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First Thoughts Blog

The Joy of Rhythms

“Summer’s here, I’m for that, got my rubber sandals, got my straw hat.” Remember that old song by James Taylor? Even as the heat moves in, we feel the excitement of a change in rhythm. School’s out. Traffic’s better (“better” being a relative word!), vacations await. We had a wonderfully intense Lent, followed by a season of celebrating confirmations, baptisms, graduations, memorials and weddings. Now most of the church slows down. But children’s ministry ramps up with Vacation Bible School. Youth ministry accelerates with camp opportunities. Members take off on mission trips as well as holidays.
Meanwhile, we still meet Sunday after Sunday. That’s a crucial part of rhythm too. Continuity in worshiping our triune God, studying his Word and encouraging each other. We’re here, every week, as anchor for your life. Stay tethered through our livestream while you travel. Come create the party of worship as often as you can. And know that your leaders are thinking deeply and creatively about our future.
The elders, especially the strategic planning team, are busy building off the great data we got through the congregational survey. We hope to unveil our five year strategic plan for you this fall. Keep us in prayer!
Meanwhile, we are moving forward with a north Baton Rouge church plant. You can hear pastor Ron Hicks preach on July 14! We also celebrate the mission outreach we can underwrite through the gifts from our endowments. The session recently funded a young EPC church planter in the Atlanta area, and contributed to the church plant training our denomination has undertaken. We funded three seminary students, and contributed to a major evangelism program with our sister church in Cairo. Life rhythms have changed, but the ministry and mission of your church pulses forward this summer. As ever, please know how much I love being your pastor.

Church Planting, Staff Changes and Celebrations

May is the time we joyfully witness about 25 6th graders make their public profession of faith. We also send off our high school seniors with blessing prayers. And we get ready to say goodbye to several long-time, faithful staff members.
One of the hallmarks of a healthy church is the tenure of the professionals who work there. Longevity signals loyalty, effectiveness, spiritual vitality and harmonious personality. In the coming year three key retirements are scheduled.
Carol Pruitt will retire as bookkeeper at the end of July. Carol has grown with our church finances. She handles all the financial gifts and expenditures, keeps up with staff medical and retirement benefits, and works cheerfully and confidentially. 
Barry Phillips has been my right hand man in his capacity as ministry executive for 18 years. “Papa Barry” develops the budgeting process, oversees employee relations and supervises care of building and grounds. His anchoring work has freed me to focus on preaching, teaching and vision. Though he will serve in a consulting capacity through year’s end, Barry’s retirement as a full-time staffer occurs August 15.
Our longest tenured pastor, Whitney Alexander will retire January 31 after 26 years on our team. Whitney led our youth ministry for years, then seamlessly transitioned to overseeing city and global ministry. He has connected us to Christ’s work throughout Baton Rouge and around the world. Somehow, he always shows up just where we need him most. 
That’s a lot of change! But your leaders have been planning strategically. Church member Courtney Hilton takes over as bookkeeper this summer after a brief period of overlap with Carol. Courtney brings years of corporate accounting experience along with her deep faith, consistent commitment to church and winsome personality. We will be in good hands.
Meanwhile, we’ve realized that the scope of ministry executive has grown beyond what one person will do. Kelly Wood will step into the role of ministry executive. Her experience as an Exxon project manager has given her the skills to turn vision into action. (We saw that during the Stewarding God’s Grace campaign which she oversaw last fall). Her focus will be on executing the plan of the session through the work of the staff and committees. She’ll be sure everything we do aligns with the overall vision and strategic plan. Long-time elder and trustee DJ Davis will take a part-time role as administrative executive. His purview will be personnel, finances and facilities. Thanks be to God, we will be in good hands.
That leaves us some time to consider how we will continue pressing forward in mission and best utilize that associate pastor position. Stay tuned, and please stay prayerful!
The Sanctuary
We’ve been hinting at it for months, but our session made it official: God is calling us to plant a church in North Baton Rouge. The pastors of the church will be Ron Hicks, Daryl Waters and George Gillam. Former Angola inmates, these men have a passion for reaching at-risk youth, difficult communities and others formerly incarcerated. We’ve heard George preach twice from our pulpit. We’ll get to hear Ron this summer. The new church will be called The Sanctuary and it will be overseen by a team of six elders, and underwritten by the church planting fund we established some years ago. For the rest of this year, they will be building a core leadership team, scoping out a physical site and gathering potential members. We envision an official launch next winter. More details to come. And once again, please offer your prayers for this endeavor. It’s an exciting time to be your pastor, and to be in ministry with you.

Memorial Garden Expansion

Several years ago my daughter, Molly, and I were driving down to the Purple Cow on Jones Creek Road. As we were about to pass Resthaven Cemetery, where both my mom and dad were buried, I suggested we turn in and visit their grave sites for a brief prayer time. To my disappointment (and frustration), it took us over 20 minutes to find them. We’d not been to Resthaven for almost nine years!
Becky and I have plans to be cremated and our remains placed in our church’s very own Memorial Garden. It’s becoming a “high demand” bit of real estate. It is a beautiful, quiet, even reverent place to visit. We first opened it ten years ago. The initial banks of niches (the holding place for the urns) is already almost filled with the urns of First Presbyterian family members. It is so easy to visit and spend quiet “remembrance” time. And it is less expensive than a traditional cemetery plot. It is intentionally accessible so that one can visit a loved one’s burial niche at any time.
Our session approved the addition of a second phase of niches which were completed a couple of months ago; a good thing since there is but one niche remaining available in the original site. So we have 80 “homes” in the original phase. We have 78 available now remaining in phase two. 
If you’ve not yet visited our Memorial Garden or considered this an option to traditional cemetery burial, you owe it to yourself to take a look. You’ll be impressed. For more information contact Sherry Tucker ( or 225.387.0617). She would love to send you a packet. 

What a Gift!

After 7 years serving at First Presbyterian, and 27 years of full-time ministry, the session has blessed me with a much-appreciated sabbatical. I am thankful and eager for the time to reflect, rest and prepare for the upcoming seasons of church life. Some have asked me what I’m going to do with the time. Some have asked how my responsibilities will be covered while I’m gone. To the first, I’m looking forward to vacation with family and friends, reading, reviewing my favorite subjects from seminary and doing some professional development. To the second, we have gifted church leaders who are ready to serve. For those with questions about community groups during the summer, contact Kelly Wood ( For those with questions about men’s ministry or to plug into a weekly men’s group, contact Blake Fowler ( Sunday school will continue as normal for the next few months with our gifted leaders. As usual, we will not have Sunday school the month of July.
I appreciate your prayers during May and June. With our upcoming 200 year anniversary on my mind, I plan to spend a good bit of time reading about the history of the Presbyterian church. Personally, I’m looking forward to meeting with a counselor to process life and ministry. And though I will be around, I am eager to resume my responsibilities mid-July.

God's Hand Was in Everything: Uganda, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon

My most recent trip to Uganda, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon was truly one of the most encouraging mission trips of my life. I saw God’s hand in everything; from the moment I landed in Entebbe to the walk into the classrooms of the new Bethany Centre School. 
Every detail at the new Bethany Centre School has been carefully considered for the nearly 100 students attending high school and the 600 students in kindergarten through 8th grade attending the primary and middle schools. Upon arriving, Claire Wilson and Cheryl Tyler were welcomed with traditional African dances by the Bethany students. They in turn, presented the school with a beautiful giving quilt created by the children of First Presbyterian Church. The quilt’s squares depict gifts God has given the children they can share with others. The ladies also delivered special gifts created by students of Gardere Community Christian School and planted much needed trees on the Bethany campus. It is a beautiful partnership between First Presbyterian and Peter Kiwanuka and his family. 
The next opportunity was visiting Kevin and Jena Smith and their daughters, Lincie and Eden, in Jordan. It was a beautiful time as they shared how their Arabic studies have gone very well and they are excited to move to Lebanon in late summer continuing mission work with the Syrian refugees in Beirut. The highlight of my stop in Jordan was a trip to Petra, one of the modern wonders of the world. It was a beautiful experience to hike to the temple carved out of the mountain.
The Partnership and Prayer Conferences at the Beit el-Wadi in Egypt were the most inspiring I have ever been to. One hundred churches in Egypt were invited by Kasr el Dobara Evangelical Church to come pray together with more than six thousand people attending. It was truly an amazing privilege to participate in this time of prayer with Egyptians.
The final stop was to encourage our missionaries in Lebanon on the front lines sharing their faith with Syrian refugees. It was a powerful time to pray with them and be with them in their homes.

Ready for a Third Century?

This time three years from now, we will celebrate our 200th anniversary as a church! We’re already thinking about it! Most importantly, your leadership seeks to discern the leading of the Triune God as we round into our bicentennial. 
Part of that discernment is undertaking a new long term vision process. This will lead to preparing a strategic plan to guide the next five years. We’ve partnered with Mesh, a local creative marketing firm who has delivered great results with other local Christian organizations, such as Gardere Community Christian School and the Dunham School. They specialize in helping groups clarify vision, then turn vision into strategy.
This is the fun part: we all get to play a role! More than 80 of us will be engaged in focus groups, including the staff, the elders and a representative at-large group. All of us will be invited to participate in a congregational survey. You’ll receive an invitation by email. The link will take you to the brief but important survey about our priorities. You can expect this email from the church by the end of the month. We really want to hear from you! My hope is that everyone will take the survey within a week of receiving the link.
The session and Mesh will collate and review the responses from the focus groups and the survey. These provide the voice of the congregation as we prayerfully craft a strategic plan. A stellar planning committee will lead the writing effort. David Kozan, Cheryl Broadnax, Barry Phillips, Kelly Wood and Will Adams will be working with me to bring the session a document to consider for the vision and strategy that will begin our third century. The elders will then present to you the final document that the whole congregation has helped to shape.
We’re working specifically in the areas of mission fidelity, preparing for next generation members and leaders, pastoral and staff support, facilities upgrades, fiscal sustainability and ministry/mission expansion. 
It’s a great delight and a great responsibility to stand on the shoulders of two centuries of faithfulness. As you join me in participating in the survey, please know that I love being your pastor and I rejoice to look toward our future,

Why Do We Keep Time?

I had a wonderful time visiting with Caroline Breard’s third grade class at Dunham. She asked me to come talk about what Lent means. So I asked the children how long before their birthdays they actually started thinking about their birthdays. Some said a month, some said all year! I asked the same about Christmas. We agreed that anticipating a celebration makes it all the better.  
Every spring, Christ’s people celebrate his resurrection. But for centuries and centuries, we’ve been making plans to think more about Jesus before Easter. We get ready to celebrate by taking more time to think about his life and death.  
We also talked about football games (how can you not in Baton Rouge???). They agreed that a great game is not a 72-0 blow out against a junior college. A great game is a close struggle. The greatest games include come backs, when it looked like all was lost. That’s why we think about Jesus’ death before we celebrate his resurrection. It was the greatest struggle of all time. And it looked like the game was over when Jesus died. But then in the most wonderful surprise, the Father raised Jesus. The more we think about his ministry and his dying, the more joy we have at Easter.
These are sharp kids. They got it. We get it too. We keep time with Jesus during Lent so that we can join our story to his story. So his victory over death can be our victory.
I’m so proud of you when I think how you are pressing in close to Jesus this Lent. Connecting psalms with events in Jesus’ life, and praying alongside him takes energy, imagination and discipline. But you’re doing it! As an early Easter arrives at the end of this month, keep preparing, dear church. We’re going to have quite a celebration.
You’ll want to plan now for the fun of Palm Sunday, March 24, the deep passion of the Service of Shadows on March 28, and the release of Easter joy on March 31. I love being your pastor, especially at this time of year.

Praying Alongside Jesus

What if we could pray with Jesus? Not just to him, about our concerns. What would happen if we stood next to Jesus, offering up the same prayers he made to his Father? What if we joined Jesus in the events of his life, then pressed close to him by sharing in his emotions? What if we spent our prayer time being engaged about what mattered in  Christ’s life?  
I can tell you what happened to me. I grew to love Jesus more. And I felt his heart getting formed more inside my heart. I got energized by the urgency of his mission. I came to admire Jesus more than ever. Adoring him creates a profound effect in me. Peace. Passion. Hope. Wonder. 
Could that happen to you? I mean, what if the best way to change us is actually focusing on Jesus? As it turns out, getting inside Jesus’ prayer life lights up our prayers. Tucking up close to his heartbeat in the events of his life transforms our hearts. The closer we draw to him, the more Jesus gives life to us.
But how? Is there not an impossible gap between Jesus and me? Aren’t the events of his life lost in the past? We don’t know what he prayed so how can we join him? I know. It sounds presumptuous and not a little crazy.
But there is a bridge. A reliable, compelling, available bridge. It’s built of two interconnected parts, the Psalms and the Gospels. Jesus knew and prayed the psalms. We can pray those same psalms as we participate spiritually in the events of his life recorded in the Gospels. It could be like nothing you’ve ever done!
That’s the adventure we’ll be on together this Lent. I pray you will be transformed by learning to pray alongside Jesus. 
Five Ways to Participate
1) Lyrics for His Life: Praying the Psalms with Jesus. On February 18, we’ll distribute copies of this beautiful, full color, 238 page book. You’ll find reading and prayers for the 42 days leading to Easter. Yes, you can grab copies for friends, and yes some advance copies will be available February 11.
2) Daily Podcasts. Prefer to listen while you go about your day? Sign up for the daily podcast link. Lauren Honea and Scott Graham join me in bringing you each day’s readings. Subscribe to podcasts.
3) Daily Emails: Prefer to read on your device? Find each day’s reading in your inbox!  It takes 22 seconds to sign up via our website! 
4) Community Groups: Reading, discussing and praying with others always takes us deeper. Join the more than 300 who participated last year meeting in homes, praying together and sharing life going deeper in Christ. Email Kelly Wood for more on joining or leading a Community Group.
5) Weekly Worship: Each week through April, we’ll focus on a particular psalm Jesus prayed and consider what it might have meant to him. We’ll learn to pray alongside our Lord as we press in to the events of his life, death and resurrection. 
6) Wednesday Noon Services. Beginning with Ash Wednesday on February 14, we’ll meet each week for worship and communion, focusing on a psalm Jesus prayed. There will even be opportunities for more experiential prayer times. Further details on Wednesday worship.

Reflecting and Visioning

At the turn of the year, I like to remember and give thanks, then look forward. First of all for you, beloved church. I brag about you to my colleagues all the time. Your sincere faith in Christ Jesus, your passion for his Word, your love for one another, your engagement with our community, your realization that being in Christ empowers and influences every aspect of life. It really is a joy to be your pastor!
In particular, I want to express thanks for our staff team. Nearly all of them are dedicated church members. They are us! And how they love Jesus and his people. We strive to make every experience at church feel seamless and appear effortless, organized and comfortable. When I think of what it takes to host Sundays that invite and elevate, with the literally hundreds of moving pieces, I feel so grateful for a team that serves with such energy and excellence. They strive to include, knit, integrate and bless the whole congregation into one. And they feel your love.
Looking forward, our 200th anniversary is just three years away! I’m excited that the foremost way we will prepare is to start a process of long-range visioning that will lead to a five-year strategic plan. During the first half of this year, you’ll hear about opportunities to provide input into our priorities. Congregational engagement will be essential to the direction our elders give to begin our 3rd century.
More near term, this winter we’ll finish out our series on Ephesians. There are some powerful passages yet to come. Lent comes early, so in mid-February we’ll take up Lyrics for His Life: Praying the Psalms with Jesus. This is a book I’ve wanted to write for a long time. It was quite moving to imagine which psalms Jesus might have prayed during events of his life, and then to join him in prayer. I believe you’ll get closer to Christ as you pray psalms alongside him. In addition to reading the printed book and daily emails, this year you can also listen to the daily content on our Lyrics for His Life podcast! Being part of a community group deepens the whole experience, so I hope we’ll have a record number of participants.
Meanwhile, the wonderful programs and missions of our church kick back into high gear, and there are lots of ways to get involved. It’s good to be on the quest with you, the quest to press deeper into Christ and share his love further into the world.  

Catch Fire!

I have a friend who got to carry the Olympic torch for a few minutes along its journey from Greece to Salt Lake City. Thousands of people, specially selected, take part in this massive relay. The torch catches fire in Olympia, site of the first ancient games, and then passes through thousands of persons to the location of the next Olympics. Sometimes the flame gets passed to an underwater torch; sometimes it flies in four lanterns on a plane. But so far, it has never failed to make it. 
That’s a lot like the story we tell at Christmas. The early believers came to learn what they probably did not know during Jesus’ ministry. How he was born far from home and cradled in a feeding trough. How angels sang before shepherds. How wise men followed a unique star. These accounts caught fire. They became precious to those who have given their lives to Jesus. So the reports have passed across oceans, over mountains, through deserts and hundreds of languages. The true story of a Savior’s birth.
This Advent, as we prepare for Christmas, our theme is light. We hope to catch fire from the birth of the Savior. The twist is that our flame does not begin on earth, not even from a place as cool as Mt. Olympus. This is a heavenly fire. Not from down here. A spiritual flame of life jumped the gap and caught fire in the virgin’s womb. The Spirit enabled Mary to conceive Jesus, the truly human, truly divine redeemer. 
When our hearts catch fire with that miracle, our whole lives light up. I love keeping this season with you and I hope you’ll make it here every 
week as we catch fire from Scriptures full of light and songs that light up the heavens with Christ’s glory. You especially don’t want to miss the Cantata on December 10, featuring our combined choirs, an orchestra and music written and arranged by our own Chris Phillips. We’ll have three services on December 24 and I’ll preach “All Along the Watchtower” at each.
Christmas Offering
Every year, in a very understated way, we make available a special offering to undergird two ministries beloved to our church. Every year, quietly, you shatter giving records and send the ministry leaders soaring into the new year with hope. 
The Christian Outreach Center, led by Brian Sleeth, helps thousands of people through the year with basic needs for food, clothing, shelter and electricity. But more, the COC offers effective programs in job readiness, financial literacy and even re-entry from prison to a contributing life. 
The Gardere Community Christian School, led by Lauren Darden, educates 150 students from preschool to fifth grade. This multi-ethnic Christian school consistently sees dramatic improvement in students’ test scores, outpacing both public and charter schools in its area. Most importantly, Gardere effectively forms these little ones in the love and story of Jesus. Both ministries light many flames of hope, and it’s a joy to support them.

All the Things to Love

"All the Things to Love" is the title of a book we used to read our children. It had beautiful pictures of many ordinary sights in which we can find beauty and joy. Serving God through his church is just like that. There’s so much we can do. Much of it seems obvious and ordinary. Until we think about it. Then realize, “Oh! This is a way I give glory back to God for the grace he has given me!” From arriving ten minutes early to speak to people to singing to teaching little ones to looking over the church finances to joining a mission team to visiting a homebound member to setting up communion . . . there is a cascade of ways we offer ourselves to God by participating in the life of the church. And when we ponder it for just a minute, we realize we love these activities. 
This autumn, we’ve been enjoying the weekly videos in which our members joyfully share the ways they steward God’s grace in our church. We’ve also distributed a catalog on the hundreds of ways we serve—the hundreds of opportunities there are for all of us.  
This has all been preparation for a special day of dedication, Sunday, November 12. By now you will have received a dedication card to fill out. We want everyone (yes, you!) to use these cards to make note of how you’re stewarding God’s grace. That is, to write what you are doing and what you’d like to do. Then we’ll offer that card to God as part of worship. It will be a way of recommitting ourselves to Christ, together, as people united at First Presbyterian.
That card will also include a way to offer our estimates of giving for the coming year. That’s a crucial part of your leadership’s planning process. I love to share that your elders are prudent: we don’t plan to spend more than we can expect. But your elders are also visionary: we put into play all the resources we can expect. That way every gift, all year long, truly counts. 
We know how much God has blessed us in Christ Jesus and through our church. I believe that November 12 will release joy as we intentionally dedicate ourselves, together, in worship at each service. Please make every effort to be there! I eagerly look forward to this day because, as ever, I love being your pastor!

The Giving Quilt

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
Immersed in the powerful words from Paul to the Ephesians and leading up to Dedication Sunday, the children of First Presbyterian have learned what it is to be loved by God before the creation of the world and what it means to be his craftsmanship. In children’s church, little ones have viewed and discussed works of art including Da Vinci’s Last Supper and Monet’s Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge, learning that they, even more so, are priceless masterpieces. While singing songs, the children enjoyed a game of freeze where they struck a pose and said, “I am God’s masterpiece!” As God’s beautifully created workmanship, they learned that they can steward the grace given to them by serving others with their unique gifts out of love for Jesus.
And so the idea of the giving quilt was born.
“Children need to hold something tangible,” says Cate Heroman, lifelong educator and frequent collaborator who volunteers in ministries at First Presbyterian.“When children give something that they have created and have held in their hands, it impacts them.”
Beginning in October, the children of First Presbyterian began designing quilting squares during the Sunday School hour. On each square, a child draws a picture that depicts their spiritual gifts and how they can use these unique gifts for Christ, stewarding God’s grace that has been given to them. Some painted themselves singing and praising God with others. One drew himself sharing an umbrella in the rain. Others painted hearts, hands and feet to show that they can be greeters at church, pray for others and go share the good news of Jesus with the world. In addition to the quilting squares, stories from The Gospel Story Bible curriculum have been woven into the theme of stewardship throughout the nurseries and classrooms on Sunday mornings. 
Culminating November 12, the giving quilt showcasing the spiritual gifts and handiwork of the children will be incorporated into a combined Kingdom Kids Sunday School class with Cate Heroman as the guest storyteller. The quilt is the children’s contribution to the church and ultimately to Bethany Centre in Uganda, an orphanage and school that First Presbyterian children learned about in August during the Global Missions Conference.
Your turn. Freeze . . . strike a pose and say, “I am God’s masterpiece!” Celebrate giving out of the grace we have been given. 

Give Glory! Stewarding God's Grace

Suppose you were down on Bayou Black and saw the sun setting all washed with pinks and reds. What would you do? Maybe speak. “That’s gorgeous!” Maybe take a picture. “I have to show this to everybody!” Or maybe you want a picture so you can paint it. You just want to soak in and give back some of that beauty. Maybe you just take it all in quietly, praying in your heart, “Thank you God.” We encounter beauty and we want to respond.
Here’s news. God himself wants us to reply to the beauty he reveals! He wants us to make a return. To thank him with full hearts in worship. And to share with others the treasure he has revealed to us.
There is nothing more beautiful in all the universe than Jesus. He is the face of God shining on us. He is the heart of God opened to us. When we catch sight of the risen Savior holding out his nail-pierced hands in welcome, our breath catches. This is how you love me? “Come to me,” he beckons. And our hearts leap toward his open arms in full devotion. When we perceive Christ’s beauty, we want to tell him, “You’re beautiful!” We want to declare that beauty. Sing it. Draw it. Guard it. Share it. Serve it. Drink it in and give it out joyfully.
Our triune God eagerly desires us to reply to the beauty of the love he shares. There are a myriad of ways to do that. Peter wrote, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace.” God shares his beautiful grace through his people. His glory gets made known through all the ways we offer back from what we have received. This can be service or teaching. Hospitality or administering. Preaching or cleaning. Changing babies or singing. Giving money or spending time. Studying or painting. We give glory to our glorious God as we adorn him through the ways we offer back ourselves.
That’s our focus this fall. We want to celebrate the ways we are stewarding God’s grace through our church. You’ll be amazed to realize all the ways you are already doing this! On November 12, we want to rededicate ourselves as a reply to Christ’s beautiful grace. We’ll make our financial commitments, of course. They’re crucial! We’ll also offer back the places where we are serving and where we might like to serve more in the future.

