---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 –
 
 
 
 

“Forgive… Again” and “Celebrate the Unity, Savor Diversity”

#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.
FORGIVENESS is not an easy practice, but it is such a healthy and necessary one. When was the last time you sat down, took a few deep breaths, and asked God to reveal a source of hurt or bitterness in your life? Where do you need freedom or hope in your life?
 
When we’re sick, we want freedom from painful symptoms, so we visit the doctor’s office, hoping they’ll prescribe a quick, short-term solution. But forgiveness does more than treat our symptoms; it goes straight to the root cause of our pain and heals us in deeper ways. Giving and receiving Christ’s forgiveness is life-changing because it frees us from everything that gets in the way of our calling to LOVE. Gone are our exhausting days of bitterness, anger, entitlement and resentment. Now, finally, we can live for Christ instead of being consumed by an invisible disease.
 
Forgiveness doesn’t prove who was right and who was wrong, nor does it prove that someone is more moral or religious than the next person. Rather, it is a bit like waking up in a jail cell of our own making and realizing that, all along, we’ve had the key to freedom in our pocket. Thanks be to God. – Kelly LePenske
 
 
 
#7. KEEP THE UNITY, SAVOR DIVERSITY. Thank God that, like parts of the human body, we’re not all the same. Be open to learn from others, regardless of their age, background, experience, or tenure with our church. We make better decisions and grow as people when we consider multiple perspectives. Listen with curiosity to others and consider how to use their ideas.
 
UNITY AND DIVERSITY are not opposites, but often they can feel like them. The easy way is for those who are similar to be unified and for those who are different to let their differences of opinion or lifestyle separate them.
 
We, though, are called to a harder yet more fruitful way. When we look to Keep the Unity and Savor Diversity, we begin to draw different viewpoints and people groups to the same table and into the same community. We are united by one faith in one Lord, empowered by one Spirit, and enlivened by one hope. Do not let our differences divide us, but savor a different viewpoint united under one Lord. – Dan Wonneberger

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“Always Encourage and Celebrate” WAY #4 – “Assume Positive Intent” WAY #5

WAY #4. ALWAYS ENCOURAGE AND CELEBRATE (July 28–August 4). 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. (1 Thessalonians 1: 3, 4)
 
No matter who it comes from, criticism doesn’t feel good, and recent studies are finding that it doesn’t do a lot of good, either. Psychologists at Stony Brook University found that when children receive frequent criticism from their parents, they’re more likely to develop anxiety, depression and social withdrawal that may last a lifetime. As people filled with the love and hope of Jesus Christ, we’re called to pour love and hope into everyone we meet. A kind word has immense power on a personal and communal level. It’s as refreshing as a cool glass of water on a sweltering summer day. Encouragement breathes new hope, life and grace into everyone, which helps all of us thrive.
 
WAY #5. ASSUME POSITIVE INTENT (August 4–11). Decide to trust that other members are being fair, honest and concerned for the well-being of our church. Set aside your own judgements and preconceived notions. Surrender the urge to criticize and judge—it doesn’t help. (Matthew 7: 1)
 
There’s a lot that goes on beneath the surface of a single human being. We’re all messy, broken and complex, but guess what––God’s not in the business of writing people off. And neither is the church! The Bible is filled with story after story where God calls on unexpected (and even unlikable) characters to lead, serve and transform communities.
Assuming positive intent means taking off your glasses of judgment and letting God hand you a new pair. Warning: you may notice a sudden change in your vision. You’re no longer focused on others’ annoyances or weaknesses. Instead, you recognize something compelling in everyone, and you wonder if it’s been there all along. It’s God’s divine image. It’s the revelation of Colossians 3:11: “Christ is all, and is in all.”
 
Maybe it’s hard to see potential in others because you don’t see it in yourself. Maybe it’s time to exchange your old glasses for God’s prescription of grace.
 

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“Listen Generously – WAY #3”

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. (James 1: 19, 20)
 
Listen generously . . . or else! I’ve come to believe that as I stop listening I’m probably going to start hurting. I’m more likely to lose my composure when I’m not listening. I’m far more inclined to say a wrong or stupid thing when I’m not listening. I’m certainly in a great position to say or do something I regret.
 
