“Ask for Help”

WAY #18: ASK FOR HELP. Part of being a real and authentic member of the church is to acknowledge your weaknesses and to be willing to ask for God’s help and the support of others. None of us can go it alone. Vulnerability is a sign of strength and a gift to others.
Scriptures: 2 Corinthians 12: 9; 1 Corinthians 15: 10)
A FEW WEEKS AGO, my small group discussed how we can better serve and better meet the needs of those around us. As we talked through the needs we see and the needs we know, it became increasingly obvious that people tend to hide their need pretty well. Sometimes, we even go so far as to turn away help that is offered.
 
Most of us are asked daily, “How are you?” and for most of us the answer is “Good.” There is something about asking for help or showing need that doesn’t tend to fit in with modern American culture.
 
As we talked, the story of Ruth and Naomi came to mind. After Naomi’s husband dies, Naomi does her best to send Ruth away, but Ruth stays anyway. It is easy to want to react like Naomi does and push people away so we aren’t a burden or a hindrance to their lives. It is easy to want to hide away our need and answer “Good.” But in hiding our need and pushing away help, we also hide from grace.
 
The great joy of the Christian message is that from start to end, you are not in it alone. You are made by God, forgiven by God, saved by God, empowered by God, and will be resurrected by God. From the beginning to the end and all the way through, Christianity is about being helped. No one expects you to have it all together; no one expects you to have all the answers.
 
When we Ask for Help, the strength of the Church can shine and the power of God can be perfected in our weakness. Asking for Help isn’t admitting defeat, it is inviting grace and power into your life.
 
Dan Wonneberger Director of Youth and Family Ministry

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“Show Who You Really Are”

Way 17. SHOW WHO YOU REALLY ARE. Our church is for “real” people. Bring your true self, including your joys, your sorrows, your fears, your strengths and your weaknesses.a God loves you as you are.b Don’t hide your struggles, failures or problems.
(a Romans 5:8, b John 3:16)
 
Do you dress up for church? Many of you do and you do so out of respect for God and the House of God. I was raised by a father who’s always worn a tie and jacket to church even on the hottest and stickiest days of August. He was raised by a father who did the same thing.
 
Times are different, of course. Fewer men wear suits and ties anywhere, let alone church. Our whole culture has gone informal. In a different and but harder way, Way 17, Show Who You Really Are, is a statement about how we come dressed to church. We are to come to church as we are emotionally, spiritually, and relationally. We don’t cover our weakness, we let others know that we’re not doing very well. We don’t pretend that everything and everyone in our lives is perfect. It matters that we’re real.
 
In a blog post from the online version of Relevant magazine, a writer connected the vulnerability of Jesus to our own: It was on the cross that Jesus became vulnerable for you and for me. Christ’s vulnerability has changed everything. He knows our weaknesses inside and out, for he too faced temptation, suffering, and sin – overcoming them for us on the Cross. We have a Savior who has given us eternal life, and in the here and now, he sympathizes with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15).
 
I realize that this Way makes lots of us uncomfortable. “We don’t air our dirty laundry” we were taught. Here’s the thing: dirty clothes never get clean when hidden and balled up in the darkest corner of your closet. Dirty clothes grow filthier in the dark.
How can you start? You don’t have to tell every dark secret from your past week. In fact, a part of this Way encourages us to share our joys—answered prayer, the birth of a grandchild, a new job or a blessing you recently received. When someone asks you how you are, consider going a little deeper than, “I’m fine.” You could simply tell another that you’d appreciate their prayers. If you’re close to that person or sense that the she or he is trustworthy, you could pull that person aside and share what you need to share.
 
Bring us who you are. You’ll help others who have struggles and burdens. By all means, bring your joy. We need lots of it these days. Come as you are. After all, that’s how God knows you and loves you.

