In times like those we are currently experiencing, we look for messages of comfort, leadership and hope. Join us weekly for a special devotion, written by Rev. Campbell and other members of the church and posted on Wednesdays, for that message of hope and inspiration in the midst of the chaos and fear during these uncertain times.
Announcements: Our live parking lot services are taking place each Sunday at 10 am. You can sign up here to register your car for this coming Sunday’s service.
This week’s Devotional is written by Ashley Smith Ashley, FPCP’s Candidate for Associate Pastor. You can find out more information about Ashley on our church’s website (HERE) under the APNC report. Ashley will be preaching at FPCP on Sunday, November 8, both at the parking lot service (weather permitting) and online. Please plan on listening to Ashley in one form or another on November 8th so you can participate in our congregational vote on November 8th at 2 pm to elect Ashley’s as our church’s next Associate Pastor. You can register to vote in that congregational meeting here.
Please note that if there is more than one church member voting in your household, then you will need to register as individuals using separate devices. You can vote either through your phone or laptop.
9About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. 12In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. 13Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” 14But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” 15The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” 16This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.
When I went before CPM (The Committee of Preparation for Ministry) in April in order to become Certified Ready to receive a call, I was prepared to answer all kinds of questions about my call to ministry and my stances on various theological topics. However, about two or three questions in I was thrown a curve ball. “Ashley, how do you plan on serving a congregation with imagination and creativity in the midst of a global pandemic?” I paused, momentarily surprised at the deviation from the traditional question set, but as I scanned those before me on this Zoom call, I realized that I was not looking at superiors who were ready to analyze my response, but colleagues and friends who were tired, a bit burned out, and hopeful that a recent bright-eyed seminary graduate might have a suggestion that they could use in their own contexts.
It is certainly no secret that we are facing unprecedented times. In fact, in a desperate attempt to continuously describe the events of 2020, we have found about 100 different ways to talk about how things are different, new, unusual, and unique. As the church, we are currently facing one very important question: how do we meet this moment? What does it mean to be faithful disciples of Christ here and now?
I believe that today’s story about Peter, filled with its own unusual and unexpected elements, can begin to guide our discernment. Peter is a proud, faithful, joy-filled Jewish follower of Christ! He knows the rules and expectations and he gladly follows them in order to bring honor to his community and, of course, to his God. But here in our text, Peter is presented with something new, unusual, and perhaps even distressing. A sheet from heaven presents him with forbidden food, and a command from heaven seems to suggest that what was once off limits is now, quite literally, on the table.
Peter has been presented with a new way of doing things. And although our story doesn’t explicitly say it, I can imagine Peter waking up and sitting there dumbfounded, wondering what this means for both his future and the future of his beloved community.
Friends, how similar is our own current experience to Peter’s? We too have proudly and faithfully upheld the traditions of the church. Gathering on Sunday mornings for worship, singing in the choir, joining each other in acts of service and fellowship. Being together physically as the body of Christ. But, as we face the second half of 2020 and start to accept the possible realities of 2021, we realize that we are being presented with a new way of doing things. And, like Peter, we too are unsure as to what this means for ourselves and our own beloved communities.
So, in the midst of this uncertainty, I invite us to hear with joy the confidence with which the voice from heaven declares what God has made clean, you must not call profane. Or perhaps to put it a different way, what God has given as a new opportunity, we must not squander in fear. If we peek at the ending of Peter’s story, we know we are shown the joys of the second Pentecost and the inclusion of the Gentiles into God’s wide embrace.
Unfortunately, we cannot peak at the ending of our story, but let us remember that what God has done before, God will do again. Perhaps our new creative ways of doing church will provide opportunities to reach people we never knew we could and ignite passions that have previously only laid dormant. Perhaps this is not the death of an old way of doing things, but an invitation to notice the new things that God is already doing in our midst.
So, in this unprecedented time when we are tired and feeling a bit burned out may we turn to God. May we notice how God is moving in new and exciting ways, and may we accept the invitation to join in that movement and continue to serve our beloved communities with the same imagination, excitement, faithfulness, and joy that we have always had. Amen.
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
Announcements: Our live parking lot services are taking place each Sunday at 10 am. You can sign up here to register your car for this coming Sunday’s service.
Please plan on either attending our live parking lot service this week or watching this coming week’s on-line service, as the APNC (Associate Pastor Nominating Committee) has a very important announcement they will be making at both services which concerns exciting future plans for our congregation.
Are you struggling to sleep or stay asleep?
You are not alone.
More than 50 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders causing the CDC to declare that “Insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic.”
Add to this particular epidemic, the reality of our global health pandemic and you do need to be a scientist to realize that there are a lot of us awake at night, wishing we could sleep, worried about the future.
Rather than trying to count sheep or even count backwards from 100 while awake at night, I decided that I would try counting something else. I tried to remember every Bible verse that mentioned the word peace.
A few came to mind right away:
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)
“You will keep in perfect peace, those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” (Isaiah 26:3)
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.” (Isaiah 9: 6-7)
“The peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)
Once awake, I did a bit of research and discovered that there are over 420 scripture verses that mention the word peace. I think it is safe to say that most of us would fall asleep before we could name or even read all these verses out loud.
Clearly, there is an abundant source of peace on offer to us. Rather than wrestling through any more sleepless nights or demanding days, perhaps we should follow the call of scripture to:
“Seek peace and pursue it”. (Psalm 34:14; 1 Peter 3:11) “Let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, since as members of one body we were called to peace.” (Colossians 3:15)
The Lord desires to bless us not only with His presence but with the gift of His peace.
Friends embrace the peace on offer. It is ours to claim.
My prayer for you today comes from Numbers chapter 6:
“The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face towards you and give you peace.”
Thursday, October 1, 2020
In the Old Testament book of 1 Kings chapter 19, God finds the prophet Elijah hiding in a cave having run from the threats in his life and problems of the world.
The Lord said to Elijah, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord for the Lord is about to pass by. Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.” (1 Kings 19: 11-13)
I have always loved this Old Testament story. I appreciate Elijah’s honest response to life’s threats: RUN and HIDE!
But there is no place that we can hide from God.
Out of the cave, God calls Elijah into His holy presence. But before God’s presence arrives, Elijah must wait patiently through the wind, the earthquake, and the fire, all of which frighten Elijah, but scripture is clear that God is not in the chaos unfolding before Elijah’s eyes.
Instead, God stays very close to Elijah. In fact, God is so close that a whisper is loud enough for Elijah to hear His heavenly voice. But before Elijah could clearly hear, he had to be patient and wait, trusting that the current chaotic events unfolding before him would not prevent God from speaking or leading in the future.
In time, God’s guidance became clear. He led Elijah down a safe path that led to additional help, justice, and salvation. This path led Elijah to new experiences of worship and fellowship.
It is easy for us today to identify with Elijah.
In the midst of a global pandemic, there are times when we, like Elijah, wish to run and hide away. If God could wake us up from this nightmare when it is all over, that would be fine with us.
Today, it may feel as though we are standing at the mouth of our own cave watching as the wind, earthquakes, and fire bring their destruction near to us. We long for God’s leading out of these storms. We long for new opportunities for fellowship and worship. We long to hear the whisper of God’s voice.