Listen generously . . .and watch the healing flow! When I’m listening well to Leslie or my sons, we’re always in a better place as a family. My best listening happens when I’m face-to-face with the other—no phones, no laptops, no newspapers and no TV between us. Listening draws me into the one I love. There are few better gifts to give than generous listening.
 
Stuart H. Spencer, Pastor

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“Speak the Truth with Love – Way 2”

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. (Ephesians 4: 15)
 
The best speech is direct speech. Follow straight lines with one an-other. This Way sets us on the Point A to Point B road to others. No detours to talk about the one you need to address. No turning the other way to avoidthe tough conversations. We’re learning at FPCM to be direct and straight with each other. You know why we are? It’s easier, that’s why. I’ve found that when I put off what needs to be said that I end up carrying a bur-den that I don’t need to shoulder. The longer I carry it the heavier it becomes. By speaking the truth with love I’m really living love; and living love is lighter by far. Please think: what do I need to say? Say it straight with love.

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“Rejoice Always”

WAY 25 REJOICE ALWAYS The Kingdom of God is a party! Let healthy laughter fill our meetings, our meals, and even our worship. Allow the joy of our faith be clearly evident in our speech and on our faces.
 
“But his father said to the servants, ‘We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.” (Luke 15: 22 – 24)
 
Our last of our 25 Ways is the perfect last word as we try to define our culture. May we always be a happy church, a rejoicing church, a party-throwing church. Moorestown and the surrounding communities need to know in the worst way that there is wonderful news to hear and believe. We worship and serve the God of the Party! One of the best parties I’ve been to was our Vacation Bible School, which was held here last week. There were 200 party goers here from Monday to Friday. Each morning, our halls and rooms were filled with the best sounds of laughter, singing, and praying. Party on, FPCM!

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“Tell Your Story”

WAY 24. TELL YOUR STORY. God has done and is doing something unique in your life. Has God answered a prayer, provided help, or blessed you? Share it. Ask God for opportunities to share your faith in Christ by words and deeds. (Luke 8:39; Psalm 107: 2; Acts 1:9)
 
When I was a teenager there was a man in my church named Bill Baronsky. Bill stood out from everyone else. He was a contractor, a blue collar guy sitting in a congregation filled with white collar professionals. Bill was big and loud. His favorite expression, which he said about a hundred times a day was, “Praise the Lord!” Bill had tons of miracles stories from his life. As a teenager, I admired Bill a great deal. But in comparison to his life, mine was boring. There were no miracles taking place that I could see. I had nothing to share. God wasn’t doing much of anything; or so I thought. If you too think you’ve got nothing to say; you do.
 
Truth is that God is working in your life and if you have faith to look, you’ll find plenty to share with others. Here’s some advice I’d pass along from a pastor named John Ackerman. One, don’t look only for the “big events.” Those big events are nice and often come at the beginning of our faith journey, but God most often comes in small daily acts. Two, don’t concentrate on your failings. Rather than obsessing over what you’ve done wrong, look to God’s gifts first and turn to receive God’s forgiveness.
 
Stop: This may be the hardest thing to do. Find a quiet place where you can be undistracted for a few moments. Ask God to bring His light and truth to your mind so can see.
 
Look: Look closely at your blessings from the last twenty-four hours. Pick out and relish the gifts you have received: an answer to prayer, a small kindness someone from your family or a friend did for you, or a stimulating idea that you learned from the Scriptures.
 
Listen: Pray about what you can learn from what you have seen and noticed in your life. Thank God for every blessing, no matter how small. Are you free of pain today? Did you arrive safely to work or school? Make a prayer—mental or written—offering your thanks and your whole life to God. And then, ask God for the opportunity to speak to someone about what He has done.
 
This Way encourages us to pray for opportunities to share our faith in Christ with others, thus inviting them to know Jesus, whom we love. All God asks of us is that we’re willing to open our mouths, God will do the rest of the work of salvation. The Church of Jesus Christ has always grown when Christians tell their story.
 

