---Grace Notes

 
One of my main tasks as the Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Moorestown is assuming the role of a spy. As I stand beside our people in worship and service I am constantly watching for signs of God’s grace at work here. In this sense, I’m a spy for grace. Very often, we’re the last ones to see what God has done in us. We can’t always see the change or notice the growth, though others can. I deeply believe that God is at work in faithful and loving ways in our lives. I’m looking for and pointing out every sign I see. Grace Notes is a public record of sorts. It’s a weekly field report that I write to celebrate all that God is doing here in this great congregation.
 
– Pastor Stuart Spencer –
 
 
 
 

“Grow Faith” Rev. Stuart Spencer

WAY #14 GROW FAITH “Someone who knew what he was talking about once remarked that pain was the touchstone of all spiritual progress.” – Bill Wilson, The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
 
WOULDN’T IT BE WONDERFUL if our faith in Christ grew best when we are at our best? What if faith grew strongest when we had it all together: when we loved the way we looked and felt like a million bucks, when everything was just right in our families, our marriages, our jobs and the world? You know the answer. If everything had to be aligned perfectly a) you probably wouldn’t be thinking about God and b) perfect never comes.
 
Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, discovered the truth about how faith grows. As most plants require dirt to grow, so faith requires pain to grow. I might learn a lot from a Bible study or by reading a great book on theology but nothing has helped my dependence on God deepen like a crisis or a challenge. Ten years ago, my wife Leslie was diagnosed with an early form of breast cancer. Her doctors told her it was aggressive and she would need to undergo surgery and chemotherapy. Soon one surgery became three surgeries, and radiation therapy followed chemotherapy. Our boys were young then. I was, to be honest, overwhelmed with concern for my wife and our family.
 
One day, about four or five months into her treatments, I was talking with a man at my former church named Ron Cronise. Ron was a cancer survivor. He said to me, “This experience you’re going through is going to strengthen your marriage and deepen your faith in God.” OK, I thought, that’s a good thing to remember. That same evening, I drove to a meeting here at FPC Moorestown. Bill Walker was there and his wife, Debbie is a breast cancer survivor. Bill looked at me and said, “This experience you’re going through is going to strengthen your marriage and deepen your faith in God.” Bill Walker and Ron Cronise don’t know each other, though they said the identical thing I needed to hear. God used those two men to speak a word from God to me as clear as any I’ve heard. Bill and Ron were right. Leslie and I grew much closer and my faith went deeper than it had before.
 
Why is pain a necessary ingredient for spiritual growth? I think it’s because pain drives me to my knees. Pain forces me to ask for support from my closest friends. Pain breaks any illusion that I can manage my life apart from God. God is the user of pain.
 
We’re in painful times right now as a nation and world; and the pain could linger for a long me to come. Could these days be rich spiritual growth days for us? I pray that will be the case. This Way encourages you to take advantage of every opportunity you can find to Grow Faith. Don’t forget that pain is the touchstone.
 
Stuart Spencer, Pastor

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“Open Doors for Others to Lead” Dave Fauvell

WAY #13  “Open Doors for Others to Lead”
THINGS HAVE BEEN FLIPPED upside down with COVID-19 precautions and during change we tend to hold onto things so that we can feel some semblance of control. Well, that’s not the way of someone who follows Christ. We are not called to a life of comfort, we are called to a full life.
 
I was recently talking with some people about how capable (or arrogant, if you prefer) I am and how I manage to get everything done that I need to, and it tends to get done well. Now I don’t feel like I’m alone in the way I view myself. If we are honest, our church is full of extremely capable people living very efficient, successful lives, but again, that is not the way of a Christ follower. In the beginning we see the most capable and successful person ever (God) divvy up responsibilities and giving other people (who fail) a chance to be part of something great. Here is the terrifying part. That is the model we are supposed to follow. Those who feel capable and best suited for every task (here’s my ego again) need to hand over the reigns. We need to share our responsibilities with others because of a two-fold blessing. We share responsibilities then our work load gets lighter, and secondly others get the joy of being part of something. It is time to pass the torch.
 
Now don’t be like me and hold onto things because you think someone would fail. That doesn’t matter. God doesn’t care about failure so neither should we. God gives opportunities for success, so should we. If you’ve been doing something for awhile, hand over the reigns, but don’t walk away. Offer advice when it’s asked for. Be patient as people grow into new opportunities. Be ok with failure. One person’s screw up isn’t going to derail God’s plan.
Here’s some practical thoughts considering our current COVID-19 condition. Small group leaders: start a group chat and let everyone chime in, don’t lead, facilitate. Parents: allow your child to take ownership of their learning, do not micromanage or snowplow, but do encourage. Bosses/Managers: ask the people under you to tackle those projects that you just never get around to and let them do their thing. Those can all be pretty terrifying things to do because we have to let go of control and be ok with failure, but hey, who should we trust more, ourselves or God? And if you are not at that point in your faith, no shame, but look at it this way. Everyone is in uncharted waters so you might as well try something new.
 
