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First Thoughts Blog

Seriously: Let's Be Jolly!

The Italians seemed so subdued. In previous years, I felt so Anglo, talking quietly across the table while all around me the Romans were inches from each other’s faces, gesturing with their hands, laughing and interacting exuberantly. But this year when I visited my brother, people seemed so glum. Why?
 
The Covid years were hard. There’s a war in Europe. Inflation. Western culture ruthlessly shredding itself. There’s a lot prompting us all to be somber. Lots of people are frustrated and angry most of the time.
 
But is that the way it should be for those united to Jesus as Christmas approaches? 
 
Have we, have I, forgotten the treasures in our storehouse of faith? Couldn’t we open the jewel box and pull out some of these lovely strands: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. Unto us a child is born. Unto us a Son is given. His name is Immanuel, God with us. For he shall save his people. You, child, shall be a light to enlighten all people. And of his kingdom, there shall be no end. What if we composed our thoughts with these shining verses every day this month?
 
The world is certainly no worse than it was the year Jesus was born. We have a Redeemer. We know the truth. We know how the story will end. Seriously, people, it’s time to get jolly and let the world see its hope.
 
A Festive Eve, A Quiet Day
 
As usual, we will have three services on Christmas Eve: 11 am, 4 and 6 pm. Though the music varies slightly, each will feature Silent Night, Joy to the World, candlelight and communion. My message is called “Home Calling.” Christmas Day is a Sunday and we decided to offer a 5 pm service in the Chapel. This will be “A Quiet Christmas,” with time to reflect and pray after all the festivities have wound down. 
Our congregation keeps Christmas with devoted faith, many signs of giving to others, good cheer and a true joy in belonging to Christ. I love to keep Christmas with you!
 

Start with Your Income

In an article by Dave Ramsey (Financial Peace University) on family budgeting for Christians, the first step he notes is this: “Start with your income. Write down what you will get paid.” The second step is that “it’s our responsibility to prioritize tithing.” He goes on to talk about zero-based budgeting, saving, listing all expenses, etc.  I’ve gotta tell you, it sounds a lot like our church budgeting process. Although we’ve begun the process of identifying all our expenses by department and line item, writing down what our income will be begins on Dedication Sunday when we receive your pledges or estimates of giving. Ultimately, writing down “what we will get paid” determines our mission and ministry budget for the coming year. 
 
Until the pandemic, our income forecasting model worked well for us. That, coupled with your faithfulness, helped us build predictive, useful budgets. For the past three years however, our giving patterns have changed. Some of you no longer pledge but continue to give generously. Some of you have opted to give automatically on a monthly basis using credit cards and ACH’s. Still others wait until year-end to make your gift to the church. 
 
Just as Christian families build their budgets each year, our commitment to an accurate, responsible budget is resolute. Your participation in Dedication Sunday by giving us an estimate of giving, or even pledging, helps us build a more accurate budget because we are able to “write down what we will get paid.” Thank you in advance for your financial investment in God’s economy at First Presbyterian Church.
 
One last thing. We already know of several fixed operating expenses that are increasing quite a bit. I’d also tell you that our church staff, part- and full-time, have not had an increase in their base pay since the pandemic began. If you can increase your investment, the return will be great. God bless all of you.
 

 

What Does It Mean to Keep the Sabbath Holy?

There is a kind of hurry that is a form of violence exercised upon time that is detrimental to our health, to our families, to our communities and to our relationship with God. Living under pressure is part of life and we must be careful not to rationalize. God didn’t make mistakes in creating time and he made enough of it. When we cannot find enough time and, as the psalmist says, find ourselves getting up earlier and going to bed later because we have too much to do, we can see this as a sign to make some changes in our lives.
 
One of the ten commandments is "Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day."  Today, there is a lot of confusion about what it means to keep the Sabbath day holy. For the most part, this commandment is simply ignored. As Wayne Muller points out, “we have turned a commandment into a lifestyle suggestion.  More and more, it’s business as usual on Sundays; many of us are obliged to work on that day, church attendance is declining steadily, and we are living increasingly pressured lives.”
 
What does it mean to keep holy the Sabbath day?  It means more things than we imagine.  It is one of the key practices of our Christian faith, and yet, it is ignored. On my Sabbath day five years ago, I had scheduled three pre-marital appointments with couples in New Orleans, but I never made it. Due to fatigue and exhaustion, I closed my eyes momentarily and awakened to the biggest lesson I learned in my whole life.
 
For the next seven months, I had many opportunities to cry out to God and learn that the Sabbath day is an important part of my life. Unless we pull back from our normal lives regularly to rest, we will lose perspective on what is ultimately important and become compulsive and driven people.  It’s no accident that as Sabbath observance is slipping today, we find ourselves feeling ever more trapped and more pressured, always behind, never able to rest deeply and less able to delight in the deep joys of life.
 
Last summer, this loving congregation gave me a precious gift: a sabbatical.  A sabbatical is not a vacation nor is it time away as much as it is an opportunity to become all that God has called me to be. I ceased to work and intentionally chose to give good energy and focus to my family. This was carefully planned so that Phyllis, Andrew and Patrick received this investment. I am forever grateful to this congregation for investing in our family during my sabbatical.
Sabbath is a gift we are to share with others. God gave us the Sabbath. Jesus taught us that we weren’t made for the Sabbath but that the Sabbath was made for us. In the coming months, I plan to share with you what the Lord is teaching me on how to keep the Sabbath holy. I am still learning every day what it means to keep holy the Sabbath day. This is a lifelong journey for me and I am deeply grateful to be one of your pastors who is being led by the Holy Spirit to learn what it means to rest and take the Sabbath seriously.
 

New Season of Youth Studies

Autumn brings a new season of youth studies and activities, and this year is no exception! In addition to the weekly Bible studies going through 1 Peter on Sunday evenings and a fresh confirmation class, we’re already a few weeks into a Biblical Sexuality Sunday school series and a new weeknight study in apologetics for both middle and high school students.
 
The world in which we live is one that is often divided over issues of sex and our teens are on the frontlines of the battle against the truth of biblical sexuality. From the issues assailing them in pornography, LGBT+ issues and much more, it’s as important now as ever that they be prepared, not only to know the truth of God’s design, but also how to fight temptation and graciously bring the truth to bear in the lives of those who have been hurt by sexual brokenness. The middle and high school boys and girls (four groups in total) have been and will continue to consider these issues openly and truthfully with an eye to grace, forgiveness and healing. Your prayers for us in this capacity are appreciated!
 
Additionally, we continue a study in apologetics that I’m writing. The “Reinforced” series covers 12 common problems or objections to the Christian faith ranging from logical questions about the Bible’s supposed “errors” and “contradictions” to moral questions addressing how Christians are often labeled as unloving and hypocritical. Both high school (Paradigm) and middle school (Pursuit) will spend the year considering these and other apologetic challenges as we continue to encourage students to speak the truth in love.
 

Can You Get Along without Giving?

I think I tried that one summer in my early 20’s. I lived like a tick, consuming goods and services and kindnesses but giving almost nothing back. Like some potentate of old, my attitude was, “I must be amused!” Worst weeks of my life. All take and no give is not a path to abundance but misery. 
 
Just a few seconds of thought would have led me better. You can’t keep taking in oxygen and not give back any carbon dioxide. You can’t keep eating if your gastro system is not processing. Of course we can’t have relationships that are only one-sided. Not with family, friends, coworkers or the Triune God. We are built for exchange. To receive and to give. In fact, the longer I live, the more I realize that satisfaction—happiness--actually depends on giving more of myself than I am naturally inclined. Holding back, hedging bets, staying safe leads to isolation, fear and loneliness. Sacrifice leads to joy. 
 
Now, I am a hedonist. I want pleasure. I want the best life. How wild it’s been to learn that such fullness comes from self-emptying. So, because I love you, I have no hesitancy in encouraging generosity in our members. Often, what’s missing in our relationship to Christ is not another Bible study, but another tangible step outwards.
 
Giving back a significant portion of our income to God is an inescapable part of a robust life in Christ. So I love to see your generosity every stewardship season. I think I could make a good case that your church is busy about Christ’s work in this world. And that means there are always opportunity to give service to Jesus and his little ones:
 
*VineBR. There’s a desperate need for foster families in our community. On Sunday, October 9, an orientation for people considering fostering will be held at Bethany church at 2 pm.
 
*Building Up. Already this year, Bethany Centre has begun a second new classroom in Uganda and the ministry in Medellin Columbia is renovating the home for mothers and young children which we purchased. You’re doing that!
 
*Gardere and Buchanan. Elementary children at Gardere long for mentors to spend an hour a week with them through our KidsHope program. Students who got behind during COVID need adults to read to them at Buchanan. Hearing books read is essential to learning to read!
 
*Nursery and Childhood. We always welcome loving volunteers to rock babies and chase toddlers during the worship hours.
 
*Marriages require the gift of attention, listening and processing. There’s no better marriage seminar than Created for Connection. FPC members even get a 50% discount for the October 21 & 22 session. 
 
*International Friendship Partners welcomes LSU students from around the world; rEcess give families with special needs children a Friday night out; Caring to Love gives hope to those experiencing a crisis pregnancy, and the Christian Outreach Center offers mentors to those learning job and life skills.
 
We can’t get along without giving and I love to see all the ways you give your hearts to Christ as you serve in your daily lives. No wonder I love being your pastor.
 

 

The Most Important Instrument

What do you think the most important musical instrument is for our worship services? Does the answer depend upon which of our three services you attend? Can we say we have worshipped “contemporary-ish-ly” if we do not use drums? Or the electric bass? Surely the power of the pipe organ is required for the hymns. Perhaps it all hinges on the magnificent voice of your amazing worship director. (Haha! Saints preserve us! If that is the case, we are all in serious trouble.)
 
What is the most important musical instrument in our worship services?
 
It is the congregation.
 
That’s right. The most important musical instrument in the weekly gathered worship of our God is your voice in combination with other voices. No one can replace you. None can sing for you. Singing is one way that every individual actively fulfills the call to be a member of the holy priesthood. Our singing is one way we offer spiritual sacrifices to God and encourage one another (1 Peter 2: 4-5).
 
Now we at First Presbyterian are blessed with the incredible, talented, and beautiful support of instrumentalists and vocalists. Their enrichment of our musical worship takes my breath away. So often being on the platform during the beautiful music-making offers me the best seat in the house. 
 
But let me it put boldly. We could worship musically without the help of a single instrument and without any vocal leadership on the platform. However, we could not say that we had biblically worshiped if the gathered Elect had not sung. 
 
Now I know, Beloved, that you may feel awkward when you sing. You may not be ready to audition for the next season of “The Voice.” That is just fine. Whether or not you think you can sing well matters nothing at all. Truly. The quality and affection that God is looking for in worship comes from the heart (Ephesians 5: 19 & Colossians 3: 16).
 
So, would you have courage and take the risk of singing out loud in gathered worship?  Start softly if you must but do not be silent. We will not have the option to be silent on the Great Day. There is much we do not know about our future glory. One thing for certain, however, is that when we are gathered around the throne with every tribe, nation, people, and tongue we will be singing to God and to the Lamb (Revelation 5).
 
May as well get in lots of practice now!
 

 

We Meet over This

When I was very new to pastoral ministry, I got to see Ian McKellan perform his one-man play, Acting Shakespeare. Before he was internationally known as Gandalf and Magneto in movies, McKellan performed all the great Shakespearean roles. This show included excerpts from Hamlet and Macbeth and King Lear, interspersed with comment. At one point, he picked up a script and walked toward the audience. “What happens in theatre is that you and I meet over this. My job is interpret these lines in a way that you can connect to them.” I realized, “That’s it! That’s what happens at church. We meet over the script that is Scripture. As teacher and participants interact over the passage, it comes alive to us.”
 
Of course this meeting happens (I hope!) during a sermon.  It’s not just my talking, but your participation with your thoughts and questions and feelings as we work through the text. My job is to anticipate your questions and name them, to realize my own resistance to these truths and consider how those struggles might be yours too. In that way, though you may not be speaking aloud, you are interacting with the Word along with me. If it works, you leave feeling that the Bible story is indeed your story. And the Spirit has moved your life along according to the sacred script. It’s the coolest!
 
But this meeting happens so many other ways at church as well. We interact with others around, over and through the Bible and the great narrative of our redemption in Christ. This meets our deep need to be introduced to God. 
 
And also our yearning to be connected to others. Such interaction is the heartbeat of our church. 
 
Think of that when you gather for a home-group meeting over I Peter. Or when you engage Mark’s gospel in this fall’s women’s studies. When you meet with a fellow church member and talk about the Word together. When you’re in Sunday school or Circle, early morning study or talking about the Bible with a Gardere student. These are the life-giving conversations where God himself is our discussion partner! 
 
Faith Driven Entrepreneur Conference
 
We want to highlight the interaction between our faith in Christ and our work in the business world. And we have an exciting, energizing way to do that! The Faith Driven Entrepreneur Conference will stream live in our Sanctuary Wednesday, September 28 from 9.30 to 3.30. In addition to a stunning array of presenters, lunch will be served and there will be break out groups as we consider what it means to belong to Christ and be engaged in business.
 
The conference is free when you check out following the instructions:
In your Cart at Checkout, you'll see a grey panel on the right. Under “Promotions,” type in your promo code FPCBR and click the gray checkmark button. 
 
This will be an important day, well worth your time. Contact Hank Mills, Blake Fowler or Darin Travis for more information. 
 
As ever, please know how much I love being your pastor.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Exhilarating and Exhausting

Thank you for the sabbatical and vacation time this summer. It was an exhilarating and exhausting walk across Northwest Spain May 24-June 1 on the Camino de Santiago with six friends from First Presbyterian and Abounding Love Ministries. Charles Goebel, Annette Lamond, Milt Witty, John and Carol Norwood and their son-in-law Josh all participated in this incredible walk. It will be a cherished trip for as long as I live. I arrived at Santiago de Compostela Cathedral on the fifth anniversary of my terrible car accident. 
 
Much of my time during sabbatical was spent reading the book of Revelation in preparation for leading 20 men in two different Bible studies this coming year. The month of July specifically focused on reading Ruth Haley Barton's newest book, Embracing Ryhythms of Work and Rest: From Sabbath to Sabbatical and Back Again. I also attended a retreat in July on Discernment: Recognizing and Responding to the Presence of God at Transforming Community in Wheaton, Illinois.
 
I had the opportunity to vacation with Phyllis in Colorado, be with Andrew for Father's Day weekend and see Patrick in California at the end of my sabbatical. The rest was needed and I am excited to return and serve again at First Presbyterian. 
 
Thank you for caring for my family and especially allowing me a break after my many years serving Christ here. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

All Things New

How would you describe a “good life?” For the average person in the West, the life well-lived looks like the fulfillment of the American dream: career success, financial stability, raising a happy family, dying at an old age surrounded by family and friends. For most Christians in the West, if asked, the answer would likely remain the same with perhaps the tacked-on afterthought of “and when I die, I get go to be with Jesus.” Is that it? Does the good news of Jesus’ victory over sin and death in the world and in our lives matter no more than for the 5 short seconds after we breathe our last breath? This was Reverend Brian Sorgenfrei’s question on the final night of our second RYM (Reformed Youth Ministries) trip of the summer. It’s a question, not only for teens, but for us. 
 
The theme for this year’s series of RYM conferences was “All Things New” taking its primary inspiration from Isaiah 43 and 65 as well as Revelation 21; glorious promises and depictions of God’s ultimate purpose for creation and humanity — to make all things new. This is our future hope, the day that we await. But what we need to understand about this future reality is that it has present implications. It is often thought that any long contemplation of the life to come might lead one away from being useful in the here and now, but the opposite should be true. Many theologians have made note of this, understanding that only by a right meditation and contemplation on the future life — when all things are made new — can we be freed to live a good life in the present. This truly good life is a life lived in the freedom that only Christ can give, a freedom both to die and to live. 
 
As those following the path of the Cross, by fixing our eyes on our eternal destiny, we must find the freedom first to die to sin, to give up fleeting pleasure for the surpassing joy and lasting satisfaction that is in God alone. But this understanding leads not only to dying continually to sin, it ought also to lead us willingly to die to ourselves. If we truly believe that one day all will be made new, every wrong made right and every tear wiped away, it should lead us deeper and more freely into a life of selflessness, of forgoing personal satisfaction and joy in view of others, even of opening ourselves up to weep and mourn with others — something we often hold ourselves back from doing because we fear that temporary pain and discomfort will define our existence. And, what’s more, this contemplation of the future life should free us to die in an actual sense. Calvin wrote in his Institutes, “If we deem this unstable, defective, corruptible, fleeting, wasting, rotting tabernacle of our body to be so dissolved that it is soon renewed unto a firm, perfect, incorruptible, and finally, heavenly glory, will not faith compel us ardently to seek what nature dreads?” In other words, knowing that God is making all things new and that this life is only a foretaste of eternal glory, should make us free to die.
 
