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Thoughts
October 2013 - Pressing Toward the Goal PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 03 October 2013 00:00

““Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12)

 

This month’s newsletter is late in getting to you because of me. I was tasked by the Stewardship and Finance Committee to write this month’s article, making the church’s annual plea for funding for the 2014 budget. It has turned out to be more difficult than I expected.

 

The Pledge Campaign for 2013, “Risking New Life: Decisions for Our Future,” was the most successful this church has ever seen. We received an increase of dollars pledged by over 65%. The annual Stewardship sermon I preached on that commitment Sunday was about loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Perhaps you remember the sermon best because of Jane Luetkemeyer’s and Bob Steven’s personal testimonies about trusting God with their whole lives, and the unimagined ways God has blessed them.

 

We are a church who does so much for the congregation, the community and in the world, so if you feel like you need a quick pick-me-up, or need to know that God is still at work, stop by to read the growing notes of gratefulness. If the Apostle Paul could find something to rejoice about even while in prison, surely we can, too.

 

But something has happened along the way since November, 2012. The dollars pledged to support the work of God’s kingdom through this church have not been realized. Pledged giving is under by $20,000 and I don’t know why, which makes it difficult to be a spiritual leader for you. I don’t know if the giving is down because of an economic crisis in your household; perhaps you have unexpected family or medical expenses; perhaps your investments have not been as successful this year; perhaps you are displeased with the way the session is handling the ministries of the church. Personally, I know giving by the Riggle’s is down drastically because of my husband’s unexpected unemployment. There are any number of reasons giving can be down. But I don’t know your reasons.

 

In trying to discern from God how to approach this newsletter article and the 2014 stewardship season, God reminded me through a little book, “A Spirituality of Fund-raising,” by Henri Nouwen, that stewardship is not the one time each year when committee members and the preacher beg for your money. Stewardship is an invitation to a deeper relationship with God, remembering that all we have comes from God in the first place, and trusting God with it in return.

 

Once we prayerfully commit to placing our whole trust in God and become clear that we are concerned only for the kingdom of God, we enter into a new communion; a spiritual communion with God and one another. We enter into a deeper relationship with God as we help God’s kingdom come about.

“Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own, but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies be-hind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13).

 

Jesus compared the kingdom of God to a mustard seed, “which at the time of its sowing is the smallest of all the seeds on earth. Yet, once it is sown, it grows into the biggest shrub of them all and puts out big branches so that the birds of the air can shelter in its shade” (Mark 4:31-32). Even a seemingly small act of generosity can grow into something far beyond what we could ever ask or imagine (see Eph. 3:20) – clearing an overgrown path to an unused pond on the church’s property has become the creation of relationships with our surrounding community; the collection of our pocket and couch cushion change has become the creation of new life for village children and their families in Malawi, through the installation of shallow wells. Yes, your pledges and offerings also mean James can write the checks which cover the light bill, staff salaries, the cleaning service, and so much more. More than 10% of our budgeted expenses go to mission and service work for the kingdom of God. When we give to God through financing the ministries of this church, we are doing exactly what we are sup-posed to be doing as Christians, making love our aim. (1 Cor. 14:1)

 

We have a need to give. Stewardship is not just about meeting the church budget, or the needs of the poor in our community and the world; it is about fulfilling our own need to give as well. Every year when we make a financial pledge to the church, each week when we put money in the offering plate, or make a donation online, we are giving to God, not a church budget. In fact, I pray we are not giving because the church needs money, but because our hearts are filled with faith and hope and love for God!

 

This year as you make your pledge to God through the church for 2014, I hope you understand it as an opportunity to deepen your relationship with God and fellow believers at First Presbyterian Church of Jonesboro. Whether you have much or you have little, whether you are a long time member or a new visitor, is not as important as making yourself, as well as your money available to God. When Jesus fed over 5,000 men, women and children with five loaves of bread and two fish, he was showing us how God’s love can multiply the effects of our generosity (see Mat. 14:13-21).

 

As you are able, please catch up your pledge for 2013, even if it wraps around into 2014. I promise you that as Rick finds employment, we will be catching our pledge up as quickly as possible. God’s kingdom is the place of abundance where every generous act overflows its original bounds and becomes part of the unbounded grace of God at work in the world (see 2 Cor. 9:10-15).

 

Press on, dear sisters and brothers; press on.

From your Pastor’s Heart,

Pastor Sue
 
Pledging as an Act of Worship - October 2011 PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 29 September 2011 00:00

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2, NIV)


Without realizing it, many people view their money as part of their life blood. Take away a person's money and they are not sure how they will survive. In our culture having money is akin to having power. Having power translates into meeting daily needs, at the very least. So for some, asking them to give away their money is asking them to give away their power. If money and power are viewed as lifeblood, no wonder people want to part with them on their own terms.


As Christians, we are called to live counter-cultural lives, lives that don't make sense to the rest of the world. The world teaches us to take care of our needs and wants first, and then maybe feed and help others with the leftovers. I can't tell you how many times I've heard people, even Christians, say, "I work hard for what I have, and 'they' (the poor and powerless, the alien, the refugee) should work hard too." That's not what Scripture teaches.


Scripture teaches us to give away our money, give away our power. As per power, any power we have comes from God and is to be used to glorify God. As per money, God owns everything. We are merely stewards, God's money managers. Just as in the business world managers are held accountable for their use of what has been entrusted to them, God holds us accountable to what has been entrusted – not given- to us.


Sunday, October 9 is Pledge Sunday, the day we make our financial commitment to God and to this church for the year ahead. This year as an acknowledgment of God's generosity to us, during worship we will bring our pledge cards forward as a spiritual act of worship, placing them in baskets. This worshipful act of physically presenting our pledges is a sign and acknowledgment to God of God's place in our lives. Because God through Jesus Christ first came to us, we can come before God, gratefully offering our lives and a portion of God's money, which is pleasing to God. In so doing we will be not be conformed to the pattern of this world which says, "My money is my business"; instead we will be saying, "The money I have is God's business and in this act of worship I will open myself to the renewing of my life and mind."