Who Dat?

If you’re part of “Saints Nation,” you know the chant. “Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?” For years, it’s been a rallying cry for games. The essence is straight from the playground: “Our guys are better than your guys! If you think your guys will win, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.”
I’ve recently been reading about a “Who dat?” moment in Psalm 24. The psalm was written for a worship parade. The people remembered the glorious day when young King David had recovered the sacred Ark of the Covenant from the dreaded Philistines. The Ark contained the Ten Commandments. It’s top was the mercy seat, where atoning blood was offered. In short, the Ark meant the saving presence of the LORD. Through a great victory, the Ark was going back to its holy place in the sanctuary. Symbolically, God was coming home.
This historical moment was so sacred that it got re-enacted year after year. Psalm 24 describes a dialogue between the throng of people and the gatekeepers of the temple. The crowd cries out, “Open up, you gates, that the King of glory may come in!” The gatekeepers reply, “Who is the King of glory?” In other words, “Who dat?” What God is mightier than all gods? Who do you worship? Why should we let that God be in the heart of our sanctuary? Who dat God you got?
The people reply “The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle. He is the King of glory. So let us in to worship the one true God who redeems and saves. 
Open up!”
I can imagine this exchange going back and forth for a while until the people’s voice thunders. The trumpets blow and cymbals clash who dat? “The LORD, the LORD, the LORD, dat’s who!” So the gates open and the people dance to the house of the LORD and enthrone him as King all over again.
I hope you feel that when you come to worship. We proclaim the King of glory clearly and joyfully. I hope people all over will ask, “Who dat? Who dat God dey worship at First?” For we have a glad answer. The Lord Jesus Christ, the King of love, the suffering savior, the reigning Lord, the Lamb who was slain, the Messiah who is coming again to set all things right, the man who is God, he is the King of glory!
One 11 am Service September 3
Members of Abounding Love Ministries will join us for a special combined worship service Sunday, September 3 at 11 am. Pastor Adraine White will deliver the message, their worship team will join ours and we’ll have communion together. Don’t miss it! There will be no Sunday school.

Fall Discipleship

We have many things to look forward to in the life of the church this fall. One thing to be excited about is the return of our Sunday school classes which resume August 13. I talk to so many in our church who long to have a growing relationship with Christ, long to know his Word better and long for deep connections within the church. Our Sunday school classes offer a perfect opportunity for all three objectives to be accomplished. Scripture tell us to “not be conformed to this world, but renew our minds” (Romans 12:2). Our teachers would love to help you do just that. Each of these returning classes would love to welcome you: Barry Phillips’ CrossRoads class, the rotation of teachers in the Tom & Jerry class, Ryan Dickerson’s Kingdom Builders class or the Journeys class led by Kyle Beall, Jeff Swarner and Shawn Wilson. For the young adults, we have The Bridge with Jade and Katherine Tomeny. In every class, you’ll find seminary-level depth taught by teachers who are loving and eager to help you get grafted in!

And, in the words of a 1980’s game show host, “But, that’s not all!” This fall we launch The Well, a brand-new class taught by Scott Graham. One of Scott’s outstanding qualities is his passion for helping Christians grow in spiritual formation. Join him in the Library for a new study on spiritual gifts. You’ll learn about the Holy Spirit and how he empowers every believer with gifts to edify and bless. Explore how God has gifted you, how you can be a part of blessing Christ’s body and make some great friends in the process!

Small Group Update

As you plan your fall calendar, don’t forget to leave room for small groups! We will follow along with Gerrit’s sermon series on Ephesians. Group discussion questions will be available starting Sunday, September 10. If you are interested in joining a group or leading a new one, connect with Kelly Wood ( 

Right Now Media

Do you know that our church pays for a subscription for all congregants of FPC to Right Now Media? Not sure what Right Now Media is and why we’d make this subscription complimentary to you? At First Presbyterian, we believe that God is to be worshiped in spirit and in truth. To do so, Scripture tells us to renew our minds and think about things that are pleasing to the Lord. Right Now Media is an online platform of countless videos and resources to help equip you in your journey to follow Christ. Looking for a good Bible study on a particular book of the Bible? Looking for an engaging and educational kids series for your little ones? Do you want practical Christian teaching on a topic like battling anxiety or forgiving those that have harmed you? Right Now Media has a treasure trove of content waiting for you to discover. Many have compared the entertainment section to a Christian version of Netflix, or the teaching section to an online seminary experience. Visit our church website to create your account and enjoy all that Right Now Media has to offer.  We trust it will benefit you greatly in your effort to be a disciple of Christ and disciple others. 

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Posted in: Discipleship

Fill Your Horn with Oil, and Go

As our youth staff has a habit of doing together, we were recently studying 1 Samuel 16, one of the many passages we’ll cover with the teens this school year. This passage is well known for many reasons, not the least is that it contains the account of David’s anointing as king. However, before David was set apart and placed on that path, one phrase stuck out to us and inspired a great deal of thought: “Fill your horn with oil, and go.”
In the passages preceding it, we find Samuel at a low point. He’s been rejected by the people, his own sons have betrayed him, the man he felt forced to anoint as king has failed in dramatic fashion to fulfill his duty of office, and so Samuel now sits in his sorrow over lost years and feelings of uselessness. It’s at this juncture in Samuel’s life and ministry that God speaks to him in 16:1, saying, “How long will you grieve over Saul?” But after acknowledging Samuel’s darkened situation—and perhaps offering a soft rebuke—God speaks those words to his saddened heart. “Fill your horn with oil, and go.”
We might be left to wonder why it seems that God doesn’t seek to comfort Samuel in his grief, doesn’t invite Samuel to process his emotions in the way we might want, but instead gives him work to do. God’s intent for Samuel was seemingly to pull him out of his hole by giving him something to do, some sort of service. It was this very idea that got us talking.
Perhaps those of us (and many of our teens) who struggle with anxiety and intrusive thoughts don’t need something to think, say, or take. Perhaps we need something to do. God’s command to Samuel in his own grief was not a callous brushing aside of Samuel’s feelings, nor does its example condone the idea of stuffing down and ignoring those emotions. Rather, part of God’s design for us as his creatures might just be to work out those feelings through action.
God commanded Samuel to do something that would have been hard for him. The last man he anointed was Saul and that didn’t go well. But not only did it challenge Samuel, it forced him to change his perspective from inward-facing to outward-facing. Filling his horn with oil and going was not simply to make Samuel feel useful again. It was so that he could serve his people by anointing David to soon be their king.
To put it very simply, God made us to work and he made us to serve, yet we live in a world filled with inaction disguised as action and one that makes self-service and an inward-facing life more possible than ever. What difference might it make for our hearts and in the lives of others if when we next sought to face our darkness, we did so by seeking to do something productive, specifically for the sake of another?

The Perfect Re-Gifting

Re-gifting. To most of us, this is a word that brings to mind bizarre statuettes, frozen smiles and “future white elephant party” fantasies. We try to pass off things we receive, but don’t want, to others who, we hope, won’t figure out that we took an unwanted gift and gave it away ourselves. But what if we re-gift the things that are most precious to us? It’s likely that our Christmas or birthday celebrations would be clothed in an experience of joy we’ve rarely known. Kristina’s Oma presented her with a carnelian pendant set in gold that belonged to her for many years when Kristina went for a visit in Amsterdam as a teenager, and she treasures it to this day. 
The Apostle Paul tells us of such a re-gifting. The Corinthian church he planted and pastored was filled with a large group of colorful characters. Some were catching onto the Christ-centered life, but others . . . not so much. There were problems involving sex, money, power and social relationships that Paul addressed with this young but undisciplined congregation. Finally, he turns to gifts from the Holy Spirit.
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed . . . there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit, and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12: 1, 4-7) 
Do you see that last sentence? EVERY believer in Jesus Christ receives a gift from the Holy Spirit, a manifestation of how God works among us. This includes abilities such as leadership, mercy, words of knowledge, craftsmanship and faith. There is a lively debate within Christian circles, including our wider Presbyterian family, over the continuing presence of all the gifts mentioned in Scripture, but all agree that the Father and the Son send the Spirit to each believer in the church. Yet what is the purpose of receiving these gifts? They are for the COMMON GOOD. In other words, Fred may receive the gifts of faith and help, but they are only activated as he uses them to bless Judy, John, and others in the church and beyond. Marjorie has gifts of shepherding and healing, but they only work as she acts on them toward others. Re-gifting is the whole point of spiritual gifts, and as we give away what God has given us to bless and serve, our church will see the ministry of Jesus Christ unfold and blossom both inside and outside the walls of our church. Talk about Christmas all year round! 
Unfortunately, many of us are simply uninformed about spiritual gifts, in particular the gifts God has given to us to share. This fall I am launching a Sunday school class, beginning August 13, that will spend several weeks looking at what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit, his work among us, and in particular, the spiritual gifts we may have to use. By the end of our time together, you should have a good idea of what your spiritual gifts may be, and how you can give them away in service! This is tied into our upcoming stewardship season and I’m so looking forward to what the Lord will show us! Instead of re-gifting that bald headed chia pet in your closet, you’ll have some “precious jewels” to pass on to your friends, neighbors and even the acquaintances in your life. “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9: 15)

God's Economy

Many times we look at our church financials as if we were a business with income, expenses and net profit. What we are really looking at are our offerings to God given out of love and obedience and the investments we hope to make advancing God’s kingdom. In advance of each budget year, we try to balance anticipated offerings with our investments in God’s work. It is much easier to plan for those investments than it is to anticipate the amount of offerings. Please know your Finance Committee is praying that God will enable all of you to give generously.

Which Way Is Your Face?

That’s a great question for a church! We head where our faces, well, face! So which direction should a church point its nose? I tend to think the answer is that we are called to be four-faced. The “direction” of a church can never be just one way. A vibrant church faces upwards, outwards, sideways, and, with caution and on occasion, inwards. 
First and always we look upwards to the Triune God. “Seek him who made the Pleiades and Orion,” says Amos. “Look upon him and be radiant,” says the Psalmist. “Set your hearts on things above where Christ is,” wrote Paul. We use upwards in relation to God to acknowledge that God is the reality, and he is always more than we are. God is not just an internal spiritual part of us. He is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit by whom all things were made. You can tell how a church faces upward by how that congregation admires Jesus, the face of God turned toward us.
We look sideways because Jesus connected loving him to loving one another. “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” That’s the truth! We want to be a church full of people who look at each other. In such a way that we see how it is with one another. We regard, listen, respond. Our sideways face radiates love.
The inward look is tricky. Because we can, like Narcissus, get enamored with our own reflection. Or mired in our own needs. Or stuck in our old shames. The proper inward look takes time to a) confess our sins and repent of them, and b) notice all the blessings of God and give thanks for them. We always need to grow in awareness as individuals and a church body. But never to stay stuck looking inward! Our inward look drives us to look up to Jesus, sideways to each other, and . . . 
Outward to the world. A hurting world wants to know, “Do you see me? Do you drive around me or come to visit me? Do you bask in the warmth you have with each other without opening the circle or extending the reach?” I’m always proud of our church, but I especially admire the relentless outward facing. As individuals, you are aware that every day you enter the mission field of your life. You know that your work is part of caring for the world. You look for opportunities to love and serve in every situation. And as a body, we push outwards in mission.
We’ve been blessed with abundance. We have an endowment. But your leaders make sure endowment income from our Foundation faces outwards. Last week the session released $79,000. We’re supporting five seminary students training for either church ministry or Christian counseling. We granted a Russ Stevenson Church Planting scholarship to a pastor beginning an EPC church in Smyrna, GA. We also reached across continents, making a grant to our partner church in Cairo for youth training. And we began what we hope will be a long partnership with EduNations, an evangelistic ministry in Sierra Leone of which Scott Graham is current board president. We’re showing our face in Baton Rouge, across the country and around 
the world. 
You have a beautiful face, dear church, as it points all four directions!

How Can I Find Easter Joy?

That’s a real question. We get excited for the celebration on Palm Sunday and the joyful services and family gatherings on Easter. We get really busy preparing. But sometimes we may wonder why this holiday does not touch us more deeply.  Jesus is risen. Where’s the gladness?
I’d like to suggest a counter-intuitive path to Easter joy.  Push more deeply into the passion! The key to Easter is the cross. The ugly, loud, defeating, disgusting crucifixion of Jesus unlocks the vault of resurrection hope. Too often we have skipped from Palm Sunday to Easter without a stop at Golgotha. That cheapens our celebration. But who really wants to press into the most horrible method of punishment yet devised? Besides, the rest of the world barely acknowledges Easter, so games and matches and deadlines steal our attention from Holy Week. That’s not a judgment, just a diagnosis of why Easter joy eludes us so often. Here are 5 ways to follow Christ more closely this 
Holy Week.
1) Ponder the Passion. Read the accounts of Jesus’ agony in the Garden, his arrest, scourging, trial, crucifixion and burial. Spend ten minutes a day with one of the gospels open to these accounts. Visualize. Feel. Pray with Jesus in his suffering. You might even want to check out my article “Break the Hardness in Me” going live April 4 at
2) Spend Time in Week Six of “Come and See.” Days 36 to 42 will take you to the drama of Jesus’ final day and the release of his rising. Whatever you might have missed along the way, this Holy Week engage week six with your full attention.
3) Attend the Service of Shadows. On Holy Thursday, April 6 at 7 pm, we will move through the passion story with a feast of visual, musical and spoken offerings. We’ll stop along the way to the cross to ponder six magnificent paintings, vividly displayed on our high definition screens. We’ll have communion, extinguish candles and conclude quietly at the garden tomb. Together, we can viscerally experience the passion at a new level. 
4) Curate Your Own Set of Images, Essays, Poems and Reflections on the Meaning of Jesus’ Passion. Google or Bing are amazing tools for mining the treasure of Christian art, literature and theology. The more you try searches such as “the thief on the cross” or “why they gave Jesus vinegar on the cross,” the better you will get at excavating jewels of our faith. 
5) Change Your Rhythm. Skip something during Holy Week. Reduce your schedule. Get up a half hour early. Take a walk with one phrase of Scripture to ponder. Read passages with your family. Watch The Chosen. Fast for a meal. Invite someone to talk about the cross with you.
We have an immense storehouse of grace. But accessing it doesn’t just happen. We press into the passion, with all the emotional, spiritual and intellectual effort it takes. Then, only then, does the release of joy on Easter become ours.
So glad to be on this journey with you,

Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Direction

Many of you know that I am your Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care. This means you’re likely to see me if you’re in the hospital, homebound or in a Senior Care or rehab facility. But the other part of my title is Associate Pastor for Prayer which includes aspects of spiritual formation. This includes prayer, obviously, and numerous other spiritual disciplines, such as meditative reading of scripture, fasting, and retreats. Two other responsibilities under this heading are pastoral counseling and spiritual direction, which are often confused with each other. What is the difference?
Pastoral Counseling typically involves a defined focus on a life challenge, such as a relationship difficulty or a behavior where change is desired. Scripture, prayer in various forms, anointing with oil, and theological reflection and a recognition that the worshiping church family is a resource for healing are usually included in pastoral counseling at some point. We are blessed to have an outstanding team of Christian counselors right here on the third floor at the Baton Rouge Christian Counseling Center, and typically I will make a referral to one of our licensed therapists if more extensive work is needed. Yet there are certainly times when counsel with a pastor is the right approach, or a good beginning. 
Spiritual Direction is an opportunity for intentional, set-apart, prayerful presence, usually in a one-on-one setting, where the director creates and holds open space for the directee to notice God’s presence and the voice of the Holy Spirit in a more attentive and developed way. The goal is to shape the directee into fuller life in Jesus Christ. Meeting with a director can be helpful when one is facing a new “chapter” in life, such as an empty nest, a change in jobs or retirement, or a reevaluation of life due to a dramatic life event or a ‘tug’ from God through a sermon or prayer time. My doctoral work at Gordon-Conwell is in Pastoral Theology in Practice, which focuses on these two related, but distinct, pastoral responsibilities. Consider this a friendly invitation to meet with me over coffee or in my office if you want to explore either of these options in your adventure of Christian faith, as we follow Jesus, who has come “that you may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10: 10).

The Strange Way the Gospels Are Written

How brilliant is our God! The LORD inspired the 150 songs that are the psalms. But God didn’t give us any tunes! Great lyrics. But we get to make up the tunes. So the psalms continue to inspire music across cultures and centuries. 
The Holy Spirit inspired four views of the life of Jesus in the gospels. Each corroborates the other. Each is unique. But have you noticed a quality all the gospel stories share? They never tell us how to feel. They rarely tell us explicitly how Jesus felt. Or how the characters felt. The gospels give us the bare bones of the events. The essential words but not all the words. The borders of the story but not every detail of the occurrence. 
That’s a lot like giving the song lyrics without the tunes. The gospel stories invite. No, actually they demand, that we fill them in. That’s part of what makes them so compelling. They leave room for us. They pull us into the narrative. We get to consider how people felt and when we might feel the same. We get to identify the conflicts, the hopes, the change, the point. There’s nothing quite like the gospels as literature in all the world. 
But then, that’s not surprising, since the triune God himself inspired the many writers of Scripture to speak with unified but unique voices across centuries.
As you read in John this Lent, take some time to think about the literary wonder you’re encountering. Recall just how amazing it is that the Spirit continues to speak through the ancient word a unique and personal word to you—to you!
Volunteer to Bag Food for the Needy
The Christian Outreach Center (1427 Main St.) would love volunteers to help bag food for the needy each Wednesday between 8.30 am and noon. Sign up by using the volunteer form at Please type "bagging" in the notes section before you submit. You will be contacted regarding scheduling and details.
Gardere School Art Gallery Walk 
Please join us Sunday, March 19 for our Gardere School Gallery Walk. Our beloved Gardere students will be sharing over 100 pieces of their finest work. The Gallery Walk will be held in the Reception Room and up for display throughout the day. Light snacks and beverages will be provided that morning. We look forward to having you! Don’t forget to welcome the children and their families in worship!
Spring Cleaning 
Now is a great time to donate furniture, clothing and housewares to the Purple Cow. These thrift stores provide significant funding for the Christian Outreach Center, one of our core ministry partners. The COC assists walk-in visitors, leads job training workshops and teaches financial literacy. The COC offers a hand up, not just a hand out!
It’s joy to be pursuing Jesus together during Lent, and as ever I love being your pastor!

Watch and Pray

Over our years together, Rachel and I have taken many 10+ hour drives over the course of a single day. On one such occasion in August of 2018, we were facing the long drive back to Jackson, MS after a hot outdoor wedding as the sun began to set against a brilliant evening sky. While driving on previous road trips, I had felt my eyes droop and my head begin to nod (telltale signs of being on the edge of sleep), so I knew my physical limits of exhaustion while driving. During that particular drive home, I used every means possible to keep awake at the wheel. I cranked the AC uncomfortably high, I blasted music that would get my blood moving, I drank an amount of caffeine that was on the edge of unwise, I engaged Rachel in conversation for hours on end, and I even came to the point of slapping myself in 
the face!
Why would I resort to such ridiculousness? I knew the danger. Falling asleep at the wheel is deadly serious business, as I’m sure you know well. Knowing the danger, therefore, I will take every precaution to avoid the catastrophic effects of such an action. As I’ve recently pondered and preached over the last few verses of 1 Peter, these experiences came to mind as I considered the implications of what Peter calls Christians to in verse 8 of chapter 5: “Be sober-minded; be watchful.” The Holy Spirit through Peter’s pen exhorts each of us to have our eyes open, firmly awake and aware of our surroundings, ready for whatever might come.
While it may not be evident immediately, I believe Peter’s command to exiled Christians provides a reflection of his on an experience with Jesus a few decades prior. It was Thursday night, the night when Jesus was to be betrayed, and as the disciples joined Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told them simply to “watch and pray” (Matthew 26: 41). Failing to do just that, the disciples fell asleep as Jesus prayed to the Father, the first step which led to their flight and abandonment of the Lord at his arrest. 
As with much in his life during Christ’s earthly ministry, Peter learned best from his failure. Therefore, he reminds us as Christians the importance of watching and waiting, to be sober-minded and watchful, to watch and pray. To take these imperatives to heart, we need to be aware of our tendency to spiritual drowsiness. As I am aware of my tendency to doze at the wheel while the day is dark, we ought to know what seasons of life might yield unique temptations to let down our guard. It may be in times of prosperity, times of spiritual victory, times of isolation, or times of uncertainty. Whatever the season, be aware of the temptation to let down your guard. 
Then, aware of our surroundings and the present danger, we ought to seek the Lord, running to him, fixing our eyes upon him, clinging to his promises, finding our strength in his. This is what is meant by Christ’s command to “watch and pray.” It calls us not only to holy diligence in watching but also holy dependence in prayer. As the watchman defends a city against attack by sounding the alarm to wake the sleeping guard, so too ought we sound the alarm of prayer before and during times of temptation. When we do so—grabbing hold by prayer and living into God’s promise to hear our cry, to never leave us nor to forsake us, to provide a way of escape when temptation does come—we are invited to find a firm place to stand, a refuge and strong tower to keep us safe. 
As this season of Lent progresses and we find ourselves in a heightened place of spiritual practice, don’t neglect the need for holy watchfulness. Rather, use these weeks leading up to the Lord’s passion to stand beside him, joining with him in the Garden on Thursday night, ready to watch and pray.

A True Joy + Enlightening: Romania Mission Trip

Last year’s Christmas mission trip was a real joy. I witnessed first-hand, a country 30+ years post-communism beginning to become a “baby capitalist” society. With that transition, there are classes of people (elderly, mentally handicapped, orphans, homeless) and cultures (Gypsies, Ukrainian refugees) that have been left without meaningful support.
The Smiles Foundation has been operating in this region during this entire time and has made a constructive difference within these classes and cultures. Some of what I saw was hard to believe, but my biggest surprise is how effective true Christian philanthropy demonstrated by the Smiles Foundation has been and continues to be.
On Thursday, March 9, the man who leads Smiles Foundation, Kevin Hoy, will be in Baton Rouge to give a presentation at my house (5148 Mimosa St.) at 6 pm. Please RSVP to Whitney Alexander (225.810.2607).
Our next Romania mission trips are May 19-27 and December 1-10.
Posted in: Missions

The Power of Together

Do you remember our talk last summer? I know you don’t. Because it occurred inside my head and heart. I spent about three months in a near constant conversation with three partners: you, the people I met in the Gospel of John, and Jesus. I had one ear cocked to listen to what the characters in the stories were experiencing. I had another ear turned toward your lives. I lifted both up to Jesus. Then I considered deeply his replies to the people in the passages, as if they were for you as well. That’s how this year’s Lent book, Come and See, got forged.
Engaging Scripture is always better together. When the Son of God came to us as Jesus, he entered conversation with us. He didn’t just lecture. He asked questions and replied to questions. Christ’s teaching occurs in relationship. In the midst of ordinary daily life. And amidst the yearnings, needs, wounds and wanderings of the human heart that stay constant across the changes of centuries and cultures. 
The wonder of the Bible is that we can enter into these conversations Jesus had and discover how they include us! When we make the heart connection with the characters, the stories go from being weird, distant events, to urgently relevant for us. That’s what we’re after in our 100 days in John, and especially during Lent.
For as we pray and read these stories daily, it makes a huge difference to me to know that many hundreds of fellow believers are engaging at the same time. It motivates me not to skip. It encourages me to pray for my fellow questors for Christ. It gives me warm joy to know we’re all connecting to Jesus together.
That’s why we try to platform Come and See in multiple ways. We’ll be giving out the physical book (with wonderful full color art!) February 19 and the Sundays thereafter. We can also send daily emails (subscribe here). People can find the readings, prayers and art on our website and via our app. Wherever you are in the world, you can stay connected to each and all of us.
And, of course, joining a small group means your individual meditations can be enriched by interaction with others. When we verbalize our response to Scripture and listen to others verbalize their responses, we get threaded into the conversation more deeply.   All of that gives us a wonderful unity on Sundays when we are worshiping through the lens of what Jesus has revealed in these stories. 
I can’t wait for the conversations I had in my head and through my keyboard to become live interactions with you, beloved congregation! Plan now to grab a book (or call us if you’re homebound), sign up for the emails, and get connected to a small group. And do consider with whom you could share a copy of Come and See with an invitation to join us in this quest to know Christ more. 

