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First Thoughts Blog

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 ctlm.org. First Presbyterian also has a limited number of deeply discounted tickets available for $20, please email jaci@fpcbr.org 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!
 

Hurricane Recovery Continues

Thank you for all of your donations, time and resources the past nine weeks during hurricane recovery in southwest Louisiana. Our congregation has been very gracious to Iowa and Lake Charles with fifteen generators and many, many hurricane relief supplies. What is especially needed now is cleaning supplies, bleach, mops, brooms and buckets! Please consider picking up a few cleaning supplies and dropping them off in the church gymnasium during the months of November and December.
 
The pastors in southwest Louisiana have been working tirelessly to help their communities recover from the devastation caused by Hurricanes Laura and Delta, but they cannot do this alone. Church leaders and their congregations need our support now more than ever. There is an urgent need for volunteers to help with relief efforts. There are many ways to serve the families in need. Just showing up at a devastated home gives the families hope and cleaning their yards brings temporary joy as they suffer quietly. Please consider coming to serve with our church.
 
Our FPC church family has consistently gone to serve on Wednesdays and Saturdays in Iowa, Lake Charles and Le Bleu settlement.  We have served with Rev. Chan Willis, pastor of First Presbyterian Church Lake Charles, helping clean tree debris from about fifteen homes in his church. We plan to stay involved for a long time.
 
With the help of church members we are going to build showers very soon and are planning to set up a long-term recovery site in Iowa at First United Methodist Church in a few weeks and in the springtime in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Every gift matters and you have no idea how many people you have blessed especially in the small community of Iowa, Louisiana. Thank you for your participation!
 
 

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 (sherry@fpcbr.org 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 laura@fpcbr.org) 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 (nellpatrick@cox.net). 
 
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

Joyful Noise Choir Resumes

Join us Sunday evenings for a super-great time. This fall our theme is based on I John 4: 4b.“For he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” That makes us kinda like superheroes-especially with everyone wearing masks now!
 
From October 11 until November 15 at 5 pm, children grades 1-5 will meet, distanced and outside, under our new Terrace Tent! We will explore what it means that Jesus has overcome the world, build rhythm instruments, sing praise songs and enjoy being together. At the end of these short few weeks, we will have two recorded songs to present during worship! Of course, due to COVID-19 our JNC staff are taking extra precautions for everyone’s safety. For questions and more details, email Lauren Honea at lauren@fpcbr.org.
 

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 fpcbr.org. 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.
 
 
 

Children's Ministry Update

If your kids are like mine, they enjoy watching church from home, but they are eager to be back with friends on Sunday mornings. We know it’s been a long season apart and the following is our current plan to come back together in-person. 
 
We will begin childcare for the little ones (birth through Kindergarten) in the So Loved hall on August 16. More information will come in the next few weeks with the particulars, but we will strive to provide a safe environment by following local and national recommendations. 
 
We are planning to launch children’s ministry for Kingdom Kids (1st through 5th graders) on September 13. By launching this ministry after Labor Day, we will be able to assess how school openings have been going and what the state of the virus is here locally. 
 
Like you, we want to strive to keep our kids safe, to return to some normalcy, and most of all, to walk by faith in God as our ultimate provider for safety, health and peace. We are excited for all that God has in store for our children in the coming year! By the way, Sunday school for older kids (confirmation through high school) and for adults will launch on September 13 as well.
 
Please pray with me that our children walk deeply with the Lord during these uncertain times, and also please ask God to provide his perfect fit for a new Children’s Ministry Director. I am happily serving as the interim director (along with Kelly Wood as Discipleship Facilitator) and have full confidence in our boots-on-the-ground ministry coordinators Karah Guillory, Kendra Bremer and Rebecca Dees. We believe God has just the right person to give focused leadership to the overall children’s ministry.
 
Thank you for partnering with us in prayer that our church might glorify God!
 
 
 

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 (annette@fpcbr.org or 225.773.8745). 
 
 

Global Mission Conference 2020

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses . . . to the end of the earth (Acts 1: 8).
 
First Presbyterian Church has a long tradition of support to evangelizing the globe. On August 29 and 30, Macgregor Magruder will graciously host FPC’s mission conference. This conference is a unique opportunity to see God’s faithfulness across the globe from the perspective of our partner field missionaries.  
 
The entire globe is struggling with how coronavirus is impacting traditional lifestyles. Psalm 131 has significant meaning for both our field missionaries and our local coronavirus challenges. Historically sung as the pilgrims’ song of ascent along the path to Jerusalem, Psalm 131: 1-2 lulls the pilgrim into rest with humility and trust. The coronavirus is isolating this worship dynamic to rest in God, as we are all wrestling the same level of fear and anxieties globally. Lastly, Psalm 131: 3 encourages us to actively rest and confidently expect God to work on our behalf. Globally, Christians can call on this universal truth: GOD is in control and we are to rest with expectation of his loving care. 
 
Our field missionaries live with this universal truth daily. Having been planted in foreign communities, they lean completely into God with confidence and expectation. Please join us in August to hear how God continuously builds their faith inside each of their mission communities. “O Israel, put your hope in the LORD both now and forevermore” (131: 3).
Posted in: Missions

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.
 

Deeper in Christ, Further into God's Economy

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

The Proper Perspective In the Midst of Life’s Problems

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

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

 

We’re Rolling! Gathered Worship: Safe and Soaring!

Last Sunday, we gathered for worship and worked through the newness of masks and social distancing. The joy was palpable from singing and praying in the same room. It was great to be back.

So join us! No need to sign up. Just come for 9 am Contemporary and 11 am Classic Reformed.

As of now, there is no gathered Sunday school or nursery, but we will let you know as soon as this is figured out. For the foreseeable future, we will continue to follow guidelines regarding wearing masks, using the North Blvd entrance, and sitting in designated distancing areas by household groups.

God's Unbreakable Covenants

What is a covenant and what does it represent? How do the covenants of the Old Testament apply to us today?
 
