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First Thoughts Blog

Good Grief

Recently I found myself crying over the loss of a dear friend who lived a very long and very full life. Yet, the thought occurred to me that it’s always too soon to lose someone you love no matter how old they are. Perhaps this is so because grief is part of love, as Jesus so powerfully demonstrated (John 11: 35). 
 
I have some questions for each of us to ask ourselves regarding how well we are currently living our lives in the grace and truth of the Author of Life who not only conquered death to give us eternal life (John 3: 16-17) but also empowers us to live a “good” temporal life. After all, Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly" (John 10: 10). Here are those questions:
 
Are you losing sleep? Are you sleeping too much? Are you overeating or under-eating? Are you drinking more than you know is healthy? Are you working too much or not enough? Do you sometimes fantasize about escaping your reality or even this world? Do you sometimes think you’re forgetting more than usual? Are you feeling sad? Are you feeling angry? 
 
If you are experiencing any of the above, you may be NORMAL if you have experienced loss in your life.  This includes not only loss of someone but anything you value (i.e. job, marriage, home, etc.).
 
On Saturday, May 20 at 10 am, we will have our second Good Grief Seminar. In this special two-hour seminar, insight will be shared regarding not only the psychological but also the emotional, mental, physical, relational and spiritual effects of grief in our lives. We will focus on steps that can be taken to rise above what would hold us below in how we deal with loss in our lives, becoming victors rather than victims as we navigate change in our lives and the lives of those we love. 
Although we don’t all grieve in the same way, we do all grieve. Yet, the grief process is something we can reluctantly go through or intentionally grow through, transforming our lives further into the image of God in whose image we have been created. After all, it is in becoming more like him that we find true contentment, fulfillment, meaning and purpose in this life as we prepare for the next. 
 
One of the “Dadisms” or “Jimisms” that my daughters like to quote is as follows: “Those most prepared to die are best prepared to live.” When we take care of the eternal, we are free to truly enjoy the temporal. Yet, sometimes what keeps us from such joy is the grief we experience. 
 
Won’t you join us?
 
To register for this free seminar, email Laura Shaw indicating “grief seminar” on the subject line of your email, or call 225.620.0222 and leave a voice mail with your name and anyone else attending with you. Coffee and light refreshments will be served. 

 

Children's Ministry Testimonial

Parenting young ones is such a hectic season in life that can often leave little opportunity to dive into the church body. But, our family has been blessed beyond measure by the So Loved Nursery these past four years. My husband, Jamy and I have been able to engage with the church in ways that would not be possible without Audra and her staff. As we attend services, conferences and Bible studies our hearts and minds can fully focus on seeking God because we know our children, Hudson and Holland, are in the best hands.
 
I’ve joyfully watched them over the years as they were rocked and cuddled in the Caterpillars class or ran and played with friends in the toddler classes. And now I anxiously await to see what Bible lesson Hudson has learned in his preschool class each Sunday. Not only are my children being loved on and making real friendships, they are being introduced to the Lord and shown his perfect love. 
 
I’m certain if it weren’t for this hallway filled with amazing volunteers and employees, that our family would be missing out on so many of the things the Lord has offered us at First Presbyterian. And for that I could not be more grateful!
 

Middle School Years: Yikes!

I have always found aversion to middle school (those pre-teen years) quite humorous. Whether working with middle schoolers or personal memories of being a middle schooler, perceptions for most people fall somewhere along the lines of “gross,” “miserable,” or “never, ever, again.” Why this aversion? Why this distance from that (albeit awkward) brief history of time?
 
Scripture tells us to “put off our old self, which belongs to your former manner of life” (Ephesians 4: 22).  In a sense, this is nothing new to how we’re wired. We are naturally drawn to rid ourselves of that which we don’t favor; that which is old. When we’re dirty, we take a bath. When we’re tired, we long to sleep. When we gain a few extra pounds, we have a desire to lose them. Humans are built with a tendency toward improvement. Whether or not we tap into that, all of us are constantly striving, in one direction or another, toward whatever the next step may be. One way we do this is with our memories; we try to forget what we did not cherish.  
 
Considering this, it makes sense that people would shy away from their pre-teen experience; monotonous growing pains, generally bad haircuts, braces that double as disco balls, overdependence on cheap “cologne.” Yikes! No wonder we tend to avoid those thoughts. Yet that which discomforts us is not our old self. Grace will not let us throw these years aside. A God who tells us to “become like little children” will not have us ignore them (Matthew 18: 2-4).
 
