Open Unto Me - January 2015 PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 January 2015 00:00

Open Unto Me

“Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is – what is good and pleasing and mature” (Romans 12:2, CEB)

When we make New Year’s resolutions we are promising ourselves, and perhaps others, that some behavior of ours will change. But New Year’s resolutions come and go with the years: weight gets lost and regained; muscles get toned and strengthened, and then lost. We spend less time in front of the television or computer at first, but then we slowly revert back to what is easy – which is always what we are used to. In order to form new habits we have to be open. We have to retrain our brain, we have to unlearn behaviors. Brain science calls this opening neuroplasticity, the ability of neurons in the brain to develop new connections, even after injury. Science also says that this isn’t easy. Making New Year’s resolutions is like taking the first step toward opening your brain to new behaviors. From a layman’s definition, think of your brain as a sandbox full of wet sand in which you are carving out tunnels for new thoughts to travel through, which will lead to new behaviors.


This is where it gets hard though - new thinking will come more easily than new behaviors. While the Apostle Paul could not be aware of the science of neuroplasticity, he was aware that living as a disciple of Christ was not easy. That is why his words of encouragement in Romans 12 can be so helpful to us. Opening up to the transforming love of God in our lives – our thoughts, our words, and our deeds – is hard at first, but that opening up is what marks us as followers of Jesus. Living in this world requires a continual transformation, a persistent renewing of the mind, or we become conformed to the world. Howard Thurman wrote it well in a prayer entitled, “Lord, open unto me.”


Open unto me - light for my darkness.
Open unto me - courage for my fear.
Open unto me – hope for my despair.
Open unto me – peace for my turmoil.
Open unto me – joy for my sorrow.
Open unto me – strength for my weakness.
Open unto me – wisdom for my confusion.
Open unto me – forgiveness for my sins.
Open unto me – love for my hates.
Open unto me – thy Self for my self.
Lord, Lord, Open unto me! Amen.


Blessings in your New Year’s resolutions, as well as your work in being open to new ways of experiencing God in your life.


From Your Pastor’s Heart,

Pastor Sue
Preparing the Way - December 2014 PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 28 November 2014 00:00

Preparing the Way

“Prepare the way of the Lord” (Isaiah 40:3) NRSV

I’m writing this article the day before Thanksgiving, 2014. My family and I have much to be thankful for as we look forward to gathering together around the dinner table tomorrow. We have much to look forward to as we begin the season of Advent, waiting with all of you for the Christ child to be born within and among us.


But there are countless families in this nation whose Thanksgiving table and Advent season will be very different from ours because of poverty, unemployment, underemployment, and injustices of all kinds: racism, classism, sexism, and ageism. Regardless of our opinions about the issue of justice in the Grand Jury’s verdict in the death of Michael Brown, or gun violence, or people being killed by police and criminals both, there are families whose holidays continue to be impacted by crime, violence, and drugs. As God’s people, we cannot continue to explicitly or implicitly participate in paving a path of destruction. We cannot continue to ignore peoples hungering and thirsting for God’s righteousness. Instead, we must work toward God’s vision of justice.


The Prophet Isaiah heralded the message of God’s justice, “Clear the Lord’s way in the desert! Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God! Every valley will be raised up, and every mountain and hill will be flattened. Uneven ground will become level, and rough terrain in a valley plain. [Then] the Lord’s glory will appear, and all humanity will see it together the Lord’s mouth has commanded it” (Isaiah 40:3-5). When asked who he was, John the Baptist’s answer echoed in harmony with the Prophet’s, “I am a voice crying out in the wilderness. Make the Lord’s path straight” (John 1:23). If asked who we are, how will we answer? Are we the voices that echo and harmonize with God’s, calling for God’s justice in the land?


As a congregation, FPCJ is extraordinary. Our mission giving is considerable, and consistently stands out among churches (large and small) in this Presbytery. But as a country and world living in a season of extraordinary humanitarian crisis; as the whole of creation groans waiting for God’s redemption from deprivation, disease, and war; are our mission dollars enough? What more does God require of us?


