The Knowledge and Praise of God
I recently had an article published in R.C. Sproul’s
magazine, Tabletalk. It expresses my deep beliefs about the purpose of worship.
I hope you enjoy Theology and Doxology:
Angelic beings approach the throne of the triune God. They
arrive in His immediate presence because they need no mediator. No sin prevents
them from entering, and God gave these creatures the capacity to draw near
without being incinerated by His glory. Is it safe to say these angels know
better than we do? But what do these knowledgeable ones do in God’s presence?
According to Revelation 4:10, they fall down, cast their crowns, and sing. In
short, they worship God with their whole beings.
I read a lot of theology books. That’s my job—and my
passion. But every time I pick one up, I raise a silent challenge: “Make me
sing.” I go to a lot of worship services. That also is my job—and my passion.
My challenge is, “Take me deeper.” The knowledge of God and the praise of God,
theology and doxology, belong together. They are dance partners in the
fulfillment of our chief end: to glorify and enjoy God forever.
Theology that doesn’t make us sing has failed in its
mission, no matter how correct it may be. Worship that doesn’t take us deeper
into Christ has also failed, no matter how glorious the music or how applicable
the sermon. Praising God properly means deepening our knowledge of this God we
adore. Our hearts should be set aflame when we really explore how the Father
sent His Son into the world to save us, and then joined us to that Savior by
sending His Holy Spirit into our hearts. Great theology stirs the heart. Excellent
worship grows our knowledge.
Let’s take, for an example, two stanzas from Joseph Hart’s
hymn “Come Ye Sinners.” The lyrics have been reset several times in both
traditional and contemporary styles, a testimony to their enduring power. The
words take us deep into the work of Christ in a way that inspires us to give
our hearts in worship:
View him prostrate in the Garden,
On the ground your Maker lies,
On the bloody tree behold him;
Sinner, will not this suffice?
In just four short lines, we enter the narrative of our
Savior’s work. A great theological paradox is evoked through vivid imagery. We
behold not just a man, but God in the flesh. The transcendent Creator of all
has His face to the ground of creation. The impassible God unites Himself to a
human nature that can suffer agony. Who can fathom this? But then Hart lets his
theology become a call to worship: “Sinner, will not this suffice?” Does
knowing what God has done not move you to worship?
The next stanza continues our journey into theological
mystery, as Hart answers for us the enduring theological question, “What is
Jesus doing now?”
Lo! Th’ incarnate God ascended,
Pleads the merit of his blood,
Venture on him, venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude.
Hart evokes this crucial passage from Hebrews: “He is able
to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he
always lives to make intercession for them” (7:25). Jesus continues in His
priesthood, applying on our behalf the finished work of His sacrifice, not only
for justification but for our growth in sanctification as well. What a
wonder—Jesus continues on inside right...lives to pray for us. How could I rely
on anyone else? “Yes,” my heart cries as I sing this theological truth: “I will
venture on Jesus. I will give my life wholly and only to him.”
John Calvin was one of the most doxological theologians. In
writing about the Lord’s Supper, Calvin rejoiced to affirm that through union
with Christ, “whatever is his may be called ours.” In what is now a very famous
passage, Calvin articulated this wonderful exchange:
This is the wonderful exchange which, out of his
measureless benevolence, he has made with us; that, becoming Son of man with
us, he has made us sons of God with him; that, by his descent to earth, he has
prepared an ascent to heaven for us; that, by taking on our mortality, he has
conferred his immortality upon us; that, accepting our weakness, he has
strengthened us by his power; that, receiving our poverty unto himself, he has
transferred his wealth to us; that, taking the weight of our iniquity upon
himself (which oppressed us), he has clothed us with his righteousness.
With this in our theological hymn books, how could
Calvinists ever be the frozen chosen? This is the greatest deal in the
universe: God trades us His life for our death, His peace for our anxiety, His
heavenly home for our orphaned exile, His forgiveness for our sin. Then,
amazingly, He considers it a great bargain. Such news makes me want to get up
from this keyboard and run around the block shouting.
Theology is meant to set us singing. Our worship is meant to
take us deeper into the glorious truth of our Redeemer’s work. These two are
meant to be dance partners into eternity.
Building Essential Optimism
I got to speak to the grandparents of our Mother’s Day Out program. Such a speech is necessarily short when 25
preschoolers are sitting on the stage behind you! But the occasion caused me to consider just
why we do this program and how it fits into our mission of Deeper in Christ,
Further into the World.
course, we have chapel every Monday. We tell Bible stories and sing songs of
praise to our God. Overtly, we are
Christian. That’s foundational. But I also believe that what’s going on underneath
all our activities really makes the difference.
of course, we exist to support the home. The mothers and fathers, siblings and
grandparents create the home life in which the gospel takes root. We exist as
an extension of the home, to show forth the Christian values of the parents in
a community of the children’s peers.
that end, we want to build in an essential
optimism about life and the world that makes it possible to grasp and
embrace the gospel. What do I mean by essential optimism? Well, when they come to school, children may
expect that people will smile at them, call them by name and rejoice in their
presence. They are welcome and they are valuable. Within the classroom, basic
fairness rules. If someone takes your stuff, you can expect justice to be
served: you’ll get it back. The law of love not the law of the jungle
pervades: we solve problems with words,
the wonder of creation fills our classes. Our children learn that the world is interesting. There is so much to
explore! It’s worth knowing because God made the world and all that is in it,
and he made it good. And we can use
every part of us to express our delight in that creation. We can sing, think,
draw, paint, run, jump, and hug in the joy of a life lived in love. We learn that there is order in creation and
order creates peace: that’s why we take
turns and walk in a line instead of running in a pack. We learn to listen, to
wait while others speak, to raise our hands, and to express ourselves calmly,
truthfully and succinctly in a group.
First Presbyterian Mother’s Day Out, we learn that when we fall, someone is
there to pick us up. When we cry, someone gives us a hug. When we are sick,
someone makes it better or finds our Mom for us. When something matters to us, it matters to a
whole group of people. So we learn by
experience that we can trust the love of God.
of this mirrors the Kingdom of God. We
instill this essential optimism that
the world can be a good, loving, fair, happy place. Of course, the harshness and cruelty of the
world will creep in our children in due time, as it does to all of us. But
those people who have an essential optimism instilled in them will be able to
believe the gospel news that the world was always meant to be a whole lot more
like Mother’s Day Out than the mess we experience as adults. And so we can
trust, deeply, the promises that God will bring things right in the end, and
this world will give way fully to the Kingdom of God.
What we’re doing at Mother’s Day Out is a
Kingdom work. I thank God for our school, and rejoice in all that our director,
Whitney Weiner, and her dedicated staff due to make it so.
Keep It Up!
I've been so heartened by your response to the Blessing of the Cross. I hear conversations about the cross occurring all over the place. You are thinking deeply about how your life participates in Christ’s death. You are praying with the great hymns of the faith, and then googling those hymns to find out more. People are asking each other, “What does it mean when we pray Christ made a perfect sacrifice for all? ” You are using the guide with your children and teaching them about salvation. You are using the guides together with loved ones and drawing closer to each other through shared study and prayer. This is wonderful! How can a church not grow if everyone is holding so tightly to the cross?
So, I encourage you as we head toward Easter: keep it up! Don’t stop praying the prayers out loud. Don’t cut corners. Don’t stop meeting together. I think the real value of this study is yet to come. We accumulate understanding and passion day by day. Go for it! Let’s head full steam into Holy Week and Easter, chugging along on the fuel of God’s Word about his Son’s atoning death.
To be an active member of First means being nimble! I often think about how much we ask of our members. You’ve got to pay attention just to get to the right place on the right time. Part of our vibrancy is the willingness to do special things like combined Sunday schools with great speakers. Part of our unity is our commitment to meet together in joint worship. But that means schedules change and times get rearranged. Here from the office, we do our best to keep you informed well ahead of time. Personally, I like when I can live on “cruise control” and not have to think about the where’s and when’s of my schedule. But I know an engaged life rarely works that way.
So, for the next month, there will be lots of different rhythms. I’m going to see this as opportunity to grow, stretch, and connect with more people. You’ll see in this Newsletter how the Time Change Rebellion Sunday comes up March 10 (set your clock ahead after worship, not before, and plan to join us for lunch). You’ll see our Palm Sunday procession and picnic on March 24th at 10AM. You’ll see special worship Maundy Thursday, March 28 at 7PM, and Easter Sunrise at 6:30AM. We’re adjusting our lives to walk with Christ through the Cross into glorious Resurrection.
I love being your pastor, and one of the qualities I brag about is your nimbleness as members. You’re amazing!
I'm Staying Anyway
Last month, Alec’s column entitled “We’re Leaving First!” was one of the most opened articles since we’ve been tracking online readership. So, I thought I’d bounce off his title. I’ll miss Alec greatly: he’s been a great colleague and friend. It’s been a joy to watch him grow as a pastor, a husband, a father and a Christian through these 5 ½ years. Now it’s a poignant joy to be sending him to advance Christ’s kingdom with this newly formed church in Mobile.
We’ve had remarkable staff stability over the last years, and I think that has been a key factor in our growth as a church. We have a fine team. Young Buck’s departure will leave a void, but your outstanding leadership combo of pastors, elders and staff will step up. And, by the way, I’m not planning on going anywhere. I love being your pastor, and I believe God has a great year ahead for us. There’s so much coming up, it makes my head spin. Take a look!
The Blessing of the Cross
This Lent, I invite you on a journey deep into the Biblical meaning of the cross of Christ. The essential meaning of the cross is “Christ died for our sins.” But that simple phrase contains great riches. Scripture explores how the cross is at the center of finding meaning in suffering, overcoming the power of sin and death, getting free of what binds us, and becoming reconciled with God and one another. As the heart of Christianity, the cross has unparalleled power to work in our lives.
During Lent, as a church we’re going to explore the cross on three levels:
1 - Corporate Worship: Each week during Lent, the sermon at all four services will focus on an aspect of the cross.
2 - Individual Study and Prayer: We have prepared a daily prayer and study guide entitled The Blessing of the Cross which takes you through the essential Scripture passages related to the meaning of Christ’s death for us. The readings and questions are grouped by theme to coordinate with the Sunday sermons. Beginning February 10, copies of this 130 page book will be available free to our congregation. You will also be able to get the guide online, or even have the readings emailed to you daily.
3 - Home Groups: There will be nearly 30 small groups for discussion and prayer meeting all over town at all kinds of times during Lent to study the Blessing of the Cross. I encourage everyone to commit to attending the 5 sessions of this study.
I discovered that as I prepared the study, I grew personally in adoration for the God who gave his life for us. I believe passionately that each of us will never be the same if we pursue this exploration of the cross during the six weeks of Lent.
We continue to be blessed with an extraordinarily generous congregation. We had a great response on pledge Sunday back in November, but I didn’t want to report to you until all the pledges for 2013 came in—and that’s usually not til January!
First, on the capital campaign, we received nearly $450,000 in new and additional pledges for 2013. These gifts combined with people finishing their original pledges will take us very continues on back panel...close to having no capital debt by the end of the year. Once again, it only works when all of us do what we can as faithfully as we can: together, God gives us what we need. What a joy to have this great project completed!
For the 2013 operations of the church, you have pledged nearly $2.75 million, enabling us to continue ministry at a high level, while even expanding what we do in local and global mission. I give thanks to the Father of all good gifts that he pours out his bounty through your faithfulness. The entire budget will be reviewed at the congregational meeting.
Annual Meeting and Celebration of the Ministry of Nancy Spiller
Now that we have four services and Sunday school, it’s very difficult to do congregational meetings on Sunday mornings. So we will again conduct our annual meeting at 4:30 PM, Sunday, February 24 in the sanctuary. We will review 2012, hear how God is at work in our members’ lives, elect members of the officer nominating committee and associate pastor nominating committee, and other business.
Then, following the meeting, all are invited to a festive dinner honoring the 20 years of Nancy Spiller’s service to us. From The Sound of Music to The City of Gold, from Fiddler on the Roof to The Live Nativity, Nancy has directed productions blessing all of us. Meanwhile, every week she leads worship at 9AM. Contemporary music has deepened and grown through the years and Nancy has flourished in dynamic worship leadership. Bring a salad, side dish or dessert to share and the church will provide the fried chicken. We expect lots of special surprises as we both roast and toast this beloved member of our church.
Formed in Christ: A Weekend with Ken Boa
Two years ago, the men of the church were greatly encouraged by the exciting, Scriptural teaching of Ken Boa. This year, both men and women get to hear Ken at a special combined Sunday School on February 24 at 10:10AM in the sanctuary.
Ken is also back leading a Saturday men’s retreat about discovering authentic manhood by being formed in the image of Christ. Men, don’t miss this rousing day together from 8:30 to 3PM, February 23 in the sanctuary.
We're Leaving First Presbyterian by Alec Flynt
We are leaving FPC... just writing those words makes me think how insane we must be. But the Lord calls, and so we must go. That’s what we do as Christ’s followers.
I have received God’s call to become the pastor of a church plant in Mobile, Alabama called Covenant Presbyterian Church. It’s time for me to put on the big boy pants and go do what you have been preparing me to do: lead a church.
Gerrit once told me that becoming a pastor of a church was like getting married. Five and a half years later, I think he might be right about that (don’t tell him I said he was right about anything. We are in a couple’s squabble, trying to figure out how to not like one another so that leaving might be easier :). Arden and I deeply love this congregation and we know that you all feel the same way. It has been incredible to be a pastor of this church.
It is amazing to think about how much you all have grown us up over these past few years. We came to Baton Rouge with a couch, a bed, and a dog. That was about it. We are leaving with a lot more stuff, and a lot more people. Baton Rouge will forever have a mark on our lives because this is where our three children were born, right here, in your midst. One of you even delivered them. Our family has grown and flourished under your care. You have given us friendship, love, and even a bit of material provision to make it through. The journey together has been really good.
It is not always this way with pastors and congregations. My colleagues in other churches do not speak about their churches the way I speak about you. They speak of the toil and the rancor and the difficulty of working in a church. I speak of the grace, and the joy and the deep love for Christ in the body at First.
I once had an outsider remark about the exceptional nature of our relationship. I was attending an out of town wedding when a friend of a friend, who was a strong Christian, asked me what I thought about being a pastor. I told him about you and how great it all was. He looked confused as I spoke. He later told his wife that I was the first pastor he had ever met who loved his church and his job. There is something exceptional about being a pastor at First Baton Rouge. I know I am not the only one who feels this way.
Not only have you all supported me and my family, but you have also grown me up in my passion and knowledge of God’s Word. It’s true. You all have taught me the Bible. Every time I stood in the pulpit or taught a class, I knew that before me lies a group of people who are serious about Scripture. I knew that nothing less than diligent and faithful study of God’s Word will do for these people. You have made me into a dogged student of the Bible. For that I am deeply thankful.
I give thanks to our God for you. I am thankful for these many wonderful years together, and I hope that you might know Jesus better because we were here. I pray that you might take joy in our sending, knowing you are a big part of the mission we are undertaking. I hope you might stop in Mobile on your way home from the beach and worship with us! I pray all of this has been for His glory, and his alone.
Forever in Christ with you, Alec, Arden, Caleb, Elizabeth Gray, & Lydia Flynt
What's He Doing in That Pulpit?
Recently a seminary professor told his students, “The only thing the people in your congregation want to know is whether or not you know God. They don’t care about your learning, your wit, or even your vision unless and until they know the answer to that one question. Do you know God and will you let your people in on that relationship?” I really like that comment, especially as I wonder sometimes if I have communicated adequately enough to you why I do what I do and why I’m so passionate about it.
Sometimes people ask me, “How long did it take you to write that sermon?” I’m never quite sure how to answer that. Should I be a minimalist and give the actual time of written composition (3 hours on Thursday morning)? Or would they think I was being a wise guy if I gave the answer that is most deeply true: it took my whole life! And I don’t just mean years of training, practice, study and discussion. I mean that every sermon ought to rise from the preacher’s relationship to the Lord through his Word which demands a complete commitment of one’s entire life over the course of decades.
Here are three principles that underlie every moment in the pulpit:
1) The preacher is called to live an authentic Christian life in the midst of a congregation, a life that is open, viewable and accessible. The sermon arises from a genuine relationship with the Triune God. The preacher quests to know God.
2) The preacher must interact deeply, constantly, and personally with God’s Word. He has to study, to work Bible texts in his mind and heart all the time. He has to engage Scripture in community with God’s people as well. The preacher quests constantly to know God through his Word.
3) The preacher must call his congregation to join him on this quest to know God as God has made himself known in Scripture. Every sermon is a journey both from God’s Word and into God’s Word. To gather people in this quest, the preacher must understand, care for, and articulate the life situations of his people. He calls the congregation from the midst of sharing life circumstances with them into a deeper shared life in God.
