---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 –

“Listen Generously” Kelly LePenske


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


“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


“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


“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


“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


“Worship With Your Whole Heart” WAY #23

WAY #23 WORSHIP WITH YOUR WHOLE HEART. Your life is meant to be an act of worship. Every breath, action, and thought flows from God and can bring him glory. Praise God everywhere and embrace the opportunities to regularly worship with your church family.
IF I READ THROUGH THE PAGES of Scripture, I am told to love God with my whole heart, serve God with my whole heart and, in this week’s way, worship Him with my whole heart. All of these commandments force me to ask, “What does it mean to do anything with my whole heart?”
There are varying beliefs about the heart. If I accept the materialist’s belief, the heart is solely matter; it pumps blood to other physical organs. If we apply this belief to our current topic, we could say that we need to love God with our physical being. If my body is in church every Sunday, I am worshiping God with my whole heart. No matter what I am truly focused on, whether it be a promotion at work or the football game I will be watching in an hour, I am fulfilling God’s commands by my physical presence.
If we take another view, the heart is where the emotions stem from. It is often put into competition with the brain. Application: being in church matters less than emotional responses to the people around us. Meeting with the people of God isn’t as important as making sure that we give the homeless man on the street corner a sandwich.
The problem with both of these views is that they simply aren’t radical enough. Christ didn’t expect us merely to show up for an hour every Sunday, or merely to give the homeless man a sandwich. Let’s look at a biblical understanding of the heart in Proverbs 4:23. I like the NIV here: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” In this view, the heart is the center of the emotional life, the intellectual life, the spiritual life and the physical life. In short, the whole person. All of my anger towards my father, all of my self-proclaimed intellectual superiority to the person I am sitting next to in the pew, the entire absence of my devotional life and all of the cancer that is giving me only months to live is what God wants seeking, serving and worshiping Him.

This is what we have to bring to God in order for us to satisfy this week’s way. Anything less and we are holding back, only offering part of ourselves to the God who wants us in our entirety. God wants whole people worshiping Him, so that those people can become like Christ from the inside out.

Deacon Paul Gordon


“Rest and Reflect” WAY #22

WAY #22. REST & 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
DECEMBER 1 is special to me because this was always the day I brought out this 4-foot holly bush with fake leaves and red berries. It truly was sad-looking, as it had seen a few years of being the Hanukkah Bush and the Christmas tree. We had an advent calendar made from tiny storybook ornaments each a piece of the story of Jesus’ birth. Everyday after school and soccer or choir or both, before dinner we sat at this tree and found the day that was to be read. They would take turns reading the story day-by-day, sometime with a little drama of where that ornament was to be hung. Just recently I threw away that sad tree but the memories shine like the twinkling lights that made the little tree so bright. The tiny books are packed away for the next generation to share.
Then it was a December filled with a myriad of Christmas/Holiday events, when you have children that are two years apart each in a different grade, different choir and different practices, different sports and different instruments. I think many parents reading this can identify with this normalcy. Then there were Hanukkah candles to light, school choral concerts, violin recitals, bell choir and all of the rehearsals for the Christmas Eve services, plus Andrew’s birthday on the 22nd of December and a birthday party in there somewhere. On Christmas Eve we were at the Church from around 4 PM until 11:30 pm after the Bell Choir was finished.
I will always be grateful for Joel Krott for teaching Allyson and Andrew about Jesus through songs they sung. They loved choir practice as well as singing in the choir at church. They never had to be convinced to go. Thank you, Mr. Krott!
Christmas Day was spent in pajamas from beginning to end after finding Baby Jesus in the manger under the tree. Phew! Now, I can reflect and see what glorious memories have been made at our church. all in the Name of Jesus Christ.
Now, here’s the amazing part — 18 years later, Andrew was home for the day and after lunch he wanted to go by the church. I was surprised , but glad. He wanted to see if Mr. Krott was in his office. He took the stairs 2 at a time as he did when he was young. No Mr. Krott, for he was leading the Youth Retreat. He said he remembered that, too. The memories of the church were still there and will be there forever. As the Bible says, “Teach a child in the way they should go, and they will come back to Him.” (Proverbs 22: 6)
Deborah Heller