But not only should this grand picture of all things being made new give us freedom to die, it must grant us freedom also to live. As Reverend Sorgenfrei put it in our RYM large group sermons, it should free us to live life “holding on with open hands.” So many of us experience a profound level of self-imposed anxiety — especially in younger generations — simply because we fear that at any moment in time we might not be living our lives to the fullest, that we might have passed up “the chance of a lifetime” unknowingly by committing to just about anything. With a worldview that sees this life as all we get, such an anxiety about each passing moment would make sense. But in view of that Eternal Day, we ought to be free to live life “holding on with open hands,” enjoying the highs while they last and not turning away from the lows. All the while, being free also to live as glimpses of the New Creation, to love sacrificially, to welcome as God intends to welcome his own, to heal as those who serve the Great Physician, to listen as those who follow the one who hears the prayers of his beloved. This is true freedom to live.
 
Living as followers of Christ, therefore, is much more than just something that changes the end of this existence as we transition to the next. Again, as Brian said, “If God is making all things new, it changes our purpose. He is making all things new in you and through you.” It changes everything. 
 

Savor Summer

Does the arrival of June ever remind you of summers past? Can you still feel the excitement of getting out of school? Or getting ready for a trip to the water? Or playing outside until late? The Irish bard, yes Van Morrison, evokes the season: “Take me way back . . . where you could feel the silence at half past eleven on long summer nights as . . . voices echoed across the river . . . sunny summer afternoons picking apples . . . stopping for ice cream . . . conversation and laughter and music and singing . . . as we carried on dreaming in God.” I hope this summer you get to re-collect your life from the busyness of the year and recollect many memories even as you make new ones.
 
Your church will be here, joyfully celebrating the Lord’s Day each week. I’ll be preaching the Sundays of June, then hand over the reigns for a few Sundays in July. All that month will be single 10.30 Sanctuary services. Barry will give the Independence Day message. And George Gillam will bring us the Word from his perspective ministering to youth in North Baton Rouge. Our own youth will be off at camps; the children will encounter a Jerusalem marketplace at VBS; and we’ll lead a summer soccer camp with Abounding Love Ministries. On the last Sunday of July, we’ll have a special recognition of those who have been members of our church for fifty years or more. Who will take the prize for longest membership? Don’t miss the crowning of a new longevity winner! After General Assembly in Detroit, I’ll be in North Carolina for a few weeks, and hope to get a lot of work done on the sequel to Asking Jesus for next Lent. But do know that every day I give thanks for the joy of being your pastor,
Further into the World
 
Your elders have approved $78,400 in grants for seminary students, city ministry and global ministry. This includes helping underwrite a fathering program in North Baton Rouge, a facility for the disabled in Romania and a guest house for missionaries in Malaysia. Through your gifts and our foundation, our reach extends through our city to the world!
 
July Worship: Single 10.30 am Services
 
First Presbyterian Church invites you to attend its combined 10.30 am services each Sunday in July. These single services replace our typical worship schedule blending the styles of Classic Reformed, Contemporary and Chapel Communion worship. We encourage you to invite a friend. There will be no Sunday school.
 
Call for Meeting of the Corporation
 
On behalf of the church trustees, the session calls for a meeting of the Corporation of the First Presbyterian Church of Baton Rouge during worship at 10.30 July 31, 2022. The purpose of the meeting is to act on the recommendation that Amanda Vincent be elected as a trustee of the Corporation, and to engage any other matters of the Corporation. (Active members of the congregation are active members of the Corporation. Only those physically present may vote).
 

Our Heritage in Hymns

At one point in the not-so-distant past, I (like many my age) looked at the old hymnal that I grew up with and considered it a relic of a bygone era, something that desperately needed to be moved past in order to remain “current.” It was something I only faintly remembered reading as a child before my home church, like so many, decided the same. Yet, as the Lord would have it, my days of cracking hymnal spines were far from finished as I was confronted with this tradition once more when the Lord led Rachel and me to worship and serve in several small PCA churches in Mississippi while I was in seminary. I remember distinctly kicking against the goads at first, refusing to appreciate the rich history preserved in these contexts. Through the quiet leadership of previous mentors and the Lord’s softening of a proud heart, slowly the joy and beauty to be found crept in, at first in trickles, and later in a flood. While I respect and appreciate the variety of traditions of praise within the Christian heritage and in numerous cultures and contexts, I’ve become more and more convinced, as time goes by, that the songs of ages past are songs to which we should return. 
 
The beauty of a hymn is more than just in its sound; admittedly, the simple tune played on a piano with a few voices to sing out its lyrics is often an underwhelming experience. Many things in life are perfectly simple, even mundane at first glance. Waking up and taking a warm shower, cooking and eating a meal, that first sip of coffee, small talk with strangers, driving home through the Baton Rouge traffic. The list endlessly goes on. These are plain things, everyday tasks and experiences, but the depth to be found in each of these is so much more than what we might first acknowledge. We take so many profound things in life for granted and the simplicity and modesty of a hymn is no different. For this reason, in addition to what many perceive as archaic language, many of us turn our noses up at songs from “grandma’s church,” yet, in doing so, we rob ourselves of honest beauty, profound faith, and substantial theology. But why?
 
What person who knows the transcendence of God is not stirred to sing to the Holy One of Israel: “Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide thee, though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see, only thou art holy; there is none beside thee perfect in pow’r, in love and purity”? What soul convicted of sin finds no comfort in singing, “Not the labors of my hands can fulfill thy law’s demands; could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone, thou must save, and thou alone”? Or what troubled heart is not strengthened in crying with brothers and sisters: “Whate’er my God ordains is right: here shall my stand be taken; though sorrow, need, or death be mine, yet I am not forsaken. My Father’s care is 'round me there; he holds me that I shall not fall: and so to him I leave it all”?
 
I believe it’s high time that we reclaim our heritage in hymnody, an inheritance in song that has stood the test of time. If we were to take the time to sing, study and devote ourselves to these songs, we would find true treasures of our people from ages past, hymns that teach us the great truths of the gospel, hymns that we can sing on our deathbeds. 
 
My desire is not to convince you to abandon all other “worship styles,” nor do I ask that you prefer hymns and psalms over more contemporary worship music whether in corporate gatherings or at home. I merely hope to shine a light on the beauty of what these lines really are.They are the heart-poetry of Christians from age to age, prayers poured out from both joy and anguish, anthems of the people of God to strengthen us in the darkest of nights. For that reason, they ought to have a place not only in our pews, but also in our hearts.  
 
 

Malachi Dads

God is transforming men’s lives in our prison population.The Malachi Dads program (started at Angola) is a faith-based program helping men develop skills to reconnect with their children using Christian principles. 
 
Malachi Dads is a structured program designed to take men through the basics of Christianity. Groups of 12 men (called families) meet weekly to discuss the lesson. In these sessions, men learn the Christian skills necessary to meet the challenges of life and reconnect with their kids. 
 
The joy of participating in Malachi Dad’s Bible Study is establishing relationships with the men. Many friendships have deepened and we have seen the release of both George Gillam and Keith Morse within the last three years. Both men are employed at FPC part-time and work with fathers and sons in north Baton Rouge (70805 and 70802)! It is a joy for us to continue pouring into their lives in Bible Study outside of Angola prison. 
 
 
We have an opportunity to provide assistance to inmate facilitators for a growing number of inmate participants. No formal training or preparation is required. Please consider getting involved. You will be blessed seeing God’s work in our prison population. Get in touch with Whitney, Hans Othmer, Jerry Stovall, Bill Barkas, Brian Kinchen, Charles Goebel or Gee Gee Hargon. Thank you for your support of missions at FPCBR! 
 
 
Posted in: Missions

Take the Walk

Our theme picture for Asking Jesus this Lent has been Liz Swindle’s beautiful painting of the walk to Emmaus. Each day as we take up a question or a request of Jesus, we’ve had this scene in the background.  Would you like to walk with Jesus for a couple of hours talking about the Scriptures? I would!
 
Every year during Holy Week, Christ’s people try to do just that. We walk closely with him. We retell the epic events asking the Holy Spirit to make them present experiences in our lives. We want to keep watch with Jesus, to let him know our gratitude for all he did to undertake so great a salvation.  
 
And at FPC, we literally take walks with Jesus! On Palm Sunday we process around North Blvd. with palm branches. The children lead us as we declare, “Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”  We participate in that brief moment when the world recognized its savior. It’s been three years since we’ve been able to close North Blvd. for our procession and the big picnic that follows. To celebrate this return to a great tradition, we’re going to have a massive crawfish boil! Plus, of course, egg hunts, games and hot dogs for the kids and a glorious time as one church. 
 
On Holy Thursday, we take another walk. From the dramatic reading of the passion, we walk from the Sanctuary to the Terraced Garden where the body of Jesus is laid in the tomb.  We answer the question as we sing, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” As last year, the music will be richly layered with instruments and voices. We’ll add visuals on our stunning new screens to accompany the readings. And by all means, bring your children. This is a significant opportunity for the drama of the passion to be imprinted on the next generation.
 
Holy Saturday we don’t walk. We sit. We enter silence. We ponder the meaning of this huge pause, creation’s deep breath, between cross and empty tomb. If Easter joy has become stale to you, the antidote is to push deeper into the darkness of this bleak Sabbath.
 
Easter Morning we make our way to the Terraced Garden at first light, rejoicing to see the stone rolled away and declaring the news at the heart of the gospel, an announcement that has been reverberating throughout the cosmos: The Lord is risen! Breakfast in the Garden follows sunrise service before two glorious festival services of worship light up our sanctuary. 
 
Come take the walks with us! Don’t let anything stop you or your family. Not sports, not entertainments, not tiredness, not taxes, not doubt, not fear. There is no more important news in all of human history than what the church proclaims in Holy Week. Compared to this, nothing else matters. Let’s walk with Jesus!
 
 
Energizing Marriage Seminar. FPC will host Pete and Dee Adams leading a Created for Connection seminar for married couples, Friday evening, April 29 through Saturday afternoon April 30. Past participants describe the weekend as “enlightening, encouraging, revealing, hopeful, powerful, safe, loving and renewing.” Rhonda and I still reap the benefits from attending two years ago. Sign up at createdforconnectionbr.org. And here’s a little more incentive: for FPC church members, we will cover 50% of the cost! Just email Jaci Gaspard (jaci@fpcbr.org) to let us know you’re attending.  
 
 
 

Say Whaaaaaat?!

Have you ever thought about what kinds of things people asked Jesus? They made all kinds of requests. They had all kinds of questions. Pharisees, demons, disciples, sick people, rich and poor, seekers and cynics, even Jesus’ own mother and the devil himself made asks. Some tried to deflect him from his mission; some just needed mercy. As a reader, I’ve thought with surprise, “I can’t believe you just asked that!” Many times, of course, there was a question within the question. There was another layer of meaning beneath the surface. Jesus always answered the deeper need. He always addressed the true motive. And his replies always opened a way for transformation.
 
I had not spent much time thinking about this gospel category of requests and replies. But once I did, I felt like I encountered Jesus in a fresh, compelling way. I’m very excited that you will soon receive Asking Jesus, our 2022 Lent book. You’ll be invited to join me in exploring 42 requests made of Jesus. I predict you will discover that many of these questions are your questions. You’ll realize, as I did, that we make all these same requests today. So Jesus’ replies relate directly to our lives. This Lent, we’ll be able to meet Jesus again, but as if for the first time. All in about 20 minutes a day during the season of Lent.
 
Once again, your elders and deacons will be hand delivering your books. (Those who live outside the metro area will have their book mailed. If we miss you, please let us know!). There will also be extra copies at the church. Day One is Sunday, March 6, and our sermons will be related to our readings. You can also get connected to a home group to take your explorations even further. And, of course, you can sign up to receive the daily readings sent to you (or 1000 of your friends) by email. Click here to subscribe. 
 
I love to keep Lent with you by intensifying our focus on our loving, saving Lord. Further up and further in dear flock!
 
Welcome Emily Viguerie!
 
On March 7, Emily Petty Viguerie will begin as our Director of Community Life. Emily has been a member of FPC since joining with her family in 2007. She graduated from Dunham and then LSU. Last year she married Russ Viguerie. She has been active in a women’s Bible study for 20-somethings, and brings a love for Christ, for people and for the ministry of our church. We’re thrilled to find someone who knows our church culture and brings fresh energy for welcoming new members and connecting long-time members. 
 
More about Emily

Why Are You Here?

“De ce esti aici?” (Why are you here?) It is June 1, 2015, and I am on my third mission trip with The Smiles Foundation in Romania. We have been led by a Smiles team leader to the third sub-basement of an abandoned Communist era hospital where some homeless are hiding. How they came to be homeless and why they are hiding are discussions for another time. I don’t know many Romanian words; the Smiles team leader is translating. At first, I think the woman asking the question is annoyed by our intrusion. No! The leader explains that she is incredulous that anyone would travel so far to care about her. I had been going on mission trips to Romania for somewhat selfish reasons. The woman’s question caused me to rethink my reasons and I would invite you to contemplate what I realized that day. It changed my perspective on mission trips.
 
Of course, going on a mission trip does cost money, time and personal risk  but Smiles hosts missionaries of all ages very comfortably. I found from our trip in December that COVID exposure seems as well managed in Romania as in the USA. Still, it would be far easier as an American, wealthy by worldly standards, to just cut a check. But what I did not realize was how much it means to the poor for us to be there, especially in parts of the world with virtually no “social safety net.” These people are alone. Profoundly alone. They need human compassion as much as food. The human compassion we bring by being there means so much. I have also learned that the Smiles staff is greatly encouraged and rewarded by the company of mission visitors.
 
Please consider joining us on a mission trip to Romania. Trips are filled with opportunities suitable for all ages and abilities for compassion, service and joy. We depart May 26 and return June 5, 2022. You can contact me or my wife Carol for further information. 
 
 
 
Posted in: Missions

Mission Trip to Colombia

Come join us this summer, June 25-July 2, as we serve with Global Transformation Ministries in Medellin, Colombia! The team will stay at Esther's Home in comfortable rooms for short-term workers. Esther's Home is located outside the bustling city of Medellin in a small mountain town providing safe refuge and a home for rescued mothers and babies. Staying at Esther's Home gives a wonderful window into the daily rhythm of the ministry and allows lots of opportunity to love on the moms and babies. Other ministry opportunites will be adjusted to the gifts and composition of the team. 
 
One possible work project may be to begin construction of an outdoor church at Esther's Home. Other opportunites are leading devotionals or teaching Bible studies and skills-training such as financial management, time management and healthy meal preparation. We will visit the new "transitional" girls' home in Medellin that your donations to the Building Up campaign helped purchase. We will cap off our week with a dinner out with the moms and the team! This trip to Colombia is limited to 15 people. Please contact me (225.573.6982) or Darin Travis (313.574.1205) as soon as possible if you are interested in joining the team. We'd love to have you!
 
Posted in: Missions

Go GLOCAL with IFP

Do global missions right here in Baton Rouge. Global missions done on a local level is part of God's plan to reach the nations. It is quite remarkable when we think about the sheer number of internationals God has brought to our city; many from the least reached people groups of the world. We have Muslims, Hindus, Buddists and Chinese in Baton Rouge who have never had the opportunity to know the God that we follow and love. 
 
Consider the responsibility, privilege and joy of being the first ambassador of Christ to them or watering the seeds others have faithfully planted. The heartbeat of the International Fellowship Partners initiative is to share in word and deed the unconditional love and good news of Christ through genuine friendship building. 
God has brought them to us. An airplane ticket is not needed for this faith journey . . . just a willing heart to GO with God.  God calls us to GO and make disciples of the nations. Will you GO with IFP to internationals that God has brought to our city?
 
Consider giving a warm Kingdom welcome to Internationals playing fun games together at Games Galore Saturday, March 5, in the Gym from 2 to 5 pm. It is a great way to break the ice, share laughs and make friends. We will have toss games, indoor badminton, ping pong and outdoor badminton (weather permitting). Fun for the whole family!
RSVP to Valerie Gastinel (225.241.1386). Let her know if you plan to bring a game or snack (individually wrapped, please). Sharing food to display welcome is an integral part of most international cultures.
 
While food donations are appreciated, they are not required to attend.
IFP appreciates your prayers as we "reactivate" monthly gatherings with internationals after a long COVID pause. Please consider registering to be a Friendship Partner. Use the button to fill out a registration form. 
 
 
 
Posted in: Missions

You Comin'?

Michael Jackson’s first hit was called “I Want You Back.” That’s my heart for 2022. I want to see our Sanctuary filled again on a regular basis. Re-building the church is a key priority.
 