Every Sunday, I am trying with all my heart, experience and skill to speak what makes for an authentic, joyful, and eternally significant life. This includes unmasking the sins and delusions I live under that keep me from an abundant life in Christ. This also includes ardently pointing to the one who saves us from delusion and gives us everlasting life: Jesus our Savior and Lord!
Am I passionate about this work? You know it! I have staked my entire life on the truth of Jesus. With every fiber of my being I am inviting, urging, calling you to find the truth of Jesus as well. Come with me this advent as we go on a pilgrimage to the manger. We quest to meet the baby Jesus anew and fall in love with him all over again.
Pastor's Corner 11-1-2012
The Mysteries of Money and the Church
The program of the church runs on a nearly $3 million budget. Our givers are incredibly generous. We receive and distribute a ton of money, yet clearly money is not the focus of the church, Christ is. But how does the whole process work? How do we inspire giving, manage income and determine expenses? Here are seven principles by which your leadership works:
1- Keep the vision clear throughout the year. It’s vital that our messages and worship keep a clear focus on the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Leadership has to show week in and week out how everything we do takes us deeper into Christ, then propels us further into the world with the gospel news and the love of Jesus.
2- Celebrate the gift of participation and the need of the giver to give. We don’t get fund raising confused with the deep desire of Christians to participate in what God is doing in the world. It’s a spiritual principle that we must return a significant portion of what we receive to God and his work.
3- The whole church is the work of all the people. We want everyone who gives to God through our church to feel that all the work we are doing belongs to each and all of us. We have eliminated many special funds in order that your one gift to the church might contribute to all we do. We want everyone to say, “I am in Kenya with Ashley and MacGregor. I am downstairs with the Gardere kids. I am keeping the Counseling Center running. I am in that Habitat House. I am singing with children, teaching women, writing sermons, holding babies, running the lights and air, and running our website. We all do all of it.
4- Build the budget after the people pledge. We don’t create a budget and then “sell” it. We pledge our gifts for the coming year as an act of faith and spiritual dedication. Then the leadership takes the pledges entrusted to us and creates a budget that reflects our priorities.
5- Invite maximum participation in budget creation. All the committees responsible for programs begin in September visioning the work of the new year. Staff and members make recommendations for their areas. While the budget is not finalized until after pledges, the committees yet begin their visioning and planning early on. More than 5 dozen people enter these conversations.
6- Coordinate the requests with the pledged funds. The finance committee analyzes requests from committees and projected income. Finance then sends budget requests back to the committees for honing.
Then, after the committees report back to Finance and our pledge numbers are finalized, Finance submits a draft budget to the session. This budget is discussed, tweaked and approved at the January Session meeting.
7- Communicate the spending plan to the congregation. The budget is then presented to the congregation at the annual meeting.
Through the years, this process has created energized giving, deep trust between givers and leadership, high participation and accountability. Our givers are incredibly and increasingly generous. Our engaged members are on fire for their church. Moreover, new members join already engaged in joyful giving. Imagine what could happen if everyone participated! We’d explode with mission and ministry opportunities.
So, as we approach Dedication Sunday on November 11, I wanted you to hear again how it all works in this remarkable congregation where I love to be your pastor.
The downtown pastors agreed to try a new time and date for the annual Thanksgiving service. We’re moving the worship from Thanksgiving morning to the Sunday evening before Thanksgiving! This year’s service will be at 6PM at First Baptist Church. The Rev. Clee Lowe of Shiloh Baptist will preach. Join your fellow downtown Christians for a great service of praise and preaching our thanks for God’s great love to us.
Pastor's Corner 10-01-2012
We have a big job to finish! It will take all of us to do it. We’ve got to complete it so we can keep pressing on with the ministry of the church.
I’m referring, of course, to the Build to Serve Campaign. We undertook a huge challenge three years ago. And by God’s grace through your sacrifices, so much has been accomplished.
Can anyone imagine if we had just left our sanctuary, classrooms, playgrounds and lawns the way they were? If that had been our legacy to the next generation? Of course not! The renovations all seem so normal now. Our church looks like it should.
One member said the other day, “I was so excited to see people from all over the community coming here for a concert. The church is my home. And I love my house! I wanted people to be inside it, to see how beautiful it is.” I know that feeling of joyful, good pride.
I confess, though, that when we named the campaign Build to Serve, I wondered if it were true—would our project really turn out to serve others? Then I see the Recess program gathering young adults to serve special needs families every first Friday. I see the women of the church gathering on our grounds for a spring picnic for all ages. I see 30 students from Gardere downstairs getting an amazing Christian education. I see the community pour in for concerts, weddings, funerals and even dance classes. I see 1000 people from all over the country and the world coming to our campus for the General Assembly. Telling us it was the best one ever. Effusing with praise for our people and the home we built to share.
Then I recall that we deliberately put in a mission component. We would raise funds not only for our campus but to see the kingdom furthered in striking ways. We trusted that the exact projects would emerge through pray and visioning. Now we see that happening. Our partner church in Cairo broadcast the Gospel during the Arab Spring because we provided the camera equipment. Years ago, a young man from Uganda named Peter came to LSU. He got connected to our church. He went home and started a school for orphans (yes, they were purple and gold uniforms!). Now they will have an effective sanitation system at Bethany Centre—because of Build to Serve! The Gardere School needs to be in the Gardere area. Opportunity for a matching grant to secure property has arisen. They will meet that goal, and our gift will double—because of Build to Serve! And there’s much more ahead.
But we have to finish the job. We planned a $5.75 million project. We got approximately $4.5 million in pledges and gifts to go with about $500 thousand on hand. That left a gap of about $775,000. We knew it going in, but your elders felt led to move forward.
Now the time has come to close the gap. In two crucial ways:
1) Finish the race. We hope everyone will complete their initial pledge by the end of December. It’s critical!
2) Go the extra mile. Let’s give extra gifts and make additional commitments. Let’s do what we can this year. Let’s pledge to go one more year of gifts in 2013.
Yes, I know that’s a lot to ask. We have a $3million dollar operating budget to sustain. The church is firing on all cylinders. Our members are generous. We want to keep it going. I’m trusting God to inspire us all that great days are upon us and before us. Let’s “Get ‘Er Done.” Watch for a special DVD and then you pledge card to arrive mid-October.
Pastor's Corner September 2012
After the Storm
I know we’re all breathing thanks that the storm was not as damaging here as it could have been. Of course we feel for those who had damage—I know all too well what it is to deal with trees on the house! But as I move around the city, I find myself rejoicing that our fair town still looks so fair. I’m very grateful to the deacons who made calls to check on our folks. We had the whole congregation divided by region, and made particular effort to check on anyone who was especially vulnerable. We’ve also checked on our sister EPC churches, and all did well with only minor damage. And didn’t we enjoy the fellowship Sunday morning after a week full of wind, rain and worry? I was bowled over that 100 of us came out to help feed and nurture the homeless last Sunday night. You continue to amaze me with your faith and commitment, and I love being your pastor.
What Really Happens at Communion?
The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper remains a deep mystery in which Christ’s people participate. We have many questions. Some are simple, such as “Why do some call it the Eucharist, others the Mass, and others Communion?” Some are complex, such as, “Is the bread just a symbol of Christ’s body? Or if it really becomes Jesus, how can that be?” Some you may never have thought of, such as “What are the essential steps of a proper Communion service?”
I’d love to probe these mysteries with you as we discuss the distinctive Presbyterian view on the wonder of the Lord’s Supper. The class will meet for four Wednesdays, beginning September 19, 6:30 in Room 202. Fellowship and snacks available from 6:15. Childcare available by request through our website.
Beginning Sept 30, we’ll be taking up a four week sermon series on what the Bible has to say about money. In days of intense economic pressures for so many, in a season of political uncertainty, in a city and world where there is so much need, this is one area of Scriptural teaching we must not neglect! God’s provision and plan of material blessings is a key path to spiritual insight and growth.
• The session authorized Acoustic Communion worship as a “continuing service” of our church. Now averaging about 100 folks, the AC is a vital part of our ministry.
• Meanwhile, overall church attendance is up over 60 people from last year.
• The EPC now numbers more than 360 congregations, double that of five years ago.
• More than 100 men are praying for an LSU football player every day. After a challenge from Faith and Football speaker Art Moore, we paired up our men with a player and began a commitment to undergird these young leaders with our prayers.
Pastor's Corner 08-01-2012
You Did It! Yes, Praise God, You Did It!
In June, we hosted the General Assembly of our denomination. Over the week we had more than 700 guests attend. I felt so proud of our church that I thought I would burst! I could hardly settle down just thinking about:
• The beautiful facilities and grounds you created which made this meeting even a possibility, and all the wonderful comments about the beauty of our church.
•The eager smiles and loving arms of our purple and gold-shirted teams. People praised the exuberant service we rendered which went above and beyond any they had experienced.
• The ridiculously intricate and huge infrastructure we created to serve our guests. Over the week we served over 3000 meals, drove people over 6000 miles, and went through more cups of Community Coffee than can be counted. We ran a live video stream to various rooms on our campus and the internet. We created bulletins for every service, signage for the whole campus and banners for the block. We created a Vacation Bible School for the children and took the youth to serve at Project Stars.
• The way our team set and reset, again and again, the sanctuary and classrooms to meet the needs of the Assembly. A thousand different audio/visual needs were met.
• The magnificent cooperation of our people. There was no distinction between “staff” and “volunteers.” Nor between preferred services or age groups. We were one church with one united purpose.
• Above all, the worship. Wednesday night’s City of Gold brought people roaring with applause to their feet, tears streaming down their faces, God’s glory being lifted up. And it continued throughout the week as all our styles of worship were deployed to inspire attendees.
The response from guests was overwhelming. The beauty, intimacy, warmth, faith and love of our congregation and church sent them reaching for superlatives. (Check out the EPC's video on YouTube: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpq3172tj5M).
You did it! By God’s grace, First hosted a glorious General Assembly and did so joyfully. Peacocks in their plumage have nothing on this proud pastor—but don’t blame me for the sin of pride: you did it! Yes, praise God, you did it!
How quickly summer yields to fall and the programming year, though the thermometer won’t recognize the change for 8 more weeks. As you read this issue, you’ll see there’s lots going on. I’m especially excited to let you know that the session has invited the Gardere Christian School to use our elementary classrooms during the week for this academic year. GCS has already been raising test scores, self-respect and hope among at risk students from the Gardere area. For this one year, they’ll be doing it in our “house.” I hope that will inspire many of us to find ways to serve this vital ministry.
Pastor's Corner 06-1-2012
Want to Boost Your Worship?
By Gerrit Dawson, Senior Pastor
At our combined worship service May 27, I introduced ten ways each of us could contribute to making a great church even better. These suggestions apply to each one of our four regular Sunday services. Take a look again at the list and see what God inspires you to do!
Ten Easy Ways I Can Boost My Worship Service
1) Come early! Come ten minutes early and get the party started. Greet folks, chat, pray, fill the room. This makes visitors feel like something great is going on.
2) Sit front and center. The sanctuary can feel full and lively even with 70 people: if they sit together and close. Let's do this voluntarily and make it feel like our people are a critical mass ready to grow. Same is true in the chapel and gym.
3) Participate. The weekly liturgy (order of worship) is designed for congregational participation. That takes concentration, energy, vocalization. Speak the words and mean them. Sing the songs and raise the roof!
4) Stay Late. Don't rush off. Hang around in the sanctuary and speak to folks. Grab a cup of coffee in the reception room or hallway. Look for people you don't know. Make it seem like you wish church would go on all day!
5) Bring Someone: Invite a friend, a neighbor, a coworker, or a church member you haven't seen in a while. Pick them up. Offer to take them to lunch.
6) Talk it up! Tell others what you like about our worship. Praise the worship leaders. Praise the Word that shapes us. Praise the building and the fellowship.
Keep negatives to yourself (mail them to the Worship Committee or Pastor if you have constructive ideas). Be a force for good.
7) Come Every Week. For the next three months, make worship a high priority in your life. Be there so people will count on seeing your smiling face and joyful presence. You make the party happen!
8) Consider Yourself a Host. Don't be a consumer of worship, waiting to see if the product is successfully delivered to you. Think of yourself as the host of a festive dinner party. Look after your guests and do all you can to make the energy flow strongly and positively.
9) Prepare! Start thinking about the Lord's Day well before Sunday. Plan your Saturdays around wanting to be ready for church on Sunday. Review the message and bulletin from the previous week. Read the Scriputre lesson for the coming week.
10) Pray! Pray for our service. Pray for the pastors and musicians, the choir and technical operators. Visualize the sanctuary and the people sitting in their usual places: pray for them. Pray for the Spirit to do mighty things among us.
Watching General Assembly
Here’s a frequently asked question: when is a good time to visit the General Assembly? When I’m not serving as a GA team member, when should I look in on the proceedings? First off, our spectacular production of The City of Gold will be performed for our congregation on Monday, June 18 at 7PM. That’s when we get to see it since the Wednesday night GA performance will be packed to the gills.
Many of you, though, may want to hear one of the sessions led by Dr. Christopher Wright of London. He is a dynamic speaker and Bible teacher. There are three presentations on Wednesday and there should be room for guests: 9, 10:45 and 1:30 in the sanctuary. The evening worship services on Thursday and Friday nights at 7 will also be dynamic (though you’ll have to put up with my preaching on Friday night). For a complete schedule, go to www.epc.org and look for the General Assembly box. If you do come to attend and find the sanctuary full, we will be simulcasting to the reception room.
Prayer for General Assembly
We want to soak the assembly and its commissioners in prayers for God’s blessing. Please join us for a special prayer meeting Sunday evening, June 10 at 5:30 pm.
Skip a Month
We're taking a short break from our monthly fpcNEWS and will not print a July issue. During that month, for all FPC news and events please be sure to check with either the church office or the website. Then remember, beginning with the August issue, unless you've told us otherwise, we will no longer mail you a printed copy of the newsletter. Just email Vicki Lindrew (email@example.com) to let her know if you wish to continue receiving it via US Postal Service.
Pastor's Corner 05-1-2012
Changed Lives and Better Beginnings
One of our most strategic city ministries is the Christian Outreach Center. The center began as a cooperative venture of the downtown churches to meet the immediate needs of the poor in the downtown area. We still do that, daily giving out food bags and assistance with utilities or getting a photo i.d. But now the Christian Outreach Center (COC) does so much more.
We have 22 people involved in a program called Changed Lives/Better Beginnings. Clients work with our director, Elaine Borsky, on a program that moves folks from homelessness or near homelessness to being housed, working, organized financially and filled with the love of Jesus Christ. No, it doesn't always work perfectly with this population. But we have been seeing transformation. Despair has been turning into hope!
Every year, the Christmas Eve offering goes to the COC. I'm glad to tell you that 100% of what we give that night goes to direct aid to the poor. How can that be? Because the COC has a unique funding source which pays for the administrative costs.
The Purple Cow thrift store, located out on Jones Creek Rd., generates income which undergirds the work of the Christian Outreach Center. Isn't that a brilliant idea! (No, I didn't think of it!) Managed by Frank Loughran, the Purple Cow is an attractive re-sale store which offers clothes and household items at great prices. The proceeds from the Cow go directly into ministry. The Purple Cow is so successful because people like us donate really high quality clothes to sell. What's more, thrift stores themselves give dignity to lower income folks because they can actually buy new clothes rather than receive a handout. The Purple Cow and the Christian Outreach Center make a wonderful team, generating significant ministry in our community.
Stop by and see the Center sometime--it's located on Main Street. I've been enjoying my time serving as COC president, and I'm quite proud of our partnership with First Baptist, First Methodist, St. Agnes, the Cathedral and River Community Church in making this work.
It's a big summer for the Dawsons. Our elder son Micah graduates from the University of Virginia May 20th, receiving both an M.BA and a JD degree (yes, I'm proud!). Then on August 18, he will marry a church member, Rachel Lazar in a small service in the chapel. The newlyweds will be living and working in St. Louis after that.
General Assembly is fast approaching. I hope you've signed up to volunteer (don't you want a purple/gold polo shirt with the FPC logo--just think what a witness it will make at a Tiger game!). Nancy is working hard to coordinate a spectacular production of City of Gold. In fact, our congregation is invited to the dress rehearsal performance on Monday, June 18 at 7:00 pm.
Other GA notes: I'm quite honored to be preaching for the Friday night worship at General Assembly (June 22), and I'm particularly excited that Dr. Christopher Wright will be teaching three times on June 20. And what a coup for our young buck, Alec Flynt, to be preaching Saturday morning. The whole staff has been working so hard already, and they have been backed by dozens of church volunteers. I can hardly express how proud I am of our church this year!