As a congregation, I can tell you that we seek to respond to the whisper of God’s voice. Beginning this Sunday, October 4th, which is World Communion Sunday, we will follow God down a new path of worship. This path will be in addition to our on-line service which we will continue to offer each week.
You are invited to join us at 10 am in our church’s parking lot where we will be worshipping through a live radio broadcast. I will be preaching live and Bekah Brudi (our former Upper Room Music leader) will be leading live music. If it is raining heavily, we will have to postpone this service. However, if the weather cooperates, then there will be an opportunity for you to bring out your lawn chair and listen live on speakers in the parking lot. If the weather is damp, cold, or if you simply appreciate that extra layer of warmth or protection provided by your car, then you can listen to the service clearly through your car radio in the comfort of your vehicle.
We will be handing out bulletins with radio instructions and individually packaged communion elements as you enter the church parking lot on October 4th. There will be volunteers on hand to guide you to your parking space and to assist you in parking facing the staging, if necessary. There is space for approximately 65 cars, but within your car, you can have your entire family or friends with whom you are comfortable sharing space.
We ask that you register your vehicle on-line in advance through our church’s website or by calling the church and leaving a message on ext. 113 (which is my own voice mail). Please leave your name, phone number, and email if applicable. If our first parking lot service proves to be a success, we will continue to offer parking lot services beginning the 18th of October if the weather permits. We will see then where God leads us next.
Friends, in all our experiences of worship, we seek to hear and follow the whisper of God’s voice. We listen intently knowing that God desires to replace our fear with faith.
Grateful for God’s on-going guidance and direction,
Habakkuk 3: 17-19a
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
God is my salvation
Where do we find hope in life? How much chaos and disaster can anyone endure? Each of us can face personal challenges or tragedy at any time. In this very difficult year of 2020, we have also experienced a worldwide pandemic and dramatic social and economic upheaval. I see signs of political division, racial unrest, and a lingering sense of uncertainty about our children’s future. So where do we turn for hope, who can we trust?
The prophet Habakkuk faced these same questions thousands of years ago. Israel was in a terrible situation. Habakkuk was perplexed that wickedness, strife and oppression were rampant in Israel but that God seemingly did nothing. When the Lord told him that He was preparing to do something about these matters through the “ruthless” Babylonians, Habakkuk’s confusion only grew. How could God use these wicked people to execute judgment on his chosen ones? Habakkuk did not see the ways of God clearly, nor do we today. Rather, God calls on the righteous to live by faith. God assures Habakkuk that the corrupt destroyer (Babylon) would eventually be destroyed. Be certain, God’s justice will ultimately be done in God’s time. By the end of his dialogue with God, Habakkuk acknowledges God’s complete sovereignty and God’s complete faithfulness.
God is ever faithful, God’s promises are ever reliable. We can trust God’s assurances but must at times wait hopefully for God’s appointed time to come. In the prayer above, Habakkuk chose to rejoice in the Lord who is our salvation, even in the darkest, seemingly hopeless of times.
Prayer: Lord, as we struggle through these challenging days, I pray that each of us will turn to you in prayer, in study of Scripture, in worship, and in service to our neighbors. It is also my prayer that as a church family we will offer support and love to one another, grounded in the strong foundation of our unity in Christ. There is no source of healing and hope more powerful or more reliable than Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.
Susan Johnson has been a member of FPCP for 24 years. She has served within our church as an Elder and a Deacon. She currently serves as our church’s Coordinator of our Kids Hope Mentoring program run out of Bird Elementary School in Plymouth. Susan also is one of the facilitators for our Women’s Wednesday Morning Bible Study.
Wednesday, September 16, 2020
But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.
David’s thoughts in the verses above reflect a deep faith. However, the same man, just a couple of verses before, expresses an entirely different sentiment:
1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
I appreciate that David expresses his real and very human feelings of despair, so that we can see a faithful person struggling. David’s example shows it is possible to believe in God, trust in God, and still have moments, on a very long road of challenges (I don’t know, like maybe a several months-long global pandemic?) when we wonder where God is.
Are you feeling a little more verse 1 than verses 5 and 6 right now? What can move you through “How long, Lord” and difficulty seeing God, toward more trust, joy, praise, and gratitude?
I am fortunate to be part of a small group Bible study that has continued through Zoom since the beginning of the pandemic. This group of women shares inspirational stories of how they are staying strong in their faith. We are honest about our struggles, and we all feel stronger some days than others. We support each other and recharge. Our group is one of several who study the scripture readings from the previous Sunday’s church service, and discuss Rev. Campbell’s sermons. (The groups are open to new participants!)
My fellow group participants, our study, and discussions, have helped me continue to see God’s “face,” even in these very difficult days. Our group has discussed ways we can SEE God around us, when it may have become harder for us to do so. We share ways we have been reminded of God’s unfailing love for us, and then, finally, ways to BE the instrument of God’s love in others’ lives, so they can SEE God too:
- Keep a gratitude/prayer journal and read it often to remind you of where God has worked in your life
- Walk in nature and consciously look for signs of an amazing, creative God
- Pray, listening for God speaking to you
- Read scripture, listening for God’s message to you on a particular day
- Talk to a friend who is “seeing” clearly and can remind you of God’s love and care for you
- BE in the moment, enjoying what is right in front of you…remembering, God who made the mountains, holds the big picture, so you don’t have to!
- Thank someone who has made a difference for you, explain to them how they impacted you
- Encourage someone with a phone call, card, or prayer
- Watch for opportunities to give time, talent and treasures; hint: there are many!
The Lord has been good to us, and we can trust in His love. When that becomes harder to see, we can lean on those He puts in our lives to help us open our eyes again.
Loving God, thank you for the people and moments you put into our lives to remind us that you are always with us, providing strength and comfort when we most need it. Help us to see your love for us, on display in so many different ways: a phone call from a friend, a kind word from a stranger, a laugh in the middle of a situation filled with tears, a breathtaking sunset, and encouraging lyrics of a song played right at the exact moment we needed to hear it. Help us to be open to see your love, and then to let ourselves be so filled with love that it overflows onto others, in our actions and behavior toward them. Help us to daily see ways we can be your hands and feet, showing love, comfort, and peace to a hurting world. Thank you that Jesus has overcome the world, and that, as believers, we are promised eternal life when we leave this one. In Jesus’ name, Amen
Mark 8: 27-33
27 And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.
31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
These verses from the Gospel of Mark illustrate the lack of understanding the disciples had for who Jesus really was. The disciples misunderstood Jesus as their expectations of who the Messiah would be were created by what they thought it meant to be God’s chosen people. Also, they expected Jesus to be a warrior who would challenge the injustices of the Roman occupation.
In March when COVID-19 shuttered the doors of FPCP, the Women of the Word Bible Study had been studying the book, Wait – Thoughts and Practices in Waiting on God by Rebecca Brewster Stevenson. As God would have it, His timing is always perfect! As we all hunkered down in quarantine and waited for the “all clear” to be announced, many of us assumed a couple of weeks would take care of the deadly virus. Digging deeper into our book study, a couple of chapters stood out and have been referred to numerous time as we have continued virtually with women’s Bible study through small group discussions of this book and now each week’s sermons.