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“Give Cheerfully

WAY #16: GIVE CHEERFULLY. Rejoice, you get to give! Think of giving as a privilege rather than an obligation, a joy instead of a burden. As you consider all that’s been entrusted to you—time, abilities and money—ask, “How is God calling me to share what I’ve been given?”  Scriptures: 2 Corinthians 9: 7; Luke 6: 38
 
Let me share a wonderful quote from a favorite author of mine, Henri Nouwen. He was a Roman Catholic priest who loved Jesus Christ with a remarkable passion. Nouwen died in the mid-1990’s and left a legacy through his writing that continues to speak to Christians to this day. Here’s what Henri Nouwen once wrote about giving and what happens in our lives when we give: “We become beautiful people when we give whatever we can give: a smile, a handshake, a kiss, an embrace, a word of love, a present, a part of our life . . . all of our life. It is sad that, in our highly competitive and greedy world, we have lost touch with the joy of giving. We often live as if our happiness depended on having. But I don’t know anyone who is really happy because of what he or she has. True joy, happiness and inner peace come from giving of ourselves to others. A happy life is a life for others.” (From Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World)
 
The people I admire most are givers. Givers are so often full of life and joy. I’m thinking of a man I knew who died quite suddenly this past week. This man was a capital g Giver. Years ago, he and his wife joined the church where I served as pastor. One of the questions I like to ask participants in an Inquirer’s Class is: what’s your favorite ice cream? In that class a number of people, including me, mentioned a Ben and Jerry’s flavor when sharing their answer. A week after the class, a package arrived on my front door. It was a large box containing dry ice and 6 pints of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, including 2 of my favorite flavor (Chubby Hubby, if you’re wondering). There was no name or return address on the package. There was a phone number and when I called it, my friend answered. I thanked him and we laughed over the fun of it all.
 
If there’s one quality I’d pray God give us a congregation, it would be the gift of generosity. Perhaps more than any other virtue, lavish, joy-infused giving best reflects the heart of God. For when God loves, God gives. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only, begotten Son.” (John 3:16)
 
Stuart Spencer, Pastor

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“Welcome Change”

#15: WELCOME CHANGE. Be curious about new ideas, perspectives, and approaches. Get excited by the possibilities that change can bring. What worked in the past won’t always work in the future, for God is doing new things. – Scriptures: Mark 2: 22, Revelation 21: 6
 
AT THE START OF 2019 when we rolled out our twenty-five Ways Statements and assigned each Way for a particular week, we had no idea that number fifteen, “Welcome Change” would be introduced on Easter Sunday. It is; and I can’t think of a better Sunday to get us thinking about new ideas, perspectives and approaches. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! 2 Corinthians 5:17,
 
The Message In thinking about discipleship recently, I found this great definition of a disciple written by Robert Webber, “Becoming a disciple of Jesus means that you have become a new person. The term used by Jesus is “born again” (John 3: 3 – 8) It’s a new start in life, a new way to understand yourself, to treat others, to see the world.” Easter tells us that God is in the business of making all things new, including you, me, and First Presbyterian Church for starters.
 
Someone’s going to ask, “What’s wrong with the old? Is there a problem with how we’ve always done it?” Old isn’t worse and new isn’t better, necessarily. Yet we always have to be on the lookout for staying comfortable and digging ruts. And you know that ruts are nothing more than coffins with the ends kicked out. One thing I know is that God isn’t much interested in our comfort as He is in our character. And the shaping of our individual character and our church’s character will require openness to the new while maintaining respect for the past.
 
Years ago, when I was a high school student, I hung a poster in my bedroom. It showed a hill covered in blooming flowers. The caption said, “It’s always springtime in the heart that loves God.”
 
Be new, First Pres! Welcome change. It’s springtime; it’s Easter.
 