Pastor's Corner 03-1-2012
The season of Lent has begun. The Mardi Gras parades are through and the lights are put away. This is a season of preparation. The 40 days of Lent are meant to mirror Jesus 40 days in the wilderness. That’s why some people fast during Lent, or at least give up something they enjoy, usually in the food department. We are trying to connect to our Lord who deprived himself as he gave his every ounce of life for us. In particular, we are preparing to watch with him through his passion. We do not want to be like his disciples who fell asleep while Jesus prayed in agony in the Garden. We want to stay awake with him. We want to connect to all he did for us in his struggle against temptation and the devil. Finally, we want to be those who stand faithfully by his cross as we join ourselves to his final hours. In this way, we follow a path down. A road down into Christ’s suffering. We do so in order that our joy may be renewed on Easter. We want to rise with Christ on Easter morning with a fresh wonder. The great events of the Lord’s life are available to his people. But to experience their power, we have to do the work to enter the stories again. The disciplines of Lent help us get into the story in a deeper way. As important as any giving up, then, is the determination to add more time in the stories of Jesus’ final week, more watching with him in prayer, more imagining what it would be like if we didn’t know the end of the story.
The Way of the Cross
Your church will be offering ways to help you in this spiritual journey. Every Wednesday at noon during Lent, we offer a service of communion followed by a light lunch. We will be following a fabulous worship guide from the Church of England called the Way of the Cross.
At 7PM on Maundy Thursday, April 5, the chancel choir will lead our worship on this Holy Night with a presentation of the famous Requiem by Gabriel Faure. For many years, Christians have been deeply moved by this meditative piece.
Palm Sunday Procession and Picnic
Not all is gloomy during Lent here at First! On Sunday, April 1, we will have one worship service. We will muster on the sanctuary steps for a 10AM departure in our annual Palm Sunday procession (Yes, Amos the donkey remains under contract!). Following a rousing worship service, there will be a picnic for all with special events for children.
The week of June 17-23 will be historic in the life of our church. We are hosting the General Assembly of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Over a thousand visitors will be in town and on campus during the week. We need more than 300 volunteers! Greeters, van drivers, food servers, children’s workers, ushers, computer techs, grounds keepers. We need you! On March 11 and 18, each of the nine key teams will have tables set up in the reception room. Find your place and be part of this historic event.
P.S. Have I told you lately that I love being your pastor?
Pastor's Corner 04-1-2012
Christ Is Risen: Come Celebrate!
The height of the Christian year is the annual celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. This is the event that re-oriented the very way God’s people keep time. The day of worship moved from a Saturday Sabbath to a Sunday Lord’s Day. Easter marked the first day of a new creation. Every first day of the week we mark the resurrection of the one who declared, “Behold I make all things new.” And especially on Easter Sunday, we joyfully declare the news that Christ is risen, he is risen indeed.
I hope you will engage the spiritual journey that takes Christ’s people from his triumphal entry through his death to his glorious rising. Once again, we will have an all-church celebration on Palm Sunday, April 1. North Blvd. will be closed so that we might process with our palms (while Amos the donkey joins us) to begin worship. The procession begins with the blowing of the shofar at 10AM sharp, so please plan to gather by the front steps by 9:50AM. Inside, the children’s choir will sing and I will be preaching a message entitled “Ride On!” Following worship, lunch is available for all (for a nominal cost), as well as Easter egg hunts for children, pony rides, bouncy rooms, and a great day of hanging out together as one church family.
On Maundy Thursday, April 5, we will mark the first celebration of the Lord’s Supper in two stages. At 6:30PM, we will gather in the chapel for the reading of the Maundy Thursday narratives from Mark and John, including partaking of communion. Then, we will “journey” to the sanctuary to hear the choir and orchestra present Gabriel Faure’s Requiem. This is an excellent opportunity to meditate on our Savior’s passion.
On Easter morning, join us in the terrace garden for a sunrise service at 6:30AM. Dress is casual and a light breakfast follows. We will have festival services of Easter worship at 9 and 11 AM in the sanctuary, and acoustic communion Easter service at 11:15 in the gym. We hope everyone will have a wonderful celebration with friends and family Easter afternoon, and the church staff is grateful that the office is closed on Easter Monday.
I love being your pastor, and I especially love gathering with you on our highest and most joyful days of celebration.
Pastor's Corner 02-1-2012
As I write, I am at the Twin Lakes Conference Center near Jackson, MS. Your pastors are on retreat with nearly forty other EPC pastors. We are meeting before our presbytery business meeting in order to fellowship, worship, and consider the topic "Resurrection and Worldview." This is a great group of guys and they make me proud to be in this denomination.
After the "Game Which Shall Not Be Mentioned," we all returned to normal life and people came back to church in droves. As one person said, "My idols have been shattered." It’s good to know a Champion who has already won the ultimate contest! Our strong attendance fulfills a great expectation for me: that beginning a fourth service would cause attendance to rise everywhere. I hope that continues. I’ve enjoyed worship immensely in all four of our venues and styles. You’re really fun to meet with over God’s Word on a Sunday!
Meanwhile, we’ve had over a hundred people participating in the Love and Respect marriage classes on Sunday nights. Kinch and Audra Cato have done a great job facilitating and I’ve gotten a lot out of it (Rhonda already knew it all).
February brings many events in the life of our church. For the first time in many years, we are having a City Ministry Fair. This Sunday, February 5, our adult Sunday school hour will be focussed on learning about the mission partners we have in this city. The reception room and hallway will be filled with representatives from 16 different groups with which we partner. From ten o clock onwards, we will have a fun time of fellowship and discovery. If you’ve been wondering how to plug into ministry through your church, this is the event for you!
February 19 is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. That means we will begin our Wednesday noon communion services in the chapel, followed by a light lunch. The theme this year will be the Way of the Cross. Also, we hope to put together a small group study focusing on the ancient stations of the cross for our Lenten focus.
Then, the weekend of February 25-26 will be our Global Missions Conference. We will welcome the Rev. Mike Kuhn, a pastor from Knoxville who is soon returning to the mission field in the middle east. Mike is an expert in an area very pressing on many people’s minds: how do we as Christians engage with Islam? How do we respond to the growing number of Muslims in our community and the growing presence of Islam in our nation? What is Islam all about? What do Muslims think of Christians? What should I say if I get in a discussion about Islam? Mike will lead a combined Sunday school class as well as preach at a combined sanctuary service. There are also events on Saturday--more details are in this issue.
Thanks for going on the journey with me into the teachings of Jesus from Matthew--I know I’m being challenged by our Lord to the depths. But there where he burns away my old man, I find he gives me new life and mercy. I hope you discover this too.
Pastor's Corner 1-01-2012
Welcome to the New Year! I richly enjoyed keeping Christmas with you. You swelled the sanctuary with your attendance. The cantata, the Pilgrimage, the Live Nativity, the story of Ruth in a Christmas context, and of course the mystery and joy of Christmas Eve services-- all of those made for a special season of worship amidst the warm fellowship of our church. During that time, as well, you sponsored seventy-five families through angel tree, gave over $20,000 through the Christmas Offering to support the Christian Outreach Center, and pledged a record amount to our 2012 budget. As ever, you continue to amaze me with your joyful spirit and generous hearts. I love to be your pastor!
We have a wonderful year ahead together. This winter, we will dive deep into the Gospel of Matthew. In particular, we will explore the way that Jesus revealed the heart of his Father through what he taught. We will look intensely at the stunning, provocative series of teachings known as the Sermon on the Mount. I always have to take a deep breath and gather my courage before preaching from the Gospels and especially from Jesus’ own teachings. Because he never leaves me the same!
This winter, we will also offer a great Sunday evening class for married folks. Entitled Love and Respect , Kinch and Audra Cato will lead our discussion of this video series. Across the country, couples of all ages have reported that this class warms, strengthens and grows their marriages. More information is in this issue. Class begins January 15 at 5PM.
After a seven week pilot program, the session has approved offering a fourth worship service on Sunday mornings. We call it Acoustic Communion and there are more details in Alec’s column. The idea is not to divide our church into fourths instead of thirds, but to grow our church through people currently not here. We believe there is a niche in Baton Rouge for this style of worship. Most settled contemporary and traditional worshippers will not prefer this style. It’s a hybrid of “ancient/future” or “liturgical/casual” or “laid back traditional.” But we believe there are folks not yet here, particular those in the millennial generation (who came of age around 2000), who will find it attractive. Later in the winter, the leadership team of church planters will be commissioned at our worship services. Let’s all pray and wish well these leaders as our church, together, launches this new venture.
Finally, we plan to conduct our annual meeting in a new way this January. Instead of missing Sunday school and jamming it between worship services, we hope to offer an early evening of fellowship, testimony, dinner and a bit of business on Sunday, January 29th. (There are no NFL playoffs that afternoon, so you won’t have to miss the saints!) Come at 4:30PM to the gym. Hear what God has been doing in the lives of your fellow members. Enjoy a great meal. See what your leaders have planned for the months ahead. Let’s make this a new tradition!
Pastor's Corner 12-01-2011
Welcome to the Advent Season! I hope you have a time of great gathering with friends and family. Here at the church, we look forward to keeping Christmas with you all month long. This Advent, the sermons will be based on the Old Testament book of Ruth. Does that seem like an odd choice for Christmas? Actually, as I worked through this powerful little book during the summer, the Christmas connections leaped out at me. Come see Christmas in a new way each Sunday!
The Live Nativity returns after construction prevented us last year. Friday night, December 2, we will host two shows out on North Blvd as part of the Downtown Festival of Lights. If you haven’t seen our expanded Nativity before, don’t miss it. This year, we even have a real camel coming! Sunday night, Dec. 4, we will have two encore performances, beginning at 5:30 and 6:30.
The Annual Pilgrimage of Carols begins Sunday evening, December 18 at 6PM at Mt. Zion Baptist Church and includes a stop in our lovely sanctuary.
As usual, Christmas Eve services will be at 4:00 and 6:00PM in our sanctuary. Both services feature the three vital “c’s” of carols, communion, and candlelight. My message is entitled “Working on the Rewrite.” The latest album from Paul Simon provides the jumping off point for this consideration of the transforming power of the Christmas news. I think it will be a good message for the many visiting neighbors and family members you’ll be bringing with you. The first service is the most family friendly, with acoustic contemporary instruments; the second is the more traditional, including the singing of the Hallelujah Chorus. By God’s grace, both will be filled with the Spirit of the God who came to us in the manger so long ago.
Christmas and New Year’s Day will be single services, each beginning at 10:30AM in the sanctuary. Both will be offered in a relaxed atmosphere of blended worship. On Christmas morning, we’ll have an old fashioned carol sing with a brief message. (Yes, bring your favorite present with you.).
Capital Campaign Update. We will soon be entering the third and final year of our campaign. So much great work has been done. We’ve renovated the sanctuary and provided vital camera equipment to our partner church in Cairo. We’ve created beautiful garden terrace space and begun new ministries in our renovated children’s area. So much more is ahead in terms of new ministry and mission through our facilities and this campaign.
Soon, you will be receiving a letter and a link to a video discussing the vision for this final push. Following the image of the race that we studied this fall, I see three kinds of “runners” who help us finish as winners. 1) New Runners. We always planned in faith that God would send us new members whose gifts would help us close the gap and finish on target. If you’re new to our church, consider how you can jump in this race. We need you. 2) Strong Finishers. So many folks pledged sacrificially and in faith during a poor economy. By God’s provision, you will meet that projected pledge. Run the race to the end! 3) Extra Milers. Some of us, by the gift of God’s bounty, have already completed our pledge and are in a position where we could do more. We need you! For those who can, we need to kick it home with an extra lap, going over and above what we first promised. Which kind of runner is God calling you to be? What a celebration we will have next year when the campaign is complete and everyone has run their race!
Christmas Offering: Beginning December 18, envelopes will be available for our annual Christmas offering to support the ministry of the Christian Outreach Center. The COC works throughout the year on two fronts: 1) to provide immediate assistance for legitimate, urgent needs of the poor in our city, 2) to offer long term guidance for people in need who are willing to work. The COC sees more than 300 clients each month. For more than twenty years, First has been a founding, major sponsor of this joint venture of the downtown churches. As the new board president, I have been very impressed with the work of COC.
Pastor's Corner 11-01-2011
Participation. It’s both mystical and practical. Fellowship. It’s both sacramental and financial. Communion. It’s both spiritual and concrete. For all I’ve studied the Scriptures, I never realized until this week that Paul uses the same word when he talks about communion in Christ as he does when he talks about contributing to the needs of the saints. That one Greek word, koinonia, carries a lot of meaning in Scripture. We have a mysterious bond together in Christ. That’s koinonia. We each contribute financially to see that Christ’s work is done through our church. That, too, is koinonia. We share one holy cup and keep the lights burning. God doesn’t separate into “holy” and “unholy” the various activities that make a church a church. All of them are part of our fellowship together in Christ.
That makes sense to me. Because I feel spiritual joy when Rhonda and I write, then give, our weekly check to the church. I feel bonded to the kids I meet around the goldfish crackers between services even as I feel connected to the people to whom I serve the Lord’s Supper. I feel joy when I read about what’s going on in Kaluga or Cairo or Kenya because I’m in those ministries through my gifts to the church. And I feel how 1700 people are built into, woven into, my life when I preach. Not only because they listen, but because they have put dollars into sustaining my life among you.
In Christ, when we are doing his work, the mundane and the spiritual are intertwined. Passing out bulletins and teaching Sunday school, greeting and preaching, sweeping and taking diapers to the trash, making sandwiches for the homeless—it’s all koinonia. We participate in the mystery of the body of Christ through all the ways we connect at church.
That’s why I love stewardship Sunday. Because I know that when you make a pledge, you’re getting connected. It’s not just financial. It’s deeply spiritual.
Stewardship Dedication Sunday is November 13. Please make every effort to dedicate your pledge at church that day!
New Youth Pastor
At the start of 2011, the session, anticipating Whitney’s transition to being Pastor for City Ministry, appointed a youth pastor search committee. That blue ribbon team has labored more than half a year. First, they evaluated our current youth program and articulated a vision for its future. They knew we have decades of strong youth ministry on which to build. Then they undertook a national search, reviewing applications from more than 20 interested persons, interviewing many by phone and bringing two in for visits. Throughout the process, much prayer was offered for God’s guidance. We believe the Lord has answered us! Full details must be reserved til next issue as our candidate begins the process of saying goodbye at his current church. But we can tell you that our young man is seminary trained, has a wife and young daughter, and comes highly recommended by our friends in youth ministry across the country. He brings strong experience, a winsome personality, and a deep witness to the power of Christ’s love. We expect him to take the field in January. He will immediately enter the EPC ordination process and should be “the Rev” by this time next year. Please keep him in your prayers, as well as Whitney and all our youth team during this time of transition.
Give your thanks also to these great search committee members: Brett Sides, chair, DJ Davis, Howard Tull, Bryan Evans, Ann McDuff, Erin McKowen, Cindy Zumstein, Chad Lott and Ashley Gordon.
Pastor's Corner 10-01-2011
I always love the opening to Paul’s letters when he greets the churches. So may I give one to you, on behalf of your elders and pastors: “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly remembering you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thessalonians 1: 2-3). Isn’t that lovely? Indeed, you continue to show great faith as you weekly worship and serve our Lord. I delight to watch you love one another and it never ceases to amaze me when I consider the ministry you do in our community. Especially in difficult times, the steadfastness of hope from God’s people steadies anxious communities. Your faith makes a difference even when it’s quiet and unassuming.
I’ve got lots to tell you about as we see the church moving forward.
Associate Pastor for City Ministry
While on sabbatical this summer, I prayed and pondered the big picture of our church’s future. What I felt only confirmed the direction in which we are moving: ministry in the city of Baton Rouge must be a leading edge in the years to come. We are uniquely positioned in our city. We already have twelve key partnerships with local ministries. Yet there is so much more that calls to us. To move ahead requires someone at the pastoral level concentrating full time on city mission.
We well could have done a national search for such a person. But we realized that he is already here. Whitney Alexander has a passion for service. He is also uniquely connected in this community. His relationships have been built over a decade and he is remarkably effective at bringing all types of people together for gospel work. Whitney has a passion for mission. He longs to see every one of our members identified with a Christian work in this city. He has sharpening vision for the work of the years ahead. I am delighted that in the beginning of 2012 Whitney will transition from youth ministry to city ministry as his primary focus, while still maintaining the general pastoral duties all your ministers share.
Meanwhile, a national search for a new director of youth has been underway since March. A wonderful team of elders and parents has spent months evaluating our program, envisioning our future and searching for the next youth leader. God willing, we expect to have a new youth leader on board for the first of 2012.
The Banquet Season
Several of the ministries we support host special events this time of year to raise awareness, funds and camaraderie. I’d like to let you know about them:
· Young Life of Baton Rouge: 7PM Thursday, Oct. 20 at the Louisiana State Museum.
· Caring to Love Ministries: 6PM Friday, October 21, Senator Rick Santorum speaking.
· Heritage Ranch Boots and Brisket Fun Day 11AM to 4PM, Saturday, Oct 29, St. Francisville.
· Wycliffe Bible Translators: 7PM Monday, November 14 Courtlands Catering on Florida Blvd. Banquet is free but they will ask people to consider supporting Wycliffe Bible Translators.