Across the nation, a Barna survey reported in November that in-person church attendance is down 30% to 50% from pre-COVID numbers. Even with vaccinations and the easing of restrictions. That’s across the nation. Now we’re an exceptional church in many ways, so our attendance is on the good end of that statistic. But we’re still down. And I want you back!
 
Of course, surges in COVID from breakthrough variants have made all interaction risky; especially for people in groups at a higher risk for dire complications. We get that. Health conditions and age-factors are real concerns. And it never seems to stop: Omicron has swept through the world and it will be another several weeks until it begins to dissipate. 
 
But virus avoidance has not been the only factor! The most common reason is that we just got used to “watching” at home. Or staying home and not watching. Isolation became comfortable. Getting up, dressed and out became a chore. Discovering all the other things there are to do on a Sunday morning became enjoyable. And we seemed to get along just fine without attending.
For church leadership, two ways to address this loss are open to us. One is to try to win the church by enticing consumers to make a consumer choice. “Come to church. It’s great! It’s a better experience to be in a live audience. We’ve got new screens. We’ve got amazing music. The nursery is clean and safe. Among all your choices, choose us!” Yes, we could go that route. And I think I could make a pretty good pitch for the “product” we offer. 
 
But the other route seems deeper, more Biblical and ultimately more compelling. We need to work on our ecclesiology. That’s a big word that just means what we think about what the church is. In other words, why does God summon his people to praise him as living stones joined together rather than just as individuals? What makes a church as the body of Christ different than any other voluntary organization? How passionate is Jesus about the faithfulness of his bride, the church? And how interconnected is the gathered worship of the church to the effectiveness of the mission of the church?
 
We’ll be talking about that in 2022. Not guilt, but challenge. Not advertisement, but inspiration. Not fluff, but substance. I want you back. More importantly, Christ wants you back! You comin’?
 

Pew Prayer Partners

We are a church that believes in prayer! If I had an opportunity to share all the answers to prayers that I have witnessed during my five and a half years here, I would need many hours to do so! God hears his children and responds in ways that he knows are best, whether the answer to a prayer request is “yes,” “no” or “not yet” (See Matthew 7: 7, John 15: 7-8, and 1 John 5: 14-15).
 
Your Teaching Elders (pastors) and Ruling Elders, as well as our Prayer Partners, intercede on your behalf for what we receive from you via your completed prayer cards on Sundays, as well as emails and calls that come in each day of each week. Our Prayer Room by the Sanctuary building elevator is staffed with pastors/elders and others following the 9 am service. On Fridays, our weekly Prayer Sheet is emailed to hundreds of intercessors and can also be found in printed form in the Connection Center. Now we have yet another way to pray!
 
Previously delayed by COVID, I’m excited to announce that we will add a team of “Pew Prayer Partners” to what we are already doing in the realm of prayer ministry! They will be available near the front and back of the Sanctuary following each service beginning Sunday, February 13, including two following the Dunham Chapel service. They will be wearing tags that ask, “How Can I PRAY for you?” If you feel more comfortable asking someone to quietly pray by your side rather than sharing your request in the Prayer Room before a group of people, look for a Pew Prayer Partner. He or she will gladly sit with you to lift up any requests for you. Here’s to God who said, “Ask and you shall receive!”
 

Participating in God's Economy

I read an article some weeks back that began with the words, “God is exceedingly rich. He is like a businessman who has an enormous amount of capital. He has a business in this universe and his vast wealth is his capital . . . all of this capital is simply himself.” Think about that. What is God’s “business?” In Matthew Chapter 16, Jesus’ words to Peter are,“I will build my church.”
 
Within this universe that God himself created ex nihilo, he is building something; his Church, the Body of Christ. He adds to his Church daily those who are being saved by grace through faith in his Son. And then, by his Holy Spirit in us, we are the Body of Christ and, miracle of miracles, God chooses to make his appeal for reconciliation through us.
 
Throughout the ages, that “appeal” has taken on different appearances and methods but the message is always the same. It is the simplicity of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is how God builds his Church and how we participate in the construction.
In our time and culture, capital (cash, money, assets) makes possible the spread of God’s love and his good news in many different ways. At First Presbyterian, we have invested in “building up” Gardere Christian Community School through educational excellence founded in the life of Christ. We’ve planted a church in New Orleans, the Church of the Resurrection, to bring Christ to so many who desperately need him. We have partnered for orphan care and education with Bethany Centre in Uganda and for the rescue of sex trafficked women through Global Transformation Ministries in Medellin, Colombia. 
 
Our “Building Up” effort in the fall of last year, exceeded our goal of $1.5 million by over $600,000. I pray that you were able to feel God’s pleasure with your cheerful giving. It is part of building up God’s  Church.
 
Even in the face of this seemingly never-ending pandemic, your faithfulness in giving to your church has made continuation of our worship, ministry and over 30 ministry partnerships in Baton Rouge uninterrupted. It is such a joy to see so many give so much for so great a cause as God’s purpose of building up his  Church. 
 
One last observation by your Ministry Executive. Each year almost 34% of our giving arrives at the end of the year in November and December. This means we run a deficit during the first ten months of the year. But we build our budget based on this dynamic. Likewise, a large number of us wait until as late as February to send in our estimates of giving (pledges). This means that we enter the new year not having yet received pledges from those who pledged last year. It is more comfortable to develop a budget based on pledges received rather than pledges not yet received. These two dynamics of pledging and giving certainly keep things exciting around our business office between November and February. But you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way. Seeing your faithfulness year in and year out is such an incredible blessing and reminder that God will continue to build his Church and make his appeal through the likes of us. Happy New Year!
 

O. . . O. . . O. . . Merry Christmas!

Of all the prayers made in all the world, not very many get recorded. And almost all of the prayers written down are buried or lost within a few years. The sift of history is both brutal and clarifying. Only a few prayers survive in use for centuries.
 
This Advent, we’re looking at seven of those survivors. The “O Prayers” will guide our preparation for Christmas. They’re so named because each starts with “O,” followed by a title for Christ found in the Old Testament. These seven names for Jesus tap into our deepest human longings. We all yearn for the key, wait for the dawn, ache to know the root and source of our life, and desperately hope that God is with us. We’ll be exploring the Scriptures underlying these prayers in preaching, music, visual art and daily readings. You’ll be amazed how relevant prayers from the 6th century are to daily life in the 21st!
 
So, be sure to pick up a copy of your Advent reading guide. This will lead you through the Scriptures that inspired the “O Prayers,” as well as give you the prayers themselves, poems based on these prayers by our friend Malcolm Guite, and the words to the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Also, mark your calendars for the Christmas cantata December 19. It’s a commissioned work based on—wait for it—the O Prayers! Also, several artists in our church have contributed artwork inspired by these prayers. This will take us to Christmas Eve where I’ll be preaching at 11 am, 4 pm and 6 pm on what it means that Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. I love to do Christmas with you, dear congregation, and I’m so thankful we can be fully back in our beloved Sanctuary.
 
Astounded
 
Your response to both the Building Up campaign for mission and the 2022 stewardship has been astounding. You move me deeply with the faith that leads to such generosity. These ties between our church and key mission partners will nourish our faith for years to come. I can’t wait to share the numbers with you once all the pledges are in. Meanwhile, we will surge into the work of the church for 2022, riding on God’s leading and your dedication. Thank you for loving your Lord so well through your church!
 
 

Just Return It!

My mother was the queen of returning things. No receipt? No problem! No original packaging? Perfectly fine! My mother loved to shop. The merchants loved my mother. She enjoyed an ongoing relationship with them. Her loyalty and frequency gave her license to make returns as desired. Returning is part of trusted commerce.
 
We can apply this to our relationship to God! The psalmist asked “What shall I return to the LORD for all his goodness to me (Psalm 116: 12)?" He had been in an exchange with God. Life had turned dire. The psalmist had cried out to the God who made him. The Lord answered with deliverance from death and an abundance of mercy. So the writer wanted to make an offering of thanks. He wanted to return, to reply to God in grateful acknowledgement. So we can say it again, with a spiritual twist: Returning is part of trusted commerce.  
 
As Christ’s people, we live in the economy of his love. He continues to do miraculous business with us. He trades forgiveness for our sins. He swaps his peace for our anxiety. He exchanges everlasting life for our mortality. This commerce is so miraculous, we joyfully want to respond! To return thanks. To give back. To live as he directs so he will be pleased. 
 
In this season of thanksgiving, we lift the festive cup in holy communion. We “cheers” the Lord who has given us nothing less than himself. We set aside a special day for gratitude. In days when we lived closer to the land, such a day was set between harvest time and the arrival of winter. Once “all was safely gathered in,” it was time to bless the Giver. 
 
That’s why I find spiritual significance in making the dedication of our gifts to God in this season. Grateful for his provision in the year that is finishing, we trust his bounty to come in the New Year. We make a thankful return, putting financial gifts to God’s work together with our prayers of gratitude. We mirror our God’s generous overflowing heart. 
Every November we do this as we make commitments to Christ’s work through our church for the following year.
 
This year, we can step further into that deep joy through the Building Up campaign. To give, over and above our usual pledges, out toward others, when there is no visible return to our church—that will launch us into the wonder of God’s wondrous commerce. The spiritual return we will receive will be full of love, connection, participation and hope. November 14 is Dedication Sunday. I hope we will swell the House for this joyful celebration. Your elders are passionate about making this return. I know that, having made my pledge already, I am only more thankful to be your pastor,  
 
Gerrit
 
 

Click the Link!

I know that I’ve rotted my brain through an overload of internet information. But it’s just so fun to follow one idea to the next! Don’t you love it when there’s a handy link to the next topic you want to know about? I marvel at how interconnected all knowledge is, if you just know how to make the links.
 
But I really shouldn’t be surprised. The Triune God made all there is. He made the universe with interconnections that hold at the deepest level. The more we know, the more we find there is to explore, and the more we explore, the more beautiful the cosmos is revealed to be. For creation reflects the beauty of the Mind of the Maker.
 
In Scripture, we see that the Holy Spirit is the great connector. He is the link. By the Holy Spirit, Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary. The Spirit linked up the Son of God with our humanity. The Triune God clicked the link at Christmas! By the Spirit, faith is conceived inside someone who hears the gospel. The Spirit links up the Son of God to particular believers. We click the link of faith and get joined to Jesus. By the Spirit, all believers are linked to each other. We share “one body and one Spirit . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4: 4-5). We click the link of awareness to this Biblical truth and suddenly we are no longer alone. We are in fellowship with believers across continents, cultures and even centuries!
 
How do we click the link that makes us aware of how linked in all Christians are? 1) We read, trust and contemplate the truth of our communion from Scripture. 2) We pray knowing we join our voices with “the great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12: 1) who praise Jesus. We also pray for these other believers, thanking God for them and asking him to sustain and grow Christian communities wherever they are. 3) We engage in mission with other Christians. That’s the great value in short term mission trips. We begin to see the beautiful reality of the world church. We realize we are part of one great Mission. 
 
And of course, that’s the spiritual beauty of our Building Up campaign. While none of the money goes directly to our church, the benefits to our community of Christ are manifold! Having made and started to pay our pledge, already Rhonda and I feel like we are closer to Brian Miller in Medellin. The prayer keychain made by the women at Esther’s House just breaks my heart with gratitude for that mission. I feel more connected to the work at Gardere. I feel more joyful over Peter’s school in Uganda. I believe Ben when he says Church of the Resurrection gives regular thanks for us
 
I know that Building Up: Taking Missions to the Next Level is not about us. But O do we get a great benefit! When we click the link to the pledge tab on our website, we click the link to joyful connection to what God is doing around the world. The one Spirit joins us to all believers engaged in Jesus’ one mission. It’s a powerful joy!   
 
Kirkin’ Time October 31
 
Wear your plaids, your kilts and your tweeds as we celebrate the Scottish roots of our Presbyterian faith on Reformation Sunday with one 10 am service October 31. We'll also have our fall congregational meeting to vote on the slate of new elders and deacons presented by the Nominating Committee. After worship, all are invited to enjoy brunch (love offering will be taken). Face painting, a balloon artist and games will be offered for the children. Registration not required. 
 
Clan Tartans for the Kirkin’
 
We want your clan’s tartan to be represented in the Sanctuary at the annual Kirkin’ O’ the Tartans. Contact Jaci Gaspard to see about including yours (jaci@fpcbr.org or 620.0221). 
 
I’m so grateful to be in mission with you, and even more so, I love being your pastor, 
 
Gerrit
 

Look Out!

As we go to press with the September newsletter, Ida has passed through. Donations can be made to FPC Hurricane Relief using the button below. Call the office to volunteer for clean-up teams. 
 
Where are we going as a church? That’s always a relevant question. The answer, if we are faithful, is always some form of “in and out.” We’re pressing into the person and events of Jesus. We’re pushing out with his gospel to the world. Same old mission. Always and forever! But every season, if a church has energy and passion, that answer expresses itself in fresh ways.
 
This fall, we’re pressing in through a worship focus on Paul’s first letter to the young church in the Greek town of Thessalonica. It’s a beautiful, heartfelt message of encouragement. In Sunday school, two of our adult classes are studying Gospels: Mark and John. Our children and parents will be receiving copies of The Gospel Story Bible and their classes will focus on learning the big story of the Triune God’s redeeming work. The women’s studies will take up Esther; youth will study Gospel Foundations in Sunday School and Hebrews in midweek studies. Confirmation students study the Greatest Bible Stories of all time. Do you see a pattern here? We’re questing to meet Christ through Scripture all over the place. Meanwhile we interweave all of that with prayer and care for one another. 
 
But I think you’ll notice most a ramping up of our looking out.  Every week as part of worship, we will hear from our ministry and mission partners. We’ll hear ways to participate, whether it’s mentoring students, encouraging teachers, hosting international students or working with us on our seventh (!) Habitat House. That’s right, once more our church will work side by side with a new homeowner to construct a dwelling. Terrence Carter is a stroke survivor, the father of two sons, and a man of faith eager to partner with us. That all begins at the end of the month.
 
We’ll also introduce our first capital campaign in over a decade. Only it’s not to raise funds for us. We will be seeking to raise $1.5 million for building projects for four key mission partners. Imagine a whole over and above campaign to advance the gospel beyond us: an expansion at Gardere Christian School, a cottage for young women rescued from sex trafficking in Medellin, a high school and dorms in Uganda, helping Church of the Resurrection purchase a permanent site in New Orleans. We’ll be hearing lots more about the Building Up campaign in the coming weeks. I’m thrilled we’re daring to dream of investing so significantly in mission beyond our walls.  I love to be on this journey with you, both “in” toward Christ and “out” to the world!
 
 
 

The Deeper Challenge in Cancel Culture

The strife is everywhere. Between friends. Between family members. Between generations. A great divide seems to have opened up. Everything seems political. Everything seems to be about race. Everyone is always offended. We hate the conflict but don’t really even understand it. What’s going on?
 
The church of Jesus faces particular challenges. We know we are sent to the most difficult and desperate people and places with the gospel of Christ. We know Jesus loved the outcast and challenged the powerful. We resonate with the yearning for equality. Yet we feel that something is amiss in the demands for justice that want to deconstruct the way we’ve always lived. It’s hard to sort out Christian compassion from “woke” compulsion. 
 
The mission of the church remains the same: to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth, to regard everyone in the loving light of Christ. Yet we face increasing hostility. In fact, we face competition. There is a worldview competing with us for adherents. A religion that wants to replace us. It’s a religion of harsh legalism and burning urgency that demands total allegiance. It’s a promise of an earthly utopia that has no blue print except dismantling structures deemed oppressive. It resists being identified and wants everyone to view the world through its lens as the “normal” way of seeing. 
 
Call it cancel culture, cultural Marxism, woke theology, or simply “justice, equity and diversity.” Whatever the label, it has a source. The technical name is Critical Theory. Christians of all ages need to understand the view of the world that underlies so much of today’s discussions. We need to be able to grasp what’s being said in order to evaluate if it’s really compatible with the gospel.
 
Our “Stay-Treat” on August 20-21 will feature three dynamic
 presentations by an expert in Critical Theory. Dr. Neil Shenvi brings the rigor of his background in theoretical chemistry along with his unique ability to present complex issues clearly. You can read more about Neil at shenviapologetics.com
 
Please plan to join us. And bring a car load! We can’t afford not to understand what’s going on in our current cultural conversations.
 
The Deeper Challenge in Cancel Culture
First Presbyterian Stay-Treat, August 20-21
 
Talk 1: "Critical Social Justice and Christianity: Are They Compatible?"
Talk 2: "Critical Race Theory: A Deep Dive"
Talk 3: "Christianity and Justice: Cautions and Suggestions"
 
 
 
 
 

Pew Prayer Partners

Have you glanced at our church website lately regarding “Care” ministry and “Prayer” ministry? I often find myself and over 100 volunteers who serve in this ministry caring for those who need pastoral counseling, crisis-intervention, hospital visitation, homebound communion, bereavement services, care card ministry, marriage mentoring, grief care, recovery ministry, meal ministry and looking after our elderly members. Yet, without prayer, there would be no true care. That’s why I thank the Lord for setting the record straight regarding the preeminence of prayer above anything else we do to show others God’s care. 
 
