Favorite Verses

1. John 3:16

 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

2. John 14:6

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

3. Ephesians 2:8

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God...

4. 2nd Timothy 3:16

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousnes...

5. Matthew 11:28

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."

 

 

 

Tuesday
Jul262016

August

From the Pastor's desk:

Is First Presbyterian Church known for radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission and service, and extravagant generosity? For that is a list of five faithful practices of fruitful congregations, according to bishop Robert Schnase of the United Methodist Church, and it’s a list I’ve used to guide my thoughts when writing church newsletter articles these last months. This time, I’m writing on that last practice: EXTRAVAGANT GENEROSITY.

We have been blessed by generations of believers here at FPC who have given generously to ministry and mission. This has been, and continues to be, a giving congregation. It’s encouraging to see the number of different missions we support, and to see the church respond to needs.

And this isn’t just in financial terms - when there’s a perceived need, the church responds in a variety of ways. You’ve used the facilities God has given us to house those displaced by severe weather. You’ve offered up your talents and your time in ministry to those in need. I’m awed by the talents and the networks that are tapped in order to benefit others. I want to encourage you by pointing out some of these things.

Of course, we are not to simply rest on our laurels. There is still much to be done for the sake of God’s Kingdom. And it’s always appropriate to consider the manner and the attitude of our giving. It’s been said that our calendars and our checkbooks are the best indicators of what we TRULY value (not just what we SAY we value).

So... are we giving God first priority, or are we giving God our leftovers? Jesus drew the distinction between the AMOUNT of money given and the VALUE of the offering. The widow gave less than a penny, but it was nearly ALL SHE HAD. Jesus considered hers the most valuable gift given that day. By comparison, those wealthy were giving huge amounts of money, but it came at minimal personal cost. They were not, in fact, as generous as they would like to have believed, for their lifestyles were affected only marginally by their giving. The poor widow was laying it all down for God.

Extravagant generosity is motivated by recognizing the extravagant generosity of God. In light of what God has to give, everything else starts to pale. So consider... how great is God, really? And how much do we really want to participate in his work in this world? Might there be more valuable ways to spend our time and resources?

The giver generally ends up feeling extremely grateful to be able to give, and far more in tune with the generous heart of God. The generous congregation better reflects the kind of God who invests in people more than anything else.

In His grip,
Pastor Matthew

Tuesday
Jun282016

July

From the Pastor's Desk:

For the past several months, I’ve been writing on the five practices of fruitful congregations, according to Methodist bishop and author, Robert Schnase. In April, I penned an article about radical hospitality. In May, I wrote about the importance of passionate worship. And last month, I wrote on the theme of intentional faith development. This month’s theme is risk-taking mission and service.

Of Schnase’s five practices, this is the one about which I feel most keenly convicted, because I’m not much of a risk-taker. And although my heroes are missionminded, I tend to be more provincial in my thinking.  “Mission” sounds scary to me, and I’d guess it sounds scary to most of you.  Maybe our understanding of mission needs to be broadened a little. A mission for Christ doesn’t necessarily mean traveling overseas or jumping into disaster relief situations. It certainly CAN mean that (and for some, that kind of adventure brings excitement and joy in service to Christ), but it doesn’t ONLY mean that. Our mission field is all around us - at work, at school, in our neighborhoods, anywhere. We are missionaries here in America (with the keen advantage of speaking the native language).

I see clearly, though, that in order for a church to really thrive, it needs to have a clearly defined sense of mission and purpose.  When congregations think only of survival, and think about bringing in new members only as a way of keeping the doors open and paying the bills, its Christ-life languishes. It’s the same in our own personal lives. Our lives were meant to be more than work, eat, sleep, repeat.  And a fear of failure will keep us in hiding, doing nothing. That’s where the risk-taking comes into play. When we risk little, the 
rewards and benefits to others will also be little. But if we have a vision that’s big enough to require some risk-taking, it will force us to increase our dependence and trust in God alone as our biggest treasure.

And in one of his parables, Jesus showed how the owner who entrusted talents to his stewards was only disappointed in the one who risked nothing, and hid his talents.  What if we take a risk and fail?  That could easily happen. But haven’t we also learned by now that it’s often through what others might consider failures (and through our own weaknesses) that God’s grace and mercy so often shine forth? And after all, the cross was considered the greatest symbol of failure possible in the Roman world until Jesus touched it and transformed its meaning.

Might we listen in our own lives, and as a people, for the voice of Christ? Is He calling us to a new mission? Perhaps there is a new risk to take - to make our hearts race - right after Jesus.

In His grip,
Pastor Matthew

Wednesday
May252016

June

From the Pastor's Desk:
“Intentional Faith Development”

For the last few months, I’ve been using this opportunity in the newsletter to speak about the five attributes of a healthy church: Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Faith Development, Risk-Taking Mission & Service, and Extravagant Generosity (these are the important attributes identified in the book “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations” by Robert Schnase). You can see from the title which one I’m writing about this month.

This is surprisingly good timing, because your Christian Education team has been talking a lot about the importance of intergenerational fellowship and intentional faith development (it’s kinda their job). They know that it’s not enough for people to feel welcome and have great weekly worship experiences at church. If a church is going to be grow, its members need to be connected with one another in intentional discipleship communities.

When I lived in Nebraska, I was invited into a small group of Christian friends that called themselves the “Tuesday Night Group.” Essentially, we were a fellowship of young adults who wanted to grow in our faith, and discovered we needed each other for strength, support, challenge, and encouragement along the way. We met weekly (guess when!) and sang together, studied Scripture together, and prayed together. They kept me sane.