God’s covenants form the backbone of the Bible’s metanarrative.  They are the unifying thread of God’s saving action through Scripture, beginning with Creation and reaching fulfillment in the New Covenant confirmed through the blood of Jesus Christ. How remarkable that our great God desired so deeply to enter into relationship with his people that he stooped down to establish an everlasting, unbreakable covenant with us!
 
This summer we will journey through the five major covenants of the Old Testament: Creation, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and King David… and we will point each of these to the New Covenant in Christ, when our Lord Jesus perfectly fulfilled them, sealing our relationship with God eternally. 
 
Join us as we trace the significance of God’s covenants in our redemptive history, as we witness a covenant-making God create a people for Himself from which the Savior of the whole world would come. 
 
Our study meets each Wednesday in July from 6.30 to 8 pm. You can participate in our study one of two ways: in person or online. Our in-house gathering will be in Dunham Chapel which can accommodate a good number of us even with social distancing. No registration needed; just show up at 6.30 pm. For those who participate from home, join us on the livestream on either YouTube or Facebook. Handy links to each are below. 
 
While we are unable to offer a nursery at this time, Jaime Carnaggio is happy to help arrange childcare if required. 
 
 
Posted in: Women's Ministry

Two Wonderful and Weird Services

Wonderful because we can be together in our Sanctuary.

Weird because we have to wear masks and continue with those annoying social distancing practices.

Service times have changed to 9 am and 11 am.

For those worshiping in the Sanctuary, plan to arrive early and use the North Boulevard entrance. We're asking everyone to please wear a mask.

Both services will continue to be livestreamed.

There will be no Sunday school or nursery provided.

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. 
 
 

City Ministry Immediate Needs

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

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

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

 

God Paved a Path for Me

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

God Paved a Path for Me

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

Serving the Underserved

A heartfelt thank you from Nancy Zito, Founder and Principal of Gardere Community Christian School, to First Presbyterian members who have donated food to the school's underserved students and their families.
 
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5: 3-5).
 

Children's Anxiety During Corona

Counselor Cheryl Brodnax has some tips on how to help your kids combat anxiety during these stay-at-home times?

1) Be mindful of what you discuss in front of your children
2) Give your kids opportunity to talk
3) Structure is a good thing
4) Help them feel connected to friends
5) Give your children grace

How to Get Ready for Virtual Communion

Gerrit explains how to prepare for participating in Thursday’s 7 pm Service of Shadows. Four candles, a piece of bread and a cup of wine or juice, and you’re set to interact with the passion of Jesus and connect to him, together with our whole church, through the Lord’s Supper.

 

Links to watch the Service of Shadows are below. The video will be available at 7 pm Thursday, April 9.

Facebook

YouTube

 

Focusing Prayer Through Fasting

Our beloved pastoral care minister Jim Solomon invites us to the challenge of Tuesday lunch-fasts and how such practice can ignite your prayer life. Jim also asks that you check out the guidelines and insights on fasting that are included on our denomination’s website (epc.org) especially if you will fast not only on Tuesdays at lunch time but also the entire day on Good Friday, April 10. 

What Is This I'm Feeling?

What Is This I’m Feeling?

FPC deacon and BRCCC therapist Sherry Kadair puts words to some of the strange feelings we’ve all been having. You’re not crazy! We’re having ordinary reactions to extraordinary circumstances.

Tuesday Lunch Fasts

Following Gov. Edwards' call last week for a statewide day of prayer and fasting, Senate Chaplain Rodney Wood invites all Louisianans, and pastor Jim Solomon invites all First Presbyterians who can, to make fasting from lunch a Tuesday routine.  We can use this bit of deprivation to focus our prayers and ask for God’s mercy, grace and revelation upon our nation.

Email Jim Solomon

 

Toxic Breath

Are you breathing the toxic breath of stress these days? Tension and fatigue are in the air. But what if we could draw breaths that bring peace. Katie Forsthoff introduces the ancient spiritual technique of breath prayer. 

Combating Plague Mind

Do you have plague mind? You don’t need a doctor’s order to get tested. Just answer the questions below. Then watch Gerrit and Chris’ video on the battle for your mind.
 
If you check more than 3 boxes, this one if for you.
 
Check all that apply:
 
____ I watch too much news. 
____ I’m sick of the people I live with. 
____ I don’t really feel like doing anything. 
____ Yet, I’m bored! 
____ I watch too much television. 
____ I don’t concentrate very well. 
____ I feel poor! 
____ I have floating anxiety. 
____ I don’t sleep very well. 
____ I’ve gotten suspicious of other people.
 

What's a Guy to Do?

What's a Guy to Do?
Men's Pastor Darin Travis has some tips for guys in isolation.
 

 
Live Stream
 
Let's worship as one church. Live stream with us Sunday morning at 10.30 am (becomes live 5 minutes before start of worship).
 
Email prayer@fpcbr.org if you have trouble with the live stream Sunday morning. We've included the order of worship for you to follow along.
 
 
 
Don't Forget
 
Download the church APP. The app has all the same information as the website, including connecting to the Sunday live stream, an option to give online and accessing all archived sermons.
 
 
Contact Us
 
If you would like a friendly voice, prayer, comfort, have live stream questions, or if you have a practical need for groceries or a pharmacy run, contact the church office (225.387.0617 or prayer@fpcbr.org) and we will get you connected. 
 

Email Us

 

 

Corona Christians!

Corona Christians!
Today’s Staying Connected Video from Gerrit and Chris.
 

 
 
Live Stream
The button below brings you directly to the FPC live stream page. Live stream becomes active at 10.25 am this Sunday; 5 minutes before worship begins.
 
Email prayer@fpcbr.org if you have trouble on Sunday morning.
 
 
Don't Forget
Don't forget to download the church APP. The app has all the same information as the website, including connecting to the Sunday live stream, an option to give online and accessing all archived sermons.
 
 
Contact Us
If you would like a friendly voice, prayer, comfort, have live stream questions, or if you have a practical need for groceries or a pharmacy run, contact the church office at 225.387.0617 or click the link below to email us.
 