We are a church that believes in prayer. I’m always amazed by the many people who daily lift up the concerns of members and others in our lives. If I had an opportunity to share all the answers to prayers that I have witnessed during my five years here, I would need many hours to do so! God hears his children and responds in ways that he knows are best, whether the answer to a prayer request is “yes,” “no,” or “not yet” (See Matthew 7: 7, John 15: 7-8, and 1 John 5: 14-15).
 
Every week, Christ’s people at FPC gather to ask for his tender mercies on behalf of others. Requests are lifted up during worship services and by our elders, staff and other prayer partners throughout the week. We also have a Prayer Room by the Sanctuary building elevator staffed with pastors/elders and others who are willing to intercede on your behalf following the 9 am service. On Fridays, praises and prayers are emailed to those who join us in asking God to intervene on behalf of our people and others. During the week, you may call me, the church office or write us at prayer@fpcbr.org with any special requests. You can indicate if you want the request to remain confidential or if you would like it to be shared with other trusted prayer partners. 
 
Now I’m very excited to announce a new way in which we can cast all our concerns on him as he cares for us (1 Peter 5: 7)! Pew Prayer Partners will be available beginning September 12 near the front and back of the Sanctuary following each service and in the Dunham Chapel following each service. You’ll see them wearing tags asking “How Can I PRAY for you”? If you feel more comfortable asking someone to quietly pray with you rather than sharing your request in the Prayer Room, look for a Pew Prayer Partner. He or she will be happy to sit with you to lift up any requests for you. Here’s to the God who said, “Ask and you shall receive!” 
 
 

The Blessing of New Leadership

At the end of last year, the session appointed a search committee to find an Assistant Pastor for Children, Youth and Family Ministry. We wanted to elevate and deepen our ministry to young people. Elder Will Adams led the team, along with Cheryl Broadnax, Ryan Castle, Boyd Greene and Kelly Wood: all of them parents of children and youth. It was a delight to work with them. And we believe the Spirit led us straight to one stellar young man! Colton Underwood is nearing completion of his Master of Divinity from Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson. The last two years he has been working with youth and families in his internship at First Presbyterian Church of Yazoo City. Colton is originally from Indiana. He fell in love with a pastor’s daughter and married Rachel five years ago. A graduate of Purdue University, Colton is an avid runner, adventurer, scholar and foodie. He is a delightful young man and together he and Rachel make a winsome pair. His vibrant faith, graciousness and personal discipline will energize our pastoral team and congregation. Colton and Rachel arrive in early August to begin working with our children and youth and lead those staff teams. We expect his ordination to the EPC to occur this time next year. Please pray for the Underwoods and get ready to give them a great Baton Rouge welcome.
 
 
Baton Rouge Christian Counseling Center
 
In 1991, we asked Dee Adams to be the founding director and first therapist at our new counseling center. Dee has led this ministry for more than thirty years! BRCCC has served thousands of clients and developed a sparkling reputation in our city. This July, Dee will step aside from directing BRCCC, though she will continue to counsel part-time. 
 
After a careful search, the board of the center was led to choose one of our current counselors to lead our center. You’ll know her! Sherry Kadair has been a counselor at BRCCC since 2011 and a member of our church since 2014. Sherry is currently a deacon and serves in both the media and music ministries. Sherry has been married to Howard since 2007. She holds an MA from Denver Theological Seminary and specializes in trauma care. Sherry also has significant experience in the business world and will bring great administrative skills, a cheery spirit, loving heart, warm comradery and a strong sense of the mission of the center and the church. Please pray for her as she steps into the huge role shaped by our founding director. 
 
July 4 falls on a Sunday this year and I’m already at work on a message called “American Privilege: Gospel Imperative.” I hope you’ll be there for this important topic as we begin a month of single services at 10.30. We’ll enjoy some great guests this summer as well with Ben Cunningham from our daughter church, Church of the Resurrection, and Albert White from Abounding Love Ministries. I hope you’ll get some refreshment and precious time with family this summer. We’re looking forward to a few weeks in the mountains, but know that you will always be on our minds and hearts. 
 
I remain delighted to be your pastor,
Gerrit
 
 

Stepping Down As Director of BRCCC

It has been the biggest honor of my life to serve as the founding director of Baton Rouge Christian Counseling Center. BRCCC started July 1, 1991 and I step down on July 1, 2021; exactly 30 years to the day. I came when I was 37 with big hair and am now 67 battling gray hair.  On the first of July, I will give the reins of the Center over to the very able hands of one of our counselors, Sherry Kadair, MA, LPC.  
 
My ministry was the ministry of showing up year after year. There’s something to be said for just showing up and getting to see first-hand what God had in store for YOUR Counseling Center. And he had much in store! I’ve witnessed the coming and going of the 17,000 clients that he brought to BRCCC. Because of Russ Stevenson’s, and later Gerrit’s support, the Center has been able to provide more than 145,000 client hours. And we’ve only just begun.  
 
I’ve also witnessed the coming and going of many FPC and BRCCC staff, many gifted Christian counselors and many, many wonderful BRCCC Board of Governor members over 30 years. 
 
I’ve had tremendous support from the church, this awesome church. I’m blessed to be able to continue counseling here as I shed the administrative part of my job. And I’ll continue leading the “Created for Connection” couples’ workshops – with one at FPC in October. I’m so very thankful. I can’t say that enough.   
 
Although I’m not a member, given my 30 years, my husband Pete and I have been granted special permission to be buried in the FPC Columbarium, which sits just below the window where I counsel. For now I will continue to be a part-time counselor at BRCCC and I will one day be buried there–so I will be at First Presbyterian for a long time!
 

Do You???

“Do You. . . ?” That’s the question we ask five times to our confirmation students. Just like we do to any new members. They are some heavy questions. Here they are condensed. Do you acknowledge you’re a sinner? Do you believe in Jesus as the Savior of sinners and the Lord of your life? Do you promise to live as a follower of Christ? Do you promise to participate as a member of this church? Do you agree to the oversight of this session? Like I said, big questions about what matters most in life. This Sunday, 30 sixth grade students will answer those questions as the culmination of nine months of study, prayer, discipleship and interaction with elders, pastors and teachers.  We’ve approached these questions on multiple levels. Because this is what matters most. Do you want to be all in with Jesus?  Pray for them this Sunday afternoon as they answer a joyful Yes to all these questions!
 
And now a five pack of notes for this May.
  
• Last year, the church received a PPP loan from the government to cover us should COVID cause a drop in our revenues. That loan gave us confidence to keep all our Mother’s Day Out teachers on at full pay and to keep all our staff going. But ultimately, we didn’t need it. Because our dear members came through with stunning giving. So last week, we sent it back, with interest. After much deliberation, the session determined that returning these funds was God’s direction for us, an act of trust and freedom.
 
• The session approved $59,000 in grants, including support for five seminary students, a girls’ dormitory in Uganda and a vehicle for a professor at African Bible College. This is your Foundation at work reaching the world!
 
• On Mother’s Day, we give thanks for that most important and difficult of jobs: rearing children in love and wisdom. Through natural birth, adoption, fostering, aunting, teaching and mentoring, women have been giving the gifts of motherhood to our community. How grateful we are!
 
• This summer, opportunities abound for children and youth to go deeper in Christ and further into the world. Camps, mission trips, Vacation Bible School and fun youth activities. Stay tuned for details.
 
• On Sunday, May 30, we will have one combined worship service at 10.30. In June we’ll continue with three Sunday services before single services return in July. 
 
Isn’t it great to be together again?
 
As ever, I love being your pastor.
 
 

What Are We Doing About Masks?

Updated May 14, 2021:
 
Beginning this Sunday, we are lifting our masking requirement at worship! We trust people to make their own decisions regarding their safety and health in this environment. How grateful we are that the grip of this pandemic is loosening and we can return to worshiping with “unveiled faces.”
 
April 29, 2021:
 
Our session has decided to ask worshipers to wear masks through May 23. Why? Well, as Nick Saban might say, it’s about respecting the process.
 
A significant number of our attendees are still completing the vaccination process. As much as we all want to rip away these annoying coverings and sing out freely, we know that waiting just a bit longer allows anyone who wants to be immunized against COVID to do so. After May 23, we can each make our own personal decisions about attendance and masking.
 
Hang in there beloved church. Soon, very soon, we’ll be singing with unfettered hearts—and faces! Believe me, I’m longing to see your dear faces when I preach!
 
 

Joyful Relief

One of the joys of hurricane relief is spending time with homeowners as we work on repairs. One of the families we met in March was Angie and Tim Brown from Iowa, Louisiana. We were tasked with repairing the patio soffit and then priming and painting fascia boards all around the home. Our team of volunteers replaced the broken soffit and continued to put two finish coats on the exterior of the Brown’s home over the course of four weeks. The contractors working on the inside of the home are hoping to complete the interior by Memorial Day. The move-in date is set for June 1. Our church family will help them move in. JOIN US.
 
We are asking the FPCBR congregation to come alongside the Brown family and help us restock their pantry by donating a pound of rice, beans, canned goods, paper products or maybe a gift card for supplies we do not know they need. If you are interested in blessing Angie and Tim’s pantry and home, please drop off these items in the gym on the Hurricane Relief tables labeled for the Brown family by June 1. Please put all gift cards in an envelope labeled, “Angie & Tim Brown” and bring to Laura Shaw’s desk in the church office. This is another beautiful opportunity to care for a family in need. 
 
Beginning May 10, a team of skilled sheetrock hangers is coming from Hope Presbyterian Church in Memphis, TN. The goal is to sheetrock six homes in five weeks. Our church will purchase the sheetrock and all that is needed to complete this project by June 14. If you desire to make a donation for this ongoing work in Iowa and Lake Charles, please go online to fpcbr.org and look for Hurricane Relief. Our church family has spent sixty days since Hurricane Laura came onshore on August 28, 2020 helping and assisting with hurricane recovery. If you are ever interested in joining us on Wednesdays and Saturdays, please SHOW UP! If you have any questions, please call me at 225.810.2607. THANK YOU for all your help and support the past eight months!
 
Posted in: Missions

Three Great Days . . . Forever!

One event across three days. That’s how Christ’s Church came to understand what happened from the Last Supper to Easter morning. This was the Triduum: the three great and holy days when Jesus made his passage through death into resurrection life. Every moment interlocked in meaning and significance.  
 
In Jesus’ time, days began at sunset the night before. So when we gather for the Service of Shadows on Thursday, we’re beginning our remembering of Good Friday.  We meditate on his agony in Gethsemane. We retell the story of Jesus’ passion. Then we walk into our terraced garden where the tomb is set up. We sing “Were You There?” as the tomb, along with our hope, is sealed. 
 
On Saturday morning, we listen quietly to psalms Jesus prayed. We enter the silence of the King’s sleep between death and resurrection, his remaining under the power of death all that lonely day. We take a breath between cross and resurrection.
 
Then on Sunday we begin to meet at first light to rejoice that the stone is rolled away, the Savior is up—risen--having defeated death and opened eternity to us. 
 
With the church across the world and through the ages, during the Triduum, we remember in a special way. The past becomes present. We remember so that what happened then can be part of our spiritual experience this moment. These real events are not lost in dusty history. They are the most potent facts in all of life, right now!  
 
I’ll be preaching Easter morning on “Three Easter Truths You Can’t Live Without!” It’s a great day to bring a neighbor or a friend. At 9 and 11, worship will be live in the Sanctuary and livestreamed to the terrace garden. We’ll have a huge wall of LED screens set up outside with a live worship leader and coming forward for communion. So you can choose, inside or outside! 6.30 sunrise will be just in the garden, with room for over 200, and a light breakfast to follow. I’m so eager to keep Easter in person with you, dear church!
 
Later this month, we take a pause between sermon series and I will give some topical messages, including “The Questions Graduating Seniors Ask” and “Cultivating Resistant, Resilient and Renovative Christian Community.”  
 
Beloved Pastor Emeritus 
 
Our beloved pastor emeritus, Russ Stevenson and his wife Sherill moved this January to a retirement community in Virginia. We will miss their worshiping in our Sanctuary, but his legacy will never be forgotten. If you’d like to get in touch, the church office has their new address. 
 
August Stay-Treat
 
I’m truly energized that Christian apologist, Dr. Neil Shenvi has agreed to conduct a stay-treat for us in August. A theoretical chemist by profession and theologian by avocation, Dr. Shenvi contends for our faith with remarkable clarity. He will give three presentations taking us through the current debate on what makes for Biblical justice, exposing the fallacies of critical theory while challenging us to do the work of gospel reconciliation. Take a Google at him and get excited!
 

Haven't You Missed It????

Palm Sunday. Easter Morning. Service of Shadows. It was so weird to lead those services looking into the lens of an iPhone. But this year we’re back! Palm Sunday is March 28. We plan to use the main parking lot for an outdoor service with palms and a procession of children. 10 am service, followed by egg hunts and a balloon artist for children in the garden areas and light snacks for the rest of us. 
 
On Easter morning, April 4, we plan to use the terraced garden to its full capacity. First for the Sunrise service at 6.30 am. This will be a complete worship service including communion and then biscuits and coffee to follow.  At 9 am, the festive service will be in the Sanctuary but also livestreamed to the terraced garden!  Same at 11. No tickets or reservations. Come to the Sanctuary for “live” worship, come to the garden for “livestreamed” and overflow.  
 
Holy Thursday will return April 1 at 7 pm with the Service of Shadows in the Sanctuary followed by a visit to the tomb in the garden. And we will keep the eerie reflection of Holy Saturday on April 3 at 11 am in the Sanctuary. How sweet it will be to be back!
 
Your elders recently spent a weekend retreat considering what it means to cultivate resistant, resilient and renovative Christian community. We all read Rod Dreher’s book Live Not by Lies in preparation. The book identifies our excessive focus on individualism and personal comfort as well as the rise of cultural Marxism as two key factors diminishing the church. Bouncing from that work, our task was to consider how reclaiming Christ-centered distinction not only protects the church but makes us better at reaching our community. We noted the importance of learning to recognize the worldviews which shape people and what makes the Christian worldview distinct and generative.  Twelve different small groups then met to consider specific ideas for our church in areas such as discipleship, worship, children’s ministry and reaching the business community. I’m looking forward to doing a vision sermon based on this retreat April 18. 
 
Meanwhile, what a joy it is to be reading these Scriptures about being “in Christ” with you. I’m finding them nourishing and challenging all over again. Best of all, we’re praying and reading together, wherever we are, one body of Christ. No wonder I love being your pastor,
 
Gerrit
 
 

Our Tasks Before Our Time

With doctor’s orders to lie face down staring at the floor for up to two weeks following emergency surgery on a detached retina, I have become thankful to the Great Physician for not only allowing me to keep a proper posture in praying for each of you but also for all your prayers for me! I’ve also had some thoughts to share. Having faced 22 deaths in only 6 weeks (two to COVID), I’ve been asking again about each of our tasks before our time. What came to mind for myself and each of us as members of the Body of Christ and FPCBR is the difference between unity and uniformity in a culture that may have confused the two.
 
True unity doesn’t require uniformity in meeting a common goal. God’s goals may be mysterious when it comes to understanding his purpose for our particular paths in life. Yet, his goal is clear when it comes to determining his purpose for the church: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . .” (Matthew 28: 19-20). We can only fulfill this great commission by being empowered by the Holy Spirit individually in order to serve as God’s witnesses collectively, as Christ Jesus said “. . . you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1: 8). Then we can go deeper in Christ and further into the world effectively.
      
Much of the power of the Holy Spirit comes in the form of the gifts from the Holy Spirit. Yet, in our use of these gifts, the saying that “united we stand, divided we fall” holds true for the church perhaps even more so than for other organizations. Why? Because Jesus himself said that non-believers will know that we belong to him not by our gifts but by our fruit (Matthew 7: 20), the fruit of love leading to unity being the greatest of them all (1 Corinthians 13: 13, Galatians 5: 22-23). This makes us true witnesses of Christ.
      
This great witness of Christ in us and through us as a body of believers can only take place when we have unity in the midst of diversity. Unlike uniformity, unity doesn’t require that we all look, act and think the same way, nor does having one voice require that we all sound the same. Rather, unity requires that diversity doesn’t become a threat but a treat. It requires that we learn to appreciate one another’s differences rather than be threatened or annoyed by them. It also requires that we accept the gifts God has given us, not wishing that we had someone else’s gifts, nor thinking that we can choose our gifts, but realizing that the Gift-Giver saw fit to give us just what we have in order to fulfill the purpose he has.
      