Stuart Spencer, Pastor

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“Grow Faith”

#14: GROW FAITH. Take advantage of every chance you have to form your faith—through small groups, classes, and personal study. Be a disciple and look to learn from those who know more of the Bible and Christian life than you do, then look for opportunities to share what you’ve gained with someone else. Scriptures: Mark 8: 34; 2 Timothy 2: 2
 
I’m betting that you’ve never heard of Lilias Trotter. She was born in 1853 to a wealthy family in England. Though raised with almost every opportunity in education, culture and travel, Lilias developed a deep compassion for the poor. Lilias was not just materially wealthy, she was rich in the Christian faith.
 
In 1888, when she was thirty-four, Lilias set out for Algeria with two women to organize a mission to the poorest people of that country. Within ten years, she had established a strong organization and she became highly-regarded for her work and her wisdom. Remarkably, male Arab leaders welcomed her as a spiritual authority.
 
In her book The Way of the Sevenfold Secret Lilias Trotter wrote about the Christian’s need for a leader, or as they would say in Algeria, a sheikh. Every follower of Jesus needs a person or a spiritual guide. Read her insightful words and ask yourself: who is my sheikh?
“When you have found a leader who is after your own heart, you yield yourselves to follow him. Each one in starting on the inward journey, puts himself [or herself] under the leadership of his director, and yields to him an obedience that is complete . . . You feel that your sheikh knows you through and through, and into his hands you deliver yourself, so you express it, as a corpse into the hands of the washer, that he may rid you of all impurity.”
 
As I think of growing my faith, I think of the need for this kind of relationship. I must have someone like this in my life. Alone, I am easily convinced by my excuses and rationalizations. By myself, I’ll quickly find plenty of reasons to avoid doing the hard thing. But when I have someone (a sheikh) like this in my life I’m opening the door to the prison cell of self. Greg Ogden writes, “Transformation occurs when we grapple with the truth of God’s Word in the context of transparent relationships. It is a biblical axiom that the Holy Spirit will have free sway in our lives to the extent to which we open our lives to another.”
 
This Way of FPCM invites us to seek out such sheikhs but also to become such sheikhs. And that’s how our Christian faith will grow here in Moorestown.
 
Stuart Spencer, Pastor

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“Open Doors for Others to Lead”

OPEN DOORS FOR OTHERS TO LEAD. Encourage others to step into leadership by sharing responsibilities and mentoring. Let go of the jobs you’ve always done and allow new leaders to emerge. Remember that our youth and young adults are not the future of our church but are vitally important for our present.
 
You there! You’ve been a member of First Pres Moorestown for a decade or several decades? Then you, my friend, are carrying a set of keys. The keys are “the capabilities, power, and access of leaders that carry the potential to empower young people [and those new to the church].” So write Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin, authors of the wonderful book, Growing Young: 6 Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church. The first of these essential strategies of churches who want to grow younger or grow at all is to unlock keychain leadership.
 
The authors tell us about who has these keys in the church and how they might share or not share them. There are Key-less Leaders. There are young and inexperienced people in the church who have no access or power in the church. They are trying to prove they are worthy and able to hold the keys. Interestingly key-leaders aren’t only young people. Sometimes they are older people who feel like they lost access and their voice. There are Key-hoarding Leaders. These leaders run the show and they aren’t interested at all in surrendering their keys. When they die is when you’ll get their keys . . . maybe. There are Key-loaning Leaders. These leaders will give you the keys for a while. You’ll have to give them back though because key-loaning leaders will always do a better job than you will. Finally, there are Keychain Leaders. “Very aware of the keys they hold, they are constantly opening doors for some while training and entrusting others who are ready for their own set of keys.”
 
So, long-time member of FPCM, which kind of leader are you? Let our Way of the Week get you thinking about who you can help get their own set of keys. And here’s the reason why, as the authors of Growing Young write, “If you are willing to entrust your keys to young people, they will trust you with their hearts, their energy, their creativity, and even their friends. Yes, it can sometimes seem like more work than it’s worth—but if you give them your access, you have the opportunity to touch a whole generation.”
 
