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First Thoughts Blog

Day 3, Tuesday (March 12) - Living into His Name

COME, LONG EXPECTED JESUS!

Son of God
Day 3   Tuesday

__________________________________________________

EXPLORE THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

ISAIAH 9: 6
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

LUKE 1: 30-33 (MARY)
And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

CONSIDER
Imagine how strange this news was to Mary. The God who made her would be born from within her! The one who fashioned her being would be fashioned inside her womb. The God who spoke the world into being would humble himself to speak only infant cries against her breast.

When we confess that Jesus is the Son of God, we do simply mean that he was a child of God like any created human being. We mean that he is the eternal Son of the Father, through whom all things were made, stepping into our world in flesh and blood as Mary’s son. That same person would, when his work was done, return to his Father as the ascended King of all.

Let your mind stagger at such joyful paradox today!

__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, eternal Son of the Father, 
who came in time as Mary’s son, include me in your Sonship. 

__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7). 

GALATIANS 3: 26-27
For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

1 JOHN 3: 2-3
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

CONSIDER
Jesus the Son of God became one of us in order to include us in his Sonship!

He took up our humanity so that he could adopt us into his eternal relationship with his Father as he gives us to share in his own Spirit.

Jesus is far, far more than a good man who showed us a good way to live and so came to be called a son of God. He is the eternal one opening up his Triune family to us. We are God’s children through Jesus his Son: right now!

Close by praying (and singing!) this verse from “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.” 

Christ, by highest heaven adored';
Christ, the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of the Virgin’s womb:
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail the incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Immanuel.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King.”

Charles Wesley. Hark! the Herald Angels Sing. 1739.

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

Day 2, Monday (March 11) - Living into His Name

COME, LONG EXPECTED JESUS!

Immanuel: God with Us
Day 2   Monday

_________________________________________________

EXPLORE THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

 
ISAIAH 7: 14
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
 
MATTHEW 1: 22-25 
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
         
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel
 
(which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
 
CONSIDER
In what way were Joseph’s circumstances the fulfillment of a prophecy made seven centuries earlier?
 
The name Immanuel means that God is with us. What would change if the meaning of Jesus’ name was “God is beyond us?” Or, “God is against us?” Or, “God is within us?”  
 
Try finishing this sentence several ways, “Because God is with us in Jesus. . . .”
 
__________________________________________________
 
PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST
 
Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another.
 
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
 
Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!
 
Lord Jesus Christ, God in flesh, who simply would not be without us, 
draw near to me today.  
__________________________________________________
 
LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST
 
He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine nature . . .
For this very reason, supplement your faith with virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7).
 
2 PETER 1: 3-8
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
 
CONSIDER
This passage contains the fuller context of the verses we pray every day in this section. According to Peter, for what purpose has God given us his precious and great promises?
 
Based on God’s gift in Christ of “all things that pertain to life and godliness,” what are we to do now, according to this passage?
 
Which one of this list of qualities would you like to focus on doing today?
 
Several days this week, we will close using the ancient Latin prayers called the “O Antiphons.” An antiphon is a type of short prayer used in worship. They each begin with “O” and they each speak of one of the prophecies about Jesus in Isaiah. The first paragraph below is the O Antiphon literally translated to English. The second is the way the O Antiphon was set to music in the Advent carol, “O Come, O Come, Immanuel” if you wish to sing your prayers!
 
O Immanuel, our King and lawgiver
Expected of the nations, and their Savior,
Come to save us, O Lord our God!
 
O come, O come, Immanuel, 
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here, 
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
 
O Come, O Come, Immanuel.
Ancient Latin prayer, trans. 
John Mason Neale. 1851.
 

Day 1, Sunday (March 10) - Living into His Name

COME, LONG EXPECTED JESUS!

In the Hebrew Scriptures, the LORD I AM promised he would visit and redeem his people. Though humanity had fallen into a cycle of sin and death, God pledged to break through and recreate his world.  His own particular people Israel repeatedly failed in their mission to be a blessing to the world. Yet the LORD continued to promise that he would enter the world to make things right.
 
The accounts of Jesus’ birth indicate that the first Christians saw Jesus as the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies. His very name “Jesus” means “The LORD saves.” This week we will explore how from his conception and infancy Jesus received mighty titles indicating that he embodies the hope of the Scriptures. 
 