100 Days in John!

New Year’s Opportunity: Let’s take a plunge into the beautiful, mystical, poignant, Gospel of Jesus Christ according to John. No book explores more fully the identity of Jesus as the God who became man. What fascinated me in preparing this study was how much insight into Christ is conveyed through the conversations he had. Jesus revealed his identity through his real interactions with ordinary people. In many cases, Jesus prompted our questions, enticing us to go deeper. The more we contemplate these conversations, the more intrigued with the Lord we become. 
I hope you’ll read through the Gospel of John as we start the messages January 8 with Christ’s first miracle recorded in John 2 as part of a conversation he had with his mom. When we get to Lent in mid-February, we’ll have a beautiful new guide called Come and See that will take us daily through the questions people asked Jesus.
Stay-Treat February 3-4: Five Mysteries in John
John’s Gospel gives us titles for Jesus found nowhere else. These simple words contain ocean depths of meaning. They are mysteries made known. Secrets that are open. Easily understood on one level, intriguing for a lifetime of exploration at deeper levels. There’s great stuff in John that we can’t get to in the Sunday messages.
So we’re hosting a stay-treat; time set apart for focused study, worship and fellowship where you still get to sleep in your own bed! Friday night includes delicious dinner, presentations and wonderful dessert. Saturday morning includes a light breakfast and three exciting presentations. There’s even a kids track!
The five mysteries include The Word, The Footwasher, The Vine, The Helper and the Triune Gift. Presenters to be revealed. But I can tell you this. They’ll be scintillating! Mark your calendar today!
Ministry Grants
Your elders distributed over $79,000 in grants to seminary students and ministry partners this past fall. Thanks to the generous distributions from our church Foundation, we are able twice a year to fuel mission over and above our usual programs. Seminary student Noah Pourciau received a grant. So did Abounding Love Church. Front Yard bikes teaches at-risk students how to repair bikes as a way to learn work skills and life skills, as the gospel comes wrapped in the work. We’re contributing to a program to support fathers in North Baton Rouge, a mission which brings The Jesus Film by motorcycle into remote parts of Africa, and an EPC church on the Mexican border that is creating a sanctuary. Rejoice in the bounty your church gets to spread around the world!
It’s my abiding pleasure to walk shoulder to shoulder with you through a life spent seeking to know, worship and serve our lovely Savior.

Saying Goodbye to Everything Familiar

What would cause an apparently sane pastor and his beautiful wife to say goodbye to everything familiar in western Pennsylvania and move 1200 miles to Baton Rouge?
Before I answer that question, let me share a little more about myself. My wife Kristina and I are Midwesterners, and met in music school at Northwestern, outside Chicago. We’ve been married 33 years, and have three grown children: Jessica, married to Taylor, and their darling 1 year old daughter Ruby, who live in Tacoma, WA; son Emerson, in Pittsburgh; and our youngest, Ian, and his wife Sarah, who reside in Washington DC. Our only companion at home currently is our black sheepadoodle, Schubert, who is an excellent social coordinator and face licker!
Kristina and I enjoy hiking, music and concerts of all sorts, conversations over open Bibles and good food, and traveling. In fact, I would say we’ve developed a healthy sense of adventure over the years, based on following God’s call, what the Iona Christians in Scotland several centuries ago called "chasing the wild goose." My Masters of Divinity was gained at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California, with a year of post-graduate study at Blackfriars, Oxford University, a Dominican (Catholic) priory. I tell people that year I felt like Julie Andrews in reverse! I’ve been in ordained pastoral ministry since 1992, serving Presbyterian churches in the Cincinnati and Pittsburgh areas. I’ve also had the opportunity to do some mission teaching in Albania and Sierra Leone, and am currently serving as board chair for an organization called Edunations, which has been planting EPC churches as well as schools across several rural villages in West Africa, presenting the gospel to several tribes that have never had the opportunity to hear of Jesus Christ’s saving love before.
My role at FPCBR is Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care, Prayer, and Spiritual Formation. Kristina and I were mostly minding our own business one evening when an email popped up on my screen from Gerrit Dawson. I certainly knew and respected Gerrit and First Presbyterian from a distance (my only previous time in LA was when you hosted the 2012 EPC General Assembly!), but I had never considered pastoral work in the south, much less THIS far south! Yet when the search committee sent the job description my way, we could tell the Lord was very much at work. I am extremely grateful for Biblically grounded, excellent preaching. I rejoice over gifted choirs and praise teams glorifying God with the congregation. I insist on being a part of a community of faith committed to mission both locally and internationally. But I also recognize that for many, growing in faith and trust in God’s character come when we are faced with difficulty or suffering. Pain, loneliness, grief, or crisis often provide the richest soil for biblical faith to flourish (see Hebrews 11). So, to answer my opening question: we’re in a new place because we’re excited to participate in the adventure of faith, hope, and love in Christ with you. Our Triune God is doing his wonderful work in the sanctuary, around the dinner table, and even by the hospital bed. It will be a joy to sit beside yinz/y’all as he does!

Seriously: Let's Be Jolly!

The Italians seemed so subdued. In previous years, I felt so Anglo, talking quietly across the table while all around me the Romans were inches from each other’s faces, gesturing with their hands, laughing and interacting exuberantly. But this year when I visited my brother, people seemed so glum. Why?
The Covid years were hard. There’s a war in Europe. Inflation. Western culture ruthlessly shredding itself. There’s a lot prompting us all to be somber. Lots of people are frustrated and angry most of the time.
But is that the way it should be for those united to Jesus as Christmas approaches? 
Have we, have I, forgotten the treasures in our storehouse of faith? Couldn’t we open the jewel box and pull out some of these lovely strands: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. Unto us a child is born. Unto us a Son is given. His name is Immanuel, God with us. For he shall save his people. You, child, shall be a light to enlighten all people. And of his kingdom, there shall be no end. What if we composed our thoughts with these shining verses every day this month?
The world is certainly no worse than it was the year Jesus was born. We have a Redeemer. We know the truth. We know how the story will end. Seriously, people, it’s time to get jolly and let the world see its hope.
A Festive Eve, A Quiet Day
As usual, we will have three services on Christmas Eve: 11 am, 4 and 6 pm. Though the music varies slightly, each will feature Silent Night, Joy to the World, candlelight and communion. My message is called “Home Calling.” Christmas Day is a Sunday and we decided to offer a 5 pm service in the Chapel. This will be “A Quiet Christmas,” with time to reflect and pray after all the festivities have wound down. 
Our congregation keeps Christmas with devoted faith, many signs of giving to others, good cheer and a true joy in belonging to Christ. I love to keep Christmas with you!

Start with Your Income

In an article by Dave Ramsey (Financial Peace University) on family budgeting for Christians, the first step he notes is this: “Start with your income. Write down what you will get paid.” The second step is that “it’s our responsibility to prioritize tithing.” He goes on to talk about zero-based budgeting, saving, listing all expenses, etc.  I’ve gotta tell you, it sounds a lot like our church budgeting process. Although we’ve begun the process of identifying all our expenses by department and line item, writing down what our income will be begins on Dedication Sunday when we receive your pledges or estimates of giving. Ultimately, writing down “what we will get paid” determines our mission and ministry budget for the coming year. 
Until the pandemic, our income forecasting model worked well for us. That, coupled with your faithfulness, helped us build predictive, useful budgets. For the past three years however, our giving patterns have changed. Some of you no longer pledge but continue to give generously. Some of you have opted to give automatically on a monthly basis using credit cards and ACH’s. Still others wait until year-end to make your gift to the church. 
Just as Christian families build their budgets each year, our commitment to an accurate, responsible budget is resolute. Your participation in Dedication Sunday by giving us an estimate of giving, or even pledging, helps us build a more accurate budget because we are able to “write down what we will get paid.” Thank you in advance for your financial investment in God’s economy at First Presbyterian Church.
One last thing. We already know of several fixed operating expenses that are increasing quite a bit. I’d also tell you that our church staff, part- and full-time, have not had an increase in their base pay since the pandemic began. If you can increase your investment, the return will be great. God bless all of you.


What Does It Mean to Keep the Sabbath Holy?

There is a kind of hurry that is a form of violence exercised upon time that is detrimental to our health, to our families, to our communities and to our relationship with God. Living under pressure is part of life and we must be careful not to rationalize. God didn’t make mistakes in creating time and he made enough of it. When we cannot find enough time and, as the psalmist says, find ourselves getting up earlier and going to bed later because we have too much to do, we can see this as a sign to make some changes in our lives.
One of the ten commandments is "Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day."  Today, there is a lot of confusion about what it means to keep the Sabbath day holy. For the most part, this commandment is simply ignored. As Wayne Muller points out, “we have turned a commandment into a lifestyle suggestion.  More and more, it’s business as usual on Sundays; many of us are obliged to work on that day, church attendance is declining steadily, and we are living increasingly pressured lives.”
What does it mean to keep holy the Sabbath day?  It means more things than we imagine.  It is one of the key practices of our Christian faith, and yet, it is ignored. On my Sabbath day five years ago, I had scheduled three pre-marital appointments with couples in New Orleans, but I never made it. Due to fatigue and exhaustion, I closed my eyes momentarily and awakened to the biggest lesson I learned in my whole life.
For the next seven months, I had many opportunities to cry out to God and learn that the Sabbath day is an important part of my life. Unless we pull back from our normal lives regularly to rest, we will lose perspective on what is ultimately important and become compulsive and driven people.  It’s no accident that as Sabbath observance is slipping today, we find ourselves feeling ever more trapped and more pressured, always behind, never able to rest deeply and less able to delight in the deep joys of life.
Last summer, this loving congregation gave me a precious gift: a sabbatical.  A sabbatical is not a vacation nor is it time away as much as it is an opportunity to become all that God has called me to be. I ceased to work and intentionally chose to give good energy and focus to my family. This was carefully planned so that Phyllis, Andrew and Patrick received this investment. I am forever grateful to this congregation for investing in our family during my sabbatical.
Sabbath is a gift we are to share with others. God gave us the Sabbath. Jesus taught us that we weren’t made for the Sabbath but that the Sabbath was made for us. In the coming months, I plan to share with you what the Lord is teaching me on how to keep the Sabbath holy. I am still learning every day what it means to keep holy the Sabbath day. This is a lifelong journey for me and I am deeply grateful to be one of your pastors who is being led by the Holy Spirit to learn what it means to rest and take the Sabbath seriously.

Can You Get Along without Giving?

I think I tried that one summer in my early 20’s. I lived like a tick, consuming goods and services and kindnesses but giving almost nothing back. Like some potentate of old, my attitude was, “I must be amused!” Worst weeks of my life. All take and no give is not a path to abundance but misery. 
Just a few seconds of thought would have led me better. You can’t keep taking in oxygen and not give back any carbon dioxide. You can’t keep eating if your gastro system is not processing. Of course we can’t have relationships that are only one-sided. Not with family, friends, coworkers or the Triune God. We are built for exchange. To receive and to give. In fact, the longer I live, the more I realize that satisfaction—happiness--actually depends on giving more of myself than I am naturally inclined. Holding back, hedging bets, staying safe leads to isolation, fear and loneliness. Sacrifice leads to joy. 
Now, I am a hedonist. I want pleasure. I want the best life. How wild it’s been to learn that such fullness comes from self-emptying. So, because I love you, I have no hesitancy in encouraging generosity in our members. Often, what’s missing in our relationship to Christ is not another Bible study, but another tangible step outwards.
Giving back a significant portion of our income to God is an inescapable part of a robust life in Christ. So I love to see your generosity every stewardship season. I think I could make a good case that your church is busy about Christ’s work in this world. And that means there are always opportunity to give service to Jesus and his little ones:
*VineBR. There’s a desperate need for foster families in our community. On Sunday, October 9, an orientation for people considering fostering will be held at Bethany church at 2 pm.
*Building Up. Already this year, Bethany Centre has begun a second new classroom in Uganda and the ministry in Medellin Columbia is renovating the home for mothers and young children which we purchased. You’re doing that!
*Gardere and Buchanan. Elementary children at Gardere long for mentors to spend an hour a week with them through our KidsHope program. Students who got behind during COVID need adults to read to them at Buchanan. Hearing books read is essential to learning to read!
*Nursery and Childhood. We always welcome loving volunteers to rock babies and chase toddlers during the worship hours.
*Marriages require the gift of attention, listening and processing. There’s no better marriage seminar than Created for Connection. FPC members even get a 50% discount for the October 21 & 22 session. 
*International Friendship Partners welcomes LSU students from around the world; rEcess give families with special needs children a Friday night out; Caring to Love gives hope to those experiencing a crisis pregnancy, and the Christian Outreach Center offers mentors to those learning job and life skills.
We can’t get along without giving and I love to see all the ways you give your hearts to Christ as you serve in your daily lives. No wonder I love being your pastor.


The Most Important Instrument

What do you think the most important musical instrument is for our worship services? Does the answer depend upon which of our three services you attend? Can we say we have worshipped “contemporary-ish-ly” if we do not use drums? Or the electric bass? Surely the power of the pipe organ is required for the hymns. Perhaps it all hinges on the magnificent voice of your amazing worship director. (Haha! Saints preserve us! If that is the case, we are all in serious trouble.)
What is the most important musical instrument in our worship services?
It is the congregation.
That’s right. The most important musical instrument in the weekly gathered worship of our God is your voice in combination with other voices. No one can replace you. None can sing for you. Singing is one way that every individual actively fulfills the call to be a member of the holy priesthood. Our singing is one way we offer spiritual sacrifices to God and encourage one another (1 Peter 2: 4-5).
Now we at First Presbyterian are blessed with the incredible, talented, and beautiful support of instrumentalists and vocalists. Their enrichment of our musical worship takes my breath away. So often being on the platform during the beautiful music-making offers me the best seat in the house. 
But let me it put boldly. We could worship musically without the help of a single instrument and without any vocal leadership on the platform. However, we could not say that we had biblically worshiped if the gathered Elect had not sung. 
Now I know, Beloved, that you may feel awkward when you sing. You may not be ready to audition for the next season of “The Voice.” That is just fine. Whether or not you think you can sing well matters nothing at all. Truly. The quality and affection that God is looking for in worship comes from the heart (Ephesians 5: 19 & Colossians 3: 16).
So, would you have courage and take the risk of singing out loud in gathered worship?  Start softly if you must but do not be silent. We will not have the option to be silent on the Great Day. There is much we do not know about our future glory. One thing for certain, however, is that when we are gathered around the throne with every tribe, nation, people, and tongue we will be singing to God and to the Lamb (Revelation 5).
May as well get in lots of practice now!


New Season of Youth Studies

Autumn brings a new season of youth studies and activities, and this year is no exception! In addition to the weekly Bible studies going through 1 Peter on Sunday evenings and a fresh confirmation class, we’re already a few weeks into a Biblical Sexuality Sunday school series and a new weeknight study in apologetics for both middle and high school students.
The world in which we live is one that is often divided over issues of sex and our teens are on the frontlines of the battle against the truth of biblical sexuality. From the issues assailing them in pornography, LGBT+ issues and much more, it’s as important now as ever that they be prepared, not only to know the truth of God’s design, but also how to fight temptation and graciously bring the truth to bear in the lives of those who have been hurt by sexual brokenness. The middle and high school boys and girls (four groups in total) have been and will continue to consider these issues openly and truthfully with an eye to grace, forgiveness and healing. Your prayers for us in this capacity are appreciated!
Additionally, we continue a study in apologetics that I’m writing. The “Reinforced” series covers 12 common problems or objections to the Christian faith ranging from logical questions about the Bible’s supposed “errors” and “contradictions” to moral questions addressing how Christians are often labeled as unloving and hypocritical. Both high school (Paradigm) and middle school (Pursuit) will spend the year considering these and other apologetic challenges as we continue to encourage students to speak the truth in love.

We Meet over This

When I was very new to pastoral ministry, I got to see Ian McKellan perform his one-man play, Acting Shakespeare. Before he was internationally known as Gandalf and Magneto in movies, McKellan performed all the great Shakespearean roles. This show included excerpts from Hamlet and Macbeth and King Lear, interspersed with comment. At one point, he picked up a script and walked toward the audience. “What happens in theatre is that you and I meet over this. My job is interpret these lines in a way that you can connect to them.” I realized, “That’s it! That’s what happens at church. We meet over the script that is Scripture. As teacher and participants interact over the passage, it comes alive to us.”
Of course this meeting happens (I hope!) during a sermon.  It’s not just my talking, but your participation with your thoughts and questions and feelings as we work through the text. My job is to anticipate your questions and name them, to realize my own resistance to these truths and consider how those struggles might be yours too. In that way, though you may not be speaking aloud, you are interacting with the Word along with me. If it works, you leave feeling that the Bible story is indeed your story. And the Spirit has moved your life along according to the sacred script. It’s the coolest!
But this meeting happens so many other ways at church as well. We interact with others around, over and through the Bible and the great narrative of our redemption in Christ. This meets our deep need to be introduced to God. 
And also our yearning to be connected to others. Such interaction is the heartbeat of our church. 
Think of that when you gather for a home-group meeting over I Peter. Or when you engage Mark’s gospel in this fall’s women’s studies. When you meet with a fellow church member and talk about the Word together. When you’re in Sunday school or Circle, early morning study or talking about the Bible with a Gardere student. These are the life-giving conversations where God himself is our discussion partner! 
Faith Driven Entrepreneur Conference
We want to highlight the interaction between our faith in Christ and our work in the business world. And we have an exciting, energizing way to do that! The Faith Driven Entrepreneur Conference will stream live in our Sanctuary Wednesday, September 28 from 9.30 to 3.30. In addition to a stunning array of presenters, lunch will be served and there will be break out groups as we consider what it means to belong to Christ and be engaged in business.
The conference is free when you check out following the instructions:
In your Cart at Checkout, you'll see a grey panel on the right. Under “Promotions,” type in your promo code FPCBR and click the gray checkmark button. 
This will be an important day, well worth your time. Contact Hank Mills, Blake Fowler or Darin Travis for more information. 
As ever, please know how much I love being your pastor.

Exhilarating and Exhausting

Thank you for the sabbatical and vacation time this summer. It was an exhilarating and exhausting walk across Northwest Spain May 24-June 1 on the Camino de Santiago with six friends from First Presbyterian and Abounding Love Ministries. Charles Goebel, Annette Lamond, Milt Witty, John and Carol Norwood and their son-in-law Josh all participated in this incredible walk. It will be a cherished trip for as long as I live. I arrived at Santiago de Compostela Cathedral on the fifth anniversary of my terrible car accident. 
Much of my time during sabbatical was spent reading the book of Revelation in preparation for leading 20 men in two different Bible studies this coming year. The month of July specifically focused on reading Ruth Haley Barton's newest book, Embracing Ryhythms of Work and Rest: From Sabbath to Sabbatical and Back Again. I also attended a retreat in July on Discernment: Recognizing and Responding to the Presence of God at Transforming Community in Wheaton, Illinois.
I had the opportunity to vacation with Phyllis in Colorado, be with Andrew for Father's Day weekend and see Patrick in California at the end of my sabbatical. The rest was needed and I am excited to return and serve again at First Presbyterian. 
Thank you for caring for my family and especially allowing me a break after my many years serving Christ here. 

All Things New

How would you describe a “good life?” For the average person in the West, the life well-lived looks like the fulfillment of the American dream: career success, financial stability, raising a happy family, dying at an old age surrounded by family and friends. For most Christians in the West, if asked, the answer would likely remain the same with perhaps the tacked-on afterthought of “and when I die, I get go to be with Jesus.” Is that it? Does the good news of Jesus’ victory over sin and death in the world and in our lives matter no more than for the 5 short seconds after we breathe our last breath? This was Reverend Brian Sorgenfrei’s question on the final night of our second RYM (Reformed Youth Ministries) trip of the summer. It’s a question, not only for teens, but for us. 
The theme for this year’s series of RYM conferences was “All Things New” taking its primary inspiration from Isaiah 43 and 65 as well as Revelation 21; glorious promises and depictions of God’s ultimate purpose for creation and humanity — to make all things new. This is our future hope, the day that we await. But what we need to understand about this future reality is that it has present implications. It is often thought that any long contemplation of the life to come might lead one away from being useful in the here and now, but the opposite should be true. Many theologians have made note of this, understanding that only by a right meditation and contemplation on the future life — when all things are made new — can we be freed to live a good life in the present. This truly good life is a life lived in the freedom that only Christ can give, a freedom both to die and to live. 
As those following the path of the Cross, by fixing our eyes on our eternal destiny, we must find the freedom first to die to sin, to give up fleeting pleasure for the surpassing joy and lasting satisfaction that is in God alone. But this understanding leads not only to dying continually to sin, it ought also to lead us willingly to die to ourselves. If we truly believe that one day all will be made new, every wrong made right and every tear wiped away, it should lead us deeper and more freely into a life of selflessness, of forgoing personal satisfaction and joy in view of others, even of opening ourselves up to weep and mourn with others — something we often hold ourselves back from doing because we fear that temporary pain and discomfort will define our existence. And, what’s more, this contemplation of the future life should free us to die in an actual sense. Calvin wrote in his Institutes, “If we deem this unstable, defective, corruptible, fleeting, wasting, rotting tabernacle of our body to be so dissolved that it is soon renewed unto a firm, perfect, incorruptible, and finally, heavenly glory, will not faith compel us ardently to seek what nature dreads?” In other words, knowing that God is making all things new and that this life is only a foretaste of eternal glory, should make us free to die.
But not only should this grand picture of all things being made new give us freedom to die, it must grant us freedom also to live. As Reverend Sorgenfrei put it in our RYM large group sermons, it should free us to live life “holding on with open hands.” So many of us experience a profound level of self-imposed anxiety — especially in younger generations — simply because we fear that at any moment in time we might not be living our lives to the fullest, that we might have passed up “the chance of a lifetime” unknowingly by committing to just about anything. With a worldview that sees this life as all we get, such an anxiety about each passing moment would make sense. But in view of that Eternal Day, we ought to be free to live life “holding on with open hands,” enjoying the highs while they last and not turning away from the lows. All the while, being free also to live as glimpses of the New Creation, to love sacrificially, to welcome as God intends to welcome his own, to heal as those who serve the Great Physician, to listen as those who follow the one who hears the prayers of his beloved. This is true freedom to live.
Living as followers of Christ, therefore, is much more than just something that changes the end of this existence as we transition to the next. Again, as Brian said, “If God is making all things new, it changes our purpose. He is making all things new in you and through you.” It changes everything. 

