity to focus outwards on our city through our Christmas offering. To feel like church brings you fresh joy rooted in the warmth of cherished memories. I see that commitment at every level. From the guys who clean the building to the team that creates bulletins. From the team decorating the Sanctuary to the folks organizing events to those planning music. From the assistants who greet you to the pastors studying for messages to the coordination of care for those who are grieving this season. We’re all in.
 
We don’t take it lightly that we’re planted in the heart of the city on a uniquely beautiful campus with a faithful history undergirding us. We are keenly aware how many will have family and friends visiting from far away. We know Christmas brings once a year an opportunity to share and to show the gospel of Jesus. Pray for endurance for your staff. Pray for the Spirit to draw many to this house. And pray that we might keep Christmas well for the sake of the world and the glory of the Lord!
 
Especially in this season, I love being your pastor.
 
Gerrit Dawson
Senior Pastor
 
 

Keeping Christmas

There’s a rule in our house about Christmas movies. We must start with A Christmas Carol. And it has to be the 1951 version with Alastair Sim (who, by the way, taught speech to divinity students in Edinburgh!). The final lines of Dickens’ classic always choke me up: “And it was always said of Scrooge, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, 'God bless us, every one!'" Keeping Christmas well. Isn’t that what we long to do every year?
 
That’s a passion I see in our staff and leadership. In every way, we are trying to keep Christmas well for our beloved congregation. We want church to be the place where you get taken back to the wonder of the first Christmas. To see the Live Nativity and imagine that holy night. To hear the Scriptures recounting the story explored through messages and music. To feel the festive welcome of the season whenever you step on campus. To find gatherings of cherished FPC friends here and around the city. To be given opportunity to focus outwards on our city through our Christmas offering. To feel like church brings you fresh joy rooted in the warmth of cherished memories. I see that commitment at every level. From the guys who clean the building to the team that creates bulletins. From the team decorating the Sanctuary to the folks organizing events to those planning music. From the assistants who greet you to the pastors studying for messages to the coordination of care for those who are grieving this season. We’re all in.
 
We don’t take it lightly that we’re planted in the heart of the city on a uniquely beautiful campus with a faithful history undergirding us. We are keenly aware how many will have family and friends visiting from far away. We know Christmas brings once a year an opportunity to share and to show the gospel of Jesus. Pray for endurance for your staff. Pray for the Spirit to draw many to this house. And pray that we might keep Christmas well for the sake of the world and the glory of the Lord!
 
Especially in this season, I love being your pastor.
 
Gerrit Dawson
Senior Pastor
 
 

A Difficult Topic

“For he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”  

 
These words of Scripture from 1 John 4: 4 encourage me greatly when I think about the topic which God has prompted me to write about this month. Pornography isn’t an issue that we like to dwell on often; instead, we mention it in quick, passing statements because it’s such a monster.  We know it’s out there: a recent survey revealed there are currently 4.2 million pornographic websites. We know that the problem is pervasive: among 13-17 year olds, 8% admit to daily watching pornography, 18% admit to watching weekly and 17% admit to watching once or twice a month – the percentages go even higher for 18-24 year olds. The numbers aren’t just about males. 33% of women ages 13-24 admit to seeking out porn at least once a month. We know that it wreaks havoc: pornography treats men and women as sexual commodities thus resulting in pornography playing a significant role in over 50% of all divorces.  Therefore, we can sometimes feel like the battle isn’t winnable. However, I believe the Bible offers hope in the midst of this darkness. Prior to working at First Presbyterian, I served for 20 years in campus ministry. I have personally watched God deliver young men from the claws of pornography time and time again to a life that restores sexuality to its proper relational context as human beings made in God’s image for God’s glory, rather than as sexual commodities to be bought, sold and consumed.
 
Ultimately, it is the gospel, obedience to God’s word and quality fellowship that renews one’s mind and moves one toward freedom. Steps toward sexual wholeness also include walking in truth with trustworthy brothers and sisters in the Lord. A practical way that I have found to do this is to bring one’s internet habits into the light by using an accountability and filtering software called Covenant Eyes. Covenant Eyes is a trusted company whose software I personally installed on my computer over two decades ago and which can be installed on all devices including phones and tablets. As parents, Barat and I wanted to prevent the onslaught of temptation for our kids, so we signed up for a family account. Every device we have now limits access to pornography, thanks to their software. We are not naïve enough to think that the battle is won, or that we no longer need to discuss this issue with our kids, but we are thankful to have a first defense with Covenant Eyes. Seeking to shepherd our church, I have worked a partnership with Covenant Eyes to provide a discount off their monthly fee for anyone who signs up from First Presbyterian (see direct link below). Please contact me at darin@fpcbr.org for more information and additional resources to help in this battle. I pray for freedom from sin and relational wholeness as we walk in the light of God’s glory and holiness as a church body!
 
Darin Travis
Director of Discipleship, Men's Ministry and Young Adults
 
 

Gather In!

The first breath of autumn air has arrived! Midway through the season, it feels like football weather at last. Children have been trick or treating. And Thanksgiving is suddenly near. Songs I’ve known since childhood arise, “We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing.” “Come ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home.”  As the year closes, we think about gathering in. Even though winter is not too perilous in the deep south, the homing instinct still rises in us.
 
Not many of us are farmers these days, but it still feels right that at harvest time we think about stewardship.  Gathering in before winter, a family thinks about how to steward their resources through the cold, non-growing months. As Christ’s people, we know that “All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above.”  All we have is from our gracious God, even, no especially, the things we have worked for. It’s God who gave us the strength, the mind and the opportunity to see our labor flourish. So deep in our Biblical spirituality, we know that giving back to God is an essential way we thank God. We make a return to acknowledge the source. We steward what we have received in a way that includes the Lord, his work and his people. 
 
For 190 years, our congregation has profoundly understood this spiritual need to gather in and make return. We get it that our primary worshiping community is the key recipient of our gifts of thankful return to God. That’s why our church speaks of stewardship only briefly each year. That’s why we have only one special offering (at Christmas), knowing that all year long, our regular gifts to the church go to all our church does here, in the community and around the world. 
 
So once a year, I get to remind you, with joy and thanks already in my heart for you, that every gift matters in our church, because we run full out for Christ and his work through FPC. Responsibly, of course, but vigorously.  
 
It’s a HUGE help to our elders if each of us makes our estimate for next year’s giving sooner rather than later. We want to dedicate our estimates of what we plan, and hope, to give to God through our church on November 11 at all three services. Plan now, dear ones, to pray, ponder and act in faith to estimate your 2019 giving this month, so your church can move confidently forward.
 
I love being your pastor!
Gerrit
 
 

I'm Retiring After 27 Years of Ministry

Dear Church Family,
 
I am writing to let you know that I am retiring from leading Sunday worship at the end of January. This is very hard for me to say, as you are my family, and will always be my family. I have prayed about this for some time and feel that God is telling me it is time for the next chapter in my life, one now filled with a growing extended family, as well as it is time to pass the baton here at church. It is my desire to continue in Creative Arts Ministry and to assist our new worship director, as needed, to become familiar with our wonderful church family and worship ministry.
 
So what can I say in a few paragraphs to sum up 27 years of ministry? I want to simply say thank you for the opportunity God gave me. What amazing things I have seen God do over the years in the church’s life, in your personal lives and in my own life. And I would like to say thank you to some very special people.
 
I am grateful for Gerrit and his friendship over the past 14 years, as well as our former pastor, Russ Stevenson, who let me spread my wings and fly. Both pastors have stood beside me and trusted me. That is a gift not taken for granted. 
 
To our church staff–my friends with whom I work day and night, sometimes 24/7 when in crisis mode. What a joy to serve alongside you. Thank you for always going along for “the ride” with all of my ideas. You have prayed for me, and have given me great free advice and counsel through the years. I can't ever repay you, but I love you!
To the worship team–You truly love the Lord and are some of the most humble people I know. You are each my dear friend. So many memories we have made together. It will be nice to not have to boss you around! Some of you have been here as long as I have. We have been through life together and there is nothing greater.  
 
I do want to especially thank my husband Rick, who calls himself “Mr. Nancy” and has stood right there beside me. He has made me “breakfast to go” on Sunday mornings and has driven me to church each week like I was a rock star for 24 years. And a quick note to say that my children lived at the church while they were growing up. They have so many great memories and I believe they count that as a blessing now that they are young adults with families of their own.
To my church family–It has been my honor and blessing to serve you, serve others with you and be served by you. I am not planning to go anywhere and will continue on with “joy to the Lord.” I have learned that “the joy of the Lord is our strength,” in battling this aching and wonderful world we temporarily live in. 
 
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!! Amen." (Ephesians 3: 20-21)
 
God bless First Presbyterian Church always and forever. How can we keep from singing? 
 
Sincerely written with all my love and thanks,
Nancy Spiller
Creative Arts Director

I'm Retiring After 27 Years of Ministry

Dear Church Family,
 
I am writing to let you know that I am retiring from leading Sunday worship at the end of January. This is very hard for me to say, as you are my family, and will always be my family. I have prayed about this for some time and feel that God is telling me it is time for the next chapter in my life, one now filled with a growing extended family, as well as it is time to pass the baton here at church. It is my desire to continue in Creative Arts Ministry and to assist our new worship director, as needed, to become familiar with our wonderful church family and worship ministry.
 
So what can I say in a few paragraphs to sum up 27 years of ministry? I want to simply say thank you for the opportunity God gave me. What amazing things I have seen God do over the years in the church’s life, in your personal lives and in my own life. And I would like to say thank you to some very special people.
 
I am grateful for Gerrit and his friendship over the past 14 years, as well as our former pastor, Russ Stevenson, who let me spread my wings and fly. Both pastors have stood beside me and trusted me. That is a gift not taken for granted. 
 
To our church staff–my friends with whom I work day and night, sometimes 24/7 when in crisis mode. What a joy to serve alongside you. Thank you for always going along for “the ride” with all of my ideas. You have prayed for me, and have given me great free advice and counsel through the years. I can't ever repay you, but I love you!
To the worship team–You truly love the Lord and are some of the most humble people I know. You are each my dear friend. So many memories we have made together. It will be nice to not have to boss you around! Some of you have been here as long as I have. We have been through life together and there is nothing greater.  
 
I do want to especially thank my husband Rick, who calls himself “Mr. Nancy” and has stood right there beside me. He has made me “breakfast to go” on Sunday mornings and has driven me to church each week like I was a rock star for 24 years. And a quick note to say that my children lived at the church while they were growing up. They have so many great memories and I believe they count that as a blessing now that they are young adults with families of their own.
To my church family–It has been my honor and blessing to serve you, serve others with you and be served by you. I am not planning to go anywhere and will continue on with “joy to the Lord.” I have learned that “the joy of the Lord is our strength,” in battling this aching and wonderful world we temporarily live in. 
 
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!! Amen." (Ephesians 3: 20-21)
 
God bless First Presbyterian Church always and forever. How can we keep from singing? 
 
Sincerely written with all my love and thanks,
Nancy Spiller
Creative Arts Director

Better Like This?

An eye doctor asks this question a million times as we peek through different lenses: better like this? Or like this? The process continues until you find the lenses by which you can see the clearest. The letters on the screen don’t change. Just the lenses by which we view them.
 
There’s just one Jesus. He has made himself known. We don’t get to make him up. But we do get to look at him through different lenses. And in that way see new wonders about him. We get to be surprised and refreshed as Jesus comes into glorious focus when we gaze at him through a biblical lens we may have overlooked.  
 
My passion is to bring Jesus into clear focus for you every week as we study Scripture. In my personal studies over the last half decade, I have been gazing at Jesus through a particular lens and making note of what I see. I have been meditating, researching, pondering and writing about the event in Jesus’ life known as the descent into hell. I have seen some wondrous sights when viewing the story of Jesus this way. His whole story of redemption “pops” with meaning when you see what his final descent meant. 
 
At last, I can share them with you! We’re launching my book: Raising Adam: Why Jesus Descended into Hell. On Sunday, October 14 at 5 pm in the Sanctuary I’ll be doing a presentation on the subject, then we’ll have a book launch party at 6 in the Reception Room. I’m so excited to share these insights into Christ with you and I hope you will help me in spreading the word.
 
Meanwhile, there’s lots of other great stuff going on at your church. We’re finishing our Habitat build. The women are gathering October 6 for a “Day Treat” out at the Boydstun’s farm. The October 23 Gala to support Gardere School will be in the super-cool venue of the new Estuary @ the Water Campus. And on the 28th we’ll have our annual Kirkin’ O’ the Tartans celebration. By then, the weather will have cooled and we’ll be ready for a festive worship service as one congregation.  
 
I love to be your pastor!
 
Gerrit Dawson
Senior Pastor
 

Calling All Moms

It’s the hard truth. No matter how hard we try, every mom can attest to the pestering power of mom guilt. Whether you’re a mom to toddlers or teenagers, chances are you strive daily for some measure of parenting success that you don’t reach. We constantly set ourselves up for failure. We set expectations for ourselves that we can’t meet. We go to bed feeling regret over what we didn’t accomplish rather than joy over what we did. Frankly, I’ve just about had it with #MomGuilt. Can I get an Amen to that?
 
This is exactly why I run (not walk!) to our Mom’s Thursday Morning Study. Not only is this a time of deep, expositional Bible study, but it’s also a time of meaningful (and much needed!) fellowship with other tired moms like me, needing to refuel and reconnect. Each week, I learn more about our Savior, and I’m reminded of who I’m truly performing for. This time together helps me refocus on what’s really important (him, not me!). We have prayer time dedicated to praying over our children, our marriages and our parenting joys and struggles. This is a safe place where we gather together in his name on behalf of our families. I leave feeling refueled, secure in Christ and more in tune with God’s desire for me as a wife, mother and friend. Mom’s Bible Study meets on Thursdays from 9.30-11 am in Education Building Room 301. The majority of women who attend are mothers in their 20s, 30s and 40s, basically anyone who has kids still at home and in the season of “active” parenting! We are not formal at all. Come in your activewear! We offer childcare for children five and under, but you can even bring your babies with you to study if you prefer. All are welcome! 
 
Our fall semester begins Thursday, September 6, and we will be studying through Jesus’ parables in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus often teaches through the use of parables, illustrative stories that convey spiritual truths. My prayer is that we grow deeper in our understanding of how these stories were important to the disciples, and also that God grants us the wisdom to teach the spiritual truths found in the parables to our children and apply these lessons to our everyday lives with our families.  
 
We would love to have you! Contact Jaime Carnaggio if you have questions. 
 