The mosaics in the Basilica of S. Apollinare Nuovo were completed in the early 500s. They run along the length of both sides of the sanctuary. In one row, a procession of consecrated women flow toward the infant Jesus on his mother’s lap. They are preceded by the three wise men bearing gifts to the newborn king. In this week’s mosaic, you can see Jesus making a sign of blessing as he receives those who come to him. Jesus is depicted as appearing older than he was in the Biblical account, an early artistic way of showing the paradox that he was both truly human and truly divine.
 
This is the child for whom Mary and Joseph have waited. This is the Redeemer for which the world has pined! He is here now, the desire of nations and the hope of every heart, drawing people to himself. The incarnate Son of God is the key that unlocks centuries of prophecy by his surprising arrival. This week, we will explore the prophecies expecting Immanuel, God with us.
 

Jesus: The Lord Saves
Day 1   Sunday

__________________________________________________

EXPLORE THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

ISAIAH 60: 1-2; 16b
Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the LORD will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.

And you shall know that I, the LORD, am your Savior
and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.
 
MATTHEW 1: 18-21
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
 
CONSIDER
The name Jesus means, “the LORD saves.” This is not any old god! This is the LORD I AM, the Triune God of Grace who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is the God who created the heavens and the earth. 
 
He called a particular people, Israel, to himself with a plan that they should bless the world with the knowledge of the one true God. This is the LORD who came himself to save us when we had gone astray.
 
The way he chose to come to us was as the child Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. As we think of his name, we wonder, “From what do we need to be saved?” 
 
Keep pondering until you come up with at least three items!
 
How is it that only the LORD can save us from these things?

__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, Savior of your people, be your name to me today; 
be Jesus, the LORD who saves. 

__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7). 

LUKE 2: 11, 15-16
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.
 
Consider
The angels announced the arrival of the God who had made the journey from heaven to earth to be our Savior. 
 
What did the shepherds have to do?
 
In what ways could we today “go to Bethlehem” to see what God has done? And to make it known?
 
Pray through the words of this hymn (It’s to the tune of “Love Divine, All Love Excelling” if you want to sing it!).
 
Jesus! what a friend for sinners! 
Jesus! Lover of my soul.
Friends may fail me, foes assail me, 
He, my Savior, makes me whole.
Hallelujah! what a Savior! 
Hallelujah! what a Friend!
Saving, helping, keeping, loving, 
He is with me to the end.
 
J. Wilbur Chapman. Our Great Savior. 1910.

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

Introduction (March 9) - Living into His Name

Your name is the desire of our soul (Isaiah 26: 8).

 
The earliest devotion to Jesus was the same as that given to God. His name was reverenced. Titles quickly became associated with his name. “My Lord and my God!” cried out Thomas (John 20: 28). “Our Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul called him often (Eph. 1: 3, Rom. 5: 11). So did Peter (1 Pet. 1: 3) and Luke (Acts 28: 31). In another letter Paul went even further, speaking of “Our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Tit. 2: 13). More than 80 times, though, he uniquely used the address, “Christ Jesus.” The title “Christ” magnifies the name “Jesus” with both adoration and awe. What man has ever evoked such ardor across the centuries?
 
From the beginning Jesus inspired hymns to be written about him full of ascriptions of majesty (See Col. 1: 13-20 and Phil. 2: 5-11). His birth was sung by angels, “For unto you is born this day . . . a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2: 11). And in the book of Revelation a combined earthly and heavenly choir sings: “Worthy is the lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5: 12). The words and works of Jesus of Nazareth have awakened the mightiest powers of adoration in human language. 
 
Exalting the name of Jesus brings us into relationship with him in the most intimate way. While no ordinary human could live up to such praise, nor handle the worship, with Jesus it is most appropriate. In fact, we know that no matter how much we say about him, we have never said all that he is, nor proclaimed his glory sufficiently.  
 
So exploring the names associated with Jesus will necessarily engage our minds and hearts, our thoughts and affections. We will seek to gush over the titles for Jesus revealed to us in Scripture. We will stretch our minds to reach toward the heights and depths to which he has gone to save us. We will strive to sync our daily lives up with the will of the Lord Jesus Christ for his creation.
 