Savor Summer

Does the arrival of June ever remind you of summers past? Can you still feel the excitement of getting out of school? Or getting ready for a trip to the water? Or playing outside until late? The Irish bard, yes Van Morrison, evokes the season: “Take me way back . . . where you could feel the silence at half past eleven on long summer nights as . . . voices echoed across the river . . . sunny summer afternoons picking apples . . . stopping for ice cream . . . conversation and laughter and music and singing . . . as we carried on dreaming in God.” I hope this summer you get to re-collect your life from the busyness of the year and recollect many memories even as you make new ones.
Your church will be here, joyfully celebrating the Lord’s Day each week. I’ll be preaching the Sundays of June, then hand over the reigns for a few Sundays in July. All that month will be single 10.30 Sanctuary services. Barry will give the Independence Day message. And George Gillam will bring us the Word from his perspective ministering to youth in North Baton Rouge. Our own youth will be off at camps; the children will encounter a Jerusalem marketplace at VBS; and we’ll lead a summer soccer camp with Abounding Love Ministries. On the last Sunday of July, we’ll have a special recognition of those who have been members of our church for fifty years or more. Who will take the prize for longest membership? Don’t miss the crowning of a new longevity winner! After General Assembly in Detroit, I’ll be in North Carolina for a few weeks, and hope to get a lot of work done on the sequel to Asking Jesus for next Lent. But do know that every day I give thanks for the joy of being your pastor,
Further into the World
Your elders have approved $78,400 in grants for seminary students, city ministry and global ministry. This includes helping underwrite a fathering program in North Baton Rouge, a facility for the disabled in Romania and a guest house for missionaries in Malaysia. Through your gifts and our foundation, our reach extends through our city to the world!
July Worship: Single 10.30 am Services
First Presbyterian Church invites you to attend its combined 10.30 am services each Sunday in July. These single services replace our typical worship schedule blending the styles of Classic Reformed, Contemporary and Chapel Communion worship. We encourage you to invite a friend. There will be no Sunday school.
Call for Meeting of the Corporation
On behalf of the church trustees, the session calls for a meeting of the Corporation of the First Presbyterian Church of Baton Rouge during worship at 10.30 July 31, 2022. The purpose of the meeting is to act on the recommendation that Amanda Vincent be elected as a trustee of the Corporation, and to engage any other matters of the Corporation. (Active members of the congregation are active members of the Corporation. Only those physically present may vote).

Our Heritage in Hymns

At one point in the not-so-distant past, I (like many my age) looked at the old hymnal that I grew up with and considered it a relic of a bygone era, something that desperately needed to be moved past in order to remain “current.” It was something I only faintly remembered reading as a child before my home church, like so many, decided the same. Yet, as the Lord would have it, my days of cracking hymnal spines were far from finished as I was confronted with this tradition once more when the Lord led Rachel and me to worship and serve in several small PCA churches in Mississippi while I was in seminary. I remember distinctly kicking against the goads at first, refusing to appreciate the rich history preserved in these contexts. Through the quiet leadership of previous mentors and the Lord’s softening of a proud heart, slowly the joy and beauty to be found crept in, at first in trickles, and later in a flood. While I respect and appreciate the variety of traditions of praise within the Christian heritage and in numerous cultures and contexts, I’ve become more and more convinced, as time goes by, that the songs of ages past are songs to which we should return. 
The beauty of a hymn is more than just in its sound; admittedly, the simple tune played on a piano with a few voices to sing out its lyrics is often an underwhelming experience. Many things in life are perfectly simple, even mundane at first glance. Waking up and taking a warm shower, cooking and eating a meal, that first sip of coffee, small talk with strangers, driving home through the Baton Rouge traffic. The list endlessly goes on. These are plain things, everyday tasks and experiences, but the depth to be found in each of these is so much more than what we might first acknowledge. We take so many profound things in life for granted and the simplicity and modesty of a hymn is no different. For this reason, in addition to what many perceive as archaic language, many of us turn our noses up at songs from “grandma’s church,” yet, in doing so, we rob ourselves of honest beauty, profound faith, and substantial theology. But why?
What person who knows the transcendence of God is not stirred to sing to the Holy One of Israel: “Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide thee, though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see, only thou art holy; there is none beside thee perfect in pow’r, in love and purity”? What soul convicted of sin finds no comfort in singing, “Not the labors of my hands can fulfill thy law’s demands; could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone, thou must save, and thou alone”? Or what troubled heart is not strengthened in crying with brothers and sisters: “Whate’er my God ordains is right: here shall my stand be taken; though sorrow, need, or death be mine, yet I am not forsaken. My Father’s care is 'round me there; he holds me that I shall not fall: and so to him I leave it all”?
I believe it’s high time that we reclaim our heritage in hymnody, an inheritance in song that has stood the test of time. If we were to take the time to sing, study and devote ourselves to these songs, we would find true treasures of our people from ages past, hymns that teach us the great truths of the gospel, hymns that we can sing on our deathbeds. 
My desire is not to convince you to abandon all other “worship styles,” nor do I ask that you prefer hymns and psalms over more contemporary worship music whether in corporate gatherings or at home. I merely hope to shine a light on the beauty of what these lines really are.They are the heart-poetry of Christians from age to age, prayers poured out from both joy and anguish, anthems of the people of God to strengthen us in the darkest of nights. For that reason, they ought to have a place not only in our pews, but also in our hearts.  

Malachi Dads

God is transforming men’s lives in our prison population.The Malachi Dads program (started at Angola) is a faith-based program helping men develop skills to reconnect with their children using Christian principles. 
Malachi Dads is a structured program designed to take men through the basics of Christianity. Groups of 12 men (called families) meet weekly to discuss the lesson. In these sessions, men learn the Christian skills necessary to meet the challenges of life and reconnect with their kids. 
The joy of participating in Malachi Dad’s Bible Study is establishing relationships with the men. Many friendships have deepened and we have seen the release of both George Gillam and Keith Morse within the last three years. Both men are employed at FPC part-time and work with fathers and sons in north Baton Rouge (70805 and 70802)! It is a joy for us to continue pouring into their lives in Bible Study outside of Angola prison. 
We have an opportunity to provide assistance to inmate facilitators for a growing number of inmate participants. No formal training or preparation is required. Please consider getting involved. You will be blessed seeing God’s work in our prison population. Get in touch with Whitney, Hans Othmer, Jerry Stovall, Bill Barkas, Brian Kinchen, Charles Goebel or Gee Gee Hargon. Thank you for your support of missions at FPCBR! 
Posted in: Missions

Take the Walk

Our theme picture for Asking Jesus this Lent has been Liz Swindle’s beautiful painting of the walk to Emmaus. Each day as we take up a question or a request of Jesus, we’ve had this scene in the background.  Would you like to walk with Jesus for a couple of hours talking about the Scriptures? I would!
Every year during Holy Week, Christ’s people try to do just that. We walk closely with him. We retell the epic events asking the Holy Spirit to make them present experiences in our lives. We want to keep watch with Jesus, to let him know our gratitude for all he did to undertake so great a salvation.  
And at FPC, we literally take walks with Jesus! On Palm Sunday we process around North Blvd. with palm branches. The children lead us as we declare, “Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”  We participate in that brief moment when the world recognized its savior. It’s been three years since we’ve been able to close North Blvd. for our procession and the big picnic that follows. To celebrate this return to a great tradition, we’re going to have a massive crawfish boil! Plus, of course, egg hunts, games and hot dogs for the kids and a glorious time as one church. 
On Holy Thursday, we take another walk. From the dramatic reading of the passion, we walk from the Sanctuary to the Terraced Garden where the body of Jesus is laid in the tomb.  We answer the question as we sing, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” As last year, the music will be richly layered with instruments and voices. We’ll add visuals on our stunning new screens to accompany the readings. And by all means, bring your children. This is a significant opportunity for the drama of the passion to be imprinted on the next generation.
Holy Saturday we don’t walk. We sit. We enter silence. We ponder the meaning of this huge pause, creation’s deep breath, between cross and empty tomb. If Easter joy has become stale to you, the antidote is to push deeper into the darkness of this bleak Sabbath.
Easter Morning we make our way to the Terraced Garden at first light, rejoicing to see the stone rolled away and declaring the news at the heart of the gospel, an announcement that has been reverberating throughout the cosmos: The Lord is risen! Breakfast in the Garden follows sunrise service before two glorious festival services of worship light up our sanctuary. 
Come take the walks with us! Don’t let anything stop you or your family. Not sports, not entertainments, not tiredness, not taxes, not doubt, not fear. There is no more important news in all of human history than what the church proclaims in Holy Week. Compared to this, nothing else matters. Let’s walk with Jesus!
Energizing Marriage Seminar. FPC will host Pete and Dee Adams leading a Created for Connection seminar for married couples, Friday evening, April 29 through Saturday afternoon April 30. Past participants describe the weekend as “enlightening, encouraging, revealing, hopeful, powerful, safe, loving and renewing.” Rhonda and I still reap the benefits from attending two years ago. Sign up at And here’s a little more incentive: for FPC church members, we will cover 50% of the cost! Just email Jaci Gaspard ( to let us know you’re attending.  

Say Whaaaaaat?!

Have you ever thought about what kinds of things people asked Jesus? They made all kinds of requests. They had all kinds of questions. Pharisees, demons, disciples, sick people, rich and poor, seekers and cynics, even Jesus’ own mother and the devil himself made asks. Some tried to deflect him from his mission; some just needed mercy. As a reader, I’ve thought with surprise, “I can’t believe you just asked that!” Many times, of course, there was a question within the question. There was another layer of meaning beneath the surface. Jesus always answered the deeper need. He always addressed the true motive. And his replies always opened a way for transformation.
I had not spent much time thinking about this gospel category of requests and replies. But once I did, I felt like I encountered Jesus in a fresh, compelling way. I’m very excited that you will soon receive Asking Jesus, our 2022 Lent book. You’ll be invited to join me in exploring 42 requests made of Jesus. I predict you will discover that many of these questions are your questions. You’ll realize, as I did, that we make all these same requests today. So Jesus’ replies relate directly to our lives. This Lent, we’ll be able to meet Jesus again, but as if for the first time. All in about 20 minutes a day during the season of Lent.
Once again, your elders and deacons will be hand delivering your books. (Those who live outside the metro area will have their book mailed. If we miss you, please let us know!). There will also be extra copies at the church. Day One is Sunday, March 6, and our sermons will be related to our readings. You can also get connected to a home group to take your explorations even further. And, of course, you can sign up to receive the daily readings sent to you (or 1000 of your friends) by email. Click here to subscribe. 
I love to keep Lent with you by intensifying our focus on our loving, saving Lord. Further up and further in dear flock!
Welcome Emily Viguerie!
On March 7, Emily Petty Viguerie will begin as our Director of Community Life. Emily has been a member of FPC since joining with her family in 2007. She graduated from Dunham and then LSU. Last year she married Russ Viguerie. She has been active in a women’s Bible study for 20-somethings, and brings a love for Christ, for people and for the ministry of our church. We’re thrilled to find someone who knows our church culture and brings fresh energy for welcoming new members and connecting long-time members. 
More about Emily

Why Are You Here?

“De ce esti aici?” (Why are you here?) It is June 1, 2015, and I am on my third mission trip with The Smiles Foundation in Romania. We have been led by a Smiles team leader to the third sub-basement of an abandoned Communist era hospital where some homeless are hiding. How they came to be homeless and why they are hiding are discussions for another time. I don’t know many Romanian words; the Smiles team leader is translating. At first, I think the woman asking the question is annoyed by our intrusion. No! The leader explains that she is incredulous that anyone would travel so far to care about her. I had been going on mission trips to Romania for somewhat selfish reasons. The woman’s question caused me to rethink my reasons and I would invite you to contemplate what I realized that day. It changed my perspective on mission trips.
Of course, going on a mission trip does cost money, time and personal risk  but Smiles hosts missionaries of all ages very comfortably. I found from our trip in December that COVID exposure seems as well managed in Romania as in the USA. Still, it would be far easier as an American, wealthy by worldly standards, to just cut a check. But what I did not realize was how much it means to the poor for us to be there, especially in parts of the world with virtually no “social safety net.” These people are alone. Profoundly alone. They need human compassion as much as food. The human compassion we bring by being there means so much. I have also learned that the Smiles staff is greatly encouraged and rewarded by the company of mission visitors.
Please consider joining us on a mission trip to Romania. Trips are filled with opportunities suitable for all ages and abilities for compassion, service and joy. We depart May 26 and return June 5, 2022. You can contact me or my wife Carol for further information. 
Posted in: Missions

Mission Trip to Colombia

Come join us this summer, June 25-July 2, as we serve with Global Transformation Ministries in Medellin, Colombia! The team will stay at Esther's Home in comfortable rooms for short-term workers. Esther's Home is located outside the bustling city of Medellin in a small mountain town providing safe refuge and a home for rescued mothers and babies. Staying at Esther's Home gives a wonderful window into the daily rhythm of the ministry and allows lots of opportunity to love on the moms and babies. Other ministry opportunites will be adjusted to the gifts and composition of the team. 
One possible work project may be to begin construction of an outdoor church at Esther's Home. Other opportunites are leading devotionals or teaching Bible studies and skills-training such as financial management, time management and healthy meal preparation. We will visit the new "transitional" girls' home in Medellin that your donations to the Building Up campaign helped purchase. We will cap off our week with a dinner out with the moms and the team! This trip to Colombia is limited to 15 people. Please contact me (225.573.6982) or Darin Travis (313.574.1205) as soon as possible if you are interested in joining the team. We'd love to have you!
Posted in: Missions


Do global missions right here in Baton Rouge. Global missions done on a local level is part of God's plan to reach the nations. It is quite remarkable when we think about the sheer number of internationals God has brought to our city; many from the least reached people groups of the world. We have Muslims, Hindus, Buddists and Chinese in Baton Rouge who have never had the opportunity to know the God that we follow and love. 
Consider the responsibility, privilege and joy of being the first ambassador of Christ to them or watering the seeds others have faithfully planted. The heartbeat of the International Fellowship Partners initiative is to share in word and deed the unconditional love and good news of Christ through genuine friendship building. 
God has brought them to us. An airplane ticket is not needed for this faith journey . . . just a willing heart to GO with God.  God calls us to GO and make disciples of the nations. Will you GO with IFP to internationals that God has brought to our city?
Consider giving a warm Kingdom welcome to Internationals playing fun games together at Games Galore Saturday, March 5, in the Gym from 2 to 5 pm. It is a great way to break the ice, share laughs and make friends. We will have toss games, indoor badminton, ping pong and outdoor badminton (weather permitting). Fun for the whole family!
RSVP to Valerie Gastinel (225.241.1386). Let her know if you plan to bring a game or snack (individually wrapped, please). Sharing food to display welcome is an integral part of most international cultures.
While food donations are appreciated, they are not required to attend.
IFP appreciates your prayers as we "reactivate" monthly gatherings with internationals after a long COVID pause. Please consider registering to be a Friendship Partner. Use the button to fill out a registration form. 
Posted in: Missions

You Comin'?

Michael Jackson’s first hit was called “I Want You Back.” That’s my heart for 2022. I want to see our Sanctuary filled again on a regular basis. Re-building the church is a key priority.
Across the nation, a Barna survey reported in November that in-person church attendance is down 30% to 50% from pre-COVID numbers. Even with vaccinations and the easing of restrictions. That’s across the nation. Now we’re an exceptional church in many ways, so our attendance is on the good end of that statistic. But we’re still down. And I want you back!
Of course, surges in COVID from breakthrough variants have made all interaction risky; especially for people in groups at a higher risk for dire complications. We get that. Health conditions and age-factors are real concerns. And it never seems to stop: Omicron has swept through the world and it will be another several weeks until it begins to dissipate. 
But virus avoidance has not been the only factor! The most common reason is that we just got used to “watching” at home. Or staying home and not watching. Isolation became comfortable. Getting up, dressed and out became a chore. Discovering all the other things there are to do on a Sunday morning became enjoyable. And we seemed to get along just fine without attending.
For church leadership, two ways to address this loss are open to us. One is to try to win the church by enticing consumers to make a consumer choice. “Come to church. It’s great! It’s a better experience to be in a live audience. We’ve got new screens. We’ve got amazing music. The nursery is clean and safe. Among all your choices, choose us!” Yes, we could go that route. And I think I could make a pretty good pitch for the “product” we offer. 
But the other route seems deeper, more Biblical and ultimately more compelling. We need to work on our ecclesiology. That’s a big word that just means what we think about what the church is. In other words, why does God summon his people to praise him as living stones joined together rather than just as individuals? What makes a church as the body of Christ different than any other voluntary organization? How passionate is Jesus about the faithfulness of his bride, the church? And how interconnected is the gathered worship of the church to the effectiveness of the mission of the church?
We’ll be talking about that in 2022. Not guilt, but challenge. Not advertisement, but inspiration. Not fluff, but substance. I want you back. More importantly, Christ wants you back! You comin’?

Pew Prayer Partners

We are a church that believes in prayer! If I had an opportunity to share all the answers to prayers that I have witnessed during my five and a half years here, I would need many hours to do so! God hears his children and responds in ways that he knows are best, whether the answer to a prayer request is “yes,” “no” or “not yet” (See Matthew 7: 7, John 15: 7-8, and 1 John 5: 14-15).
Your Teaching Elders (pastors) and Ruling Elders, as well as our Prayer Partners, intercede on your behalf for what we receive from you via your completed prayer cards on Sundays, as well as emails and calls that come in each day of each week. Our Prayer Room by the Sanctuary building elevator is staffed with pastors/elders and others following the 9 am service. On Fridays, our weekly Prayer Sheet is emailed to hundreds of intercessors and can also be found in printed form in the Connection Center. Now we have yet another way to pray!
Previously delayed by COVID, I’m excited to announce that we will add a team of “Pew Prayer Partners” to what we are already doing in the realm of prayer ministry! They will be available near the front and back of the Sanctuary following each service beginning Sunday, February 13, including two following the Dunham Chapel service. They will be wearing tags that ask, “How Can I PRAY for you?” If you feel more comfortable asking someone to quietly pray by your side rather than sharing your request in the Prayer Room before a group of people, look for a Pew Prayer Partner. He or she will gladly sit with you to lift up any requests for you. Here’s to God who said, “Ask and you shall receive!”

O. . . O. . . O. . . Merry Christmas!

Of all the prayers made in all the world, not very many get recorded. And almost all of the prayers written down are buried or lost within a few years. The sift of history is both brutal and clarifying. Only a few prayers survive in use for centuries.
This Advent, we’re looking at seven of those survivors. The “O Prayers” will guide our preparation for Christmas. They’re so named because each starts with “O,” followed by a title for Christ found in the Old Testament. These seven names for Jesus tap into our deepest human longings. We all yearn for the key, wait for the dawn, ache to know the root and source of our life, and desperately hope that God is with us. We’ll be exploring the Scriptures underlying these prayers in preaching, music, visual art and daily readings. You’ll be amazed how relevant prayers from the 6th century are to daily life in the 21st!
So, be sure to pick up a copy of your Advent reading guide. This will lead you through the Scriptures that inspired the “O Prayers,” as well as give you the prayers themselves, poems based on these prayers by our friend Malcolm Guite, and the words to the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Also, mark your calendars for the Christmas cantata December 19. It’s a commissioned work based on—wait for it—the O Prayers! Also, several artists in our church have contributed artwork inspired by these prayers. This will take us to Christmas Eve where I’ll be preaching at 11 am, 4 pm and 6 pm on what it means that Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. I love to do Christmas with you, dear congregation, and I’m so thankful we can be fully back in our beloved Sanctuary.
Your response to both the Building Up campaign for mission and the 2022 stewardship has been astounding. You move me deeply with the faith that leads to such generosity. These ties between our church and key mission partners will nourish our faith for years to come. I can’t wait to share the numbers with you once all the pledges are in. Meanwhile, we will surge into the work of the church for 2022, riding on God’s leading and your dedication. Thank you for loving your Lord so well through your church!

Just Return It!

My mother was the queen of returning things. No receipt? No problem! No original packaging? Perfectly fine! My mother loved to shop. The merchants loved my mother. She enjoyed an ongoing relationship with them. Her loyalty and frequency gave her license to make returns as desired. Returning is part of trusted commerce.
We can apply this to our relationship to God! The psalmist asked “What shall I return to the LORD for all his goodness to me (Psalm 116: 12)?" He had been in an exchange with God. Life had turned dire. The psalmist had cried out to the God who made him. The Lord answered with deliverance from death and an abundance of mercy. So the writer wanted to make an offering of thanks. He wanted to return, to reply to God in grateful acknowledgement. So we can say it again, with a spiritual twist: Returning is part of trusted commerce.  
As Christ’s people, we live in the economy of his love. He continues to do miraculous business with us. He trades forgiveness for our sins. He swaps his peace for our anxiety. He exchanges everlasting life for our mortality. This commerce is so miraculous, we joyfully want to respond! To return thanks. To give back. To live as he directs so he will be pleased. 
In this season of thanksgiving, we lift the festive cup in holy communion. We “cheers” the Lord who has given us nothing less than himself. We set aside a special day for gratitude. In days when we lived closer to the land, such a day was set between harvest time and the arrival of winter. Once “all was safely gathered in,” it was time to bless the Giver. 
That’s why I find spiritual significance in making the dedication of our gifts to God in this season. Grateful for his provision in the year that is finishing, we trust his bounty to come in the New Year. We make a thankful return, putting financial gifts to God’s work together with our prayers of gratitude. We mirror our God’s generous overflowing heart. 
Every November we do this as we make commitments to Christ’s work through our church for the following year.
This year, we can step further into that deep joy through the Building Up campaign. To give, over and above our usual pledges, out toward others, when there is no visible return to our church—that will launch us into the wonder of God’s wondrous commerce. The spiritual return we will receive will be full of love, connection, participation and hope. November 14 is Dedication Sunday. I hope we will swell the House for this joyful celebration. Your elders are passionate about making this return. I know that, having made my pledge already, I am only more thankful to be your pastor,  

Click the Link!

I know that I’ve rotted my brain through an overload of internet information. But it’s just so fun to follow one idea to the next! Don’t you love it when there’s a handy link to the next topic you want to know about? I marvel at how interconnected all knowledge is, if you just know how to make the links.
But I really shouldn’t be surprised. The Triune God made all there is. He made the universe with interconnections that hold at the deepest level. The more we know, the more we find there is to explore, and the more we explore, the more beautiful the cosmos is revealed to be. For creation reflects the beauty of the Mind of the Maker.
In Scripture, we see that the Holy Spirit is the great connector. He is the link. By the Holy Spirit, Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary. The Spirit linked up the Son of God with our humanity. The Triune God clicked the link at Christmas! By the Spirit, faith is conceived inside someone who hears the gospel. The Spirit links up the Son of God to particular believers. We click the link of faith and get joined to Jesus. By the Spirit, all believers are linked to each other. We share “one body and one Spirit . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4: 4-5). We click the link of awareness to this Biblical truth and suddenly we are no longer alone. We are in fellowship with believers across continents, cultures and even centuries!
How do we click the link that makes us aware of how linked in all Christians are? 1) We read, trust and contemplate the truth of our communion from Scripture. 2) We pray knowing we join our voices with “the great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12: 1) who praise Jesus. We also pray for these other believers, thanking God for them and asking him to sustain and grow Christian communities wherever they are. 3) We engage in mission with other Christians. That’s the great value in short term mission trips. We begin to see the beautiful reality of the world church. We realize we are part of one great Mission. 
And of course, that’s the spiritual beauty of our Building Up campaign. While none of the money goes directly to our church, the benefits to our community of Christ are manifold! Having made and started to pay our pledge, already Rhonda and I feel like we are closer to Brian Miller in Medellin. The prayer keychain made by the women at Esther’s House just breaks my heart with gratitude for that mission. I feel more connected to the work at Gardere. I feel more joyful over Peter’s school in Uganda. I believe Ben when he says Church of the Resurrection gives regular thanks for us
I know that Building Up: Taking Missions to the Next Level is not about us. But O do we get a great benefit! When we click the link to the pledge tab on our website, we click the link to joyful connection to what God is doing around the world. The one Spirit joins us to all believers engaged in Jesus’ one mission. It’s a powerful joy!   
Kirkin’ Time October 31
Wear your plaids, your kilts and your tweeds as we celebrate the Scottish roots of our Presbyterian faith on Reformation Sunday with one 10 am service October 31. We'll also have our fall congregational meeting to vote on the slate of new elders and deacons presented by the Nominating Committee. After worship, all are invited to enjoy brunch (love offering will be taken). Face painting, a balloon artist and games will be offered for the children. Registration not required. 
Clan Tartans for the Kirkin’
We want your clan’s tartan to be represented in the Sanctuary at the annual Kirkin’ O’ the Tartans. Contact Jaci Gaspard to see about including yours ( or 620.0221). 
I’m so grateful to be in mission with you, and even more so, I love being your pastor, 

Look Out!

