“Forgive… Again”

#6.  FORGIVE . . . AGAIN      Just as God forgives us, heal relationships by extending forgiveness with grace and generosity. Forgive everyone everything. Start by praying for those you resent or hate. Ask for every blessing you would want for the one you’re struggling to forgive.  Scriptures: Matthew 6: 13-14; Ephesians 4: 31; Colossians 3: 13
“The Bible connects our duties as saved people with the acts of God and Jesus Christ. The small word ‘as’ often serves as the link. ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ (John 15: 12). ‘Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive’ (Colossians 3: 13).
Robert Roberts says that forgiveness means letting go of anger we have a right to. To do this takes a lot of spiritual muscle, and the job is impossible for people who themselves feel unforgiven. But forgiveness is the soul of our life together. We are forgiven to forgive.”  – Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Beyond Doubt: Faith-Building Devotions on Questions Christians Ask
 
The next time you pray the Lord’s Prayer slow down when you say, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Are you hearing what you are praying? I hope so — for your sake and for ours as a Church Family. Each week, at least; and more like several times a day, I need God’s forgiveness. This is I know. But for me to only ask for forgiveness while not giving it is to pray only the first half of that sentence. I have to forgive those who have hurt me in real or imagined ways if I want to be free and stay free.
This is not easy to do. You need a community who is deeply committed to forgiveness as a natural and necessary way of life. Here at First Pres you have that community. This means that we regularly confess our sins as we regularly forgive one another. We pray for our enemies including those we resent or hate. We learn about forgiveness and seek help if we don’t know how to do it. We talk about and model forgiveness for our children and the children and youth of our congregation. We encourage each other to forgive everyone everything.
I hope this particular Way catches on like the dry wood in your fireplace so that First Presbyterian Church radiates the warmth of love and the freedom of forgiveness.

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“Assume Positive Intent”

#5  ASSUME POSITIVE INTENT.  Decide to trust that other members are being fair, honest, and concerned for the well-being of our church.a Set aside your own judgments and preconceived notions.b  Surrender the urge to criticize and judge—it doesn’t help.c

a Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)

b But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another. (Galatians 5: 15) 

c”Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others.” (Matthew 7:1)

“Judge not, that you be not judged.”  Matthew 7: 1

Jesus’ instructions with regard to judging others is very simply put; He says, “Don’t.” The average Christian is the most piercingly critical individual known. Criticism is one of the ordinary activities of people, but in the spiritual realm nothing is accomplished by it. The effect of criticism is the dividing up of the strengths of the one being criticized. The Holy Spirit is the only one in the proper position to criticize, and He alone is able to show what is wrong without hurting and wounding. It is impossible to enter into fellowship with God when you are in a critical mood. Criticism serves to make you harsh, vindictive, and cruel, and leaves you with the soothing and flattering idea that you are somehow superior to others. Jesus says that as His disciple you should cultivate a temperament that is never critical. This will not happen quickly but must be developed over a span of time. You must constantly beware of anything that causes you to think of yourself as a superior person.

There is no escaping the penetrating search of my life by Jesus. If I see the little speck in your eye, it means that I have a plank of timber in my own (see Matthew 7:3-5). Every wrong thing that I see in you, God finds in me. Every time I judge, I condemn myself (see Romans 2:17-24). Stop having a measuring stick for other people. There is always at least one more fact, which we know nothing about, in every person’s situation. The first thing God does is to give us a thorough spiritual cleaning. After that, there is no possibility of pride remaining in us. I have never met a person I could despair of, or lose all hope for, after discerning what lies in me apart from the grace of God.

From Oswald Chamber, My Upmost for His Highest

 

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“Always Encourage and Celebrate”

ALWAYS ENCOURAGE AND CELEBRATE. Show gratitude and appreciation by regularly acknowledging the good works you see everywhere.a  Look for signs of spiritual growth and maturity among our members and staff. When you see it, point it out and rejoice.b Pass on good reports that you hear about others. 

aWe always thank God for all of you and pray for you constantly.  As we pray to our God and Father about you, we think of your faithful work, your loving deeds, and the enduring hope you have because of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 1: 3, 4)

b When the church at Jerusalem heard what had happened, they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw this evidence of God’s blessing, he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord. (Acts 11: 22, 23)

A Lutheran pastor named Walter Wangerin once had two very ordinary encounters with two different gas station attendants. These encounters happened years ago, years before one could swipe a credit card at the pump. Back then, you handed money or a credit card to an attendant.

One rainy day Pastor Wangerin pulled his car into a station. A young employee walked towards him and greeting him with “Hello”. The exchange was simple. The attendant pumped the gas, the pastor paid with exact change. When the pastor slid back into the driver’s seat, his son asked his Dad why he was smiling. It was probably the attendant’s handshake and his “thank you” given while looking directly into the eyes of Walter.

The second encounter occurred inside a gas station. This time, the attendant, a woman sat behind Plexiglas counter reading a book. Where she was wasn’t a problem for Pastor Wangerin. The problem was the woman’s attitude. With curt sentences spoken with clear annoyance, this woman made the pastor feel like a burden and a waste of her time.

Two forgettable meetings but the first left Walter built up and the second deflated him. He wrote later, “Every time you meet another human being you have the opportunity. It’s a chance at holiness. For you will do one of two things, then. Either you will build him up, or you will tear him down. Either you will acknowledge that he is, or you will make him sorry that he is—sorry, at least, that he is there, in front of you. You will create, or you will destroy. And the things you dignify or deny are God’s own property . . .

And I say to you, ‘There are no useless, minor meetings. There are no dead-end jobs. There are no pointless lives. Swallow your sorrows, forget your grievances and all the hurt your poor life has sustained. Turn your face truly to the human before you and let them, for one pure moment, shine. Think her important, and then she will suspect that she is fashioned of God.”

