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First Thoughts Blog

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.
 

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!
 
 

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!
 

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.