I believe God requires that in seeking justice, loving kindness and walking humbly in the land means working for Justice in this land, in our community, and in our own congregation. May we acknowledge our part in the injustices that surround us; working to right the wrongs of racism, classism, sexism, and ageism. May we gather around our Thanksgiving tables and enter this season of Advent eagerly working for God’s justice, recommitting to being Christ’s body of compassion and bringing relief and hope to those who suffer and pray for redemption. May we embody God’s graciousness of Thanksgiving, and the hope of Advent for it is God’s peace on earth that is the promise of Advent, and God’s good will toward all peoples that this season is all about.


From Your Pastor’s Heart,

Pastor Sue
September 2014 PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 01 September 2014 00:00

“. . . be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may dis-cern what is the will of God” (Romans 12:2). NRSV

Human beings naturally seek the comfort of equilibrium; both the body and mind crave it. But there are times when steadiness is not what is needed. If everyone maintained the status quo we’d be a very different world; no electronic communication, no innovations in the medical community, and certainly no space exploration! We have been created with minds to “think outside the box,” to step away from only what is comfortable, to discover new ways of being.


Mainline churches all over the country are beginning to recognize that our comfort zones have been holding us back; in fact, they’re swallowing us up as if in a tar pit. This congregation has done great work in finding new ways of reaching out in our community. Starting the Fishing Ministry and welcoming The Front Porch Players local theatre group are two examples, but they are not enough. We are at a critical point in the history of this congregation. The reality is our offering receipts are not keeping up with expenses. But money is just the presenting issue; there are greater consequences at stake. Unless we find new ways of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ, the life of this congregation will be cut short, thus our witness to Christ’s presence in our community will die. In my heart of hearts I do not believe this church is ready to close, but unless we quickly and courageously step away from our comfort zones we will have little time left together.


What can you do toward revitalization? In addition to regular worship attendance, regular financial giving, and taking part in study and fellowship activities, your job is to consider what untapped gifts you will share that might spark new ways of reaching people for Jesus Christ. What are you passionate about? Perhaps others in the neighborhood around us are passionate about the same things (i.e.) running, walking, cycling, motor cycle riding, dog training, community gardening, art, writing, be it plays, poems, novels or short stories. No idea is too wacky. Or, will you help the Fishing Ministry become a regular, once per week ministry to reach neighborhood children? It could become a time of consistent character and faith building in their lives. Speak with me or an active elder and we will discuss your ideas at a session meeting. Better yet, you present your idea(s) to the session! There are new ministries and worshiping communities popping up across the country, some of them in existing places of worship.


Friends, truly I tell you, FPCJ is one of the greatest churches I’ve ever been involved with. I know you feel the same way. But unless we move from our zones of comfort toward revitalization, we risk becoming part of the national, mainline denominational statistics of church closings. Don’t let that happen! Please!!

From Your Pastor’s Heart,

Pastor Sue



“” . From Your Pastor’s Heart, Sue

Agreeing and Disagreeing in Love - November 2014 PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 02 November 2014 00:00

Agreeing and Disagreeing in Love

“Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times”. (Matthew 18:21-22). NRSV

What do you feel when you experience conflict? Would you describe those feelings as positive or negative? Those were questions recently asked at a Presbytery sponsored workshop on conflict transformation skills for churches that several members of the session and I attended. Entitled Healthy Sessions = Healthy Congregations, the workshop was presented by the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center of Lombard, IL, in hopes of equipping churches to work through difficult issues. While FPCJ is not currently working through any divisive issues, the session directed me to write this article to share with you some of what we learned. The skills offered at this workshop can also be applied to every day relationships.


