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First Thoughts Blog

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Were YOU There?

It’s your story. And it has all the makings of great drama. Intrigue. Sudden reversals. Intimate interactions. Betrayals. Violence. Courtroom maneuvers. Help from unexpected places. Dire villains. A hero who passes through grave peril to glorious triumph.
 
It’s your story. Because it’s the story of Jesus. We are in Christ. So in all he said and did, Jesus included us. All of his life was on our behalf. So always, his story is our story.
 
But we also find ourselves in the people who interacted with him. We identify with his opponents and his followers, with the betrayers and the devoted, with the conflicted and the proud. From Mary to Pilate, from Judas who betrayed to Simon who carried his cross, from Peter who denied him to the centurion who confessed him, we were there.  
 
The story of Passion Week is a story that touches our souls with poignancy. It reaches our hearts with conviction and comfort, with sorrow and rejoicing. Passion Week is the story we can’t stop telling. The best became the worst and then became something even better. It catches up our whole lives, the whole world. Nothing is more important than this true story.
 
And I want to take you there. This Lent, we’ll be studying the people of Passion Week. Day by day we will read about the many characters and the lesser characters, seeing how each one fits as we follow the episodes of this great story. We’ll learn to see through their eyes, and even pray through their prayers as we identify our lives through these characters. And discover anew how Jesus relates to us in truth, grace and love.  
 
Beginning February 9, you will have an opportunity to sign up to be part of a home group study. On March 1, we’ll receive our beautiful all-new Lent guides: Were You There? Meeting the People of Passion Week. We’ll be able to sign up for daily email delivery. And each week at worship we will go in depth with one of the characters.  
 
 
 
 

 

Sing Aloud His Righteousness!

We have only been with you for a few weeks. Yet, we already feel like part of this wonderful Church. The friendly handshakes and “Welcome to First Presbyterian!” introductions are appreciated. I believe that the Lord in his gracious, sovereign providence has brought us together. I am asking the Lord to build his Kingdom through us. I look forward to leading you to “pour forth the fame of God’s abundant goodness and sing aloud of his righteousness” (Psalm 145: 7).
 

A Restful Resolution

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God” (Exodus 20: 8-10a).
 
“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2: 27).

How restful are you? As the son of a WWII veteran, I had no choice but to develop a work ethic. My earthly father believed in productivity. Our Heavenly Father does too. Yet, He also believes in rest.

In a restless society, it is easy to take the Fourth Commandment as a suggestion rather than a commandment from the God who created the universe and created you and knows what is best for us.
 
When we are not willing to rest, we eventually are given no choice but to rest. At best, the rest comes when one has a vacation, a holiday or retirement. At worst, rest comes only due to unexpected illness, personal crisis, or even death. In such cases, rest is looked upon simply as a form of recovery. God has something better than that for you and me.
 
The command for rest is given in the book of Exodus in light of God’s example of “resting” on the seventh day of the first week, following six days of his “work” of creating (Genesis 2: 2). As an omnipotent God, he rested, not because he needed rest, but because we do, even as an example to others of how to remember that he is God and that the world doesn’t depend upon our abilities but upon his (Psalm 46: 10). He is able.
 
For Christians, the question is not, “How should I keep the Sabbath?,” the day during which the Israelites kept Ceremonial Law, resting from any and every type of labor. Instead, it is a two-part question. We ask “How should I keep the Lord’s Day?,” Sunday, the day on which Christ rose from the dead, when Christians gather for corporate worship (Acts 20: 7, 1 Corinthians 16: 1-2). Also, “How can I appropriately adhere to the divine command to rest, taking a break from the usual routine of the other six days, as we are not under Old Testament law but New Testament grace?" (Galatians 5: 1-26)
 
Sunday may be your day of rest, outwardly and inwardly, physically and spiritually. As a pastor, it is not mine. In fact, I have often told others that on Mondays, my day off, I am not available to anyone other than my wife and children, unless it is truly a matter of life and death. Of course, after I said this, many have died on Mondays! I even had one friend, Johnny Wheeler, tell me that he is intentionally going to die on a Monday just to have one on me–and he did! I’m glad that God has a sense of humor! I am also glad that we will see Johnny again (John 11: 25-26).
 
Nevertheless, ceasing from our work for 24 hours weekly is still necessary for each of us regardless of our career/calling. It helps us to realize that God is still in control and he will continue to get done all that we are called to do even without us. This keeps us humble as servants in his kingdom rather than sovereigns of our own (Psalm 46: 10). Even more poignantly, it keeps us from missing out on the privilege as his children to hear from our Father in heaven while we are still here on earth.
 
I have found that my times of being still, reading and meditating upon his Word, in prayer and contemplation, empower me to keep a proper perspective in the midst of life’s problems, hearing his voice in the midst of all the other voices of this world, including my own.
 