Expectations is the title of chapter three, and its words immediately struck a chord: “When we name outcomes for God – when we think we know how it should or even how it will go – a kind of stubbornness sets in. We grow fond of our expectations because they are so often good, and that fondness strengthens our grip on them. This makes it difficult to be open-handed, to extend our palms to whatever it is he has for us. We’re so preoccupied telling him what he should do that we are unable to receive and enjoy what he is actually doing.”
As someone who had this pandemic all figured-out and thought the biggest lesson to learn was to stock-up on toilet paper and Lysol wipes, now six months later, my thoughts and practice have shifted to believing that the living God is in the process of teaching me something. If I understand that the creator of the universe is actively engaged in this wait, then perhaps a “normal life” is not – and never has been – in the cards.
This leads us to the next chapter entitled, Expectancy, which states: “Like expectation, expectancy is hopeful, but it is less fixed. It doesn’t name its outcome, and for that reason it is far more liberating.” Expectancy is simply the state of thinking that something pleasant will happen. Expectation sets standards for what, when, or how it should happen. Expectancy allows for freedom. Expectation boxes God in and limits the ways He can move in our lives. When I finally began to let go of my expectations of what isolation would be, I began to experience my relationship with God and with others in a way I never imagined. Instead of the disappointment of cancelled appointments, missing my family and friends, constant schedule adjustments and confinement to home, I began to experience the joy and gratitude of discovering how precious a surprise Zoom video call from family members could be; how generous, caring and appreciative our church community is; how nature and God’s creation is so amazingly beautiful; and how God can be found in most unimaginable places!
When I let go of my control — in other words — my expectations of waiting on this pandemic, and I replace it with a simple, childlike expectancy, I frequently find myself, as C.S. Lewis puts it, “surprised by joy.” During this trying time, let go of your expectations, they are stealing your joy and holding you back from truly living. As you replace expectations with expectancy, you will begin to see, know and feel God, and all the people around you, in a way you never knew possible.
Prayer: Precious Father, help me to live a life of expectancy. Let me be surprised by Your joy! Give me a heart of gratitude that discovers You in the most unimaginable places. In Christ’s name, Amen.
Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020
Dear FPCP Family and Friends,
As summer comes to an end, our summer sermon series Summer in the Psalms also wraps us this week. It has been our hope and prayer that this sermon series has served as an encouragement to you as we remember together that the God whom we worship is entirely faithful and can be trusted with our every emotion and experience in life.
Before we leave this teaching, I would ask that you first pack away three of its lessons to carry with you into the autumn and winter months ahead.
First, let’s carry with us the Psalms of Lament. There are 42 Psalms of lament found in the book of Psalms; this is more than any other type of Psalm. These psalms express deep sorrows for the trials of an individual or nation. With this type of psalm, the individual or nation ask for God’s blessing and intervention. Amid a global pandemic, racial unrest, and an upcoming presidential election, we need this type of psalm that openly and honestly cries out to God, “Why, my soul are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Psalm 42: 5,11). This type of Psalm also prays repeatedly, “Restore us, God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.” (Psalm 80: 3, 7, 19.) For further Psalms of Lament, see Psalms: 42, 43, 85, 90, 137.
Second, let’s also pack Psalms of Hope for the journey ahead. Psalm 40 proclaims, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.” Whenever I hear this Psalm, I am reminded that the famous Irish rock band U2 recorded a song in the early 1980’s simply entitled “Forty”. That song is based on the words of Psalm 40. Their musical version of this Psalm is how they ended all their concerts for nearly 20 years. They wrote this song as part of their War album as they lived through the Northern Ireland conflict which lasted for nearly 30 years. The band stopped singing this song regularly in concerts when the hope of peace was realized, and God had answered their prayer. For other Psalms of hope see: Psalm 23, 46, 139, 121.
Finally, let’s also pack Psalms of Praise. Psalm 150 reminds us that God’s people had to learn to praise God in new ways. In certain traditions, praise in worship was offered only by a presenter or cantor, a single voice singing only the Psalms. But worship styles changed to include all manner of instruments. Psalm 150 lists, “trumpet, harp, lyre, strings, timbrel (tambourine), pipe, cymbals” as a means of praise as well as dancing. Right now, as a church we are learning how to praise God in new ways. Although our on-line worship may change weekly, the object of our worship never changes, for God remains faithful, loving, abounding in hope, and generous in grace. Even when we are angry and despondent, depressed, or generally fed up, God never leaves us. For other Psalms of praise see: Psalm 8, 27, 95, 100.
In the journey ahead, let’s remember that we can complain, and lament as needed, but let’s make sure that hope and praise are also packed in our heart and mind. We will need them as much we need the lament for at some point in our journey, we will understand that we never took one step alone.
Thanking God for the teaching of the Psalms,
This week’s devotion was written by Nancy Sullivan, longtime FPCP member and Bible Study leader.
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.” ~ Isaiah 60: 1,2 , NRSV
Wednesday, August 26, 2020
Daylight Saving Time arrived on March 8 this year. By mid-March, not only had Michigan shut down, but the daily news featured the increasing toll of Covid-19. The names of victims and the stories of frontline workers left me searching for a way, however small, to respond. There was no symbolic national mourning as there had been after 9/11. Our street in downtown Plymouth reflected that absence. It was quiet and dark every evening. Too dark, I thought.
When I found a basket of white pillar candles that were left from a long past birthday celebration, I developed a private ritual. Each evening at dusk, I lit three candles on our front porch. Their flickering light seemed a slender remembrance of those who had succumbed to the virus. By the end of April, though, my candles were gone. Darkness returned.
Perhaps you, too, have tried to find a way to bring light into this dark, chaotic time. And, like me, you may have returned to this truth: Genesis tells us that God began to create in the dark. In Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “…new life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.”
This new way of thinking about darkness, even in this season of prolonged darkness, leaves me with a sense of anticipation, if not hope. If I pay attention, if I listen for the voice of the Spirit, perhaps I will gain some understanding of what new thing is coming to life within me and within our church community. Physical separation has been a challenge. Reliance on Zoom meetings has led to weariness. Hunger for the old, familiar rituals of the church year has led to a sense of deprivation. And yet…
In chapter 60 of the book of Isaiah, the prophet reminds the people of Judah that something new is being born. The temple will be rebuilt, Jerusalem will return to its place of honor. More exiles will return from their sojourn in Babylon. A day will come when this prophecy will come to life: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” (v.1)
The people are reminded that no matter how dark their current circumstances, God is at work. God’s light will return and God’s glory will appear. Their challenge – and ours – is to be steadfast as we wait for the light to return. “For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.” (v.2)
Dear God, be our teacher in this season of darkness. Thank you for these lessons of patient persistence as we wait for the return of light. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
This week’s devotion is written by Kathy Bernard. Kathy has been a member of our church for 25 years. She has had the blessing of serving in varied capacities, starting first as an usher and eventually co-teaching confirmation, serving on the National/International Mission committee, developing relationships with our mission partners in Malawi and Mexico, and helping facilitate Bible studies.
August 19, 2020
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. John 13:35
It has been overwhelming in a quietly unrelenting way over the past five months. At our house, we began fearful at the onset of COVID 19 and, over time, we have arrived at a new normal. We’re trying to manage the virus along with the divisive climate in the world in a faithful manner, but the reality is that the unknown still looms.