 
 

 

Home Worship

Dearly Loved Congregation,
 
Here’s a new video encouragement for home worshipers that I made with Chris Phillips.
 
Also, big news. For the next two Sundays, at 10.30 am we will have online worship only, no live attendees!
 
Why? Well, not only to comply with health guidelines, but in order to change the format of the live stream so it appeals to more home viewers. The video will be more “up close and personal,” as Chris and I lead you through worship.
 
Also, send us your selfies from where you’re watching worship and any prayer requests to prayer@fpcbr.org. We’ll get the selfies on our Facebook page and show them next week too!
 
News on Palm Sunday to follow in about ten days.
 
Keep praying for each other, our city, our medical professionals, our nation and world. 
 
Jesus reigns,
Gerrit
 

 
 
 
 

Staying Connected In Isolation

Dearly Loved Congregation,
 
It’s so hard to be apart! Seldom have we realized how precious it is to be together.
 
Technology gives us a chance to be connected, albeit without touch or eye contact.
 
So for the next few days, expect a brief video encouragement from me and other pastors and staff.  
 
 
 
News:
 
Our 10.30 am Sunday gatherings are limited to 50. You can sign up to be part of our "Live Fifty" below. We’ll have a waiting list in case some have to drop out: so if you sign up but can’t make it, you can let us know. Others can worship from home via the FPC live stream.
 
This week’s message will be Corona Christians. 
 
If you would like a friendly voice, a prayer, some comfort, or if you have a practical need for groceries or a pharmacy run, contact the church office (225.387.0617 or prayer@fpcbr.org) and we will get you connected.  
 
If you’d like to talk with a professional counselor by phone, you can contact our Baton Rouge Christian Counseling Center and they will have a counselor call you. (225.387-2287) or email BRCCC@brchristiancounseling.com.
 
Keep praying for each other. Keep checking on each other. Keep looking to Jesus!
 
So thankful to be your pastor,
Gerrit
 
 

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
Gerrit
 
 
 
 
 

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).

 

Focused Fellowship Through the Decades

Each month, Women’s Ministry organizes focused fellowship targeting women in specific decades. There is no agenda! These are simply extra opportunities to gather together outside of the church walls for food, fellowship and fun.
 
Did you grow up on Pearl Jam or own a BFF bracelet? The 20s/30s gatherings are for you! Meets in January & June.
 
Did you own leg warmers or dance to Whitney Houston? The 30s/40s gatherings are for you! Meets in April & October.
 
Did you grow up with the Jackson 5 or own a pair of bell bottoms? The 40s/50s gatherings are for you. Meets in February & August.
 
Did you own a pair of go-go boots or rock out to the Temptations? The 50s/60s gatherings are for you! Meets in May & November.
 
Did you own a poodle skirt or swoon over Elvis Presley? The 60s/70s+ gatherings are for you! Meets in March & September.
 
Do you identify with all of the above? Then don’t worry about your age and come to any or all of the gatherings! Anyone is welcome! Bring a friend! Stay tuned for dates and locations. Or you may contact Jaime Carnaggio.
 

Focused Fellowship Through the Decades

Each month, Women’s Ministry organizes focused fellowship targeting women in specific decades. There is no agenda! These are simply extra opportunities to gather together outside of the church walls for food, fellowship and fun.
 
Did you grow up on Pearl Jam or own a BFF bracelet? The 20s/30s gatherings are for you! Meets in January & June.
 
Did you own leg warmers or dance to Whitney Houston? The 30s/40s gatherings are for you! Meets in April & October.
 
Did you grow up with the Jackson 5 or own a pair of bell bottoms? The 40s/50s gatherings are for you. Meets in February & August.
 
Did you own a pair of go-go boots or rock out to the Temptations? The 50s/60s gatherings are for you! Meets in May & November.
 
Did you own a poodle skirt or swoon over Elvis Presley? The 60s/70s+ gatherings are for you! Meets in March & September.
 
Do you identify with all of the above? Then don’t worry about your age and come to any or all of the gatherings! Anyone is welcome! Bring a friend! Stay tuned for dates and locations. Or you may contact Jaime Carnaggio.
 

2019 Ministry Executive Report

As our new year begins, you should know that our special Christmas Offering for the Gardere Christian Community School and the Christian Outreach Center was extraordinary. These two ministries represent mission opportunities that each have a tremendous return on investment. They are personally impacting people who would otherwise be jobless and homeless or “at risk” children and their families in ways too numerous to list.
 
There is a passage of Scripture in 2 Corinthians, Chapter 8 about giving. You’d recognize it as including the verse about the cheerful giver. The Bible translation The Message puts it this way:
 

I want you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm-twisting. God loves it when the giver delights in the giving . . . . This most generous God . . . gives you something you can then give away, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God.

 
I am so gratified to be part of a church where there are not “sob stories” or “arm twisting.” We know what it means to participate in God’s economy. Our generosity enables us to actively participate in over 30 local ministries, financially support over 20 missionaries and worship our Lord in glorious ways, teaching our children about the love of Christ. Our 2020 budget will enable us to continue living our faith in these ways.
 
Your church’s Finance Committee, Session and department heads are trying hard to bring to a close their work on the operating budget for 2020. As was the case last year, we enter the new year with about 100 of our fellowship having not yet turned in Estimates of Giving. This represents a significant sum. It would be a great help to receive those soon.
 
I wish for you all a most blessed New Year. May our Lord bless you and keep you and cause His face to shine upon you. May your new year be full of opportunities to participate in God’s economy.
 

New Beginnings in 2020

Well, this is it!! It’s really here. My last Sunday to lead worship at FPC is January 5th. It has been great to have had these extra 6 months with you! God surely has a sense of humor when it comes to the plans we make. He is in control!
 
It has been my honor and God’s blessing to serve as Creative Arts Director and Worship Team director for almost 30 years. I know that is rare. We had the utmost fun to the very end, closing the 2019 year with “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”, Live Nativity, and amazing Christmas Eve services, because it’s all about Jesus. I have always known that. He saved me, changed my life, and directed my music career and path to this church many years ago. My children were raised by many of you, I met my husband Rick here, and we were married in the Dunham chapel 25 years ago this past November!
 