There are many stories of young people doing great things for the Kingdom, yet I’m most drawn to John 6, when Jesus feeds the multitudes. Known only in the story as “the boy,” he is the only one among 5,000 adults who thinks Jesus could do the impossible. While the many sit and wait circus-like for the Messiah to act on their behalf, he humbly shows his faith by offering his small portion for the possession of the many. This was no giant affair, no great task, no “hard thing,” but a simple act of obedience led by an inquisition that only a teenage boy could have: “I wonder what would happen if I did ____.” 
 
This same wonder we see today. It shows itself in Sunday school, youth group and Bible study when our kids try to play kickball in the Sanctuary, yet also when a life-altering question is asked merely out of the curiosity to know the reason for all things. It shows itself at camps, when they try to pull pranks in the middle of the night, yet also when they discover that life is not about themselves, but Someone much greater. It shows itself on mission trips, where windows are broken amidst dorm-held wrestling matches, yet also when they see need, hopelessness, despair and realize that they’re broken too. 
 
It’s this amalgam of the profound yet immature that compile the pre-teen experience. It’s a sense of wanting to know all there is but not knowing how to get to that knowledge, of which I have the glorious privilege of being their guide. Come join us.
 

Youth Testimonies

Each year Student Ministry takes a trek to Colorado for 5 days amid the beauty of God’s creation to do some skiing. It is a wonderful time to play in the snow, connect with the Lord and learn the delight that is snow skiing. 
 
Here is an issue a lot of us struggle with. Our eyes stay down, our ears constantly have white wires attached to them, we only look at what is directly in front of us. We weave through life, trying to maintain some idea of control, but frequently fall short. It’s only when we take a second to step back, to catch our breath, to look up and see our surroundings that we find our place in God’s plan again. Everyday problems weigh us down, they draw our attention from the bigger picture and force us to forget the much greater purpose we have. We must remember to take a break every once and awhile, to look around at the world he has given us, to reaffirm ourselves in his plan, and then to keep skiing forward - this time with our eyes ahead.  
 
-Bennett Franz, 11th grade, Baton Rouge High School
 
“The mountains were magnificent, with their snow caps and purple bases. When I first saw those mountains, I saw God’s greatness, power and glory. It shows me how he wants to rule my heart and help me keep him at the center of my life. Just looking at all the surroundings, I saw God. He created all of it and it strengthens my faith in him because he created such beautiful things, just like you and me. During this trip, we did daily devotionals. I really took away from the Saturday devotional about the difference between amazement and faith. I really related to it because it showed me how I was not living by faith, but by amazement.” 
 
-Kathyln Capone,
10th grade, Dutchtown High School

 

A Universe Reborn!

The ancient church came to understand three days as one grand event. From Maundy Thursday night to Easter morning Jesus engaged his testing, his trial, his crucifixion, his death and his resurrection. He underwent a great passage through death into new life. Over the years, Christ’s church came to call this event the Holy Triduum (literally, “three days”). No part works without the other parts. All of them fit together. Interlocking episodes in one extended event.
The fate of the universe as we know it rested on the shoulders of one Galilean carpenter. Contradictions smash together.  
 
   We tried to save our own skins.
   Jesus knelt and washed our feet.
   We betrayed and fled. 
   Jesus gave us his broken body and outpoured blood.
   We mocked him. 
   Jesus prayed we would be forgiven.
   We hung him up to die.
   Jesus committed his spirit to his Father.
   We buried him, sealed him up out of sight.
   Jesus rose victorious never to die again. 
 
By his dying and his rising, new creation began, humanity was remade and the universe reborn. Such is the promise to those joined to him by faith.
 
The Triduum is the event of events. These are the days of all days. We bring the power of these once-and-for-all events into the present as we enter the sacred time of worship. Maundy Thursday we keep watch with him as he is led away. Sunday at dawn, we become witnesses that the stone is rolled away. Sunday in full morning light, with the trumpets resounding, at the height of spring, we proclaim, “The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed.” 
 
Identity in Christ/Sexual Identity
 
This is the great discussion of our day. What defines my identity? Do I define myself by my preferences? By my passions? Or do the events of the Triduum lend a deeper meaning? Does Jesus claim me deeper than and beyond what holds me and molds me now?  
 
Questions of identity are at the heart of current cultural discussions about sexuality. The church has lost the culture war. So how do we address our culture with gospel grace and truth when we are no longer heard if we just say, “Thus says the Lord?”  
 
Dr. Rosaria Butterfield, in her book, Openness Unhindered, calls the church to a radical hospitality toward all people, particularly toward people identifying as homosexual. Dr. Butterfield herself knows the gay community from the inside out. She was drawn out of atheism and into Christ by the welcoming love of a Presbyterian Church. Formerly a professor of English at Syracuse University, Rosaria is a gentle, articulate, deep advocate for traditional views expressed through churches that are truly welcoming and loving in Christ’s name.
 