One of the gifts of the coronavirus has been that we have become so much more aware and appreciative of each blessing we receive. Some especially bright blessings took place on three Friday evenings in July.
A group of FPCP’s high school girls expressed an interest in digging into the Bible and finding out what God had to say about women in leadership, slavery and racism, and same-sex relationships ~ three of perhaps the most hotly debated topics in the church. I was invited to be a part of these discussions, and admittedly it was intimidating yet exhilarating.
We worked hard to be a safe place for each other to express our views and ask questions. We wrestled with scripture we found confusing. We looked at Biblical context to ferret out culture vs. moral truth. We took a hard look at the church’s historical weaknesses in addressing these topics. We tried to understand the viewpoints that were not our own. We opened our minds and hearts to be listeners and learners rather than judges.
It was deeply encouraging to me to experience that this was all possible! These young women demonstrated to me that we have reason to hope for unity even in the face of our differences. We agreed that it will be our responsibility as the church to teach love and unity because God is love. How we accomplish this is complicated, but the foundational guidance is simple. God tells us to love one another at least 66 times in the Bible.
One of the students said, “If we argue over what scripture says in a way that drives people away from the church … doesn’t that make God unhappy?” There were many questions I could not answer during our discussions, but I can confidently answer that one with a resounding YES! Our approach matters as much as the truth we seek.
Just before Jesus’ crucifixion, He said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Let us not lose sight of our identity as His disciples as we search for truth. I pray we can continue to dig deeper into these controversial issues and do so with abundant love.
Please teach us to love one another, so that our lives might reflect You. Now more than ever, through the stress of these uncertain times and amidst much division, your light is needed in the world. May it shine through the words and actions of us, your disciples.
This week’s mid-week devotion is written by Tina Creguer. Tina has been a member of FPCP for 21 years. She has served as an Elder and a member of our church’s Stewardship Committee. She is also a long time member of the Chancel Choir.
Wednesday, August 12, 2020
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him and he will make your paths straight. — Proverbs 3:5-6, NIV
Since March, transportation services have been unavailable at my mom’s seniors’ apartment complex, so I’ve been ferrying her around to doctor appointments. I teasingly refer to these episodes as Driving Miss Daisy, as there’s always “just one more stop” before we finish.
Miss Daisy’s real name is Jean, and she turned 87 years old last week. She’s as sweet, funny, and godly a person as anyone I’ve ever met. I was blessed to grow up with such a loving mom, who grounded my siblings and me with her consistency, faith, and ability to find humor in every circumstance.
So, when it came to writing a devotional, it seemed wise to ask what her favorite scripture or truth is in times of distress. She didn’t hesitate, even a second. “That’s easy,” she said. “Proverbs 3:5-6.”
And then told this story: “Remember that day I dropped you off in Detroit?” (I didn’t. But after her recounting the circumstances, we figured out that it was in 1986, when a friend and I went to the Stratford Festival in Canada.)
“I got lost on the way home,” she explained. “I kept circling and couldn’t figure out how to get home. I was panic stricken. Then I saw writing on the back of a road sign. Guess what it was? Two precious, life-saving words: ‘Trust Jesus’! I stopped, prayed, and, miraculously, drove straight home.
“Many times the verse has been my strength. It’s simple but, oh, so powerful,” she concluded.
To this day, she scrawls “Trust Jesus” on the back of every envelope she mails, to share the message with others.
As we all navigate through troubled times, I pray we can find the strength and simple faith that my mom has exhibited throughout her life. We don’t know how or when our world, our community, and our church will emerge from this pandemic. But we do know that we can Trust Jesus to calm, lead, and deliver us.
Dear God, thank you for always helping us when we are lost and afraid. Please help us to always turn to you and trust you for guidance, protection, and wisdom. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
Wednesday, August 5, 2020
The 14th Chapter of John begins with Jesus speaking these words:
John 14.1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in Me.”
Jesus uses the word believe 6 times in this chapter as He speaks with the disciples. The Greek translation of the word believe implies a total commitment to the one who is trusted. God and Christ are the objects of this faith. It is a faith that relies on Their power and nearness to help us, in addition to all of us being convinced that their revelations are true.
Now, that’s a little bit of a mouthful, but it establishes the proper relationship between ourselves and Jesus. As His disciples we are called to lives of faith. Not because the life we live leads to salvation. Jesus has already purchased our salvation as a result of His faithfulness. We live our lives in response to Christ’s faithfulness.
That’s easy when things go our way, but….. times are tough now. We live in a period of unrest, with a global pandemic that impacts our daily lives. It is easy to get caught up in the anxiousness that is now part of our day to day activities. But what is Jesus telling us to do? He is telling us to stay in ‘our lane’; to believe, to have faith, and to trust, so that our hearts are not troubled.
Jesus loves us so much, and knows that events of the world can move us out of ‘our lane’, so he tells us these words a little later in the chapter
John 14.27 “Peace I leave you; My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
Jesus gives to us His peace, and His comfort, in order that we might achieve our own state of well being and peace. It means that we don’t have to rely on what the world gives, because we already have more than the world could ever give. Jesus tells us to rest easy in the promise of His peace, to stay in ‘our lane’, to trust, to believe, and to not fear. My dear friends, I hope that this reflection gives you a sense of calm, and I ask you to take a moment to say the following prayer for our world, our church, and each other.
Heavenly, gracious, ever loving Father, we thank you for the gift of this day, for Your love for us, and for the salvation that is the results of Jesus’ faithfulness. We thank You for Your promises, and we thank You for Your words of comfort that calm us during these troubling times. Father, we ask you to bless those who keep us safe, and inspire those working on cures for the pandemic. Father, we ask you to bless Emily, Mark, and our entire church staff as they lead us, and nurture us during this time. We pray for their health, and strength, and peace. Dear Father, strengthen us in our moments of weakness, and remind us of the peace that comes from Jesus’ love for us, and our continued commitment to Him as we live Your call upon our lives.
Dear God, we ask You to hear these prayers, along with all the prayers that we say throughout our days, in the name of Your Son, our Lord and Savior, our Rock and Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Peace everyone. Be blessed, and be a blessing to others today.
Today’s FPCP Midweek Devotion is written by Tom Weaver. Tom has served our church in the past as an Elder, Deacon, Choir Member, and he currently serves as the leader of the Men’s Saturday Morning Bible Study.
Wednesday, July 29, 2020
In January at the beginning of this year, our Saturday morning men’s Bible study started reading Paul’s letter to the Romans—we knew this would be a tall order, as this letter is often considered to be some of the “densest, thickest” writing in all the New Testament! So, we’ve relied upon the commentaries and study guides of N. T. Wright; and Emily also provided to us additional commentaries, and her prayers and guidance, to help us along.
By mid-March, as we were starting to gain some insights into Paul’s theological teachings, the virus really hit and the shutdowns began. We chose to continue meeting each week via Zoom because we all felt this was too important a work to let go of. And yet these weekly get-togethers on Zoom became about more than this specific study—they became an essential part of our lives during shutdown. Spending time in fellowship, each week, in our small group helped reinforce how important it is to be members of a vibrant church community—to interact regularly with people of God, just as we strive to interact regularly with God Himself. After seven months, we completed the entire book, just this past Saturday! None of us are experts, yet we each have learned important truths, and we have had our faith strengthened.