· Our own Commitment Sunday for stewardship November 13 at all services.
Contact Dick Gates for more information on any of these events,
· The Kirkin O The Tartans returns to the 11 O clock service October 30. We will enjoy the Baton Rouge Pipes and Drums Corps as we celebrate the Scottish heritage of faith in Jesus Christ.
· A new roof is being put over the gym.
· Cooler weather means more coffee outside in our beautiful gardens!
Pastor's Corner 05-01-2011
Half way! Can you believe it? Our three year capital campaign is just reaching the midway point. How are we doing? Very well indeed! Over 57% of the funds pledged have already been given. Our consultants tell us that is way above the national average and that we are on target for raising all that was pledged.
The consultants also added to that good news the little word, "If." If your leadership keeps working hard and keeps holding the vision before the congregation. If committed folks stay committed. If new members join us for a second half surge. If we, each and all, follow through with Build to Serve.
I recently told a gathering of church officers how beautifully all the numbers work together in this campaign. It is within reach for us to end our three years without debt, with beautifully renovated facilities, and with significant new mission ventures accomplished. But only if we each do our parts. Every single gift is important, no matter the size. God is giving us just enough when every one pulls together. Not too much, not too little. Just enough. Which is just where we should be. Confident, but needing to rely on him. Prudent, but needing to keep pressing. Full of faith, but not getting complacent.
So, thank you for your unrelenting faithfulness to doing Christ’s work through our beloved church. God is working in you to make it all possible.
Dedication May 15 at 4PM
Sunday, May 15 is a big deal! We will be dedicating to the Triune God the work accomplished in our renovations. We will be honoring some of the leaders who made it all possible. And, in a wonderful combination service, we will be celebrating our place in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church as our pastors are officially installed by the Central South Presbytery. The Rev. Dr. Bob Vincent from Alexandria will be preaching. The music will be outstanding. The reception will be sumptuous. And I believe we will all be moved by this rededication of our lives, ministries and facilities to Christ. Plan to join us for this historic occasion!
So I feel like a coach who just got a long term contract. Churches don’t give sabbaticals to pastors they don’t want to keep. And ethical pastors don’t take sabbaticals from churches they plan to leave. A sabbatical is a commitment to a long term ministry relationship. Rhonda and I rejoice that such a covenant exists between us and our beloved church. We give thanks constantly for our life together in your midst. We are regularly humbled to have been called to leadership among such vibrant, deep, ardent believers. As she said recently, "These are the wonder years. When we look back, we will be amazed we were ever part of something so significant."
By your graciousness, beginning May 24, we’re going to withdraw from active pastoring for about three months. I hope to regather strength, inspiration, and creativity for the next seven years of ministry among you. Hopefully, all this work on the Blessing Life will come together in a book that can spread the truths about Biblical blessing beyond our community. I realize that not many people get such a gift as this time away. I don’t receive it lightly, but with deep gratitude. We plan to spend most of this time at our cottage in Brevard, North Carolina, just round the bend from Rhonda’s parents. While I’m gone, Barry will, as usual, be in charge of all things administrative. And Alec will be in charge of all things relating to worship. The pastors will be sharing preaching duties, and this will be a great chance for them to shine. I know you will show them the love and support I enjoy every week with you. Also, on July 3, our former senior pastor Russ Stevenson will be preaching!
Honestly, it’s a little scary to think about being apart from you that long. We will miss you! I will miss the work. I love this calling, and we love our lives here. We’re going away in order to come back, with great anticipation of all God has for us.
Pastor's Corner 09-01-2011
A Different Perspective
It’s great to be home with you. OK, honestly, the heat isn’t real fun. And my brain is in a swirl trying to grasp the myriad details that comprise the life of such a busy church. But seeing you, now that’s terrific! And getting back to meeting you over God’s Word week by week is a joy. I hope you’ll enjoy our short series on Doing God’s Will. It’s not too late to pick up a daily guide that goes with the series. There are readings and exercises for each day of the week that match the theme from the previous Sunday’s sermons. You can even get them sent daily as an email!
As I mentioned in my first sermon back, I learned so much sitting in the pew for so many Sundays. I liked having your view of what happens in worship. I was struck with just how powerfully formative worship is over a consistent period of time. It’s not about how perfect or even powerful any one particular song or sermon might be. It’s about being formed in the Word among a community of believers. We breathe together, vocalize together, listen together, pray together. We greet, inquire, care. We seek God and offer our hearts to him. We look around and feel connected to those who have done the same thing. We offer our lives even as we offer our gifts, and that also binds us to one another.
Especially, I noticed how important is the interaction between the preacher and the congregation. The message didn’t have to be the greatest sermon of all time for it to be formative in my life. But three things did have to happen. 1) The sermon had to be based on God’s Word—that’s where all the power is. 2) From the pew, I had to put energy into the sermon. I had to look at the text, think about it and work with it as he preached. 3) I needed to sense that the preacher had poured his life through the Bible passage. No, I didn’t want him talking about himself all the time, but I needed to feel that this portion of the Word had interacted deeply with his personal life so that he could speak to us with authenticity.
I found that, as the weeks passed, I felt bonded to Pastor Andy, even on the Sundays I didn’t speak personally to him. This business of meeting together over God’s Word is powerfully relational. We get connected to each other as we meet. Because even while I’m the one doing the audible talking, you are talking, too. You are talking to the text and talking to me and talking to your soul and talking to God all the time. And in the midst of that, God speaks to your heart and mind and daily life. It’s a mystery. And it’s like nothing else. Seeing it all unfold from the pew thrilled me. I’m so excited to be back getting to engage God’s Word with you!
Pastor's Corner 08-01-2011
I hope that you have enjoyed the change of pace this summer. The onset of summer rhythms combined with Gerrit’s sabbatical has placed the “programmatic” life of the church in a slower gear. (Although no one told Whitney Alexander or Cheryl Lott this fact, they are going like crazy!) The apparent “decrease” in our activity level has caused me to reflect on the nature of the church, especially in regard to worship and programs.
The question is often asked of larger churches, “what programs does your church provide?” Because we have been blessed with the size and the means to pull off many good programs, we judge the faithfulness and vibrancy of a church like First on everything other than Sunday morning worship. But oftentimes, this discounts the centrality and the power of the gathered, worship of God’s people.
The missionary theologian Lesslie Newbigin often liked to say, “Jesus did not write a book, he formed a community.” This was not a defamation of Scripture (for Newbigin loved Scripture), but instead, it was a statement about the power of the worshipping community. Newbigin suggests it is the worshipping community, constituted by Jesus, which displays the “new reality” of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. How did Jesus envision his followers displaying this new reality? Primarily, through a “program” called worship. The new reality of the kingdom of God would be displayed through a community that prays, praises, exposits the Scriptures, and shares in the sacraments together.
To enter a room once a week, play some instruments, hear a talk about the Bible (hopefully!), and eat small bread with mini cups of juice seems a far cry from the “new reality” the church was charged with embodying. But do not underestimate frail preaching and small pieces of bread. For two thousand years, men and women have been gathering in the name of Jesus and worshipping. For two thousand years, this “program” has worked. Lives have been changed, God has shown up, and the church has somehow pointed forward to the reality that will be.
I became a pastor because I love worship. There are plenty of other ways to make a religious living. But there is nothing like being a part of worship. There is nothing like hearing God’s people blast out praise to him. No matter how often I study the Scriptures in the classroom, in my office, or in the quiet of the morning, nothing can compare to hearing Scripture exposited and Christ proclaimed during a sermon. It is the place I want to be when I am lost, when I am celebratory, when I am in pain and when I want to connect with God. Worship is quite simply the greatest “program” ever thought up.
Just because the church calendar is not packed with activities and events this summer, it does not mean that we are somehow doing “less” church. No, the worship of God’s people is the essence of the church. Let me encourage and invite you this summer to take part in the greatest “program” Jesus ever initiated.
Pastor's Corner 07-01-2011
I am writing this article while attending the General Assembly of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church meeting at Hope Presbyterian Church in the Memphis area. While our pastors and elders have attended these GA meetings over the last three years, this is our first official GA where our pastors and elders actually have voting privileges. FPC is well represented with Gerrit (in from NC looking like the mountain man he is this summer), Alec, Barry, Judie and myself (Whit was with the Jamaica mission trip). Elders Jane Cooper, John Crabtree and Pat Canfield along with staff members Dean Cooper, Lindy Weiner, Katie Robinson, Nancy Spiller and Sherry McKinley who are observing the GA in preparation of FPC hosting this assembly next July in Baton Rouge also made the trip to Memphis. The GA was a very positive experience that included inspiring speakers and a one day workshop on church transformation. On Thursday for the commissioning of new missionaries all of the former Moderators of the EPC GA who were present were asked to come forward to lay hands on the missionaries while they knelt for prayer. In fact the GA started with a presentation of current missionaries on the field for public prayer. We were also given the opportunity to see and pray for Chaplains serving all over the world from the EPC. Even the business sessions were conducted in a prayerful way with no rancor over final decisions. The Stated Clerk gave a positive overview of the denomination with an exciting promise of future growth past the present 300 churches in the EPC. We are so wonderfully blessed to be in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
Summer at FPC continues to be busy! Although Gerrit is away for the summer he has left us with plenty of Kingdom work to do! During the time he has been away attendance continues to be good and your faithfulness in giving is a powerful testimony to a healthy church that is heavily involved in mission both local and global. Watch for opportunities at the Connection Center as to how you can participate in these different outreaches by donating time and resources.
Here’s a brief preview of some things to come. Former pastor Russ Stevenson will be guest preacher for the July 3, 10:30 am one service Sunday worship. It will be a great time to hear Russ bring the WORD and congratulate Sherrill and Russ on their 50th wedding anniversary just this past week. For the rest of July Alec will be back in the pulpit on the 10th and 17th and I will be in the pulpit on the 24th and 31st. I have two topics that I believe the Lord has put on my heart to preach those Sundays that deal with corporate prayer and reaching the lost. I would greatly appreciate your prayers for God’s help for those messages and that you might invite a friend to visit worship with you.
On Saturday August 20, from 8 am to 3 pm, we will host a one day preaching conference in conjunction with Pastor Albert White and Abounding Love Ministries with The Rev. Dr. Robert Smith, Jr. Dr. Smith will also preach our one morning service on August 21, at 10:30 am in the sanctuary. Dr. Smith is a very gifted preacher and teacher of preachers. He has been Associate Professor of Preaching at Beeson Divinity School since 1997 (I came to know Dr. Smith while in Birmingham teaching adjunctively at Beeson). He is the author of Doctrine that Dances and bringing Doctrinal Preaching and Teaching to Life. Dr. Smith is an ordained Baptist minister and served as pastor of New Mission Missionary Baptist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. This conference is a gift to the churches in Baton Rouge and surrounding Parishes. You also are invited to attend the conference. More information will be forthcoming.
Finally, this missionary update. Mac and Ashley McGruder are on leave from Kenya, Africa and will have an opportunity to share their mission during the July 3rd worship service and thank FPC for their generous and faithful support over their past three years in Rwanda, Africa. Rebecca and Johanna are both thriving in their calling to serve the unreached in their area. They are being encouraged this summer by having FPC folks visiting them on the field to help with their mission. Katie Barker has been with Johanna and Betty Baker- Baldridge is helping at the sport camp with Rebecca. And Whit is gathering a team (18 and over) to assist at the Wadi Sport Camp in Egypt August 20-30, 2011. If interested contact one of us.
Pastor's Corner 06-01-2011
As you read this, our sabbatical has begun. We are at our cottage in Brevard, NC, unpacking books, stocking the pantry and beginning a different pace in this special season of life. I can assure you that we already miss you. And that we have more than once given thanks for this spectacular gift of a summer to reflect, renew and refresh. I hope to be writing up all that we studied this year in a book called (big surprise coming) The Blessing Life. I’d appreciate your prayers for the direction this should take.
Meanwhile, I know that our beloved church will not miss a beat. Mission trips will launch. Vacation Bible School will be terrific. The youth will do a ton of fun activities. The sick will be visited, the Word will be preached, God’s praises will be sung. Finances will stay strong and the fall programs will be organized. Your elders and your staff are strong, competent, motivated and dedicated. In no time, Rhonda and I will be back. (But watch out for that first sermon—after 3 months of silence, it might run a tad long!)
As I mentioned earlier, while I’m away, Barry will continue overseeing all things administrative. Alec will have oversight in coordinating all worship services with Nancy, Steve and Mel. Dick will continue to oversee pastoral care. Whitney will lead the youth and their mission trips. And everybody else will be doing their usual excellent work. We’ve designated a team of elders to advise them if any complicated issues arise between session meetings. I will not be checking my email during these months, though Jaci will be able to find me if there is an emergency. And, just in case there are robbers reading this column, we do have a housesitter, as well as kids coming and going all the time!
Would you help me maximize the gift of this time away? You can do that by keeping your participation strong. Come to worship more often, not less. Encourage and praise your pastors who will be preaching. Talk about your church to others in glowing terms. Stay current in your giving. Find your ministry niche and serve with joy. I can’t wait to hear how the elders praise the congregation for how great you do in my absence (as long as they don’t decide they can do without me!).
I also hope each of you will get some time to be with family, to live a different rhythm, to refresh and rejoice in all the blessings of God. We love you! See you at the end of August.
Recently, I got to visit an exciting new ministry. It is a direct result of our renovated children’s area. Amy and Gabe Gattle and some of their friends have begun a service to the families of special needs children. Once a month, we offer a Friday night ReCess. Families sign up ahead of time, then bring their children to our children’s area. We provide willing helpers (including a nurse on site at all times). For for hours, weary moms and dads get a break. Our members get the joy of playing with these precious children. We’ve had four successful evenings so far. The program resumes in September. If you’d like to help take care of kids, either special needs kids or their siblings, call the church office.
Pastors Corner 04-2011
I’ve been so encouraged by the response to the Blessing Life. It’s wonderful to hear how intentional you have become about blessing others. I feel thrilled when I see you put
together how blessing God connects us to the ocean of blessing our God has for us in Christ. As we bless God and others, we enter the “blessing loop” that God has always intended. So, far from being about merely personal material gain, blessing sends us to the very heart of Scripture. Now as we move into Holy Week, we will see how blessing is such a critical part of both the Cross and the Resurrection.
I encourage you to keep on with your readings, your prayers, your worship and your practical activities of blessings. As we make the half-way turn, you will start to see more and more pay off for your diligence. New habits open up new pathways along which God’s Spirit travels as he leads us deeper into Christ and further into the world.
Once again, we unite as one worshipping congregation on Palm Sunday. At 10AM sharp on April 17, the shofar will sound and we will process with palms around North Boulevard. Then, we will enter a packed sanctuary for a gigantic service as the children, the choir and the worship team all lead us. A picnic follows immediately after worship. So, dress casually. There will be plenty of food for all as well as an egg hunt and games for the children. This is a great Sunday to invite friends. And don’t forget, North Boulevard will be closed in front of the church all Sunday morning.
Holy Week Services
First Baptist Church will be hosting three Holy Week gatherings at noon on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (April 18-20). Lunch will be served each day. And the messages will be brought by Oren Connor (the new pastor at 1st Baptist), Chris Andrews from 1st Methodist, and your very own senior pastor.
Maundy Thursday Service of Shadows
Once again, we will host what many say is their favorite service of the year. This ancient tradition is known as Tenebrae, or the Service of Shadows. The sanctuary lighting is very low as we enter. Candles are lit to represent Jesus and his disciples. Following communion, the story of Jesus’ passion according to Matthew is read dramatically by five readers. As the story is told, one by one the disciples’ candles are extinguished as they betray, deny and desert our Lord. Finally, as Jesus’ candle is extinguished, the chancel is draped in black and the congregation exits in near darkness. This deep, reflective passion watch prepares us for the joy of Easter to come.
At each of our three services, you are invited to bring flowers to decorate the cross in celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.
Join us on the front steps of the sanctuary at 6:30AM for Easter Sunrise service. Alec will bring a short message. Breakfast follows. And the dress is truly “roll out of bed” casual!
Then, we host two festival services of resurrection celebration in the sanctuary: 9AM Contemporary, 11AM Classic Reformed. Yes, we do have Sunday school for all ages Easter morning.
Sanctuary Dedication May 15
Close, so very close! We are finishing the last touches inside the sanctuary building, and working furiously to complete the outdoor landscaping. We hope to have everything completed by Sunday afternoon, May 15 for our 4PM dedication service. This will be a special service. The Baton Rouge Pipe and Drum corps will be on hand as well as Melvin on the organ, and both the choir and worship team leading worship. A lovely reception will follow.
This event serves a dual purpose. Not only will we give thanks to God as we offer to him these beautifully restored facilities, we will also witness the installation of our four pastors as members of Central South Presbytery. When we first made the realignment to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in 2007, we were members of a transitional presbytery, created to receive churches and pastors quickly so there would be no loss in medical or retirement coverage. It was always intended that churches like ours would then go through the more extensive process of examination to be received permanently in our local presbytery, which is called Central South. Our presbytery then needs to ceremonially install the pastors. This is a joyful time of affirmation of our calls to serve the church and of our connectedness to other Presbyterians in Christ.