Conflict has been around since the beginning of time. Most often people view it as destructive and therefore deal with it defensively, even destructively. The Mennonite Peace Center teaches that instead of seeing conflict as something to be managed, see it as something normal and healthy, as an opportunity for reconciliation which was high on Jesus’ list of priorities. See conflict as an opportunity for transformation, for in conflict we have the opportunity to see what new thing God may be doing.


We all know that peace with God and the peace of God is a lifelong journey. Scripture calls us to be peacemakers, repairers of the breach. Fortunately we don’t have to come up with a procedure by ourselves. The Bible prescribes a process of how to behave when conflict does arise. Matthew 18:15-17 tells us that we are to go to the one with whom we are in conflict (v. 15- negotiation); if they refuse to listen, then we are to take one or two others (v.16- mediation); if that does not work then we are to go to the whole church, which is something most people do not want. But if the conflict cannot be transformed (this is where it’s so great to be Presbyterian), this Presbytery has a mediation team called the Shalom Team, who can help with the resolution process.


I believe two of the most important factors in conflict transformation are mutual confession and mutual listening. If there is to be a genuine reconciliation as scripture says there is, then we must recognize that everyone plays a role in conflict. Start by finding the things on which everyone agrees, then work to find a solution to the remaining problem. Even if church members end up agreeing to disagree, the steps in “making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3) as both individual members and the body of Christ are important. These steps include:

  • Acknowledge together that conflict is a normal part of our life in the church. (Rom.14:1-8, 10-12, 15-19; 15:1-7)
  • Go directly to those with whom we disagree; avoid behind-the-back criticism, or “parking lot” meetings. (Matt. 5:23-24; 18:15-20)
  • Be firm in our commitment to seek a mutual solution; be stubborn in holding to our common foundation in Christ; be steadfast in love. (Col.3:12-15)


The church’s role is not to make reconciliation happen (God does that), but to create an environment where God’s reconciliation has a better chance of happening. So, may each of us do our part in the home, in the workplace, and in the church. I pray this is helpful in your spiritual growth as individuals as well as church members. May all God’s people say, “Amen.”


From Your Pastor’s Heart,

Pastor Sue



“” . From Your Pastor’s Heart, Sue

June 2014 PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 01 June 2014 00:00

"You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other" (John 15:16-17). NRSV

If you’ve ever lived in a home where you are responsible for maintenance and improvements you know firsthand, or can at least imagine, that when faced with choosing between food, medicine, and heat or home repairs, the latter gets pushed to the side. It doesn’t take much these days for families to be faced with making these kinds of choices. Some in our own congregation face these decisions every day. Ac-cording to Bread for the World, “we live in the world's wealthiest nation. Yet 14.5 per-cent of U.S. households—nearly 49 million Americans, including 15.9 million children—struggle to put food on the table.” (


The FPCJ mission team leaves on June 1 for Hampden, WV, where they will be working with WVMAW (West Virginia Ministry of Advocacy and Work Camps). In the past our mission trips have been to places where nature has taken its toll: Houma, LA and Hurricane Katrina; Sheffield, AL and Henryville, IN, where tornadoes wreaked paths of destruction miles wide. Paths of destruction aren’t only a result of natural disasters; they can also be paved by poverty and unemployment or under-employment. Our mission team this year will not be working in an area of natural disaster, but of economic disaster, something that affects more men, women and children every day than natural disasters.


Frederick Buechner, Presbyterian minister and author writes, “The life I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place my touch will be felt.” Please pray for our sisters and brothers in Christ because their lives will be touched, even as they touch others’ lives. Pray for them as they go to meet, serve and help build new paths for fellow sisters and brothers. Pray for them as they go to love others as our Lord has commanded, and pray that they will receive the love God has planned for them through those living in WV.


Pray for our 2014 FPCJ Mission Team: Alan and Carol Abdo Bergmann, Betty Bush, Melissa Ham, Anna and Dave Harland, Jane Luetkemeyer, Rick Riggle, James and Traci White.

From Your Pastor’s Heart,

Pastor Sue



“” . From Your Pastor’s Heart, Sue

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