I want to say a very, very special thank you to the worship team, and all of the creative arts friends that have volunteered to be in productions all of these years. Some of you have been with me for many years. I would name you, but I am afraid I will leave someone out. We really have been a “team”, and teams that work hard and pray hard together will cherish good memories and remain friends forever. But I will miss working alongside you very much.
 
My hope and prayer for you personally and to the body of Christ in this church has always been that our worship be pleasing and acceptable to God, and that we reach out to our community in creative ways that give people opportunities to come to the foot of the cross of Jesus. So keep pressing on, don’t ever give up, and I look forward to seeing you again, but maybe it will be from the balcony!
 
Philippians 3: 14 “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Thank you so much.
 
 

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!
 
 

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!
 
 

A Farewell Benediction

One of my favorite passages of Scripture is this benediction Paul offers to the Ephesians (Eph. 3: 20-21): "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."

I wait with excited anticipation as I think of God working out in our lives more than we could ever ask or imagine. As I leave First Presbyterian, I pray that you will be perceptive to the power that is at work in you. That you will know the presence and love of God as he guides and leads you. I pray that your life, and mine, will glorify this God that can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. May we serve him well! I love you.  

 

 

A Farewell Benediction

One of my favorite passages of Scripture is this benediction Paul offers to the Ephesians (Eph. 3: 20-21): "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."

I wait with excited anticipation as I think of God working out in our lives more than we could ever ask or imagine. As I leave First Presbyterian, I pray that you will be perceptive to the power that is at work in you. That you will know the presence and love of God as he guides and leads you. I pray that your life, and mine, will glorify this God that can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. May we serve him well! I love you.  

 

 

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.
 
KidsHope
 
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,
 

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.
 
KidsHope
 
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,
 

Small Group Mixer September 8

When we look at the Scriptures, the distinctives of the church are the teaching of God’s Word, the sacraments and the presence of elders. We know that in addition to those things, the experience of being known and loved by those we meet with each week makes church great. One powerful way to connect with others at First Presbyterian is our small group ministry and we have some fantastic small groups being offered this fall. Though last year most of our small groups all studied one book together, this year we are giving our leaders the space to teach on what God is specifically laying on their hearts. Here’s a short overview of a few of the options you will find at our small group mixer kickoff event on September 8:
 
Financial Peace University: Dave Ramsey’s wildly popular content on financial stewardship will be offered this fall at First Pres. When I was invited to attend this class 14 years ago, I arrogantly thought, “I’m pretty good with managing my money already; I don’t know if I’ll get that much out of this.” Boy was I wrong! This class radically shaped my use of money in such a good way. I’m thrilled we have leaders who are eager to teach and host this class for our church. There is a cost of $109 for materials but scholarships are available for anyone who might need assistance.
 
Transforming Communities: Sacred Rhythms: We offered a Sunday school class on this material in July but everyone wanted more! In our hectic and splintered world, the practice of having solitude, silence and space to examine one’s inner world can seem like an unattainable goal. This in-depth group will help you on your journey of learning the sacred rhythms of life for inner spiritual vitality. We will consider topics such as Work and Rest Through Establishing a Sabbath, Intimacy with God Through Prayer, Creating Space for God through Solitude, and Recognizing and Responding to the Presence of God through Discernment.
 
 
The Smart StepFamily: When love blends two families together, it can provide so many wonderful relationships, but it can also be a challenging journey of adjustment. Strong stepfamilies can wonderfully heal previous hurts and provide a strong foundation for children to flourish in life. This group will use the newly revised book by Ron Deal called The Smart StepFamily. It combines instruction and encouragement that affirms both husbands and wives and their intent to build strong families by looking at seven fundamental steps to blended family success. Whether married or soon-to-be married, you’ll discover how to communicate effectively and solve the everyday puzzles of stepfamily relationships.
 
Apostles’ Creed In-Depth: Do you ever leave Sunday mornings thinking, “What Gerrit just shared was so good, but I want more!” As Gerrit is powerfully preaching through the Apostles’ Creed in worship, several of our small groups will dig deeper into the meat of the Creed via a small group format. These groups hope to help the Sunday morning content solidify even more in our hearts and provide a place of warm fellowship. These groups will discuss the previous week’s sermon as well as connect over additional Biblical material to provide even more teaching/context.
 
Several other groups are still forming, but further topics to consider are: A Ray Vander Laan study using videos of ancient Israel for vivid understanding of Biblical material, a study on spiritual disciplines featuring many Puritan writers, an in-depth study of the Biblical character Elijah, and others still to come. Check them all out on September 8 in the Reception Room! 
 
 
 
 
 

Small Group Mixer September 8

When we look at the Scriptures, the distinctives of the church are the teaching of God’s Word, the sacraments and the presence of elders. We know that in addition to those things, the experience of being known and loved by those we meet with each week makes church great. One powerful way to connect with others at First Presbyterian is our small group ministry and we have some fantastic small groups being offered this fall. Though last year most of our small groups all studied one book together, this year we are giving our leaders the space to teach on what God is specifically laying on their hearts. Here’s a short overview of a few of the options you will find at our small group mixer kickoff event on September 8:
 
Financial Peace University: Dave Ramsey’s wildly popular content on financial stewardship will be offered this fall at First Pres. When I was invited to attend this class 14 years ago, I arrogantly thought, “I’m pretty good with managing my money already; I don’t know if I’ll get that much out of this.” Boy was I wrong! This class radically shaped my use of money in such a good way. I’m thrilled we have leaders who are eager to teach and host this class for our church. There is a cost of $109 for materials but scholarships are available for anyone who might need assistance.
 
Transforming Communities: Sacred Rhythms: We offered a Sunday school class on this material in July but everyone wanted more! In our hectic and splintered world, the practice of having solitude, silence and space to examine one’s inner world can seem like an unattainable goal. This in-depth group will help you on your journey of learning the sacred rhythms of life for inner spiritual vitality. We will consider topics such as Work and Rest Through Establishing a Sabbath, Intimacy with God Through Prayer, Creating Space for God through Solitude, and Recognizing and Responding to the Presence of God through Discernment.
 