When I began this study, I wondered if I could find 42 names for Jesus in the Bible. Now I am sorry we are limited to just 42! I’m glad you’re along for this journey of praise of our only Redeemer and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ!
 
How to Use This Study 20 Minutes a Day
 
I invite you to spend the next six weeks exploring day by day 42 of the many names in Scripture for the person and work of Jesus. Each day we will take up a new name. Plan to spend about 20 minutes in the process. The day’s work is always divided into three sections: 
 
1) Explore the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Here we will read Scriptures that include the day’s name. We will use our minds to ponder the significance of the name through comments and questions. The daily names are grouped into themes for each week. I was astounded to see the rich tapestry of revelation and praise contained in the Biblical titles for Jesus. 
 
2) Pray the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. In this middle activity, we want to let what we learned sink down into our hearts even as it rises in our praise. I will invite you to take up specific prayers exalting the name of Jesus. This, I believe, will be the most formative part of our daily work. 
 
We will use daily the ancient Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This prayer fits naturally into the rhythm of breathing. Repeating it several times actually opens our souls. The testimony of millions of believers is that this prayer takes us far beyond any fear of “rote repetition” we might have into deepening intimacy with Jesus. 
Then, we will add a prayer in the same style that expresses the particular name of Jesus for that day. Again, we will pray it for about a minute straight so the words sink deeply into us. 
 
3) Live into the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Here we will read Scriptures that direct us to the application of the particular name of Jesus in daily life. And once again I will invite you to pray, this time using the reliable words of hymns both ancient and modern. 
 
Often, I will invite you to sing (!) during these prayers. I have consistently found that my experience of connecting to Christ Jesus strengthens as I sing as well as say prayers. Don’t worry, no one will hear you! We provide audio recordings on the church app should you want to hear or sing with the tunes.
 
The Challenge: What Can You Get for 14 Hours of Your Time?
 
The most striking thing I am going to ask you to do each day this Lent is read and pray repetitively. 
 
I’m going to ask you to trust the process. To keep going past the strangeness until this becomes a natural way to pray. To realize this ancient method is not “too Catholic” or “too spiritual.” It arose in the Christian soul long before we were separated into Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant believers. I’m asking that you ask the Spirit to form you through the repeating of Scriptures and prayers just as much as through study of the new passages each day.
 
By the end of Lent, I want you to have studied over 100 passages teaching you the meaning of the names of Jesus and how these titles apply to your life in Christ today.
 
I want you to have memorized two passages of Scripture because you have read and prayed them every day for 42 days. Trust that these two verses are potent enough to bear 42 days of exploration. And when you are finished, they will belong to you, for they will reside in your memory!
 
I want you to have prayed the ancient Jesus Prayer more than 200 times so that it will always be a part of your life, part of your very breath. 
 
I want you to have prayed each of the 42 names of Jesus multiple times as you meditate on the Biblical meaning of these titles and thus allow the knowledge of Jesus to move from your head to your heart.
 
All of this in just 14 hours! That’s 20 minutes a day for 42 days. 
 
I promise if you take this challenge, you will know Jesus in a fresher and deeper way.
 
Because the Scriptures are that powerful. 
 
The Spirit is that faithful. 
 
These forms of prayer are that reliable.
 
And Jesus is that worthy of our attention. 
 
Fare forward, beloved congregation! How great will be our joy Easter morning when we sing of the Risen Savior after these 42 days of prayer together!
 
A Word About This Year’s Art
 
Each of our six images come from churches in Ravenna, Italy which date back to the fifth and sixth centuries. They are mosaics: pictorial representations created from thousands of tiny pieces of colored glass. Their vivid colors have endured through the centuries.
 
Ravenna is a small city in central Italy, near the Adriatic Sea. Beginning in 402, this little metropolis became for several decades the imperial capital of the western Roman empire as the pressure of “barbarian” invasions made Rome itself unstable. In the 500s Ravenna came under control of the eastern Roman Empire for several centuries. East and West met with this infusion of Christian artistic energy and imperial wealth. So in the century between 450 and 550, stunning churches were built which contain unsurpassed mosaic art.
 
Today, little Ravenna contains eight buildings designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites.
 