We have a rare opportunity to hear her speak twice, Friday, May 5, 7 pm and Saturday, May 6 at 9 am in our Sanctuary. No registration is necessary. We’re hosting this seminar in conjunction with South Baton Rouge Presbyterian Church and Christ Covenant Church. A portion of the expenses are underwritten by a gift from the Ed Grant Enrichment Fund. 

After the Flood of 2016

Is it 2017? Did we really just live through the (not so) great flood of 2016? How could God have shown us so much favor, and rallied his body of Christ to help us through this natural disaster? Is this painful and difficult chapter of our lives finally ending? Are we really settling into our beautiful home in another neighborhood and approaching the closing date of our flooded/gutted house?

It is difficult to comprehend how good God has been to us, and sometimes as difficult to receive. I guess that is what grace’s unmerited favor is all about. It’s humbling. I cannot fathom going through this without the support system at First and beyond.

You may know me as the media guy in black, holed up in the AV booth. So many of you were at my flood-ravaged house swinging hammers, hauling debris and trudging through filth, demonstrating your love of Christ through works of faith. Words cannot express my thankful appreciation, but thank you.

As the rising floodwaters flowed through my driveway, I was texting Barry and Gerrit about missing Sunday services, needing somewhere to stay and something to drive since it was clear the flood was taking our house and cars. Within hours, we had lodging, loaner cars, meals, and everything else needed lined up. It was overwhelming.

Six months later, I am just now getting back into my daily work routine overseeing media, technology and facilities at First. My latest projects are overseeing replacement of all windows in the Education Building, and preparing to fix all roofing and waterproofing leaks campus-wide.

It’s also my pleasure to supervise First’s incredible media and facilities team. If you enjoy our beautiful campus, it is because of our awesome sextons. Everything you hear in the services, or see on the screens, are due to our highly trained and dedicated media team. They are amazing!

Have you had a chance to watch our livestream of the Sunday Sanctuary services? It’s the next best thing to being there! If you are traveling, home sick or want to recommend First to a friend, then the livestream is ideal. You can livestream from our website, or from the First Presbyterian app, and even watch archived entire services!

It is a joy to serve First Presbyterian Church. I love you all!

Jump in the Fountains!

A phrase became famous during the Protestant Reformation: ad fontes! Literally, to the fountains. What?! The phrase meant “Go to the source.” The Reformers realized that for the church to be renewed, we all needed to go back to the deep source of truth, the Scriptures. When faith gets dry, go back to the fountain of truth that is in God’s Word. When life gets confusing, go back to basic practices of prayer: thanksgiving, adoration, confession and intercession. When you feel far from Christ, go play in the fountain of baptism by remembering how you belong to Christ. Go drink from the endless cup of his life-giving blood in the Supper. Ad fontes. Go to the source to renew life and faith. The Reformers changed the world doing just that.

So this Lent, we are going to go ad fontes. We’re going to dive deep into the source of all Christian prayer: the prayer that Jesus taught us. Living from the Lord’s Prayer is a 42 day guide to sacred reading and prayer for each of us to use during Lent. The books will be given out during worship March 5. You can also sign up to have the daily readings sent to you in an email. Or you may access them on the church app. We will spend a week on each of the six phrases in the Lord’s Prayer. We’ll see how Jesus’ own prayer is sourced in the Hebrew Scriptures, and we will let the psalms he prayed flow through us as we join him in prayer. 

Committing to 20 minutes a day for these 42 days will revolutionize your prayer life.  How can I be so confident? Because everything comes from the source of God’s Word. And God’s Word is truth. And when we pray from God’s Word, the Spirit flows in us and through us. Ad fontes. Jump in the fountains. The fountains of prayer that flows from the Word. It’s the guaranteed way to refreshment!

Give Meaning to Your Spring Cleaning

Spring cleaning? The Purple Cow needs quality furniture and housewares. We’re stacked with clothes right now.  But furniture is needed and all proceeds support the amazing ministry of the Christian Outreach Center (COC) transforming our neighborhood for Christ.
Speaking of COC, did you know we raised a record $66,000 at our Christmas Eve Offering. These gifts were shared between a) COC as it launches new job training, financial literacy and Bible study groups and b) Gardere Community Christian School, now with over 80 students and a new principal in place to undergird our teachers and the daily administration of the school.

Church of the Resurrection

Our church plant in New Orleans, the Church of the Resurrection, has found a fabulous facility for worshiping. We’re meeting at the newly restored Felicity Church in the Lower Garden District. We’re also organizing to send 8 to 10 people down each week to support Rev. Ben Cunningham and the congregation. Check out our website or visit the Connection Center to learn more. 