Stuart Spencer, Pastor

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“Own Our Church”

#12: OWN OUR CHURCH. The work of the church isn’t defined by pastors and staff alone; it comes from each member actively participating in the life of Jesus Christ. Claim ownership of FPCM’s mission and programs. Each is an expression of how God is working among us! Support others. Be informed. Volunteer for a new role. Live like you’re the church — because you are!
 
a All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. (1 Corinthians 12: 27)
 
b This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. (1 Corinthians 12: 26)
 
I have a friend who managed oil refineries for his career. One thing he heard often on the floor of the refineries were statements with the word “they”. “They need to fix that door. They need to be better organized. They need to work harder.” My friend made buttons and distributed them to all of his employees. The buttons simply said, “I am they.”
 
Our Way of the Week is a chance for you to put on this button. Stop waiting for they. You are they and you will make this church stronger, healthier, and better when you do. If someone needs to be loved and comfortable, do it. If someone could use a back of freshly made chocolate chip cookies, bake them. If someone needs a ride somewhere, give it. If our giving needs a boost, write the check. Don’t wait for they any longer. You are they.
 
In a wonderful book on leadership called Lessons in Leadership Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sack, former chief rabbi in England, Sack says of leadership but also for us, what it means to own our church. “A leader [or a member of FPCM] is one who takes responsibility. Leadership is born when we become active rather than passive, when we do not wait for someone else to act because perhaps there is no one else—at least not here, not now. When bad things happen, some avert their eyes. Some wait for others to act. Some blame others for failing to act. Some simply complain. But there are people who say, ‘If something is wrong, let me be among the first to put it right.; They are leaders [and members of FPCM]. They are the ones who make a difference in their lifetimes. They are the ones who make ours a better world.”
 
Stuart Spencer, Pastor

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“Make Others at Home Here”

#11: MAKE OTHERS AT HOME HERE. Warmly welcome newcomers and visitors. Offer your name with a smile. Reach out and greet the person you don’t know after worship, during Coffee Hour, in Youth Group or Sunday school. Show a genuine interest in others.
 
You’re the most important person in the room.
 
That’s what a newcomer to a Twelve Step group often hears when she steps in her first meeting. Walking into the basement room of a church because you know you need help with an addiction to alcohol or drugs requires extraordinary courage. It’s likely that it’s a terrible day for the addict: her marriage could be ending, her job could be in danger, her very life may be on the line. She’s walking into a room-full of strangers because she may have nowhere else to walk. She’s probably scared to death as she opens the door.
 
You’re the most important person in the room, she’ll hear. Why? Those who are already in recovery for alcoholism or some other addiction understand that the reason they are in that room is to help those who are suffering from what they suffered from. Those folks in that room also know that they have to give away what was given to them in order to keep it because what they’ve got in sobriety is a gift that was given to them. Finally, when you welcome a newcomer and share what you’ve found in the rooms, you will always, always feel more excited about what you have in sobriety because you’ll realize, by sharing, just how grateful you are.
 
This Way of the Week sounds like a duty but it’s really a blessing wrapped in an opportunity. You’re here at First Pres for others who need the Lord. Someone, somewhere in your life shared the gospel with you. Now, it’s your turn to do the same. Finally, telling the visitor or newcomer to our church will get you pumped up about what God is doing here.
 
Go on, and make the newcomer the most important person here. You’ll be doing yourself a favor.
 
Stuart Spencer, Pastor

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“Join Hands”

#10: JOIN HANDS.  Work as a team.  Collaborate with each other, our professional staff, our lay leaders, and our congregants to find the best solutions. Collaboration lightens the load, generates better ideas than individuals working alone, and unleashes the gifts God has given us all.  Scriptures: Ecclesiastes 4:9; Proverbs 27:17
 
JOIN HANDS! What do you think of when you hear this phrase? For me, it summons an image of people linking arms, standing side-by-side, connected by a greater purpose that serves the common good. I see volunteers in rain boots handing sand bags down the line as flood waters rise. The White Helmets (an NGO search-and-rescue team in Syria) digging through rubble to save a crying child who’s survived the latest bombing. It’s men and women walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965 as part of the Civil Rights Movement, hoping to achieve fair voter registration and being brutally punished for their courageous pursuit of justice. These are key moments of collaboration and selflessness, when people from different walks of life dedicated their time, energy and talents to transform the lives of people they knew and those they didn’t.
 