Ministry Executive Report 3 30 2011
Ministry Executive’s Corner:
Finding the answers to many of life’s questions in the Bible is often difficult, isn’t it? Should I marry this person? Is it time to change jobs? Dare I adopt this dog? What about “How much should I give to God this year?” As long as I’ve known Christ, it has not been the things the Bible doesn’t say that challenge me but the things that it says so clearly; like “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” or “Love your enemies…”. In the matter of these two, much can be said of what this looks like. In fact, they are multi-dimensional. In the matter of ‘how much should I give to God this year’, the Bible is clear (pause for effect), crystal clear…at least it tells us the least we should be giving. And it is so easy to compute. That amount is 10% of our income. Jesus affirmed what the patriarchs and prophets knew and practiced in giving 10% of everything they had to God. In fact, He said “Woe to you,” to the scribes and Pharisees because in addition to giving 10% they should also have been demonstrating “justice and mercy and faithfulness”. Jesus always calls us to a higher standard doesn’t He? Just like His teaching on lust and adultery, anger and murder. 10% is the minimum.
I’ve not been a ‘tither’ all my life. My journey toward the 10% is telling. Martin Luther observed, “When a person is converted, three conversions are necessary; head, heart and purse and the third, the purse, is the hardest.” Adrian Rogers noted, “A faith that hasn’t reached your wallet, probably hasn’t reached your heart.” Solomon concluded that “money answers all things.” I think what he meant by that is that if you ‘follow the money’ in a person’s life, you quickly begin to see into their heart. Jesus said “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” More is said in the Bible about money than any other thing: “no man can serve two masters…you cannot serve God and money”, “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils”, and “render to Caesar” to mention but a few. How about that last one?
In 1913, Representative Cordell Hull spoke to Congress regarding the “income tax” that was forthcoming. He said, “Every good citizen…should be willing to devote a brief time…to the making up of a listing of his income for taxes…to contribute to his Government, not the Scriptural tithe, but a small percentage of his net profits.” Hhmmmm? Here we are almost 100 years later. Just do your own math: federal income tax, state income tax, capital gains tax, social security tax, property tax, sales tax, inheritance tax, license and registration, gas tax…need I go on? What percentage of your income do these represent? It would seem that when evaluated as a ‘return on investment’, the tithe (10%) wins hands down. When we “render unto God” we acknowledge that He is the giver of life and the sustainer of life. The “foundations of the earth are (His)…” , the “earth is (His)…” , and “everything in it (is His)” . He is the Sovereign One and we are His citizens.
We give “to Caesar”, perhaps begrudgingly. But every April 15 marks the ‘season of giving to Caesar’ and we all do.
Scripture tells us to “honor the Lord with (our) wealth and with the tithes of (all that we earn)” , not because He needs it, everything is His already, and not because we will pay penalties and interest or maybe even go to jail if we don’t. He wants us to give to Him the tithe because we need to and, when we don’t, it is our loss not His. “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income…”. Ecclesiastes 5:10
1) Genesis 14:17-20, Genesis 28:22, Genesis 28:29, Leviticus 27:30, Malachi 3:6-10, Proverbs 3:9: 2) Luke 11:42: 3) Ecclesiastes 10:19: 4) Matthew 6:21: 5) 1 Samuel: 6) Exodus 9:29: 7) Psalm 24:1 8) Philippians 3:20: 9) Proverbs 3:9
Pastor's Corner 03-02-2011
40 Days of Blessing can change your life!
I don’t usually make claims so grand. But as I’ve been putting together the book for you, I realize that these 120 Scripture passages can be, in the Spirit’s power, truly transforming. Beginning with the first Sunday of Lent, March 13, we want everyone to engage in 40 Days of Blessing. How will it work?
We want to keep 3 key questions burning every day during Lent. What would happen if, everyday for 40 days, I
1) received God’s blessing in my life more deeply,
2) blessed God in return more passionately, and
3) blessed others more intentionally?
To help with this, each person will receive a beautiful 120 page booklet at worship on March 13. The booklets contain 3 readings for each day for the next 40 days. There are also reflection questions and specific, simple activities for engaging in blessing God and others that day. It will take you about 15 minutes each day to use the booklet.
You can also have your daily readings delivered by email!
Weekly home groups will be offered all around the city at various times. In the groups, we will study the passages given to us to read and encourage one another in actually living the Blessing Life during Lent. (Sign up cards are in the pew racks and at the Connection Center).
Sermons and worship activities each week will focus on engaging the Blessing Life.
I truly believe that if you undertake 40 Days of Blessing, you will see powerful changes in your life and witness. I hope you will commit now to trying it. Don’t miss a Sunday. Don’t miss a day. (But yes, if you’re out of town March 13, you can still get a book at the office!)
Also, this is an excellent time to invite someone to church. They get a free book. They get to be part of something exciting, yet simple to do. They get to meet others in a home group setting and make new friends.
OK, be honest, did you just skip over that last paragraph? Did you read it without thinking of who you will invite to First for this series?
But think about it: why wouldn’t you invite someone to church for these 40 days? It’s the easiest evangelism anywhere! Right, now that I’ve pricked your conscience, let me share again my excitement. 40 Days of Blessing will change lives if we engage it. Please pray for God to move mightily among us during Lent this year.
Third Annual Time Change Rebellion March 13
To help us as we start 40 Days of Blessing, we want to continue our annual Time Change Rebellion. Daylight savings time begins March 13, but we’re not doing it! Don’t move your clock forward until after you leave worship. Come to worship at what feels to your body like the usual time. Following the Classic Reformed Worship service there will be a reception with plenty of food. Eat with us and you’ll be fed so fast that you won’t be behind on your afternoon!
Now, if your clocks change automatically, or this seems confusing, think of it this way: according to Central Daylight Time, on March 13 our services will be at 8:45, 10, and 12.
Discovery Class, March 20
Come explore the meaning of membership at First on Sunday afternoon, March 20 from 4:00 to 7:30 PM. We’ll discuss our Christian faith, the priorities of First, and answer any questions you might have. This is an excellent seminar for people interested in becoming members, or for people just wanting to find out more. Give the office a call if you are interested in attending.
Pastors Corner 02-01-2011
February is traditionally a strong, solid month in the life of the church. Football season is over (sniff) but the weather hasn’t quite turned to spring. Christmas holidays are past (and hopefully almost paid for!) but Mardi Gras hasn’t come yet. With a bit of New Year’s resolve still inside us, we gear into doing what matters: pressing deeper into Christ and reaching further into the world. This is a great time for personal and group Bible study, for joining a local ministry or planning to be part of a global mission team.
As you read, the Congregational Meeting is nearby on February 6. We will hear that in 2010 our church grew in membership and attendance. Our operating income exceeded our expenses even as we expanded our budget amidst of a capital campaign. We had a year of great guest speakers (remember Ken Bailey, Don Richardson and Bruce Kuhn?). We had special events for women, for men, for children and for the whole church (remember First Follies, the Palm Sunday picnic, and Faith and Football?). Dozens of us went on mission trips and hundreds of us served at places such as Catholic-Presbyterian Apartments, Gardere, Buchanan, the outdoor lot for the homeless service, and the building site of our Habitat Home. First Presbyterians were everywhere! We thank God for the last year even as we commit ourselves to a robust future. Also, the session will present a 2011 operating budget that is balanced and prudent yet vigorous and expectant of growth. We have a huge year of ministry ahead, and it takes each and all of us to make it happen.
Sanctuary Dedication: Now May 15, 2011
Though last issue I announced a February date for the dedication service for our renovated church, the session has deemed it wise to move that date later in the year. We’ve got a few bugs in the sound system to fix, a few rooms to finish and some fabulous landscaping to be completed. Also, our presbytery needs to install our pastors in a worship service now that we have officially joined Central South Presbytery. So we thought we’d combine the dedication of the facilities with the installation of the pastors for one super Sunday afternoon service and reception. Thankfully, the Baton Rouge Pipe and Drum corps had the date open!
As a way to celebrate the grand opening of our sanctuary, a grand concert has been planned for Saturday, February 26. The group Selah has sold more than a million albums by appealing to fans of both contemporary and traditional styles of music. They bring fresh energy to great classics such as “It is Well With My Soul,” and “Before the Throne of God.” We’re excited to have snagged this award winning trio for a concert in our church. It will be a great way for the community to see what First is all about. Get your tickets at itickets.com.
The Blessing Life: Foundations
All month, I’ll be teaching and preaching on the foundations of the Blessing Life. We will see all through the Bible this key theme: Blessing means intimate communion with God and one another. And God wants us to have a share in his massive blessing project in the world! He wants us to live joyously in his blessing life and love. On Wednesday nights at 6:30, we’ll go deep into the Scripture in preparation for the Sunday message. As a bonus, Alec Flynt will bring his dynamic teaching style to us as he works with me. So this is a great month to bring folks to church with you on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings.
40 Days of Blessing
On March 13, we will invite the entire congregation to engage in 40 Days of Blessing. Everyone will receive a printed guide to help us daily as we seek to live out three key questions: What would happen if every day for 40 days, 1) I received God’s blessing in my life more deeply, 2) I blessed God in return more passionately, and 3) I blessed others with God’s love more intentionally? Small groups will be offered all over the city to support us in our efforts to bring the Word into daily practice.
Engaging the Blessing Life at this level has the potential to deeply transform us, as individuals and a church. This is a huge opportunity for us to fill the house every week. That means if you’re reading this, you (yes, even you!) have a mission: Who will you bring with you to church? If this is not the time to invite someone to join us for a few weeks at church, when will that time ever come?
I believe God wants us each and all to live the Blessing Life. Let’s go for it!
Pastors Corner 01-05-2011
Welcome to 2011! By God’s grace, our ministry will continue to grow, deepen, expand, and reach with the love of Jesus for his world. This month, we will continue moving in to our renovated sanctuary building and completing the finishing touches in every room. Also, the landscape portion of our project will continue over the next two months, promising wonderful outdoor spaces as the weather turns towards spring. All this will go on while we plunge ahead with a dizzying array of programs and mission opportunities. I’ll highlight just a few:
New Sunday Schedule: This week we begin our slightly revised times for sanctuary worship. The sanctuary contemporary service will begin at 9AM and the sanctuary classic reformed service will begin at 11AM. Sunday school for all ages officially begins at 10:15AM. Some adult classes may begin slightly before or after that time to suit class preferences. And all classes will build in a good "break point" for students departing to attend the 11AM service.
Sameh Maurice and the Mini Missions Conference: Sunday, January 16, Dr. Sameh Maurice from our partner church in Cairo will preach all three services and conduct an evening seminar. As I’ve mentioned, Sameh is an anointed preacher—when he speaks, lives are energized and transformed. Sameh will also be teaching at events earlier in the weekend—details are in this newsletter.
The Blessing Life: Wednesday Study Begins January 26. For two years now, I’ve felt a call to explore deeply with you the whole Biblical concept of blessing. Sermons this winter will begin to lay the foundation. On Wednesday nights, we’ll expand and deepn what we’ve studied on Sunday mornings. These sessions will help prepare us for a special church wide Lenten focus on Living the Blessing Life.
Sanctuary Dedication January 30, 4PM. We want to give glory to God for making this huge renovation possible as we dedicate our new facilities to His service. This will be a festive hour of bagpipes, recognitions, history, prayer, music and surprises. A reception follows. Don’t miss this historic occasion.
Those are some highlights, but there’s so much else going on which you can read all about in these pages. I ask for your prayers for some big events in your pastors’ lives. First, on Friday, January 28, your pastors will be formally examined by the Central South Presbytery and our church officially received. Please pray we don’t say anything stupid! Also, next week I’ll be serving the broader church by teaching a class of Doctor of Ministry Students at Reformed Seminary in Charlotte. Several years ago, the seminary asked me to teach this course exploring how theology connects to the daily ministry and mission of the local church. I hope I’m ready! Thankfully, Alec let me press him into taking the course, so he can pick up the slack when I falter! Lastly, I’ll be starting my annual Sunday school class for high school seniors this month and I ask you to pray that this will be a significant time.
Pastors Corner 12-08-2010
Sanctuary Opens December 19!
After eight months, the sanctuary is nearly ready for Sunday worship. Crews have been working constantly to bring the finishing touches to this magnificent room. We plan to hold both 9AM and 10:45 worship in the renovated sanctuary on December 19. The chancel choir and worship teams will be combining with orchestral instruments for a special carol celebration, and I will be continuing our series on Finding Fresh Meaning in Old Carols.
The entire sanctuary building will be opening for use as 2010 winds to a close and the New Year begins. We hope to be fully operational by Sunday, January 9. Now, just like when you start living in a new house, it will take a while to learn how everything works, even to figure out where all the light switches are! To me, though, in light of the overwhelming beauty of the restored sanctuary, all that will just be part of the fun.
Come On Down!
I continue my encouragement for everyone to come as far forward and toward the center of the sanctuary as you can. The energy we felt in the gym was drawn in large part from being close to one another. The good news is that there is more space between the pews, so those center seats will be a lot more comfortable. I can’t stress enough how critical it is that we keep our close feeling when we move to the much larger space. Please don’t flee to the back—save those seats for late comers. Come on down, and help create a great worship experience at each service.
Where’s the Pulpit?
Right now, the pulpit is in place on our renovated chancel. It looks great amidst the refurbished woodwork. But as you recall, our same pulpit is now more portable. It can be removed on a dolly when events on the chancel require more space. So, when you first enter the sanctuary Dec. 19 or Christmas Eve, the pulpit won’t be there. Why? We will be making space for the instruments and singers in our special presentation on Dec. 19, and making space for the Live Nativity that is part of the 4PM service Christmas Eve. The pulpit will be back in its place beginning January 2.
Session Approves 2011 Worship Schedule
The results of our October worship survey were very helpful. In fact, it all seemed like answered prayer. We had been agonizing over the best Sunday schedule all during this interim period, and finally the answer appeared very simply, very obviously. Worship will be given first priority, but the value of our single Sunday school hour is a close second. Beginning January 9, Contemporary Worship will be held in the sanctuary at 9AM; Classic Reformed Worship will be held in the sanctuary at 11AM. See the full schedule inside these pages.
Save this newsletter, because you’ll need a scorecard to keep track!
December 19: Sanctuary Opens, Worship at the current times of 7:45--Chapel Communion; 9AM—Contemporary Worship; 10:45AM—Classic Reformed Worship.
4PM: Acoustic Communion, Candlelight and Live Nativity, family friendly.
6PM: Festival Worship: Brass, Organ and Choir, Candlelight and Communion.
At both services, I’ll be preaching about the connections of the carol “Joy to the World” with the truths in the Christmas story.
December 26: One 10AM service, in the sanctuary. Includes a carol sing. Dress is casual. No Sunday school that day.
Annual Pilgrimage: Begins at 6:30 PM at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, 356 East Blvd.
January 2: 7:45AM Chapel Communion and 10AM Joint Sanctuary Service. The sanctuary service will be a blended worship service, with first of the New Year communion. No children’s Sunday school. Adult classes meet at their discretion.
January 9: New Schedule Begins, all programs running.
2011 Sunday Schedule
Here’s how it will shape up, beginning January 9, 2011:
7:45 Chapel Communion Service
8:45Chapel Sunday School Class
9:00 Contemporary Worship, Sanctuary
10:15 Sunday School for all ages
11AM Classic Reformed Worship, Sanctuary
This schedule accommodates the desire that worship begin at the top of the hour, and that our previous schedule began too early and ended too late. This means that the “fungible” part of this schedule is Sunday school. We have to fit an hour into 45 minutes! So, some adult classes may want to start at 10AM. Others may wish to run until 11:15, while providing early dismissal for 11AM worshippers. Children’s Sunday School will run from 10:15 to 11:15, with early dismissal for Classic Reformed worship.
First News Going Monthly
Early next year, this Newsletter will be going into monthly production. The session has considered both the costs of printing and mailing and the reality of how many people now get information electronically. Our hope is to have a bigger, better, more meaningful newsletter once a month. However, we don’t want anyone to feel out of touch. If you would like to receive an interim news sheet between issues, just call Jaci at the church office and get on the list. We’ll keep the info coming!
Pastors Corner 11-24-2010
The season of Advent is upon us. During these four weeks, Christians the world over prepare to celebrate anew the birth of the Son of God. This year, I’m going to pick up our theme from last year of relating Christmas carols to the foundational Scriptures of Christmas. The series is entitled, “Finding New Meaning In Old Carols.” The first three carols were originally poems by famous authors which were later set to music. Here’s the first part of the schedule:
Nov. 28 “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” We go all the way back to the 4th century to consider the oldest carol still frequently sung. It was originally part of a 30 stanza epic by the Roman Christian, Aurelius Prudentius.