Dave Fauvell, Interim Youth Director

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“Own Our Church” Ginny Weber

WAY # 12  OWN OUR CHURCH
THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES, along with many staff members, has been working over the past couple of years to begin to claim ownership of the facility and grounds. Through many generous bequests and donations, the Trustees, with Session approvals, have begun these upgrades. In deciding the priorities, the safety of the congregation and staff was first and foremost. The total replacement of the parking lot last summer was a major project, and many thanks go out to the congregation for weathering the longer than proposed disruption. Upgrades to the security systems, including cameras in the children’s wing and common areas will attract younger families. All locks in the building were changed and a new key distribution system was implemented. Change is difficult, but we are thankful for such a caring and understanding congregation and staff.
 
The Sanctuary and narthex, as well as many other parts of the building, have been painted. The Sanctuary was last painted over 30 years ago and the stairway to the choir loft has not been painted in at least 50 years. New carpeting was installed in the Miller Commons lobby and will soon be replaced in the narthex and church halls. How many remember the black and white tile in the narthex, or the wood stairs leading to the choir loft that one might have raced up and down as a child? A new sound system was installed in the Sanctuary and speakers are being added to the choir loft. Most of you probably never noticed the conduit that is now all hidden in the narthex and church. Also, the leak in steeple has been finally been fixed to protect the organ and choir loft. The annual Trustee work day, in coordination with “The Church Has Left the Building,” planted hundreds of tulips and daffodils and spruced up the flower beds around the church and cemetery. The Wong Garden was completely redone with a waterfall constructed by someone wanting to give back. Trees in the cemetery were trimmed, dead trees on the property removed, and additional work is still to come.
 
All the graves in the cemetery were lifted and leveled by an anonymous donor; take a stroll after church some Sunday and see the newly constructed garden around the Cross. There are still additional items on the to do list; new windows in the Christian Education building, exterior painting of the building and steeple, bathroom upgrades in the Christian Education wing and all knob and tube wiring to be removed in the house.
 
These are just a few of the many projects that the Trustees and staff have undertaken over the past couple of years to reclaim ownership of our property. The church has been enriched by those that have gone before us and donors, at a critical time in our history. We have truly been blessed by God.
 
Ginny Weber – President, Board of Trustees

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“Make Others at Home Here’ Pete Honeyford

WAY #11 MAKE OTHERS AT HOME HERE   An observation of hospitality and more: As my father neared to depart for his glorious voyage, he was hindered by 98 years of wear and the struggle to stem its effects. Dad’s stamina was weakened, his mental acuity more limited, he often drifted between awake and asleep. Greatly evident though was the near miraculous energizing effect when he would greet people.
 
This was at home and especially at church. Dozens were encouraged by his presence there and the light that seemed to radiate from his countenance when engaging people. That Dad was energized by greeting people was very evident and I believe he received great joy from it. I don’t know if this gift is so obvious or even evident for all of us. But the apparent essence of Jesus’ love is that He chose us over Himself. Going out of our way to greet those we know, but especially those we do not know, seems a very modest, but essential first step in being loving; choosing someone else’s needs over our own even if for a very brief moment.
 
I know I need to be in prayer for those that will come to visit. To pray for peace. Pray for awareness to be able to recognize what is before me. Pray for the motivation to step forward into action. Pray for those that would come along side. To pray for receptive hearts.
I think I’m going further than just greeting the newcomer at church in this, but in all things, as Ed Gross recently instructed, follow the instruction of Luke 10 and especially verse 2: … “Pray earnestly…” This is the first instruction Jesus gave to the 72 disciples that He sent out ahead of Himself. They accomplished amazing things in His name.
 
As with most things Spiritual, the unexpected joy that we receive is typically greater than that which we give.
 
Elder Pete Honeyford
 

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“Join Hands” Rev. Stuart Spencer

WAY #10 Join Hands
You’re on a basketball court. You look to the other end of the court and there stands the starting five players of a professional basketball team. Let’s make the team the Milwaukee Bucks. The five men facing you stand 6’ 11”, 6’ 11”, 6’ 7”, 6’ 3” and 6’. These five and the next four men off the bench are considered the finest defensive team in the NBA. Here’s your assignment: try to score a basket against this team. Oh, by the way, you’re on your own against the Milwaukee Bucks. It’s one against five. Good luck!
 