Apart from our Sunday morning worship hour, where is your faith being developed? Who is sharing their Christian experience and wisdom with you - mentoring you through this life? Sure, a pastor’s sermons and good Christian books can be helpful, but what personal relationships has God placed in your life that help you in getting to know and follow Jesus better?  And who has God placed in your life that you are able to pour into - and share your faith experience with?  Without such relationships or groups, our Christian walk suffers. It doesn’t matter if they’re called small groups or youth groups or Bible studies or accountability fellowships, we need to be a part of or create spaces where we can be supported and challenged. This life is complex and difficult. How can we afford to be so isolated and alone?  Jesus commanded His friends to “go and make disciples, teaching them everything I have taught you.” Jesus commanded his disciples to develop the faith in other people. It is a fundamental mission of the church. And I pray you’ll discover the joy of receiving that kind of Christian coaching and also helping provide it for others. We don’t graduate from discipleship. At EVERY age, we need “Sunday School.”

In His grip,
Pastor Matthew

 

Thursday
Apr282016

May

From the Pastor's Desk:
“Passionate Worship”

In bishop Robert Schnase’s book (“Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations”), the author details five elements every church needs to be healthy: Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Faith Development, Risk-Taking Mission & Service, and Extravagant Generosity. This month, I wanted to talk about that second element, “Passionate Worship.”

Sometimes, we Presbyterians earn the nickname given to us by our more charismatic brothers and sisters: the “Frozen Chosen.” Let’s be honest. “Passionate” may not be the first adjective that comes to mind when describing our Sunday morning worship. I remember that as a kid in the church’s sanctuary, I mostly prayed for the service to end. To me, “worship” was enduring verse after verse of long hymns, and a seemingly endless liturgy of long prayers and speeches before I could finally go outside and play.  I don’t mean to imply that my home church was awful. It wasn’t. I was (am) immature and had (have) a lot of growing up to do. Moreover, true, passionate worship isn’t just about style. Passionate worship can happen with contemporary music led by a band, or with hymns played on the organ. Perhaps we all have much to learn when it comes to true worship.

Our culture is filled with entertainment options, and we tend to think like consumers.  Churches buy into that ideology, and market themselves. We offer our Sunday morning worship services as entertainment experiences. Our compliments and criticisms generally betray our attitudes. “The music was beautiful today, but the sermon was pretty dry.” That makes it sound as if the congregation is there only to fill the pews. We bought our ticket, and we found the show to be lacking.

But the real question for us is whether or not we were given the opportunity - and aided by the service elements - to draw close to God and tell him how much we love him. It’s not wrong to come away from worship feeling good - but that’s not what it’s all about. Excitement isn’t to be merely superficial - the excitement comes from knowing that you were offering quality worship to God - and honoring him.
Fruitful congregations are ones that practice passionate worship - and not just on Sunday mornings. The Holy Spirit is inspiring people to connect with God and praise him. People are singing not because they are “supposed to,” but because they want to. It’s true that much of the responsibility to provide an excellent worship service rests on the spiritual leaders of the church - her ruling and teaching elders. When our leaders are enthusiastic about celebrating God, that attitude spills over into the congregation. Passionate worship is
contagious.

However, we are more than spectators. Bring your whole self, not just your body, into the sanctuary. Tell us what’s helpful and what’s distracting when it comes to connecting with God here at FPC, not just what you “like” and “don’t like” about Sunday mornings. God deserves our best - and we need more than just one more hour of entertainment.

Can I hear an “Amen”?

In His grip,
Pastor Matthew

Sunday
Apr032016

April

      From the Pastor's Desk:
      “Radical Hospitality”

Almost every church claims to be friendly. Almost every church advertises itself as welcoming. A lot of churches talk about themselves as “family.” But the true test is not what a church says about itself, but what visitors actually experience when they arrive on a Sunday morning.

Can you imagine what it would be like if you showed up to some other family’s gathering? I’m extremely shy anyway - I imagine I would be really intimidated. I wouldn’t know the in-jokes. I wouldn’t know anyone’s name. I would need someone to befriend me and guide me and introduce me.  Beyond the initial niceties, if I were to continue to show up regularly, I would need to know that I was wanted and not a nuisance. I would need to know that people were willing to listen to me, that they genuinely cared about me, and that eventually they were even willing to let me work alongside them. Then I would know that the friendliness was more than just an act; that I was joyfully expected.

Right now, this feels true: FPC Mattoon is filled with a good Spirit of hospitality. This is something that YOU are doing, dear friends.  The staff and I try to lead by example, but the Holy Spirit has been working in your hearts for a long time, and even in the difficult times. God’s good work in you is the greatest resource we have to offer.

Visitors have been talking with me. On Easter, a woman told me that this is the friendliest church she has EVER visited. I have heard similar stories of how grateful visitors are that people will come up to them, welcome them, talk with them, and make them feel at home. You are doing this quite naturally - quite genuinely.  It’s not an act, not artificial. It’s fruit. To God be the glory!

Methodist Bishop Robert Schnase wrote a book titled “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations.” The five practices according to Robert are: Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Faith Development, Risk-Taking Mission & Service, and Extravagant Generosity.

In the coming months, I will be talking a bit about these in my monthly newsletter articles. But I wanted to celebrate the good work that is happening in connection with that first practice: Radical Hospitality.  I want to encourage us all to continue that good work. Not because the church needs new members in order to survive (survival mentality is fear-based, not love-based), but in order to help others find a place of belonging. FPC has something special and unique to offer, while God allows us to continue this ministry in His Kingdom.

While we draw breath, let us seek to worship and serve and glorify God.  And sure, we’re far from perfect.  But God is here. And so we have all the hope and love we need.

In His grip, Pastor Matthew

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