As we go to press with the September newsletter, Ida has passed through. Donations can be made to FPC Hurricane Relief using the button below. Call the office to volunteer for clean-up teams. 
Where are we going as a church? That’s always a relevant question. The answer, if we are faithful, is always some form of “in and out.” We’re pressing into the person and events of Jesus. We’re pushing out with his gospel to the world. Same old mission. Always and forever! But every season, if a church has energy and passion, that answer expresses itself in fresh ways.
This fall, we’re pressing in through a worship focus on Paul’s first letter to the young church in the Greek town of Thessalonica. It’s a beautiful, heartfelt message of encouragement. In Sunday school, two of our adult classes are studying Gospels: Mark and John. Our children and parents will be receiving copies of The Gospel Story Bible and their classes will focus on learning the big story of the Triune God’s redeeming work. The women’s studies will take up Esther; youth will study Gospel Foundations in Sunday School and Hebrews in midweek studies. Confirmation students study the Greatest Bible Stories of all time. Do you see a pattern here? We’re questing to meet Christ through Scripture all over the place. Meanwhile we interweave all of that with prayer and care for one another. 
But I think you’ll notice most a ramping up of our looking out.  Every week as part of worship, we will hear from our ministry and mission partners. We’ll hear ways to participate, whether it’s mentoring students, encouraging teachers, hosting international students or working with us on our seventh (!) Habitat House. That’s right, once more our church will work side by side with a new homeowner to construct a dwelling. Terrence Carter is a stroke survivor, the father of two sons, and a man of faith eager to partner with us. That all begins at the end of the month.
We’ll also introduce our first capital campaign in over a decade. Only it’s not to raise funds for us. We will be seeking to raise $1.5 million for building projects for four key mission partners. Imagine a whole over and above campaign to advance the gospel beyond us: an expansion at Gardere Christian School, a cottage for young women rescued from sex trafficking in Medellin, a high school and dorms in Uganda, helping Church of the Resurrection purchase a permanent site in New Orleans. We’ll be hearing lots more about the Building Up campaign in the coming weeks. I’m thrilled we’re daring to dream of investing so significantly in mission beyond our walls.  I love to be on this journey with you, both “in” toward Christ and “out” to the world!

The Deeper Challenge in Cancel Culture

The strife is everywhere. Between friends. Between family members. Between generations. A great divide seems to have opened up. Everything seems political. Everything seems to be about race. Everyone is always offended. We hate the conflict but don’t really even understand it. What’s going on?
The church of Jesus faces particular challenges. We know we are sent to the most difficult and desperate people and places with the gospel of Christ. We know Jesus loved the outcast and challenged the powerful. We resonate with the yearning for equality. Yet we feel that something is amiss in the demands for justice that want to deconstruct the way we’ve always lived. It’s hard to sort out Christian compassion from “woke” compulsion. 
The mission of the church remains the same: to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth, to regard everyone in the loving light of Christ. Yet we face increasing hostility. In fact, we face competition. There is a worldview competing with us for adherents. A religion that wants to replace us. It’s a religion of harsh legalism and burning urgency that demands total allegiance. It’s a promise of an earthly utopia that has no blue print except dismantling structures deemed oppressive. It resists being identified and wants everyone to view the world through its lens as the “normal” way of seeing. 
Call it cancel culture, cultural Marxism, woke theology, or simply “justice, equity and diversity.” Whatever the label, it has a source. The technical name is Critical Theory. Christians of all ages need to understand the view of the world that underlies so much of today’s discussions. We need to be able to grasp what’s being said in order to evaluate if it’s really compatible with the gospel.
Our “Stay-Treat” on August 20-21 will feature three dynamic
 presentations by an expert in Critical Theory. Dr. Neil Shenvi brings the rigor of his background in theoretical chemistry along with his unique ability to present complex issues clearly. You can read more about Neil at
Please plan to join us. And bring a car load! We can’t afford not to understand what’s going on in our current cultural conversations.
The Deeper Challenge in Cancel Culture
First Presbyterian Stay-Treat, August 20-21
Talk 1: "Critical Social Justice and Christianity: Are They Compatible?"
Talk 2: "Critical Race Theory: A Deep Dive"
Talk 3: "Christianity and Justice: Cautions and Suggestions"

The Blessing of New Leadership

At the end of last year, the session appointed a search committee to find an Assistant Pastor for Children, Youth and Family Ministry. We wanted to elevate and deepen our ministry to young people. Elder Will Adams led the team, along with Cheryl Broadnax, Ryan Castle, Boyd Greene and Kelly Wood: all of them parents of children and youth. It was a delight to work with them. And we believe the Spirit led us straight to one stellar young man! Colton Underwood is nearing completion of his Master of Divinity from Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson. The last two years he has been working with youth and families in his internship at First Presbyterian Church of Yazoo City. Colton is originally from Indiana. He fell in love with a pastor’s daughter and married Rachel five years ago. A graduate of Purdue University, Colton is an avid runner, adventurer, scholar and foodie. He is a delightful young man and together he and Rachel make a winsome pair. His vibrant faith, graciousness and personal discipline will energize our pastoral team and congregation. Colton and Rachel arrive in early August to begin working with our children and youth and lead those staff teams. We expect his ordination to the EPC to occur this time next year. Please pray for the Underwoods and get ready to give them a great Baton Rouge welcome.
Baton Rouge Christian Counseling Center
In 1991, we asked Dee Adams to be the founding director and first therapist at our new counseling center. Dee has led this ministry for more than thirty years! BRCCC has served thousands of clients and developed a sparkling reputation in our city. This July, Dee will step aside from directing BRCCC, though she will continue to counsel part-time. 
After a careful search, the board of the center was led to choose one of our current counselors to lead our center. You’ll know her! Sherry Kadair has been a counselor at BRCCC since 2011 and a member of our church since 2014. Sherry is currently a deacon and serves in both the media and music ministries. Sherry has been married to Howard since 2007. She holds an MA from Denver Theological Seminary and specializes in trauma care. Sherry also has significant experience in the business world and will bring great administrative skills, a cheery spirit, loving heart, warm comradery and a strong sense of the mission of the center and the church. Please pray for her as she steps into the huge role shaped by our founding director. 
July 4 falls on a Sunday this year and I’m already at work on a message called “American Privilege: Gospel Imperative.” I hope you’ll be there for this important topic as we begin a month of single services at 10.30. We’ll enjoy some great guests this summer as well with Ben Cunningham from our daughter church, Church of the Resurrection, and Albert White from Abounding Love Ministries. I hope you’ll get some refreshment and precious time with family this summer. We’re looking forward to a few weeks in the mountains, but know that you will always be on our minds and hearts. 
I remain delighted to be your pastor,

Stepping Down As Director of BRCCC

It has been the biggest honor of my life to serve as the founding director of Baton Rouge Christian Counseling Center. BRCCC started July 1, 1991 and I step down on July 1, 2021; exactly 30 years to the day. I came when I was 37 with big hair and am now 67 battling gray hair.  On the first of July, I will give the reins of the Center over to the very able hands of one of our counselors, Sherry Kadair, MA, LPC.  
My ministry was the ministry of showing up year after year. There’s something to be said for just showing up and getting to see first-hand what God had in store for YOUR Counseling Center. And he had much in store! I’ve witnessed the coming and going of the 17,000 clients that he brought to BRCCC. Because of Russ Stevenson’s, and later Gerrit’s support, the Center has been able to provide more than 145,000 client hours. And we’ve only just begun.  
I’ve also witnessed the coming and going of many FPC and BRCCC staff, many gifted Christian counselors and many, many wonderful BRCCC Board of Governor members over 30 years. 
I’ve had tremendous support from the church, this awesome church. I’m blessed to be able to continue counseling here as I shed the administrative part of my job. And I’ll continue leading the “Created for Connection” couples’ workshops – with one at FPC in October. I’m so very thankful. I can’t say that enough.   
Although I’m not a member, given my 30 years, my husband Pete and I have been granted special permission to be buried in the FPC Columbarium, which sits just below the window where I counsel. For now I will continue to be a part-time counselor at BRCCC and I will one day be buried there–so I will be at First Presbyterian for a long time!

Do You???

“Do You. . . ?” That’s the question we ask five times to our confirmation students. Just like we do to any new members. They are some heavy questions. Here they are condensed. Do you acknowledge you’re a sinner? Do you believe in Jesus as the Savior of sinners and the Lord of your life? Do you promise to live as a follower of Christ? Do you promise to participate as a member of this church? Do you agree to the oversight of this session? Like I said, big questions about what matters most in life. This Sunday, 30 sixth grade students will answer those questions as the culmination of nine months of study, prayer, discipleship and interaction with elders, pastors and teachers.  We’ve approached these questions on multiple levels. Because this is what matters most. Do you want to be all in with Jesus?  Pray for them this Sunday afternoon as they answer a joyful Yes to all these questions!
And now a five pack of notes for this May.
• Last year, the church received a PPP loan from the government to cover us should COVID cause a drop in our revenues. That loan gave us confidence to keep all our Mother’s Day Out teachers on at full pay and to keep all our staff going. But ultimately, we didn’t need it. Because our dear members came through with stunning giving. So last week, we sent it back, with interest. After much deliberation, the session determined that returning these funds was God’s direction for us, an act of trust and freedom.
• The session approved $59,000 in grants, including support for five seminary students, a girls’ dormitory in Uganda and a vehicle for a professor at African Bible College. This is your Foundation at work reaching the world!
• On Mother’s Day, we give thanks for that most important and difficult of jobs: rearing children in love and wisdom. Through natural birth, adoption, fostering, aunting, teaching and mentoring, women have been giving the gifts of motherhood to our community. How grateful we are!
• This summer, opportunities abound for children and youth to go deeper in Christ and further into the world. Camps, mission trips, Vacation Bible School and fun youth activities. Stay tuned for details.
• On Sunday, May 30, we will have one combined worship service at 10.30. In June we’ll continue with three Sunday services before single services return in July. 
Isn’t it great to be together again?
As ever, I love being your pastor.

What Are We Doing About Masks?

Updated May 14, 2021:
Beginning this Sunday, we are lifting our masking requirement at worship! We trust people to make their own decisions regarding their safety and health in this environment. How grateful we are that the grip of this pandemic is loosening and we can return to worshiping with “unveiled faces.”
April 29, 2021:
Our session has decided to ask worshipers to wear masks through May 23. Why? Well, as Nick Saban might say, it’s about respecting the process.
A significant number of our attendees are still completing the vaccination process. As much as we all want to rip away these annoying coverings and sing out freely, we know that waiting just a bit longer allows anyone who wants to be immunized against COVID to do so. After May 23, we can each make our own personal decisions about attendance and masking.
Hang in there beloved church. Soon, very soon, we’ll be singing with unfettered hearts—and faces! Believe me, I’m longing to see your dear faces when I preach!

Joyful Relief

One of the joys of hurricane relief is spending time with homeowners as we work on repairs. One of the families we met in March was Angie and Tim Brown from Iowa, Louisiana. We were tasked with repairing the patio soffit and then priming and painting fascia boards all around the home. Our team of volunteers replaced the broken soffit and continued to put two finish coats on the exterior of the Brown’s home over the course of four weeks. The contractors working on the inside of the home are hoping to complete the interior by Memorial Day. The move-in date is set for June 1. Our church family will help them move in. JOIN US.
We are asking the FPCBR congregation to come alongside the Brown family and help us restock their pantry by donating a pound of rice, beans, canned goods, paper products or maybe a gift card for supplies we do not know they need. If you are interested in blessing Angie and Tim’s pantry and home, please drop off these items in the gym on the Hurricane Relief tables labeled for the Brown family by June 1. Please put all gift cards in an envelope labeled, “Angie & Tim Brown” and bring to Laura Shaw’s desk in the church office. This is another beautiful opportunity to care for a family in need. 
Beginning May 10, a team of skilled sheetrock hangers is coming from Hope Presbyterian Church in Memphis, TN. The goal is to sheetrock six homes in five weeks. Our church will purchase the sheetrock and all that is needed to complete this project by June 14. If you desire to make a donation for this ongoing work in Iowa and Lake Charles, please go online to and look for Hurricane Relief. Our church family has spent sixty days since Hurricane Laura came onshore on August 28, 2020 helping and assisting with hurricane recovery. If you are ever interested in joining us on Wednesdays and Saturdays, please SHOW UP! If you have any questions, please call me at 225.810.2607. THANK YOU for all your help and support the past eight months!
Posted in: Missions

Three Great Days . . . Forever!

One event across three days. That’s how Christ’s Church came to understand what happened from the Last Supper to Easter morning. This was the Triduum: the three great and holy days when Jesus made his passage through death into resurrection life. Every moment interlocked in meaning and significance.  
In Jesus’ time, days began at sunset the night before. So when we gather for the Service of Shadows on Thursday, we’re beginning our remembering of Good Friday.  We meditate on his agony in Gethsemane. We retell the story of Jesus’ passion. Then we walk into our terraced garden where the tomb is set up. We sing “Were You There?” as the tomb, along with our hope, is sealed. 
On Saturday morning, we listen quietly to psalms Jesus prayed. We enter the silence of the King’s sleep between death and resurrection, his remaining under the power of death all that lonely day. We take a breath between cross and resurrection.
Then on Sunday we begin to meet at first light to rejoice that the stone is rolled away, the Savior is up—risen--having defeated death and opened eternity to us. 
With the church across the world and through the ages, during the Triduum, we remember in a special way. The past becomes present. We remember so that what happened then can be part of our spiritual experience this moment. These real events are not lost in dusty history. They are the most potent facts in all of life, right now!  
I’ll be preaching Easter morning on “Three Easter Truths You Can’t Live Without!” It’s a great day to bring a neighbor or a friend. At 9 and 11, worship will be live in the Sanctuary and livestreamed to the terrace garden. We’ll have a huge wall of LED screens set up outside with a live worship leader and coming forward for communion. So you can choose, inside or outside! 6.30 sunrise will be just in the garden, with room for over 200, and a light breakfast to follow. I’m so eager to keep Easter in person with you, dear church!
Later this month, we take a pause between sermon series and I will give some topical messages, including “The Questions Graduating Seniors Ask” and “Cultivating Resistant, Resilient and Renovative Christian Community.”  
Beloved Pastor Emeritus 
Our beloved pastor emeritus, Russ Stevenson and his wife Sherill moved this January to a retirement community in Virginia. We will miss their worshiping in our Sanctuary, but his legacy will never be forgotten. If you’d like to get in touch, the church office has their new address. 
August Stay-Treat
I’m truly energized that Christian apologist, Dr. Neil Shenvi has agreed to conduct a stay-treat for us in August. A theoretical chemist by profession and theologian by avocation, Dr. Shenvi contends for our faith with remarkable clarity. He will give three presentations taking us through the current debate on what makes for Biblical justice, exposing the fallacies of critical theory while challenging us to do the work of gospel reconciliation. Take a Google at him and get excited!

Haven't You Missed It????

Palm Sunday. Easter Morning. Service of Shadows. It was so weird to lead those services looking into the lens of an iPhone. But this year we’re back! Palm Sunday is March 28. We plan to use the main parking lot for an outdoor service with palms and a procession of children. 10 am service, followed by egg hunts and a balloon artist for children in the garden areas and light snacks for the rest of us. 
On Easter morning, April 4, we plan to use the terraced garden to its full capacity. First for the Sunrise service at 6.30 am. This will be a complete worship service including communion and then biscuits and coffee to follow.  At 9 am, the festive service will be in the Sanctuary but also livestreamed to the terraced garden!  Same at 11. No tickets or reservations. Come to the Sanctuary for “live” worship, come to the garden for “livestreamed” and overflow.  
Holy Thursday will return April 1 at 7 pm with the Service of Shadows in the Sanctuary followed by a visit to the tomb in the garden. And we will keep the eerie reflection of Holy Saturday on April 3 at 11 am in the Sanctuary. How sweet it will be to be back!
Your elders recently spent a weekend retreat considering what it means to cultivate resistant, resilient and renovative Christian community. We all read Rod Dreher’s book Live Not by Lies in preparation. The book identifies our excessive focus on individualism and personal comfort as well as the rise of cultural Marxism as two key factors diminishing the church. Bouncing from that work, our task was to consider how reclaiming Christ-centered distinction not only protects the church but makes us better at reaching our community. We noted the importance of learning to recognize the worldviews which shape people and what makes the Christian worldview distinct and generative.  Twelve different small groups then met to consider specific ideas for our church in areas such as discipleship, worship, children’s ministry and reaching the business community. I’m looking forward to doing a vision sermon based on this retreat April 18. 
Meanwhile, what a joy it is to be reading these Scriptures about being “in Christ” with you. I’m finding them nourishing and challenging all over again. Best of all, we’re praying and reading together, wherever we are, one body of Christ. No wonder I love being your pastor,

Our Tasks Before Our Time

With doctor’s orders to lie face down staring at the floor for up to two weeks following emergency surgery on a detached retina, I have become thankful to the Great Physician for not only allowing me to keep a proper posture in praying for each of you but also for all your prayers for me! I’ve also had some thoughts to share. Having faced 22 deaths in only 6 weeks (two to COVID), I’ve been asking again about each of our tasks before our time. What came to mind for myself and each of us as members of the Body of Christ and FPCBR is the difference between unity and uniformity in a culture that may have confused the two.
True unity doesn’t require uniformity in meeting a common goal. God’s goals may be mysterious when it comes to understanding his purpose for our particular paths in life. Yet, his goal is clear when it comes to determining his purpose for the church: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . .” (Matthew 28: 19-20). We can only fulfill this great commission by being empowered by the Holy Spirit individually in order to serve as God’s witnesses collectively, as Christ Jesus said “. . . you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1: 8). Then we can go deeper in Christ and further into the world effectively.
Much of the power of the Holy Spirit comes in the form of the gifts from the Holy Spirit. Yet, in our use of these gifts, the saying that “united we stand, divided we fall” holds true for the church perhaps even more so than for other organizations. Why? Because Jesus himself said that non-believers will know that we belong to him not by our gifts but by our fruit (Matthew 7: 20), the fruit of love leading to unity being the greatest of them all (1 Corinthians 13: 13, Galatians 5: 22-23). This makes us true witnesses of Christ.
This great witness of Christ in us and through us as a body of believers can only take place when we have unity in the midst of diversity. Unlike uniformity, unity doesn’t require that we all look, act and think the same way, nor does having one voice require that we all sound the same. Rather, unity requires that diversity doesn’t become a threat but a treat. It requires that we learn to appreciate one another’s differences rather than be threatened or annoyed by them. It also requires that we accept the gifts God has given us, not wishing that we had someone else’s gifts, nor thinking that we can choose our gifts, but realizing that the Gift-Giver saw fit to give us just what we have in order to fulfill the purpose he has.
You are needed by the church in order for the church to fulfill its purpose, and yet, you need the church in order to fulfill yours. The church is not complete without you, and you are not complete without the church. Yet, God is sovereign in determining your role in the grand scheme of things. And although we may not understand how God picks and chooses who does what in the body of believers, we can have unity in fulfilling our purpose when we’re more concerned about the “common good” (1 Corinthians 12: 7) than our own. Let’s do so! And again, thank you for praying for me as I pray for y’all! 

You're Weird!

You're weird! Not like everybody else. Unique in the world. Different than most.
After all, what Muslim says “I live in Mohammed?” What practicing Buddhist says, “I spoke with Siddhartha this morning?” What existentialist says “I am in organic union with Camus?” What atheist says “I have a mystical link to Richard Dawkins?” But you say all those things about Jesus! We Christians are “in Christ.” We speak with the historical founder of our faith personally and presently. His Spirit links us to Jesus and to each other the way parts of a human body are linked to the whole. That’s weird—if you’re on the outside looking in. But such wonder is normal for those who have been joined to Jesus.
This Lent, we’re going to explore what it means that our truest home is Jesus himself. We’re going to pursue the mystery of what Paul meant by being “in Christ.” We’ll see how living in Christ and from Christ lights up everything in our lives. John Calvin called it a “mystical union” and declared it to be of highest importance to our faith. 
Honestly, engaging in this study will change your life. Like discovering priceless treasure you hadn’t known you possessed. Like tapping into an endless supply of energy. Like coming home. Like finally living in Reality. We’ll be drawing from more than 85 Scriptures as well as the writings of experienced spiritual masters such as James Stewart and Andrew Murray. We’re questing for the very heart of Christian experience. We’re going to claim our distinctive faith. Yep, we’re weird. Gloriously, joyfully so!
The week of February 14, your elders, deacons and pastors will be bringing your Lent books to your house! It’s a quick, safe drop off. But we wanted to be sure, in these COVID times, that every member gets a copy before February 21 when the daily readings begin. You can get extra copies at church and also sign up for daily emails. Smaller, well-distanced 6 week home groups will also begin. We hope participating with others will help to reknit our congregation after so long apart.
I’m so eager to join you on this journey deeper into Christ our true home!
Assistant Pastor Search
We have begun the search for a pastor for children, youth and families. Please pray for God to guide us and bring the right person to this crucial position. Also, feel free to refer suggestions to elder Will Adams. The search committee would like to hear from parents about what they think is important in this role and what qualities we should look for in candidates. To that end, we’ll be hosting two Zoom calls. Monday evening, February 8 at 7 pm and Tuesday morning, February 9 at 11 am. We’ll send parents an invitation by email soon.

Music Is Evocative

Victor Hugo once wrote: “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.”
Every culture, past or present, has expressed itself musically. There are no exceptions. Music is a powerful cultural force. The anecdotal experiences of individuals anywhere in the world testify to it. Neuroscience validates it. Music activates places in us that might remain inactive otherwise—places where ideas, emotions and truths dwell.
Sometimes, when we make music in the Lord’s house, an interesting dilemma presents itself. It is an ancient dilemma. Early in the 5th century, Augustine wrote in The Confessions: 
. . . I realize that when they are sung these sacred words stir my mind to greater religious fervor and kindle in me a more ardent form of piety than they would if they were not sung; and I also know that there are particular modes in song and the voice, corresponding to my various emotions and able to stimulate them because of some mysterious relationship between the two. But I ought not to allow my mind to be paralyzed by the gratification of my senses, which often leads it astray. For the senses are not content to take second place. . . . (Book 10, Chapter 33, The Confessions)
During moments of musical worship, Augustine sometimes wondered if the beautiful music was moving him rather than the truths the music was conveying. I think it is good to give this some thought. Now, the point is not that we should try to avoid enjoying the beauty of music or being moved by it. Music, by God’s design, is evocative. 
The issue is a matter of sequence and motivation. So, when we come together, dear church, let us not wait for the swelling wave of the music to move us. Rather, let us make the waves by singing Truth—combining words, melodies, voices and instruments in ways that reverberate with eternal significance. Rest assured this will deeply gratify. Will always be beautiful.
When we gather as God’s people we do so as a royal priesthood. We meet to do the work of worship. Cues are given from the pulpit to the pew. But we all are tasked with sending the various offerings of worship upward to the throne room of the Most High. We harness the power of music as one way of doing the work of worship. It has been so since the days Moses led Israel through the Red Sea (Exodus 15). And according to John’s visions in Revelation 4, 5 and 7, it will remain so throughout all eternity. 