You are needed by the church in order for the church to fulfill its purpose, and yet, you need the church in order to fulfill yours. The church is not complete without you, and you are not complete without the church. Yet, God is sovereign in determining your role in the grand scheme of things. And although we may not understand how God picks and chooses who does what in the body of believers, we can have unity in fulfilling our purpose when we’re more concerned about the “common good” (1 Corinthians 12: 7) than our own. Let’s do so! And again, thank you for praying for me as I pray for y’all! 
 
 
 

You're Weird!

You're weird! Not like everybody else. Unique in the world. Different than most.
 
After all, what Muslim says “I live in Mohammed?” What practicing Buddhist says, “I spoke with Siddhartha this morning?” What existentialist says “I am in organic union with Camus?” What atheist says “I have a mystical link to Richard Dawkins?” But you say all those things about Jesus! We Christians are “in Christ.” We speak with the historical founder of our faith personally and presently. His Spirit links us to Jesus and to each other the way parts of a human body are linked to the whole. That’s weird—if you’re on the outside looking in. But such wonder is normal for those who have been joined to Jesus.
 
This Lent, we’re going to explore what it means that our truest home is Jesus himself. We’re going to pursue the mystery of what Paul meant by being “in Christ.” We’ll see how living in Christ and from Christ lights up everything in our lives. John Calvin called it a “mystical union” and declared it to be of highest importance to our faith. 
 
Honestly, engaging in this study will change your life. Like discovering priceless treasure you hadn’t known you possessed. Like tapping into an endless supply of energy. Like coming home. Like finally living in Reality. We’ll be drawing from more than 85 Scriptures as well as the writings of experienced spiritual masters such as James Stewart and Andrew Murray. We’re questing for the very heart of Christian experience. We’re going to claim our distinctive faith. Yep, we’re weird. Gloriously, joyfully so!
 
The week of February 14, your elders, deacons and pastors will be bringing your Lent books to your house! It’s a quick, safe drop off. But we wanted to be sure, in these COVID times, that every member gets a copy before February 21 when the daily readings begin. You can get extra copies at church and also sign up for daily emails. Smaller, well-distanced 6 week home groups will also begin. We hope participating with others will help to reknit our congregation after so long apart.
 
I’m so eager to join you on this journey deeper into Christ our true home!
 
 
Assistant Pastor Search
 
We have begun the search for a pastor for children, youth and families. Please pray for God to guide us and bring the right person to this crucial position. Also, feel free to refer suggestions to elder Will Adams. The search committee would like to hear from parents about what they think is important in this role and what qualities we should look for in candidates. To that end, we’ll be hosting two Zoom calls. Monday evening, February 8 at 7 pm and Tuesday morning, February 9 at 11 am. We’ll send parents an invitation by email soon.
 
 

Music Is Evocative

Victor Hugo once wrote: “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.”
 
Every culture, past or present, has expressed itself musically. There are no exceptions. Music is a powerful cultural force. The anecdotal experiences of individuals anywhere in the world testify to it. Neuroscience validates it. Music activates places in us that might remain inactive otherwise—places where ideas, emotions and truths dwell.
 
Sometimes, when we make music in the Lord’s house, an interesting dilemma presents itself. It is an ancient dilemma. Early in the 5th century, Augustine wrote in The Confessions: 
 
. . . I realize that when they are sung these sacred words stir my mind to greater religious fervor and kindle in me a more ardent form of piety than they would if they were not sung; and I also know that there are particular modes in song and the voice, corresponding to my various emotions and able to stimulate them because of some mysterious relationship between the two. But I ought not to allow my mind to be paralyzed by the gratification of my senses, which often leads it astray. For the senses are not content to take second place. . . . (Book 10, Chapter 33, The Confessions)
 
During moments of musical worship, Augustine sometimes wondered if the beautiful music was moving him rather than the truths the music was conveying. I think it is good to give this some thought. Now, the point is not that we should try to avoid enjoying the beauty of music or being moved by it. Music, by God’s design, is evocative. 
 
The issue is a matter of sequence and motivation. So, when we come together, dear church, let us not wait for the swelling wave of the music to move us. Rather, let us make the waves by singing Truth—combining words, melodies, voices and instruments in ways that reverberate with eternal significance. Rest assured this will deeply gratify. Will always be beautiful.
 
When we gather as God’s people we do so as a royal priesthood. We meet to do the work of worship. Cues are given from the pulpit to the pew. But we all are tasked with sending the various offerings of worship upward to the throne room of the Most High. We harness the power of music as one way of doing the work of worship. It has been so since the days Moses led Israel through the Red Sea (Exodus 15). And according to John’s visions in Revelation 4, 5 and 7, it will remain so throughout all eternity. 
 

Lenten Small Groups

Every year during the Lenten season, our church gathers together in small groups throughout the Baton Rouge area for rich study of God’s Word and engaging fellowship. Despite the global pandemic, this year we will continue our beloved tradition! Just like previous years, Gerrit has written a wonderful Lenten guide; this year it is entitled In Christ Alone Discovering Where You Truly Live and will help us discover the beauty and wonder of our position in Christ. What will be different this year is the actual structure of our groups. Rather than larger groups formed by people signing up in the Reception Room after a service, this year we are hoping for smaller, more intimate groups primarily formed by friends gathering friends together. We are trusting God for 20-40 groups of 5-10 people each to meet in COVID friendly ways. Many of the groups will meet outside with social distancing in place, some will meet inside yet spread out and some will be online via Zoom. Each leader will decide what will be best for their group.  
 
We are excited that because the groups will be smaller in size, the interpersonal dynamics will be different as well—we think in a really good way. By being more intimate, there will be more opportunity to hear from one another how the daily/weekly Scripture reading is changing lives. There will also be more opportunity for prayer and shepherding one another toward going deeper in Christ.  
 
If you’re interested in leading by gathering some of your friends, please contact Kelly Wood at kelly@fpcbr.org. If you want to join a group but don’t know what group to join, Kelly can help you with that as well. We’d love to get you connected!
 
 

Lenten Small Groups

Every year during the Lenten season, our church gathers together in small groups throughout the Baton Rouge area for rich study of God’s Word and engaging fellowship. Despite the global pandemic, this year we will continue our beloved tradition! Just like previous years, Gerrit has written a wonderful Lenten guide; this year it is entitled In Christ Alone Discovering Where You Truly Live and will help us discover the beauty and wonder of our position in Christ. What will be different this year is the actual structure of our groups. Rather than larger groups formed by people signing up in the Reception Room after a service, this year we are hoping for smaller, more intimate groups primarily formed by friends gathering friends together. We are trusting God for 20-40 groups of 5-10 people each to meet in COVID friendly ways. Many of the groups will meet outside with social distancing in place, some will meet inside yet spread out and some will be online via Zoom. Each leader will decide what will be best for their group.  
 
We are excited that because the groups will be smaller in size, the interpersonal dynamics will be different as well—we think in a really good way. By being more intimate, there will be more opportunity to hear from one another how the daily/weekly Scripture reading is changing lives. There will also be more opportunity for prayer and shepherding one another toward going deeper in Christ.  
 
If you’re interested in leading by gathering some of your friends, please contact Kelly Wood at kelly@fpcbr.org. If you want to join a group but don’t know what group to join, Kelly can help you with that as well. We’d love to get you connected!
 
 

Looking Upward, Reaching Outward: 2021

We made it! 2020 is no more. If only turning the calendar would automatically restore the world. Change is coming, we know that. We have high hopes that the Covid vaccine will dramatically limit the virus. But will we ever go back to “normal?” A new presidential administration will certainly be different. Will it be good for the people of Christ who hold to our historical values? The tension about race and equality will tighten. Will it resolve in more harmony? It’s a new year and I’m daunted by the challenges already!
 
Thankfully, the church of Jesus does not retreat when the future seems uncertain. Your leadership certainly hasn’t. We are deeply committed to proclaiming the ancient gospel in a way that addresses the concerns of these times. We believe our highest purpose is public worship of the Triune God in word, song and prayer. We have good tidings to make known, a Lord to glorify and love to share. On January 24, you will hear our new officers take their ordination vows, committing themselves to the Lord Jesus, to his Word and to the work of his church. I’ve read their testimonies and heard their faith: you will be so moved by this upward call!
 
The session recently made commitments to direct nearly a million dollars over the next three years to fund our mission priorities. We are blessed to have endowment income through the McLaurin Trust and the church Foundation. Our policy is to never use such funds for the general mission, ministry and operation of the church: that’s the joyful job of current members. Rather, we push endowment income outward. So, we intend to support Gardere Community Christian School with $100,000 a year. We purpose to give $100,000 yearly to church planting, including $75,000 annually to the Church of the Resurrection, our thriving daughter church in New Orleans. And we plan on designating $125,000 a year for the Session Income Allocation Committee which makes recommendations for funding future leaders going to seminary as well as supporting other missions in our community. We’re determined to reach outward.
 
Meanwhile, your faith, participation and funding energizes the daily work of the church. Our partnerships with 30 local ministries continue to flourish (We’ve got a Habitat House to build in 2021!). And our members increasingly enter the mission field of their lives (whatever they are doing) with an awareness that they are Christ’s ambassadors in word and deed. A stellar staff team leads ministry with and to every age as we press into Christ and his Word. In fact, we want to raise the level of our commitment to children, youth and their families. The session recently approved a search for an Associate Pastor to energize and oversee that work.
 
By God’s grace and in the Spirit’s power, we’re propelling forward, dear church. We know how important it is that we hold tight to one another, sharing life in all its joys and pains as only a community of Christ can. I’m so glad to be traveling with you!
 

A Brighter Christmas!


The outpouring of love from everyone has made for a brighter Christmas for the children in Iowa, Louisiana. We have blessed 600 families with gifts that included bicycles, Barbie dolls, sports equipment, puzzles, books, board games and a variety of toys. The love continued with the purchase of food for 75 Christmas boxes which were delivered to the poor in Iowa. These residents were overwhelmed with your generosity this Christmas. Thank you from everyone in Iowa and especially for supporting all of our efforts the past four months in hurricane relief cleanup. A huge thank you to all of the volunteers who have traveled with me since August 30 and to our First Presbyterian Church family for donating money and resources to help our brothers and sisters in southwest Louisiana after two hurricanes! Relief work resumes January 6. Anyone is welcome to join us. We leave the church parking lot at 6.30 am sharp. Bring sturdy work gloves!

  

Posted in: Missions

Bringing Hope! Sharing Hope! Growing Hope!


January is National Mentoring Month. With joyful thanks to our God and the 18 FPC Mentors and Prayer Partners, Kids Hope USA celebrates its partnership with Gardere Community Christian School. We do not always know what these children are going through but we do know your generous gifts of prayers, time and attention to a caring relationship brings much HOPE to make a remarkable difference for these children!
 


How do we see the difference? It is seen in the teacher who gratefully shares,“I can really see a difference in my students.” In the many “thank yous.” In the smiles. In the increased effort to do better academically. In the student’s excitement to meet with their mentor. In the chance to be heard and encouraged. In character growing. In the joy of playing a game. In the security of being safe. In the casual conversations. In the prayers, the hope and so much more!
 
Please join us in prayers of thanks and praise for the three remaining 1st grade students hoping for a mentor, for additional building space for GCCS and for Kids Hope USA to continue to be embraced, to expand and to excel.
 
Thank you for sharing the love of Christ and bringing HOPE! 
 
“This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God” [2 Corinthians 9: 12].
 
Contact
Annette Lamond, Kids Hope USA Director   
First Presbyterian Church
225.773.8745  annette@fpcbr.org    
 
Our Mission:
Kids Hope USA builds life-changing relationships one at a time: One Child. One Hour. One Church. One School.
 
Our Belief:
We believe in Jesus’ way.
 
Our Values:
Children: Because every child matters.
Relationships: Because love is only possible person to person.
Faithfulness: Because if I say I will, I will.
Prayer: Because it is our language of hope.
 
Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world . . .  they are precious in his sight!
Posted in: Missions

A Christmas to Remember and a Year to Forget!

Ever since I was old enough to understand the concept, I’ve been sad when one year passes to another. But this year, well, I’m ready to be done with 2020! We’ve seen a ridiculous amount of upheavals followed by more upheavals. Fresh start, please!  
 
Thankfully, Christmas is coming. I’ll be pining for standing room only packed out live nativities and Christmas Eve services. But we can’t do any sardining now! Still, we’ve had our creative caps on trying to figure out how we can get all the people who want to keep Christmas with us attending in a safe way. Details are to follow, but we’re deep into exploring having outdoor services run concurrently with indoor services! Including one with animals! We’re considering implementing a ticket system so we don’t have to turn people away, but can offer folks a seat at that the service they choose in the venue they choose with good distancing. Yes, it’s going to be different. But when I think about being in the terraced garden, with a fire blazing in the fireplace, bundled up and raising our candles in the dark, it sounds pretty Christmassy to me! Pray for your elders ands staff as we make decisions, and watch our website and bulletins for more details.
 
Our December sermons will be built around Lost Verses of Famous Carols. We had a lot of fun several years ago uncovering seldom sung lyrics in beloved Christmas songs. Well, we’ve found some more little known words from O Little Town of Bethlehem, Silent Night, O Come All Ye Faithful and Hark! the Herald Angels Sing. So we not only get to sing these great carols, we get to dive deep into their content.
 
I’m very excited about the new advent calendar that’s been created for our daily readings during this sacred month. Beautifully designed by Katie Robinson, Katie Forsthoff and Mitzi Barber, the readings are coordinated with our sermons and include lovely breath prayers to take you deeper.
 
Meanwhile, we look forward to a special Sunday of music on December 13. The worship team and chancel choir will combine with an orchestra to present “Hail the Blessed Morn,” a program highlighting the rich musical tradition we have at our church through Christmas favorites.
 
 
Movies You’re Not Supposed to See
 
Tired of formulaic Christmas movies? Want to think more deeply about what’s going on in our society? I have three movies for you that challenge the status quo. Each is disturbing, provocative and rousing. I believe you can’t not view these films as part of the ongoing dialogue in our culture. Each one makes a well-produced, captivating watch. Unplanned. This is the story of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who discovered the economics of the abortion industry, the dehumanization of women clients, and the horror of the procedures. Uncle Tom: A Narrative History of Black Conservatism. Prominent African Americans challenge the narrative of dependence.  The Social Dilemma. Former creators and executives from Google, Instagram and Facebook warn of the monster they created through the algorithms of manipulation on our favorite media sites. A chilling warning. I’d love to hear how you respond.
 
Yes, 2020 may be a year to forget, but it only makes me more eager to keep a joyful Christmas with you dear flock!
 

Would I Feel Richer If . . .

Would I feel richer if I gave away less money? I asked myself that recently. Several annual commitments to mission groups had come due. We set up some college funds for the grandchildren. We sent some other people support. And of course we always make our church gift. Wow, we just got paid and it’s almost gone! What happened to the going-out-to-dinner money? And the new fall clothes allowance? I mean, what if we just stopped giving so much away? Would we be happier? Would it feel like my bank account was bigger? 
 
I thought hard about that. I tried on the possibility that I’d feel fuller if I had more cash staying home. For a second, it thrilled me. Man we could have some big fun! In another second, it scared me. Would I ever risk going back to not tithing? I recalled the weight of being responsible for finances without God. I shuddered remembering when the balance of our spending was weighted toward doing what we wanted to do. Burdened on the outside, thin on the inside. That’s how I felt in those years.
 
Then I thought about what it means to be invested in our church. To know we’re running in our lane, shoulder to shoulder with the remarkably committed believers here. If we weren’t prioritizing our church, I’d feel like a pretender in front of you. Instead, I know this is our family of faith. I fill up inside thinking of all our church is and does. And suddenly I feel humbled, even thankful that we get to contribute. That’s the word: we get to. And if we didn’t, I’d feel diminished, shut out, longing to find a tangible way to declare, “We’re in! We’re in with you.”
 
I thought about other ministries we love. And that’s the word: love. Our family loves Gardere, Dunham, Caring to Love, the Magruders and others. If we didn’t give, we’d have more money. But less love. Which means less joy.
 
I also realized how much I value living in the flow of God’s blessing love. He pours in, and in reply we try to pour out, responsibly but proportionally. If we just kept it, like a dammed up pond, we’d stagnate spiritually, emotionally and even financially. We wouldn’t be as thankful, we wouldn’t feel God’s care as much, and I’m pretty sure, even if we had more dollars for a while, we’d feel not rich but poor. 
 
Lesson learned for your pastor! I peered over the edge and realized, in my gut, what a joy it is to get to give
 
 
Foto Sisters to Join Us for Service of Healing and Hope
 
As the holidays approach, the sadness of loss also rises. Many of us bear the pain of having lost very young children. Perhaps through miscarriage, through accidents or infant illnesses, through abortion or still birth. The sorrow remains. And our church would like to offer a tender touch. Sunday afternoon, November 8 at 4 pm in the Sanctuary, we will have a memorial service of healing and hope. The Foto Sisters will lead our music. God has used them to bring a unique healing touch to people all over the country. Please free to invite others from outside our church to join us for this quiet, prayerful hour.
 