 
The Smart StepFamily: When love blends two families together, it can provide so many wonderful relationships, but it can also be a challenging journey of adjustment. Strong stepfamilies can wonderfully heal previous hurts and provide a strong foundation for children to flourish in life. This group will use the newly revised book by Ron Deal called The Smart StepFamily. It combines instruction and encouragement that affirms both husbands and wives and their intent to build strong families by looking at seven fundamental steps to blended family success. Whether married or soon-to-be married, you’ll discover how to communicate effectively and solve the everyday puzzles of stepfamily relationships.
 
Apostles’ Creed In-Depth: Do you ever leave Sunday mornings thinking, “What Gerrit just shared was so good, but I want more!” As Gerrit is powerfully preaching through the Apostles’ Creed in worship, several of our small groups will dig deeper into the meat of the Creed via a small group format. These groups hope to help the Sunday morning content solidify even more in our hearts and provide a place of warm fellowship. These groups will discuss the previous week’s sermon as well as connect over additional Biblical material to provide even more teaching/context.
 
Several other groups are still forming, but further topics to consider are: A Ray Vander Laan study using videos of ancient Israel for vivid understanding of Biblical material, a study on spiritual disciplines featuring many Puritan writers, an in-depth study of the Biblical character Elijah, and others still to come. Check them all out on September 8 in the Reception Room! 
 
 
 
 
 

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, fpcbr.org, 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).
 

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, fpcbr.org, 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,
Audra
 
Join us Media and Mochas October 20, 2019; a parenting workshop on technology in the home.
 
 

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,
Audra
 
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.
 

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.
 

Closing a Chapter

It is bittersweet to share with you all that Nour and I have stepped down as missionaries with World Outreach. As we say goodbye to this chapter of our lives, I want to take this opportunity to extend my deepest thanks to all of you for the emotional, financial and spiritual support you’ve given so generously over the years.
 
First Presbyterian Church has, from the very beginning, always been a crucial part of our work in missions, and my personal journey even before I was with World Outreach, as a young post-grad going off to Egypt. I want to thank you all for the incredible support you’ve given over the last decade. I felt so loved and cared for having such a wonderful home church standing behind me, and with me. You all are just as passionate about missions as I was, and it was a joy for me to be a member of our church family as a “home-grown” missionary. Moving forward, I will have the joy of being in regular, weekly worship with you here in Baton Rouge.
 
I’d like to take this opportunity to express my deepest gratitude to Missions Pastor Whitney Alexander and the entire Global Missions committee, especially committee leaders Jane Cooper and Chuck Barber, for your unwavering encouragement and Christ-like love you’ve extended over the years. Thank you to the Elders, Deacons and Session for the support and care you’ve blessed us with throughout our time with World Outreach. Lastly, but most importantly, thank you to my parents, Cynthia and Lloyd Lunceford, for the countless and often never-seen or shared ways you’ve loved and supported me, and also made sacrifices yourselves, without ever asking for formal recognition or applause. 
 
Our work over the last five years with Syrian refugees in Lebanon was remarkable. Not because of anything specific Nour or I did, but because it is an incredible time in history to be living and ministering to Muslims in Arab nations. We poured our hearts and souls out on the field, and now the seeds that we have sown together over the last few years are entrusted into God’s hands and the Holy Spirit’s continued work. This gives me peace as we close this chapter, and I pray it gives you peace also. We did faithful work, and we surrender it to him. 
 
Thank you all for coming alongside Nour and me in love. The church’s ongoing financial and spiritual support will not be forgotten. The church’s generosity was such a blessing to us while we were on the field, and so we want to personally thank each of you as part of our church family for your role and part in sustaining us during that season. Thanks be to God. 
 
Posted in: Missions

Solitude, Silence, Rhythm

There are cherished rhythms that happen every year at our church. One of these happens during the month of July when we combine services on Sunday mornings. By being all together, we can enjoy fellowship with the whole church. Another benefit is that we give our year-long Sunday school leaders a chance to rest from their weekly teaching responsibilities, and thus, space is created for new teachers to lead us in Scripture and topics that are important for our church. Beginning July 7, we have three powerful Sunday school options for you to consider providing spiritual growth as well as opportunity to reconnect with old friends or make some new ones. 
 
Option 1: Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation 
In our hectic and splintered world, the practice of having solitude, silence and space to examine one’s inner world can seem like an unattainable goal. This in-depth class will help you on your journey of learning the sacred rhythms of life for inner spiritual vitality. We will consider topics such as Work and Rest Through Establishing a Sabbath, Intimacy with God Through Prayer, Creating Space for God Through Solitude, and Recognizing and Responding to the Presence of God Through Discernment. Come join Whitney Alexander, Judy McGimsey and Hans Othmer as they lead us in the formation of transforming communities. Room 202 of the Education Building.
 
 
Option 2: Jesus’ Farewell Discourse in the Gospel of John, Chapters 13-17  
John’s Gospel is an evangelistic and apologetic masterpiece that was written so that “you may believe.” Chapters 13-17 depict Jesus’ transition from focusing on his public ministry in the world to a powerful interaction between Jesus and his most intimate followers. Join us each Sunday as we delve into the significance of these chapters happening during Passover, the magnificent promise of the coming Holy Spirit, the beauty of abiding in Christ the Vine and the intimate conversation of God the Son speaking with God the Father in chapter 17. This class will be taught by Jamy Comeaux, Braden McIntosh and Blake Fowler. Room 220 of the Sanctuary Building.
 
Option 3: Smart Stepfamily 
Did you know that there are 67 forms of stepfamilies today? Did you know that strong stepfamilies have been proven to help heal the brokenness that comes with divorce? Did you know that stepparents can have a major impact on the young lives in their families? Please come and join Nancy and Rick Spiller as they lead a Bible study based on the newly-revised book by Ron Deal called The Smart Stepfamily. We will combine instruction and encouragement that affirms both husbands and wives and their intent to build strong families. We’ll look at seven fundamental steps to blended family success. Whether married or soon-to-be married, you’ll discover how to communicate effectively and solve the everyday puzzles of stepchildren relationships. Room 219 of the Sanctuary Building.
 