Between now and October 9, please give prayerful consideration to God's generosity in your life, and then watch what happens as you allocate your money to eternal things, not to temporal things which only seem to bring life or a sense of power. Respond to God's generosity with generosity; you will be amazed at what God will do.

See you in worship!

Pastor Sue

 

 
It Takes a Village - June 2011 PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 June 2011 00:00

The old African proverb and 1994 title of Jane Cowen-Fletcher‟s children‟s‟ book, “It Takes a Village”, illustrates the truth that we need each other to be successful. Cowen-Fletcher‟s book tells the story of a young African girl searching for her younger brother, only to find the rest of the village has been watching over him as well.

 

This truth is found in our Scriptures and applies to the Church. Along with the Holy Spirit, it takes the entire church to nurture a child into young adulthood, but even then the job is not done. Reaching out to others in the name of Jesus Christ and cultivating disciples takes devotion to God through consistent worship attendance, prayer, following Jesus‟ teachings, spending time in fellowship together, and generosity of spirit while caring for the needs of others.

 

Acts 2 reports the efforts and blessings that abound from being this kind of church: Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:46-47).

 

Though we do not literally meet together everyday, we do have opportunities to serve together everyday. Part of our mission is to have God add to our numbers every day “those who are being saved.” The summer of 2011 offers several opportunities for the church to “raise a child” while God adds to our numbers:

  1. Fifth annual Thornwell visit, June 24-26 (Susan Baggarly, Outreach Committee)
  2. Vacation Bible School, July 11-15 (Traci White, Christian Education)
  3. First Day of School, Suder Elementary (currently Membership, Growth & Development)
  4. Dog Dayz of Summer, August 20 (Bob Stevens, Membership, Growth & Development)

 

Your help is imperative; each of these events requires the help of everyone. Even if you are not personally able to attend, you have something to offer, especially your prayers. Look for listings in your weekly bulletins of what you can offer; check out FLC bulletin board sign-up sheets and newsletter articles; tell the coordinators now of your willingness to help. God‟s efforts to bring people into a loving, saving relationship with Jesus Christ can only be helped if the whole village participates. I pray God will bless us and add to our numbers daily those who are being saved so that together we may faithfully serve our Lord.

Grace and peace for the journey,
Pastor Sue

 

 
Pastor's Corner - September 2011 PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 29 August 2011 00:00

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”  (Matthew 5:9).


When a crisis occurs we are forever changed, for good or ill. For some, remembering a crisis may trigger intense physiological, emotional and/or spiritual reactions; for others remembrances may be easier, less severe. This September marks the 10th Anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. For many, remembering these events will be extremely painful; for others the events of that day are no longer considered a crisis in their everyday lives. For some, feelings of incredulity may roll in like a thick fog, making it hard to see the light of Jesus Christ; thoughts of vengeance may clash with a desire to be a peacemaker. For most, age old questions of God’s sovereignty, justice and presence will emerge anew.


As we draw closer to this anniversary, turn often to God in prayer, and daily to the Scriptures for assurance, comfort and direction. Visit the PC(USA) website, which offers specific Scripture texts related to 9/11. Listed are quick references to the Old Testament Prophets, several Psalms, and New Testament Scriptures, all written by God’s faithful people who experienced crisis, or at least suffered hardship and longings for God’s comfort and peace.


Also, a daily devotional for the first 11 days of September has been prepared for you, which you can find on the church website.


In this season of remembrance consider that each person, even children, may be affected differently. Offer each other grace and space to think through thoughts, experience feelings, and through faith live into the very real and present hope we have in Jesus Christ, our risen Savior.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).

Yours in faith, hope and love,

Pastor Sue

 

 
Go and Tell - May 2011 PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 02 May 2011 00:00

But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, 'He has been raised from the dead and indeed he is going ahead of you . . ." (Matt. 28:5-7a)


Christians are called “an Easter people.” We live in the truth of the resurrection, and how because of it we are changed. Having been baptized, we are made holy through the resurrecting love of Jesus Christ; cleansed from whatever has sullied our life. Through his love in our lives we can sing “Halleluiah!”, we can know and experience forgiveness with God and each other; we can experience healing in all its fullness, grace sufficient for all of life, and the peace of Christ which measures beyond understanding. Because of Christ’s resurrection we are forever changed.


But that is not enough. It is not enough for us to sing, “Halleluiah!” in our church pews on Easter morning. Something is required of us; we are to “go and tell”. On that first Easter morning the disciples, women and men alike, were told “he is not here; he has been raised,” and then were instructed to go and tell the others.

 

Time and again I hear people say, “Well, I try to show God’s love.” “I don’t want to be like those Christians who shove Jesus on others, so I don’t talk about him, I just show him to others.” Friends, what if God’s angels had not spoken to Mary, to the shepherds, or to Joseph? What if the angel and Jesus had not spoken to the disciples on Easter morning? What if all along in Jesus’ ministry he had not spoken the word of God to others, had not said out loud, “For God so loved the world . . . ?” Would we have heard the good news?

 

It is not enough to just show God’s love; we must also tell of God’s love. In this new life we have been given, God requires us to share the good news of forgiveness, reconciliation and peace. If we are truly changed by God’s resur-recting love, our grateful response will also include telling others what Jesus means to us, how his love has impacted our life, and how his love for all of creation can change the world. But that change will forever be made more diffi-cult if we are silent.

 

Sisters and brothers in Christ “go and tell!”
Pastor Sue

 

 
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