Our Way of the Week for this week provides us with the secret to overcoming impossible odds. Join hands. Work as a team. That’s what collaboration means. Teamwork lightens the load and gives you a way better shot at success. With every person who walks on the court with you, the better your chances of scoring against the Bucks. Alone, you have no shot.
 
Most of us are facing NBA-sized challenges in our lives: an addiction, marital stress, discouragement, and fear are all 6’11” or taller. Together, as a church, we’re facing some big tasks too. Concerning questions like, how can we become a congregation of disciples or how can we grow young, are all tall tests too. We’d better find hands to join.
 
To help us, Session endorsed three statements at its January 2020 meeting. These statements set forth our important game plan and why we’re in the game in the first place. I encourage you to join hands around these crucial statements. They are:
 
  • VISION STATEMENT We aspire to be beacons of God’s love and truth, growing together in faith and relationship with Jesus Christ.
  • MISSION STATEMENT Our mission is to: · Worship God faithfully · Connect Spiritually · Serve Christ locally and globally.
  • WHY STATEMENT We follow the Great Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind … [and] you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37, 39 NRSV)
 
FPC Moorestown: Join hands!
Stuart Spencer, Pastor

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“Pray First and Pray Again” Arlita Winston

WAY #9  PRAY FIRST AND PRAY AGAIN.   AT A CONFERENCE, Dr. Harry Ironside, one of the great preachers of all time, was teaching on prayer. He wanted the audience to understand how and why so many of the prayers we pray are not answered in the way we want them! Listening in from the kitchen was their cook. She came out shyly and asked Dr. Ironside if she could say something. “Why, of course!”
 
“I know you all love my biscuits! There’s a lot that goes into making them so delicious. I use a coarse salt. I use shortening. I use flour, some baking soda, some baking powder, a smidgeon of sugar, and I beat them together, roll them out, cut them up into pieces, and put them into a hot oven. Now, if I were to give you just the baking powder or flour, or the salt, you would spit it out in a hurry! If I were to give you just the dough, you would spit it out. God cuts our life into little pieces, and puts us into a hot oven so that we can rise! God takes situations like each of these ingredients and puts them together! In the end, we LOVE them! We ask for more just like them!”
 
We have a granddaughter, Jessica, who is a middle-school teacher in China. She was recently subjected to the CoronaVirus. Some of you have been praying with us, again and again, over these weeks for God’s protection. Last Sunday, at this time, she arrived safely in NYC! Only now are we finding out what she really went through. Each “ingredient,” tasted alone, would bring you to tears. Little do we know how each of our prayers, again and again, lifted her up.
 
Jessica’s trial reminds me of the Gorse bush. It’s branches bristle with long thorns, sticking out in all directions. The thorns harden and sharpen throughout the year, but come spring, halfway up each thorn, two brown furry balls appear and break into a gold blossom. The Gorse Bush becomes a blaze of glory! Take the hardest thing in your life … pray, and pray again! God, I bring to You the trials of my life, trusting You to bring my soul into blossom at those very points of difficulty.
 
Arlita Winston
 
 

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“Jump In” Joyce Wenzke

WAY #8   JUMP IN sounds like you need courage… It gives the impression that it can be scary… It is out of my comfort zone … No experience, no know-how. These thoughts can cloud our desire to try.
 
I had lived in this town for several years when I followed my second grade son to First Presbyterian Church. I used to feel insignificant, unworthy and just plain unimportant. The people of this church encouraged me to build a relationship with Jesus Christ. While getting to know Him better I found I had a heart to help.
 
I have put my toe into the water of FPC in many places. Sometimes it takes a few moments (minutes, days, hours) for my fearful thoughts to be calmed. Then I step forward.
 
I can clean up after an event … pick up the bagels for Sunday … volunteer to answer phones in the church office … help a neighbor learn Excel … send a note to someone who lost a pet … create new name tags for those who are missing theirs or for our new members … help with weddings here … or whatever, or whoever, I see needing help.
 
The blessings fill me to overflowing with pure joy and new friends. I feel part of a family that cares. Each time I “jump in” I am not overwhelmed, because love is here to hold me up. It’s the love of our Lord Jesus and the love of our church family.
 
Do you have a desire to help in some way? Time can slide by before you have the guts (or courage) to jump in. Just think of that first jump into water this summer. The cold is a shock to the body. But wait … in a few moments your body has adjusted to the cool and it is delightful! Listen for God to touch your heart and jump in. Feel the delight!
 