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“Worship With Your Whole Heart”

WAY 23. WORSHIP WITH YOUR WHOLE HEART. Your life is meant to be an act of worship. a Every breath, action, and thought flows from God and can bring him glory.b Praise God everywhere and embrace the opportunities to regularly worship with your church family.c (Matthew 6: 33, Romans 12: 1, 2: Psalm 150: 6)
 
What is the chief end of human life?
To know God by whom men [and women] were created.
What reason have you for saying this?
Because He created us and place us in this world to be glorified by us, and it is indeed right that our life, of which He Himself is the beginning, should be devoted to His glory.
John Calvin, The Catechism of the Geneva Church
 
You were made to worship God and when you and I worship we are most fully ourselves as God created us.
 
You were made for God’s pleasure. When I understand this, plenty changes in my life. As Rick Warren wrote in The Purpose Driven Life, “Bringing enjoyment to God, living for his pleasure, is the first purpose of your life. When you fully understand this truth, you will never again have a problem with feeling insignificant. [Worship] proves your worth.”
 
But what is worship? It’s a good question to raise because not everyone here knows the answer. In an 1828 edition of Webster’s dictionary, worship was defined as, “is to honor with extravagant love and extreme submission.” That’s good! Following this definition, worship shifts our focus from ourselves or others to God alone. Worship puts me in my proper place because God is where He belongs—on the throne.
 
Here’s another way to understand worship. Chris Collins of Verge Network, offers this helpful notion: “Biblical worship is the full-life response-head, heart, and hands- to who God is and what He has done.” Chris based this definition upon Jesus description of our life’s purpose: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)
 
Our Way of the Week awakens us to promise that God can be and should be worshipped in all times and places. But don’t forget that there is a unique opportunity that comes every Sunday morning when we gather twice for worship. Those are the most important hours of our week as a congregation for everything flows from our worship. Worship is that central.
 
So won’t you join me? Praise God from whom all blessings flow! Praise Him all creatures here below! Praise Him above ye heavenly host! Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen!
 
Stuart Spencer, Pastor

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“Rest and Reflect”

WAY #22  REST AND REFLECT.    Make time in your week to step back from work, school, and stressful demands. Since Christ has freed us, we no longer have to be obsessively driven. Take a walk, play, nap, meet up with friends, share a meal, or just take some time in solitude.  (Genesis 2: 2 – 3; Matthew 11:28, Mark 2:27)
 
“Because we do not rest, we lost our way.”  Wayne Muller
 
A week ago I spent several days at Holy Cross Monastery leading our Spring Prayer Retreat. I keep going back to Holy Cross for several reasons: it’s a God-soaked place where I am able to worship and pray; sitting on a bluff over-looking the Hudson River, it’s a place of beauty no matter the season of the year. But I also return to Holy Cross Monastery because I need a regular time of rest.
 
I needed again last week. I had been running hard since January. I knew I was tired and when I finally had the chance to stop there at the monastery, I really understood that I was worn out. Another pastor who joined us on the retreat spent much of the first days sleeping. She need to flop down for a while. In my book, that’s good use of retreat time.
 
Why are we so tired? While at Holy Cross, our group read and reflected upon Ruth Haley Barton’s book, Invitation to Retreat. In a chapter that explores our exhaustion, the author offers several reasons why we’re running on empty:
  • We’re functioning out of an inordinate sense of ought and should.
  • We find it difficult or even humiliating to receive help from others.
  • We might be living more as a performer than as the person God created us to be.
  • We may few or no boundaries on our service and availability to others.
  • We are carrying the great burden of unhealed wounds—sadness, unresolved tension, toxicity in one or more of our relationships.
  • We may be experiencing information overload.
  • We may be mired in our own willfulness.
Maybe now you see that you’re exhausted, perhaps dangerously so. You now have the permission of the Lord Jesus Christ to rest. Please, go ahead and flop down, rest.
 