The Bench Warmer

In 1994, Henry Blackaby & Claude King authored the book titled “Experiencing God.” I’m sure many of you have either read the book or devoted hours to the workbook. The book asked you to take a look at yourself and your relationship with God. It goes on by walking you through seven realities, the third reality being “God invites you to become involved with him in his work. And we are to join him."

When I received the phone call to join the group traveling to Beirut, Lebanon, for a medical mission trip, I knew in my heart exactly how I was supposed to respond. Go. I did question my own worth and value to the team, until I was reminded from God’s Word that he has been preparing me for this. I knew in my heart that I wanted to be a part of it. I knew that God wanted to do something special in my life and he did.

Having attended church most of my life, I’ve watched and listened to many videos from my pew in church (bench). I’d think, that was nice, but they probably have a lot more time for that or I’d convince myself that they are a lot more “churchy” than I am. Or I may have even thought that someday when I have more “resources”, just maybe I will do something like that. The problem with the above thoughts is the “I.”

I knew that God’s work, this mission, was going to happen with or without me. It was merely a question of responding to a call to get off “the bench” in which I have been keeping warm for years. Even when I began to pray about going, as the pastor suggested, I felt ridiculous, because I already knew in my heart how God wanted me to respond.

After arriving late at night in Beirut, I met Rebecca and Nour (last name omitted), and their lovely daughter. What a blessing they are to the refugees and all the people God sends their way in Beirut. They walk with our Lord, led and strengthened by the Holy Spirit in such harsh conditions, both spiritual and environmental. There are not enough words, particularly in my vocabulary, to explain how my heart goes out to them. By the end of the week, I also learned that the teams could not have been successful without the effort, work and preparation made by this couple. Plenty more could be said about how God is using Nour and Rebecca in Lebanon.

At each makeshift health clinic we set up at an inner city church or school, I was able to witness for myself a team of doctors, nurses and laymen, led and strengthened by God’s love for those around them, caring for His children of all ages who had been exiled from their homeland. Smiles were everywhere and on almost every face. And of course tears as it was a matter of the heart.

We won’t know the physical or spiritual impact, that one week made toward supporting Rebecca and Nour. I do know over 820 refugees received health care that they wouldn’t have received otherwise. Maybe a few just in the nick of time. I do know I saw a beautiful group of people both young and old who said Yes God, send me. I do know that I was blessed and God used this trip to Beirut, Lebanon to open my eyes, soften my heart and witness once again His greatness and His sovereignty in a lost world. 

Posted in: Missions

Who Sets the Table?: The Silent Service of the Body of Christ

This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me . . . This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11). 

Our pastors speak these words or some variation each time they invite us to participate in communion. They are the very words of Christ to his disciples and Paul as he gave instruction to those who would partake of the body and blood of their Savior. What a privilege to receive this invitation to the Lord’s table. We approach the table with humility and wonder. In this simple, sensory, tangible act we participate in a spiritual reality that transcends our ability to truly comprehend. And yet, in the doing of it, we find the wonder and comfort of God’s grace, the love of his only Son and the presence of his Spirit who transforms this temporal but personal act into one of eternal substance and significance.

But who sets the table? Christmas Eve we had over 1,600 for supper. We will have as many or more come Easter. As our church calendar plays out over 2017 we will celebrate communion almost 100 times on our church campus and almost as many times throughout our city as our elders and deacons take ‘supper’ to those who are unable to join us on campus. We pass the trays of elements. We partake by ‘intinction,’ assembling in circles or moving steadily forward dipping the bread in the cup. We approach these communion Sundays with great anticipation. But who sets the table? Who prepares the elements, pours the wine, drapes the table, cuts the bread and prepares for this ‘meal’ that we so look forward to?

 

 

 

 

Mike Salassi, Beth and Joel McClain and Rosemary and Mike Dorman are your primary ‘hosts’ behind the scenes. They are the ones who come early to prepare for your arrival. They have been doing it for years. They require no reminder. They quietly, faithfully arrive, often long before you’ve awakened, and they assemble the elements in trays and baskets and chalices and cups. (Can you imagine pouring juice into all those little plastic cups?) They gladly serve us without fanfare or acclaim. They faithfully perform this role Sunday after Sunday, Christmas after Christmas, Easter after Easter, and they love doing it. They love serving you.

For those who don’t know, Mike Salassi’s “day job” is as a full professor at LSU. Joel’s is working for the La. Dept. of Social Services. Beth labors for the La. Dept. of Health and Hospitals. Rosemary and Mike are in the medical field. Whomever they serve in their ‘day jobs’ are blessed indeed. And the five of them bless us each communion Sunday.