Dec. 5 “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” This poem is by famous American author Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The carol explores how Christian hope survives amidst the evil and despair of the world around us.
Dec. 12 “In the Bleak Midwiner.” Christina Rossetti was an English poet and Bible commentator from the 19th century. Her brother Dante was a famous painter. Though the images of the poem hail from England, the meaning takes us straight to Bethlehem.
I hope you’ll plan to bring friends and neighbors with you as we keep Christmas together at First!
Construction continues on schedule! The sanctuary is nearly finished and it is simply beautiful. Of course there will be kinks and minor changes to work out for weeks to come, but we currently believe we will open for Sunday worship on December 19. The chancel choir and worship team are teaming with an orchestra to brings us a Celebration of Carols at both the 9AM and 10:45 services. The annual downtown Pilgrimage of Carols will pass through our sanctuary that afternoon. This means we plan to hold our annual festive Christmas Eve services at the usual times of 4 and 6PM. Candlelight and communion will grace both services.
The initial pledges for the work of the church in 2011 have come in strong and faithful. But it takes all of us to make it work. We hope everyone will set Thanksgiving as the ideal time to pray, consider, complete and return a pledge card. This greatly helps the budget team put together our finances for next year.
Pastors Corner 11-10-2010
Pledge Dedication This Sunday!
This Sunday, November 14, is our annual Stewardship Sunday. At all three services, we will be receiving pledges for the work of God through this church. Every year I’ve been here, I have been deeply moved by the outpouring of support from our members. So every year, we have been able not only to sustain, but to expand our mission and ministry. Building Habitat Houses, deploying a director of Women in Ministry, launching missionaries into Spain, Egypt and Rwanda, stepping up the quality of our communication, creating great worship services, enhancing ministry to children and youth. It’s simply amazing what’s going on here.
I hope we can all bring our pledge cards to church this Sunday. It is a huge help to our planning when a) people make a pledge, relying on God’s grace to help them determine the pledge and meet it, and b) people make their pledges in a timely way. There’s a lot of joy when we dedicate our commitments together, and see how we are all taking part in Christ’s work here. If you can’t be here Sunday, sending in your pledge card before Thanksgiving makes the budget building process a whole lot simpler for the committee. We have lots to do next year! Momentum is strong and your pastors and elders rejoice to be leading such a great church.
The Sweetness of Prayer Together
Every time, I mean every time, it’s a prayer meeting night, I don’t want to go! It sounds like the most tedious, tiring thing possible. Pray for an hour? Please! But every time I go, the hour flies by. I leave with energy, peace, hope. If you’ve never been, come praise and pray with us. We stand in the gap for our community, our world and our members with particular needs. We bless the God of all grace. There’s no pressure, no weirdness, no hype. Just a sweet hour together. I promise you, you will be blessed if you come to bless God and others through prayer. That’s this coming Wednesday, November 17 at 7PM in the gym.
We are on track for Sunday, December 19 to be our first worship services in the sanctuary. The chancel choir and worship team are combining to present a special Christmas cantata at both the 9AM and 10:45AM services. Then, we expect to have our Christmas Eve services in the sanctuary at 4 and 6PM. These promise to be joyous services as we keep Christmas together.
Pastors Corner 10-27-2010
What a remarkable church we have! It is but a month and some change before we receive back our Sanctuary and move in to worship in that place made possible by your gifts. Already this year we’ve provided over a quarter of a million dollars in support of missions and missionaries throughout Baton Rouge and the world. Each Sunday our children are loved, protected and recipients of God’s Word; all of this, and so much more. It would seem our giving is evidence we are increasingly a people responding in faith to the lavish blessings our Father has bestowed on us through His Son Christ Jesus.
On April 26, 1913 U.S. Representative Cordell Hull, later to be the 47th Secretary of State, addressed congress and said this: “Every good citizen…should be willing to devote a brief time…to the making up of a listing of his income for taxes…to contribute to his Government, not the Scriptural tithe, but a small percentage of his net profits.” Fast forward 97 years and now we have federal income tax, state income tax, capital gains tax, inheritance tax, social security tax, property tax, sales tax and taxes we probably don’t yet know about…and we pay them all! (Remember, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s…) Interestingly, Mr. Hull viewed this initial ‘tax’ as giving by citizens for the general welfare of our country over and above what was already being given to God through God’s Church.
Let’s go back several thousand years. The writer of Proverbs 3 said, “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the first-fruits (tithes) of all your produce…”. Beginning with Abram’s gift of “a tenth of everything” to Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of God Most High, 10% giving is taught throughout the Old Testament. In Luke chapter 11 Jesus chastises the Scribes and Pharisees for neglecting the “weightier matters of the law” (namely mercy and faithfulness) saying that they should have been showing mercy and demonstrating faithfulness “without neglecting the other (the tithe)”.
When it comes to giving or paying taxes, it seems that there is a principle at work here that states simply that if we give at the beginning, off the top, before paying for or giving anything to anyone or anything else, we will not neglect that which we have established as our highest priority. Martin Luther said that “When a person is converted, three conversions are necessary; head, heart and purse and the third, the purse, is the hardest.” Adrian Rogers, once said that “A faith that hasn’t reached your wallet, probably hasn’t reached your heart.” Your giving to God through our church is outward evidence of inward growth toward the “full measure and stature of the fullness of Christ”.
Gerrit cast a vision 7 years ago which remains the same today. He desires to take us ‘deeper in Christ and further into the world’. Martin and Adrian would be proud. We have gone deeper, our hearts change daily and our pocketbooks have followed making it possible to go even further into the world. Thank you Gerrit for speaking clearly God’s Word to and through us.
One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.”
Pastors Corner 10-13-2010
The daughter has become a sister! For the last decade we have been speaking of River Community Church as our daughter. And historically that will always be true. Through Russ’ vision and Garnett’s shepherding and this congregation’s commitment, River grew from a handful of people to a vibrant church. This past Sunday, River installed their second pastor, Don Shipley. I had the joy and privilege of preaching at his installation. It occurred to me that from now on I want to speak of River as our sister church. They are all grown up. River is financially independent and has now called the pastor they chose. It’s great to see such a strong witness for Christ in Ascension Parish. Keep Don and River close to your prayer-heart.
Speaking of Garnett Slatton, our Ministry Executive Barry Phillips and his wife Becky just returned from visiting him. Garnett had been an associate pastor here before we sent him off to be the "planting" pastor of River. Now he is senior pastor at Bay Village Presbyterian Church near Cleveland, Ohio. The church, also in the EPC, is thriving under his leadership and I rejoice to see the legacy of leadership continue.
Continue to keep our session in your prayers. We have begun our work in Vision Task Groups. We’ve divided the session into three visioning teams, each one dealing with a future aspect of the life of our church. One group is exploring the options for our Sunday morning schedule after we return to the sanctuary. We’ve all enjoyed the new worship times this year. Now we have to figure out how to bring back our single Sunday school hour while still having worship at popular times. This group will work with our worship committees. Let me know your thoughts!
A second group is exploring the idea of a fourth worship service. They are considering if there is a niche in our community for a service loosely called "acoustic communion." Such a service would be a kind of paradox. It would be informal in dress and tone, yet make use of ancient liturgical prayers and forms. It would have content rich songs, many of them "old," yet they would be played in modern settings with a variety of instruments. Communion would be offered every week. The whole emphasis would be on a stripped down, authentic feel combining ancient and present forms. Again, I’d love your thoughts.
The third group is considering where to deploy the mission funds from our capital campaign. They are working in three areas: local mission, global mission, and church planting. They have criteria related to strengthening existing partnerships, making significant contributions and focusing on capital needs rather than personnel. This group will work closely with our existing mission committees.
These are thrilling times at First. Your enthusiasm for God’s Word and the deep, ancient teachings of the faith is so heartening to me. I look forward eagerly to every single Sunday with you.
Seal the Deal!
During this series on the Apostle’s Creed, I’ve been making an effort to do the editing work on my sermon manuscripts before Sunday morning. That way, copies of the message are available the same day you hear it preached. I heartily encourage you to take a copy. We cover a lot of ground in the sermons, and one of the best ways to make learning stick is to review. Consider making sermon reflection a Sunday spiritual practice. It might even spark some thoughts or questions you’d like to send me.
And of course, the sermons go on-line Monday morning in audio and podcast form as well as in a Word document.
Pastors Corner 09-29-2010
This past Tuesday your pastors travelled up to Madison, MS to meet with the Ministerial Committee of the Central South Presbytery. (No, nobody was in trouble!) But we were being examined as to our views regarding Bible, theology, sacraments, the Book of Order, and the life of the pastor. What was that about? Well, three years ago our congregation voted to seek membership in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). We entered a transitional presbytery created to receive churches like ours from the PC(USA). This transitional presbytery is “non-geographic.” That means it stretches from coast to coast. It was meant to be in place just until 2012. By that time, it is expected that congregations will have gone through the more rigorous process of entering their “geographic” presbytery—the collection of churches organized in their particular region. For us, that means the Central South Presbytery.
Three years into it, your session is convinced that the EPC is our home and that we have a bright future in our denomination. So, we petitioned Central South for admittance. First, in good Presbyterian tradition, the pastors get examined about their beliefs. We found it a delightful time of faith and theology sharing. I was so proud of our team. They acquitted themselves beautifully and we were unanimously approved by the committee. Next, in November, a commission will meet with and examine our session. Then, we expect that in the January presbytery meeting, our pastors will be introduced and examined on the floor of the whole presbytery and our church will be formally received. By the way, we love this examination business—it’s why we’re in the EPC. We rejoice to be in a relationship of mutual accountability to hold truly the faith once delivered. We continue to find the EPC to be a perfect fit.
Caring to Love and Young Life
One of the joys of our household is being able to give back to God a portion of his bounty to us. I’d estimate that Rhonda and I give about 90% of our tithe to this church, our primary Christian home and place of ministry. We also support some other local ministries that partner with our church. One of those is Caring to Love, a ministry to women who have a crisis pregnancy. As people who are passionate about the sacredness of life, Rhonda and I rejoice to be part of such a positive, difference-making ministry. That’s why you’ll find us November 8 at the Caring to Love Banquet, listening to keynote speaker Mike Huckabee and encouraging this community of believers.
We also believe passionately in the work of Young Life with high school students in some of the more difficult school settings in Baton Rouge. Area director Michael Morrow is a member here and we’re proud to host the Young Life offices here at First. Their fall banquet is Nov. 4 and I’m delighted to encourage you to check it out.
Pastors Corner 09-15-2010
Oh man, I wanted to skip church last Sunday! After all, hadn’t I just been to worship Saturday night? Rhonda and I had gone to Spartanburg for the wedding of our seminary student, Drew Harmon (son of elder Mary Ann Harmon.) The marriage ceremony had been rich worship: two hymns, two Scripture lessons, ancient prayers and communion. And Sunday morning dawned clear blue after midnight thunder storms. There was so much we could do in the garden. Or, better yet, I could work on the prayer guides for next winter’s sermon series. Why not just skip?
There are only a few Sundays where I get to be on the same side of the pew as you are, facing all the distractions and decisions that "normal" church goers have. It seemed fairly important last Sunday, then, to do what I ask you to do: to get up and come to worship, even when you don’t have to, even when you don’t want to. I reminded myself that according to Hebrews 10, the first reason we go to church is not for what we get out of it, but we bring to others in encouragement by our presence.
So we went, but further testing awaited. The regular pastor was away, but he had planned the service for the guest preacher. That included six hymns and two anthems! We didn’t even get to the sermon until 11:55! I had to wrestle myself into the right frame of mind. After all, I recalled, the Lord gave us the entire day to be dedicated to worship—what does it matter if it’s sixty or ninety minutes? Hymns are the way we ride words up to the presence of God—why not keep singing?
Of course the sermon was excellent. By now, I should have anticipated the text and topic: loving God with all our heart, mind, strength and soul. It was rich! I recalled something elder Larry Simeral said when he gave his testimony to our session, "There’s never a Sunday that, when I leave the church, I don’t feel glad I came." That’s the way of it, isn’t it? There may be lots of Sundays we don’t feel like going before we actually get up and go. But then every Sunday we do come together to worship, we realize the joy of this incredible gift our Triune God has given us: to be taken into his presence together.
We’ve got three special prayer hours planned for this fall. The first is this Tuesday, September 21, at 6:30 in the chapel. Join us as we worship in word and song, and turn up the prayer power for our congregation, our city and our world.
Pastors Corner 09-01-2010
Can you feel the energy? I can. All three of our Sunday worship services are filled with a joyful, expectant atmosphere. People are delighted to see one another. People are eager to engage the Word. People are yearning to have their lives shaped by the hope of the Gospel. People are expressing Christ’s love to this world through service. I feel it all around us. These are wonderful days to be part of what God is doing in and through First Presbyterian. Here are few more ways to plug in:
Gathered Prayer: Dunham Chapel
3rd Tuesdays, 7 to 8PM
September 21, October 19 and November 16
We believe it’s time to step up the prayer power in our church. But there’s no reason that has to be boring! Three special prayer services are planned. They will feature worship music, guided times of prayer and praise, and a focus on seeking God for our city and world. See you there.
The Blessing Experiment: Pilot Project Launching
This winter, I will be leading a 12 week series on the deep meaning of blessing in Scripture. This series will include a daily prayer guide and small group resources.
But I need help developing them. I’m looking for a group of 10-12 folks to meet me for six weeks of Bible study on blessing, use of the daily prayer guides, and evaluation. Right now I’m looking at Monday evenings beginning October 4. But I could do a midday class as well. If you’re interested, let Jaci know.
Bethel Bible Series
Beginning Sept. 15, we will be forming a new Bethel Bible class. This two year course gives students the entire sweep of the story of Scripture. Dean Cooper, Alec Flynt, Suzie Thompson, and Chuck Barber are part of our stellar teaching team. I’m looking forward to being a class member. To find out more, join us for an informational meeting this Sunday, Sept 5 at 11:45. Or contact Alec.
Pastor's Corner 07-20-2010
I am so thankful to be on the staff of a church that has as its mission statement, “Deeper in Christ, Further into the World.” If this was only a statement to have on our publications that would be nice but at First Presbyterian Church we really mean what it says. As Pastor Gerrit reminds us, our mission field begins when we go out the door after service Sunday! We are both serious and intentional about being missional – from our downtown homeless ministry to far-away places like Spain, Russia, Middle East and even further. All of this is because of YOUR faithfulness not only in your giving but also in your willingness to go yourself. At the present time we have three of our families out on the mission field. Mac and Ashley are in Rwanda, Johanna is in Spain and Rebecca is in the Middle East. In addition to these full time missionaries many of YOU have been “on the mission field” this year. Already this year close to 30 from our congregation have been to Romania and the Middle East to attend a mission conference, coach at a sport camp or minister to Gypsies….and this isn’t counting all the places Whitney Alexander has taken the youth on mission trips! We are serious about the Great Commission here!
On the Sunday of July 18, Mac, Ashley, Lilly, Duncan and Ella Jade shared about the last two years in Rwanda with Living Water. Ashley is as busy teaching English to two groups of pastors as Mac is with water wells! And on Sunday, July 25, our Sport Team to the Middle East will share their life changing story at each service. And at a later date we will hear from the team that went to Romania.
Coming to FPC the weekend of August 14 and 15, will be Bishop Albert Ratkin and his wife Elena and their son to share about their “Word of Life” Christian school in Kaluga, Russia that we help support. This is one of only a very small number of Christian schools in all of Russia! Mitzi and Chuck Barber will host a dessert at their home on Saturday evening for Albert to speak informally about his ministry in Russia. He will also be giving a brief report on this ministry at all Sunday services and as many Sunday School classes as possible.
The following weekend of August 21 and 22, we are extremely pleased to have Don Richardson a Christian missionary, teacher, author and international speaker who worked among the tribal people of Western New Guinea, Indonesia. He demonstrates in his writings how, hidden among tribal cultures, there are usually some practices or understandings, that he calls "redemptive analogies", which can be used to illustrate the meaning of the Christian Gospel, contextualizing the Biblical representation of the incarnation of Jesus.
In 1962, he and his wife Carol and their seven-month-old baby went to work among the Sawi tribe of what was then Dutch New Guinea in the service of the Regions Beyond Missionary Union. The Sawi were known to be cannibalistic headhunters. Living with them in virtual isolation from the modern world involved exposure to malaria, dysentery, and hepatitis, as well as the threat of violence.
Don will preach at each of our three Sunday services and will teach Sunday evening on themes from his book, Eternity in Their Hearts with dessert to follow. We encourage you to not only attend these services but this is a wonderful opportunity to invite someone to attend with you. Don will be accompanied by his wife Carol who will be singing for our services. Don is the author of some forty books on missions, many of which he will be bringing with him for purchase.
I will be looking for you and so excited about these opportunities to learn what God is doing through us.