The spiritual impact of the Ravenna mosaics surpasses even their technical artistic beauty. Pilgrims feel caught up in the worship of Jesus Christ when surrounded by these mosaics. Personally, I experienced a mystical quality of being taken up into the world of Scripture and the adoration of the Triune God. The theme of offering flows across the individual churches. In the mosaics, we see in dozens of ways how God offers himself to humanity: through his prophets, the revelation of his Word and above all in the life, death, resurrection and reign of Jesus Christ. In the mosaics we also see how we give ourselves back to God through the offering of faith and worship, especially from those who sacrifice their lives in martyrdom.   
 
I hope you feel drawn upward to Christ through the reproductions of these six beautiful mosaics.  
 
Gerrit Dawson
Senior Pastor
 
 

Far and Near - Missions Conference Report

The 2019 Global Missions Conference was a joy to see the Holy Spirit work in the hearts of our missionaries in Lebanon, Peru, and Malaysia. Rebecca and Nour Botros from Beirut, Lebanon shared their hearts with us, and were vulnerable about what God is doing in their lives as they pour into Syrian refugees. Ralph and Marilynn Toliver from Peru presented our church with a New Testament that they spent thirty years translating into the Ambo-Pasco-Quechua language. MacGregor Magruder shared all the Lord is doing in their family as they serve in Malaysia.
 
Valerie Gastinel and the IFP team planned an International Friendship Luncheon in the gym that was a blessing for the 50 international students who attended along with 150 from the FPC family. If you are interested in being an International Friendship Partner, please contact Valerie Gastinel, 225.241.1386.
 
On Sunday morning, Scott Castleman preached from Ephesians 2 “Preaching Peace Far and Near.” His passion for missions was evident in his heart as he poured his life into us. God is leading us into a season of renewed enthusiasm as we prepare for our next mission trip to Romania, June 7-16. Our next Romania meeting will be Sunday, March 10 after worship from 12.15-12.45. Please join us in room 202 in the Educational Building if you are planning to go to Romania this summer. 
 
By Whitney Alexander
Associate Pastor of Missions
 
 

Press into Jesus

As for me, it is good to be near God (Ps. 73: 28). This verse became my personal theme last summer as I had the luxury of intentional time to be with the Lord. Out of those times of personal worship and deep meditation came our study for Lent. I’m eager to share it with you, and personally eager to return to the practices that refreshed me so much. 
 
Lent begins this Wednesday! As ever, we will host a noon service in the chapel. This includes the marking with ashes as we prepare for this intentional season of focusing more on Christ.
 
Then, I heartily invite you to participate vigorously in this year’s theme: Living into His Name. We will be raiding the vaults of Scripture for treasure! Each day we will bring forth a jewel, a beautiful name for Jesus. We will study it and pray it, inviting Christ more deeply into our hearts as we more robustly praise him through his names and titles. 
 
What’s new this year is the ways in which we will strive to move through head knowledge to heart-knowing. Every day I will invite you to close by praying in song: and there will be links to our website where each song will be presented by our own team of Lauren Honea and Joshua Staes, accompanied by Rachel Reese and Steve Gustafson. You can sing with them! Every day I will invite you to use the ancient Jesus Prayer. We will have an opportunity to discover something most Presbyterians have never been taught: how a repetitive Scriptural prayer can dramatically deepen intimacy with Christ. In the home groups we will study Bible passages and also practice time-honored forms of prayer by which Christ can fill our hearts. In our Sunday messages, we will extol the name of the Lord Jesus Christ by working through the great Bible themes of his person and work.
 
I can promise you: you won’t be bored! But you will be nourished, stretched, comforted and challenged. If you and I engage this study daily for 42 days, trusting the process, we will, without doubt, know Christ in a marvelously deeper way. Dive in with me! As for me, it is good to be near God. And, as ever, it is good to be your pastor!