Jaime Carnaggio
 
 
 
 

Back from Sabbatical

It’s great to be back home with you. We are so grateful that you generously gave us this summer as a sabbatical to rest and refuel. The days passed like a wonderful dream as all of our rhythms slowed down. Time enough at last to pray, to read, to walk, to be with family, to see friends, to be together as a couple, and discover that turning 60 is not so bad. I’ve decided to stay young as long as possible. So, thank you! It was also grand to have time to work slowly and deeply on next spring’s Lenten prayer guide. We’ll be delving into the names of Jesus day by day. Finishing touches were also applied to Raising Adam: Why Jesus Descended into Hell. After five years of preparation, it will be a thrill to see it in print this October. 
 
Most encouraging to me was a passion that rose up from the depths: I seriously, madly love to be your pastor and I pray God will give me strength to lead you for years to come. So hang on as you read this issue because there is lots going on.
 
We’re continuing to explore the mystery made known in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. I’m thrilled that our Sunday school children are tracking with the same passages. Nearly 200 folks attended the kick off to our youth program: Paula, Thomas and the youth team already have it in high gear. Our members are providing invaluable support as school begins at Buchanan Elementary and Gardere Community Christian School. Small groups are organizing around town as together we explore the gospel of grace. And soon we’ll all be pulling together to blitz build our sixth Habitat for Humanity home. All that and football season too!  
 
Finally, our heartfelt thanks from Rhonda and me for your great outpouring of support following the death of her brother. How wonderful that it was the same week Caleb Daniel Dawson entered the world. Oh yes, a local grandchild to spoil! 
Glad to be doing life together with you,
 

Did You Know? A Special Thanks

Dear Beloved Session and Church, 
 
On June 26, I had the opportunity to experience Europe for the first time in my life traveling to Salzburg, Austria. I was invited by my good friends from college, David and Gayle Galasso, of St. Peter’s Methodist Church in Katy, TX, to join a mass choir of 145 singers from all around the USA. My two good friends, college roommate Claire Wilson, and Tracy Munson, who sang as well, traveled with me. We participated in the “Jubilate” Mozart Festival, which is held every summer to celebrate the music of Amadeus Mozart. Salzburg is the city where Mozart was born and lived. We sang in the Salzburg Dom (the most beautiful cathedral I have ever seen). Tracy and I worked hard learning the most beautiful and inspiring music (an hour and 15 minutes worth) singing with a professional orchestra and soloists. The soloists were standing in the balcony beside one of the six organs in the church! We sang under the direction of two accomplished conductors, and met many other incredibly talented people. 
 
I wanted you to know that the Lord worked it out for me to go. The session decided to give this trip to me as a gift to celebrate my 25th year anniversary working here at First Presbyterian. Not only did I see beautiful Salzburg and Vienna, Austria, but the Lord let me experience it while singing praises to him! I knew this was his doing and his blessing on me. He was loving me through my church. 
I could not have had anything better given to me! I can’t even talk about it without getting emotional, so I wanted to write to all of you and thank you for the gift of a lifetime, and, a lifetime of leading worship for the most amazing church family. 
 
God bless you all,
 
Nancy Spiller
Creative Arts Director
 
 
 
 
 

So Many Ways to Go Deeper in Christ This Fall

Jesus said that the greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength. The second is to love your neighbor as yourself. These two commandments summarized all of the Old Testament Law and Prophets. Here at First Presbyterian, we have a long tradition of living out these two commands in a myriad of very practical ways. Every Sunday, our heads and hearts are captivated by the high view of the Scriptures being preached, and every Sunday, we offer outstanding Sunday school classes to help foster depth and community. Truly, loving God and loving others is a joy to live out here at FPC! 
 
This August and September we are offering even more opportunities to live out these commandments. The first opportunity will be the Complete: Why Jesus Alone Is Enough Family Stay-Treat with Dr. Mary Willson. For those of you who were here a handful of years ago, Mary was our Women in Ministry Director before our beloved Elizabeth Parker arrived. The Lord led Mary to leave our church to pursue a Ph.D, that she might be able to further equip the body of Christ. Now we get to be the beneficiaries of her hard work!
 
By carving out time from your schedule to attend, you will feast on the relevancy of God’s word as Mary unpacks Paul’s teaching in the book of Colossians. Those in Colossae battled dangerous teachings that tempted the Christians to look for something “deeper” than Christ, something more “relevant” than his commands or more empowering than our union with him.
 
Paul dramatically shows that both the person and the work of Jesus Christ are completely sufficient to fill our needs and repurpose our lives. Mary will help us explore these sparkling truths and others. This family retreat will begin at 6 pm on August 10 with dinner and will conclude at noon on August 11. The beauty of being on a Stay-Treat together is that there will be plenty of time to connect over meals and breaks to process what you are learning in community with others. For more information and to register click the button below. 
 
Another outstanding opportunity to plug into the body here at FPC is through our small groups. Every fall, we join together in living rooms across the Baton Rouge area to study the Scriptures and form friendships. This year the content for most of our small groups is going to be from a book entitled, Gospel-Centered Life by Robert Thune and Will Walker. This book, comprised of 9 short lessons and exercises, delves into the heart of walking in truth and grace. I have recently led a group of men through the book and our conversations from these 2-3 page chapters have provided some of the most invigorating conversations our study has had in a while. I’m eager to have our church engage with this book! One other small group option to note is that there will be a group focused on parenting using Family Life’s new content entitled The Art of Parenting. We are hosting a “mix-and-match” after worship on September 9 to help connect interested people to groups.
 
The last opportunity I wanted to share about that will be kicking off this fall at FPC is called Alpha. Alpha is a series of sessions exploring the Christian faith that God has used around the world. It creates space to explore life’s big questions, to say what you think, and to hear other people’s points of view. It is a global conversation that began in London which millions have gone through in over 168 countries and into 112 different languages. We are hosting Alpha Sunday mornings beginning September 16 continuing to October 28. Click here to learn more about the Alpha Course.
 
Darin Travis
Director of Discipleship, Men's Ministry and Young Adults
 
 
 

A Lot Has Happened

It feels like it was a just a few weeks ago that I drove over the Mississippi bridge for the first time and saw First Presbyterian on the horizon. It baffles me this scene was six and a half years ago. But a lot of life has happened in these years. We have watched our 1 year old become a beautiful young girl now heading into 3rd grade. You were there when our firecracker of a little man came into the world 4 years ago. We bought a home, started elementary school, loved on special needs students, got ordained, embarked on a doctoral program, baptized our kiddos, worked on flooded homes and traveled thousands of miles over the years with students in tow to see them go “deeper in Christ and further into the world.”
 
There are so many scenes that fill my head when I think about FPC and the enormous impact this church family has had on my family and me. One particular one was filling the Sanctuary after one of our dear young ones went to be with Lord. It was the church living out the great calling to love and care for the next generation by surrounding them with Christ’s love. It has been a great privilege of my life to serve alongside you as we seek for young people to hear the good news of the gospel and surrender all of who they are to our Savior.  
 
This summer we will be departing to serve the Lord in a new pastoral calling back in Texas.  It will be an opportunity for me preach the word which FPC has given me a great passion for. My passion will also take the incredible things we do for students and live that out with adults, connecting them to Christ and to one another. In many ways it will be like I am serving at FPC in Texas. We love this church family and will be excited to see all the ways Christ draws you closer to himself. 
 
I cannot say thank you enough for the many blessings you have bestowed upon me. The biggest one was taking a scraggly youth guy and forming me into a young pastor with a passion for the preached word of God and seeing God’s people live out the Great Commission.   
 

God Is Love Or Love Is God?

Which of these two statements is true? Our world is confused on this particular issue, but the answer is found in 1 John 4, where John says that, in fact, God is love.   
 
Our culture, however, including our American church culture, is unfortunately lulled into the false belief that “Love is God.” Love is perceived as the ultimate ideal. Our culture screams, “Just love people!” What they mean is,“Be nice; be tolerant; don’t judge people.” But is this truly loving?  
 
John reveals in 1 John 4 that God is love, but in chapter 1 he also says that “God is light.” In God’s character, there is no darkness. He is without blemish, perfectly pure, perfectly holy. He is pure in his character, judgments and dealings with man. As the sovereign autonomous personal being of righteousness, he is the one who gives us the law to relate to him and to others. He says, “Be holy, for I am holy. Have no other gods before me. Do not covet.” He requires obedience to his authority and stands as the judge over all those who fail to live according to his moral demands. To say that God is loving, but fail to convey that God is holy, does not do justice to the wholeness of who God is. He is loving and holy, therefore requiring justice.  
 
As we study the Scriptures, preaching them to ourselves and those around us, we must be careful not to present a relativistic worldview and be ignorant of the revealed nature of God. Our world is full of half-truths. An old U.S. Navy advertisement said, “Join the Navy and see the world!” Everyone knows that if you join the Navy, you will indeed see different ports and different cultures, but you will not do so as a passenger on a Mediterranean cruise ship. “God is love” is a true statement, but our world needs to know that he is also holy. His holiness demands that we who have sought independence from God deserve eternal separation because he is a just God. The beautiful revealed love of God is that though we deserve judgment, he has given us opportunity to draw near because he is also loving. A.W. Tozer said, “The cross is a symbol of death.  It stands for the abrupt, violent end of a person. God salvages the individual by liquidating him and then raising him to newness of life. The corn of wheat must fall into the ground and die.” The liquidation of self, the dying of self, is often a very painful death, but new life in Christ is how God’s justice is melded with God’s love. Jesus said, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake, he is the one who will save it” (Luke 9: 24). Let us remember that love is not the ultimate thing; God is. God is ultimate. He is love (1 John 4: 8, 16). He is light (1 John 1: 5).
 

By God's Grace and Mercy

On May 31, 2017, I was driving to New Orleans to do pre-marital counseling for three couples, but I was driving dangerously tired and did not realize my high level of exhaustion. As I drove about forty miles along Interstate 10, my eyes closed and only because of an angel did I awaken in time to keep from rear-ending an 18-wheeler. My eyes opened in time to slam into the right side of the 18-wheeler. The Lord Jesus allowed me to stay on this earth, but I received multiple breaks on the left side of my body. Through three operations and a day of radiation at OLOL, the Lord quietly began to put my heart and soul back together along with my broken body. I was crushed on the outside but my spirit was destroyed on the inside. I cried out to the Lord daily asking him to please help me through this pain. 
 
Everything I enjoyed doing for nineteen years at First Presbyterian Church Baton Rouge came to a halt in one second. I was in ICU and did not realize the severity of my injuries for about a week. When I realized that I could not walk or get out of bed, my heart sank lower and lower. Many people came by to say hello and cheer my spirits, but the loss of my freedom to come and go came to an end for a few months. I tried to be calm and cheerful, but this was difficult as I had three plates in my body along with 29 screws. The pain was incredible, and my left leg had no feeling for about three months as nerves began to regenerate after severe injuries to my hip and pelvis. I began to experience anxiety and depression. In all my days of serving the Lord and living life to the fullest, now I had to learn how to receive and rely on hundreds of others to care for my broken body and devastated heart. But God had new plans to bring me back to him in daily quiet times and through the kindness of friends and strangers. God brought my heart back to him as I cried through reading the book of Psalms and doing my best to encourage others in the rehab hospital with me.
 
Why did I allow myself to be so dangerously tired on May 31, 2017? I am not completely sure of this answer but the month of May was painful as I endured the loss of my 93 year old Aunt Helen as she had a stroke and died a few days later. My heart grieved the loss of this aunt and the influence she had on my entire life. Then the sudden loss of a beautiful friend who went home to the Lord crushed my spirit again. I was feeling pain and exhaustion and did not realize the toll this was taking on my heart and soul. My body was fatigued, and I was not resting properly during a more than active Spring 2017. 
 
As of May 31 this year, I have learned how to exercise with perseverance as I continue to go to the medical wellness facility three days a week (115 visits and counting). I have chosen to care for my body with a determination unlike any time in my life so one day I will be able to enjoy biking, hiking, and hopefully, snow skiing. I have also chosen to care for my soul in ways that I have never done before. I have read and reread Sacred Rhythms and am applying these spiritual disciplines in my daily life. I have attempted and failed in the past to do this, but God has given me another opportunity to grow closer to him. My one year anniversary of being renewed, refreshed and encouraged to move at a slower pace has allowed me to begin healing from the inside out. My prayer for the remainder of my life is to seek his face and pray without ceasing before choosing to move forward in any and all activities. 
 
My family has been a tremendous blessing, and hundreds of friends continue to encourage and be cheerleaders for a full recovery. Your kind words to our family have made all the difference in my healing, and we are thankful for every visit, phone call, email, card, meal, and hug given. We have felt the body of Christ surround us with love and compassion. We love each one of you deeply!
 

 

By God's Grace and Mercy

On May 31, 2017, I was driving to New Orleans to do pre-marital counseling for three couples, but I was driving dangerously tired and did not realize my high level of exhaustion. As I drove about forty miles along Interstate 10, my eyes closed and only because of an angel did I awaken in time to keep from rear-ending an 18-wheeler. My eyes opened in time to slam into the right side of the 18-wheeler. The Lord Jesus allowed me to stay on this earth, but I received multiple breaks on the left side of my body. Through three operations and a day of radiation at OLOL, the Lord quietly began to put my heart and soul back together along with my broken body. I was crushed on the outside but my spirit was destroyed on the inside. I cried out to the Lord daily asking him to please help me through this pain. 
 
Everything I enjoyed doing for nineteen years at First Presbyterian Church Baton Rouge came to a halt in one second. I was in ICU and did not realize the severity of my injuries for about a week. When I realized that I could not walk or get out of bed, my heart sank lower and lower. Many people came by to say hello and cheer my spirits, but the loss of my freedom to come and go came to an end for a few months. I tried to be calm and cheerful, but this was difficult as I had three plates in my body along with 29 screws. The pain was incredible, and my left leg had no feeling for about three months as nerves began to regenerate after severe injuries to my hip and pelvis. I began to experience anxiety and depression. In all my days of serving the Lord and living life to the fullest, now I had to learn how to receive and rely on hundreds of others to care for my broken body and devastated heart. But God had new plans to bring me back to him in daily quiet times and through the kindness of friends and strangers. God brought my heart back to him as I cried through reading the book of Psalms and doing my best to encourage others in the rehab hospital with me.
 
Why did I allow myself to be so dangerously tired on May 31, 2017? I am not completely sure of this answer but the month of May was painful as I endured the loss of my 93 year old Aunt Helen as she had a stroke and died a few days later. My heart grieved the loss of this aunt and the influence she had on my entire life. Then the sudden loss of a beautiful friend who went home to the Lord crushed my spirit again. I was feeling pain and exhaustion and did not realize the toll this was taking on my heart and soul. My body was fatigued, and I was not resting properly during a more than active Spring 2017. 
 