Pastors Corner 08-16-2010
On August 29, I’m taking up a sermon cycle that a number of you have been asking for. The 12 message series is entitled, The Need for Creed: What Christians Believe and Why it Matters. We will be looking at each part of the Apostle’s Creed. Have you ever had any of these questions:
• Why do Presbyterians say they believe in the catholic church?
• Did Jesus really go to hell?
• Who are the quick?
But even more importantly, why do Christians have creeds at all? Why does it matter that we define our faith—doesn’t that just create divisions among people?
The Need for Creed will explore how important it is that we each carry this portable story of the gospel in our minds and hearts. We will look at the daily implications of what we affirm about our God and why it matters to the world. Each week, we will consider the Scriptural underpinnings of what the Creed affirms. I’m having a great time getting ready for the series. We have a beautiful faith. The view of the world encompassed by our Story is simply thrilling. And it’s all in the Creed.
Could it be that this is a good time for you to invite that neighbor, that friend, that co-worker to come see what First is all about?
We’ve been advertising the return of the Bethel Bible series. I fully endorse this two year, comprehensive study of the whole story of Scripture. With over 400 Bethel graduates in our congregation, we know the value of this program. Bethel deepens faith, stretches minds, and energizes spirits. Bethel creates committed members and grows new leaders. With Alec Flynt, Dean Cooper, and Chuck Barber among the teachers, class is going to be scintillating!
Now, I know, two years seems impossible to do. So here’s the Bethel Challenge. Commit for the fall: that’s just 13 sessions on Wednesday nights. If Bethel doesn’t rock your spiritual socks, you’re free to walk away with our blessing—at least you will have read a lot of Bible in that time! But we think it will make such a difference in your faith that you’ll be clamoring for the next 39 lessons to begin! Call Alec for more information. P.S., I’m stepping up to the Bethel challenge myself—see you in class!
Pastors Corner 08-04-2010
It’s great to be back in town and back interacting with you. I love to be at all three of our Sunday worship services, each with a unique accent of style but all similar in having such a sweet spirit and love for God’s Word.
We have some great events coming up in August as we start back into the program year. One of the most interesting books I’ve read is entitled,
Eternity in their Hearts by Don Richardson. In his decades long experience working with indigenous cultures, he discovered an amazing reality. In every culture not yet touched with one of the "major" religions, there was evidence of the hope for a saving, redeeming figure. In other words, there was a point of contact with the person of Jesus. The idea of a God who came to rescue his people resonates with indigenous cultures. I found that discovery fascinating. To think that our God has been planting seeds throughout the religions of man so that when the true light appeared, people would recognize him!
Well, I’m happy to tell you that Don Richardson will be preaching at all three services on Sunday, August 22. He’ll also be doing an evening presentation at 6:30PM. Don is a popular, dynamic speaker and it’s quite an honor to have him. This will be a truly unique mission message for us.
On Tuesday evening, August 17, at 6:30 PM, we will be kicking off a new fellowship for men. There will be a "manly" dinner followed by a rousing presentation. Former LSU head football coach Jerry Stovall will be speaking on "Faith and Football." Those who have heard Jerry teach know how dynamic a communicator he is. This is a great evening for men to bring friends and neighbors. Location to be announced.
The new Confirmation Class will gather for a "lock-in" at the church on Saturday night, August 14. This is a great time for the kids in this intensive one year program to get to know each other, their teachers, their youth advisors and their pastor. As you pray for your church, pray especially for this important year of study and gospel presentation.
Yes, it’s still blazing hot summer, but your church is ready for a new season of equipping you to press deeper into Christ every day, and then to extend his love further into your world.
Pastors Corner 07-07-2010
I loved General Assembly. Those are words I never thought would pass from my lips! But the annual gathering of pastors and elders from our denomination was so spiritually uplifting that I just can’t help but say it: I loved GA. For one, it’s great to see colleagues and be encouraged by their fellowship. For another, the emphasis in the EPC is on worship and witness. We sang often, prayed before every (and I mean every) report, and lifted missionaries up as celebrities. We had a day of training in what it means for the church to look outward towards its community.
And I heard two stunningly good sermons from Professor Richard Pratt. He showed us how the mission of the church is not an-add on activity but goes all the way back to the original purpose of humanity. In Genesis 1, we realize that humans were made in the image of God, and blessed in order to multiply. Thus, our purpose has ever been to fill the earth with the image of God for the sake of the joyful glory of our Creator God. Have you ever thought of that? Dr. Pratt went on to show that in Christ, the mission remains the same. Though now we are multiplying the restored image of God. All who are in Christ are a new creation. We are a new humanity, redeemed for the glory of God. So as the church spreads the gospel, more and more fallen people are remade in Christ, and so God’s glory increases. The ultimate goal being an earth prepared to receive her king at his second coming. I bought the DVD in case you’d like to hear more about that.
The assembly also overwhelmingly approved recommendations from the Interim Committee on Women as Teaching Elders. ("Teaching Elders" is the EPC term for pastors.) The EPC has been unique in recognizing freedom of practice on this issue. Our denomination respects those who read the Scriptures in accord with centuries of tradition and thereby do not call women as pastors. We also respect faithful readings of the sense of Scripture that lead to embracing women as pastors. The key was allowing freedom of practice for both sides. This issue could potentially have divided our denomination. Instead, we realized that people who submit to Scripture as the infallible Word of God nevertheless can have different interpretations on this issue and still be within the bounds of orthodoxy. Thus, there will never be a "quota system" for churches that do not have women elders or pastors. But at the same time, if we wanted to call a woman as a pastor, we would have a way to do so. Since I served on that committee this year, it was especially heartening to see our solution embraced.
We are in a great place denominationally. There is theological clarity and abundant love. There is a missional spirit and a welcoming atmosphere. There is a heart for Christ Jesus and a great heart for the world he came to save. For us, that’s a great fit.
Pastor's Corner 06-23-2010
The first day of summer—at least according to the calendar. Temperature wise, it’s more like the 40th day! I hope you and yours will at least have a change of pace during these summer months, and hopefully some time in a cooler place. As you read this, our team will have just returned from General Assembly in Denver—at least the EPC knows how to pick a beautiful, cool spot! General Assemblies are a rich time of fellowship, worship, training and church business.
Following worship on July 4, I plan to head for Brevard, North Carolina to join Rhonda for some vacation and writing in the mountains. Rhonda’s mother and I share a birthday, so we always enjoy celebrating together. Meanwhile, I know you’ll enjoy the sermon series on Galatians that Alec is preparing.
Our church renovations are moving along steadily. A sample of the new ceiling has been installed, and it’s beautiful! After worship yesterday, a number of our members wrote Bible verses on the floor under what will be the new chancel. It thrills me to think of standing above the verses and prayers of this congregation! If you haven’t written in a verse yet, come by soon before the rest of the flooring is done.
So far, I’m happy to report that we’ve not yet had to borrow any money for construction costs. I’d love to keep that going. If you have been planning a gift to the Capital Campaign this year, and make it sooner rather than later, that will postpone our having to use our construction line of credit. This congregation has been amazingly generous, and with all of us working together, we’re going to make our goal!
Please continue to keep our many mission trips in your prayers this summer. There are so many members, youth, officers, staff and pastors travelling all over. It’s great to be part of a church pulsing with mission energy. And I never tire of reminding all of us that mission begins as soon as we step outside the doors of the church. Our primary mission fields are right in the lives that we live. The co-workers, neighbors, family and friends we meet every week are the very ones to whom we have been sent with the love and the words of the gospel of Christ. Happy summer to you all.
Pastor's Corner 06-09-2010
I’ve really enjoyed our sermon series on Acts. For a long time, I’ve wanted to work on those great sermons and stories from the early days of the church. Your response has been very encouraging, too. I’m glad I could piggyback on the great sermons of Peter and the dynamic evangelism of the apostle Phillip.
So what’s next? Well, we’ve got one more from Acts: the conversion of the man whom we came to know as Paul, a story so important it’s been told four times in Scripture! Then, on Father’s Day, we’ll have a look at Biblical stories of fathers.
After that, we’ll be taking up a four week look at Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Alec will be preaching that entire series. I recall how important it was for my development as a preacher to prepare four sermons one right after the other. I told Alec it’s like one of those serving machines on the tennis court: Sundays just keep coming at you, faster and faster! We’ve been working on the texts together, and I’ll be in worship for the first two, but basically, this will be Alec’s series. He’s a preacher of rare quality and I know you’ll want to be there to support him. The truths from Galatians he’s already uncovering are thrilling!
Then, later in July, we’ll follow our tradition of summer studies of Old Testament stories. We’ll be looking closely at the four chapters of the Book of Jonah, that prophet who ran from God’s call on his life. During that series, we’ll enjoy our annual hymn sing at both the 9 and 10:45 services, August 8. At the end of August we welcome Don Richardson, whose insights into the yearning for the one true God in “primitive” cultures around the world have changed the very face of evangelism.
The fall will see us take up “The Need for Creed.” We’re going to be looking at the Biblical texts which underlie each of the phrases in the Apostle’s Creed. Every wonder why we say I believe in “the holy catholic church” or what it means to say that Christ “descended into hell”? We will look not only at the meaning of these affirmations but also consider why each and every one is critical to the way we live our lives in this 21st century world.
At Christmas, I’d like to take up famous carols again. I’d love to hear from you if there is a carol whose Biblical underpinnings you’d especially like to explore. And I’d like to hear from you if you have a great “back story” on any beloved Christmas hymns.
Thanks for meeting me every week over the great texts of Scripture. I look forward to engaging the Word with you week by week as together we go deeper into Christ and hear him send us further into the world. Get some rest this summer, and in your change of rhythm, may the Triune God of grace address you in fresh, and refreshing, ways.
Pastor's Corner 05-26-2010
Ministry Executive Update
Our move to the gym (First Presbyterian East) has been successful. All feedback indicates enthusiasm for our new worship home. While our eighty-seven year old Sanctuary gets her well deserved rest and a new wardrobe, we adapt to our new surroundings and ever changing landscape outside and enter to worship our God and King who remains steadfast and strong. We have precious few places for fellowship and coffee but we’re making do and filling the void by getting to Sunday school class early. And get this, our average attendance in the first four Sundays in May in 2009 was 690. Our average through the first four months of May this year is 789. That is an average increase each Sunday of 99 friends and family. 17%!
Our Mother’s Day Out program concluded another very successful year. Under the direction of Whitney Weiner, our teachers have worked diligently to create a loving, learning environment for our kids. Enrollment has steadily increased. We’ve added classes. A survey of our MDO parents indicated a 98% Very Satisfied response. Increasingly we are developing a reputation for excellence in the Baton Rouge Community and over the past academic year we became self supporting financially. Several years ago our Session made a difficult decision to make changes, casting a vision for the future that looks much like what we now see on the ground floor of our education building four days a week during the school year. This is truly worthy of thanksgiving and praise.
If you venture up to the third floor of our education building, our Baton Rouge Christian Counseling Center, under the direction of Dee Adams, continues to set the standard for Christian based counseling in Baton Rouge. Founded nineteen years ago, our program has touched the lives 7,629 clients (a couple or family is counted as one client) for a total of 72,227 hours. Our BRCCC currently operates with 13 counselors (5 full-time and 8 part-time) and under Dee’s most able leadership, these faithful servants extend the love and wisdom of Christ for healing and help in time of need.
What a church we have! God is at work in this place. If anyone wants to join in, they are welcome.
Pastor's Corner 05-12-2010
Life in the Gym
We’ve had three Sundays worshipping in the gym. I must say, you all have been great! You’ve shown a great spirit of adventure and exhibited a lot of patience with the inevitable bumps such a change brings. I’ve really enjoyed the cozy feeling. It’s great to be able to see all of you! We’ve had a more informal feeling without compromising the dignity of our worship.
When I walked into the gym after being away so long, I was stunned. It looked so beautiful, and so, well, worshipful! People worked really hard: Barry Phillips, Nancy Spiller, Dean Cooper, Lindy Weiner, all the audio visual team and all the sextons. Of course there were many others, your staff gave heart and soul, hours and effort to make our “sanctuary” special.
Life in the gym has caused me further reflection on a decision we made five years ago—to have a single Sunday school hour. I agonized over the dip in attendance we took when we made one service later and two services earlier so that no one worshipped at a convenient time. That’s a decision I’ve thought and rethought a thousand times. But losing that single Sunday school hour has made me realize anew all we gained from it. The impact on Sunday school is striking. Not having a defined Sunday school hour affects children, youth, young adults, and everyone else. We are a discipleship church. The designated hour for discipleship reflected our commitment to press deeper into Christ. We’ve rebounded in attendance with a congregation that expects and loves a strong emphasis on congregational communities at a special hour. I miss that hour! I know that a number of you are also feeling the pinch in your classes. As tempting as it will be to stick with these more convenient worship times next year, I won’t forget the importance of Sunday school to our life together!
Work proceeds rapidly on our renovations. You can see pictures week by week by visiting our website and clicking on Renovation Progress Blog. Can you believe how empty the sanctuary looks? Cangelosi and Ward are committed to moving us along as quickly as possible. But let’s all keep praying for their work and safety. And, as ever, my heartfelt thanks for your generous contributions that have kept us from borrowing any money to date and insure the project will be completed!
Pastor's Corner 04-28-2010
Three years ago, as we contemplated joining the EPC (Evangelical Presbyterian Church), my deep desire was that we would realize that we were joining much, much more than a small American denomination. I yearned for us to be making a move that more deeply connected us to the world church. Attending the World Reformed Fellowship assembly in Edinburgh, I realized those hopes are true. It was truly amazing to be with representatives of Reformed churches from all over the world. The historic, Biblical gospel of Jesus Christ is being upheld and shared by our brothers and sisters around the world.
I got to meet one of my heroes, Archbishop Henry Orombi from Uganda. As head of 10 million Anglicans, Henry (as he told me to call him) has been rallying the world church to stand against the tides of liberalism in the west. We heard from a Korean pastor who has a humble little congregation of 50,000! Our music was led by Irish musicians Kristen and Keith Getty, the folks who wrote “In Christ Alone.” I ate lunch with a man from Bangladesh who once participated in a severe beating of a Christian who dared to witness to him, only to become a Christian himself after the man returned to forgive him and share Jesus. We heard reports on the Reformed churches in India, China, Australia, and Indonesia. Os Guiness gave a masterful analysis of post modern culture in the west and how the gospel relates today. We met the leader of the Confessing Church movement in Scotland and broke bread with fellow Americans Ron Scates from Highland Park in Dallas and Dean Weaver from Pittsburgh.
When we joined the EPC, we connected with a world full of Christians dedicated to spreading the gospel joyfully throughout the world. Thanks for sending us. I’m sorry we were an extra six days away from you—but the Icelandic volcano reminded us sharply that we are not in control of this world. That too was a story of God’s amazing provision and the small miracle that we could get a sermon recorded in the Scotsman hotel back to you on a Sunday morning. It’s good, really, really good, to be home with you again.
Farewell to Susan
After 20 months of inspired service to us as a Ministry Specialist, Susan Nash is concluding her official tenure with us. When I look back over her tenure, I can hardly believe all she has helped to accomplish. She encouraged us to sharpen our vision and led us to our mission slogan, “Deeper in Christ, Further into the World” as well as inspiring the team that created a church logo that suits us so perfectly. She constantly taught us to communicate better, both within the staff and within the congregation, ultimately leading us to see the need for a Director of Communication. The entire presentation of our church to our members and the community is incredibly improved. Susan inspired hundreds of women to grow in their faith through her teaching ministry and through her leadership of a restructuring of the Women in Ministry. It’s no accident that participation in worship, studies, mission and ministry have all risen during these 20 months. Susan did what we asked her to do: whip us into shape. I know that personally I am deeply grateful for her friendship, her mentoring, her support, her insights, her coaching, her faith and the deep love she developed for this church. Simply put, Susan got us to another level as a church. All with good humor and a warm heart. Her official duties end April 30, but she will be in and out of Baton Rouge at least through August. Be sure and tell her how much you appreciate all she has done.
Pastors Corner 03-31-2010
“Get up, it’s Easter!” Those are words I’ll probably say when the alarm goes off in the dark Sunday morning. Wake up. You have a resurrection to celebrate! The deeper truth in trying to rouse my bleary mind is in a poem from four hundred years ago: “Rise heart, thy Lord is risen.” Those words by English pastor and poet George Herbert are among my favorite in this season. Chances are high I will read them well before dawn on Easter morning preparing for our services. Rise heart. Thy Lord is risen. Easter worship is the intersection between the act of our hearts and the work of God in raising Jesus from the dead.
Easter joy doesn’t just happen. First, there has to be some fact that Easter is based on. The dead Jesus got up. A crucified man lived again. In flesh and bones, Jesus rose. Second, there has to be a movement of my heart, mind and will towards that great fact of resurrection. I have to rouse my spirit to worship. I have to apply my mind to the implications of death’s power being shattered. I have to lift up my heart to the place where Jesus is now: risen and ascended to the Father’s right hand.