Abby Johnson to Speak 
 
This year’s annual Caring to Love banquet features Abby Johnson, the former Planned Parenthood executive whose views transformed the day she assisted an abortion. Now a Christian and ardent defender of life, Abby’s story was told in the feature film Unplanned and the book by the same name. Tickets are available online at ctlm.org. First Presbyterian also has a limited number of deeply discounted tickets available for $20, please email jaci@fpcbr.org for info. Thursday, November 12, 6.30 pm at the Marriot. 
 
Perimeter Construction
 
Pay attention! Over the next two months our church campus will undergo the security and beautification upgrades that your Session approved last spring. As the project progresses, please pay attention to signage that will direct you to available entrances. Your patience is appreciated. You’re going to love the final result!
 

Hurricane Recovery Continues

Thank you for all of your donations, time and resources the past nine weeks during hurricane recovery in southwest Louisiana. Our congregation has been very gracious to Iowa and Lake Charles with fifteen generators and many, many hurricane relief supplies. What is especially needed now is cleaning supplies, bleach, mops, brooms and buckets! Please consider picking up a few cleaning supplies and dropping them off in the church gymnasium during the months of November and December.
 
The pastors in southwest Louisiana have been working tirelessly to help their communities recover from the devastation caused by Hurricanes Laura and Delta, but they cannot do this alone. Church leaders and their congregations need our support now more than ever. There is an urgent need for volunteers to help with relief efforts. There are many ways to serve the families in need. Just showing up at a devastated home gives the families hope and cleaning their yards brings temporary joy as they suffer quietly. Please consider coming to serve with our church.
 
Our FPC church family has consistently gone to serve on Wednesdays and Saturdays in Iowa, Lake Charles and Le Bleu settlement.  We have served with Rev. Chan Willis, pastor of First Presbyterian Church Lake Charles, helping clean tree debris from about fifteen homes in his church. We plan to stay involved for a long time.
 
With the help of church members we are going to build showers very soon and are planning to set up a long-term recovery site in Iowa at First United Methodist Church in a few weeks and in the springtime in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Every gift matters and you have no idea how many people you have blessed especially in the small community of Iowa, Louisiana. Thank you for your participation!
 
 

Called to Serve

In our country I see many churches are filled with godly, loving people. I give thanks and rejoice that the Lord has blessed his people here. But we have to come to grips with something. If we continue only to drink in blessings and neglect to give them out, we will face what happened to the church in Jerusalem. After the blessing of Pentecost, the believers there grew comfortable in their fellowship.
 
The book of Acts says the believers went from house to house eating together and sharing their experiences. What happened to the early church? The Lord sent persecution and that Spirit-filled church was suddenly scattered. The people ended up going to the nations preaching the good news of Jesus Christ, making disciples and establishing new churches.
 
I thank God for all the mission activity that takes place in First Presbyterian Church. The Lord’s goal is that every member of this great church becomes a missionary and that includes you.  We are all called to participate in local missions (i.e., Buchanan and Gardere schools), regional missions (i.e., Hurricane Laura recovery in Lake Charles) and global missions (i.e., short-term missions in Lebanon, Romania and Colombia).
 
Jesus said, “Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Christ’s command here is spoken to every one of us with no exceptions. Everyone is not called to go physically. Please be assured God is looking for volunteers. We are to be about the work of praying for the harvest and God is touching people everywhere because of our faithfulness to pray. One example of this is the family of Jena and Kevin Smith who are being called to serve in Lebanon with World Outreach of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
 
When you know God’s heart, you won’t be able to restrain yourself from the gospel mission. You’ll find yourself concerned for the needy in your neighborhood (i.e., Open Air Ministry with Pastor Moore). The nearer you are to Jesus, the more you’ll reflect his compassion for all creation. Our missions conference was a month ago and we were blessed to hear how God called Katherine and Brian Miller to Colombia and Ashley and MacGregor Magruder to Africa a decade ago to serve Jesus Christ.
 
Are you resisting a call? It’s never too late to sign up to go to the nations or to the hurricane ravaged city of Lake Charles. Every Wednesday and Saturday, a group of believers meets at 6.30 am to serve Lake Charles. If you’re open to being sent out and you’re diligent in prayer about it, God will open every door. He will place you exactly where he wants you to serve. Then you will find your life being fulfilled as never before.
 
 
Posted in: Missions

Our Columbarium's Five Year Anniversary

Eight years ago your session voted unanimously to create a space on our church campus for securing cremated remains of members of our church and their immediate families, as well as for past members. Almost to the month five years ago, we held our first memorial service in the Dunham Chapel with an inurnment service following in the beautiful garden courtyard between the Dunham Chapel and the Education Building. Since that first inurnment we have had an additional 23 memorial services. Each of them were intimate celebrations of life and life eternal through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
 
Phase 1 of our columbarium includes eighty niches. Each niche can accommodate two urns. Sixty of the eighty niches have been purchased. With only twenty niches remaining, plans are now underway for Phase 2.
 
Funerals and memorial services continue as part of the life of our church even during this pandemic. Certainly, they are unique experiences and different from what we are used to doing. 
 
Consideration of a columbarium niche may be on your ‘to do’ list. They are an increasingly popular option for final arrangements for several reasons. First, the financial investment is substantially less than traditional cemetery funerals. Second, many are expressing an increased preference for a memorial service rather than a traditional funeral. This allows for an intimate family gathering for mourning the loss and a celebration of life following. Finally, the garden courtyard is a wonderful place to visit. And it is close and available for times of reflection and meditation throughout the day.
 
We do not publicize our columbarium and it sometimes goes unnoticed. Newer members of our fellowship may not even know about it. As Phase 2 begins, some of you may want to make this step for the first time or to complete this item that has been on your ‘to do’ list for a long time. For information about our columbarium please contact Sherry McKinley (sherry@fpcbr.org or 225.620.0224). 
 

Opening Our Hearts as the Doors Open

There have been challenges in so many areas of our lives due to COVID-19 and those experienced by our educators are at the top of the list! School has finally begun at our adopted school Buchanan Elementary and, as you can imagine, teaching this year is a moving target. Virtual learning, two days a week for one group of students and two for another, masks, lunch in the classrooms, limited recess, no water fountains—how are they feeling? One word—stressed. 
 
After meeting with Principal Charlotte Britten, FPC has been asked to please step in and do what we do best—show them our love. She wants every staff member at the school to have an Encourager to help lift them up when they are discouraged. We have about ten folks who have already adopted a teacher at this point leaving 46 teachers/staff who need someone to come alongside and encourage them this year! It’s a super-easy ministry in which to participate. All that’s required is remembering your person at least once a month by sending them a small gift, note of encouragement, email, text, phone call and, of course, praying regularly for them. Gifts can be left at the Connection Center for delivery to the school so you don’t even have to make an extra trip. If you would like to become an Encourager, please contact Laura Shaw (225.387.0617 or laura@fpcbr.org) and she will get you set up.
 
On October 9, we are providing lunch for the teachers as they participate in a work day at the school. We would also like to distribute notes of encouragement along with the box lunches. We will hand out notecards at the services on October 4 and we would love our members to write notes of encouragement that would let our friends at Buchanan know that we love them!  
 
We are also recruiting volunteers for the after school program at school. If you are interested in sharing your talents as a storytime reader, music leader, craft maker, etc. on Tuesdays or Thursdays please contact Nell Patrick (nellpatrick@cox.net). 
 
Finally, FPC is collecting several items that will be a big help to the school. Items can be left at the Connection Center: masks, disinfecting wipes, gently used belts – all sizes (preferably black, brown or blue), gently used coats and sweaters – all sizes.
 
Thank you for blessing our friends at Buchanan Elementary!
 
Posted in: Missions

Joyful Noise Choir Resumes

Join us Sunday evenings for a super-great time. This fall our theme is based on I John 4: 4b.“For he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” That makes us kinda like superheroes-especially with everyone wearing masks now!
 
From October 11 until November 15 at 5 pm, children grades 1-5 will meet, distanced and outside, under our new Terrace Tent! We will explore what it means that Jesus has overcome the world, build rhythm instruments, sing praise songs and enjoy being together. At the end of these short few weeks, we will have two recorded songs to present during worship! Of course, due to COVID-19 our JNC staff are taking extra precautions for everyone’s safety. For questions and more details, email Lauren Honea at lauren@fpcbr.org.
 

Stitching It Up!

Surely this is one of the strangest years ever! Everything can seem upside down. Just when we need each other, we can’t touch and can’t meet. It seems like we’ve lived in a fog for the last seven months. What happened to 2020?
 
A lot of things have fallen away. We’ve learned to live without watching sports all the time (OK, so some diehards did watch the bean bag tossing championships. We pray for their souls.). We’ve grown to like having a less frenetic pace. But we’ve missed parties and barbecues and hugs. And church. If you’ve been back in the Sanctuary since the pandemic began, you know how great it feels. To be in the house of the Lord with his people. The soaring ceilings. The beautiful wood. The ascension window. All the memories. To hear the music. To sing, even in a mask. To know that the church is still the church. How very precious our church is to us.
 
As the fall months come, we’re working hard to re-gather our congregation. On September 13 we will return to two Sanctuary worship services: Contemporary at 9 and Classic Reformed at 11. Sunday school will resume at 10.10 on Sundays. We’re learning to gather in ways that are as safe as we can. But I know it will take an effort. We’ve got to overcome the rhythm of just staying at home. We’ve got to push against the inertia of isolation. We’ve got to put up with the inconvenience of safety measures. We’re taking a gamble that we can fill in two worship services with enough people that it doesn’t feel like we’re in a cavern. I think it’s time! Come to church! Invite others to come. Let’s stitch up the fabric of our fellowship, one returning worshiper at a time.
 
As the weather cools later in October (Amen, may it be so!), we want to do more outside gatherings. Imagine a huge tent on the terraced garden. And a Kirkin’ celebration outside. What if we could have our Christmas cantata outside on North Blvd. one December Sunday? What if Christmas Eve could accommodate 1,500 people because we made it a Journey to Bethlehem, touring with candlelight in groups through the stages of the Nativity Story, ending in the Sanctuary with communion? There are so many possibilities that can open up with a change in temperature. We will be an adventurous congregation!
 
Meanwhile, let’s stay tethered through our individual praying of the Psalms. I love reading a psalm knowing that hundreds of you are praying it that morning too. It’s not too late to connect through a Shepherding through Psalms group. Just contact Darin Travis or Kelly Wood.
 
I’m also happy to report how your generosity reaches into our city and around the world. We received about $75,000 in our Neighbors Fund and have already disbursed half of it to individuals and ministry partners. We continue to keep a watch out for needs related to COVID-19, and thanks to you can act quickly to help. Also, the session approved sending $20,000 to the Philemon Project, an EPC ministry in Beirut that cares for orphaned children. The recent explosion that devastated the city has made the need desperate. We’re grateful to help.
 
On Sunday evening, September 20, I’d like to host you in the Sanctuary for a workshop entitled Countering Cancel Culture. We’ll take up the ideas we began considering in the message that contrasted the Christian and Marxist worldview.  
 
Finally, our music department will host a fun night called “A Night of Social Distanc-SING!” on September 17 in the Sanctuary. Our great singers will bring their talents for a delightful evening of celebrating the gift of music.
 
Onward, beloved congregation. Your faith inspires me. Your faithfulness astounds me. It’s so natural to love being your pastor.
 

Restoring Your Soul Through Psalms

This wretched distancing goes on! Yet so does the need to connect to others. And to God. Our hearts are still made to be in communion. So how do we stay connected in isolation? This month we begin a series of interlocking ways to encounter Christ through the Psalms. I’d like to tell you about it in advance of a mailing you’ll receive next week. 
 
For 3,000 years, the LORD’s people have climbed the stairways of words that are the Psalms. By making these prayers their own prayers, they have ascended through psalms straight into God’s presence. The Psalms were the very prayer book of Jesus himself. We find Christ’s heart for his Father when we pray psalms in communion with Jesus. We get drawn close to each other when we pray psalms together and for one another. We even find words to pray for our enemies when we pray psalms on behalf of those hostile to us! Psalms express our souls; they also transform our souls, taking us deeper than we could ever go on our own.
 
This fall, for 100 days, we’re going to hone in on the Psalms. Spiritual riches beyond price reside in these songs. So I’ll be inviting you to engage these psalms in a variety of practices. 
 
Next week, you’ll receive in the actual mail a beautiful bookmark with the schedule of psalms we are studying and five ways—one for each week day—we can pray the psalms with different people in mind. Beginning August 10, each Monday you’ll receive by email a three-minute video introducing the psalm of the week, and then, the following Sunday we’ll use that psalm in worship. And, very exciting to me, for three Sunday evenings at 5 pm, we’ll be launching by livestream special presentations introducing these psalms. Guest speakers include one of my spiritual heroes, Malcolm Guite from Cambridge, and one of Darin’s heroes, Mark Futato from Reformed Theological Seminary. We’re hoping those of you with big TVs and spacious seating areas will host watch parties. And consider joining a Shepherding Through the Psalms group to encourage one another. These groups will consist of 3-6 friends who will weekly connect with each other via a text, phone call, lunch or coffee—whatever works best for you. Spur one another on by discussing what you’re learning from the psalm of the week, how the prayer rhythms are going, and how to intentionally pray for each other. For more information visit fpcbr.org. To sign up as a group shepherd or member, email Kelly Wood.
 
 
 
Global Mission Conference
 
I’m so pleased that our speaker this year is Rev. Brian Miller. Brian and his wife Katherine work with sex trafficked girls in Medellin, Colombia. He is a passionate and eloquent speaker.
 
 
LSU Prayer Walk
 
Saturday morning, August 15 at 8.15 am we will meet at the LSU Student Union to spend an hour walking the campus and praying for our university. In particular we will pray for our international students. Prayer walking is safe, fun, discrete and powerful. Full instructions will be given. Come casual.
 
 
 

Children's Ministry Update

If your kids are like mine, they enjoy watching church from home, but they are eager to be back with friends on Sunday mornings. We know it’s been a long season apart and the following is our current plan to come back together in-person. 
 
We will begin childcare for the little ones (birth through Kindergarten) in the So Loved hall on August 16. More information will come in the next few weeks with the particulars, but we will strive to provide a safe environment by following local and national recommendations. 
 
We are planning to launch children’s ministry for Kingdom Kids (1st through 5th graders) on September 13. By launching this ministry after Labor Day, we will be able to assess how school openings have been going and what the state of the virus is here locally. 
 
Like you, we want to strive to keep our kids safe, to return to some normalcy, and most of all, to walk by faith in God as our ultimate provider for safety, health and peace. We are excited for all that God has in store for our children in the coming year! By the way, Sunday school for older kids (confirmation through high school) and for adults will launch on September 13 as well.
 
Please pray with me that our children walk deeply with the Lord during these uncertain times, and also please ask God to provide his perfect fit for a new Children’s Ministry Director. I am happily serving as the interim director (along with Kelly Wood as Discipleship Facilitator) and have full confidence in our boots-on-the-ground ministry coordinators Karah Guillory, Kendra Bremer and Rebecca Dees. We believe God has just the right person to give focused leadership to the overall children’s ministry.
 
Thank you for partnering with us in prayer that our church might glorify God!
 
 
 

But God . . .

God called Jonah to go to Nineveh. But what does Jonah do? Does he respond, “Yep, I’m going that way!” No, in fact, he goes to Joppa where he hopes to catch a ship going to Tarshish instead of going inland to preach the gospel. Scripture says, “He is fleeing from the presence of God.”
 
Have you ever heard God calling you to do something but you hesitated? The world will always have a ship ready to take you anywhere you want to go. Jonah was doomed in his disobedience and you always have to pay in full to ride a ship of the world. It costs a lot to not do the will of God. Jonah was disciplined for his disobedience, yet we still have a tendency to think that we can run away from God. God’s Word tells us that we cannot hide. God is calling you and me on a journey. There is a journey that leads to Nineveh and a journey that leads to Tarshish. In what direction are you headed? Are you going toward the presence of the Lord or are you going to make an excuse, “But God . . . ”   
 
This fall, we have the opportunity to serve the Lord here in Baton Rouge at Gardere Community Christian School as a mentor with Kid’s Hope or at Buchanan School as a Reading Buddy. The list is endless how we can serve the Lord. Just do it! 
 