As of May 31 this year, I have learned how to exercise with perseverance as I continue to go to the medical wellness facility three days a week (115 visits and counting). I have chosen to care for my body with a determination unlike any time in my life so one day I will be able to enjoy biking, hiking, and hopefully, snow skiing. I have also chosen to care for my soul in ways that I have never done before. I have read and reread Sacred Rhythms and am applying these spiritual disciplines in my daily life. I have attempted and failed in the past to do this, but God has given me another opportunity to grow closer to him. My one year anniversary of being renewed, refreshed and encouraged to move at a slower pace has allowed me to begin healing from the inside out. My prayer for the remainder of my life is to seek his face and pray without ceasing before choosing to move forward in any and all activities. 
 
My family has been a tremendous blessing, and hundreds of friends continue to encourage and be cheerleaders for a full recovery. Your kind words to our family have made all the difference in my healing, and we are thankful for every visit, phone call, email, card, meal, and hug given. We have felt the body of Christ surround us with love and compassion. We love each one of you deeply!
 

 

I'll Be Back!

Ten weeks! That’s a long time. That’s incredibly generous. I’m so very grateful for the sabbatical leave the elders granted me this summer. The plan is to refresh, recharge and get ready for the next seven years of ministry. 
 
You will be in good hands. The “lads” will preach a sermon series on 1 John: Josh, Whitney, Darin and Barry will each take a chapter. In July, we will have one combined service each Sunday at 10.30. Jim will lead off with an important July 1 sermon on faith and the nation. Then we have a series of delightful guest preachers: Derek McCollum, Carmen LaBerge, Ben Cunningham and Alec Flynt will all be holding down the fort. You will be encouraged and challenged, and the time will go by in a blink.
 
I know I can count on each of you to keep our church strong and vibrant during this time. We have an excellent staff and great elders. As I recall, seven years ago when I got back, everything was actually running smoother than before I left! I’m sure the same will be true.
Rhonda and I will be “across the pond” as you read this, taking some time in England and Scotland. Our eldest son Micah and his wife Rachel will be joining us for part of the trip. I’ll also be attending a Torrance Retreat along the shores of Loch Tay. It’s three days of discussing the theology of my treasured mentors with colleagues whom I haven’t seen in years. Call me a pig in theological slop!
The rest of the time we will spend in North Carolina. I hope to do some deep reading on Jesus and the Psalms, pondering how he prayed from the same prayer book we do. Also, I’ve signed up for an online course called Story for Script. John Yorke’s book on story structure has profoundly influenced the way I shape sermons in the last six months. I’m excited for the opportunity to interact with Yorke and other writers about how the deep, basic structure of stories shapes all manner of communication. We’ll be enjoying lots of family time, including the annual celebration of a lot of July birthdays.
 
Truly, we will miss being with you. I am grateful for the opportunity to refresh spiritually without the normal work load, but oh I will miss this congregation I have grown to love so much. Keep us in your prayers and we’ll be back August 5.
 
 

I'll Be Back!

Ten weeks! That’s a long time. That’s incredibly generous. I’m so very grateful for the sabbatical leave the elders granted me this summer. The plan is to refresh, recharge and get ready for the next seven years of ministry. 
 
You will be in good hands. The “lads” will preach a sermon series on 1 John: Josh, Whitney, Darin and Barry will each take a chapter. In July, we will have one combined service each Sunday at 10.30. Jim will lead off with an important July 1 sermon on faith and the nation. Then we have a series of delightful guest preachers: Derek McCollum, Carmen LaBerge, Ben Cunningham and Alec Flynt will all be holding down the fort. You will be encouraged and challenged, and the time will go by in a blink.
 
I know I can count on each of you to keep our church strong and vibrant during this time. We have an excellent staff and great elders. As I recall, seven years ago when I got back, everything was actually running smoother than before I left! I’m sure the same will be true.
Rhonda and I will be “across the pond” as you read this, taking some time in England and Scotland. Our eldest son Micah and his wife Rachel will be joining us for part of the trip. I’ll also be attending a Torrance Retreat along the shores of Loch Tay. It’s three days of discussing the theology of my treasured mentors with colleagues whom I haven’t seen in years. Call me a pig in theological slop!
The rest of the time we will spend in North Carolina. I hope to do some deep reading on Jesus and the Psalms, pondering how he prayed from the same prayer book we do. Also, I’ve signed up for an online course called Story for Script. John Yorke’s book on story structure has profoundly influenced the way I shape sermons in the last six months. I’m excited for the opportunity to interact with Yorke and other writers about how the deep, basic structure of stories shapes all manner of communication. We’ll be enjoying lots of family time, including the annual celebration of a lot of July birthdays.
 
Truly, we will miss being with you. I am grateful for the opportunity to refresh spiritually without the normal work load, but oh I will miss this congregation I have grown to love so much. Keep us in your prayers and we’ll be back August 5.
 
 

An Indefinable Energy

We had more than 30 folks at our last Discover Class. I love to hear their answers to this question, “What makes a church great?” Contained in that query is an invitation to express what one is looking for and what one has found at First. These answers thrilled me, “An indefinable energy. A feeling of positive excitement. A welcome that is real. An enthusiasm for being there. A true sense of caring.” If that is what new attendees at our church are feeling, then we can truly rejoice at what God has been doing. They describe an intangible that makes all the difference in whether one is attracted or indifferent to what is happening here. Energy. Caring. Welcome. Authenticity. That’s the report of new people who want to be part of what’s happening in this fellowship of believers.
 
That’s wonderful. God is doing it. And you are doing it. The church forms afresh each time we gather. How that gathering feels comes from what each person brings to our assembly. You do that! You show up consistently so that others can count on seeing you. You greet warmly old friends and new faces. You participate robustly in worship. You arrive having decided that this time matters significantly to you and that gets translated to others as the indefinable, but very real, energy of a church that loves Jesus Christ, both his Word and his mission. And of course that’s the gift that these wonderful new members bring to us: their energy, their enthusiasm, their gifting and their desire to participate. We get blessed so richly when we are refreshed by their arrival. I remain so grateful and wonder-struck by the way the heart of this church gets expressed. I love to be your pastor!
 
Future Leaders
 
Our church is blessed to have an endowment that contributes significant funds to our ministry and mission. We’re also blessed to have wise leaders who determine never to use such endowment income for the day-to-day and year-to-year operating of the church—that important responsibility remains with all of us ordinary givers. We use our endowment income to do more, to reach further into the world and to look further into the future toward the next generation of leadership. Our endowment giving supports big projects like Gardere Community Christian School and Church of the Resurrection. We also support students training for ministry as pastors, counselors and church planters. This month the session granted over $78,000 in such scholarships! Would you like to meet the recipients?
 
Rebecca Botros is the daughter of Cynthia and elder Lloyd Lunceford. She grew up in our church and has been full time on the mission field in Lebanon for the past three years. She is pursuing a Master of Divinity at Gordon Conwell.
 
Cheryl Broadnax is a deacon at FPC. She teaches in the elementary Sunday school and serves on the youth committee. She is beginning her third and final year of studies for a Master’s in Counseling and hopes to work with children and youth.
 
Sarah Gastinel is the daughter of FPC members Valerie and Philip Gastinel. She played violin in our acoustic communion service before moving to New Orleans where she led in worship and worked on staff at our church plant, Church of the Resurrection. She now hopes to serve Christ through Christian counseling.
 
Martell Hixon is the third recipient of a Russ Stephenson Scholarship for church planting residency. He will be working under Rev. Richard Rieves at Downtown EPC in Memphis, and has a passion for interracial church planting.  
 
Mary Emeline Rester is the daughter of Rhonda and Gerrit Dawson. She will complete a Master’s in Counseling from RTS Jackson this January and hopes to work in private practice as a marriage and family therapist.
 
Hector Reynoso/Genesis Church. On the far border of our presbytery (and country), in Texas, is Genesis Church, an EPC congregation committed to Latino outreach. Genesis seeks now to construct a building for their growing congregation.
 
Darin Travis is Director of Discipleship at FPC. He is married to Barat and the father of five. He is working on his Master of Divinity degree from RTS and is a candidate for ordination in the EPC. 
 
Josh Woltmann served three summers as our pastoral intern after growing up in our youth group. He expects to complete his Master of Divinity this August and begin an internship at Hope Presbyterian Church in Richmond. Married to FPC member Katy Cosby, Josh is a candidate for EPC ministry.
 

An Indefinable Energy

We had more than 30 folks at our last Discover Class. I love to hear their answers to this question, “What makes a church great?” Contained in that query is an invitation to express what one is looking for and what one has found at First. These answers thrilled me, “An indefinable energy. A feeling of positive excitement. A welcome that is real. An enthusiasm for being there. A true sense of caring.” If that is what new attendees at our church are feeling, then we can truly rejoice at what God has been doing. They describe an intangible that makes all the difference in whether one is attracted or indifferent to what is happening here. Energy. Caring. Welcome. Authenticity. That’s the report of new people who want to be part of what’s happening in this fellowship of believers.
 
That’s wonderful. God is doing it. And you are doing it. The church forms afresh each time we gather. How that gathering feels comes from what each person brings to our assembly. You do that! You show up consistently so that others can count on seeing you. You greet warmly old friends and new faces. You participate robustly in worship. You arrive having decided that this time matters significantly to you and that gets translated to others as the indefinable, but very real, energy of a church that loves Jesus Christ, both his Word and his mission. And of course that’s the gift that these wonderful new members bring to us: their energy, their enthusiasm, their gifting and their desire to participate. We get blessed so richly when we are refreshed by their arrival. I remain so grateful and wonder-struck by the way the heart of this church gets expressed. I love to be your pastor!
 
Future Leaders
 
Our church is blessed to have an endowment that contributes significant funds to our ministry and mission. We’re also blessed to have wise leaders who determine never to use such endowment income for the day-to-day and year-to-year operating of the church—that important responsibility remains with all of us ordinary givers. We use our endowment income to do more, to reach further into the world and to look further into the future toward the next generation of leadership. Our endowment giving supports big projects like Gardere Community Christian School and Church of the Resurrection. We also support students training for ministry as pastors, counselors and church planters. This month the session granted over $78,000 in such scholarships! Would you like to meet the recipients?
 
Rebecca Botros is the daughter of Cynthia and elder Lloyd Lunceford. She grew up in our church and has been full time on the mission field in Lebanon for the past three years. She is pursuing a Master of Divinity at Gordon Conwell.
 
Cheryl Broadnax is a deacon at FPC. She teaches in the elementary Sunday school and serves on the youth committee. She is beginning her third and final year of studies for a Master’s in Counseling and hopes to work with children and youth.
 
Sarah Gastinel is the daughter of FPC members Valerie and Philip Gastinel. She played violin in our acoustic communion service before moving to New Orleans where she led in worship and worked on staff at our church plant, Church of the Resurrection. She now hopes to serve Christ through Christian counseling.
 
Martell Hixon is the third recipient of a Russ Stephenson Scholarship for church planting residency. He will be working under Rev. Richard Rieves at Downtown EPC in Memphis, and has a passion for interracial church planting.  
 
Mary Emeline Rester is the daughter of Rhonda and Gerrit Dawson. She will complete a Master’s in Counseling from RTS Jackson this January and hopes to work in private practice as a marriage and family therapist.
 
Hector Reynoso/Genesis Church. On the far border of our presbytery (and country), in Texas, is Genesis Church, an EPC congregation committed to Latino outreach. Genesis seeks now to construct a building for their growing congregation.
 
Darin Travis is Director of Discipleship at FPC. He is married to Barat and the father of five. He is working on his Master of Divinity degree from RTS and is a candidate for ordination in the EPC. 
 
Josh Woltmann served three summers as our pastoral intern after growing up in our youth group. He expects to complete his Master of Divinity this August and begin an internship at Hope Presbyterian Church in Richmond. Married to FPC member Katy Cosby, Josh is a candidate for EPC ministry.
 

Bailey and Me

I will never forget that day. I joined several people from First Presbyterian Church in bringing healing and hope to yet another victim of the flood of 2016. Little did I know that, as a result, some healing and hope would be brought to me in an unusual way. My deceased mother, who raised twelve children in a devout Roman Catholic family in Rhode Island, always said, through thick and thin, that “The more you give, the more you get.” I understand this truth to be not just circumstantial but spiritual. Yet, although there is the usual joy that comes from helping others there was another type of joy that I gained that day which I could never have foreseen. It came through a new friend—a canine one. 
 
This beautiful little dog, now named Bailey, strolled into the home in which we were working in Millerville on August 24, 2016. As she had no collar, name tag or microchip, her photo was soon posted on various websites for lost pets of Livingston and East Baton Rouge parishes. Many people wanted her but nobody claimed her. The landlord of our temporary housing did not allow pets in his home. As a result, my younger daughter (also a “pet person”) and I prayed that God would provide a home—or at least a foster parent—until the day came when we would have our own home, having moved here from Connecticut only one week before the flood. The answer to our prayer was a dear woman we met at a local retailer, Terry Harrington-Douglas, who became not only a foster parent to Bailey but a wonderful friend to us to this day. She kept Bailey for three months. Then Bailey moved in with us just after we moved into our new home. 
 
Since then, Bailey and I have become a Registered Therapy Animal Team through LSU Vet School’s Tiger H.A.T.S. program and are insured nationally through Pet Partners International. The evaluations, seven session course, and exams have been well worth the effort (although at one point I thought Bailey’s “ordination” would take longer than my pastoral ordination!). We have since visited over 40 people, young and old, rich and poor, black and white, hospitalized and healing or in hospice care and dying. Over and over again, Bailey has brought comfort, healing and hope to those we serve together. There is a reason why dog spelled backwards is what it is—they love us unconditionally. 
 
As a full-time Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care and Prayer, I am not only thankful but also inspired by how God often uses the ministry of “presence” to bring others divine peace—no words (or barks) necessary! 
 
Photo: Painter Kathy Stone with Jim Solomon and Bailey
 
 

Get Out! Now!

Claustrophobia runs in our family. No room, no air, no way out: it makes us all crazy. Rhonda’s Dad expresses it this way, “I sit on the aisle just in case I need to get out of there.” At a solidly built 6' 6", if Dick had to get out, he would get out. And I’d be right behind him. I just don’t want to be stuck and closed in. 
 
Maybe that’s why I love this Easter sermon so much, even though it’s from 1,500 years ago. The preacher imagines Jesus the moment before his resurrection. He speaks to Adam and all the dead souls who’ve been longing for a Liberator. “Rise! Let us leave this place. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell! Wake up, O sleeper and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” 
 
I just love that line: I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. You were not meant for a claustrophobic doom! You were not designed to languish in bondage to sin, death and misery. Jesus declares, “Jail break! Get up! Get out of here. Now!” 
 