Nevertheless, if we have a sabbath rest of only praying, we have not progressed from our Puritan ancestors who tended to be legalistic in their observances. If we have a sabbath rest of only playing, we are no different than the self-centered society in which we live. Regardless of how the rest is practiced, it is not true rest unless it refreshes our relationship with God and our perspective on life.
 
Being busy yet not hurried is another thing altogether that I thank the Lord for teaching me in my desire to be more like him. Perhaps we can discuss that goal in the days ahead. Meanwhile, I have a challenge for you in this year ahead:
 
Would you consider making a New Year’s resolution to observe and enjoy the command to rest one day each week this year and as long as we are on this earth until we enter the eternal rest (Hebrews 4: 1-16) of the One who said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest?" (Matthew 11: 28).

 

Focused Fellowship Through the Decades

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

Focused Fellowship Through the Decades

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

2019 Ministry Executive Report

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

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

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

New Beginnings in 2020

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

Right Now Media

Have you ever been to a holiday party and received a gift that was a re-gift? Sometimes those gifts can be a little less desirable, but I have great news. First Presbyterian Church is giving you a gift that you are going to love receiving again! As the director for discipleship at our church, I want you to have the gift of Right Now Media (RNM). I announced two years ago that I had purchased a churchwide account for all who love FPC, but I think it is time to remind you of what a great treasure trove of godly material it is.
 
RNM is a lot like a Christian version of Netflix but with a much greater emphasis on teaching. There are plenty of entertaining videos for kids, such as What’s in the Bible and Adventures in Odyssey. But where RNM really stands out is its teaching for adults. Whenever I want to study a book in the Bible, I love going to RNM and watching a How to Read summary of the book. For example, type in the search bar “Psalms,” then scroll down to the customizable training section and click on Tim Mackie’s How to Read Pslams. It is a powerful 9 minute summary!
 
If you’re looking for Bible study content for personal or small group use, RNM has tons of content from some of the most recognizable Christian teachers today. If it’s a topic that you’re curious about, such as parenting, you will be amazed how many great videos can be found on the topic. With this announcement of a gift you already have, I did want to make you aware of a couple of things that have improved with RNM since 2017. Some new users can get overwhelmed with how much content is on the site. To help with this, I have created a FPC “Channel” that will have specific content that I think our church will enjoy including a “Staff Favorites” section. (Continue to check the FPC channel as we’ll be adding new content to it all the time.) The other greatest improvement to RNM is your ability to access it. Before you had to sign-up via the invitation that I sent to the email our church has on file for you. If you lost that email, I had to manually create another invitation for you to join. Now, all you have to do is go to our FPC website, find the RNM link, and from there you will be able to directly create an account. Now that’s a pretty easy gift to unwrap!!!
 
Enjoy the new year and when you have time to catch your breath, check out RNM. My hope is that the teaching found there will complement the excellent teaching we receive every Sunday from the pulpit–and that we may walk deeply with Christ together as a body!
 
 

Right Now Media

Have you ever been to a holiday party and received a gift that was a re-gift? Sometimes those gifts can be a little less desirable, but I have great news. First Presbyterian Church is giving you a gift that you are going to love receiving again! As the director for discipleship at our church, I want you to have the gift of Right Now Media (RNM). I announced two years ago that I had purchased a churchwide account for all who love FPC, but I think it is time to remind you of what a great treasure trove of godly material it is.
 
RNM is a lot like a Christian version of Netflix but with a much greater emphasis on teaching. There are plenty of entertaining videos for kids, such as What’s in the Bible and Adventures in Odyssey. But where RNM really stands out is its teaching for adults. Whenever I want to study a book in the Bible, I love going to RNM and watching a How to Read summary of the book. For example, type in the search bar “Psalms,” then scroll down to the customizable training section and click on Tim Mackie’s How to Read Pslams. It is a powerful 9 minute summary!
 
If you’re looking for Bible study content for personal or small group use, RNM has tons of content from some of the most recognizable Christian teachers today. If it’s a topic that you’re curious about, such as parenting, you will be amazed how many great videos can be found on the topic. With this announcement of a gift you already have, I did want to make you aware of a couple of things that have improved with RNM since 2017. Some new users can get overwhelmed with how much content is on the site. To help with this, I have created a FPC “Channel” that will have specific content that I think our church will enjoy including a “Staff Favorites” section. (Continue to check the FPC channel as we’ll be adding new content to it all the time.) The other greatest improvement to RNM is your ability to access it. Before you had to sign-up via the invitation that I sent to the email our church has on file for you. If you lost that email, I had to manually create another invitation for you to join. Now, all you have to do is go to our FPC website, find the RNM link, and from there you will be able to directly create an account. Now that’s a pretty easy gift to unwrap!!!
 
Enjoy the new year and when you have time to catch your breath, check out RNM. My hope is that the teaching found there will complement the excellent teaching we receive every Sunday from the pulpit–and that we may walk deeply with Christ together as a body!
 
 

A Farewell Benediction

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

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