“You’re Sent Now Go” Way #20

WAY #20. 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. — Scripture: Genesis 12: 2, 3; Matthew 5: 14 – 16; John 20: 21
AS CHRISTIANS LIVING IN suburban New Jersey, this Way of the Week can be confusing. The idea that God intends for us to be His hands to bless, heal, restore, and liberate a dark and hurting world can feel so distant from our day-to-day reality. How can God use me to bless and liberate the world while I live out my daily routine of work, family, and church?
Sometimes it feels easier to send money or things. Our church does amazing ministry through our missions and Deacons contributions, and projects such as Operation Christmas Child, Angel Tree, and Thanksgiving baskets. I know many of our church members sponsor children through Urban Promise in Camden, HOM in Haiti and many other countries. These things are important and they have an impact for Christ. Keep doing them. Do more! However, I’m not sure that’s all Jesus meant when he called us to be the “light of the world” (Matthew 5: 14).
So what does it look like to go? Sometimes God may be calling us to physically go, joining the church on a mission outreach to Haiti, Mexico City, Honduras, or Denmark. Trips like this had a profound impact on my faith as both a teenager and an adult. If you have never participated in one, I urge you to step out in faith and join. You will return changed. However, more often than not, I believe God sends us into our own daily lives to be His light to the people we encounter.
This week, I challenge you to open your eyes to the people God puts in your path. Volunteer to make a meal or stay overnight with our IHN guests next week. Be the one to notice the coworker who is just not him- or herself. Brighten a stranger’s day with a smile or a kind word. When your child, spouse, or roommate comes home upset, give them the gift of your time and your full attention. Offer to pray for them. Better yet, pray with them in that moment. Sometimes, transforming the world starts by seeing the world through God’s eyes. Now go!
Elder Jenny (Wittmer) Revucky


“Find Strength in Belonging” WAY #20

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
WHILE ATTENDING A CHURCH in South Carolina the sense of belonging was full of congregational emotion as they sang together week after week at the close of each service “There’s a sweet, sweet spirit in this place and I know that it’s the spirit of the Lord (our Hymnal page 291)”
Research studies reveal a sense of belonging to a greater community improves your motivation, health, and happiness. A sense of belonging is a human need, just like the need for food and shelter. Belonging is where we feel secure, supported, accepted, and included. Feeling that you belong is most important in seeing value in life.
When we first feel a sense of belonging it is as a child, belonging to our earthly family. God’s intent is we develop into His disciples knowing there’s a place for all God’s children in His church. In God’s house there’s a place for each one of us to belong. There’s an old but true saying: “To make a friend, be a friend.” Similarly, to receive acceptance, give acceptance. Jesus taught, “Give, and it will be given to you” (Luke 6:38). When you grant others a sense of belonging, you will feel a greater sense of belonging yourself.
Acts 2:46 reflects on the fellowship of believers, ‘Everyday they continued to meet together…they broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying favor of all the people.” That daily fellowship guided the early church in developing a belonging community.
In our own church we are offered many opportunities to embrace belongingness, almost every day of the week— through children, teen and adult education sessions, Wednesday’s morning men’s Bible study, evening family suppers, choir opportunities, participation service by flower delivery, Deacon food basket ministry, IHN engagement as well as various committees. Be quick to serve others, for in giving of your time and talents, you will receive and foster your strength in belonging.
It takes strength to choose to belong. When you see your connection to others, you begin to know that all God’s people have joys and struggles. As part of the church family, in experiencing that sense of belonging, you are not alone.
Elder Rebecca Castellanos