That’s the spiritual heart of the Easter message. Jesus is risen. He defeated death so death doesn’t have to defeat us. He took our sin so we don’t have to live under it. In the risen Jesus, our destiny is life, forgiveness, and transformation. The Easter summons trumpets in our souls: Get up! Get out of there. Rise with Christ!”
 
Congratulations for your hard work pursuing your True Identity in Christ. All Lent you’ve delved deep into Scripture’s teaching about who we really are. And I’m proud of all the comments I’ve read, all the questing questions I’ve heard, and all the growth I’ve seen. Soon, soon, we will celebrate together that Easter means, “My true identity is Risen with Christ!”
 
So how I look forward to celebrating the festive victory of our risen Liberator with you. What a joy to see these faces I have come to know and love so well on that great day. And what a thrill to be able to say together, “He is risen! He is risen indeed!” See you there!
 
Shadows Before the Dawn
 
Of course, our Lenten journey passes first through the dark night of marking Christ’s Thursday betrayal and Friday crucifixion. More and more of us each year mark that holy night by entering the shadows with Jesus. We take communion remembering the first Lord’s Supper. We hear the sacred story dramatically read. We see the candles extinguished and sit silently in the dark of Jesus’ death. We follow him to the tomb and begin the long wait til Easter dawn. Once again we will meet at 7 pm. I’ve got some stirring paintings to show you that take us to the inner meaning in the outer tragedy. See you there!
 
Presbytery
 
At the end of this month, we will be hosting the meeting of Gulf South Presbytery. That’s the association of EPC churches in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas with whom we are affiliated. I’m always so proud when we host anything, but especially when we receive the elders and pastors from around our region. I hope lots of you will step forward to greet, serve and welcome our guests. Yes, it is a matter of pride to me: nobody, but nobody hosts events like we do!
 
You’ll enjoy the meeting too. My dear friend Dr. Dean Weaver will be speaking. He’s the moderator of our General Assembly. We’ll have a joyous celebration worship Friday night at 7. And, oh, you should hear these guys sing. The roof raises! I get to preach about Christ going up to heaven and we all share communion together. It’s the best Friday fun you can have!
 

Get Out! Now!

Claustrophobia runs in our family. No room, no air, no way out: it makes us all crazy. Rhonda’s Dad expresses it this way, “I sit on the aisle just in case I need to get out of there.” At a solidly built 6' 6", if Dick had to get out, he would get out. And I’d be right behind him. I just don’t want to be stuck and closed in. 
 
Maybe that’s why I love this Easter sermon so much, even though it’s from 1,500 years ago. The preacher imagines Jesus the moment before his resurrection. He speaks to Adam and all the dead souls who’ve been longing for a Liberator. “Rise! Let us leave this place. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell! Wake up, O sleeper and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” 
 
I just love that line: I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. You were not meant for a claustrophobic doom! You were not designed to languish in bondage to sin, death and misery. Jesus declares, “Jail break! Get up! Get out of here. Now!” 
 
That’s the spiritual heart of the Easter message. Jesus is risen. He defeated death so death doesn’t have to defeat us. He took our sin so we don’t have to live under it. In the risen Jesus, our destiny is life, forgiveness, and transformation. The Easter summons trumpets in our souls: Get up! Get out of there. Rise with Christ!”
 
Congratulations for your hard work pursuing your True Identity in Christ. All Lent you’ve delved deep into Scripture’s teaching about who we really are. And I’m proud of all the comments I’ve read, all the questing questions I’ve heard, and all the growth I’ve seen. Soon, soon, we will celebrate together that Easter means, “My true identity is Risen with Christ!”
 
So how I look forward to celebrating the festive victory of our risen Liberator with you. What a joy to see these faces I have come to know and love so well on that great day. And what a thrill to be able to say together, “He is risen! He is risen indeed!” See you there!
 
Shadows Before the Dawn
 
Of course, our Lenten journey passes first through the dark night of marking Christ’s Thursday betrayal and Friday crucifixion. More and more of us each year mark that holy night by entering the shadows with Jesus. We take communion remembering the first Lord’s Supper. We hear the sacred story dramatically read. We see the candles extinguished and sit silently in the dark of Jesus’ death. We follow him to the tomb and begin the long wait til Easter dawn. Once again we will meet at 7 pm. I’ve got some stirring paintings to show you that take us to the inner meaning in the outer tragedy. See you there!
 
Presbytery
 
At the end of this month, we will be hosting the meeting of Gulf South Presbytery. That’s the association of EPC churches in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas with whom we are affiliated. I’m always so proud when we host anything, but especially when we receive the elders and pastors from around our region. I hope lots of you will step forward to greet, serve and welcome our guests. Yes, it is a matter of pride to me: nobody, but nobody hosts events like we do!
 
You’ll enjoy the meeting too. My dear friend Dr. Dean Weaver will be speaking. He’s the moderator of our General Assembly. We’ll have a joyous celebration worship Friday night at 7. And, oh, you should hear these guys sing. The roof raises! I get to preach about Christ going up to heaven and we all share communion together. It’s the best Friday fun you can have!
 

What If the Unthinkable Happens Here?

Increasingly we are exposed to violent things that happen at schools and churches across our nation. We read about them in newspapers. We hear about them on our radios. We see reports about them on television where we often actually see footage of the event or the immediate aftermath. Most often our initial response is that these kinds of things are "unthinkable"’ and would never happen here.
 
Our church session has created a Security and Safety Committee that is tasked with the responsibility of enacting a plan to improve both procedures and facilities to better respond to emergencies related to weather, fire, civic unrest, and, yes, even violence on our campus and in our facilities. The committee is hard at work and has completed much of the plan. Now they’ve begun the really difficult task of asking hard questions about preventing and responding to those who would do us harm.
 
Part of that effort is to expose and educate as many of our church family as possible about this type of crime. And to ask how we might do everything we can to prevent such a thing from happening and, as remote as the possibility is, how we might best respond if it did. On Saturday, April 7, from 10 am until 2 pm, Dr. William Aprill will help us begin to address the unthinkable.
 
Dr. Aprill is a licensed mental health professional with almost 20 years' experience across the continuum of clinical care. He presently maintains a private practice and consultancy specializing in post-traumatic interventions and several other disciplines. He is a former Deputy Sheriff (New Orleans Parish Criminal Sherriff’s Office) and Special Deputy U.S. Marshal (Eastern District of Louisiana). He is one of the leading criminologists in the nation. His seminars cover such things as the decision making of violent criminals, defensive incident aftermath, mindset development and defensive preparedness. 
 
Being educated and having a heightened awareness are major steps toward increased security. It is the committee’s hope that many of you will join us on April 7. Lunch is only $5 and childcare will be provided. You must register for both. 
 
 
 
 

I Truly Don't Have Words

This phrase keeps coming to my mind as I think back on how absolutely beautifully you, as the body of Christ here at First Presbyterian Church, have shown God’s love to Ray and me during my recent back surgery. After serving with you for 13 years, I knew that you were THE BEST, but personally witnessing how you have been the hands and feet of Christ has truly been humbling. From the unceasing prayers, scrumptious meals (so much for my husband’s perpetual diet), to the flowers, visits, cards, phone calls, texts, emails, etc., I had NO DOUBT I was being cradled in the arms of our Heavenly Father. I wish I could personally hug each of your necks and say thank you but please know how much we love you and thank God for all of you.
 
Your tender care reminded me of one of the parables in Matthew:
 

Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you? Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me (Matthew 25: 37-40).

Thank you for bringing this Scripture to life for the Gaspards. May God continue to bless and keep you.
 
 

Ways of Worship: Classic Reformed

I encourage all of our members to become multilingual in worship: to try each of our three services during the course of a year.  
 
Classic Reformed worship draws upon the rich heritage of our  Presbyterian faith as we sing the most vibrant hymns of our tradition, augmented by some of the newer worship songs written in a traditional style. Strings and horns create lush texturing to the majesty of the organ music, and our choir presents weekly anthems which adorn the week’s Scripture passage. Classic Reformed follows the traditional pattern of gathering around the Word, hearing the Word and responding to the Word. This includes twice monthly communion. This service increasingly appeals to a younger generation longing for the depth of an ancient tradition. 
 
The 11 am service fulfills Psalm 145:  
     One generation shall commend your works to another,
            and shall declare your mighty acts.
 

Baker’s Dozen: Things to Know About Your Church

1. ME stands for Ministry Executive.
2. 37% of our giving arrives in November & December. Our fiscal year ends December 31.
3. The average annual pledge is $6,657!
4. Almost 70 of us who pledged last year have not ‘yet’ pledged this year.
5. Our utility expense this year will exceed $108,000.
6. Our comprehensive insurance costs $81,500.
7. Our Missions budget is well over a half a million dollars.
8. We have secured our Mother’s Day Out/Childhood hallway and entrances with magnetic locks and card readers, significantly increasing our ability to protect our children.
9. We hired security consultants to assist us in developing a campus-wide security plan which the Session has approved in principle.
10. The Session also approved a Safety and Security Committee to continue our efforts to substantially improve our ability to respond to emergencies of all kinds.
11. We hired an architect to design portions of this plan as part of a Master Campus Plan.
12. We have increased the presence of Baton Rouge police officers on our campus during Sunday worship.
13. When you give to your church you are part of all of this and so much more.
 
If you connect the dots on this baker’s dozen, you’ll note that we have a lot going on. Balancing our budget is mandatory. Our challenges in doing that are significant. Security and safety are increasing in priority. Yet our mission to be a loving, caring congregation remains our vision. We continue to base our faith and life on the Scriptures. Our desire to help others become devoted followers of Christ through prayer, friendship, invitation and witness has not changed, in fact, it has deepened. 
 
God’s will for us is to be thankful in everything, to pray without ceasing and to rejoice evermore. All of this we can do in Christ Jesus. So in our planning, in our doing, in our giving and in our worship let’s pray and rejoice as we participate in God’s economy. In this way we demonstrate our gratitude to him for his great gift to us. 
 
 

Would You Make This Deal?

It’s an insane trade. A ridiculous switcheroo. A crazy swap. Who would do this?! Trading places with a bum. Switching names with a scoundrel. Taking the stigma of a predator. Asking for the penalty of a felon. Yet the Son of God exchanged identities with us! If you were the righteous and holy One, would you give your place, your prerogatives and privileges to someone like the “you” who is reading this article? No, I wouldn’t it. Not in a million billion years.
 
But Jesus did. He pulled the ultimate identity switch. God made him who knew no sin to be sin. Jesus embraced our lost and forsaken, condemned and hopeless identity as sinners.  All the way to death and hell. So that we could become the righteousness of God. He gives us his identity as beloved Son of God. 
 
This is the heart of the gospel. There is nothing like this anywhere in all the thought and religion of the world. God exchanges identities with us.
 
Beloved, dive into your Lenten guides for week 3 and 4 with all your focus and all your heart. Even if you got behind or didn’t even start, pick up your guide now.  (It’s all on our website.)  Don’t miss church. There is nothing more important than this truth for you, your children, your grandchildren, your parents or your friends. Christ Jesus takes our place and gives us his. The swap of all swaps. Get in on it!
 
News and Notes
 
Your elders recently gathered for a “stay-treat” at the church. We spent nine hours together working through the challenges and opportunities on the horizon for our church. We discussed new procedures and facility changes to enhance safety and security. We discussed the distinctives of our worship services and the kind of leadership we need to exalt Christ and make disciples more effectively. We reviewed the effectiveness of the mission priorities we set in regard to the Gardere Community Christian School and Church of the Resurrection in New Orleans. We rejoiced in the unity of our congregation and drank deep from passages from God’s Word.  You have elected some consecrated, joyful and committed leaders. Great things are ahead.
 
“Give Meaning to Your Spring Cleaning” is the theme for the Purple Cow this month. These thrift stores on Perkins Road and Jones Creek fund the ministry of the Christian Outreach Center downtown.  The dresser I give to Purple Cow translates to training people to get Jobs for Life. The stack of winter sweaters I donate translates to a course in financial literacy for people coming out of addiction treatment or prison terms. The housewares I drop off become food bags for the poor. Like the gospel, that’s a great swap!
 
I love to be your pastor.
 
 

Would You Make This Deal?

It’s an insane trade. A ridiculous switcheroo. A crazy swap. Who would do this?! Trading places with a bum. Switching names with a scoundrel. Taking the stigma of a predator. Asking for the penalty of a felon. Yet the Son of God exchanged identities with us! If you were the righteous and holy One, would you give your place, your prerogatives and privileges to someone like the “you” who is reading this article? No, I wouldn’t it. Not in a million billion years.
 
But Jesus did. He pulled the ultimate identity switch. God made him who knew no sin to be sin. Jesus embraced our lost and forsaken, condemned and hopeless identity as sinners.  All the way to death and hell. So that we could become the righteousness of God. He gives us his identity as beloved Son of God. 
 
This is the heart of the gospel. There is nothing like this anywhere in all the thought and religion of the world. God exchanges identities with us.
 
Beloved, dive into your Lenten guides for week 3 and 4 with all your focus and all your heart. Even if you got behind or didn’t even start, pick up your guide now.  (It’s all on our website.)  Don’t miss church. There is nothing more important than this truth for you, your children, your grandchildren, your parents or your friends. Christ Jesus takes our place and gives us his. The swap of all swaps. Get in on it!
 
News and Notes
 
Your elders recently gathered for a “stay-treat” at the church. We spent nine hours together working through the challenges and opportunities on the horizon for our church. We discussed new procedures and facility changes to enhance safety and security. We discussed the distinctives of our worship services and the kind of leadership we need to exalt Christ and make disciples more effectively. We reviewed the effectiveness of the mission priorities we set in regard to the Gardere Community Christian School and Church of the Resurrection in New Orleans. We rejoiced in the unity of our congregation and drank deep from passages from God’s Word.  You have elected some consecrated, joyful and committed leaders. Great things are ahead.
 
“Give Meaning to Your Spring Cleaning” is the theme for the Purple Cow this month. These thrift stores on Perkins Road and Jones Creek fund the ministry of the Christian Outreach Center downtown.  The dresser I give to Purple Cow translates to training people to get Jobs for Life. The stack of winter sweaters I donate translates to a course in financial literacy for people coming out of addiction treatment or prison terms. The housewares I drop off become food bags for the poor. Like the gospel, that’s a great swap!
 
I love to be your pastor.
 
 

Ways of Worship: Contemporary

Every Sunday, we offer three distinctive styles of worship. The Scripture and message are the same in each service, but the order and music vary. I encourage all of our members to become multilingual in worship: to try each service during the course of a year.  
 