Jump In! – I’ll be there with you. Elder Joyce Wenzke

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Goodbye from Dan Wonneberger

I cannot believe that it has been 8 years and I can’t begin to figure out how to say “Goodbye.”
 
To each of you: Thank you for the gift you have been to me and my family. In your constant and overwhelming support throughout my ministry here, this church family has been my foundation and my safety net.
 
To the families who have trusted me with your kids: Thank you for allowing me to partner with you in such an important task. It has been my great honor and blessing to be a part of the faith stories of your children. I should have said this more, but “You should be so proud of them and of how you have raised them.”
 
To the Middle Schoolers and High Schoolers, who to the bemusement of those around me I always refer to as “my kids.” You have been some of my closest friends and my family here. There are a million times we have laughed, gotten injured, experienced God, jumped until Joel’s ceiling cracked a little, hit that perfect prayer clap, cut open stuffed animals, or ruined our socks playing handball too hard. Thank you for your trust. Thank you for your friendship. Thank you for your questions and for your continual search for God. Thank you for being a family to worship with and to encourage each other. Here is my last encouragement to you: Continue to draw near to Him, and God will draw near to you. Here at FPC, you have a family of other teens who love and care for you, parents and other adults who are fighting for you, and a safe place to meet God and question things. Use everything you’ve got to draw close to Him so that you might get to know the surpassing joy of a life lived with Christ.
 
I love you guys and I will miss each of you. Dan Wonneberger

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“Assume Positive Intent” Gayle Payne

WAY #5. ASSUME POSITIVE INTENT. Decide to trust that others are being fair, honest, and concerned for the well-being of our church. Set aside your own judgments and preconceived notions. Surrender the urge to criticize and judge—it doesn’t help. Read: I Peter 4:8; Galatians 5:15; Matthew 7:1
 
I honestly don’t know if there is a Way more challenging for me than this one. I’ve thought long and hard about it and wrestled with the benefits and struggles of focusing on this call to assume positive intent. I must admit that it is not ‘natural’ for me… And I don’t find the “judge not, so you won’t be judged” a right motivator. For me, releasing a reflex impulse to assume negative intent is healed only by immersing myself in pondering Grace – the Grace that is Jesus Himself. It is God Who loves you and loves me to the saturation point where transformation can happen.
 
The New Covenant declares to us that loving God (and even our neighbor) is possible because He FIRST loved us (1 John 4:19). It is His unmerited, undeserved, unearned grace that pushes away the old performance-driven angst about getting it right – it is the finished work of Christ Jesus that softens and renews and transforms our minds and hearts. (Gal 3:14,26-27) For me it is not a bold resolution to do better or try harder or work at it longer – I couldn’t do another day without Him. Yet, what a reward for daring to trust Him. When His love fills up your heart and mind, the old thinking begins to dissolve like dull stains.
 
Perhaps there are others like me who must begin by assuming positive intent of God and Christ and the Holy Spirit; that our heavenly Father and Savior and Counselor are loving, honest and concerned for our well-being and for all of the church. It is through increasing confidence in the transforming power of God’s love that I can care for others, to value their personalities, to embrace their ideas and to move forward together.
 
Blessings, Gayle Payne

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“Always Encourage and Celebrate” Dr. Jonathan MIller

WAY 4. ALWAYS ENCOURAGE AND CELEBRATE. Show gratitude and appreciation by regularly acknowledging the good works you see everywhere. Look for signs of spiritual growth and maturity among our members and staff. When you see it, point it out and rejoice. Pass on good reports that you hear about others. Read: 1 Thessalonians 1: 3-4; Acts 11: 22-23
 
I REMEMBER ATTENDING the National Prayer Breakfast some years ago in Washington, DC. I happened to be walking down a hallway next to one of my heroes in the Presbyterian ministry, Dr. Richard Halvorson (Chaplain of the Senate 1981-94). We were talking about something I thought was important, when suddenly he swerved sharply, midsentence, toward the men’s room. I certainly understand that these kinds of maneuvers are absolutely necessary at times. But no, Dr. Halvorson didn’t go into the bathroom. He walked directly to the man sitting on a chair next to his pail and mop. He shook hands, they laughed and I could hear Dr. Halvorson call the man by name. They may have spoken two whole minutes. I was shocked on many levels: 1) He stopped to talk to somebody, nobody ever talks to – the guy who cleans the bathroom; 2) He actually knew the person’s name; 3) and he knew enough about the man that they actually had some kind of conversation.
 