Go and be builders of one another. Speak your love, articulate your appreciation, let those you cherish—at home, school, work and here—know that they are fashioned of God.

 


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“Speak the Truth with Love”

#2: SPEAK THE TRUTH WITH LOVE.
 
Speak honestly and directly in a way that clearly reflects love and support for one another. Be courageous enough to say what needs to be said, even when it’s difficult. Address issues directly with those who are involved or affected; speak to, not about, others.
  • Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. (Ephesians 4: 29)
  • Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. (Ephesians 4: 31)
  • Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church (Ephesians 4: 15)
As we begin the exciting work of shaping the culture of our Church Family, this second Way reminds us that we’re committed to telling the truth to each other and we’re committed to loving one another. At this church, we’re chained to each commitment. At a personal level, I need to stay open to hearing truth and receiving love. Those who love me best bring both to me and I won’t grow in my Christian faith without those friends speaking the truth with love.
I can remember moments from the past when someone loved me enough to tell me something hard. Perhaps I said a hurtful word or I made a foolish decision or I sinned greatly. I can look back gratefully now, though it was painful then, as I recall the gift of truth given me. At that moment truth functions very much like a bright light in a dark room. A word of truth spoken with love helps me see and thus change. I don’t have to continue living selfishly or hurtfully. I can live differently thanks to those who speak to me directly, truthfully and lovingly.
 
“Well-meant are the wounds a friend inflicts, but profuse are the kisses of an enemy.”  – Proverbs 27: 6
Stuart Spencer, Pastor

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SIX WORDS

FANS OF THE PHILADELPHIA EAGLES are still pinching themselves in disbelief. Who can believe that the football hit by the Chicago Bears’ kicker could doink off the uprights of the field goal not once but twice to ensure the Eagles’ victory in last Sunday’s playoff game?
 
Nick Foles, St. Nick, to many Eagles fanatics, did what he has done in game after big time game: he played with an aw-shucks, who-me poise. After the game when asked what’s going through his mind in these high-pressure situations, Foles said this: “What I learned on those stages is just how to calm myself in a chaotic moment, when there’s … a ton of pressure. And just really simplifying in my head. Getting in the huddle, looking at the guys that I trust. Know that it’s all on the line for us and we’re just going to get the job done.”
Foles then summed up the lesson in six simple words: “It’s just belief in one another.”
 
In an article published online by Inc. magazine, the author heard in those six words uttered by the Eagles backup quarterback a key to creating an effective team or organization of any kind. The author wrote: “Foles’s comments may be inspiring, but they’re also backed up by serious research. For example, Google spent years studying effective teams and found that a single factor contributed most to their success: psychological safety. Google describes it this way: ‘In a team with high psychological safety, teammates feel safe to take risks around their team members. They feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea.’ There’s a simpler term for psychological safety, and it’s one that Foles used repeatedly through his postgame interview: The word is trust. And great teams thrive on it.”
 
This morning, I am thrilled to introduce to you what I’m calling the FPCM Ways. These are twenty-five statements that are all about creating an atmosphere similar to what the Eagles have created. I hope that we can create an atmosphere thick with love here. I hope we can fashion plenty of psychological safety. After all, the mighty defense of the Chicago Bears is nothing in comparison to the challenges we face as a congregation. But I know that we’re a great team and with committed, weekly practice of our 25 Ways, and the sure help of the Holy Spirit, we’re headed to some big wins – for the glory of God!
 
Stuart Spencer, Pastor

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“Creating an Atmosphere Thick With Love”

As a prisoner of the Lord, I urge you: Live a life that is worthy of the calling He has graciously
extended to you. Be humble. Be gentle. Be patient. Tolerate one another in an atmosphere thick with love. – Ephesians 4: 1 – 2, The Voice

IN MAY OF 2018 when I began my ministry at First Presbyterian Church of Moorestown I had three words in mind: Ready, Aim, Fire. “Ready” refers to culture. I wanted to understand the atmosphere of this church to help shape a strong and healthy culture. “Aim” means the work of creating strategy and vision. “Fire” is when we take action on our strategy. Just as we wisely aim before we fire, or implement our strategy; we ready ourselves before aiming.
There is a proverb from the business world and attributed to Peter Drucker that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Whatever plans you may have and no matter how gifted your leaders may be, the culture of an organization both dominates what is done and dictates the future.
 
Not long after I started my ministry I met a Moorestown resident and businessman named David Friedman, president of High Performing Culture and author of Culture by Design. David now works with corporations and non-profits to help create healthy cultures. He has kindly and generously offered his services, free of charge, to our church.
To me, the work of culture-creating is deeply rooted in the teachings of the New Testament. There are some 60 commands that include the words “one another” found throughout the New Testament. These are commands to form a culture that honors the Lord Jesus Christ and creates an atmosphere where fellowship and mission can flourish.
Throughout this fall, I have been working closely with our staff and Session and received input from our Deacons and Trustees on this matter of our culture. We’ve created 25 culture statements or “ways” that identify and describe the kind of church we want to be.
 
Here’s the first “way” with some scriptural references:
 
BE THIRD. God is first, others are second, and you’re third. Don’t just think about your own interests, but be interested in others.  Don’t think less of yourself; just think of yourself less and others more.  Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. (Philippians 2: 4)  “And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet.  I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.”
(John 13: 14, 15)
 
Be sure to be in worship on Sunday, January 13th. At both services, we will share our 25 culture or way statements. I will preach on the biblical and theological basis for this exciting work. You will receive a copy of all our FPCM ways with information about how to learn more as we start to live these principles together.

May the Holy Spirit create an atmosphere thick with love here.
Stuart Spencer, Pastor


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