The 9.00 service fulfills Psalm 150:
 
Praise him with trumpet sound;
         praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
         praise him with strings and pipe,
  Praise him with sounding cymbals;
         praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! 
 
A multitude of instruments augments the vibrant singing of both current and treasured worship songs. The atmosphere is the least formal of our services, and the congregation rejoices that every generation is well represented. The robust fellowship creates a wonderful loving atmosphere every Sunday at 9. The congregation communes monthly through the intimacy of forming small groups at the front of the Sanctuary.

Ways of Worship: Contemporary

Every Sunday, we offer three distinctive styles of worship. The Scripture and message are the same in each service, but the order and music vary. I encourage all of our members to become multilingual in worship: to try each service during the course of a year.  
 
The 9.00 service fulfills Psalm 150:
 
Praise him with trumpet sound;
         praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
         praise him with strings and pipe,
  Praise him with sounding cymbals;
         praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! 
 
A multitude of instruments augments the vibrant singing of both current and treasured worship songs. The atmosphere is the least formal of our services, and the congregation rejoices that every generation is well represented. The robust fellowship creates a wonderful loving atmosphere every Sunday at 9. The congregation communes monthly through the intimacy of forming small groups at the front of the Sanctuary.

Giving Other Churches a Fighting Chance

Howdy from Texas! Our family is mostly settled in here. Even so, we think of you all often and greatly miss your fellowship, which still feels to us very much like home. I have lost count of how many local churches we have visited here. So many are joyfully advancing the work of the gospel, and in this we are encouraged. The Body of Christ is alive and well here; glory to God!
 
And yet this process of finding our new church family is draining, frustrating and sad. At first I couldn’t pinpoint what was so difficult. We were in church every week and, sure, things were different, but this isn’t our first rodeo, so we expected to have to adjust to theological nuances, worship style differences, differences in volume, lighting, in preaching style, etc. But as we walked out of each church feeling encouraged that the gospel has been proclaimed, we were also discouraged that just didn't seem to “fit.” Slowly I have realized what has been making this church-finding process so hard: I am looking for y’all! What I’m so eager to find in our new church home is something that took years and years for God to cultivate there with you all. It’s looking around on Sunday mornings and seeing all of you and knowing so many of you. It’s all of the connections and the history of sharing this journey for nearly a decade. It’s leaders whose love has been selfless and consistent over the long term. It’s having my eyes opened to the vision of a local body; knowing both the unity of mission and the diversity of roles. Its lives and personalities that challenge me as well as those that are a soft place for me to land. It’s a sense of love-debt that I want to repay and pay forward: the realization that much has been invested in me and an eagerness to share with others. These are the things that I miss so much. These are the things that feel like home. And I realize my discouragement in this process is because I am measuring each of these new churches against the one that has been home for so many years. But let’s be real. No other church can stand up to such a wildly unfair comparison. 
 
So in order to give churches here a fighting chance, I am shedding my unrealistic expectations of instant fellowship and community (which of course were never reasonable in the first place). And I’m mentally preparing myself to do the worthy work of building relationships and eventually the privilege of serving as God allows. But as I do so, I cannot help but think again of y’all there at First Presbyterian Church and I want to urge you to continue to welcome guests like you do: with joy and warmth. Maybe they are, like us, wishing for an irreplaceable church family they've had to leave behind. Or maybe they’ve never experienced the beauty of having a true church home. Either way, God is at work in them and your kind words and welcoming smiles mean more than you know. Those little gestures matter a lot! If visitors are cranky about silly things like the length of the sermon, the placement of their kids, or the timing of Sunday school, please realize they’re probably just a bit heartbroken and/or road-weary. May God fill you with compassion and love for them! And I pray for those visiting (as I pray for us) that the Holy Spirit will give them an inkling of the richness of family and fellowship that they'll find if they put down roots with you. What a special community awaits them! 
 
We miss y’all! When we do finally find our spot here, you will retain a very special place in our hearts. We are profoundly grateful for the years we had to grow and serve among you. We pray and trust that God will sustain and bless you for his glory.
 

Find Out Who You Really Are! An Interview with Gerrit Dawson

Will the church have a special theme for Lent again?  
Yes, we plan to focus on identity. That’s the question of who we most truly are.
 
That’s a hot topic in our culture right now.
There’s a lot of discussion about the power of choice: who do I want to be?
 
And about genetics and predispositions: who must I be?
We plan to take the discussion deeper:  who does God say that I am?
 
How do we find out?
Identity is actually a dominate theme in Scripture. Our God constantly tells his people who they are. They are meant to live from that.
 
How will you approach the identity teaching of the Bible?
For the six weeks of Lent, we’ll look at six key themes. Who am I? Scripture replies that I am:
 
1) Created, Called and Claimed by God
2) Hopelessly Fallen and Mortally Wounded by Sin
3) Utterly Redeemed by Christ
4) Lovingly Adopted into Christ’s own Sonship
5) Daily Dependent on Christ our Life
6) Significantly Sent on Christ’s Mission
 
What’s the one key to this whole identity business?
Here’s the open secret: Jesus is God identifying with us in our lost and forsaken condition. He identifies with us, even unto death, so that he can gather us to himself and enable us to identify with him in sonship with his Father. Our true identity is in Christ. That runs deeper than any genetics, choices or circumstances.
 
How will you invite the congregation to participate?
Once again, we’ll take a three-fold approach.  
 
1) Sunday worship: the messages will focus on the six identity themes.
2) Daily Prayer Guide: everyone will receive a book designed to lead us into 42 days of intense focus on our identity in Christ.
3) Home Groups: studying and discussing together is crucial to recovering our identity in Christ.
 
When does this get started?
Books will be distributed Sunday, February 18 and home groups also begin that week. Group sign ups start February 4.
 
You seem to ask a lot from this congregation!
I do! I have great confidence that our folks will rise to the challenge. I’m asking for 20 minutes a day for 42 days. That’s 14 total hours offered to the Lord as time he can mold us according to his Word. Plus about 9 hours spent in home groups and weekly worship. Of the 1,000 hours we all live during Lent, that’s really pretty reasonable! But more than that, I know our people. We have a hunger for Christ. We’re on a quest to grow closer and closer to him. This is just a great way to pursue Jesus, together.  
 
 

Find Out Who You Really Are! An Interview with Gerrit Dawson

Will the church have a special theme for Lent again?  
Yes, we plan to focus on identity. That’s the question of who we most truly are.
 
That’s a hot topic in our culture right now.
There’s a lot of discussion about the power of choice: who do I want to be?
 
And about genetics and predispositions: who must I be?
We plan to take the discussion deeper:  who does God say that I am?
 
How do we find out?
Identity is actually a dominate theme in Scripture. Our God constantly tells his people who they are. They are meant to live from that.
 
How will you approach the identity teaching of the Bible?
For the six weeks of Lent, we’ll look at six key themes. Who am I? Scripture replies that I am:
 
1) Created, Called and Claimed by God
2) Hopelessly Fallen and Mortally Wounded by Sin
3) Utterly Redeemed by Christ
4) Lovingly Adopted into Christ’s own Sonship
5) Daily Dependent on Christ our Life
6) Significantly Sent on Christ’s Mission
 
What’s the one key to this whole identity business?
Here’s the open secret: Jesus is God identifying with us in our lost and forsaken condition. He identifies with us, even unto death, so that he can gather us to himself and enable us to identify with him in sonship with his Father. Our true identity is in Christ. That runs deeper than any genetics, choices or circumstances.
 
How will you invite the congregation to participate?
Once again, we’ll take a three-fold approach.  
 
1) Sunday worship: the messages will focus on the six identity themes.
2) Daily Prayer Guide: everyone will receive a book designed to lead us into 42 days of intense focus on our identity in Christ.
3) Home Groups: studying and discussing together is crucial to recovering our identity in Christ.
 
When does this get started?
Books will be distributed Sunday, February 18 and home groups also begin that week. Group sign ups start February 4.
 
You seem to ask a lot from this congregation!
I do! I have great confidence that our folks will rise to the challenge. I’m asking for 20 minutes a day for 42 days. That’s 14 total hours offered to the Lord as time he can mold us according to his Word. Plus about 9 hours spent in home groups and weekly worship. Of the 1,000 hours we all live during Lent, that’s really pretty reasonable! But more than that, I know our people. We have a hunger for Christ. We’re on a quest to grow closer and closer to him. This is just a great way to pursue Jesus, together.  
 
 

Ways of Worship: Chapel Communion

Every Sunday, we offer three distinctive styles of worship. The Scripture and message are the same in each service, but the order and music vary. I encourage all our members to become multilingual in worship: to try each service during the course of a year.  
 
The 7.45 service fulfills Psalm 108, “I will awake the dawn. I will give thanks to you, O LORD among the peoples.” There’s a special joy in gathering first thing in the new day to proclaim the praises of our God.
 
The services unfolds in our beautiful Dunham Chapel. We are surrounded by stained glass windows depicting the story of Jesus. And we share the Lord’s Supper every week. Worshipers note how formative it is to their faith to partake of both Word and Sacrament each week.  The intimacy of the Chapel creates a cozy, meditative feel to the morning. With piano, organ, special solos and personal prayers, Chapel Communion richly worships our Triune God.
 

Ways of Worship: Chapel Communion

Every Sunday, we offer three distinctive styles of worship. The Scripture and message are the same in each service, but the order and music vary. I encourage all our members to become multilingual in worship: to try each service during the course of a year.  
 
The 7.45 service fulfills Psalm 108, “I will awake the dawn. I will give thanks to you, O LORD among the peoples.” There’s a special joy in gathering first thing in the new day to proclaim the praises of our God.
 
The services unfolds in our beautiful Dunham Chapel. We are surrounded by stained glass windows depicting the story of Jesus. And we share the Lord’s Supper every week. Worshipers note how formative it is to their faith to partake of both Word and Sacrament each week.  The intimacy of the Chapel creates a cozy, meditative feel to the morning. With piano, organ, special solos and personal prayers, Chapel Communion richly worships our Triune God.
 

Ways of Worship: Chapel Communion

Every Sunday, we offer three distinctive styles of worship. The Scripture and message are the same in each service, but the order and music vary. I encourage all our members to become multilingual in worship: to try each service during the course of a year.  
 
The 7.45 service fulfills Psalm 108, “I will awake the dawn. I will give thanks to you, O LORD among the peoples.” There’s a special joy in gathering first thing in the new day to proclaim the praises of our God.
 
The services unfolds in our beautiful Dunham Chapel. We are surrounded by stained glass windows depicting the story of Jesus. And we share the Lord’s Supper every week. Worshipers note how formative it is to their faith to partake of both Word and Sacrament each week.  The intimacy of the Chapel creates a cozy, meditative feel to the morning. With piano, organ, special solos and personal prayers, Chapel Communion richly worships our Triune God.
 

Renovations, Replacements and Repairs

It was a blessing to return my focus (after the 2016 flood) to our beautiful campus in 2017! It has been a busy, messy, but productive year! It started with completing the replacement of all Education Building windows and the restoration of the lower stained-glass windows—which all turned out beautifully!
 
Before the window paint had even dried, we moved on to repairing or replacing the roofs throughout our campus. This was no small undertaking. We had eliminated roof repairs from the 2010/2011 renovation, due to downsizing the scope of the work. Many of you have pointed out damaged walls and ceilings throughout the campus, and if these issues were not fixed by the new windows, they were to be fixed with the roof repairs or waterproofing—which was coming next! From fixing the Sanctuary’s pitched roof, to replacing the flat roofs over the Sanctuary and Education Buildings, to repairing every other roof, the work is nearly complete and all leaks eliminated!
 
Before the roofing dumpster was even gone, we were on to waterproofing, including new sealant around windows, replacement of damaged wood, to coating the buildings with special protectants. Our contractors will resume the work right after the new year.
 
We are already getting quotes to repair and repaint damaged walls and ceilings. Within months, we will be finished restoring the interiors and exteriors of our beautiful campus. Thank you for your generous giving which makes all this possible—and my job more fun!
 

Right Now Media

As the director for discipleship at our church, I am often asked about where good content for small groups or Sunday school material can be found. Others are asking me for solid Bible studies for their personal devotional time at home. When someone is wanting to develop a deeper walk with Christ, wrestling through challenges in a marriage, seeking wisdom for raising children or simply looking for good programming for their kids' entertainment, where can they turn?
 
Our church would like to equip you with resources for these areas of life and more, which is why we are giving every First Presbyterian Church member a free subscription to Right Now Media (RNM). RNM is an online treasure trove of Biblical content with hundreds of videos from many of our nation’s Christian teachers. You will find series on individual books of the Bible as well as relevant topical subjects. Within the site is also a wide variety of downloadable Bible studies for personal and small group use.
 
One of the best things that my family has personally enjoyed about RNM is the programming for kids. Have you heard of Veggie Tales or watched an episode of What’s in the Bible? I have found that kids and adults alike love learning Biblical principles while enjoying the witty comedy of these series. Road trips in our mini-van wouldn’t be complete without watching a few episodes of Adventures in Odyssey or Bibleman. The kids’ videos on RNM are plentiful and excellent.
 
My desire in making all of this material available to you is that you would walk deeply with Christ.  Look for an email from the church inviting you to create a login and enjoy your membership to Right Now Media!
 
For more information about how to get your RightNowMedia subscription, email Darin Travis.

Rage? No. Blaze!

Are you mad? Lots of people are. As we reflect on the year that has passed, we recall 2017 as a year of continual outrage.  Just a glance at a news site reveals constant use of trigger words for rage. Someone is always “furious,” “offended,” “attacked,” “slamming” or “accused.”  We snap, bite and devour with voracious outrage.  
 
But do you ever wonder who benefits from making sure you are in a constant state of agitation?  Lots of people want to keep us angry. News sites want you addicted to the chemical rush of being furious at “those” people. Politicians want you hostile enough to vote against their opponents.  Nonprofits count on our anger to inspire donations. In short, anger undergirds power. Outrage is a fuel, and we supply it by the tanker load to those who use our anger for their gain.
 
By contrast, Scripture tells us, “The anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God” (James 1: 20). In other words, we’re getting duped into thinking that outrage is productive.  Christ’s kingdom is not built on the screechy offendedness of a provoked people. When we seethe, we’re being deceived. We’re not building, we’re only burning. And we’re being used for others’ purposes.
 
The task of Christ’s people is very different than perpetual outrage. But that doesn’t mean we’re to be bland, passionless door mats. We’re called to blaze with the light of Christ. It’s a light that exposes darkness and leads people home. It’s a light that illumines injustice even as it reveals a better kingdom. Shining the unquenchable light of Christ will outrage the already outraged. So be it. There are those shivering in the dark who need the heat of the gospel. There are those falling into ruin from the users and the takers. They need the creative fire of Christ to rebuild their lives. Only Christ’s people have that light. We have to uncover it and let it shine.
 