The Apostle Paul instructs us on the nature of the Body of Christ of which we are all a part when he says, “ . . . we have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.” He speaks of preaching and teaching and encouraging with our gifts and he says that “ . . . if your gift is serving, then serve.”

Truly Mike, Joel and Beth, and Rosemary and Mike have the spiritual gift of service. They are so faithful in their obedience to Scripture and to serving the Body of Christ in this gathering of believers we call First Presbyterian Church. The next time you see them, greet them in the name of Jesus with thanksgiving for their faithfulness. The next time you partake of Jesus’ body and blood at our communion table, remember Christ your Lord and Savior until he comes again . . . and remember who set the table.

No Time to "Play" Church!

Have you been as convicted and energized by our study of James as I have? The apostle James blazes through his letter like a man with his hair on fire.  He doesn’t waste words. He doesn’t pull punches.  And he’s not afraid to upset how we think about God, ourselves and the world. In other words, James has no time for believers who just “play” at living for Christ.  His letter is strong medicine. And isn’t that just the way we like it? In a culture that is largely post-Christian, dabbling with Jesus just won’t do. We need the real stuff, and we need it straight. So each week I’ve been wading into such zingers as “Consider every trial a joy,” or “Faith without works is dead,” or “The tongue is a fire.” He slays me with truth, and, at the very same time, brings me to life with a more vital faith.  It encourages me that you seem to be responding the same way. I love how our congregation always wants the truth of the gospel, even when it sizzles us.

Living from the Lord’s Prayer

At the end of February, we will be switching focus from James to the prayer that Jesus taught us. Our 2017 theme for Lent is Living from the Lord’s Prayer. I learned so much as I prepared for this study, starting way back in the summer. What can seem like an overly familiar, slightly boring prayer is actually a pipeline into the very heart and mission of God for his world.  

As ever, we will be distributing the guides for daily reading and prayer, starting March 5. (some advance copies will be available the week before for those who are traveling). We will also be inviting folks to sign up for six-week home groups to study the various parts of this brilliant prayer together. Personally, I like to have the physical book to hold and read, and I also like getting the daily readings sent to me by email so I can read them anywhere, anytime. If you don’t have the church app, this is a great time to download it and get signed up for daily readings.
Ash Wednesday is March 1, and that marks the beginning of six Wednesday noon services in the Chapel followed by light lunches in the reception room. So, join me in clearing the calendar and getting spiritually ready to take on the Lord’s Prayer in dynamic, deeper ways this Lenten season.

Sign Up for Daily Emails

Download the Church App

Small Group Sign Ups Coming Soon

 

Healing Through Christ-Centered Fellowship

A Sunday School teacher asked her children on the way to church service, “Why must we be quiet in church?” One little girl proudly replied, “Because people are sleeping!” I trust that didn’t happen while I delivered the message at FPC on January 1! Whether or not you were able to join us then, I’d like to share some encouragement regarding how we might practice on weekdays what we learn on weekends with you now.

In my sermon message, we considered, at a time of New Year’s resolutions, the most popular of which usually involves dieting, four items on the menu of a healthy diet for growing Christ-followers based on Acts 2: 42-47. One of the items included healing, causing us to ask how we can be healed of ailments if nobody knows we have them except ourselves! What is true of physical illness is true of emotional, psychological, mental, relational and spiritual illness as well. If nobody knows about your sickness, you won’t be given anything that may heal you of it!

What is your sickness? Perhaps it is something that has been hidden in the darkness of your heart that needs to be exposed to the Light of God’s Word in the midst of truly Christ-centered fellowship. James tells us, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed." (James 5:16a, NIV)

It’s easy to correlate prayer with healing while never asking what confession has to do with it. As a former accountant, I sometimes find it humorous that the Lord gives me “equations” to help me understand his timeless truths in an easy way. I’d like to share one with you here: Vulnerability + Accountability = Possibility. If your life is falling apart, it may be a result of not surrendering something to the One who can put it back together. (Colossians 1: 17) Yet, he can’t do his part if you won’t do yours. If you won’t open up to somebody about something that is keeping you from looking up, then you will eventually fall down. This is why confession is critical before we can be free from all things that are detrimental and as a result, rise above what would hold us below in our thoughts and actions, growing not only in God’s peace but also in God’s power released in post-confession prayer. “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5: 16b, NIV)

Why waste more time managing the perception others have of you when you can be real with others so that Christ can heal you even through others? May the joy of loving one another into obedience of him be full in our walk with him! (John 15: 11-12)