Dr. Halvorson’s encouragement class took place in a split second. I’ve never forgotten this distinguished man’s humble spirit and ability to immediately elevate the self-worth of a `stranger.’ The writer of Hebrews says, Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds … ENCOURAGING one another (10:25-26).
Encouraging one another is not an automatic inclination. Often, I simply don’t want to take the time to be in a conversation. Often, I’m only thinking about myself, blind to those around me. Sometimes I step back from another not knowing if she or he will welcome a conversation.
 
Three encouragements as we go into the week:
1. Find time to individually encourage each one in your inner circle – those closest to you.
2. As the Hebrews writer says, let’s encourage one another in this congregation. Encourage the pastor, the staff, the leadership teams, the person sitting next to you!
3. Out in the world look as you pass a public bathroom – anybody you can say `thank you’ to? Or how about a teacher or supervisor at work, or a classmate who sits alone at lunchtime.
 
We have so much to be thankful for! Encouragement passes through this beautiful congregation to our house every day – every day!
 
Thank you! Dr. Jonathan Miller

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“Listen Generously” Kelly LePenske

WAY #3. LISTEN GENEROUSLY.

Be quick to listen and do so with your undivided attention. Minimize the distractions and let go of the need to agree or disagree. Suspend your judgment and be curious to know more rather than jumping to conclusions. Above all, listen to understand. Scriptures: James 1: 19, 20; Proverbs 18:13; Proverbs 12:15

IF YOU’RE ANYTHING LIKE ME (aka human), chances are high that you’ve interrupted someone, raised your voice when you’ve lost your patience, or you’ve jumped to conclusions before hearing the rest of the story. We resort to this kind of behavior not because we want to, but because we’re so wrapped up in ourselves. Our time. Our agendas. Our egos. Our pain.

What would happen if you slowed down for a moment to cherish the person in front of you? What if you surrendered the need to be right or to get your way? What if, instead of treating someone as a means to your end, you simply treated them as a person deeply loved by God? If this sounds too difficult, maybe a good place to start is by remembering that God deeply loves you, even on your messiest days.

In 1 Samuel 1, a depressed woman named Hannah goes to the temple to pray. It’s the same temple where Eli works, the local high priest. Hannah’s been unable to have children for years, and because others have mocked her for just as long, she’s deeply depressed. When she begins to talk to God, praying passionately but quietly, Eli watches her from the sidelines. Instead of showing Hannah pastoral compassion when she’s visibly upset or listening to understand, Eli interrupts her prayer. Surely her mumbling confirms that she’s drunk! And there’s no room in the temple, or on Eli’s watch, for a woman like her.

When Eli confronts Hannah, she tells him the rest of the story: “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. I have been speaking out of my great anxiety all this time.” Man… even high priests get it wrong sometimes! And so do we when we’re quick to dismiss the person right in front of us. Listen generously this week. It could transform someone’s heart, even your own.

Kelly LePenske


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“Speak the Truth with Love” Pastor Spencer

WAY #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.
(Read: Ephesians 4: 29; Ephesians 4: 31; Ephesians 4: 15)
 
“You can pay me now or you can pay me later.” Some of us of a certain age may recall this tag line from an old television ad for Fram Oil Filters. A mechanic wiped his greasy hands as he spoke to the camera, “I just replaced his engine. He’ll pay me a lot for it. He could have spent $10 for a new oil filter and saved himself a bunch. You can pay me now or you can pay me later.” You’ll pay the mechanic, now or later. As a general rule, you’ll pay more later.
 
I think this rule applies to relationships — spouses, children, parents, siblings, staff, and church members. You’ll pay more later than earlier but there’s always a bill to pay. I’m referring to conflict. Because we’re a collection of redeemed sinners, we can expect disagreements, disputes and somebody having a bad day around here. This means that conflicts are coming to First Presbyterian Church of Moorestown.
 
A member of a former church of mine is an attorney. He has no problem with conflict. He deals with it every day. He might even love conflict. I don’t, and I’m not alone. I don’t know where God falls on the love-hate continuum with conflict; I do know that God uses conflict and often redeems us by helping us grow up in the thick of it. That’s why this Way is critical in building up our congregation. Way #2 encourages us to “pay early” by speaking “honestly and directly in way that clearly reflects love and support for one another.” When someone speaks to me this way, and a few of you have, I’ll always welcome your words. I’d rather hear from you than see you disappear because you’d prefer to avoid the tough conversation. Hard conversations only getting harder, not easier, as time passes. You pay me later than you will earlier. Just listen to the car mechanic.
 
Stuart Spencer, Pastor

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