At the beginning of WW II, the poet W.H. Auden noted, 
 
“Defenseless under the night
The world in stupor lies.
Yet dotted everywhere
. . . points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages.
May I . . . show an affirming flame.”
 
As we look forward to a New Year, let’s be committed to moving from rage to blaze. From shredding words to the affirming flame of encouragement, truth and love. Jesus the Light of the world told his disciples, “You are the light of the world.” We draw fire from him. He sends us to blaze with the flame that recreates.
 
I look forward to a year of shining Christ’s light together, and to another 12 months where I can affirm how much I love to be your pastor.
 

Rage? No. Blaze!

Are you mad? Lots of people are. As we reflect on the year that has passed, we recall 2017 as a year of continual outrage.  Just a glance at a news site reveals constant use of trigger words for rage. Someone is always “furious,” “offended,” “attacked,” “slamming” or “accused.”  We snap, bite and devour with voracious outrage.  
 
But do you ever wonder who benefits from making sure you are in a constant state of agitation?  Lots of people want to keep us angry. News sites want you addicted to the chemical rush of being furious at “those” people. Politicians want you hostile enough to vote against their opponents.  Nonprofits count on our anger to inspire donations. In short, anger undergirds power. Outrage is a fuel, and we supply it by the tanker load to those who use our anger for their gain.
 
By contrast, Scripture tells us, “The anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God” (James 1: 20). In other words, we’re getting duped into thinking that outrage is productive.  Christ’s kingdom is not built on the screechy offendedness of a provoked people. When we seethe, we’re being deceived. We’re not building, we’re only burning. And we’re being used for others’ purposes.
 
The task of Christ’s people is very different than perpetual outrage. But that doesn’t mean we’re to be bland, passionless door mats. We’re called to blaze with the light of Christ. It’s a light that exposes darkness and leads people home. It’s a light that illumines injustice even as it reveals a better kingdom. Shining the unquenchable light of Christ will outrage the already outraged. So be it. There are those shivering in the dark who need the heat of the gospel. There are those falling into ruin from the users and the takers. They need the creative fire of Christ to rebuild their lives. Only Christ’s people have that light. We have to uncover it and let it shine.
 
At the beginning of WW II, the poet W.H. Auden noted, 
 
“Defenseless under the night
The world in stupor lies.
Yet dotted everywhere
. . . points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages.
May I . . . show an affirming flame.”
 
As we look forward to a New Year, let’s be committed to moving from rage to blaze. From shredding words to the affirming flame of encouragement, truth and love. Jesus the Light of the world told his disciples, “You are the light of the world.” We draw fire from him. He sends us to blaze with the flame that recreates.
 
I look forward to a year of shining Christ’s light together, and to another 12 months where I can affirm how much I love to be your pastor.
 

Christmas Begins with Christ

The Christmas season can be an overwhelming time for many. However, it doesn’t have to be when you begin the season with Christ. The Christmas season is actually a time of waiting. Waiting for the birth of Christ. 
 
With the new craze of hiding and finding elves, I have stumbled upon a fun, new Advent tradition you can start with your family. It is called The Christmas Star from Afar. This new tradition teaches children the true meaning of Christmas. Similar to The Elf on the Shelf, you hide the star each night until the wise men make their way to their newborn king Christ Jesus. You can find the boxed set on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or by visiting starfromafar.com. I will read The Christmas Star from Afar to our younger Sunday school classes beginning November 26. 
 
 

Christmas Begins with Christ

The Christmas season can be an overwhelming time for many. However, it doesn’t have to be when you begin the season with Christ. The Christmas season is actually a time of waiting. Waiting for the birth of Christ. 
 
With the new craze of hiding and finding elves, I have stumbled upon a fun, new Advent tradition you can start with your family. It is called The Christmas Star from Afar. This new tradition teaches children the true meaning of Christmas. Similar to The Elf on the Shelf, you hide the star each night until the wise men make their way to their newborn king Christ Jesus. You can find the boxed set on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or by visiting starfromafar.com. I will read The Christmas Star from Afar to our younger Sunday school classes beginning November 26. 
 
 

Risking Christmas

It takes some courage to face another Christmas! All those expectations. All those expenses. All those memories. All those family members! All that once was but is no more. All that should be but isn't. All we hope for and the inevitable disappointment. For many, Christmas is merely something to endure. Entering the enforced festivity is a risky business.
 
That’s why I like to dig beneath the demands of the season. We can cut through the trappings to that first Christmas. Almost nobody noticed what happened.
 
The Son of God laid aside the protection and privilege of his Deity. He risked entering the world as one of us. Roughly one in five pregnancies end in miscarriage. Jesus dared the dangerous process of developing in the womb as we do. Then he who set the stars in their courses in the vastness of space endured the squeezing hazards of the birth canal. He cried at the brightness when his eyes saw the first day. Later, he would cry over the cruelty of the darkness in the human heart. He came to us via a family that was displaced. Later, he would strive against all that tears us apart: giving dead sons back to lonely mothers, forgiving adulterers and dining with outcasts. He touched the diseased whom others shunned. He stilled the hands cocked self-righteously to throw stones. He liberated the possessed. Jesus risked temptation and he dared the disappointment of loving those who would betray him. Jesus learned as he grew up that an enraged Herod had slaughtered innocent children in an attempt to destroy him. On the cross Jesus would shed his blood to give eternal life to those children and to all who trust in him.
 
In other words, Jesus came straight into our mess in order to redeem it all. He risked the first Christmas and he risked 33 years in our midst. He drew on the courage of his Father to endure this life faithfully in order that we might be saved. This Christmas, before the madness begins, I want to dare to draw from the courage of the One who risked Christmas for me. And I’m so glad we get to do that together!
 
This article is also appearing in Baton Rouge Parents Magazine.
 

Risking Christmas

It takes some courage to face another Christmas! All those expectations. All those expenses. All those memories. All those family members! All that once was but is no more. All that should be but isn't. All we hope for and the inevitable disappointment. For many, Christmas is merely something to endure. Entering the enforced festivity is a risky business.
 
That’s why I like to dig beneath the demands of the season. We can cut through the trappings to that first Christmas. Almost nobody noticed what happened.
 
The Son of God laid aside the protection and privilege of his Deity. He risked entering the world as one of us. Roughly one in five pregnancies end in miscarriage. Jesus dared the dangerous process of developing in the womb as we do. Then he who set the stars in their courses in the vastness of space endured the squeezing hazards of the birth canal. He cried at the brightness when his eyes saw the first day. Later, he would cry over the cruelty of the darkness in the human heart. He came to us via a family that was displaced. Later, he would strive against all that tears us apart: giving dead sons back to lonely mothers, forgiving adulterers and dining with outcasts. He touched the diseased whom others shunned. He stilled the hands cocked self-righteously to throw stones. He liberated the possessed. Jesus risked temptation and he dared the disappointment of loving those who would betray him. Jesus learned as he grew up that an enraged Herod had slaughtered innocent children in an attempt to destroy him. On the cross Jesus would shed his blood to give eternal life to those children and to all who trust in him.
 
In other words, Jesus came straight into our mess in order to redeem it all. He risked the first Christmas and he risked 33 years in our midst. He drew on the courage of his Father to endure this life faithfully in order that we might be saved. This Christmas, before the madness begins, I want to dare to draw from the courage of the One who risked Christmas for me. And I’m so glad we get to do that together!
 
This article is also appearing in Baton Rouge Parents Magazine.
 

What Is Gratitude?

On May 31, my life changed forever . . . in an instant. Driving to New Orleans to prepare three couples for marriage, I dozed for a moment and an angel of the Lord woke me to see the back of an 18-wheeler within inches of my car. I pulled the steering wheel to the right and prayed instantly, “Dear God, please help me,” and he immediately did. God spared my life and I would begin to receive his gracious blessings.
 
I crashed into the right side of the truck, peeling the left side of my car, while breaking several bones in my shoulder, hip, pelvis and knee. Within minutes after the car came to rest in the grass on the side of the interstate, a Good Samaritan pulled me gently from the wrecked vehicle and an ambulance took me to a hospital in Baton Rouge.
 
For the next 20 weeks, my family was reminded of the goodness of gratitude. We have been prayed for by thousands of people, many of whom we have never met. My recovery has been because of the prayers of the saints from all over the world. We have recognized that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves. We acknowledge that other people gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives. The Good Samaritan, people who stopped to help move my body from the wrecked vehicle, doctors, nurses, radiologists, numerous physical and occupational therapists, hundreds of friends who stopped by the hospital, a band of brothers who stayed with me for forty nights in the hospital (you know who you are), and hundreds of meals, cards and texts kept us from sinking into despair. We are deeply thankful for the acts of love given to our family.
 
Our family sees this time as an emotional relationship strengthening opportunity because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people. Many of our family and friends came to assist Phyllis immediately after the accident. This emotional support was key to our stability and welfare during the trauma of the first few hours.
 
As the outpouring of love and gifts overwhelmed us, I wondered why we received such an outpouring. I read his word often and realized the Lord’s people are generous and keep giving because of their deep abiding relationship with Jesus. One of our closest friends whispered to me, “Everyone loves your family and wants to support you in this difficult moment.”
 
As we enter into the Thanksgiving season, may we practice being gracious to our friends and especially our families. Gratitude brings us happiness, reduces anxiety and depression, and is good for our bodies. Grateful people sleep better and if you want to sleep more soundly, count blessings, not sheep. Gratitude strengthens relationships and I believe it promotes forgiveness. The past five months have taught me so much about being gracious and thankful for every person in my life. 
 
My favorite Scripture is Ephesians 3: 20: “Now to him who is able do abundantly more than we can ever begin to ask or imagine through the power at work in us.” God has worked through so many. My family is thankful for the awe-inspiring gratitude received in the past few months.
 

What Is Gratitude?

On May 31, my life changed forever . . . in an instant. Driving to New Orleans to prepare three couples for marriage, I dozed for a moment and an angel of the Lord woke me to see the back of an 18-wheeler within inches of my car. I pulled the steering wheel to the right and prayed instantly, “Dear God, please help me,” and he immediately did. God spared my life and I would begin to receive his gracious blessings.
 
I crashed into the right side of the truck, peeling the left side of my car, while breaking several bones in my shoulder, hip, pelvis and knee. Within minutes after the car came to rest in the grass on the side of the interstate, a Good Samaritan pulled me gently from the wrecked vehicle and an ambulance took me to a hospital in Baton Rouge.
 
For the next 20 weeks, my family was reminded of the goodness of gratitude. We have been prayed for by thousands of people, many of whom we have never met. My recovery has been because of the prayers of the saints from all over the world. We have recognized that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves. We acknowledge that other people gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives. The Good Samaritan, people who stopped to help move my body from the wrecked vehicle, doctors, nurses, radiologists, numerous physical and occupational therapists, hundreds of friends who stopped by the hospital, a band of brothers who stayed with me for forty nights in the hospital (you know who you are), and hundreds of meals, cards and texts kept us from sinking into despair. We are deeply thankful for the acts of love given to our family.
 
Our family sees this time as an emotional relationship strengthening opportunity because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people. Many of our family and friends came to assist Phyllis immediately after the accident. This emotional support was key to our stability and welfare during the trauma of the first few hours.
 
As the outpouring of love and gifts overwhelmed us, I wondered why we received such an outpouring. I read his word often and realized the Lord’s people are generous and keep giving because of their deep abiding relationship with Jesus. One of our closest friends whispered to me, “Everyone loves your family and wants to support you in this difficult moment.”
 
As we enter into the Thanksgiving season, may we practice being gracious to our friends and especially our families. Gratitude brings us happiness, reduces anxiety and depression, and is good for our bodies. Grateful people sleep better and if you want to sleep more soundly, count blessings, not sheep. Gratitude strengthens relationships and I believe it promotes forgiveness. The past five months have taught me so much about being gracious and thankful for every person in my life. 
 
My favorite Scripture is Ephesians 3: 20: “Now to him who is able do abundantly more than we can ever begin to ask or imagine through the power at work in us.” God has worked through so many. My family is thankful for the awe-inspiring gratitude received in the past few months.
 

What Do You Love?

“What do I love when I love you?” asked Augustine in a prayer 17 centuries ago. It’s still a good question. Especially in this season of Thanksgiving. When we feel we love God, and express that in worship, what are we loving? Augustine worked on his answer. “Not the beauty of bodies, nor the fair harmony of time, nor the brightness of the light, nor the sweet melodies of songs, nor the smell of flowers, nor the limbs that physical love likes to embrace.” Augustine loved all of these things but they in themselves are not God. Yet. Yet, somehow these lovely things send our love God’s way. He went on,
 
Augustine felt that the beauty in the world carried him into God’s presence. Every created delight awakened love in him. Yet none of these attractions in themselves were sufficient. All this world’s glory, both subtle and spectacular, directs away from itself to the deep beauty of our Creator.  
 
Augustine felt that each thing he loved in this world spoke to him, “We are not God, but he made us.” In his inner man, in his soul, Augustine perceived the light, the fragrance, the melody and the embrace of the Triune God. In him alone, these delights of earth do not pass away. Rather they lead us up in gratitude and worship to know the God who himself is light uncreated, everlasting song and eternal embrace of love. 
 
As you pause to give thanks this month, may you rejoice fully in all that is good in the world of which you get to partake. But I pray that each of these will speak to you: we are not God, but he made us. Look upward, beloved, to the Source, and rejoice in his eternal being! Know that as we sit down to table, Rhonda and I will give hearty thanks for you! I love to be your pastor!
 

 

What Do You Love?

“What do I love when I love you?” asked Augustine in a prayer 17 centuries ago. It’s still a good question. Especially in this season of Thanksgiving. When we feel we love God, and express that in worship, what are we loving? Augustine worked on his answer. “Not the beauty of bodies, nor the fair harmony of time, nor the brightness of the light, nor the sweet melodies of songs, nor the smell of flowers, nor the limbs that physical love likes to embrace.” Augustine loved all of these things but they in themselves are not God. Yet. Yet, somehow these lovely things send our love God’s way. He went on,
 
Augustine felt that the beauty in the world carried him into God’s presence. Every created delight awakened love in him. Yet none of these attractions in themselves were sufficient. All this world’s glory, both subtle and spectacular, directs away from itself to the deep beauty of our Creator.  
 
Augustine felt that each thing he loved in this world spoke to him, “We are not God, but he made us.” In his inner man, in his soul, Augustine perceived the light, the fragrance, the melody and the embrace of the Triune God. In him alone, these delights of earth do not pass away. Rather they lead us up in gratitude and worship to know the God who himself is light uncreated, everlasting song and eternal embrace of love. 
 