Looking Upward, Reaching Outward: 2021

We made it! 2020 is no more. If only turning the calendar would automatically restore the world. Change is coming, we know that. We have high hopes that the Covid vaccine will dramatically limit the virus. But will we ever go back to “normal?” A new presidential administration will certainly be different. Will it be good for the people of Christ who hold to our historical values? The tension about race and equality will tighten. Will it resolve in more harmony? It’s a new year and I’m daunted by the challenges already!
Thankfully, the church of Jesus does not retreat when the future seems uncertain. Your leadership certainly hasn’t. We are deeply committed to proclaiming the ancient gospel in a way that addresses the concerns of these times. We believe our highest purpose is public worship of the Triune God in word, song and prayer. We have good tidings to make known, a Lord to glorify and love to share. On January 24, you will hear our new officers take their ordination vows, committing themselves to the Lord Jesus, to his Word and to the work of his church. I’ve read their testimonies and heard their faith: you will be so moved by this upward call!
The session recently made commitments to direct nearly a million dollars over the next three years to fund our mission priorities. We are blessed to have endowment income through the McLaurin Trust and the church Foundation. Our policy is to never use such funds for the general mission, ministry and operation of the church: that’s the joyful job of current members. Rather, we push endowment income outward. So, we intend to support Gardere Community Christian School with $100,000 a year. We purpose to give $100,000 yearly to church planting, including $75,000 annually to the Church of the Resurrection, our thriving daughter church in New Orleans. And we plan on designating $125,000 a year for the Session Income Allocation Committee which makes recommendations for funding future leaders going to seminary as well as supporting other missions in our community. We’re determined to reach outward.
Meanwhile, your faith, participation and funding energizes the daily work of the church. Our partnerships with 30 local ministries continue to flourish (We’ve got a Habitat House to build in 2021!). And our members increasingly enter the mission field of their lives (whatever they are doing) with an awareness that they are Christ’s ambassadors in word and deed. A stellar staff team leads ministry with and to every age as we press into Christ and his Word. In fact, we want to raise the level of our commitment to children, youth and their families. The session recently approved a search for an Associate Pastor to energize and oversee that work.
By God’s grace and in the Spirit’s power, we’re propelling forward, dear church. We know how important it is that we hold tight to one another, sharing life in all its joys and pains as only a community of Christ can. I’m so glad to be traveling with you!

A Brighter Christmas!

The outpouring of love from everyone has made for a brighter Christmas for the children in Iowa, Louisiana. We have blessed 600 families with gifts that included bicycles, Barbie dolls, sports equipment, puzzles, books, board games and a variety of toys. The love continued with the purchase of food for 75 Christmas boxes which were delivered to the poor in Iowa. These residents were overwhelmed with your generosity this Christmas. Thank you from everyone in Iowa and especially for supporting all of our efforts the past four months in hurricane relief cleanup. A huge thank you to all of the volunteers who have traveled with me since August 30 and to our First Presbyterian Church family for donating money and resources to help our brothers and sisters in southwest Louisiana after two hurricanes! Relief work resumes January 6. Anyone is welcome to join us. We leave the church parking lot at 6.30 am sharp. Bring sturdy work gloves!


Posted in: Missions

Bringing Hope! Sharing Hope! Growing Hope!

January is National Mentoring Month. With joyful thanks to our God and the 18 FPC Mentors and Prayer Partners, Kids Hope USA celebrates its partnership with Gardere Community Christian School. We do not always know what these children are going through but we do know your generous gifts of prayers, time and attention to a caring relationship brings much HOPE to make a remarkable difference for these children!

How do we see the difference? It is seen in the teacher who gratefully shares,“I can really see a difference in my students.” In the many “thank yous.” In the smiles. In the increased effort to do better academically. In the student’s excitement to meet with their mentor. In the chance to be heard and encouraged. In character growing. In the joy of playing a game. In the security of being safe. In the casual conversations. In the prayers, the hope and so much more!
Please join us in prayers of thanks and praise for the three remaining 1st grade students hoping for a mentor, for additional building space for GCCS and for Kids Hope USA to continue to be embraced, to expand and to excel.
Thank you for sharing the love of Christ and bringing HOPE! 
“This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God” [2 Corinthians 9: 12].
Annette Lamond, Kids Hope USA Director   
First Presbyterian Church
Our Mission:
Kids Hope USA builds life-changing relationships one at a time: One Child. One Hour. One Church. One School.
Our Belief:
We believe in Jesus’ way.
Our Values:
Children: Because every child matters.
Relationships: Because love is only possible person to person.
Faithfulness: Because if I say I will, I will.
Prayer: Because it is our language of hope.
Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world . . .  they are precious in his sight!
Posted in: Missions

A Christmas to Remember and a Year to Forget!

Ever since I was old enough to understand the concept, I’ve been sad when one year passes to another. But this year, well, I’m ready to be done with 2020! We’ve seen a ridiculous amount of upheavals followed by more upheavals. Fresh start, please!  
Thankfully, Christmas is coming. I’ll be pining for standing room only packed out live nativities and Christmas Eve services. But we can’t do any sardining now! Still, we’ve had our creative caps on trying to figure out how we can get all the people who want to keep Christmas with us attending in a safe way. Details are to follow, but we’re deep into exploring having outdoor services run concurrently with indoor services! Including one with animals! We’re considering implementing a ticket system so we don’t have to turn people away, but can offer folks a seat at that the service they choose in the venue they choose with good distancing. Yes, it’s going to be different. But when I think about being in the terraced garden, with a fire blazing in the fireplace, bundled up and raising our candles in the dark, it sounds pretty Christmassy to me! Pray for your elders ands staff as we make decisions, and watch our website and bulletins for more details.
Our December sermons will be built around Lost Verses of Famous Carols. We had a lot of fun several years ago uncovering seldom sung lyrics in beloved Christmas songs. Well, we’ve found some more little known words from O Little Town of Bethlehem, Silent Night, O Come All Ye Faithful and Hark! the Herald Angels Sing. So we not only get to sing these great carols, we get to dive deep into their content.
I’m very excited about the new advent calendar that’s been created for our daily readings during this sacred month. Beautifully designed by Katie Robinson, Katie Forsthoff and Mitzi Barber, the readings are coordinated with our sermons and include lovely breath prayers to take you deeper.
Meanwhile, we look forward to a special Sunday of music on December 13. The worship team and chancel choir will combine with an orchestra to present “Hail the Blessed Morn,” a program highlighting the rich musical tradition we have at our church through Christmas favorites.
Movies You’re Not Supposed to See
Tired of formulaic Christmas movies? Want to think more deeply about what’s going on in our society? I have three movies for you that challenge the status quo. Each is disturbing, provocative and rousing. I believe you can’t not view these films as part of the ongoing dialogue in our culture. Each one makes a well-produced, captivating watch. Unplanned. This is the story of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who discovered the economics of the abortion industry, the dehumanization of women clients, and the horror of the procedures. Uncle Tom: A Narrative History of Black Conservatism. Prominent African Americans challenge the narrative of dependence.  The Social Dilemma. Former creators and executives from Google, Instagram and Facebook warn of the monster they created through the algorithms of manipulation on our favorite media sites. A chilling warning. I’d love to hear how you respond.
Yes, 2020 may be a year to forget, but it only makes me more eager to keep a joyful Christmas with you dear flock!

Would I Feel Richer If . . .

Would I feel richer if I gave away less money? I asked myself that recently. Several annual commitments to mission groups had come due. We set up some college funds for the grandchildren. We sent some other people support. And of course we always make our church gift. Wow, we just got paid and it’s almost gone! What happened to the going-out-to-dinner money? And the new fall clothes allowance? I mean, what if we just stopped giving so much away? Would we be happier? Would it feel like my bank account was bigger? 
I thought hard about that. I tried on the possibility that I’d feel fuller if I had more cash staying home. For a second, it thrilled me. Man we could have some big fun! In another second, it scared me. Would I ever risk going back to not tithing? I recalled the weight of being responsible for finances without God. I shuddered remembering when the balance of our spending was weighted toward doing what we wanted to do. Burdened on the outside, thin on the inside. That’s how I felt in those years.
Then I thought about what it means to be invested in our church. To know we’re running in our lane, shoulder to shoulder with the remarkably committed believers here. If we weren’t prioritizing our church, I’d feel like a pretender in front of you. Instead, I know this is our family of faith. I fill up inside thinking of all our church is and does. And suddenly I feel humbled, even thankful that we get to contribute. That’s the word: we get to. And if we didn’t, I’d feel diminished, shut out, longing to find a tangible way to declare, “We’re in! We’re in with you.”
I thought about other ministries we love. And that’s the word: love. Our family loves Gardere, Dunham, Caring to Love, the Magruders and others. If we didn’t give, we’d have more money. But less love. Which means less joy.
I also realized how much I value living in the flow of God’s blessing love. He pours in, and in reply we try to pour out, responsibly but proportionally. If we just kept it, like a dammed up pond, we’d stagnate spiritually, emotionally and even financially. We wouldn’t be as thankful, we wouldn’t feel God’s care as much, and I’m pretty sure, even if we had more dollars for a while, we’d feel not rich but poor. 
Lesson learned for your pastor! I peered over the edge and realized, in my gut, what a joy it is to get to give
Foto Sisters to Join Us for Service of Healing and Hope
As the holidays approach, the sadness of loss also rises. Many of us bear the pain of having lost very young children. Perhaps through miscarriage, through accidents or infant illnesses, through abortion or still birth. The sorrow remains. And our church would like to offer a tender touch. Sunday afternoon, November 8 at 4 pm in the Sanctuary, we will have a memorial service of healing and hope. The Foto Sisters will lead our music. God has used them to bring a unique healing touch to people all over the country. Please free to invite others from outside our church to join us for this quiet, prayerful hour.
Abby Johnson to Speak 
This year’s annual Caring to Love banquet features Abby Johnson, the former Planned Parenthood executive whose views transformed the day she assisted an abortion. Now a Christian and ardent defender of life, Abby’s story was told in the feature film Unplanned and the book by the same name. Tickets are available online at First Presbyterian also has a limited number of deeply discounted tickets available for $20, please email for info. Thursday, November 12, 6.30 pm at the Marriot. 
Perimeter Construction
Pay attention! Over the next two months our church campus will undergo the security and beautification upgrades that your Session approved last spring. As the project progresses, please pay attention to signage that will direct you to available entrances. Your patience is appreciated. You’re going to love the final result!

Called to Serve

In our country I see many churches are filled with godly, loving people. I give thanks and rejoice that the Lord has blessed his people here. But we have to come to grips with something. If we continue only to drink in blessings and neglect to give them out, we will face what happened to the church in Jerusalem. After the blessing of Pentecost, the believers there grew comfortable in their fellowship.
The book of Acts says the believers went from house to house eating together and sharing their experiences. What happened to the early church? The Lord sent persecution and that Spirit-filled church was suddenly scattered. The people ended up going to the nations preaching the good news of Jesus Christ, making disciples and establishing new churches.
I thank God for all the mission activity that takes place in First Presbyterian Church. The Lord’s goal is that every member of this great church becomes a missionary and that includes you.  We are all called to participate in local missions (i.e., Buchanan and Gardere schools), regional missions (i.e., Hurricane Laura recovery in Lake Charles) and global missions (i.e., short-term missions in Lebanon, Romania and Colombia).
Jesus said, “Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Christ’s command here is spoken to every one of us with no exceptions. Everyone is not called to go physically. Please be assured God is looking for volunteers. We are to be about the work of praying for the harvest and God is touching people everywhere because of our faithfulness to pray. One example of this is the family of Jena and Kevin Smith who are being called to serve in Lebanon with World Outreach of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
When you know God’s heart, you won’t be able to restrain yourself from the gospel mission. You’ll find yourself concerned for the needy in your neighborhood (i.e., Open Air Ministry with Pastor Moore). The nearer you are to Jesus, the more you’ll reflect his compassion for all creation. Our missions conference was a month ago and we were blessed to hear how God called Katherine and Brian Miller to Colombia and Ashley and MacGregor Magruder to Africa a decade ago to serve Jesus Christ.
Are you resisting a call? It’s never too late to sign up to go to the nations or to the hurricane ravaged city of Lake Charles. Every Wednesday and Saturday, a group of believers meets at 6.30 am to serve Lake Charles. If you’re open to being sent out and you’re diligent in prayer about it, God will open every door. He will place you exactly where he wants you to serve. Then you will find your life being fulfilled as never before.
Posted in: Missions

Our Columbarium's Five Year Anniversary

Eight years ago your session voted unanimously to create a space on our church campus for securing cremated remains of members of our church and their immediate families, as well as for past members. Almost to the month five years ago, we held our first memorial service in the Dunham Chapel with an inurnment service following in the beautiful garden courtyard between the Dunham Chapel and the Education Building. Since that first inurnment we have had an additional 23 memorial services. Each of them were intimate celebrations of life and life eternal through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Phase 1 of our columbarium includes eighty niches. Each niche can accommodate two urns. Sixty of the eighty niches have been purchased. With only twenty niches remaining, plans are now underway for Phase 2.
Funerals and memorial services continue as part of the life of our church even during this pandemic. Certainly, they are unique experiences and different from what we are used to doing. 
Consideration of a columbarium niche may be on your ‘to do’ list. They are an increasingly popular option for final arrangements for several reasons. First, the financial investment is substantially less than traditional cemetery funerals. Second, many are expressing an increased preference for a memorial service rather than a traditional funeral. This allows for an intimate family gathering for mourning the loss and a celebration of life following. Finally, the garden courtyard is a wonderful place to visit. And it is close and available for times of reflection and meditation throughout the day.
We do not publicize our columbarium and it sometimes goes unnoticed. Newer members of our fellowship may not even know about it. As Phase 2 begins, some of you may want to make this step for the first time or to complete this item that has been on your ‘to do’ list for a long time. For information about our columbarium please contact Sherry McKinley ( or 225.620.0224). 

Opening Our Hearts as the Doors Open

There have been challenges in so many areas of our lives due to COVID-19 and those experienced by our educators are at the top of the list! School has finally begun at our adopted school Buchanan Elementary and, as you can imagine, teaching this year is a moving target. Virtual learning, two days a week for one group of students and two for another, masks, lunch in the classrooms, limited recess, no water fountains—how are they feeling? One word—stressed. 
After meeting with Principal Charlotte Britten, FPC has been asked to please step in and do what we do best—show them our love. She wants every staff member at the school to have an Encourager to help lift them up when they are discouraged. We have about ten folks who have already adopted a teacher at this point leaving 46 teachers/staff who need someone to come alongside and encourage them this year! It’s a super-easy ministry in which to participate. All that’s required is remembering your person at least once a month by sending them a small gift, note of encouragement, email, text, phone call and, of course, praying regularly for them. Gifts can be left at the Connection Center for delivery to the school so you don’t even have to make an extra trip. If you would like to become an Encourager, please contact Laura Shaw (225.387.0617 or and she will get you set up.
On October 9, we are providing lunch for the teachers as they participate in a work day at the school. We would also like to distribute notes of encouragement along with the box lunches. We will hand out notecards at the services on October 4 and we would love our members to write notes of encouragement that would let our friends at Buchanan know that we love them!  
We are also recruiting volunteers for the after school program at school. If you are interested in sharing your talents as a storytime reader, music leader, craft maker, etc. on Tuesdays or Thursdays please contact Nell Patrick ( 
Finally, FPC is collecting several items that will be a big help to the school. Items can be left at the Connection Center: masks, disinfecting wipes, gently used belts – all sizes (preferably black, brown or blue), gently used coats and sweaters – all sizes.
Thank you for blessing our friends at Buchanan Elementary!
Posted in: Missions

Stitching It Up!

Surely this is one of the strangest years ever! Everything can seem upside down. Just when we need each other, we can’t touch and can’t meet. It seems like we’ve lived in a fog for the last seven months. What happened to 2020?
A lot of things have fallen away. We’ve learned to live without watching sports all the time (OK, so some diehards did watch the bean bag tossing championships. We pray for their souls.). We’ve grown to like having a less frenetic pace. But we’ve missed parties and barbecues and hugs. And church. If you’ve been back in the Sanctuary since the pandemic began, you know how great it feels. To be in the house of the Lord with his people. The soaring ceilings. The beautiful wood. The ascension window. All the memories. To hear the music. To sing, even in a mask. To know that the church is still the church. How very precious our church is to us.
As the fall months come, we’re working hard to re-gather our congregation. On September 13 we will return to two Sanctuary worship services: Contemporary at 9 and Classic Reformed at 11. Sunday school will resume at 10.10 on Sundays. We’re learning to gather in ways that are as safe as we can. But I know it will take an effort. We’ve got to overcome the rhythm of just staying at home. We’ve got to push against the inertia of isolation. We’ve got to put up with the inconvenience of safety measures. We’re taking a gamble that we can fill in two worship services with enough people that it doesn’t feel like we’re in a cavern. I think it’s time! Come to church! Invite others to come. Let’s stitch up the fabric of our fellowship, one returning worshiper at a time.
As the weather cools later in October (Amen, may it be so!), we want to do more outside gatherings. Imagine a huge tent on the terraced garden. And a Kirkin’ celebration outside. What if we could have our Christmas cantata outside on North Blvd. one December Sunday? What if Christmas Eve could accommodate 1,500 people because we made it a Journey to Bethlehem, touring with candlelight in groups through the stages of the Nativity Story, ending in the Sanctuary with communion? There are so many possibilities that can open up with a change in temperature. We will be an adventurous congregation!
Meanwhile, let’s stay tethered through our individual praying of the Psalms. I love reading a psalm knowing that hundreds of you are praying it that morning too. It’s not too late to connect through a Shepherding through Psalms group. Just contact Darin Travis or Kelly Wood.
I’m also happy to report how your generosity reaches into our city and around the world. We received about $75,000 in our Neighbors Fund and have already disbursed half of it to individuals and ministry partners. We continue to keep a watch out for needs related to COVID-19, and thanks to you can act quickly to help. Also, the session approved sending $20,000 to the Philemon Project, an EPC ministry in Beirut that cares for orphaned children. The recent explosion that devastated the city has made the need desperate. We’re grateful to help.
On Sunday evening, September 20, I’d like to host you in the Sanctuary for a workshop entitled Countering Cancel Culture. We’ll take up the ideas we began considering in the message that contrasted the Christian and Marxist worldview.  
Finally, our music department will host a fun night called “A Night of Social Distanc-SING!” on September 17 in the Sanctuary. Our great singers will bring their talents for a delightful evening of celebrating the gift of music.
Onward, beloved congregation. Your faith inspires me. Your faithfulness astounds me. It’s so natural to love being your pastor.

Restoring Your Soul Through Psalms

This wretched distancing goes on! Yet so does the need to connect to others. And to God. Our hearts are still made to be in communion. So how do we stay connected in isolation? This month we begin a series of interlocking ways to encounter Christ through the Psalms. I’d like to tell you about it in advance of a mailing you’ll receive next week. 
For 3,000 years, the LORD’s people have climbed the stairways of words that are the Psalms. By making these prayers their own prayers, they have ascended through psalms straight into God’s presence. The Psalms were the very prayer book of Jesus himself. We find Christ’s heart for his Father when we pray psalms in communion with Jesus. We get drawn close to each other when we pray psalms together and for one another. We even find words to pray for our enemies when we pray psalms on behalf of those hostile to us! Psalms express our souls; they also transform our souls, taking us deeper than we could ever go on our own.
This fall, for 100 days, we’re going to hone in on the Psalms. Spiritual riches beyond price reside in these songs. So I’ll be inviting you to engage these psalms in a variety of practices. 
Next week, you’ll receive in the actual mail a beautiful bookmark with the schedule of psalms we are studying and five ways—one for each week day—we can pray the psalms with different people in mind. Beginning August 10, each Monday you’ll receive by email a three-minute video introducing the psalm of the week, and then, the following Sunday we’ll use that psalm in worship. And, very exciting to me, for three Sunday evenings at 5 pm, we’ll be launching by livestream special presentations introducing these psalms. Guest speakers include one of my spiritual heroes, Malcolm Guite from Cambridge, and one of Darin’s heroes, Mark Futato from Reformed Theological Seminary. We’re hoping those of you with big TVs and spacious seating areas will host watch parties. And consider joining a Shepherding Through the Psalms group to encourage one another. These groups will consist of 3-6 friends who will weekly connect with each other via a text, phone call, lunch or coffee—whatever works best for you. Spur one another on by discussing what you’re learning from the psalm of the week, how the prayer rhythms are going, and how to intentionally pray for each other. For more information visit To sign up as a group shepherd or member, email Kelly Wood.
Global Mission Conference
I’m so pleased that our speaker this year is Rev. Brian Miller. Brian and his wife Katherine work with sex trafficked girls in Medellin, Colombia. He is a passionate and eloquent speaker.
LSU Prayer Walk
Saturday morning, August 15 at 8.15 am we will meet at the LSU Student Union to spend an hour walking the campus and praying for our university. In particular we will pray for our international students. Prayer walking is safe, fun, discrete and powerful. Full instructions will be given. Come casual.

But God . . .