Safety, Beautification and Budget

If you really invest your spiritual energy in your church, which would include time on campus, it won’t be long before you realize that there are layers upon layers of life-giving and even life-altering aspects of First Presbyterian “church life.” Over time, the truth that’s borne on each sermon or Lenten lesson or small group study takes root and bears fruit. God’s Word discerns the thoughts and intentions of our hearts and draws us into God’s grace and life in his Beloved Son. Life flourishes. Lives are altered. One begins to recognize the subtleties of hallway embraces and the roar of Sunday worship greeting time and see how we love one another. It becomes evident in so many ways. We teach and care for kids and families in our community through Mother’s Day Out. We display the art of members who’ve been gifted to speak through charcoal and pastels and oils. We grace our place with seasonal decorations and care for this grand old structure to ensure it will live even into the 22nd century (God willing); the recent waterproofing and roofing project gives testimony. As the chill of a winter morning is cut by an outdoor fire on our multi-tiered terrace or as guests are welcomed into our Sanctuary for the annual Christmas pilgrimage or we welcome those who visit our campus to mourn the loss of friends or loved ones, Christ’s love is extended graciously. It comes, literally, as second nature to us as we live out new life in Christ Jesus.
 
And the not so apparent layers provide foundation for it all. Recent decisions of our Session to proactively provide an added layer of protection for our people has launched Security Response Teams that are present at each of our services and major events. Should there be a time of trouble or danger, they are equipped to respond. These same decisions ushered in an effort to improve the basic security of our campus, particularly enhancing the inner perimeter entrances, landscaping and fencing (similar to our playgrounds). All this while enhancing the beauty of this place at the same time. The final architectural rendering for these improvements will be reviewed next month. Work will begin in the spring. 
 
Layers upon layers of testimony and prayer, preaching and teaching, worship and the Table, attending to the work of missions abroad and ministries at home, our church is alive, living and active, unified in life and love so that the world may know that God sent his son to save us.
 
And then, there’s the budget. The reality of the western world. The cost of doing business. We maintain no inventory nor do we sell products or services. We don’t rely on fundraisers or benefactors. We rely on each other to recognize the financial reality of what’s required to be the church. We trust that the Lord will draw us into his economy to invest in his kingdom. We examine our blessings and resources and we know from whence they come. And then . . . we cheerfully give.
 
Our Stewardship this year has exceeded any before. Through you, God has provided for his church. Your estimates of giving for 2019 exceeds $3,000,000. It will provide full support for all the layers of mission and ministry God has called us to. We can look forward to the coming year with great expectation for what he is going to do in us and through us. Thank you for your faithfulness and cheerful giving. 
 
Grace,
Barry Phillips
Ministry Executive
 

The Power of the Name

I used to dread Lent. The austerity and sheer length of it daunted me. But now I eagerly anticipate this season. Why? Because I finally get to share with you what I’ve been working on for eight months! This year we’re focusing on Lord Jesus Christ: Living into His Name. When I began preparing our guide book last summer, I wondered if I could find enough names and titles of Jesus to fill 42 days.
 
Silly me! The challenge was actually limiting the selection of amazing titles given to Jesus in the Scriptures. And each one is a pathway into knowing him better and praising him more.
 
I’m stunned by how powerful it is to pray the names of Jesus.  Each title is like the facet of a diamond. As we admire a particular facet, discovering and rehearsing its beauty before the Lord, the splendor of the whole stone lights us up. Names are intimate. They speak of the essence of a person. They grant entrée into someone’s life. As we pray the names of Jesus, we know him better and therefore love him more. Loving him through his names, we discover how he transforms us. 
 
This Lent, I want to lead you into the kinds of prayer that opened up the names of Jesus for me. I long to guide you down paths of contemplation which I had seldom walked but now cherish.  I’m eager to read and pray daily with you, to be in small groups with you, and to take up these gorgeous names of our savior each week in worship.
I sincerely believe this could be the most powerful Lent we’ve yet experienced. Not because anything that comes out of me is so great. But because Jesus is so magnificent. And his Spirit leads us to experience that glory as we take his names on our lips and offer him the praise that arises from deep consideration of his Word. 
 
Please, please plan now to attend a Lenten home group. Sign-ups begin February 17. Books will be distributed March 10 with groups beginning that night. You will also be able to sign up for e-delivery which includes access to songs and hymns we have recorded to go with the series.
 
Stewardship Update
 
You continue to amaze me! The final count on our Christmas offering for city ministry has now topped $60,000! Gardere Community Christian School and the Christian Outreach Center will put these funds to great use. Meanwhile, our estimates of giving for 2019 have broken all records. We’ve had a significant increase in the number of people making estimates of giving, and therefore a wonderful increase for the mission and ministry of the church. This was truly great timing and answered prayer.Several years ago, we used some special funding for Sunday worship enhancement. As those funds conclude, the augmenting of our worship music needed to be picked up by our regular budget. Now we can do that! And of course we will be expanding mission and church programming as well. God has worked through you to keep our church strong and surging forward. I’m so thankful!
 