One surprising learning for me is that this letter includes applications of how to live our lives as Christians in addition to all of the theological discussions. Paul uses the theology to say, in effect: “So then, what does all this theology mean in terms of how we should live, day to day? Now that we understand what God has done for us, through Jesus on the cross, how should we respond in how we live?” Chapters 12-15 provides specific teachings on this, including:
17 God’s Kingdom, you see, isn’t about food and drink, but about justice, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Anyone who serves the Messiah like this pleases God and deserves respect from other people. 19 So then, let’s find and follow the way of peace, and discover how to build each other up. (Rom 14:17-19, N. T. Wright translation)
William Barclay says Paul is reminding us that Christianity consists of these three great things, all of which are essentially unselfish:
- Justice/righteousness: giving to others and to God what is their due; putting others first and self last.
- Peace: living in a right relationship with others, not simply the absence of trouble.
- Joy: Christian joy is never selfish, it consists in making others happy; Christian joy is interdependent, not individualistic.
In these tough times of pandemic and of social change, as we pray for and work for righteousness, peace, and joy, may we always keep to these eternal truths and discover how to build one another up—emulating the most unselfish one of all, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Rom 15:13, N. T. Wright translation)
Wednesday, July 22, 2020
Dear FPCP Friends and Family,
As we walk through this COVID-19 valley, it seem that we take two steps forward (our church’s Thrift Shop has reopened and our live worship services are about to resume), and two steps back (Covid numbers are on the rise and we are at risk of further shutdowns).
In this pattern of gains and losses, it is easy to lose our hope, our strength, and our peace. Thankfully, God helps us. At the point of our complaint, God refocuses our attention on His ability over and above our own:
Isaiah 40: 27-31 asks,
27 “Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”?
28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. 29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
In the midst of hardship, God reminds us that we have reason to be grateful:
30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 31 but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint.”
As we allow our thoughts to transition from complaint to gratitude, our spirit lifts, and we find reason to be encouraged.
Today, I am grateful for God’s ability to renew our hope. I am also grateful to God for the gifts of His strength and peace. I am grateful to God for you. Your witness is an encouragement to others and makes our church stronger.
Friends, in the weeks to come, I have invited several members of our church to share their own experiences of faith as they write our midweek devotions. My hope is by hearing multiple voices of faith, we will be reminded yet again that God is powerfully at work in our midst.
You remain in my thoughts and prayers,
July 8, 2020
Dear FPCP Family and Friends,
This week our church was highlighted in HOPE Clinic’s on-line newsletter. The article is found at the end of today’s devotional. I encourage you to read it and discover how our church provided “A Spoonful of Dignity” to those in need. It seems that our church made quite an impact on the clients of HOPE as we delivered over 500 boxes of cereal following our church’s cereal drive on June 26th.
Heart-felt thanks goes to everyone who donated cereal and to all the volunteers from our church who helped to collect and deliver the boxes to HOPE. I share this article with you today because I was moved by the idea that a wide variety of cereal options helped to provide dignity to those in need.
Who would have thought that dignity can be found in cereal? As the article points out, the real dignity comes from having choices and input and a sense of normalcy in a time of chaos.
In that sense, we are also among God’s hungry people today. We hunger for normalcy in a time of chaos. We are also grateful to have options related to our meals (be it staying at home or dining outside or dining inside). We are grateful for our options related to fellowship and travel.
Our own dignity comes in part from our freedom of choice and from our freedom to explore new opportunities. However, our deeper source of dignity comes from knowing that we are part of God’s family. We are a beloved child of God.
“I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:18 NIV)
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs…” (Romans 8: 14-17 NRSV)
Today, I thank God for the eternal dignity God brings to us all,
Photo by Hope Clinic (pictured: Stu Dodge)
Dignity by the spoonful
We hear from a lot of people how much they love getting cereal from Hope. It highlights one of the key ways you’re helping to make lives better with Hope.
Our clients tell us the main thing they love is the selection.
We’ve heard Hope is one of the only places our clients can get brand-name cereals and with lots of varieties available. Parents tell us about how showing up with a brand their kids know and with a kind they love helps them provide a sense of normalcy in their lives.
Offering variety is part of how you are giving dignity to people every day at Hope.
This is one of the reasons we are so grateful for First Presbyterian Church Plymouth this week. The Church ran a cereal drive for us and made a huge delivery this week. Now we’ve got virtually every brand on the shelves and will be able to give dignity and delight to our clients in the weeks to come.
Thank you for making lives better with us! We’d love to help you find ways to give hope to those in need.
Dear FPCP Family and Friends.
On July 4th, we look to our past remembering that our nation’s independence did not come easily.
Our freedom was won only after several difficult years of war.
We also remember that our first few years as a nation were never free from problems and controversies (as is still true). But our leaders were determined to establish a free and democratic system of government, and the Declaration of Independence (together with our Constitution and the Bill of Rights) became the foundation for this.
On July 4th, we give thanks for the wisdom and faith and perseverance of those who fought for our freedom.
Although it is not a religious holiday, July 4th is a time for us to reflect on God’s goodness to us as a nation. We have weathered many storms since 1776 and Covid-19 is just one among them. While we may miss this year’s parades, concerts, and large group celebrations, we thank God that the strength, wisdom, and perseverance first given to our nation’s forefathers and mothers is still on offer to us today.
Freedom has never been easily won, this was true of our national freedom and it is true of our struggle today against this global pandemic.
This July 4th, let’s turn to God in thanksgiving for our past and with abiding hope for our future remembering the words of the Psalmist,
“Out of my distress I called on the Lord, the Lord answered me and set me free.” (Psalm 118:5 ESV)
Wishing you and your family a hope-filled celebration,
Dear FPCP Family and Friends,
As summer begins, it is clear that many in our community, nation, and world are struggling with COVID fatigue: that nagging sense of frustration, sadness, and loss that comes from our prolonged isolation and social distancing. Every time you put on your face mask or stop yourself from shaking hands with a colleague or hugging a friend, you may feel the weight of this fatigue.
Even through computers and Zoom meetings, this weariness can be present.
We are all growing tired of talking, working, and meeting through machines.
We may have even given up on watching on-line worship services because we are done with this worship necessity and we are ready for our church and world to return to normal.
But one lesson we should remember from those who have gone before us in faith is that God’s timing is not always our timing. God alone knows how long we will live under the threat of this pandemic. The challenge for us today is to maintain faith, to be safe, yet honest with our feelings of frustration with the slow speed of recovery.
We can lament like the Psalmist of old who wrote, “Why, my soul are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Ps. 42:5)
God would rather hear our frustration, sadness, and anger than not hear from us at all.
As we wait for full and complete healing for our world, we lean into God to find our on-going strength and peace.
We remember that, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Ps 46:1)
We also remember God’s call for us to, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Ps. 46:10)
Today, let us be still enough to hear the hope of God singing through the birds. Let us be still enough to see the presence of God in the bloom of every flower. There is so much beauty around us and God’s Holy Spirit is within us, so we press on relying on the strength and grace of God.