God called Jonah to go to Nineveh. But what does Jonah do? Does he respond, “Yep, I’m going that way!” No, in fact, he goes to Joppa where he hopes to catch a ship going to Tarshish instead of going inland to preach the gospel. Scripture says, “He is fleeing from the presence of God.”
Have you ever heard God calling you to do something but you hesitated? The world will always have a ship ready to take you anywhere you want to go. Jonah was doomed in his disobedience and you always have to pay in full to ride a ship of the world. It costs a lot to not do the will of God. Jonah was disciplined for his disobedience, yet we still have a tendency to think that we can run away from God. God’s Word tells us that we cannot hide. God is calling you and me on a journey. There is a journey that leads to Nineveh and a journey that leads to Tarshish. In what direction are you headed? Are you going toward the presence of the Lord or are you going to make an excuse, “But God . . . ”   
This fall, we have the opportunity to serve the Lord here in Baton Rouge at Gardere Community Christian School as a mentor with Kid’s Hope or at Buchanan School as a Reading Buddy. The list is endless how we can serve the Lord. Just do it! 
Buchanan Volunteer Coordinator: Laura Shaw
Kids Hope USA Director: Annette Lamond
Posted in: Missions

First Presbyterian and Kids Hope USA

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

American Privilege

Super Shuttle had forgotten me at the Orlando Airport. Only Uber Black (that’s the really nice cars!) was available. My driver was gregarious. Born in Haiti, he had come to America in his teens to play soccer. Now he was a proud U.S. citizen. “I love this country,” he said. “The electricity works all the time. I came here with nothing but soccer skills. Then my knee blew out, but I got great medical care. I worked hard, and now I have my own driving business. My wife became an accountant. We have such a great life here. I love America.”
In troubled times, when we’re straining to do better as a nation, it helps to remember just why so many people from around the world want to be here. To me, any discussion about our nation needs to begin with grateful acknowledgement of American Privilege. It flows across the tapestry of ethnicities that make up our nation of immigrants. As my driver said, the electricity works all day long. So does the in-flow of clean water, and, importantly, the out-flow of sewage. I’m thankful every Tuesday for the infrastructure of sanitation. They actually take my garbage away! (If I make the effort to put it in the bin.)  
All anyone has to do in a crisis is dial 911. Within minutes, fire, ambulance or police come no matter who you are. Emergency rooms treat any and every one who comes with astounding medical care, whether you can pay or not. Education from pre-K to high school is available to every citizen, including free transportation. Our schools provide ten meals a week to those who need them. Public assistance offers vouchers for food; housing for the disabled and disadvantaged; a host of services to the elderly, those fighting cancer, the demented, the physically handicapped; or those with other special needs. 
We have 2.7 million miles of paved roads. Pollution controls have cleaned up the air we breathe. Public libraries are heated and cooled for comfort as they offer both print and electronic resources for free to all. There is land to spread out to. There is natural beauty of such variety and magnitude that it takes your breath away. At the city, state and national level we have beautiful parks. Our nation’s resources have created an overflowing abundance of goods in which everyone can participate. (A Ralph Lauren polo shirt for $2 at the Purple Cow: amazing!) Opportunity for social and economic mobility continues to be the envy of the world. The mightiest military in history protects us. 
We freely elect our government officials. We govern by rule of law, with powers divided between three branches, the model of liberty for the world. We still have remarkable freedom to express our opinions and exercise our religion. Moreover, we have the ability to critique ourselves, to have the conversations that lead to change.  
Are we perfect? Of course not! But this July 4, I want to begin with gratitude for all we have. And respect for those who sacrificed and labored and fought to make it so. Would I prefer the level of religious freedom that’s in Saudi Arabia? Or machine guns on every street corner like in Cairo? Would I prefer the surveillance culture of China? The heritage of ethnic genocides in Bosnia or Rwanda? The dictatorship of Russia? The poverty of the socialist experiment in Venezuela? No, thank you to all of the above.
Even the least among us have great privilege. Even the poor among us have, in the world context, great wealth. American privilege is a precious, priceless privilege that undergirds all our national conversations. We must begin, continue and conclude in gratitude for this nation in which God has seen fit to place us. 
Happy Independence Day!

Masquerading Worship

Feeling a bit like Darth Vader in my mask, I walked through the Sanctuary greeting a number of families who had come to the confirmation service. I found comfort that we were all doing the same. From a safe distance, I said, “It’s like a masquerade ball. Or a Halloween party. You feel ridiculous getting ready. But once you see that everyone else has on a costume, it’s ok.”  Indeed, it was ok. No, I’m not a big fan of breathing back my own breath. But I get it. We’re helping each other. We’re making the best of the situation given to us. And I’m awfully proud that you are making the effort to regather our congregation in the Sanctuary while following the safest recommendations in a spirit of adventure. Of course you are!
Now I don’t mind telling you, leadership in an unchartered crisis is exhausting! Every week, sometimes every other day, we have to pivot. We have to adapt. To plot a new course knowing it might change overnight. I’ve been so impressed with the flexibility and innovation and sheer hard work of our on-the-ground staff. Our team bowls me over with the way they’ve communicated and created worship and ministry for all of us in these strange days.
Lately, I’ve found a place to be peaceful. I think our elders have found that same place. We’re sheltering in the leadership that is above us. We’re thankful for and praying for our freely elected government. As long as what the state asks doesn’t compel us to compromise the gospel or doesn’t egregiously and specifically target people of faith, we are glad to follow. To be part of Team Louisiana.   
This gives us two strong directions. On the one hand, we want to do everything that is permitted to us to do. Our business is gathered worship. We exist to proclaim the gospel in community for the community. So when we can open at 25%, we do. We energetically embrace what we may do, offering the best we can give to the most who can come. On the other hand, we accept what is prescribed for our safety. If sanitizing, distancing and masking is what is asked, we’re happy to do it. It’s not fun. But it’s what is called for. And that makes me peaceful. 
I don’t want to try to think I know better. Nor do I want to live in fear. I want to live boldly within the guidance of what is both permitted and safe. Down this road, lies peace, restoration and love for our community. Just think, no one has ever done this before! We’ll always remember this time. I will always remember your overwhelming love for your church and commitment to our ministry in the heart of Baton Rouge. These days, it’s easy as pie to say I love being your pastor!
Gratitude for Steve Rushing 
The director of our chancel choir ends his tenure with us this month. Dr. Steve Rushing has partnered with me in leading Classic Reformed Worship for the last fifteen years. His outstanding full-time vocal teaching at Southeastern University and then at Baton Rouge International School have meant that Steve’s service to us has always been on a quarter-time basis. With the arrival of our first full-time worship director who is fluent in both classic and contemporary styles, there is too much overlap to continue with two choir directors. So it is with both sadness and gratitude that we bid farewell to Steve in his official capacity. 
But first, we want to celebrate his work among us. Steve raised high the excellence of our choir program. He established the reputation of our music throughout the community and especially amidst the musicians in town. His gracious spirit and love for all kinds of music played a significant role in healing tensions that once existed between our worship styles. Steve has freely offered vocal lessons to many members, taking a personal interest in his choir and enhancing the careers of our student singers. And that voice! Could anyone else have sung the voice of God in Roots and Promises? The annual cantatas with orchestra have become a beloved tradition among us. Seeing and hearing Steve’s great pleasure in getting the most out of his singers and musicians communicates joy to all of us. We will miss his humor, his spiritual insights and his collegiality. 
Though social distancing limits our options, we can still heartily celebrate Steve on Sunday, June 21 at the 11 am service. We all want to express our appreciation for this fine Christian man, musician and vocalist. 

You Are My Tribe; My Ministry

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

The Proper Perspective In the Midst of Life’s Problems

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

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


How I Went from Worry to Hope

Anxiety. I had it. When our isolation first began, we had to pivot everything. I worried. Would the congregation hold together or fragment? Would people drift apart? Would people decide they don’t really need a church after all? Personally, I had to wrestle with the question, “What exactly is the point of a pastor anyway?” 
Staying-at-home offered more time. God led me deeper into his Word. I felt his presence more in prayer. When my sense of self and worry for the church started to wash out with the tide of worry, the Spirit of Christ Jesus flowed in through these times of reflective prayer and study. That, after all, is what our beliefs have told us all along: the Spirit is the glue who keeps us joined to Christ and to one another. He is the magnetic force of our communion. He is the skin and sinew of the body of Christ, keeping us whole. 
How wonderful it has been to see the Spirit cohering our church. You didn’t drift away or apart! If the stats are correct, more people, not fewer, are entering the worship we offer. Your beautiful video testimonies have linked us across all ages and stages. Hundreds of you have been checking on hundreds of you! Hundreds of boxes of food have been shared with the community. People continue to meet through Zoom or by phone. Giving continues. The staff pivoted to engage our members and produce our worship and communication, learning more and updating every week. In all, our church has proved herself dedicated, agile and energetic. I’m so thankful, and I’m so proud of you! I’m filled with hope.
Neighbors Helping Neighbors
The session has called for a special offering to be collected during May to offer relief to our members and neighbors during the pandemic. The first $10,000 will go to the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, as we’ve tragically seen how hunger is a real need in our city. The second $10,000 will assist the Christian Outreach Center in their work resettling the homeless population (the pandemic led to the clearing of several “tent villages” in the city). Further gifts will go to our church’s Helping Hands fund to assist church members, partner ministries and neighbors affected by this crisis. We know there will be personal needs when the ripple of government support runs out. We will be offering “grace grants” to church members, who can apply discretely through Barry Phillips. We’d love to help our members over a rough patch, trusting that in years to come, as they are able, they will give back to this same Helping Hands fund. You can give online or through checks marked “Neighbors Fund.” 
Emerging: May 17?!
In an unprecedented crisis, everything is always subject to change. But in hope, we plan using the best information we have. Our hope is that limited gathered worship will resume Sunday, May 17. That looks like two Sanctuary services, 9 am and 11 am, with capacity for 150 worshipers. We will have 50 to 60 sections marked off for family groups or singles to sit while maintaining distance. We will offer sign up online or by phone so we hopefully won’t have to turn anyone away. We will still offer “up close” livestreaming for those at home. Other precautions related to sanitizing will be taken. More details to come the week of May 10. This means we will plan now to go ahead with our Confirmation service at 4 pm on May 17. If demand warrants, we may be able to add an afternoon service in the future. We’ll all have to stay nimble and watch for updates.
Staff Changes 
Happy news: welcome Jaime Carnaggio as our new Director of Women’s Ministry. Jaime has served on our staff since 2015 as an assistant in Children’s Ministry and then with our women. She’s full of love for Christ, her family and our people. She’s a deep, energetic and engaging Bible teacher. She connects to women of all ages and has a passion for sharing Jesus through his Word. While Jaime served 6 months as our interim director, it became clear that she was growing with the job, getting more effective as her responsibilities grew. The session has delightedly endorsed her in this new position.
Sad news: the Cato family is moving to Texas in July. Kinch has taken a position as assistant head of a Christian school in Fort Worth. That means we will be losing Audra, who has worked so effectively for a decade. She began leading the renovation of our nursery ministry, turning it into one of our most successful programs. Then we asked her to lead Childhood Ministry, and we’ve seen wonderful growth in the depth of ministry and in numbers of children. We’re going to miss Kinch, Audra, Robert and Helen, but we pray a wonderful new life for them, knowing they will bless many wherever they are. Meanwhile, join us in prayer as we search for a new staff leader in Childhood. 

What a Joy It's Been!

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

God Paved a Path for Me

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

FPC Suspends Gathered Worship: A Message from Gerrit and Dr. Katie O'Neal

Beloved Members and Friends of First Presbyterian,
I despise media hysteria. I am skeptical of crowd-induced panic. I am determined that First will not behave out of fear or peer pressure.
And I now believe we should go to what is basically online worship for the next three weeks. It’s about serving our community, especially our health care services, by limiting large groups in social contact to “flatten out the curve” of a disease that will, inevitably, spread.
I’ve spoken to FPC member Dr. Katie O’Neal, who heads Disease Prevention at the Lake. I get it now in a way I didn’t. It’s not about what one individual handshake causes. It’s about the statistical reality of how epidemics spread. The facts, as best as we know them, are that “social distancing” slows down the spread and makes care of sick individuals more manageable. 
I then spoke to Dr. Keith Meador at Vanderbilt Medical Center and he confirmed all of the above.  
And following that, I have consulted with the session who agreed:
For March 15, 22 and 29, we will hold one 10.30 am service in the Sanctuary to which elders, deacons, staff and their families who are not in at-risk categories are invited. We will livestream this service, having communicated to our congregation that beginning Sunday we will eschew large gatherings. Nursery and Sunday school will be suspended for this time.
Let’s plan to participate together through our website, sending livestream viewership into the hundreds! Link is below.
However, home groups and small groups at church may continue, and people will be urged to follow the prescribed cautions, exercising personal discretion.
Chris Phillips and I will shape these services in various styles over the time period. 
The Youth Gala is already “out of the gate” and we will trust people to use discretion in their attendance, using good hygiene. 
We’re very thankful to Dr. O’Neal for conducting this video interview amidst a crushing schedule. 
Please pray especially for our medical providers, our elderly and the shalom of our city.
As ever, your pastors, elders and staff are available to serve you and uphold the faith we share.
With you in Christ

Never Would I Ever!

Did you ever play that game in your misspent youth? Someone names an outlandish behavior beginning with the phrase, “Never would I ever . . . ” But, if a participant has ever done that crazy thing (like swallowing a live goldfish), it must be admitted.
What if we played that game with the Passion story?
Never would I ever . . . get near a crucifixion. Yet, even as Simon of Cyrene raises his hand and describes carrying the cross for Jesus, I hope that I, too, would have had courage to help Jesus along his painful way.
Never would I ever . . . say I didn’t know Jesus. Yet, watching Peter ashamedly admit his denial, I recall all the times just this week that I did not take a stand for Christ.
Never would I ever . . . betray Jesus with a kiss. Yet even as Judas stands up to confess, I know that every time I “kiss” the cup as I drink during communion, my lips have also betrayed Jesus many times that week.
Never would I ever . . . give away a family heirloom on a lost cause. Yet, I see Mary anoint Jesus with a perfume worth tens of thousands of dollars. I see Joseph offer the executed Jesus his own burial plot. And I long to show extravagant love to Jesus.
We may well approach the stories of Passion Week thinking “Never would I ever . . . ” Surely those people then are nothing like me now. But just a bit of reflection and we realize, “I was there!” 
Studying the people Jesus encountered during Passion Week can rock your world, change your life and set your heart aflame with love for the Savior who undertook death and hell for your sake. 
So don’t miss a day! Get your beautiful Lenten book Were You There: Meeting the People of Passion Week, sign up for the daily emails, join a weekly home group and make it a priority to be at church every Sunday from now through Easter. You won’t be the same!
Youth Department News
We’re blessed to have a great youth staff team. Working to maximize the gifts of our staff, we’re reorganizing the ministry. 
Youth Ministry Administrator: Jessica Saffell 
Director of Youth: Middle School and Girls, Paula Walker
Assistant Director of Youth: High School and Boys, Noah Pourciau
The difference is that Jessica will become the “organizer” of our ministry, deploying our on-the-ground directors, Paula and Noah, in reaching middle school and high school students. Students will notice no change in how their programming works. Parents will notice that questions about trips, logistics, dates and details will go to Jessica first, rather than Paula, thus freeing Paula to spend more time with our students. 

The Expression of Truth Through Art

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

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

Psalm 72: 18-19


Were YOU There?

It’s your story. And it has all the makings of great drama. Intrigue. Sudden reversals. Intimate interactions. Betrayals. Violence. Courtroom maneuvers. Help from unexpected places. Dire villains. A hero who passes through grave peril to glorious triumph.
It’s your story. Because it’s the story of Jesus. We are in Christ. So in all he said and did, Jesus included us. All of his life was on our behalf. So always, his story is our story.
But we also find ourselves in the people who interacted with him. We identify with his opponents and his followers, with the betrayers and the devoted, with the conflicted and the proud. From Mary to Pilate, from Judas who betrayed to Simon who carried his cross, from Peter who denied him to the centurion who confessed him, we were there.  
The story of Passion Week is a story that touches our souls with poignancy. It reaches our hearts with conviction and comfort, with sorrow and rejoicing. Passion Week is the story we can’t stop telling. The best became the worst and then became something even better. It catches up our whole lives, the whole world. Nothing is more important than this true story.
And I want to take you there. This Lent, we’ll be studying the people of Passion Week. Day by day we will read about the many characters and the lesser characters, seeing how each one fits as we follow the episodes of this great story. We’ll learn to see through their eyes, and even pray through their prayers as we identify our lives through these characters. And discover anew how Jesus relates to us in truth, grace and love.  
Beginning February 9, you will have an opportunity to sign up to be part of a home group study. On March 1, we’ll receive our beautiful all-new Lent guides: Were You There? Meeting the People of Passion Week. We’ll be able to sign up for daily email delivery. And each week at worship we will go in depth with one of the characters.  


Sing Aloud His Righteousness!

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

A Restful Resolution

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God” (Exodus 20: 8-10a).
“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2: 27).

How restful are you? As the son of a WWII veteran, I had no choice but to develop a work ethic. My earthly father believed in productivity. Our Heavenly Father does too. Yet, He also believes in rest.

In a restless society, it is easy to take the Fourth Commandment as a suggestion rather than a commandment from the God who created the universe and created you and knows what is best for us.
When we are not willing to rest, we eventually are given no choice but to rest. At best, the rest comes when one has a vacation, a holiday or retirement. At worst, rest comes only due to unexpected illness, personal crisis, or even death. In such cases, rest is looked upon simply as a form of recovery. God has something better than that for you and me.
The command for rest is given in the book of Exodus in light of God’s example of “resting” on the seventh day of the first week, following six days of his “work” of creating (Genesis 2: 2). As an omnipotent God, he rested, not because he needed rest, but because we do, even as an example to others of how to remember that he is God and that the world doesn’t depend upon our abilities but upon his (Psalm 46: 10). He is able.
For Christians, the question is not, “How should I keep the Sabbath?,” the day during which the Israelites kept Ceremonial Law, resting from any and every type of labor. Instead, it is a two-part question. We ask “How should I keep the Lord’s Day?,” Sunday, the day on which Christ rose from the dead, when Christians gather for corporate worship (Acts 20: 7, 1 Corinthians 16: 1-2). Also, “How can I appropriately adhere to the divine command to rest, taking a break from the usual routine of the other six days, as we are not under Old Testament law but New Testament grace?" (Galatians 5: 1-26)
Sunday may be your day of rest, outwardly and inwardly, physically and spiritually. As a pastor, it is not mine. In fact, I have often told others that on Mondays, my day off, I am not available to anyone other than my wife and children, unless it is truly a matter of life and death. Of course, after I said this, many have died on Mondays! I even had one friend, Johnny Wheeler, tell me that he is intentionally going to die on a Monday just to have one on me–and he did! I’m glad that God has a sense of humor! I am also glad that we will see Johnny again (John 11: 25-26).
Nevertheless, ceasing from our work for 24 hours weekly is still necessary for each of us regardless of our career/calling. It helps us to realize that God is still in control and he will continue to get done all that we are called to do even without us. This keeps us humble as servants in his kingdom rather than sovereigns of our own (Psalm 46: 10). Even more poignantly, it keeps us from missing out on the privilege as his children to hear from our Father in heaven while we are still here on earth.
I have found that my times of being still, reading and meditating upon his Word, in prayer and contemplation, empower me to keep a proper perspective in the midst of life’s problems, hearing his voice in the midst of all the other voices of this world, including my own.
Nevertheless, if we have a sabbath rest of only praying, we have not progressed from our Puritan ancestors who tended to be legalistic in their observances. If we have a sabbath rest of only playing, we are no different than the self-centered society in which we live. Regardless of how the rest is practiced, it is not true rest unless it refreshes our relationship with God and our perspective on life.
Being busy yet not hurried is another thing altogether that I thank the Lord for teaching me in my desire to be more like him. Perhaps we can discuss that goal in the days ahead. Meanwhile, I have a challenge for you in this year ahead:
Would you consider making a New Year’s resolution to observe and enjoy the command to rest one day each week this year and as long as we are on this earth until we enter the eternal rest (Hebrews 4: 1-16) of the One who said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest?" (Matthew 11: 28).


Right Now Media

Have you ever been to a holiday party and received a gift that was a re-gift? Sometimes those gifts can be a little less desirable, but I have great news. First Presbyterian Church is giving you a gift that you are going to love receiving again! As the director for discipleship at our church, I want you to have the gift of Right Now Media (RNM). I announced two years ago that I had purchased a churchwide account for all who love FPC, but I think it is time to remind you of what a great treasure trove of godly material it is.
RNM is a lot like a Christian version of Netflix but with a much greater emphasis on teaching. There are plenty of entertaining videos for kids, such as What’s in the Bible and Adventures in Odyssey. But where RNM really stands out is its teaching for adults. Whenever I want to study a book in the Bible, I love going to RNM and watching a How to Read summary of the book. For example, type in the search bar “Psalms,” then scroll down to the customizable training section and click on Tim Mackie’s How to Read Pslams. It is a powerful 9 minute summary!
If you’re looking for Bible study content for personal or small group use, RNM has tons of content from some of the most recognizable Christian teachers today. If it’s a topic that you’re curious about, such as parenting, you will be amazed how many great videos can be found on the topic. With this announcement of a gift you already have, I did want to make you aware of a couple of things that have improved with RNM since 2017. Some new users can get overwhelmed with how much content is on the site. To help with this, I have created a FPC “Channel” that will have specific content that I think our church will enjoy including a “Staff Favorites” section. (Continue to check the FPC channel as we’ll be adding new content to it all the time.) The other greatest improvement to RNM is your ability to access it. Before you had to sign-up via the invitation that I sent to the email our church has on file for you. If you lost that email, I had to manually create another invitation for you to join. Now, all you have to do is go to our FPC website, find the RNM link, and from there you will be able to directly create an account. Now that’s a pretty easy gift to unwrap!!!
Enjoy the new year and when you have time to catch your breath, check out RNM. My hope is that the teaching found there will complement the excellent teaching we receive every Sunday from the pulpit–and that we may walk deeply with Christ together as a body!
Posted in: Discipleship

Listening Through the Crack

What if you found the door to the divine throne room left slightly ajar? What if you could listen through that crack to overhear what the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were saying to each other? And what if you discovered they were talking about us?!
Hidden Conversations: Overhearing the Trinity is the theme for three special presentations January 31/February 1. We call it a “Stay-Treat” because it’s like a retreat: we eat together, hang out together and study the Word together. But we get to go home and sleep in our own beds! Friday evening and Saturday morning, Dr. Matthew Bates will lead our explorations of conversations recorded in Scripture between members of the Trinity. Often overlooked entirely, these amazing passages led the early church to realize that the one God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We actually get to overhear the Trinity talking about how to save us! 
Mark your calendars now! You will never read Scripture the same way again! All this, plus a great dinner Friday night, yummy desserts and a special track for kids. Also, I’ll be leading an intro session to the topic in the Crossroads Class January 5, the Kingdom Builders class January 12 and the Essentials class January 19 to help get us ready.
Hellos and Goodbyes
As the New Year begins, we say goodbye to some faces we love and hello to some faces we will grow quickly to love. Elizabeth Parker has concluded her five and a half years with us, and we give thanks for dedication among our women and in the ministry of the Word. Nancy Spiller is concluding her second tour as a worship director. 
We’re so grateful she postponed her retirement to step in last summer when we had a critical need. There’s only one Nancy! And we welcome Chris Phillips as our new Director of Worship.
Chris begins January 12. He is moving here from Jackson, MS along with his wife Virginia and son Benjamin. I know you’ll be delighted to meet the Phillips. 
And I’m delighted to begin another new year with you, beloved congregation!

Listening Through the Crack

What if you found the door to the divine throne room left slightly ajar? What if you could listen through that crack to overhear what the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were saying to each other? And what if you discovered they were talking about us?!
Hidden Conversations: Overhearing the Trinity is the theme for three special presentations January 31/February 1. We call it a “Stay-Treat” because it’s like a retreat: we eat together, hang out together and study the Word together. But we get to go home and sleep in our own beds! Friday evening and Saturday morning, Dr. Matthew Bates will lead our explorations of conversations recorded in Scripture between members of the Trinity. Often overlooked entirely, these amazing passages led the early church to realize that the one God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We actually get to overhear the Trinity talking about how to save us! 
Mark your calendars now! You will never read Scripture the same way again! All this, plus a great dinner Friday night, yummy desserts and a special track for kids. Also, I’ll be leading an intro session to the topic in the Crossroads Class January 5, the Kingdom Builders class January 12 and the Essentials class January 19 to help get us ready.
Hellos and Goodbyes
As the New Year begins, we say goodbye to some faces we love and hello to some faces we will grow quickly to love. Elizabeth Parker has concluded her five and a half years with us, and we give thanks for dedication among our women and in the ministry of the Word. Nancy Spiller is concluding her second tour as a worship director. 
We’re so grateful she postponed her retirement to step in last summer when we had a critical need. There’s only one Nancy! And we welcome Chris Phillips as our new Director of Worship.
Chris begins January 12. He is moving here from Jackson, MS along with his wife Virginia and son Benjamin. I know you’ll be delighted to meet the Phillips. 
And I’m delighted to begin another new year with you, beloved congregation!