Congregational Meeting
 
The session has called a congregational meeting for Sunday, February 24 at 10.15 in the Sanctuary. The purpose is to receive a report on 2018, hear a presentation on our 2019 budget, elect at-large members to the nominating committee and conduct any other business that is before us. These annual meetings give us a great opportunity as one church to give thanks for all that God has done and is doing in our midst. There will be no adult Sunday school classes that day.
 
By Gerrit Dawson
Senior Pastor
 

Walking the Talk

Although I grew up in a very religious home, I became agnostic during my high school and college years. Eventually, as I entered the business world upon college graduation in 1989, through the guidance of an older, wiser and more educated sister, I took some steps toward having not so much a religion about God but a relationship with God. Elizabeth was there for me when I needed her most, bringing joy out of sorrow during a difficult time in my life. Although a few people I knew believed in miracles, I didn’t. I had suffered from many unanswered prayers in seeking peace in the midst of many problems that caused me lots of pain along my path. Nevertheless, many years later, following more spiritual growth, I found myself serving as a former businessman turned Protestant minister in a role as an Associate Pastor for a very large church in Connecticut. I had already been married to a wonderful woman with whom I had been blessed to become a dad of two beautiful daughters, affectionately known as my “princesses.”
 
One day in early spring 2003, someone in the church brought to my attention another man who was also married to a beautiful wife with whom he had two wonderful girls. Described as a “man’s man,” William Cox was not only rough and tough but also very hard working and capable in his role as a custodian. Unfortunately, he was very seriously injured while moving furniture. His prognosis was sobering. At best, he would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, most likely paralyzed from the waist down, never to walk again. At worst, he would die.
 
William’s wife, Joanne, invited me to join her and some other believers in praying for William at the ICU of Danbury Hospital. This dear woman of faith recently revealed to me that she felt God had given her a list of those he wanted there that night. 
 
In line with guidance found in the New Testament book of James, we anointed William with oil and prayer in the name of Jesus, the ultimate Wounded Healer, who stated that “with God all things are possible.” When I laid my hand on William’s head, I felt compelled to ask for what seemed to be the impossible. I was certain that as crazy as it may have seemed given this man’s current medical condition, I was to swallow all pride when it came to managing the perception of others and simply ask God to completely heal William. At that very moment, I felt a strange heat sensation I had never previously experienced running through my hand, which I had placed on William’s head.
 
My foremost concern in that moment was learning William’s wife and daughters had accepted Christ but he had not. Yet, like me, they wanted him with them—not only temporally on earth but eternally in heaven. 
 
While laying my hand on William’s head, before I could even think, the following words came out of my mouth: “Lord Jesus, you’ve created the universe and blessed it with William who lies here not yet knowing you and your love for him. Please do not let him leave this earth without making a conscious decision as you have requested of all to accept you as his Savior and follow you as his Leader. Your Word tells us that with God all things are possible. Though these good earthly physicians have done all they can, we know that you, the great Heavenly Physician, can do what they can’t. We beg you to go beyond medicine in fully healing William not only physically but also spiritually so that he can one day enjoy you eternally. We ask this in Your Name. Amen.”
 
Several weeks later, William WALKED into my office! He looked at me and smiled. I was simultaneously astonished, excited and amazed! Goose bumps, which I have since called “God bumps,” ran up and down my arms while the hair on my arms and the back of my neck stood up. His only question for me, even though he had never previously spoken to me, was this: “What do I need to do to know God? I’m ready.” As you can imagine, I ran with that! William understood that God gave him a second chance at life—and he took it! A man who at times had been bitter and resentful soon miraculously became better and peaceful. The peace that replaced his anxiety inwardly continues to shine through his life outwardly. 
 
Although many years have passed since I’ve last seen William, not a day has passed when I don’t believe in miracles, as he is a walking one. 
 
Jim Solomon
Associate Pastor of Pastoral Care and Prayer
 
Previously printed in “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope and Miracles.” Soul Publishing, LLC.