Each of these Sunday school options will provide a fantastic opportunity for growth and fellowship. Please note, to give adequate time to study these topics, we are beginning a bit earlier than previous summers. Plan to join us beginning July 7 at 9.15 am. 
 

Solitude, Silence, Rhythm

There are cherished rhythms that happen every year at our church. One of these happens during the month of July when we combine services on Sunday mornings. By being all together, we can enjoy fellowship with the whole church. Another benefit is that we give our year-long Sunday school leaders a chance to rest from their weekly teaching responsibilities, and thus, space is created for new teachers to lead us in Scripture and topics that are important for our church. Beginning July 7, we have three powerful Sunday school options for you to consider providing spiritual growth as well as opportunity to reconnect with old friends or make some new ones. 
 
Option 1: Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation 
In our hectic and splintered world, the practice of having solitude, silence and space to examine one’s inner world can seem like an unattainable goal. This in-depth class will help you on your journey of learning the sacred rhythms of life for inner spiritual vitality. We will consider topics such as Work and Rest Through Establishing a Sabbath, Intimacy with God Through Prayer, Creating Space for God Through Solitude, and Recognizing and Responding to the Presence of God Through Discernment. Come join Whitney Alexander, Judy McGimsey and Hans Othmer as they lead us in the formation of transforming communities. Room 202 of the Education Building.
 
 
Option 2: Jesus’ Farewell Discourse in the Gospel of John, Chapters 13-17  
John’s Gospel is an evangelistic and apologetic masterpiece that was written so that “you may believe.” Chapters 13-17 depict Jesus’ transition from focusing on his public ministry in the world to a powerful interaction between Jesus and his most intimate followers. Join us each Sunday as we delve into the significance of these chapters happening during Passover, the magnificent promise of the coming Holy Spirit, the beauty of abiding in Christ the Vine and the intimate conversation of God the Son speaking with God the Father in chapter 17. This class will be taught by Jamy Comeaux, Braden McIntosh and Blake Fowler. Room 220 of the Sanctuary Building.
 
Option 3: Smart Stepfamily 
Did you know that there are 67 forms of stepfamilies today? Did you know that strong stepfamilies have been proven to help heal the brokenness that comes with divorce? Did you know that stepparents can have a major impact on the young lives in their families? Please come and join Nancy and Rick Spiller as they lead a Bible study based on the newly-revised book by Ron Deal called The Smart Stepfamily. We will combine instruction and encouragement that affirms both husbands and wives and their intent to build strong families. We’ll look at seven fundamental steps to blended family success. Whether married or soon-to-be married, you’ll discover how to communicate effectively and solve the everyday puzzles of stepchildren relationships. Room 219 of the Sanctuary Building.
 
Each of these Sunday school options will provide a fantastic opportunity for growth and fellowship. Please note, to give adequate time to study these topics, we are beginning a bit earlier than previous summers. Plan to join us beginning July 7 at 9.15 am. 
 

Damnable Lies and Who Tells Them

You are a terrorist. You are plotting the overthrow of the government. If the coup had succeeded, you would have been named head of the CIA.
 
These are some of the outrageous accusations the Rev. Dr. Andrew Brunson faced in his trial in Turkey. This EPC pastor who had served the people of Turkey for more than two decades was jailed for two years and on trial for his life: as an enemy of the state, as the mastermind of a planned rebel coup. 
 
The charges were ridiculous, of course. But they nearly stuck. Who tells such lies? The paid witnesses. The government officials seeking political capital. Paranoid politicians. But behind every outrageous lie, there is another power. Our Enemy. The one Jesus prayed about in the Lord’s Prayer: deliver us from the evil one. There are spiritual forces arrayed against truth, against love, against fidelity, against flourishing.
 
Here in America, the Turkish lies look silly. That’s only because we weren’t actually immersed in the daily web of deceit. Here, the lies the evil one tells us seem more reasonable. They are so well embraced that we accept them. They get told by the nicest, most attractive people. Even though they are just as outrageous and just as destructive. Such as:
 
You belong to no one but yourself. It’s your life. It’s your choice. You must hate women, since you’d restrict abortion laws. You must be a bigot since you believe marriage is between a man and a woman. Gender, after all, is but a social construct. Your children need to experience it all in order to succeed. Games are more important than spiritual formation if you don’t want your kids to be weird. All that matters is the bottom line. Money is power. Purchases will soothe me; experiences will fulfill me. You only have one life to live, and it’s yours to live. No one has the right to tell me anything.
 
Yes, chances are you’ve spoken some of those lines, or been told them, or thought them. They are all lies, woven with half-truths. They undo us every day. 
 
Andrew Brunson found his love and loyalty for Jesus tested to the depths in 700 days of lonely imprisonment. He discovered, in the pit of forsakenness, that love for Jesus was at the core of his being. The ultimate reality. And that Jesus was not only worthy of his love, but worth his suffering. 
 
That truth cut through the despair in the web of lies in Turkey. It still cuts through the fog of illusions in our culture.
 
At FPC, we are a truth-telling, love-inspiring, idol-smashing, mission-propelling community. We’re proud that Andrew Brunson is part of our denomination. He is a faithful prophet with a word for us. Wherever you go this summer, dear ones, stay close to the one who is Truth. Expose the damnable lies you get told, and the damnable lies your own heart generates. Stay close to each other, because we can’t do this alone. May you refresh and return as together we go deeper in Christ the way, the truth and the life and further into the world with his shimmering, loving truth.
 
 

Damnable Lies and Who Tells Them

You are a terrorist. You are plotting the overthrow of the government. If the coup had succeeded, you would have been named head of the CIA.
 
These are some of the outrageous accusations the Rev. Dr. Andrew Brunson faced in his trial in Turkey. This EPC pastor who had served the people of Turkey for more than two decades was jailed for two years and on trial for his life: as an enemy of the state, as the mastermind of a planned rebel coup. 
 
