---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 –

“Open Doors for Others to Lead”

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


“Own Our Church”

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


“Make Others at Home Here”

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


“Join Hands”

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


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


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

–– Kelly LePenske, Pastoral Associate


“Pray First and Pray Again”

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


“Jump In”

#8 JUMP IN   Life is full of unexpected problems and needs, large and small. Pay attention to moments when God calls you to action, no matter how ordinary or extraordinary the situation may be.  See “disruptions” as invitations to share Christ’s love.  Write a note. Visit the sick or the grieving. Share a meal. Scriptures: Micah 6: 8; James 2: 14-17; 1 John 3: 18
Jump in? I was thinking of jumping out. I’m too everything — too busy, too committed, and too tired. Let someone else jump in. I’m out. I’ve got too much on my mind and too much on my plate.
This Way is an invitation to stay open to how God runs business. God loves to use interruptions: the knock on the door, the unexpected request, the planned five-minute conversation that lasts two hours.
The late Catholic priest and Christian author, Henri Nouwen wrote of a now-famous conversation which helped him think about interruptions as something other than a bother. He writes, “While visiting the University of Notre Dame, where I had been a teacher for a few years, I met an older experienced professor who had spent most of his life there. And while we strolled over the beautiful campus, he said with a certain melancholy in his voice, ‘You know . . . my whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work.’”
What if we saw interruptions as a gift? What if, instead of resisting them out of frustration, we saw them as an opportunity to be open to God?
Nouwen went on to be transformed by the professor’s statement. He later wrote, “It has been the interruptions to my everyday life that have most revealed to me the divine mystery of which I am a part . . . All of these interruptions presented themselves as opportunities. . . invited me to look in a new way at my identity before God. Each interruption took something away from me; each interruption offered something new.”
Bend your knees. Swing your arms back. Take a breath. Jump in.
Stuart Spencer, Pastor


“Keep the Unity, Savor Diversity”

#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.a  We make better decisions and grow as people when we consider multiple perspectives.b  Listen with curiosity to others and consider how to use their ideas.c

a  Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. (Ephesians 4: 3-4)

b  How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in harmony! (Psalm 133: 4)

c  Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. (Romans 12: 3-5)

In 1940, George Reavis the Superintendent of the Cincinnati Public Schools wrote a fable called the Animal School.

Once upon a time the animals decided they must do something heroic to meet the problems of a “new world” so they organized a school. They had adopted an activity curriculum consisting of running, climbing, swimming, and flying. To make it easier to administer the curriculum, all the animals took all the subjects.

The duck was excellent in swimming. In fact, better than his instructor. But he made only passing grades in flying and was very poor in running. Since he was slow in running, he had to stay after school and also drop swimming in order to practice running. This was kept up until his webbed feet were badly worn and he was only average in swimming. But average was acceptable in school so nobody worried about that, except the duck.

The rabbit started at the top of the class in running but had a nervous breakdown because of so much makeup work in swimming.

The squirrel was excellent in climbing until he developed frustration in the flying class where his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of the treetop down. He also developed a “charlie horse” from overexertion and then got a C in climbing and D in running.

The eagle was a problem child and was disciplined severely. In the climbing class, he beat all the others to the top of the tree but insisted on using his own way to get there.

There’s much learning for us in this story and this Way of Week. God has purposely placed you in this Church Family. We need you and you need us. When you’re operating in your sweet spot—out of His natural giftedness in you—delight will be yours and God will be greatly pleased and glorified.


“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.


“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



“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.



“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



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