Why I Love XMas!

Hey, keep Christ in Christmas!! I agree! Merry Xmas! (Has our pastor lost his mind? Probably, but that’s another column . . . ).
Did you know that the familiar abbreviation for Christmas does not have secular origins? An “X” has been used for Christ since the time of the ancient church, even in some manuscripts of the New Testament! The “X” represents Chi, the first letter in Greek for christos, or Christ. An X for Christ has also been found in English writing since the 15th century. 
So, I’m happy to reclaim the “X” in Xmas. And I enjoy the “X” all year long. I’ve even abbreviated my personal vision for ministry to these 3 characters: Q4X. Quest for Christ. As you study ancient Christian symbols and art, you’ll often find this symbol: two Greek letters combined, the Chi (X) and the Rho (an “r” that looks like a “p”). These are the first two letter in christos and they make a beautiful symbol for our Lord and Savior. So, joyous Xmas to you!
New Xmas Eve Morning Service
The session has authorized a third Christmas Eve service! This 11 am worship will be a multi-media journey of lessons and carols designed especially for families with young children. We will tell the ancient story and sing the favorite songs in a way that appeals to our youngest worshippers. Glow sticks will replace drippy candles, and we’ll use instruments, arts and stories to keep it creative and joyful. An infant nursery will be offered. There won’t be communion. And, of course, we will be offering our 4 pm and 6 pm festive services of candlelight and communion. 
It’s always a joy to keep Christmas with you.

Why I Love XMas!

Hey, keep Christ in Christmas!! I agree! Merry Xmas! (Has our pastor lost his mind? Probably, but that’s another column . . . ).
Did you know that the familiar abbreviation for Christmas does not have secular origins? An “X” has been used for Christ since the time of the ancient church, even in some manuscripts of the New Testament! The “X” represents Chi, the first letter in Greek for christos, or Christ. An X for Christ has also been found in English writing since the 15th century. 
So, I’m happy to reclaim the “X” in Xmas. And I enjoy the “X” all year long. I’ve even abbreviated my personal vision for ministry to these 3 characters: Q4X. Quest for Christ. As you study ancient Christian symbols and art, you’ll often find this symbol: two Greek letters combined, the Chi (X) and the Rho (an “r” that looks like a “p”). These are the first two letter in christos and they make a beautiful symbol for our Lord and Savior. So, joyous Xmas to you!
New Xmas Eve Morning Service
The session has authorized a third Christmas Eve service! This 11 am worship will be a multi-media journey of lessons and carols designed especially for families with young children. We will tell the ancient story and sing the favorite songs in a way that appeals to our youngest worshippers. Glow sticks will replace drippy candles, and we’ll use instruments, arts and stories to keep it creative and joyful. An infant nursery will be offered. There won’t be communion. And, of course, we will be offering our 4 pm and 6 pm festive services of candlelight and communion. 
It’s always a joy to keep Christmas with you.

Presents or Presence?

Parenting is one tough job and not for sissies or the fainthearted. Giving birth is a snap compared to parenting and being the biological male sire is by no means the same as being the parenting father. It is kind of like the fact that weddings do not necessarily result in marriages, if you get my drift.
The world doesn’t honor parenting. It never has, and a lot of lip service is given but like the saying goes, “words are cheap.” The world has pulled mother out of the home under the guise of liberating her to equal status with men. By what standard are we measuring this worth? The world’s standard? Money? As for men, they have never been encouraged by the world to put as much energy into parenting as they do their labor for the almighty dollar.
Parenting takes more time than money. It is really true. Just look at the number of boarding schools and children’s homes that have been built for the purpose of kids being put aside while parents pursue their careers. If you ask children what they desire, their answer will be, "To be at home with their family." Toys and entertainment (i.e., Play Stations) don’t make up for the longing for home in their hearts that shows in their eyes.
Children want presence not presents. Oh, we have taught them well; that like us, they are supposed to like presents. It is the material way. The American way. But I’m not sure it is God’s way. Please don’t get me wrong. We do have to live in this world and we do have to have real material bread for the journey. The economic status of many single mothers and couples dictates that both work. But even if that is the case, the economic necessity doesn’t reduce the missed time of presence for both parent and child.
What is the answer? I’m not sure, but this much I know: children need parents present as much as possible. That means not just in their rooms but also paying attention and participating in their world. Quality time is vital and there needs to be a lot of quality time or else there will be no parenting going on. Take time to reflect for a moment on how we adults long for God’s presence. And guess what? He shows up! 
The Gift of Presence
How can you give the gifts of presence to your family? One step at a time. The following suggestions will help you get started:
  1. When you come home, give yourself thirty minutes, if possible, to unwind and change gears before you enter into the family dynamics. (Maybe you can do this in the car on the way home or maybe each parent can give the other thirty minutes of alone time before everyone comes together).
  2. When you enter the family, give each child thirty minutes of your undivided attention. Children want to know that that you are present and interested. At the end of that time, they will have had enough of you and will go off to play on their own. (However, if you come in, listen with one ear, watch TV or read the paper with both eyes and just say “uh huh” a lot, they will pester you all night to try to get you to really notice them).
  3. Plan family time and possibly a family meeting each week. Family time is a time when everybody plays or talks and listens together. Family meeting is when everyone gets to put their two cents worth in, knowing it will be heard and considered, even if not acted on every time.
  4. Have a “date” with each child at least once a month.  Mom and Dad can each do this. (When my boys were young, I took them to breakfast on Wednesday (Patrick) and Friday (Andrew) mornings before school: we had 100/breakfasts per year x 10 years). 
  5. Praise your children for who they are --- their humor, their smile, their ability to think, their insights, their gifts and talents. You cannot bless a child’s being too much.
  6. Correct their doing and don’t attack their person.
  7. Let siblings work out their differences whenever possible. They don’t need to get you in the middle.  They are better arbitrators than we give them credit for sometimes.
  8. Love your spouse! Stand together! Discuss your differences in a private space away from the children and then come out as a united front. Don’t let the children split you up.
  9. Take some time for yourself. You cannot give all the time and not run out of juice. Batteries run down, and you will too.
  10. Take time to be a couple, if you are not a single parent. Make some memories together. One day, the children will be gone and don’t live through them.
  11. Be present. Be present. Be present as much as possible. Children just need to know you are there and that they can get to you when they really need you.
  12. Sometimes when the culture is cheering us all on to our death beds (both culturally and individually), we just have to listen to the still, small voice of God inside us. Get still and listen. I believe God will let you know a lot better how to do this parenting thing than the world would lead you to believe. But remember: to hear God will take the same thing it takes to be present – presence! Be present please, Mom and Dad. And God says, “Be present please, children; I want to enjoy my children, too.” 

Season of Thanks

Gratitude is the path to well-being.  Thanksgiving transforms toil into delight.Saying a blessing brings more pleasure to the meal.  A grateful heart is a merry heart.  Scripture urges us to rejoice always and to give thanks in all circumstances. So true. Yet, at this time of year we more intentionally appreciate all that God has given us. As we prepare to celebrate the birth of God’s Son, our hearts want to make a return for such a gift.
It’s easy for me to be thankful for our church. We stand in a crowded Sanctuary singing “A Mighty Fortress” with the organ and brass sounding forth. I rejoice to be in the company of the saints, both the ones in that hour and all the faithful ones who have raised their voices through two centuries. I can’t help but smile when I see the sweet faces of our Mother’s Day Out children gathering for chapel. Practicing for the Christmas play with elementary students, I delight in their enthusiasm. Hearing the questions of confirmation  students, laughing with a group of men about the foibles of our discipleship, or feeling the passion in our members doing city mission and international ministry, I’m just moved with thanks. All year long I am grateful for our life among the extraordinary believers in Baton Rouge.
Just a few highlights for particular praise. The session has called Chris Phillips to be our new worship director. At Belhaven University, Chris taught worship leadership for both traditional and contemporary styles. At Lakeside Presbyterian in Jackson, Chris has been designing and leading services in both accents. We look forward to welcoming Chris, his wife Virginia and his son Benjamin in January.  
The session has authorized our hosting a third Christmas Eve worship service. This 11 am Sanctuary program will be especially designed for families with younger children. We’re trying it out this year in hopes of offering a convenient option for little ones while also alleviating some of the overcrowding we’ve had at the four o’clock service. More details next month.
We dedicate our Estimates of Giving November 10. My challenge: fill out your card before the LSU/Alabama game! That way you will know what matters most. And if the unimaginable happens and our idols are shattered, you can remember you acknowledged God first! And if our football dreams come true, you’ll be delighted to celebrate with this act of faith. Just sayin’!
As ever, I hope you can tell how proud I am of you and how much I love being your pastor.

Season of Thanks

Gratitude is the path to well-being.  Thanksgiving transforms toil into delight.Saying a blessing brings more pleasure to the meal.  A grateful heart is a merry heart.  Scripture urges us to rejoice always and to give thanks in all circumstances. So true. Yet, at this time of year we more intentionally appreciate all that God has given us. As we prepare to celebrate the birth of God’s Son, our hearts want to make a return for such a gift.
It’s easy for me to be thankful for our church. We stand in a crowded Sanctuary singing “A Mighty Fortress” with the organ and brass sounding forth. I rejoice to be in the company of the saints, both the ones in that hour and all the faithful ones who have raised their voices through two centuries. I can’t help but smile when I see the sweet faces of our Mother’s Day Out children gathering for chapel. Practicing for the Christmas play with elementary students, I delight in their enthusiasm. Hearing the questions of confirmation  students, laughing with a group of men about the foibles of our discipleship, or feeling the passion in our members doing city mission and international ministry, I’m just moved with thanks. All year long I am grateful for our life among the extraordinary believers in Baton Rouge.
Just a few highlights for particular praise. The session has called Chris Phillips to be our new worship director. At Belhaven University, Chris taught worship leadership for both traditional and contemporary styles. At Lakeside Presbyterian in Jackson, Chris has been designing and leading services in both accents. We look forward to welcoming Chris, his wife Virginia and his son Benjamin in January.  
The session has authorized our hosting a third Christmas Eve worship service. This 11 am Sanctuary program will be especially designed for families with younger children. We’re trying it out this year in hopes of offering a convenient option for little ones while also alleviating some of the overcrowding we’ve had at the four o’clock service. More details next month.
We dedicate our Estimates of Giving November 10. My challenge: fill out your card before the LSU/Alabama game! That way you will know what matters most. And if the unimaginable happens and our idols are shattered, you can remember you acknowledged God first! And if our football dreams come true, you’ll be delighted to celebrate with this act of faith. Just sayin’!
As ever, I hope you can tell how proud I am of you and how much I love being your pastor.

Prayerful Listening

At a Young Life Staff retreat at Windy Gap in 1991, Henri Nouwen asked, “What is it like for you to be in the presence of God? What images come to mind?” Almost immediately, the answer came from deep within me. It’s like visiting my grandmother. Every Saturday from age eight till 18, I would take three buses across the city to clean her home and enjoy a Saturday lunch that was incredible. My grandmother desired spending time with me, and I loved the adventure to get to her home. After cleaning her home and having an amazing lunch, we would visit with one another, sitting in the quiet of her home playing a few games of “crazy eights or canasta.” I would speak about my life and ask her about hers. Grandma listened and I listened. There were times of silence, and there was no sense of hurry, except she wanted me on the bus by 4.30 to begin the trek home to uptown Nola.  
Even when I got busy with other things and came less often, Grandma didn’t scold me for not coming sooner. She always greeted me as though I was the best part of her week. I don’t recall her telling me she loved me or that she was praying for me, though there was no doubt that both were true. She gave me an image of God that was accepting and loving and spacious. She helped to listen my soul into being, and she pursued my heart since I was born.  Grandma Thelma was my only living grandparent when I was born, and we remained very close until her death on November 15, 1989 (the same day our son Andrew came into our lives). The irony of this gift was that the Lord Jesus was in charge of the timing.
Perhaps Grandma guided my vocational life without ever speaking of it or planning it. Maybe she had a desire I would become a priest or pastor, but grandma helped to prepare me by which my spiritual life has been nurtured.  Throughout my adult life through listening and talking in small groups of people, I have been seeking to deepen my life in God. These small groups have often been formed through the church and youth ministry, and became known as breakfast clubs with young men and adults. Since 1976, it has been a joy to listen to God and to others, and this has been a precious gift. It is called prayerful listening. 
Henri Nouwen on this Young Life staff retreat shared of the healing that is available in prayerful listening. “Healing means, first of all, the creation of an empty but friendly space where those who suffer can tell their story to someone who can listen with real attention. Healers are hosts who patiently and carefully listen to the story. Our most important question as healers is not, ‘What to say or to do?’ but, ‘How to develop enough inner space where the story can be received?’ Healing is the humble but also very demanding task of creating and offering a friendly empty space where strangers can reflect without fear, and find the confidence that makes them look for new ways right in the center of their confusion” (Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, p. 67-68). 
My grandmother, in her own limited situation, without knowing the larger impact of her faithfulness, pointed me to God, who is always ready to listen, to heal, to love and to invite us into deeper places. Without a doubt, grandma was prayerfully listening to every word that I shared and our Heavenly Father does the same.

Beautiful Spaces

We enjoy an unrepeatable location in the heart of Baton Rouge. We worship in an irreplaceable Sanctuary and Chapel. Our forebears in faith looked well beyond themselves in giving us such beautiful spaces for our life together in Christ.
By God’s bounty, this season of the church’s life affords us opportunity to enhance and protect what has been left to us. We are able to offer current and future members unprecedented facilities and grounds. The session has approved spending up to $850,000 in renovations and improvements over the next two years.
Projects include installation of lovely brick and aluminum fencing like we have on our playgrounds. We will enclose both our inner and outer perimeters. We’ll be able to go between our buildings or play in our gardens without worry that children will get loose into the street or parking lot. The whole block will feel welcoming but secure, and we’ll be adding more lanes for drop off by our entrances. We plan to upgrade all doors and locks with a new security system, including better cameras at the entrances. Inside, we’ll be replacing the current Sanctuary screens with brighter, sleeker LED screens and we’ll be adding higher quality cameras for livestreaming. The project includes fire sprinkler replacement in the Education Building, electrical surge protection and general beautification in a number of rooms.
Best of all, this project will be funded by the carefully stewarded income from our endowments. We don’t plan to ask you for anything more! We never use endowment income for the ongoing operation of the church and its mission—that’s why your annual gifts are so very important. But because of these well-managed extra sources, we are able to do special projects like this. How bountifully our God has blessed us, and now we will pass along an even more beautiful campus to those who come after us.
The session recently endorsed augmenting our ministry to the Gardere Community Christian School through beginning a new initiative. KidsHope USA is a national Christian mentoring program which enables churches to undergird schools with prayer and intentional mentoring. Every volunteer mentor has a prayer partner lifting up both the student and the mentor. Each hour spent with children has intentional activities designed to build character, communicate love and improve academics.  Annette Lamond will direct our program and I’d love for you to contact her to find out more.  And, as ever, I give thanks for you as I rejoice in being your pastor,

Compelling Compassion

What motivates us to share our faith in Jesus Christ, both locally and globally, at a time during which “religious pluralism“ and “social relativism” are the norm in our society? What was it that made Jesus’ message a message of “good news” at a time when certain others viewed it as anything but good? After all, the beliefs that there were many roads that led to God, and that all truth is relative, were “alive and well” during the first century AD (see John 4: 19-24, John 18: 38), as it is in the twenty-first century. This is what makes Jesus’ message, “I am the way, the truth, and the life . . . ” (John 14: 6) so counter-cultural. Scripture tells us over and over again that Jesus is the One and Only way to eternal life (Romans 6: 23).
What difference does this make? All the difference in the world. Without Jesus, we are like sheep without a shepherd, harassed and helpless, seeing and yet blind, hearing and yet deaf, misleading and misled, wandering aimlessly through life with no true meaning, purpose or direction. What a sad predicament. This is why Jesus had compassion on the crowds (Matthew 9: 36). He knew that regardless of what they thought was the way, HE is the way not only to a meaningful, purposeful, abundant life (John 10: 10) but also an eternal one (John 3: 16).  
Jesus could have told the crowds what they wanted to hear. But he loved them, and us, too much to do so. He could not lie, because he not only knows the truth but he is the truth (John 18: 37). 
Lost people matter to God. He does not want “anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3: 9).  And that is why we are called not to coerce others into faith in Christ, but to pray for them to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. If we are motivated by compassion for others, as Jesus had compassion for us, we will pray for them, spending even more time talking to God about them than talking to them about God. “This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus . . . ” (1 Timothy 2: 3-5).
What keeps you from sharing your faith with others? What motivates you to share it? Are you more concerned with proving yourself “right” and others “wrong” when it comes to objective truth, or are you more concerned for the emotional, psychological and spiritual well-being of God’s lost sheep who have not yet been found? Are you more focused on being correct than being compassionate?
Sometimes a person needs to go through a crisis before they notice the compassion that compels them to trust in Christ. That is why I love leading our Good Grief Seminars (our next one takes place on November 9) and overseeing the many new ministries through which the Lord has allowed us to serve him through having compassion on others. These are listed on our church website,, under Care Ministries and Prayer Ministries. Please check them out and consider where your role may be. After all, our most effective ministry to others often stems from our deepest wounds (2 Corinthians 1: 3-4).

A Word on Technology

My husband Kinch and I are so blessed to do life with like-minded parents. It certainly takes a village to raise a child and we are grateful to be part of this village here at FPC. 
We have a battle on our hands as we struggle with our kids' love for screens, games and the information on the internet. In our home, this is a constant struggle for Kinch and me. The battle is real but it is a battle worth fighting, unto Christ. Now that school has started we have embraced a new rhythm and part of this rhythm is limiting screen time as much as possible. What Kinch and I have learned, is that it starts with us, as the parents. We have to model what we are asking of our children. We have to turn off our computers, TVs and phones so we can make eye contact and have meaningful conversations. It isn’t always easy but the reward is worth the effort and consistency. The Catos do not allow iPads and gaming during the week and on the weekend their time on screens is limited. We also have decided not to grant our 10-year-old son’s request for an iPhone. Yes, I have been told I’m the meanest mom ever but eventually they get over it and love me again. I am just trying to be the parent God has called me to be. Sadly, screens can be used, by us, to remedy our children's suffering or boredom. I am guilty of this. However, I have learned over the years what a dangerous distraction for our children this can become. I have also learned that it is OK for our children to be “bored.” In fact, God is at work when our children are bored and their boredom can lead to much creativity and innovative thought.
Over the summer I attended a children's ministry training and sat in on a session about technology and children. I want to share with you some things I learned. 
Beloved parents, my heart is burdened by the propaganda that our children have easy access to via the internet. Our kids are exposed to too much, too soon and do not understand how to handle it. Young children are not mentally capable of handling the effects of social media. Social media at an early age is accepted in our culture yet sadly leads to loneliness and anxiety which has become a childhood epidemic. Social media destroys our sense of self and the goodness of life God wants for us. We have to band together and go against the current culture so we can teach our children how to live a godly life in an un-godly world. 
My intention in writing this article is not to scare you. Rather, I share this with you to encourage you to keep up the good fight. Tim Keller exhorts Christians to be a “counterculture for the common good.” This phrase encourages us as Christians to live in the “already/not yet" tension of today’s world. Let’s band together to monitor access to the cyber world and social media. Let’s teach our children the truth in a world full of lies. 
We face real dangers both in the world itself and the cyber world. However, there is good news. As Christian parents, our security and true hope is in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ will return and make all things right. His Word is living and active and written to guide us and help us. 
So, what shall we do? Let's let the body of Christ minister grace to us in the name of Jesus. Pray for yourselves as parents and don’t be scared to share your needs with others in the body. Confess sin that is causing you to feel defeated or alone. Let's keep our focus on the glory of God and his redemptive purposes in our lives and in our families. Pray against the dangers of the cyber world. Pray against the devil. Through Jesus, God has given us the power to resist Satan and pray against darkness. Pray for the spiritual defense of our children and may we pray together as one. 
I am available to speak further about any of these topics to parents and guardians. Please do not hesitate to contact me.
With you in Christ,
Join us Media and Mochas October 20, 2019; a parenting workshop on technology in the home.

The Key That Unlocks It All

Have people ever said this to you? “Well, you know you can make the Bible say anything you want!” They have a point. People use the Bible to justify all kinds of unbiblical things. Both “liberals” and “conservatives” do this. We are all always looking for a Jesus more in our own image: he’s much safer that way!
So how do you know the correct way to interpret the Bible? What’s the key to faithful interpretation? How do you keep from going wrong when you read the Word?
These are actually very ancient questions. Already in the 2nd century, a group called the Valentinians was talking about the Christ within. They were claiming to be Christians even as they cut off the real Jesus from their very inward focused spirituality. And they quoted Scripture doing so! This was confusing “normal” Christians. Thankfully, a bishop named Irenaeus came to the rescue.
Irenaeus knew we need a key to unlock the Word. We need to find Scripture’s core story so we can understand all the other stories in the Bible. We need one true “rule of faith” that guides the way we read any and every verse.
Irenaeus knew this golden key, this secret code, was not hidden. It was right there in the preaching of the gospel. The key is simply the core story of the Triune God as he made himself known in Jesus Christ. Irenaeus wrote out the crucial formula of faith that resolves the meaning of all Scripture.
Now here’s the kicker. His rule of faith sounds almost identical to what came to be known as the Apostles’ Creed. The Creed gives the boundaries within which we can understand the Bible, and the God of the Bible, truly and rightly. 
Wait, did I just hear you yawn? Did you just mutter, “The golden key is just that old dusty creed?” I know. The Creed is a bore if you don’t know what it is. I found that my love for the Apostles’ Creed transformed when I stopped thinking of it as a set of abstract principles and dry doctrinal statements. Instead, I see the Creed as a story. It’s the bones of the essential story of what the Triune God has done, is doing and will do in the creation and redemption of the world.
One core story is the key that unlocks the whole story. The Creed is the story that pulses with energy. It leads us to meet Jesus, the real Jesus of history, the one Redeemer and Lord of all. 
This fall, we’ll be exploring this golden key in worship each week starting August 11. Don’t miss even one episode in the story that explains it all!
Should Boys See The Lion King?
You bet! As I sat in the theatre with a four-year-old grandson nestled on my lap, I was struck anew by the positive power in this story of Simba the lion cub who learned to be king. In a world too often full of male-bashing, The Lion King offers a rousing view of what makes a strong man and why he’s so needed.  
Psychologists have identified essential tasks of fruitful manhood. They include being a warrior, a king, a lover and a sage. Simba learns that a realm only flourishes when the king serves a higher good than himself. He learns from his father that a king’s job is not to take but to protect, to give and to serve the realm.  
We know this is true whether the realm is a whole country or just a single life. A man is only a fruitful man when he knows he exists for a higher good than himself. When Simba grasps this, it makes him bold to be a warrior willing to defend his people and a husband willing to commit to his wife. He also learns to trust the sage baboon, to lean on the wise one as he seeks wisdom. The Pride Lands are only saved, the lions only rallied, when Simba takes up this servant leadership with great courage and willingness to risk. 
Does the movie have all the Christian worldview I would like? Of course not. But by all means, every boy (and Dad) needs to see this lushly illustrated tale of what makes for genuine, life-giving manhood.
Worship Director Update
With the untimely departure of Steve Newman, we’re so thankful Nancy Spiller has agreed to postpone her plans and serve as Interim Director of Contemporary Worship through December.  Thanks Nancy! Meanwhile, the search revives and we ask for your prayers.
I love being your pastor.