The charges were ridiculous, of course. But they nearly stuck. Who tells such lies? The paid witnesses. The government officials seeking political capital. Paranoid politicians. But behind every outrageous lie, there is another power. Our Enemy. The one Jesus prayed about in the Lord’s Prayer: deliver us from the evil one. There are spiritual forces arrayed against truth, against love, against fidelity, against flourishing.
 
Here in America, the Turkish lies look silly. That’s only because we weren’t actually immersed in the daily web of deceit. Here, the lies the evil one tells us seem more reasonable. They are so well embraced that we accept them. They get told by the nicest, most attractive people. Even though they are just as outrageous and just as destructive. Such as:
 
You belong to no one but yourself. It’s your life. It’s your choice. You must hate women, since you’d restrict abortion laws. You must be a bigot since you believe marriage is between a man and a woman. Gender, after all, is but a social construct. Your children need to experience it all in order to succeed. Games are more important than spiritual formation if you don’t want your kids to be weird. All that matters is the bottom line. Money is power. Purchases will soothe me; experiences will fulfill me. You only have one life to live, and it’s yours to live. No one has the right to tell me anything.
 
Yes, chances are you’ve spoken some of those lines, or been told them, or thought them. They are all lies, woven with half-truths. They undo us every day. 
 
Andrew Brunson found his love and loyalty for Jesus tested to the depths in 700 days of lonely imprisonment. He discovered, in the pit of forsakenness, that love for Jesus was at the core of his being. The ultimate reality. And that Jesus was not only worthy of his love, but worth his suffering. 
 
That truth cut through the despair in the web of lies in Turkey. It still cuts through the fog of illusions in our culture.
 
At FPC, we are a truth-telling, love-inspiring, idol-smashing, mission-propelling community. We’re proud that Andrew Brunson is part of our denomination. He is a faithful prophet with a word for us. Wherever you go this summer, dear ones, stay close to the one who is Truth. Expose the damnable lies you get told, and the damnable lies your own heart generates. Stay close to each other, because we can’t do this alone. May you refresh and return as together we go deeper in Christ the way, the truth and the life and further into the world with his shimmering, loving truth.
 
 

Living Dangerously Tired

Henri Nouwen, author of 39 books on the spiritual life, shares, “We aren’t rest-filled people who occasionally become restless: we’re restless people who sometimes find rest.”
 
Over the past four years, I've learned to identify and name my dangerous levels of exhaustion, and the choice to begin attending Transforming Community Retreats in Chicago has begun to slowly replenish my heart and soul. Two years into these transforming retreats, my Aunt Helen had a stroke and died soon thereafter in May 2017. During that month, I traveled to be with her on ten occasions sitting and praying before she went home to Jesus. While caring for my family and others that month, I did not realize I was on the brink of disaster. On the morning of May 31, 2017, I was driving to New Orleans one more time, to prepare and counsel three couples for marriage and fell asleep at the wheel of my automobile for a moment. The rest is history.
 
“There are at least two kinds of tired we might experience—good tired and dangerous tired. The differences between the two are important because the remedy for each one is different. Good tired is the poured out feeling we experience after a job well done or an unusually intense season of activity. Remedies for that include a good night’s sleep, our normal Sabbath, a weekend off, or even a vacation. But the condition of being dangerously tired is not simply the result of an intense run of activity or even a crisis, as demanding as these may be. Dangerous levels of exhaustion usually accumulate over a longer period of time in which we are consistently living beyond human limits, functioning outside our giftedness, or not paying attention to the sources of our exhaustion.” Invitation to Retreat: the Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God by Ruth Haley Barton, p 24.
 
When we are dangerously tired, we are unable to be our best selves. We find it difficult to make wise and discerning decisions. My body began to break down under the stress and strain of doing too much. I have learned that exhaustion from juggling so many balls so much of the time is not going to be touched by shorter times spent in solitude. When I arrive on Transforming Community Retreats every quarter, I am so grateful for rest. I literally fall down onto my bed closing my eyes for as long as possible to renew my strength.
 
If we are honest, many of us have given up hope that we will ever be rested. My life felt out of control and I chose to walk through it exhausted. I was convinced that being rested was not an option. But God’s invitation to go on retreat four year ago and be in his presence began a deep healing that was greatly needed. If you are struggling with living dangerously tired, please let go of all the striving for productivity and believe that in the resting you are accepting 
Jesus' invitation to all his busy disciples.
 
Ask yourself, where am I in danger these days? Your answer will give you insight as you quiet yourself in God’s presence and begin to get in touch with your soul.
 
By Whitney Alexander
Associate Pastor for Missions
 

A Shared Heartbeat for Worship and Ministry

It’s hard to believe that we have been here at First Presbyterian for  almost three months. What a blessing it has been to step into this new and exciting role. You have all been so gracious to Lisa and me. We quickly experienced the love and family of First Presbyterian on so many levels. We have embraced the staff, worship ministry team and congregation to the point where we feel like we are already a part of this amazing church family.
 
My faith journey began while attending a Christian youth church camp in Hawaii. Even though I grew up in a pastor’s home, it wasn’t until my teen years that I placed my faith in Christ. Those early years as a follower of Christ were forming as God was preparing me for something bigger than myself and something that I would embrace with my entire being.
 
My story as a Director of Worship began while I was attending college in Oklahoma. Sitting on my dorm room bed during my devotional time, God impressed upon me his purpose for my life. It was one of the most real experiences I have ever been a part of. My commitment to serve Christ faithfully in the ministry of music and worship began that day and continues to this day. The passion and pursuit to be a true worshiper who worships in spirit and in truth is the heartbeat of my ministry and my life. The desire to share that passion with the local church is who God designed me to be.
 
I am so excited to be in a church that shares the same heartbeat for worship and ministry.
 
Thank you for being who you are in Christ to reach the city of Baton Rouge and beyond. We so look forward to getting to know each of you personally. A special thank you to the search committee and staff team for being an integral part of this journey and process. May God be glorified in all things. To God be the glory and honor.
 