Stuart Spencer

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“You’re Sent, Now Go”

Way #21: You’re Sent, Now Go. We’re blessed to be a blessing. God intends to use you to bless, heal, restore, and liberate a dark and hurting world. We’re here for others: in our families and our community and in the world. Go to the need. Live missionally. – Genesis 12: 2-3; Matthew 5: 14-16; 1 Chronicles 16: 24
 
THERE ARE TWO NOTIONS of the church, the church gathered and the church sent. Often, most of our church focus is on the church gathered, but there are pockets and refugees in our weeks. The church gathers because it is in these gatherings (church, small groups, dinner with Christian friends, youth groups, kids groups, choirs) that we find ourselves refreshed and recharged to be sent again.
 
98% of your waking hours are spent outside of church gatherings and that is a good thing. It is in those hours when you are sent out into the world to be God’s emissary; his salt and light. In those hours you are able to work alongside God, empowered and led by Him, to share the gospel by your life and to meet the needs of those around you. It is in those hours that you can be a blessing.
 
What would change if you thought of your life as a life which is sent? How would coaching a kids team, washing dishes, sitting at lunch, practicing for the play, talking with your sibling, or going to work all look different if we thought of our lives as a mission? You don’t need to bring someone to church for them to meet Jesus; you are sent into their lives on His behalf to show who He is and care for others in His name. You bring Christ to them.
 
Today we send our graduates into the next step of their lives not as learners only, but as missionaries sent into the mission field of collegiate life. Each of them will be an ambassador for Christ on their campus bringing Jesus and His blessing through their lives. At times they will fall short and fail, but they will fail forward, growing into who God would have them be.  Pray that the Spirit would guide them and remind them of who they are.
 
Dan Wonneberger

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“Find Strength in Belonging”

WAY #20: FIND STRENGTH IN BELONGING.  At FPCM, you’re loved and valued. Claim us as your family. Rather than withdrawing, allow struggles and disappointments to deepen your sense of belonging. Pray for chances to bring healing to relationships. Please be patient! God isn’t yet finished with us or with you. Romans 14: 7-9, Acts 2: 46, Matthew 12: 25
 
Nadia Boltz Weber is the Pastor of a Lutheran congregation called The Church of All Saints and Sinners located in Denver. She is a former volleyball player who stands 6 feet tall and is covered with tattoos. Her church welcomes former prison inmates, drug users and some of the political leaders of Denver. Her one-of-a-kind church is alive and vibrant and wonderful.
 
But Nadia Boltz-Weber knows something about her church what I know about ours: it’s filled with wonderful but broken people. We are not the First Presbyterian Church of Well People in Moorestown. Pastor Nadia’s congregation frequently hosts a Welcome Brunch for the many guests and visitors who are drawn to this special church. There Pastor Boltz-Weber speaks to her guests: “I’m glad you love it here, but at some point, I will disappoint you or the church will let you down. Please decide on this side of that happening if, after it happens, you will still stick around. Because if you leave, you will miss the way that God’s grace comes in and fills in the cracks of our brokenness. And it’s too beautiful to miss. Don’t miss it.”
 
Way 20 of our Ways is a plea to stick around and stay with us. There is an ancient vow from Saint Benedict that underlines this statement of the culture we’re seeking to create here. In the sixth century, Benedict created a set of guidelines or rules for men who were led to join his monastic community. The brothers at Holy Cross Monastery in New York still follow a version of Benedict’s Rule. In addition to the three vows or promises monks make—poverty, chastity, obedience—Benedict added a fourth: stability. Simply put, the vow of stability is a promise to stay where you are. “Do not . . . run away from the road that leads to salvation,” Benedict wrote.
 
It’s hard to stay sometimes. Our feelings will get hurt. We won’t get our way. Decisions will be made that will boil our blood like our morning coffee. Sometime, someone will say something hard or thoughtless to you. You’ll get your heart broken here. It’s hard to stay but it’s better that you do. The practice of stability grows strength within you and within our congregation. It sends a powerful message these days. We promise that we’re not going anywhere. We love God and we love our church and we’re serious about patience. For we are joyfully certain that God’s not done with us or you yet.
 
Stuart Spencer, Pastor

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“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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