Buchanan Volunteer Coordinator: Laura Shaw
Kids Hope USA Director: Annette Lamond
 
 
Posted in: Missions

First Presbyterian and Kids Hope USA

Why does the wealthiest nation in the world have the highest rate of teen suicides, incarcerations and pregnancies? These are the questions Virgil Gulker asked himself 25 years ago. After conducting research, Gulker determined that one hour, one-on-one sessions between an elementary-age child and a loving adult could change the trajectory of that student’s future. Thus, Kids Hope USA was founded; a faith-based mentoring program offering effective training, prayer and support for the volunteer mentors. 
 
In September 2019, First Presbyterian Church officially partnered with Kids Hope USA by committing to be a positive influence at Gardere Community Christian School. We currently have eight volunteers but the goal is to mentor 50 students and make a positive, hope-filled difference. 
 
Here is a testimony about a successful Kids Hope USA mentor/mentee relationship. When Mr. Layne cautiously became a Kids Hope USA mentor, he had no idea the impact it would have. He was matched with Terrance, a 2nd grade boy who was recommended to KHUSA as his father had sadly been killed in a shooting. Soon after, Layne’s brother died and the two helped console each other. They met once a week, did some school work, played games and talked about making good choices. Mrs. Ginger, another Kids Hope USA volunteer, prayed for them.  
 
A great relationship was blooming, when Terrance’s mother felt it best to move back to Alabama.  Layne and Terrance kept in touch through emails and phone calls. Mrs. Ginger continued to pray.
 
Fast forward to June 2018. Layne received an invitation for he and his family to attend Terrance’s high school graduation; with a football scholarship!  
 
Kids Hope USA believes that some are called to be a mentor or prayer partner. If you believe you are being called, please contact Annette Lamond, Kids Hope USA Director and member of First Presbyterian Church (annette@fpcbr.org or 225.773.8745). 
 
 

American Privilege

Super Shuttle had forgotten me at the Orlando Airport. Only Uber Black (that’s the really nice cars!) was available. My driver was gregarious. Born in Haiti, he had come to America in his teens to play soccer. Now he was a proud U.S. citizen. “I love this country,” he said. “The electricity works all the time. I came here with nothing but soccer skills. Then my knee blew out, but I got great medical care. I worked hard, and now I have my own driving business. My wife became an accountant. We have such a great life here. I love America.”
 
In troubled times, when we’re straining to do better as a nation, it helps to remember just why so many people from around the world want to be here. To me, any discussion about our nation needs to begin with grateful acknowledgement of American Privilege. It flows across the tapestry of ethnicities that make up our nation of immigrants. As my driver said, the electricity works all day long. So does the in-flow of clean water, and, importantly, the out-flow of sewage. I’m thankful every Tuesday for the infrastructure of sanitation. They actually take my garbage away! (If I make the effort to put it in the bin.)  
 
All anyone has to do in a crisis is dial 911. Within minutes, fire, ambulance or police come no matter who you are. Emergency rooms treat any and every one who comes with astounding medical care, whether you can pay or not. Education from pre-K to high school is available to every citizen, including free transportation. Our schools provide ten meals a week to those who need them. Public assistance offers vouchers for food; housing for the disabled and disadvantaged; a host of services to the elderly, those fighting cancer, the demented, the physically handicapped; or those with other special needs. 
 
We have 2.7 million miles of paved roads. Pollution controls have cleaned up the air we breathe. Public libraries are heated and cooled for comfort as they offer both print and electronic resources for free to all. There is land to spread out to. There is natural beauty of such variety and magnitude that it takes your breath away. At the city, state and national level we have beautiful parks. Our nation’s resources have created an overflowing abundance of goods in which everyone can participate. (A Ralph Lauren polo shirt for $2 at the Purple Cow: amazing!) Opportunity for social and economic mobility continues to be the envy of the world. The mightiest military in history protects us. 
 
We freely elect our government officials. We govern by rule of law, with powers divided between three branches, the model of liberty for the world. We still have remarkable freedom to express our opinions and exercise our religion. Moreover, we have the ability to critique ourselves, to have the conversations that lead to change.  
 
Are we perfect? Of course not! But this July 4, I want to begin with gratitude for all we have. And respect for those who sacrificed and labored and fought to make it so. Would I prefer the level of religious freedom that’s in Saudi Arabia? Or machine guns on every street corner like in Cairo? Would I prefer the surveillance culture of China? The heritage of ethnic genocides in Bosnia or Rwanda? The dictatorship of Russia? The poverty of the socialist experiment in Venezuela? No, thank you to all of the above.
 
Even the least among us have great privilege. Even the poor among us have, in the world context, great wealth. American privilege is a precious, priceless privilege that undergirds all our national conversations. We must begin, continue and conclude in gratitude for this nation in which God has seen fit to place us. 
 
Happy Independence Day!
 

Global Mission Conference 2020

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses . . . to the end of the earth (Acts 1: 8).
 
First Presbyterian Church has a long tradition of support to evangelizing the globe. On August 29 and 30, Macgregor Magruder will graciously host FPC’s mission conference. This conference is a unique opportunity to see God’s faithfulness across the globe from the perspective of our partner field missionaries.  
 
The entire globe is struggling with how coronavirus is impacting traditional lifestyles. Psalm 131 has significant meaning for both our field missionaries and our local coronavirus challenges. Historically sung as the pilgrims’ song of ascent along the path to Jerusalem, Psalm 131: 1-2 lulls the pilgrim into rest with humility and trust. The coronavirus is isolating this worship dynamic to rest in God, as we are all wrestling the same level of fear and anxieties globally. Lastly, Psalm 131: 3 encourages us to actively rest and confidently expect God to work on our behalf. Globally, Christians can call on this universal truth: GOD is in control and we are to rest with expectation of his loving care. 
 
Our field missionaries live with this universal truth daily. Having been planted in foreign communities, they lean completely into God with confidence and expectation. Please join us in August to hear how God continuously builds their faith inside each of their mission communities. “O Israel, put your hope in the LORD both now and forevermore” (131: 3).
Posted in: Missions

Masquerading Worship

Feeling a bit like Darth Vader in my mask, I walked through the Sanctuary greeting a number of families who had come to the confirmation service. I found comfort that we were all doing the same. From a safe distance, I said, “It’s like a masquerade ball. Or a Halloween party. You feel ridiculous getting ready. But once you see that everyone else has on a costume, it’s ok.”  Indeed, it was ok. No, I’m not a big fan of breathing back my own breath. But I get it. We’re helping each other. We’re making the best of the situation given to us. And I’m awfully proud that you are making the effort to regather our congregation in the Sanctuary while following the safest recommendations in a spirit of adventure. Of course you are!
 
Now I don’t mind telling you, leadership in an unchartered crisis is exhausting! Every week, sometimes every other day, we have to pivot. We have to adapt. To plot a new course knowing it might change overnight. I’ve been so impressed with the flexibility and innovation and sheer hard work of our on-the-ground staff. Our team bowls me over with the way they’ve communicated and created worship and ministry for all of us in these strange days.
 
Lately, I’ve found a place to be peaceful. I think our elders have found that same place. We’re sheltering in the leadership that is above us. We’re thankful for and praying for our freely elected government. As long as what the state asks doesn’t compel us to compromise the gospel or doesn’t egregiously and specifically target people of faith, we are glad to follow. To be part of Team Louisiana.   
 
This gives us two strong directions. On the one hand, we want to do everything that is permitted to us to do. Our business is gathered worship. We exist to proclaim the gospel in community for the community. So when we can open at 25%, we do. We energetically embrace what we may do, offering the best we can give to the most who can come. On the other hand, we accept what is prescribed for our safety. If sanitizing, distancing and masking is what is asked, we’re happy to do it. It’s not fun. But it’s what is called for. And that makes me peaceful. 
 
I don’t want to try to think I know better. Nor do I want to live in fear. I want to live boldly within the guidance of what is both permitted and safe. Down this road, lies peace, restoration and love for our community. Just think, no one has ever done this before! We’ll always remember this time. I will always remember your overwhelming love for your church and commitment to our ministry in the heart of Baton Rouge. These days, it’s easy as pie to say I love being your pastor!
 
Gratitude for Steve Rushing 
 
The director of our chancel choir ends his tenure with us this month. Dr. Steve Rushing has partnered with me in leading Classic Reformed Worship for the last fifteen years. His outstanding full-time vocal teaching at Southeastern University and then at Baton Rouge International School have meant that Steve’s service to us has always been on a quarter-time basis. With the arrival of our first full-time worship director who is fluent in both classic and contemporary styles, there is too much overlap to continue with two choir directors. So it is with both sadness and gratitude that we bid farewell to Steve in his official capacity. 
 
But first, we want to celebrate his work among us. Steve raised high the excellence of our choir program. He established the reputation of our music throughout the community and especially amidst the musicians in town. His gracious spirit and love for all kinds of music played a significant role in healing tensions that once existed between our worship styles. Steve has freely offered vocal lessons to many members, taking a personal interest in his choir and enhancing the careers of our student singers. And that voice! Could anyone else have sung the voice of God in Roots and Promises? The annual cantatas with orchestra have become a beloved tradition among us. Seeing and hearing Steve’s great pleasure in getting the most out of his singers and musicians communicates joy to all of us. We will miss his humor, his spiritual insights and his collegiality. 
 
Though social distancing limits our options, we can still heartily celebrate Steve on Sunday, June 21 at the 11 am service. We all want to express our appreciation for this fine Christian man, musician and vocalist. 
 

You Are My Tribe; My Ministry

I am fairly certain I had never uttered the phrase “social distancing” before all of this began. I was just starting to get to know you. Then we were literally forbidden to visit with one another. As we pivoted to livestream worship, I found myself peering into the camera each Sunday with such a desire to connect to you that it probably sometimes looked like fidgety energy. I know you are accustomed to seeing me less animated and more subdued. (Ha!) 
 
The realities of a global pandemic were not on my calendar as I anticipated my first Lent and Easter season with you here at First Presbyterian. Despite having been warned about the donkey, I was anticipating the grandeur and celebration of Palm Sunday. I wanted to experience Maundy Thursday with its darkness and striking visuals. I wanted to see who wore fancy hats for Easter Sunday. Gerrit would say, “He is risen!” and we would say, “He is risen indeed!” 
 
The realities of the Lenten and Easter seasons were a different and strange story. Yet even in all this strangeness and interruption, something wonderful has come into clear focus for me. 
 
I believe that our God, in his gracious sovereignty, has brought me here. I needed you. You are my tribe. My people. It is hard to fully explain. My time in ministry here has not been long. There is surely much we will learn and walk through with one another in the coming years. But my dear brothers and sisters, you have my heart. It is my deep honor to serve you. There is a satisfying ‘click’ in my spirit. It is the click of a good, solid fit. 
 
We have returned now to gathered worship in our beautiful Sanctuary. While it is not the grand and massive reunion I imagined, seeing your masked faces brings me joy. Thank you! Thank you for welcoming me into this wonderful faith family. Thank you for entrusting me to lead you in giving glory to our most worthy Lord. Thank you for joining your voices with mine to sing the deep truths of the faith.
 

Deeper in Christ, Further into God's Economy

When Gerrit joined us as Senior Pastor 16 years ago, he said that his goal was to take us “deeper in Christ and further into the world.” Since then the average pledge (or estimate of giving) has increased $4,052!!! How can that be? Martin Luther said that three conversions must take place if one is to truly have an intimate relationship with Christ: a conversion of the head, the heart and the purse.
 
Going deeper in Christ changes us. It makes us generous. It makes us generous with our time, our affections, our love and, yes, our money. 
 
From my vantage point as one of only two on our staff who handle receipts, I am privileged to see first-hand what has happened over the years. And it is remarkable. 
 
The first year I was on board one year after Gerrit arrived, Katrina paid us a visit. Our purses opened wide to assist those devastated by this calamity. Then came Gustav and we lived out the principal of “blessed to be a blessing.” The Floods of 2016 presented another opportunity. Gerrit and I were honored to distribute your “gifts” to 27 church families in the amount of $10,000 each! And now, COVID-19.
 
Your Session approved an initiative called Neighbors Helping Neighbors, during the month of May. The goal was to give the Baton Rouge Food Bank and the Downtown Outreach Center $10,000 each. Any gifts received over and above that would go into our Helping Hands Fund from which we would provide direct financial assistance to members needing help. We reached that milestone of $20,000 early in May. And as promised we have cut checks to the Food Bank and Outreach Center. As of this writing (May 26), gifts are over $57,000. The Helping Hands fund balance is over $37,000 and we’ve begun receiving requests.
 
On top of all of that and in the face of economic and financial uncertainty, your tithes and offerings to your church exceed the budget through the first four months of the year.
 
Deeper in Christ? Yes, Deeper in Christ! You demonstrate everyday a generosity that could only come through life change; life change brought on by and through Christ in you. The Triune God of the universe bought you at an inestimable price. You’ve come to know what it is to participate in his economy. You’ve come to acknowledge that everything is his; that our role is to be good stewards of all that he has given us and to look on the needs of others with compassion and generosity.
 
From where I sit, I get to see glorious giving by the members of First Presbyterian Church of Baton Rouge. What a view it is! What a privilege to see. What an honor to be a part of it all. 
 
PS: If you’ll put Neighbor’s Fund in the memo line of your check, we will still accept your gifts to help out our members in need even though May is in the rear view mirror. 
 

The Proper Perspective In the Midst of Life’s Problems

Sometimes it’s difficult to realize that God is in control even when things seem to be out of control or at least beyond our control. Psalm 46 offers us the proper perspective in the midst of life’s problems that can lead to our peace. After reading Psalm 46, please consider these thoughts that I pray will keep you in his peace.
 
We can keep a proper perspective by looking for, reflecting upon and remembering four things about God that would lead to having peace in Christ.
 
First, God’s presence (vv. 1-3) is within, above and beyond the troubles we face. 
 
Second, God’s power (vv. 4-6) is doing what we alone cannot do. 
 
Third, God’s purpose (vv. 8-10) in tearing down any human kingdom to build up a holy kingdom, being known to his people that they may make him known to others. This cannot happen if we are not still, outwardly and inwardly.
 
Fourth, God’s promise (vv. 7 & 11) to never leave you nor forsake you because he loves you. 
 

Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you . . . Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid (John 14: 27).”

 

We’re Rolling! Gathered Worship: Safe and Soaring!

Last Sunday, we gathered for worship and worked through the newness of masks and social distancing. The joy was palpable from singing and praying in the same room. It was great to be back.

So join us! No need to sign up. Just come for 9 am Contemporary and 11 am Classic Reformed.

As of now, there is no gathered Sunday school or nursery, but we will let you know as soon as this is figured out. For the foreseeable future, we will continue to follow guidelines regarding wearing masks, using the North Blvd entrance, and sitting in designated distancing areas by household groups.

God's Unbreakable Covenants

What is a covenant and what does it represent? How do the covenants of the Old Testament apply to us today?
 
God’s covenants form the backbone of the Bible’s metanarrative.  They are the unifying thread of God’s saving action through Scripture, beginning with Creation and reaching fulfillment in the New Covenant confirmed through the blood of Jesus Christ. How remarkable that our great God desired so deeply to enter into relationship with his people that he stooped down to establish an everlasting, unbreakable covenant with us!
 
This summer we will journey through the five major covenants of the Old Testament: Creation, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and King David… and we will point each of these to the New Covenant in Christ, when our Lord Jesus perfectly fulfilled them, sealing our relationship with God eternally. 
 
Join us as we trace the significance of God’s covenants in our redemptive history, as we witness a covenant-making God create a people for Himself from which the Savior of the whole world would come. 
 
Our study meets each Wednesday in July from 6.30 to 8 pm. You can participate in our study one of two ways: in person or online. Our in-house gathering will be in Dunham Chapel which can accommodate a good number of us even with social distancing. No registration needed; just show up at 6.30 pm. For those who participate from home, join us on the livestream on either YouTube or Facebook. Handy links to each are below. 
 
While we are unable to offer a nursery at this time, Jaime Carnaggio is happy to help arrange childcare if required. 
 
 
Posted in: Women's Ministry

Two Wonderful and Weird Services

Wonderful because we can be together in our Sanctuary.

Weird because we have to wear masks and continue with those annoying social distancing practices.

Service times have changed to 9 am and 11 am.

For those worshiping in the Sanctuary, plan to arrive early and use the North Boulevard entrance. We're asking everyone to please wear a mask.

Both services will continue to be livestreamed.

There will be no Sunday school or nursery provided.

How I Went from Worry to Hope

Anxiety. I had it. When our isolation first began, we had to pivot everything. I worried. Would the congregation hold together or fragment? Would people drift apart? Would people decide they don’t really need a church after all? Personally, I had to wrestle with the question, “What exactly is the point of a pastor anyway?” 
 
Staying-at-home offered more time. God led me deeper into his Word. I felt his presence more in prayer. When my sense of self and worry for the church started to wash out with the tide of worry, the Spirit of Christ Jesus flowed in through these times of reflective prayer and study. That, after all, is what our beliefs have told us all along: the Spirit is the glue who keeps us joined to Christ and to one another. He is the magnetic force of our communion. He is the skin and sinew of the body of Christ, keeping us whole. 
 