As you pause to give thanks this month, may you rejoice fully in all that is good in the world of which you get to partake. But I pray that each of these will speak to you: we are not God, but he made us. Look upward, beloved, to the Source, and rejoice in his eternal being! Know that as we sit down to table, Rhonda and I will give hearty thanks for you! I love to be your pastor!
 

 

To Be A Buchanan Encourager

Being an encourager at Buchanan Elementary School has been such a blessing to me. This program seemed to answer the yearning from my heart to go outside of my comfort zone and utilize my spiritual gift of compassion to draw others closer to Christ. Over the course of the past year and a half, the relationships I have with the two ladies I encourage at Buchanan have drawn me closer to Christ. God is so faithful! He never ceases to take care of us, especially when we are earnestly trying to meet the needs of others. 1 Peter 3: 8 calls us to action, “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.”  
 
This First Presbyterian Church program is an outlet to truly connect with someone you would most likely never meet. I am calling on all members of our church who are gifted with compassion for others to consider adding adopting a teacher to pray for and support monthly. These teachers truly want to connect with a loving, praying friend. They accept us with smiling faces and open arms. If God is pulling at your heart, take this step and emotionally support a teacher at Buchanan Elementary. YOU will be blessed!
Posted in: Missions

It's Autumn!

It’s autumn! At least, that’s what the calendar says. John Keats began his ode to autumn, “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.” Clearly, the poet did not live in south Louisiana! Our mellow weather comes later. But we still feel the tug toward harvest. The days still grow shorter. The holidays loom. The yearning to “in-gather” loved ones grows in us as the nights lengthen. 
 
That makes sense, then, that we do our stewardship during the fall season. We commit together as a community of believers to bring in a portion of what God has given us for his work through his church. As we harvest, we make a return to the Lord. We share with others.
  
There’s a great season of harvest and sharing for First Presbyterians this month! This month, you’ll be invited to a seminar for managing grief and also a wonderful concert by the Foto Sisters. The Joyful Noise Children’s Choir will treat you to Fish Tales, a mini-musical. You’ll see opportunity to support Gardere Community Christian School as we hear Olympic champion Mary Lou Retton speak. You’ll hear testimony about stewardship and we’ll celebrate our heritage at the annual Kirkin’ O’ the Tartans service and lunch. You’ll get a chance to join our youth in making your way through a dark and scary youth-sponsored cardboard maze in our gym! We’ll offer a Discover First Dinner as the Lord continues to send us wonderful new people. October is indeed a month of celebration and in-gathering.
 
And all month long, we remember that it was a mere 500 years ago that Martin Luther began the Protestant revolution when he posted his 95 theses on the door at the church in Wittenberg, Germany. We’ll celebrate by including in worship excerpts from the Heidelberg Catechism all month long. 
 
So gather in at your church, let’s raise a harvest of thanks as we do life together in this beloved community,
 

It's Autumn!

It’s autumn! At least, that’s what the calendar says. John Keats began his ode to autumn, “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.” Clearly, the poet did not live in south Louisiana! Our mellow weather comes later. But we still feel the tug toward harvest. The days still grow shorter. The holidays loom. The yearning to “in-gather” loved ones grows in us as the nights lengthen. 
 
That makes sense, then, that we do our stewardship during the fall season. We commit together as a community of believers to bring in a portion of what God has given us for his work through his church. As we harvest, we make a return to the Lord. We share with others.
  
There’s a great season of harvest and sharing for First Presbyterians this month! This month, you’ll be invited to a seminar for managing grief and also a wonderful concert by the Foto Sisters. The Joyful Noise Children’s Choir will treat you to Fish Tales, a mini-musical. You’ll see opportunity to support Gardere Community Christian School as we hear Olympic champion Mary Lou Retton speak. You’ll hear testimony about stewardship and we’ll celebrate our heritage at the annual Kirkin’ O’ the Tartans service and lunch. You’ll get a chance to join our youth in making your way through a dark and scary youth-sponsored cardboard maze in our gym! We’ll offer a Discover First Dinner as the Lord continues to send us wonderful new people. October is indeed a month of celebration and in-gathering.
 
And all month long, we remember that it was a mere 500 years ago that Martin Luther began the Protestant revolution when he posted his 95 theses on the door at the church in Wittenberg, Germany. We’ll celebrate by including in worship excerpts from the Heidelberg Catechism all month long. 
 
So gather in at your church, let’s raise a harvest of thanks as we do life together in this beloved community,
 

We Caught the Vision

Folks caught the vision at the 2017 Global Missions Conference! After hearing from two phenomenal speakers, over forty people expressed interest in one of three mission opportunities —the Perspectives Course, hosting internationals through International Friendship Partners or joining a short-term mission trip to Romania with Smiles Foundation. 
 
Dr. Greg Livingstone kicked off the weekend with over 200 people in attendance on Saturday morning. For over 50 years, Greg has been a pioneer in missions to the unreached people of the Middle East with Operation Mobilization, Frontiers and now with the EPC’s World Outreach. Your Presbytery (EPC Gulf South) is focusing on Syria with Nour and Rebecca (Lunceford) Botros and their team ready to mobilize to that country once the war ends! 
 
Unreached people groups, of which there are 350 in the US alone, was the focus of the video Greg shared called, “What Is a UPG?” (Watch it on gogfm.org.) Understanding the meaning behind statistics which help missionaries gauge their effectiveness was a perfect tie-in to one of our global missions opportunities: International Friendship Partners. IFP currently has 14 international LSU students looking for friendship partners.  
 
International friends from Iran, Afghanistan, China, Bangladesh, Nepal, Kenya, Egypt, Taiwan, Japan and Ghana joined First Presbyterian members by sharing their cuisine at Saturday’s International Friendship & Food Festival. Americans and internationals shared tables giving everyone an opportunity to engage with someone from another country. Mac Magruder graciously introduced our guests. It was a joy to see the pride in the faces of our international friends as they gave their names, told where they were from and thanked us for hosting them. 
 
Steve Douglass, President of Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru), was Sunday morning’s guest preacher. Darin Travis had the honor of introducing his former boss and welcoming him to the pulpit. In Steve’s 50 years with Cru he has never seen God more at work increasing prayer movements across the globe, reaching “unengaged, unreached people groups” where there is no church and no one is trying to bring the gospel, improving Bible translation, making The Jesus Film available online in 1,561 languages and church planting. The big takeaway is that the task of the Great Commission can be finished in our lifetime! As in the story of the woman at the well, our challenge is to “lift up our eyes” (John 4: 35) and get involved in the harvest. It is now.
 
Greg Livingstone and Gerrit Dawson wrapped up the conference Sunday evening with a time of prayer for global missions reminding us of Jesus’ words in Matthew 9: 35-38. “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
 
Do you want to catch the vision? Do you want to find your place in the story? Find out more about participating in a global missions opportunity by visiting fpcbr.org/missionsopportunities.com. You may also text missions to 38470 and see what happens! 
 
Cody Watson, a mission mobilizer with Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship, has been supported by First Presbyterian for many years. Cody attended our missions conference, and shared his thoughts and impressions.
Posted in: Missions

A Word on Discipleship

The month of September is exciting in the life of our church. As kids jump back into the rhythm of school, our church presses full speed ahead toward the goal of going deeper in Christ and further into the world. One way we go deeper in Christ is through discipleship. What exactly is discipleship? Jesus said,“Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Paul said,“God is the one who brings to fruition the good work that he has begun in us.”  How do these two seemingly parallel concepts of spiritual growth and discipleship take place?  
 
The Bible has much to say about these topics, but in short, God has always dealt with his people through covenants and those covenants have always had responsibilities. When God first called Abraham, he told him, “I will make you a great nation.” In the very same paragraph God also told him, “Now, go to the place I have for you.” Abraham was specifically chosen by God to be his people by a divine act of grace; that foundation of who Abraham had become also required action.
 
You might not audibly hear God speak to you exact commands like he did for Abraham, but make no mistake, his directions for you and me are clear—we are to grow in being conformed to the image of Jesus. This month First Presbyterian has a few easy entry points to do just that. Every Sunday morning our Sunday school classes are an incredible place to be taught from God’s Word in an intimate environment. Gifted teachers open God’s Word in such a way that it isn’t simply an intellectual event, but a journey into community with God and others. Have you not yet attended or has it been a while since you have attended a Sunday school class? Now is a great time to graft into one of our ten different classes! 
 
Sunday school provides an opportunity for community in our church because of its practicality; we’re already on campus for Sunday services and the class time is short—generally around 40-45 minutes. The challenge of Sunday school is that you may leave with a desire for more! More personal conversation, more time to pray together, more time to share lives with one another.  
 
One way we seek to meet that challenge is small group ministry.  This is a great way to create the space needed to go deeper with God and others. Many of our small groups are seasonal; starting in the fall, they run up to the holiday season and then pick back up during the season of Lent. Some of our small groups are active year round. I encourage you to find a group that is near you and fits with your schedule. To facilitate this, we are having a small group mixer on September 17 that will help you find the right group. Join us in the reception room immediately following 9 and 11 am worship to meet our current small group leaders. 
 
Whether you are going deeper by attending a Sunday school class, small group, or both, the Bible exhorts us to do all things for the glory of God! He is worthy of your investment! 

International Friendship Partners

The Lord is sending the world to the church and the church to the world. During the last year we had visitors attend worship services with us from Nepal, Thailand, China, Taiwan, Egypt and Iran. It was the first time for each of them to visit a Christian church service. How amazing is that?!
 
What a privilege God is giving us to welcome and be conduits of his love to the nations here in Baton Rouge. As LeeAnn Kozan shared, “It is exciting to see the heartfelt joy on the faces of our international friends as they interact with the love of Jesus.”  
 
Fifty to sixty internationals, and sometimes more, are attending our monthly gatherings which serve as a bridge for our people to meet, interact and befriend internationals in our homes. We cherish these opportunities to show genuine hospitality and love. After a recent gathering, Mitzi Barber asked, “Are they always so thankful and tell you thank you over and over again?” Yes! Some words used to describe our gatherings are warm, peaceful, family, happy, relaxing, love, beautiful, inviting, fun, joyful. They love and appreciate coming to our homes and being included in regular family activities. 
 
Our constant prayer is that God will bring those to us who are spiritually hungry and us to them. God is answering our prayers. We have 30 internationals registered for a Friendship Partner or Family and 12 currently waiting to be matched with an American Friendship Partner. Consider becoming a friendship partner, friendship family, host or prayer partner and register on our church website. 
 
LSU will be home to close to 2,000 international students this 2017/2018 school year. Three quarters of them are graduate level students; the brightest and best from their countries. Many are visiting scholars. Will you help us welcome them? Our next gathering is during the mission conference Saturday, August 19 for the International Friendship and Food Festival in the gym. Plan on staying from 12-2 pm for a taste of international food and friendship.
Posted in: Missions

Right at Your Door: the Whole World!

This month, our focus will be on global missions. In worship and Sunday school classes for all ages, we want to find our place in the story the Triune God is telling in the world. And we want to consider what place we have in telling that story. Our God is on a massive redemption project. He intends to take the news of his atoning victory to the ends of the earth. And he purposed to make that Gospel known person to person to person. Through us.
 
We only know Jesus because someone told us about him. There’s no other way.  But God did not have us told in order for us to keep our mouths shut. The news of his all-redeeming love cannot stop with us. He sends it on. Through his church.
 
From the beginning the Gospel has been about reaching the world. “You shall be my witnesses,” Jesus told his disciples. “Here in Jerusalem. Then throughout Judea. Then even up among the Samaritans. And then to the end of the earth.” The gospel has always been about the world. Every human being is in the sphere of the church’s concern and mission.  
 
As Presbyterians, we know that salvation is a gift. We know that faith is a gift. We only know Jesus because God chose to make him known to us when he did. We understand we have been called to Christ by God himself. But such election is not unto privilege. Such election is unto service. Anytime in Scripture God called someone, he also sent that person to others. If we know Jesus, we have been sent. That’s a Biblical fact!
 
With a global perspective, the task can seem daunting. But God has given us a special place in Baton Rouge. The world comes to us! Thousands of graduate students from around the world attend LSU. Leaders who will return to their countries. What if they met Christians who loved them? What if they encountered Christ’s people who welcomed them into their homes? What if they found out we would be friends with them? Most international students are never (never!) invited into an American home. What if Christ’s people changed all that? 
 
This month, we are considering the Big Story of God’s world redeeming love, and our place in it. We will also be discovering how we can participate without ever leaving our city. Check out all the details in this issue.
 
I love to be on the journey with you!
 
 

Right at Your Door: the Whole World!

This month, our focus will be on global missions. In worship and Sunday school classes for all ages, we want to find our place in the story the Triune God is telling in the world. And we want to consider what place we have in telling that story. Our God is on a massive redemption project. He intends to take the news of his atoning victory to the ends of the earth. And he purposed to make that Gospel known person to person to person. Through us.
 
We only know Jesus because someone told us about him. There’s no other way.  But God did not have us told in order for us to keep our mouths shut. The news of his all-redeeming love cannot stop with us. He sends it on. Through his church.
 
From the beginning the Gospel has been about reaching the world. “You shall be my witnesses,” Jesus told his disciples. “Here in Jerusalem. Then throughout Judea. Then even up among the Samaritans. And then to the end of the earth.” The gospel has always been about the world. Every human being is in the sphere of the church’s concern and mission.  
 
As Presbyterians, we know that salvation is a gift. We know that faith is a gift. We only know Jesus because God chose to make him known to us when he did. We understand we have been called to Christ by God himself. But such election is not unto privilege. Such election is unto service. Anytime in Scripture God called someone, he also sent that person to others. If we know Jesus, we have been sent. That’s a Biblical fact!
 
With a global perspective, the task can seem daunting. But God has given us a special place in Baton Rouge. The world comes to us! Thousands of graduate students from around the world attend LSU. Leaders who will return to their countries. What if they met Christians who loved them? What if they encountered Christ’s people who welcomed them into their homes? What if they found out we would be friends with them? Most international students are never (never!) invited into an American home. What if Christ’s people changed all that? 
 
This month, we are considering the Big Story of God’s world redeeming love, and our place in it. We will also be discovering how we can participate without ever leaving our city. Check out all the details in this issue.
 
I love to be on the journey with you!
 
 

Right at Your Door: the Whole World!

This month, our focus will be on global missions. In worship and Sunday school classes for all ages, we want to find our place in the story the Triune God is telling in the world. And we want to consider what place we have in telling that story. Our God is on a massive redemption project. He intends to take the news of his atoning victory to the ends of the earth. And he purposed to make that Gospel known person to person to person. Through us.
 