I am praying for you today,
FPCP friends and family,
These have indeed been challenging times. The last three or so months have presented us with many challenges and a new way of having to do life. An unprecedented pandemic, a staggering economy, and the unrest in our country have made many of us rethink various parts of our lives. In many ways, we have and are enduring trials and testing right now. The question may then come up, why do we have to endure trials and testing?
In the denomination I was a part of when I was younger, there was a tradition of picking out a “life verse or passage” that you really related to. When I was about 16 years old, I picked out James 1:2-4 which says: 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
I loved this passage, memorized it, and used it many times in my early years of faith. This passage took on a special meaning to me as I faced the trials of my father passing of cancer when I was a freshman in college and my mother passing 10 years ago. As I reflect on this passage though, I feel it may be even more applicable today with what we are all facing.
You see this passage answers the questions of “why” with a strong response. Why do we face trials and testing and why are things in this life seemingly such a challenge? Because without the trials and the struggles, James says we won’t develop perseverance. The only way to develop perseverance is to battle with something and struggle with it and yet to endure and conquer it. This description is not one of ease or a life free of pain, but of one where the believer pushes on even when the trial is tough and hope is scarce.
As the Scripture says in verse 4, perseverance must finish its work so we can be mature and complete. Maybe today we can see the many challenges we are facing as opportunities to grow our faith, develop our perseverance, and speak light into the darkened corners of our world….if we face our tests and trials with joy!
God Bless You and Stay Safe!
Pastor of Youth and Early Adults- FPCP
Dear FPCP Family and Friends,
I am waiting for the storm to arrive. By all reports, it is going to be bad: 70 mph winds, a possible tornado, hail as big as golf balls.
Storms can be overwhelming. After three months living under the storm of COVID, I think we can agree on that.
But storms can also bring needed refreshment to the land. Parched areas of life can be nurtured and encouraged to heal through a downpour.
Yet, storms by nature are unpredictable, both in strength and in duration, which is why during every storm, we should remember that there is comfort and peace found in the words of the Psalmist:
“The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside the still waters,
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name sake
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil.
For You are with me;
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil,
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Life is full of many storms and we do not know if what lies ahead of us will be easier than what lies behind.
Thankfully, we do not need to face any storm alone. Our shepherd guides us. Our shepherd provides for us. Our shepherd delivers us.
I imagine that this afternoon’s storm will pass almost as quickly as it came. The storm’s impact: a window in our house is now shattered from a falling limb, but the faith that resides in this house remains intact. May it be so for you and your family as well.
Praying God’s blessing over you,
June 3, 2020
Dear FPCP Family and Friends,
We are a nation in pain. Frustration, outrage, shock, sadness, fear: These emotions overwhelm our hearts.
Today, we grieve not only the senseless death of George Floyd, but the unnecessary deaths of countless others including Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and countless others who have died because of racism and a culture that sees the color of skin as a marker of worth.
Research has suggested that the emotional and psychological impact of racism is being “reminded everyday that you are not enough, being reminded that you are not seen, being reminded that you are not valued, being reminded that you are not a citizen, being reminded that humanity is not something that applies to you.”
This teaching is contrary to the message and ministry of Jesus Christ who sacrificed his own life for the sins of the world to ensure that every child of this world would know that they are part of God’s beloved family.
As Christians, we are called to “strive for peace” (Heb 12:14, ESV), but we are also called to “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression.” (Is. 1:17, ESV)
Friends, this is a time for us to recognize that we are all God’s children. This is a time to work for change, to do more than generations before, to love others, seek justice, stand up for what is right, walking always in His love.
By committing to listening, learning, and changing we grow as individuals and as a nation.
I invite you to join in our prayers for the healing of our nation this Thursday night, June 4th in our Zoom prayer meeting at 8 pm. The Zoom link is: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/
In the days and weeks to come, I hope to provide you with additional opportunities to gather for prayer and for reflection and needed discussion. But for now, I humbly offer this prayer, adapted from a prayer by Kathryn Shirey below.
In Christ’s love and mine,
Gracious and Loving God, we pray today for the healing for our nation and world. We pray for the deeper healing of our hearts and minds. We ask, dear God, for your help to heal the problems of systemic racism in our country. Please bring justice for all who are oppressed, equity for all people. May we learn to see and love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. We pray for all who are hurting, grieving, angry, afraid, outraged at another senseless loss. Transform hurt into healing, we pray. We pray for an end to violence, destruction, and loss. We pray for all those who harbor hatred in their hearts. Shine your brightest light into the darkest corners to root out racism, fear, and hatred. We pray for the leaders of our nation to hear the cries of the people, and seek real change in the policies and laws of the land to bring our nation together in unity, with equity for all. We pray for those in positions of public trust, that they may serve justice and promote the dignity and freedom of every person. Dear God, we have much to fix and much to heal and we recognize that apart from you, this is not possible, but with you, there is grace, and healing, and peace in abundance. Lead us forward, dear God, in your name and for your sake. Amen.
Wednesday, May 27, 2020
Dear FPCP Family and Friends,
Although the Old Testament describes many battles, there is one found in Exodus 15: 8-15 which stands out among the others. Within this confrontation, Joshua’s success against the Amalekites is directly related to Moses’ ability to hold up the staff of God. If Moses’ hands are lifted high, with a firm grasp on the staff of God, then Joshua’s army was successful on the battlefield. However, whenever Moses had to lower his hands, the Amalekites would push forward and gain control of the battle.
As this battle dragged on, Moses’ legs grew tired. God understood Moses’ need for rest and provided a rock on which Moses could sit. As the battle continued, Moses’ arms also grew weary and God once again intervened. On this occasion, God provided two helpers for Moses, one was a family member—his brother, Aaron, and the other, a friend—Hur. These two men stood with Moses and helped to lift his aching arms when he was unable to lift them himself.
With this provision of help and support, Moses was able to overcome his exhaustion and Joshua was able to overcome the Amalekites. (Ex. 17: 10-13). God provided the right support at the right time to bring about the right outcome for the people of Israel.
This was not an easy battle for Joshua or Moses, let alone for Aaron or Hur. Each of these individuals had to learn to find their strength in God’s provision.
Within our own lives we must also learn to find our strength in God’s provision.
We must also learn to accept that at times in our lives we will serve as the ones providing help and support to those in need, while at other times we will be the on the receiving end of that help, care, and grace.
Within our battle today, we might identify with Moses, exhausted by many “hours” of service. We may need help right now.
Today, we may be like Joshua, threatened by repeated challenges that undermine our security and future.
Today, we may be like Aaron or Hur. We are presently helping others but are fearful that our strength and abilities may fall short.
Today, we may be like the people of Israel anxious for this time of trial to be done.
Today, in every situation, we trust that God will provide.
Exodus 14:14 says, “The Lord will fight for you. You need only to be still.
Isaiah 41:10 says, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Today, I thank God that we do not fight this battle alone. God is “our refuge and strength”.
Lifting you up in prayer,
Dear FPCP Family and Friends,
Yesterday was our daughter’s last day of high school. Sarah ends her 13 -year educational journey without a graduation or prom and without the opportunity to say goodbye to teachers or friends. It is a bittersweet ending, but a safe one.
