---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 –
 
 
 
 

“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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“Be Third” Pastor Spencer

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.
(Read: Philippians 2: 4, John 13: 14, 15)
 
THIS WEEK, THE FIRST WEEK OF 2020, we begin our third journey through the 25 Ways of First Presbyterian Church. It’s almost a year since we launched living into a Way of the Week. I’m delighted by your embrace of these biblically-rooted statements of culture. I frequently hear members and staff referring to different Ways. I observe that nearly all of our regularly gatherings — committee meetings, small groups, staff meetings, rehearsals — all start with a 3-5 minute reflection on the Way of the Week. Most importantly, I see us changing, growing and maturing in Christ.
 
You should know that this culture work has gained the notice of Christian leaders and pastors. Jean-Luc Krieg, one of our mission partners who is serving Jesus in Mexico City, has translated the 25 Ways for use in training pastors. A retired Presbyterian minister who was once the pastor of Sean McDermott, head coach of the Buffalo Bills football team, shared our Way, Rest and Reflect, with the coach in an email.
 
So let’s keep at it; and let’s start with a virtue that God loves, humility. In James 4: 6, 7 we learn that, “And he [God] gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” So humble yourselves before God.’” I’m certain that God hates pride so much because pride always turns me inward to self and away from God and others. One writer helpfully defines humility, ‘Absolute humility would consist of a state of complete freedom from myself, freedom from all claims that my defects of character now weigh so heavily upon me. Perfect humility would be, in all times and places, to find and to do the will of God.”
 
As you lean into this Way this week, give thought to some questions. One, what aspect of yourself do you need greater freedom? What’s getting in your way of considering others? How are you seeking to know and do God’s will? Is this even a consideration for you? I’d like you to pray, whenever it is that you pray, and ask God to direct you to others you can help, encourage, serve and support.
 
Be third this week and throughout 2020—for the purposes and glory of God!
Stuart Spencer, Pastor

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“Rejoice Always” WAY #25

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.
– Scriptures: Luke 15: 22–24; Philippians 4: 4; Proverbs 17: 22
 
PHILIPPIANS HAS ALWAYS BEEN the book in the Bible that I turn to for instructions in how to rejoice. It is a book of encouragement for me. You may ask why I need to learn about joy when the word JOY is everywhere this season. Yes, it is the Christmas season with cards that wish me joy, and advertisers who request that I buy their goods to give gifts of joy to others, and jewelry has the word joy imprinted by gems or by metal. So many places for joy to be included.
 
However, the joy that Paul describes in Philippians is being joyful in the presence of the Lord, or in a group of fellow believers who express joy in gathering together and in praising God for His loving care. In my small concordance at the back of my Bible, joy takes up 3 finely printed columns. It includes rejoice, joyful, enjoy, and joyous along with plain joy. Wow! Many of the references concluded with the words “ … that your joy may be complete.” That creates some thinking on our part, doesn’t it?
 
Joy can take many forms: a baby who takes a first step, grandparents showing love, a gorgeous sunset, a new job you get, a baptism, a beautiful flower – and so many more. God is very generous in giving us much joy in ordinary things.
 
So what can we do with joy? Sing a song? Yes. Give hugs away? Sure. Dance? If you can. Praise the Lord? For sure! Pass it on to others who might need it? Absolutely.
 
The Lord has come. We remember that right now, but we know that the story doesn’t end with Him as a baby. He has a hard road ahead of Him, but He is triumphant in God’s plan. Glory be to His holy name. Halleluiah, Amen.
 
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! – Philiippians 4: 4
 
Barbara Lewis

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“Tell Your Story” WAY #24

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.
(Scriptures: Luke 8: 39; Psalm 107:2; Acts 1:8)
 
THERE’S A TRUISM THAT GOES something like this: When a person asks in passing, “How are you?” or “How’s it going?”, the last thing they want to hear in reply is how you truly are or how it’s really going. It’s also likely the inquiry recipient doesn’t care or want to say how they truly are. This scenario doesn’t happen just in public venues like on a public sidewalk or in a shopping center. It can happen in church and even in your own home. Just think of when you might have wanted to say something about yourself, but instead reduced your participation to one-word replies, short neutral statements, or silence.
 
Telling your story isn’t easy. When Paul traveled to emerging churches to tell his story, he risked arrest, imprisonment, and even death. When you open up about yourself, you may not be facing such dire consequences, but you may still feel vulnerable and think that maybe you’re making others uncomfortable. But at the same time, you open yourself to an opportunity to share, to teach, to learn, to support and maybe even to be supported.
 
It’s providential that this Way falls close to Christmas. As Dr. Bruce Main recently preached to us, God tells the best stories and there’s none better than the story of Christ’s birth, life, death and resurrection. In giving us the best story to tell, He lets us make it part of our own story while making us part of His greater story.
 
So, what’s my story? Briefly, New Jersey is my 17th home, I’m a 38-year cancer survivor, I’ve served as Elder five times at four different churches, Marcia and I will have been married 37 years this December, my good days far outnumber not-as-good days as I deal with Parkinson’s Disease, I have two daughters and four grandchildren and First Presbyterian Church of Moorestown is my 17th church home. For the long version, just ask me how I am.
 
Elder Michael Jones

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