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First Thoughts Blog
Author: Whitney Alexander

What Is Gratitude?

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

Medical Mission Trip to Lebanon

Don Elliot (FPC Corinth, MS) and I have been to Lebanon three times in the past 18 months. Each trip builds on the previous with the 2016 medical mission trip being no exception. It was most encouraging to see the Lord working through the efforts and prayers of this year's team of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, organizers and prayer warriors. The Lord is doing amazing things in the Middle East right now and we were privileged to be a small part of it. 
 
Engage 2025 is a small part of what God is doing in the Middle East right now. Engage 2025 is a committment of the EPC -  the Gulf South Presbytery and Central South Presbytery  in particular - to reach the Muslim refugees in Lebanon and beyond: maybe into Syria one day as well. Reflecting on how the Lord worked before, during and after the trip fills me with thanksgiving.
 
Before the Trip
 
The commitment of Rebecca and Nour (FPC mission partners living in Lebanon) is remarkable (last name purposely omitted). Humanly speaking, the trip could not have happened without their preparation, faithfulness and oversight. They are gracefully responding to their call as leaders of the first ever Engage 2025 Field Team. 
 
Putting together the team was a major prayer focus. We saw the Lord do new things as many team members were called from beyond the Central South and Gulf South Presbyteries.
 
The fundraising again was remarkable. Approximately $22,000 was donated by churches and individuals in CSP and GSP. God provided for us through his people.
 
During the Trip
 
The evening team meetings were great times of worship, sharing, prayer and preparation for the next day of clinicals. It was obvious the team members made the effort to come together. 
 
It was obvious that God was at work. The doctors were all remarkable and humble in their practice.
 
The Resurrection Church outreach on Thursday became the Lord's surprise of the week for the team. The Egyptian translators, the staff and the neighborhood were all encouraging gifts to us. We learned that the Resurrection Church is a vibrant church that the Lord is using to reach many refugees with the gospel.
 
The Philemon Project was the most distinctive clinic of the week. The project is a Christian day care ministry to children of refugees, migrants and poor Lebanese. Its 75 preschool students gave the team a change of pace, sitting on the floor and loving on the children. 
 
After the Trip
 
Amanda and Nick (last name purposely omitted) with their children, will be joining Rebecca and Nour to be the initial field team in the Engage 2025 vision. Their mission will be working with Syrian refugees in discipleship and church planting. 
 
Will there be another trip in 2017? Pray about this. We are committed to work closely with these families. 

Belonging to God Is the Truest Thing About You

God has been working deep in my heart and soul over the past 100 days during a sabbatical, a Romania Mission Trip, Fuller graduation, General Assembly and the Transforming Community Retreat.

This quote from Wilderness Time by Emilie Griffin describes part of my journey: “Times come when we yearn for more of God than our schedules will allow. We are tired, we are crushed, we are crowded by friends and acquaintances, commitments and obligations. The life of grace is abounding but we are too busy for it. Even good obligations begin to hem us in.” The past few months have been healing for my soul as I reflected on Jesus’ words to Bartimaeus in Mark 10: 51: “What do you want me to do for you?” My desire is to be in God’s presence but this has been difficult over the past year. The German theologian Meister Eckhart puts it this way: “The reason we do not see God is the faintness of our desire.”

Normally shying from emotion, I have learned that it is important to let yourself feel how deep your desire goes. Desire is the fuel that drives the spiritual journey. Bartimaeus was able to cry out and throw off his cloak, get up and follow Jesus. Similarly, Jesus has invited me in during the sabbatical to help heal my heart and soul. When was the last time I felt a longing for God and a desire to awaken my soul?

God does heal us, and I have felt this process beginning. The safest thing is to be open with Jesus. I have asked myself several questions lately: Am I able to feel Christ’s compassion for the part of me that yearns for something I do not yet have? Am I able to be compassionate with myself? Who attempts to silence my desire?

Desire is the truest thing about you — desire to belong, to contribute to God’s kingdom, to live with the people you love and to live well with God. When I am in touch with desire, a myriad of opportunities begin to open up. Questions often come to my heart: What does Christ want to show me about myself if I am really honest about my desires? What parts of my desire seem to come from my ego-self or from my true self? Is there something Christ is inviting me to do in order to live out my heart’s desire? What aspects of my desires are something only Christ can accomplish? And am I really willing to keep owning my desire in Christ’s presence if I can trust in his timing?
 
These are questions I will continue to bring before God. Spiritual transformation is a process that only Christ can accomplish in us for the sake of others. God is the only one who can transform my heart and soul. I am learning what it truly means to be still and know who God is in my heart and soul (Psalm 46: 10). This spiritual transformation journey is for the rest of my life.

Whitney Alexander
Associate Pastor of City Ministry