We only know Jesus because someone told us about him. There’s no other way.  But God did not have us told in order for us to keep our mouths shut. The news of his all-redeeming love cannot stop with us. He sends it on. Through his church.
 
From the beginning the Gospel has been about reaching the world. “You shall be my witnesses,” Jesus told his disciples. “Here in Jerusalem. Then throughout Judea. Then even up among the Samaritans. And then to the end of the earth.” The gospel has always been about the world. Every human being is in the sphere of the church’s concern and mission.  
 
As Presbyterians, we know that salvation is a gift. We know that faith is a gift. We only know Jesus because God chose to make him known to us when he did. We understand we have been called to Christ by God himself. But such election is not unto privilege. Such election is unto service. Anytime in Scripture God called someone, he also sent that person to others. If we know Jesus, we have been sent. That’s a Biblical fact!
 
With a global perspective, the task can seem daunting. But God has given us a special place in Baton Rouge. The world comes to us! Thousands of graduate students from around the world attend LSU. Leaders who will return to their countries. What if they met Christians who loved them? What if they encountered Christ’s people who welcomed them into their homes? What if they found out we would be friends with them? Most international students are never (never!) invited into an American home. What if Christ’s people changed all that? 
 
This month, we are considering the Big Story of God’s world redeeming love, and our place in it. We will also be discovering how we can participate without ever leaving our city. Check out all the details in this issue.
 
I love to be on the journey with you!
 
 

The Most Important Tool for Christian Parenting

Do you know what the most important tool is for Christian parenting? Your own relationship with Christ. Seek the Lord in his Word daily so that your own relationship with Christ will deepen. Your own walk with the Lord through prayer and the daily reading of his Word will equip you on how to have healthy conversations and discussions with your children. I know life is busy. In a world that offers us way too much we feel as though there is no time for what is important. However, God’s mercies are new every morning and he wants to care for you and grow you closer to him so you may be used to point your kids to the gospel. He loves your children far more perfectly than we ever will and he wants us to rely on him and grow deeper in his Word. Let us start with the Word of God. It is the Scriptures that give us wisdom to minister to our children.
 

“This is our tool, because it is his tool. This is our means of doing ministry, because it is his means of doing ministry– both in us and through us.” ~ Rev. Jason Helopoulos

 

The Most Important Tool for Christian Parenting

Do you know what the most important tool is for Christian parenting? Your own relationship with Christ. Seek the Lord in his Word daily so that your own relationship with Christ will deepen. Your own walk with the Lord through prayer and the daily reading of his Word will equip you on how to have healthy conversations and discussions with your children. I know life is busy. In a world that offers us way too much we feel as though there is no time for what is important. However, God’s mercies are new every morning and he wants to care for you and grow you closer to him so you may be used to point your kids to the gospel. He loves your children far more perfectly than we ever will and he wants us to rely on him and grow deeper in his Word. Let us start with the Word of God. It is the Scriptures that give us wisdom to minister to our children.
 

“This is our tool, because it is his tool. This is our means of doing ministry, because it is his means of doing ministry– both in us and through us.” ~ Rev. Jason Helopoulos

 

Small World. Big God.

We live in an interconnected world. In Information Technology and Communications. In Economics and Personal Finance. In Politics. Sports. Education. Medicine. It is a global village.
 
Global communications, for example, have become instantaneous. The internet is worldwide. You can send an email from Baton Rouge and immediately communicate with someone across the Atlantic. With Skype, you can talk face–to-face with anyone on the planet. In Finance, traders follow the Nikkei as much as the S&P 500. OPEC affects the price you pay at the pump and Beijing affects the price you pay at Home Depot. International events also affect U.S. government strategies and policies. Sarin gas in Syria. Trade policy in China. Nuclear tests on the Korean peninsula. Scary stuff, to be sure. (Thankfully, we can place our cares on God, who cares for us.) 
 
Should it be any surprise that our personal walk with Christ and our participation in our local church community is, by God’s design, also part of a global movement? When God first called Abraham, God said that through Abraham he would bless “all the families of the earth.” From the start, God had the whole world in mind. Through the prophet Joel, God said “[I]t shall come to pass that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.” At Jesus’ baptism John the Baptist said, “Behold, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” John the Apostle famously wrote, “For God so loved the world . . .” We are told in Acts that the reach of God’s plan for humankind is global, “to Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost part of the earth.” There is a whole world out there in need, and what it needs most is the Savior.
 
We are to “seek the welfare” of our city of course, by doing good works that help others in our own community. If our vision stops at the city limits, though, then we will miss the full picture. God wants us to see both near and far. Make no mistake. Jesus’ objective was to reach the world. He ordered his life by this. Men were his method but all humanity was his goal. He invested his time in training the twelve -- disciples who would multiply and make more Christ-followers who would reach the world. Jesus’ final words to his disciples were “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . .” The Apostle Paul explained in II Corinthians that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself—and has now entrusted that message to us. We are now Christ’s ambassadors. Today God makes his appeal through us. On behalf of Christ, the Bible says, we are to implore others to be reconciled to God.
 
In what way is your faith a global faith? How can you become more engaged in Christ’s worldwide movement? Through the Holy Spirit who dwells within each believer, God can use you to help shelter the homeless, feed the hungry, and clothe the naked -- and widen the global circle of faith of those who have been transformed through trusting Christ as Savior and have come to know God’s love and forgiveness. 
 
This year our church has declared August “global missions month.” The theme is “Catch the Vision!” A special conference on August 19 and 20 with two internationally renowned speakers will highlight the month. Throughout August, though, we hope each week to increase awareness about global missions in the life of our church. We hope you will reflect on the many exciting and creative ways you can participate in changing the world for Christ and his Kingdom. As a congregation, let’s “catch the vision” together!
 

Momentous, Meaningful and Memorable

It’s that time of year. Teachers get ready for a much-needed break and parents readjust their lives for summer. We plan camps, vacations, play dates and extra family time. As teachers wind down children’s ministry winds up. One of the greatest ministries in our church is Vacation Bible School. Why is our VBS ministry so important? 
 
During VBS we have our children with us for an entire week of the summer. This is so exciting for us in children’s ministry. We take this time seriously and provide a fun and dynamic way to teach children the Bible and point them to the gospel. We use a variety of teaching elements to reach kids for Christ . . . music, drama, art and physical education.
 
So, this is great for kids but why is it important for us? We are in this together! During each baptism at First Pres we take a vow to set a godly example and invest in the spiritual nurture of our children. My husband Kinch and I do not have family in Baton Rouge. We could not have made it through our journey as parents without our church family, the nursery staff, the children’s ministry team and the many Sunday School teachers that have poured into our children over the past eight years.  
 
VBS is an excellent opportunity to minister to our children in our church and in our community. By word of mouth, we continue to increase our numbers each year. Friends invite friends. During the week of VBS, our church becomes a melting pot for kids from different schools and different backgrounds.
 
VBS serves as an opportunity to reach families for Christ. We offer home connections for parents so they can connect their kids to the gospel at home. Kids learn and guess what? They want to talk about it and have lots of questions about the Bible and Jesus. Some of them even give their hearts to Jesus. We equip parents to foster these conversations at home and often times parents themselves are being spiritually impacted by what their children are learning at VBS and talking about at home. 
 
We want to foster spiritual formation for our children, volunteers and parents. VBS will not only foster spiritual formation but you will end up spiritually refreshed. Our VBS leaders, teachers and volunteers leave VBS week so spiritually full we start planning the next year the following week. We leave singing hymns with our children, talking about the Bible, discussing the gospel of Jesus and jamming out to fun and exciting songs from our VBS CDs. Last summer my family and I took a road trip to New York and we listened to our VBS CD over and over (and over) again.
 
As we like to say during VBS week, “Keep calm and VBS on!” Please join me in praying for our children the week of VBS at First Presbyterian.
 

 

In Motion and At Rest

The rhythm of summer has begun. With the conclusion of the school year, many of us look forward to sleeping longer and doing less. But we’re also on the move. Vacations often include travel. Some even say they look forward to going back to work so they can rest from their holidays!  The church also moves into both rest and motion.  We have four Sundays with single services in July. But meanwhile many of us are traveling.
 
We’ve already had two dozen elementary students head to Lake Forest Ranch for a week of recreation and beautiful gospel reflection. (I can always tell in confirmation interviews which kids have gone to Lake Forest: they know the gospel).  A dozen middle schoolers have been in New Orleans working with Mission Lab on service projects. And fourteen high schoolers are heading to New York City for eight days of urban service projects in hopes of being inspired to do similar work in our city.
 
Several of our leaders will be heading this month to Fair Oaks, California for the General Assembly of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.  It’s always wonderful to go to Assemblies where there is no fighting over essential beliefs, but a joyful focus on sending missionaries, equipping the church, worshiping the Triune God, refreshing leaders and strengthening our ties of fellowship. 
 
At the end of June, we expect to host over 100 children again for our annual Vacation Bible School. Students can look forward to visits from Biblical characters and a lively week of creative teaching.  
 
Personally, the Dawson’s look forward to some vacation in the North Carolina mountains. We’ll celebrate Rhonda’s mother’s birthday, see family, hike, read and eat way too much. And I hope to begin research on next year’s Lenten Study, called Real Identity: Living as Christ Defines Us. Rhonda will be bringing her creative magic to several garden projects and working on some new oil paintings. During the weekdays of July 17-21, I’ll be in Orlando teaching a Doctor of Ministry course to a dozen pastors. Theology of Ministry is the course title, but my secret mission is to affirm and refuel these guys who spend all year on the frontlines of ministry.
 
One of my former doctoral students, Scott Bowen, has become the pastor of the vibrant Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga, TN. Scott is writing his dissertation on the role of pastors and elders in shepherding congregations.  He could really use your help via a five minute survey. I told him I would invite you all to take the survey and help his project.  Here’s the web address
 
While I’m away the first two Sundays of July, the pulpit will be ably filled. Our Director of Discipleship, Darin Travis, will give his first Sanctuary sermon July 2.  And on July 9, our pastor emeritus, Russ Stevenson will be filling the pulpit July 9.  I am forever grateful for the twenty years of Word-centered, connective and innovative ministry Russ gave us. July 16, the Foto Sisters will join us to give us a musical treat in the midst of that summer heat. And on July 23, Albert White will deliver a dynamic message as we share leadership to continue to model racial reconciliation in our city. A picnic will follow that service.  Also, the Magruder family will be back from Kenya during the summer and we can expect to hear from them during our summer services. Also, several elders will be giving personal testimonies during that time.
 
So I hope you find some rest this summer, even if you are in motion part of the time.  I’m grateful for such a great team of elders and staff who will work together to keep the church pulsing even as we rotate our key staff through some days of refreshing. 
 
I love to be your pastor, 
Gerrit

Happy 190th!

On Sunday, May 28 we will celebrate our 190th birthday! Nineteen decades ago, the presbytery of Mississippi finally succeeded in planting a Presbyterian church down here on the River. A young pastor named John Dorrance had been preaching up a storm since January, 1827, and by May the church was ready to be officially formed. A more seasoned pastor named Dr. Jeremiah Chamberlain came down to give the founding sermon and conduct the Lord’s Supper. 
 
We began with 15 members, the first Protestant church in all of south Louisiana.  The church grew steadily as Dorrance delivered his persuasive sermons. (He also persuaded one of his new church members, Penelope Mercer, to accept his marriage proposal!) It would be two more years before we even had a building, opening on what is now 4th and Florida streets. Life was not easy, and carving out a Protestant identity in a Catholic town meant great dedication and stamina were required. But they did it. God did it.
 
And here we are, nearly two centuries later, grateful to be standing on such strong shoulders. We remain a church at the heart of the city with a heart for our city. God continues to draw, and raise up, leaders for our community who are formed in the gospel through our church. We’re the only church in Louisiana that currently has two active state legislators. Our history is resplendent with governors, business leaders, educators, professors, leaders in medicine, the arts and the practice of law. We’re vibrantly connected to the city we love, and deeply grateful that our Lord has kept us thriving through all the ups and downs through the years.
 
At the center of our life, of course, pulses the gospel of Jesus Christ, the only reason we continue through 190 winters and summers, the only reason we have anything meaningful to offer our fair town. How stunning it is, when you really think about it, to realize that faithful elders and pastors have held up and held forth the Word of God so ardently all this time. May God be pleased to deploy us in his service for another 190!
 
I hope you will join us for our celebratory service, Sunday, May 28 at 10.30 am. Know that I feel so privileged to get to run with you one tiny segment of this enduring journey of faithfulness.
 
The Last Supper
 
The session has received the gift of a new and wonderful work of art for our campus. A cast of Deborah Luke’s sculpture of the Last Supper now hangs in our reception room. Stop by and view this moving rendition of that significant night. 
 

 

Happy 190th!

On Sunday, May 28 we will celebrate our 190th birthday! Nineteen decades ago, the presbytery of Mississippi finally succeeded in planting a Presbyterian church down here on the River. A young pastor named John Dorrance had been preaching up a storm since January, 1827, and by May the church was ready to be officially formed. A more seasoned pastor named Dr. Jeremiah Chamberlain came down to give the founding sermon and conduct the Lord’s Supper. 
 
We began with 15 members, the first Protestant church in all of south Louisiana.  The church grew steadily as Dorrance delivered his persuasive sermons. (He also persuaded one of his new church members, Penelope Mercer, to accept his marriage proposal!) It would be two more years before we even had a building, opening on what is now 4th and Florida streets. Life was not easy, and carving out a Protestant identity in a Catholic town meant great dedication and stamina were required. But they did it. God did it.
 
And here we are, nearly two centuries later, grateful to be standing on such strong shoulders. We remain a church at the heart of the city with a heart for our city. God continues to draw, and raise up, leaders for our community who are formed in the gospel through our church. We’re the only church in Louisiana that currently has two active state legislators. Our history is resplendent with governors, business leaders, educators, professors, leaders in medicine, the arts and the practice of law. We’re vibrantly connected to the city we love, and deeply grateful that our Lord has kept us thriving through all the ups and downs through the years.
 
At the center of our life, of course, pulses the gospel of Jesus Christ, the only reason we continue through 190 winters and summers, the only reason we have anything meaningful to offer our fair town. How stunning it is, when you really think about it, to realize that faithful elders and pastors have held up and held forth the Word of God so ardently all this time. May God be pleased to deploy us in his service for another 190!
 
I hope you will join us for our celebratory service, Sunday, May 28 at 10.30 am. Know that I feel so privileged to get to run with you one tiny segment of this enduring journey of faithfulness.
 
The Last Supper
 
The session has received the gift of a new and wonderful work of art for our campus. A cast of Deborah Luke’s sculpture of the Last Supper now hangs in our reception room. Stop by and view this moving rendition of that significant night.