By Steve Newman
Worship Director
 

On the Receiving End of Pastoral Care

While I have felt humbled and honored to see what the Lord is doing in and through the ministry of Care and Prayer, I have wondered how it would all go without me. Well, as I suspected, it has gone just fine; in fact beautifully!
 
As many of you know, my wife Anne recently had emergency surgery and will have a few months of recovery. At times like this, what is a Pastor of Care and Prayer to do? Simply put, he is to carry out what God’s Word says to elders and deacons when called to care for the church. First, focus on the care of his own wife and children (1 Timothy 3: 5) allowing others to care for him (1 Corinthians 12:7). Well, I have felt unspeakably cared for by you through your care for my wife, our daughters and myself. As a result, I cannot thank you enough! 
 
In Acts 2: 43b-45 we read, “Many wonders and miracles were being done through the apostles.” In other words, they were using their gifts to serve others and not themselves, as seen in the passage immediately following this text where Peter heals a crippled beggar. We read also that they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
 
How do we give of ourselves? In at least three ways:
 
1. We give ministerially by using our spiritual gifts and abilities to serve others rather than ourselves. God’s Word is very inclusive when it comes to the question of who is eligible to give in this way! We all are! 1 Peter 4: 10 tells us we each have at least one gift to share with others! I truly enjoy recruiting and equipping my sisters and brothers in Christ to serve in their realm of giftedness, as I believe and have seen that everyone is great at something!
 
2. We also are called to give financially (Mt.23: 23 and 2 Cor. 9: 5-16), whether you make $20,000 or $200,000 per year; whether you are a multi-millionaire or feel you barely have enough to get by (Luke 21: 1-4, Acts 20: 35)!
 
3. We are called to give voluntarily, motivated by joy and thanksgiving rather than guilt and obligation, as we follow the One who gives us everything (Romans 8: 32)! 
 
My mother always said, “The more you give the more you get.” I add to that, “as long as you don’t give to get.” My dad did pretty well as an accountant but even well paid professionals may not have much money when supporting a wife and twelve children. Somehow, all twelve got through college. How? I believe it was due not so much to my dad’s budgeting but more so my mom’s giving. I remember moving to a neighborhood where we felt like the poorest on the block. Yet my mother would have me help her load up clothes and other items we no longer needed to drop off to the Salvation Army. She did not always have what she wanted while she was on this earth, but when she left this earth, I realized she always had what she needed. Jesus promises us if we rely on him and not ourselves for provision then we will have our needs met. 
 
You may have heard about a man who went on a trip to Israel and was about to enter the famous and impressive Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv to take in a concert by the famed Israel Philharmonic. The man was admiring the unique architecture, the sweeping lines of the entrance and the modern décor throughout the building. Finally, he turned to the Israeli tour guide and asked, “Is the building named for Thomas Mann, the world-famous author?” “No,” the tour guide responded. “It’s named for Fredric Mann, from Philadelphia.” “Really? I never heard of him. What did he write?” asked the tourist. To which the tour guide responded, “A check!” 
 
You can be involved in your family, or even in a church family, by giving money, but you can only be committed to God and his children by giving of yourself. 
 
I think you can give without loving but you cannot love without giving. Although Our Resurrected Lord said that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20: 35), I have been so blessed by your giving to me for a period of time when I was unable to continue giving to you. For that, Anne, our daughters and I thank God for you! 
 
Learn more about how to become involved in the Prayer and Care Ministries.
 
By Jim Solomon
Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care and Prayer
 
 

Thank You for 26 Years

Dear Congregation, Staff and Worship Team, 
 
It has been an honor and a privilege to serve alongside of you these past 26 years as your worship leader. Thank you for always encouraging me, praying for me and my family,and walking along side me through life’s trials. I pray you continue to lift the name of Jesus high, to give thanks in all things and remember his goodness to us all. I will work part time from May 1 to December 2019 with some fun things planned ahead! I will see what new direction the Lord has planned for me after December. My heart’s desire is to be planted somewhere in the “real” world where I can make a difference. Hopefully, I have done that at FPC as well.  I will leave you with a favorite verse because it talks about my two favorite things; singing and rich food! 
 

I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods, with singing lips my mouth will praise you (Psalm 63: 2-5).

 
With much love and a grateful heart,
Nancy Spiller
Creative Arts Director
 
 

Looking Back and Visioning Forward

The weeks following Easter are a time for both gratitude looking back and visioning forward. Your leadership takes a breath, giving thanks for the full seasons that ran from Advent and Christmas through Lent and Holy Week. What a glorious time we had! And we start now to anticipate and shape our direction for the fall. 
 
I write, of course, as the senior pastor whose rhythms follow the church year. Other ministries aren’t taking a breath at all. Youth ministry gears up, not down, with summer trips and Children’s Ministry steams into a week of camp at Lake Forest, then Vacation Bible School week. We take advantage of the pauses in our students’ schedules to get them involved in service and study.
 
For me, these are the days when I can give thanks for all you make possible through your outpouring of time, prayer, money and service. Our membership remains steadily dedicated in all these areas week by week. You make possible this ridiculously talented, faithful and harmonious staff team. You make possible a myriad of ministries into our community. You undergird our church plant in New Orleans: Church of the Resurrection is now two years old, with more than 100 making membership commitments. The Gardere Community Christian school pulses through its seventh year, with more than 125 students learning in an exciting, faithful, loving environment. The Christian Outreach Center has put hundreds of students through job training in a climate of faith in Christ, many of whom have moved into financial self-sufficiency. Our worship services inspire us each week with glorious, textured music featuring talented musicians and an expert technical team. Now you’ve made possible a full time worship pastor to take us into the future. We underwrite mission efforts around the world and engage a faithful, mission oriented denomination as part of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Your gifts and your service make all these relationships possible. The numbers tell us that you are one of the most generous congregations in the nation. I fight the sin of pride regularly! So, thank you for loving your Lord through loving your church in such tangible and significant ways. How could I not love being your pastor?
 
By Gerrit Dawson
Senior Pastor