Like many other students of her age, Sarah’s future plans are unclear as she waits to hear if college campuses will be open for students this fall. It is possible that she will be going away, but it is even more likely that she will be staying at home, studying remotely.
During these uncertain times, it is important for us as students, parents, teachers, and as members of Christ’s church to remember that which is certain:
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord,
plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29: 11)
The prophet Jeremiah proclaimed the certainty of God’s plans for our lives in the 29th chapter of that book which bears his name. The original recipients of this message were living through a time, like we are today, when everything was different, and they wondered how long their new normal would last.
Not only was God clear with them about the timing of their future, “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise…” (vs. 10), God also provided clear instructions on how they should approach Him during this time of waiting:
“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
I will be found by you, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 29: 12-14)
In this time of waiting, God invites us to call on Him, pray to Him, and seek Him with all our heart. This call is not new, but in our new reality, it takes on a heightened significance and meaning.
As a parent, and as a child of God, and as your minister, I am grateful for God’s plans for our future. I am confident that these plans are unfolding even now.
Please know that you and your families remain in my thoughts and prayers,
Dear FPCP Family and Friends,
Almost 40 years ago, as an elementary-aged student in summer camp, I learned a praise song, the lyrics of which have stayed with me:
“Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord.
Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord.
And He shall lift you up.
Higher and higher.
And He shall lift you up.”
I find myself returning to the words of this song, which are the words found in 1 Peter 5:6 whenever I am at a crossroads, uncertain about the way forward.
Friends, it is always wise to “Humble ourselves” as we come into God’s Holy presence.
It is also wise to “Humble ourselves” before we follow the instruction of 1 Peter 5:7 which says “Cast all your anxiety on Him (God), because He cares for you.”
This famous call to prayer is issued on the heels of the call to approach God with full humility. The combined scriptures suggest that in order to practice humility, we must first recognize our need for God’s help.
Following on from this, we remember that the God whom we worship is entirely faithful and true. We can therefore release our worries and concerns to Him.
This type of release happens through prayer.
Last Thursday, on the National Day of Prayer, I was delighted that in our Zoom prayer meeting, we had 30 people in attendance ranging in age from 15-90. In that virtual setting, we were the church worshiping together, and it was a great blessing to pray together.
I invite you to join us on Thursday nights over the next 5 weeks (May 14-June 11) at 8pm for our weekly Zoom prayer meeting. This meeting is open to all ages and is a great opportunity to share both our prayer requests and our praises. You can come to just one of the meetings or come to all of the meetings; whatever your schedule permits. In this meeting, as part of the body of the church, we will humbly approach God together asking for wisdom, strength, guidance, and healing for our church going forward and for all of God’s children in need.
You can join us through the following link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/
My prayers are with you,
Dear FPCP Family and Friends,
Many of us have spent time over the last two months wondering what the future holds.
We can get ourselves worked up trying to predict the many possibilities. After all, we like to be prepared. We like to plan ahead. Surprises are great for birthday parties, but they create unnecessary stress when it comes to the rest of our lives.
You are not alone in wanting to know when our lives, or work, or church, or any plans for 2020 will be able to return to some sense of normalcy.
Uncertainty certainly does not rest easily within us. This is why I find myself returning often to the words of Matthew 6:34.
In The Message translation it says, “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”
“When the time comes”…. I like that phrase.
“When the time comes” God will lead us out of this “darkness into His light.” (Ps. 18:28)
“When the time comes” we will see God “working all things for the good of those who love him, and who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28)
But until “the times comes” we pray, asking God to provide us with dailyresources of comfort, strength, guidance, and peace.
Until “The time comes,” we pray every day for our world, and for our nation, for our state, and local communities, and for our church, asking for God’s Holy Spirit to direct our steps so that our present and future actions reflect the love and grace of God.
Friends, tomorrow, Thursday, May 7th is the National Day of Prayer. I invite you on this day to join your prayers with those around the nation asking God for help in this time of crisis, even while we praise God for His faithful provision throughout the whole of history.
Our church will be hosting a time of prayer tomorrow night at 8 pm through Zoom conferencing. If you wish to be part of this informal time of prayer and reflection, please click on this link https://us02web.zoom.us/j/
Whether I see you tomorrow night or not, please be praying for our world, nation, state, and local communities. Please be praying for our church, and know that our church is praying for you.
Wishing you Christ’s strength and peace today and always,
Dear FPCP Family and Friends,
Several years ago, a wise member of our church posted words on her Facebook account that have stayed with me.
“Worry is worshiping your problem. Prayer is surrendering your problem.”
In the past couple of months, I am certain that we have all struggled with worry.
What if I get the virus?
What if someone whom I love, with a compromised immune system, gets sick?
Will I be able to handle all the added demands of my job?
What if I lose my job? What then? Financially, how will I manage?
Will the stay at home order be extended? Will the stay at home order be lifted?
Will our lives ever return to normal?
Remember, worry is WORSHIPPING your problem.
Prayer is SURRENDERING your problem.
Philippians 4: 6-7 encourages us to live like this. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Obviously, these words are easier to read than they are to live but at its heart, this is a call to release our fears and worries to God, and allow God to be our focus.
By doing this, we are inviting God to appoint a guard around our hearts and minds to ensure our peace. The original Greek translation of this passage supports this interpretation because the verb “to guard” used in this passage is only ever used to refer to the work of a sentry guard.
In these trying times, God offers to post a guard around our hearts and minds. I think we could all use this additional layer of protection beyond the face masks, shields, and gloves we are already wearing.
Jesus said, “Peace, I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)
Receive God’s gift of peace today. Let it calm you. Let it guard you. Let it motivate you to a deeper faith.
Wishing you that peace which passes all understanding today and always,
Wednesday, April 22, 2020
Dear FPCP Family and Friends,
The nature of our lives in social isolation is that we will have good days and bad days. There will be days when we impress ourselves with how much we get done at home or in our work. There will be other days when we will wonder if we should have stayed in bed and saved ourselves the disappointment. In the midst of these fluctuations in our frustration level, we need to listen deeply for God and recognize that God does indeed speak into our situation.
The Psalmist writes, “My God turns my darkness into light.” (Psalm 18:28)
Today, God’s light is visible in the beauty of the rising sun and in all trees and flowers about to burst forth in bloom. God’s light is visible in the stories we hear daily of recovery and kindness, perseverance, imagination, and grace.
I was grateful this week to stumble across someone else’s words that point to God’s ability to transform our darkness. These words were written by Amanda Gorman, who at 22, is America’s inaugural Youth Poet Laureate. These words of hope were written about Covid-19:
I thought I’d awaken to a world in mourning.
Heavy clouds crowding, a society storming.
But there’s something different on this golden morning.
Something magical in the sunlight, wide and warming.
I see a dad with a stroller taking a jog.
Across the street, a bright-eyed girl chases her dog.
A grandma on a porch fingers her rosaries.
She grins as her young neighbor brings her groceries.
While we might feel small, separate, and all alone,
Our people have never been more closely tethered.
The question isn’t if we will weather this unknown,
But how we will weather this unknown together.
So, on this meaningful morn, we mourn and we mend.
Like light, we can’t be broken, even when we bend.
As one, we will defeat both despair and disease.