“Accept and Don’t Cast Stones” WAY #19

WAY #19. ACCEPT AND DON’T CAST STONES. God’s love opens the doors of our church to all people. Just as Jesus did, welcome people as they are. It’s not up to us to judge. Love unconditionally, and as Christ has received you, receive others.
Scriptures: 1 Timothy 2: 6- 7; Luke 15: 1-2; Romans 15: 7
YEARS AGO ON A sunny September day in east Los Angeles, I found myself standing in the middle of a noisy courtyard surrounded by teens eating lunch. It was my first day at San Marino High School as a volunteer Young Life leader. I was there to meet students, strike up conversations, and invite them to youth group. Driving to campus earlier that day, I had a game plan: Find parking. Walk onto campus like you know what you’re doing. Be confident. I found parking, but anything resembling confidence had been lost somewhere along the 210 freeway. Who knew walking back onto a high school campus could bring back all the old fears like vulnerability, rejection and self-doubt.
Way #19 takes me back to my Young Life days when my heart and eyes were really opened to the relational nature of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus loved spending time with messy people because he saw past the surface, far beyond our fear-based judgments and straight into the heart of humanity — our universal need to love and be loved. Love can only happen in relationship with Jesus and with other people. Or more specifically, through extravagant friendship.
“I came not to judge the world, but to save the world!,” Jesus shouts in John 12. Watch!, Jesus is saying. Watch how extravagant friendship—love without judgment and expectation—can free you, transform you, enliven the church, our neighborhoods, the world! Watch how unconditional love can liberate humanity from its fearful, selfish nature! C.S. Lewis puts it another way: “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”
On my first day at San Marino High School, there was no difference between me and the hundreds of students that huddled in their lunchtime cliques. We all were hungry for acceptance and love and probably some Oreos, too. Which is when I heard eight memorable words from a freshman girl nearby: “You can sit with us if you want.” So I did. They sounded like Jesus’ words, because they were. Words of invitation, belonging and extravagant friendship.
Kelly LePenske


“Ask For Help” WAY #18

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: Psalm 107:6; 2 Corinthians 12: 9; 1 Corinthians 15: 10
SOMETIMES IT IS VERY HARD to ask for help. The thing is, we often need help. And sometimes the only way to get that help is to ask for it.
Part of being a Christian means relying on God for help. We can pray directly to God. We can ask the church to pray for us. We can talk to the minister. What we should realize is that God’s answer can come in many ways. One way God can answer your prayer is by putting a Stephen Minister in your life.
One of the ministries of the church is the Stephen Ministry. Stephen was the first martyr, but he also thought of the idea of sending more than just the apostles to help others. When Kenneth Haugk began the Stephen ministry program 40 years ago, he decided that lay people who received training could provide distinctively Christian care to other members of the church. Ordained clergy are often spread too thin to be able to do this. That is where Stephen ministers come in.
In our church, many lay people have answered the call to become a Stephen Minister, completing the 50 hour training program. We currently have 14 active Stephen Ministers including five active Stephen Leaders who have gone for extra training to help run the program at our church. A Stephen Minister will meet with you for about one hour each week. He or she will listen to your problems and help you get through the tough times with God’s guidance.
Stephen Ministry provides a safe place to ask for help. This confidential program only works when caregivers are paired with care receivers. The difficult part of this ministry is getting those who need help to ask for it. Sometimes a friend or family member will suggest that you ask for a Stephen Minister. Remember none of us can go it alone. Ask for help.
Doris Kahley, Stephen Leader


“Show Who You Really Are” WAY #17

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. God loves you as you are. Don’t hide your struggles, failures or problems.
CHANCES ARE YOU’VE HEARD the phrase before: “Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” Some attribute this saying to St. Augustine of Hippo, others to John Chrysostom, a great preacher in the early church during the late 300s. Either way, this phrase poses a question for the church throughout history, and for First Presbyterian Church today. Do we agree with this statement only in theory, or do our hands and hearts bear witness to God’s love for all?
The professors, youth group leaders and mentors who transformed my life through discipleship each have different stories, yet there’s a common denominator, or word, that connects them all—imperfect. Whether it was Carina (my high school Young Life leader), Michael (my first theology professor), or Dave (my Young Life boss in Los Angeles), they all taught me that the most important thing I can bring to Christ is my whole imperfect self. Not part of me, or the polished I’ve-got-it-all-together me, but ALL of me. My fears, my insecurities, my anger, my sorrow, the hurt I inflicted upon others. “Bring your whole self to me,” Jesus says. Then, and only then, can we discover what Christ has in store for everyone: transformation and healing, joy and hope, love and new life!
The first step in Alcoholics Anonymous is to admit your powerlessness, to own the truth that your life has become unmanageable and unhealthy. Isn’t this what our call to confession is all about every Sunday morning in worship? To declare and accept that our ways are not God’s ways, that we are, in fact, imperfect people? And here’s the Good News: God LOVES imperfect people, and He loves partnering with them. Not in theory, but actually! St. Augustine says exactly this in The City of God. “God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them.”
It’s time to set down the mask, empty your hands and heart of pretenses, and show who you really are. Bring your whole imperfect self to Jesus and to First Presbyterian Church. And remember Paul’s words: “But Jesus said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Cor. 12:9)
Kelly LePenske