How wonderful it has been to see the Spirit cohering our church. You didn’t drift away or apart! If the stats are correct, more people, not fewer, are entering the worship we offer. Your beautiful video testimonies have linked us across all ages and stages. Hundreds of you have been checking on hundreds of you! Hundreds of boxes of food have been shared with the community. People continue to meet through Zoom or by phone. Giving continues. The staff pivoted to engage our members and produce our worship and communication, learning more and updating every week. In all, our church has proved herself dedicated, agile and energetic. I’m so thankful, and I’m so proud of you! I’m filled with hope.
 
Neighbors Helping Neighbors
 
The session has called for a special offering to be collected during May to offer relief to our members and neighbors during the pandemic. The first $10,000 will go to the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, as we’ve tragically seen how hunger is a real need in our city. The second $10,000 will assist the Christian Outreach Center in their work resettling the homeless population (the pandemic led to the clearing of several “tent villages” in the city). Further gifts will go to our church’s Helping Hands fund to assist church members, partner ministries and neighbors affected by this crisis. We know there will be personal needs when the ripple of government support runs out. We will be offering “grace grants” to church members, who can apply discretely through Barry Phillips. We’d love to help our members over a rough patch, trusting that in years to come, as they are able, they will give back to this same Helping Hands fund. You can give online or through checks marked “Neighbors Fund.” 
 
 
Emerging: May 17?!
 
In an unprecedented crisis, everything is always subject to change. But in hope, we plan using the best information we have. Our hope is that limited gathered worship will resume Sunday, May 17. That looks like two Sanctuary services, 9 am and 11 am, with capacity for 150 worshipers. We will have 50 to 60 sections marked off for family groups or singles to sit while maintaining distance. We will offer sign up online or by phone so we hopefully won’t have to turn anyone away. We will still offer “up close” livestreaming for those at home. Other precautions related to sanitizing will be taken. More details to come the week of May 10. This means we will plan now to go ahead with our Confirmation service at 4 pm on May 17. If demand warrants, we may be able to add an afternoon service in the future. We’ll all have to stay nimble and watch for updates.
 
 
Staff Changes 
 
Happy news: welcome Jaime Carnaggio as our new Director of Women’s Ministry. Jaime has served on our staff since 2015 as an assistant in Children’s Ministry and then with our women. She’s full of love for Christ, her family and our people. She’s a deep, energetic and engaging Bible teacher. She connects to women of all ages and has a passion for sharing Jesus through his Word. While Jaime served 6 months as our interim director, it became clear that she was growing with the job, getting more effective as her responsibilities grew. The session has delightedly endorsed her in this new position.
 
Sad news: the Cato family is moving to Texas in July. Kinch has taken a position as assistant head of a Christian school in Fort Worth. That means we will be losing Audra, who has worked so effectively for a decade. She began leading the renovation of our nursery ministry, turning it into one of our most successful programs. Then we asked her to lead Childhood Ministry, and we’ve seen wonderful growth in the depth of ministry and in numbers of children. We’re going to miss Kinch, Audra, Robert and Helen, but we pray a wonderful new life for them, knowing they will bless many wherever they are. Meanwhile, join us in prayer as we search for a new staff leader in Childhood. 
 

What a Joy It's Been!

It has been a true joy and honor to serve as your Children’s Ministry Director for nearly a decade. The children at First Presbyterian are absolutely amazing. I am blessed by the opportunity to see children come to Jesus, to hunger for him, ask questions about him and get excited at the sound of his name. I have enjoyed walking alongside parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, sisters and brothers. Serving as your leader in Children’s Ministry has been a privilege. Now it is time to take the next step of our journey. Life is journey after all isn’t it? 
 
Kinch has been blessed with a wonderful opportunity to advance his career in Ft. Worth, TX. Our children, Robert and Helen, will begin 4th and 6th grade come fall at Ft. Worth Christian School. We are all very excited about this new adventure and will be moving in the next couple of months. First Presbyterian has been home for 12 years and is truly what has made Baton Rouge special to us. I have always said it is the people that makes living in Baton Rouge great. You are those people! 
 
Thank you for letting me teach your children about Jesus. Thank you for helping me to grow. Thank you for loving my family and me so well. Thank you for being you. 
 
I hope the waters of isolation will be parted soon so we can bid you a formal farewell. Or at least give you an air-hug. If not, trust that we will return to you when time allows. 
 
 

City Ministry Immediate Needs

During the pandemic, our primary City Ministry partners have been extremely busy. I would like to give you a brief update on each. 
 
Christian Outreach Center is in need of large quantities of supplies for men, women and children of socks, underwear, hygiene products (soap, toothpaste, razors, deodorants, shaving cream, toothbrushes and feminine hygiene products) and diapers for ages infant to pull-ups. Please drop off at the church on Tuesdays or Thursdays near the 8th Street kitchen door from 10 am to 2 pm. We need volunteers immediately to help sort all these items.
 
Gardere Community Christian School is very grateful for the food that has been donated the past five weeks to make large boxes of non-perishable items for families. To date, we have delivered 150 boxes to the families of GCCS from March 23 to April 30. A big thank you to Nancy Zito, Julia Keblani, Lisa Head, Hans Othmer, Annette Lamond and Chelsea and Luke Haskew for their help in organizing this food drive! Please continue bringing non-perishable food items to the 8th Street kitchen door Tuesdays or Thursdays from 10 am to 2 pm through May 31. Items needed: red beans, long grain rice, peanut butter, grape jelly, green beans, peas, corn, black beans, baked beans, mixed vegetables, mac and cheese, thin spaghetti, spaghetti sauce, chicken noodle soup, canned tuna, cereal (corn flakes, frosted flakes, rice crisps), mashed potato packs, grits packs, applesauce, chocolate drink, paper towels and toilet tissue.
 
Open Air Ministry under the leadership of Pastor Joseph Moore has continued to provide bags of food for the homeless and poor of our community every Sunday from 12 noon to 1.30 pm. First Presbyterian has been to their ministry site behind St. Vincent de Paul for the past four Sundays and has delivered 50 boxes of food. As of April 30, First Presbyterian Church had provided boxes of food for a total of 200 families.
 
Manners of the Heart is doing well, and they are extraordinarily busy as they minister to East Baton Rouge Parish Schools: Cooking with Wilbur on Fridays and Storytime with Jill on Mondays. Jill is recording IHeart messages every week which air each day.

Caring to Love is also doing extraordinary ministry during the pandemic. We praise God for Dorothy Wallis and all she does for women seeking counsel on what to do with their pregnancy.

Abounding Love Ministries is doing well as they have received help with the Payroll Protection Program. We praise God for our sister church and all that God is doing through them. Albert and Adriane White, John Norwood and other church members pray at the state capital for our elected officials each Saturday morning during the pandemic.

 

God Paved a Path for Me

I am beyond honored and humbled to step into this important role as your Women’s Ministry Director. In some ways, I’m an unlikely choice! I’m just your average small-town Louisiana girl with a business degree from Alabama (the horror!), a wife and a mom of three busy kids. But as I reflect on these past several years, I can see how, in God’s great sovereignty, he has been paving this path for me; leading me to this place. I feel certain I am exactly where he wants me. 
 
It’s been such a joy to serve voluntarily and on staff, and this opportunity is a wildly unexpected answered prayer. So despite my (many!) shortcomings, I promise to continue to work passionately for you and more importantly, for the Lord, always seeking his wisdom and guidance. I have been an expository Bible teacher for several years and love to help others encounter the Scriptures in a way that conforms us to the incarnate Jesus. More than that, I am an ever-eager student of the Word, ready to learn and grow alongside of you.  
 
I love this church and the women of this church more than I can put into words, and I pray that together, we grow deeper in our individual and collective relationships with the Lord Jesus Christ and encourage each other as ambassadors of the gospel. 
 

God Paved a Path for Me

I am beyond honored and humbled to step into this important role as your Women’s Ministry Director. In some ways, I’m an unlikely choice! I’m just your average small-town Louisiana girl with a business degree from Alabama (the horror!), a wife and a mom of three busy kids. But as I reflect on these past several years, I can see how, in God’s great sovereignty, he has been paving this path for me; leading me to this place. I feel certain I am exactly where he wants me. 
 
It’s been such a joy to serve voluntarily and on staff, and this opportunity is a wildly unexpected answered prayer. So despite my (many!) shortcomings, I promise to continue to work passionately for you and more importantly, for the Lord, always seeking his wisdom and guidance. I have been an expository Bible teacher for several years and love to help others encounter the Scriptures in a way that conforms us to the incarnate Jesus. More than that, I am an ever-eager student of the Word, ready to learn and grow alongside of you.  
 
I love this church and the women of this church more than I can put into words, and I pray that together, we grow deeper in our individual and collective relationships with the Lord Jesus Christ and encourage each other as ambassadors of the gospel. 
 

Serving the Underserved

A heartfelt thank you from Nancy Zito, Founder and Principal of Gardere Community Christian School, to First Presbyterian members who have donated food to the school's underserved students and their families.
 
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5: 3-5).
 

Children's Anxiety During Corona

Counselor Cheryl Brodnax has some tips on how to help your kids combat anxiety during these stay-at-home times?

1) Be mindful of what you discuss in front of your children
2) Give your kids opportunity to talk
3) Structure is a good thing
4) Help them feel connected to friends
5) Give your children grace

How to Get Ready for Virtual Communion

Gerrit explains how to prepare for participating in Thursday’s 7 pm Service of Shadows. Four candles, a piece of bread and a cup of wine or juice, and you’re set to interact with the passion of Jesus and connect to him, together with our whole church, through the Lord’s Supper.

 

Links to watch the Service of Shadows are below. The video will be available at 7 pm Thursday, April 9.

Facebook

YouTube

 

Focusing Prayer Through Fasting

Our beloved pastoral care minister Jim Solomon invites us to the challenge of Tuesday lunch-fasts and how such practice can ignite your prayer life. Jim also asks that you check out the guidelines and insights on fasting that are included on our denomination’s website (epc.org) especially if you will fast not only on Tuesdays at lunch time but also the entire day on Good Friday, April 10. 

What Is This I'm Feeling?

What Is This I’m Feeling?

FPC deacon and BRCCC therapist Sherry Kadair puts words to some of the strange feelings we’ve all been having. You’re not crazy! We’re having ordinary reactions to extraordinary circumstances.

Tuesday Lunch Fasts

Following Gov. Edwards' call last week for a statewide day of prayer and fasting, Senate Chaplain Rodney Wood invites all Louisianans, and pastor Jim Solomon invites all First Presbyterians who can, to make fasting from lunch a Tuesday routine.  We can use this bit of deprivation to focus our prayers and ask for God’s mercy, grace and revelation upon our nation.

Email Jim Solomon

 

Toxic Breath

Are you breathing the toxic breath of stress these days? Tension and fatigue are in the air. But what if we could draw breaths that bring peace. Katie Forsthoff introduces the ancient spiritual technique of breath prayer. 

Combating Plague Mind

Do you have plague mind? You don’t need a doctor’s order to get tested. Just answer the questions below. Then watch Gerrit and Chris’ video on the battle for your mind.
 
If you check more than 3 boxes, this one if for you.
 
Check all that apply:
 
____ I watch too much news. 
____ I’m sick of the people I live with. 
____ I don’t really feel like doing anything. 
____ Yet, I’m bored! 
____ I watch too much television. 
____ I don’t concentrate very well. 
____ I feel poor! 
____ I have floating anxiety. 
____ I don’t sleep very well. 
____ I’ve gotten suspicious of other people.
 

What's a Guy to Do?

What's a Guy to Do?
Men's Pastor Darin Travis has some tips for guys in isolation.
 

 
Live Stream
 
Let's worship as one church. Live stream with us Sunday morning at 10.30 am (becomes live 5 minutes before start of worship).
 
Email prayer@fpcbr.org if you have trouble with the live stream Sunday morning. We've included the order of worship for you to follow along.
 
 
 
Don't Forget
 
Download the church APP. The app has all the same information as the website, including connecting to the Sunday live stream, an option to give online and accessing all archived sermons.
 
 
Contact Us
 
If you would like a friendly voice, prayer, comfort, have live stream questions, or if you have a practical need for groceries or a pharmacy run, contact the church office (225.387.0617 or prayer@fpcbr.org) and we will get you connected. 
 

Email Us

 

 

Corona Christians!

Corona Christians!
Today’s Staying Connected Video from Gerrit and Chris.
 

 
 
Live Stream
The button below brings you directly to the FPC live stream page. Live stream becomes active at 10.25 am this Sunday; 5 minutes before worship begins.
 
Email prayer@fpcbr.org if you have trouble on Sunday morning.
 
 
Don't Forget
Don't forget to download the church APP. The app has all the same information as the website, including connecting to the Sunday live stream, an option to give online and accessing all archived sermons.
 
 
Contact Us
If you would like a friendly voice, prayer, comfort, have live stream questions, or if you have a practical need for groceries or a pharmacy run, contact the church office at 225.387.0617 or click the link below to email us.
 
 
 

 

Home Worship

Dearly Loved Congregation,
 
Here’s a new video encouragement for home worshipers that I made with Chris Phillips.
 
Also, big news. For the next two Sundays, at 10.30 am we will have online worship only, no live attendees!
 
Why? Well, not only to comply with health guidelines, but in order to change the format of the live stream so it appeals to more home viewers. The video will be more “up close and personal,” as Chris and I lead you through worship.
 
Also, send us your selfies from where you’re watching worship and any prayer requests to prayer@fpcbr.org. We’ll get the selfies on our Facebook page and show them next week too!
 
News on Palm Sunday to follow in about ten days.
 
Keep praying for each other, our city, our medical professionals, our nation and world. 
 
Jesus reigns,
Gerrit
 

 
 
 
 

Staying Connected In Isolation

Dearly Loved Congregation,
 
It’s so hard to be apart! Seldom have we realized how precious it is to be together.
 
Technology gives us a chance to be connected, albeit without touch or eye contact.
 
So for the next few days, expect a brief video encouragement from me and other pastors and staff.  
 
 
 
News:
 
Our 10.30 am Sunday gatherings are limited to 50. You can sign up to be part of our "Live Fifty" below. We’ll have a waiting list in case some have to drop out: so if you sign up but can’t make it, you can let us know. Others can worship from home via the FPC live stream.
 
This week’s message will be Corona Christians. 
 
If you would like a friendly voice, a prayer, some comfort, or if you have a practical need for groceries or a pharmacy run, contact the church office (225.387.0617 or prayer@fpcbr.org) and we will get you connected.  
 
If you’d like to talk with a professional counselor by phone, you can contact our Baton Rouge Christian Counseling Center and they will have a counselor call you. (225.387-2287) or email BRCCC@brchristiancounseling.com.
 
Keep praying for each other. Keep checking on each other. Keep looking to Jesus!
 
So thankful to be your pastor,
Gerrit
 
 

FPC Suspends Gathered Worship: A Message from Gerrit and Dr. Katie O'Neal

Beloved Members and Friends of First Presbyterian,
 
I despise media hysteria. I am skeptical of crowd-induced panic. I am determined that First will not behave out of fear or peer pressure.
 
And I now believe we should go to what is basically online worship for the next three weeks. It’s about serving our community, especially our health care services, by limiting large groups in social contact to “flatten out the curve” of a disease that will, inevitably, spread.
 
I’ve spoken to FPC member Dr. Katie O’Neal, who heads Disease Prevention at the Lake. I get it now in a way I didn’t. It’s not about what one individual handshake causes. It’s about the statistical reality of how epidemics spread. The facts, as best as we know them, are that “social distancing” slows down the spread and makes care of sick individuals more manageable. 
 
I then spoke to Dr. Keith Meador at Vanderbilt Medical Center and he confirmed all of the above.  
 
And following that, I have consulted with the session who agreed:
 
For March 15, 22 and 29, we will hold one 10.30 am service in the Sanctuary to which elders, deacons, staff and their families who are not in at-risk categories are invited. We will livestream this service, having communicated to our congregation that beginning Sunday we will eschew large gatherings. Nursery and Sunday school will be suspended for this time.
 
Let’s plan to participate together through our website, sending livestream viewership into the hundreds! Link is below.
 
However, home groups and small groups at church may continue, and people will be urged to follow the prescribed cautions, exercising personal discretion.
 
Chris Phillips and I will shape these services in various styles over the time period. 
 
The Youth Gala is already “out of the gate” and we will trust people to use discretion in their attendance, using good hygiene. 
 
We’re very thankful to Dr. O’Neal for conducting this video interview amidst a crushing schedule. 
 
Please pray especially for our medical providers, our elderly and the shalom of our city.
 
As ever, your pastors, elders and staff are available to serve you and uphold the faith we share.
 
With you in Christ
Gerrit