We stand with healthcare heroes and all employees;
With families, libraries, schools, waiters, artists;
Businesses, restaurants, and hospitals hit hardest.
We ignite not in the light, but in lack thereof,
For it is in loss that we truly learn to love.
In this chaos, we will discover clarity.
In suffering, we must find solidarity.
For it’s our grief that gives us our gratitude,
Shows us how to find hope, if we ever lose it.
So ensure that this ache wasn’t endured in vain:
Do not ignore the pain. Give it purpose. Use it.
Read children’s books, dance alone to DJ music.
Know that this distance will make our hearts grow fonder.
From a wave of woes our world will emerge stronger.
We’ll observe how the burdens braved by humankind
Are also the moments that make us humans kind;
Let every dawn find us courageous, brought closer;
Heeding the light before the fight is over.
When this ends, we’ll smile sweetly, finally seeing
In testing times, we became the best of beings.
May God’s light continually shine on you and through you in these trying days.
You remain in my heart and prayers,
Wednesday April 15, 2020
Dear FPCP Family and Friends,
Are you feeling tired? Low in Spirit? Are you having trouble sleeping?
Our worry and frustration often comes out in unexpected ways. As of today, we’re almost five weeks into our time of isolation, and I know that I am not alone in wondering, when will this end?
I crave being with people—people outside of my family members. Let me be clear, I love my family, but I also crave outside stimulation, freedom of movement, sunshine and warmth. I crave life without masks, conversations without Zoom, and shopping without gloves and masks. I desire freedom from the fear of illness and death.
But rather than simply complaining when we are shaken out of our comfortable routines, we also have an opportunity to grasp God’s hand and look for growth opportunities. In her popular book Jesus Calling, Sarah Young writes, “Instead of bemoaning the loss of our comfort, accept the challenge of something new.”
I believe the apostle Paul affirms this challenge in the New Testament book of Colossians. He writes, “Since then, you have been raised with Christ…set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (Col. 3:1-2)
Practically speaking this means, “Put to death whatever belongs to our earthly nature… anger, rage, malice, filthy language.” The list found in Colossians chapter 3 is long. Instead, we are called to “clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” We are called to “bear with each other and forgive one another” as the Lord forgave us. And “over all these virtues, we should put on love.” (Col. 3: 5, 8, 12-14)
So, Friends, if you were planning on getting dressed tomorrow and fighting another day of isolation, remember to first clothe yourself in Christ’s love. Let us also pray that God might use this time of isolation as a classroom to help us grow spiritually and emotionally as we live out our faith day by day.
God does not leave any of us alone. He is our strength, our help, and our peace.
I wish you the deep peace and strength of Christ as we shelter apart yet together as one family of faith,
Dear FPCP Family and Friends,
This doesn’t feel like Holy Week.
Holy Week is usually filled with rich church and family traditions many of which are not possible this year in the way they have been in the past. How can we worship when we cannot gather at church? How can we keep our focus on the love and grace of God when we are struggling daily to keep our own anxiety in check?
It’s true. This Holy Week is different.
On Palm Sunday, we did not receive palms in worship but our palms went to members of our Earth Care team to be composted for the healing of the earth. On Maundy Thursday, we will not be able to gift you with Christ’s gifts of bread and cup in worship, but instead you will be asked to find these communion elements in our own homes. The darkness of Good Friday cannot be experienced collectively this year yet is increasingly present to us now as we listen to the news. Our Easter celebration will not be marked by a large gathering of God’s disciples, but we will instead remain quarantined in our homes for safety.
This year, we let go of what is familiar and trust God to lead us into the unknown. That is God’s specialty after all.
God creates a way forward whenever we think there is no way forward. In the past, God lead his people forward through the Red Sea, through the wilderness, through the exile, through the “valley of the shadow of death.”
We will fear no evil today, and no evil in this time of isolation, for God is with us.
Isaiah 41:13 proclaims, “For I am the Lord your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, “Do not fear. I will help you.”
This Easter, God’s gift of salvation is still on offer. That never changes. It is hope to all who grieve; peace to those who feel afraid; it is joy for those who feel isolated; rest for the weary and grace for all who live in these challenging days.
Let us all lean into Easter this week trusting that God will lead us along new paths of worship.
I am praying for you,
Dear FPCP Family and Friends,
In this season of isolation, we wait:
We wait on God’s healing for the sick. We wait on God’s comfort for those who mourn. We wait on God’s protection from the virus. We wait on God’s strength for those who must serve on the front lines: doctors, nurses, hospital aids, cleaners, grocery store employees, police, fire fighters, paramedics.
We wait to see how our families will fare without school, without work, with so much time together. We wait to see how long this season of social distancing will last. We wait to see how our lives and how our world will change.
We wait on God.
But we are not the first to wait:
Moses waited on God in the wilderness.
Daniel waited on God while in a foreign land and later inside a lion’s den.
Mary and Joseph waited on God for 9 months, as did Elizabeth and Zechariah.
Saul, who would become the Apostle Paul, waited on God to have his sight restored and his life transformed.
Friends, we wait today not knowing what lies ahead but knowing who goes before us, who goes behind us, who is above us and below us. God has proven that He is faithful time and time again.
Lamentations 3: 25 proclaims, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, for the soul who seeks him.”
While we wait, let us seek God every day. Let us pray:
(The opening of this prayer was adapted from a prayer by St. Patrick).
“Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in me.” Loving Lord, in you may we find the strength and peace to wait, trusting in your goodness, love, and grace. Please pour out your blessing on those most in need this day, in Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
Dear FPCP Friends and Family,
As we hear of the increasing presence and rapid spread of the Covid-19 virus, it is understandable that our anxiety level raises to near boiling point. Most days, we can keep our fear in check, but when our worry and concern shifts directly to the health and well-being of our loved ones or even to ourselves, it’s easy to have the lid of that pot of fear fly right off.
This is when we turn to God’s Word, remembering that it is a gift given to us by God which speaks directly to our need. The Bible is chock-full of what Christian author Max Lucado once referred to as “white knuckle scriptures.” We hold on to these scriptures for dear life while we remember who it is that is holding on to us.
In this crisis, remember God has said:
- “Be strong and courageous.Do not be afraid or terrified…for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you or forsake you.” -Deuteronomy 31:6
- “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil.For you are with me.Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” -Psalm 23:4
- “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” -Psalm 46: 1
- “I will sing of your strength.In the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.” -Psalm 59:16
- “Praise the Lord, O my soul and forget not all his benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.” -Psalm 103: 2-3
- “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.They will soar on wings like eagles.They will run and not grow weary.They will walk and not faint.” -Isaiah 40:31
- “I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” -Isaiah 41:10
- “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you…Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” -John 14: 27
- “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.” -Hebrews 13:6
- “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” -1 Peter 5:7
In a crisis, you can also pray this prayer:
Holy God, our Creator and Redeemer. You are our comfort and strength. Uphold us, we pray in these challenging times. Remind us of your faithfulness and grace. We pray for your help and protection today. Heal your world from this virus, we pray. Heal all who are sick and strengthen all those who care for the sick. We pray for all those who are without work or are alone in these days of isolation. We pray for your comfort and peace for all who mourn. In this time of sheltering at home, may we find our shelter, strength, and salvation in you. This we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.