This happens on a local scale, too. In the last week, I’ve encountered awesome reports of how FPCM has worked as a team to unleash God’s gifts. A friend told me how her family received meals from our church for several weeks when they were going through a rough time. Old and new small group leaders stepped up to host Lent groups and pour God’s love into others. Dozens of folks helped organize FPCM’s 102nd Rummage Sale with great  success, while students from youth group carried load after heavy load to people’s cars throughout the night.

 

When you join hands, your mentality expands from “Life is about me” to “Life       involves all of us.” Joining hands allows us to drop our anxious agendas and embrace God’s purposes. Letting go of our anxious agendas is something we all struggle with. No wonder “do not be afraid” is one of the most common phrases in the Bible. God is constantly speaking to us, inviting us to join hands with the One we can trust.

 

So take heart. Maybe a few deep breaths. Lean into God’s possibilities for your life. Make history with those around you. Join hands.

–– Kelly LePenske, Pastoral Associate


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“Pray First and Pray Again”

#9: PRAY FIRST AND PRAY AGAIN.  Ask first for God’s guidance and blessing in everything you do. Through prayer, ask for wisdom and for God’s will to be done. Pray for others as well, that God’s love and blessing would be revealed to them in good times and in bad.
Scriptures: Proverbs 3: 5, 6; Matthew 6: 10; Ephesians 6: 18
 
When we look at different scenes from Jesus’ life, from his public ministry involving great crowds to his quieter moments of solitude, there’s a common denominator beneath them all–– prayer. No matter who or what he’s facing, Jesus prays constantly and without hesitation. Jesus prays during his baptism. He prays through the night before choosing his twelve apostles. He prays in ordinary villages over ordinary things, like five loaves of bread and two fish that ultimately feed 5,000 people. And he prays in extraordinary moments of crisis, too. Jesus seeks God before he is betrayed and arrested thanks to Judas Iscariot, and Jesus prays while he endures the torture of crucifixion.
 
In all four Gospel accounts, Jesus can be found praying and teaching others, including us, about turning to God in every situation. We especially see this in Luke, where prayer is discussed more than the other gospels. The first time we witness Jesus praying in Luke is during his baptism in chapter 3, which sets the stage for chapter 4––Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. Despite the devil doing his best to drive a relational wedge between Jesus and God, the devil fails every time! So why does the devil lack influence? The answer is as simple as it is profound: prayer. Jesus seeks God’s wisdom so regularly that, like a professional musician who’s developed perfect pitch through years of practice, Jesus can discern the right notes from those that are flat and misleading. Jesus can distinguish God’s voice of truth and life from the devil’s subtle tones of deceit and death.
 
As you cross the threshold of Lent and enter your own forty days of reflection, it might be worth asking: Whose voice are you listening to these days? Can you hear God’s voice of truth and hope for your life? “We are unlikely to be tempted in exactly the same way as Jesus was,” notes theologian N.T. Wright, “but every Christian will be tested at the points which matter most in her or his life and vocation. It is a central part of Christian vocation to learn to recognize the voices that whisper attractive lies, to distinguish them from the voice of God.”
 
Maybe it’s been a while since you’ve prayed. Maybe it feels too vulnerable in this season of life. Or maybe it’s all you’ve been doing lately. Either way, Jesus throws us a life ring to cling to on our best days and our worst. Jesus’ last words before his death offer us a prayer to repeat over and over again: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)
–– Kelly LePenske, Pastoral Associate

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