I can’t wait for the music to lift me or a preacher to stir me. No, first I have to speak to my heart (“Get up, you!) to worship, believe, and rejoice according to the greatest fact of all history (“Thy Lord is risen!”). Herbert went on to say, “Sing his praise, without delays!” Yes, let’s do that together this Sunday. No delay, no hesitancy, on our hearts or minds. We stir ourselves to raise our hearts to the glory of the news that Jesus is raised. Happy Easter
World Reformed Fellowship
The week of April 11, the Assembly of the World Reformed Fellowship (WRF) will be held in Edinburgh, Scotland. Delegates from around the world will make their way for a week of worship, prayer, and presentations on the state of Christian mission across the globe. The WRF is a growing body of believers in the Reformed (i.e. Presbyterian) tradition. Across the global south, historical, Biblical Christianity is booming, and this conference is an opportunity for Reformed Christians from north and south, east and west, to see one another, to hear what God is doing and to consider how to bring the gospel to the world in the 3rd millennium.
I’m honored and thrilled to be representing our denomination at this conference. (Yes, the location is definitely part of the appeal). I’m also thrilled that Alec Flynt will be joining me so that our “young buck” can have his eyes opened to the global reach of our faith. I’m also so pleased that our church is sponsoring the attendance of Dr. Victor Cole, a theologian from Nairobi, Kenya now serving as academic dean at the Nairobi Evangelical Theology School. Please pray for travelling mercies on the 700 who will attend.
Pastors Corner 03-17-2010
I think you can tell a lot about a church by the way the congregation celebrates together. I’ve always been impressed by how much fun our people have together. And next week, two of our favorite events are coming up. On Friday, March 26, we have the annual Youth Gala. Once again, we’ll be back at the Camelot Club. The view from the top of the Chase building is spectacular. The team planning the event has promised us a Night of Wonder. I always love seeing Presbyterians dancing, politely but vigorously outbidding each other at the silent auction, and generally enjoying the evening. Plus, we all pull together for this event that supports our youth mission program. The tickets are expensive—that’s part of how we raise funds. But the marvel is that there are always tickets given to Whitney and me to be given away. Anyone who wants to go, gets to go—that’s one of the biggest joys for me. And as an added bonus, once again the location of our Youth Gala is downtown. We love our city and love supporting it! This Sunday, you’ll find our bright eyed youth staff at every entrance with tickets for you to purchase.
The next time we celebrate together is just two days later, on Palm Sunday. We have a single service at 10AM and it begins outside! North Boulevard will be closed in front of the church for the morning. We will gather on the front steps, hear the shofar blown, and begin our procession of Palms around the Boulevard. The children (and Amos our faithful donkey) will lead us. Then, we will worship together in our sanctuary, enjoying the children’s choir and a beautiful service of “blended” worship. The message is entitled, “Words from the Cross.” Next, it’s back outside for a picnic on the grounds, with activities for children such as the Easter egg hunt, and special music the adults will enjoy. It’s a great time to be a church family in our Louisiana spring!
Those events will lead us into Holy Week. We have some special services planned:
• Monday, March 29, 7PM in the Sanctuary: Men’s Prayer Gathering. Prior to the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast, there will be two city wide gatherings for prayer and teaching. Our church is hosting the event for men. I will be speaking on “They Go Where You Go: The Crucial Importance of Christian Dads.” Preston Coles will lead music.
• Our own Jill Rigby Garner will be speaking at the event for women, to be held at Miracle Place Chuch in Baker the same night at 6:30PM. Her topic is “Champion Moms Raise All Star Kids.” Please keep Jill and me in your prayers.
• Thursday, April 1 at noon, we will offer communion in the chapel in recognition of Maundy Thursday, followed by a light lunch.
•Thursday, April 1 at 7PM, Old State Capitol auditorium, Bruce Kuhn will present The Gospel of Luke. This riveting performance is an excellent event for bringing guests and neighbors. Tickets available in the church office.
•Easter Sunday evening, 6:30PM, Bruce will present The Acts of the Apostles in our sanctuary.
All this is in addition to our Easter Sunrise service at 6:30AM on the lawn between the sanctuary and chapel. Dress is very casual and breakfast follows. Then, we have two festival services of worship in the sanctuary. Contemporary is at 8:45 and Classic Reformed at 11:15. Bruce Kuhn will be joining me in presenting the resurrection stories at both. The message is entitled, “Idle Tale or Wondrous News?”
It will be an amazing ten days in the life of our church. I hope you will plan to be there every minute and bring all your neighbors!
Last Saturday we dedicated the Dana House that has risen from a slab to be a home in just two weeks. We’re so grateful for our many dedicated servants, including Craig Gardener, Jean Rohloff, Ella Rein Wheeler and Joann Thurston who provided great leadership. There remain some important finishing tasks, and workers are needed on the next four Saturdays to complete the job.
Pastor's Corner 04-14-2010
FPC YOUTH MINISTRY --- SPRING, 2010
The twelfth annual youth gala was an amazing evening at the Camelot Club on Friday, March 26th. Lindsey Spiller and the band provided dance music all evening long, and every participant had an awesome time. The silent auction is very important every year as we raise proceeds for the purpose to enable our young people to attend at least one summer youth mission trip to either New Orleans or Jamaica. The silent auction had 85 items this year, and the enthusiasm was felt by many.
This youth gala would not have been possible without the help of Cindy and Ron Zumstein securing the Camelot Club again this year. The theme, “Night of Wonder” was amazing. Cindy Zumstein, Charlene Belk, Mitzi Barber, Rebekah Rains, Danny White, Adrienne Bennett, Jamie Senyard, Linda Jennings and the youth ministry team did an awesome job spending numerous hours arranging all the details of this special church event. Thank you for planning an elegant evening in downtown Baton Rouge.
Our middle school and senior high students are in the midst of their fourth quarter of the year and have approximately five weeks till final exam time. Our graduating seniors (approximately 26) have only about twenty days of high school remaining till final exams. Graduations begin about May 10 and continue through May 30th. Please encourage these students for completing their studies with excellence and preparing for attending college in the fall.
Our Senior Recognition was held last Sunday at the 8:45 and 11:15 worship services. The graduating seniors were treated to lunch at De Angelo’s restaurant on Jefferson Hwy. This was a sweet time of fellowship during lunch. Thank you for joining us for at least at one of the worship services.
CRAVE (Middle School Youth Group) and E320 (High School Youth Group) will continue to meet through the month of April. We will have our annual youth CRAWFISH BOIL on Sunday, May 2nd at the home of Pete and Lin Sturgis from 4-6:30 pm. Please come join us as we celebrate another great year.
Our Summer Youth Trips are being planned as you read this newsletter. The first mission trip is in New Orleans: May 30th – June 4th at Trinity Christian Community (an EPC mission) near Carrollton Avenue and I-10 on Joliet Street. This is a fantastic opportunity for the middle school and high school youth to reach out to our neighbors and help them continue renovating after Hurricane Katrina. This trip costs $150 per person (scholarships are available). Please contact Adriane Bennett at 620-0239 or email her at Adriane@fpcbr.org. Charlie Daigle, Howard Tull, Adriane Bennett, Rebekah Rains, Hannah Vanbiber, Sarah Vanbiber, and Whitney Alexander are leading this amazing trip.
Pastors Corner 03-03-2010
We are truly in “high season” at the church. A Habitat build is under way and going great. This weekend we host a marriage and parenting conference. Lenten communions, studies and prayer times are going strong. Attendance at all three Sunday services is running high. The Youth Gala will soon dazzle us with the finest, funnest Presbyterian party ever. Construction crews are beginning our epic renovation. Youth are signing up for summer mission trips. We are fully staffed and everyone is working hard. These are indeed great days. We are very blessed even as we seek to be a blessing to our community and our world. It’s a joy to see you engage a life joined to Christ through participation in your church.
And, there’s much more to come. I’d like just to highlight a couple of items:
March 14: Don’t Change Your Clocks!
Last year, we had a huge attendance boost when we rebelled against the spring time change. We asked folks not to set their clocks forward until after Sunday worship. That meant everyone got to postpone losing that hour of sleep. It was great fun, and we even got a lot of good press in the community. So, the session has once more declared a spring time change rebellion. All three morning worship services will begin as if we stayed on Central Standard Time.
We’ve also taken steps to correct the small problems in this idea. There will be a lunch served immediately following the 11:15 service so we can calm those hunger pangs and help you get fed quickly and back on track with the rest of your day. Also, if the third service still seems too late for you, perhaps this would be a great Sunday to visit one of our other services. We long for all our worshippers to be multi-lingual in their worship language. Finally, if you have transportation issues related to the schedule, just let us know and we’ll get you a ride!
Broadway Actor Presents Luke and Acts
One of the most moving theatrical experiences I’ve had was attending Bruce Kuhn’s performance of the Gospel of Luke. Bruce simply presents the gospel as a storyteller. This one-man show is riveting. I felt as if I were meeting Jesus. Rhonda and I were wholly absorbed as the story unfolded, and then devastated anew by the crucifixion and thrilled by the resurrection. Bruce’s performance was like nothing I had ever seen or heard.
That’s why I’m so thrilled that Bruce will be joining us for holy week! On Thursday, April 1, Bruce will perform Luke up through the crucifixion. Then, on Easter Sunday, April 4, Bruce will present the resurrection narratives at worship. Finally, on Sunday evening, April 4, Bruce will present Acts as we celebrate how the news of the risen Jesus swept the world.
Let me level with you here. Remember how Ken Bailey was way better than you expected, even with all our promotion? Bruce Kuhn will deliver the goods. Make whatever arrangements you have to make (there won’t be any videos) and don’t miss Luke and Acts!
The Thursday, April 1st 7PM performance of Luke is a ticketed outreach event, to be held at the auditorium of the Old State Capitol. Tickets are free, but you have to have a ticket and seating is limited. We’ll have a park and ride shuttle service from the church. The Sunday, April 4, 6:30PM performance of Acts is in our sanctuary and you don’t need a ticket. This is a great opportunity to bring neighbors, friends, nonbelievers, and family.
Pastor's Corner 02-03-2010
We enjoyed a wonderful weekend with Dr. Kenneth Bailey speaking on “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes.” I was so heartened by the great attendance at his presentations on Sunday morning and evening. We are a church full of people who love the Scriptures. Spiritual “romance” was in the air as we were shown jewel after jewel in the stories of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet in Luke 7 and the parable of the loving father and his two sons in Luke 15. My thanks go out to Mitzi Barber and Alec Flynt and their crew for all the coordinating of Dr. Bailey’s visit. I hope this will give all of us a boost in our study of Jesus. I know it makes me even more enthused to be teaching the Meeting Jesus series from now through Easter.
I’m so delighted that we can name our next Habitat project the Dana House. Dana Othmer was our construction leader on the last house and spent many hours on the build. Though the effects of a heart attack have left her in a nursing home in Jackson, LA, we are still inspired by her faith and the faith of her family. This year, we are also partnering with three other churches for the build: Abounding Love, South Baton Rouge Presbyterian and River Community Church. The two week “blitz” build begins Feb. 26. We need folks of all skill levels, and also folks who can serve by bringing refreshments to the crews. Sign up at church this Sunday!
This Sunday, February 7, the annual Congregational Meeting will occur as a combined Sunday school hour in the sanctuary, beginning at 10:10. It will move at break-neck speed reviewing 2009 and revealing plans for 2010.
I once recommended in this column Tim Keller’s A Reason for God. This very readable best seller takes a fresh look at answering the hard questions people have about the Christian faith. I’m delighted that our Theology Group will be studying it this winter. We meet on the 2nd and 4th Wednesday afternoons from 1:30 to 3PM at the home of Barbara Molstedt. The first meeting will be Feb. 10 and we’ll look at the introduction and chapter 1. We’d love to have some new faces. Just let Jaci (firstname.lastname@example.org
) know you’re coming. The book is readily available in stores and by internet.
We’re having a two part event March 5-6. The Friday night event is meant to encourage and strengthen marriages, while the Saturday segment focuses on parenting. So, this year’s Marriage/Parenting Conference has something for everyone in family relationships.
As you can see, First is on the move. Jump in with us as we go deeper in Christ and further into the world!
Pastor's Corner 02-17-2010
Construction: Challenges and Opportunities
It’s starting! The movers have been preparing the lower and top floors of the sanctuary building. As you read this, construction teams from Cangelosi and Ward should have begun their work. We’re finally, truly renovating our church for the present and future generations. Alleluia! Your faithfulness made it possible.
We’ll be able to worship in our sanctuary on Sundays through April 18. But there will be changes going on all around us. That will be exciting. It will also be challenging. In my life, I find that if I anticipate a change, I can cope when things are not like they used to be. When I get surprised by a change, I tend to get a bit cranky. During these historic days of renovation, I think it will be very helpful to expect arriving at church and finding things out of place, or that we have to walk a few more steps, or use a different entrance. Things will happen that we don’t anticipate; stuff will tempt us to get mad. Let’s anticipate all of that so we can be ready. Let’s plan now to give each other grace, to come a bit earlier so we’re not pressed for time, to look for the interruptions in routine that mean progress is being made. Let’s plan now to stay committed to worship, to one another, to this ministry even as we live through half a year of topsy-turvy. The goal is worth the journey!
What do you make of this? The current sermon series, scheduled early last summer, concentrates particularly on Luke’s Gospel.. Kenneth Bailey taught us mainly from Luke. The Broadway actor coming to present the gospel to us Easter week is doing Luke. Mary Willson is teaching a women’s Bible study from—you guessed it—the Gospel of Luke! All without intentional coordination! I see the Spirit’s guiding hand as our congregation seeks to truly meet Jesus in every moment and season of life. Recently, in a note, Mary wrote, “Sometimes I get overwhelmed with joy as I think about what a privilege it is to read God’s Word in community and grow more like Christ alongside one another. We know a good God and a tender Father!” That’s it! That’s what we’re after as a church—to read his Word in community and grow more like Jesus alongside one another.
So, jump in with us. During Lent, we have extra opportunities: every Wednesday at noon, we have a brief service of communion followed by lunch. Every Sunday night, we’ll gather for teaching on the next week’s gospel lesson followed by small group discussion. Plug in this spring!
Houses and Websites
Please take note that our Habitat blitz build begins this Friday, February 26. We particularly need folks who can work on week days. Sign up info is in this issue.
Finally, be sure to go to www.fpcbr.org and check out our new website design. Months in the making, this new site offers visitors and members quick access to our ministries and resources. Surf around First for a while.
Pastors Corner 01-20-2010
There’s so much going on around here it makes me breathless! Pervading everything is my deep gratitude for the generosity of our congregation. We are on schedule for renovations to begin in mid February, thanks to more than $4.4 million in pledges. We’ll also be able to maintain mission and ministry at the same high level thanks to wonderful pledges to our annual fund. Even in a "choppy" economy, you have made giving to God through your church a priority. It is deeply humbling and terrifically exciting to me, all at the same time. So let’s take a look at some of the highlights of what you are making possible:
Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: January 31. Dr. Ken Bailey will teach a combined Sunday school at 10AM and a major presentation following dinner at 5:15PM. See Jesus as you’ve never seen him before!
Congregational Meeting: February 7. You won’t want to miss the annual meeting of First Presbyterian, Inc. as we unveil the construction timetable, present highlights of the 2010 budget, introduce the newest staff members, meet our Habitat family and much more. Congregational meetings aren’t dull around here!
Habitat for Humanity Blitz Build: Begins Friday, February 26. We’ll be building our third Habitat home. This time, partners from Abounding Love, River Community and South Baton Rouge Presbyterian will be working with us.
Parenting Conference: March 5-6. Friday night will focus on the single most important aspect to parenting: your marriage, while Saturday will concentrate on the details of being an excellent Christian parent in today’s world.
Youth Gala: March 26. Once more in the Camelot club, high atop the Chase building overlooking the city, First Presbyterians will enjoy a festive night of support for our youth mission programs.
More details about all of these great events are in this issue. Meanwhile, I’ll close with a brief update on the finest church staff anywhere! I hope you’ll have a chance to meet Molly Klein, our new Nursery Coach. Molly will direct a re-vamped Sunday nursery program which focuses on the theme of "So Loved." Mary Willson has arrived fresh out of Gordon Conwell Seminary and has hit the ground running as our new Director of Women in Ministry. She’s a fabulous teacher and overall just great fun. As January ends, two longtime nursery workers will be winding up their service to our church. You may want to stop by and write a note of thanks in the memory books for Anna and Kendra. Finally, we’ll all be sad that Susan Nash’s season of consulting with us is coming to a close. She has been so much a part of the fabric of our church life that it’s hard to believe 18 months have already passed. I hope to prevail upon her to extend that time just a bit more, till the end of April. We’ve got an incredibly good staff team. I encourage you to get to know them—invite them for lunch or dinner or coffee. You’ll see just how much they love the Lord and his people!
Gerrit has compiled a set of devotionals. Click here to read them.