Back from Vacation

Church family,  this week April and I are back to our normal church routines after a month of vacation time.  And we wanted to express our love and  gratitude for all your support and love.

 Just for some clarity, this time of rest was just taking all of my annual vacation all at once for the purpose of gaining deeper rest. I have sensed some deeper fatigue and felt this was wise.  Through some advice and reading I concluded that there was something deficient in my shorter breaks. For me, and many other  pastor’s like me, it can take almost a week to just “turn off” the pressures of ministry. What can happen if a break is short is that just when I am starting to rest, it is time to go back to work.  The aim in taking more time off was to address some deeper issues of rest that are needed for me as a pastor so that I can stay healthy, avoid burn out and run the long marathon with joy and faithfulness.  Unfortunately, it is easy to skip time off in church work and I have done that too often over the last 10  years. Even when we have been away from FGC, there are times when I am still focused on church matters by attending conferences during time away.  I believe that I am growing in this and learning more about the discipline and worship of rest. We have discussed the wisdom of a sabbatical at some point in the future which would be outside of normal time off. But that is a discussion for the future.

 We did enjoy the time off, and definitely experienced some needed refreshment.  We are thankful for the support and respect of the church in giving us some space.   Your encouragement and prayers mean so much and we are freshly aware of how much we love and value your friendship and fellowship. We are also  thankful for those who serve and how well the church carries on when I am gone. This is certainly a sign of grace!

 Another benefit of taking time away is that we got a chance to visit other churches, something that rarely happens in the normal course of the year.  This gives us an appreciate for the larger body of Christ, an opportunity  to worship without any leadership obligations, and a sense of what it is like to be a visitor someplace else. 

 I have already jumped back into a regular work week  and am looking forward to seeing you  all on Sunday. We are planning a 3-week sermon  series on the importance of scripture in our personal and corporate lives. Please keep this in your prayers! 






A Gospel-Centered Prayer For Mother's Day

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Prayer for Mother’s Day[i]

 Eternal God, You have made mothers and motherhood for your own glory.

We praise you for being the creator of motherhood.  In your wisdom and grace you fashioned us in our mother’s wombs and nurtured us through their love and sacrifice. 

Thank you for equipping mothers physically, emotionally, and spiritually for the important task of raising children. 

You have made motherhood to be a display of your own nurture and care for us.  You have said, "Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” Isa 49:15

Our Holy Father, we confess that mother’s day exposes our many sins and need for your grace.

We have failed our mothers. We have not only broken their hearts through disobedience, we have failed to give them the honor and love that you require. 

Our mothers have failed us. Some of us were abandoned, neglected, mislead, or abused by our mothers. And we are not only wounded, we have allowed ourselves to be defined by this and followed in their steps.  Even the best of our mothers still failed us. We have often worked hard to receive from them what they should have given us willingly. And sometimes they have still withheld it. We come to you as wounded people. Lord heal us.

Our mothering is broken. We are too often selfish, impatient, and angry. We have we failed our children too many times to count. We have been annoyed with them for their weakness and failures. We have been slow to forgive for their sins. We have wrongly compared them to others instead of cherishing them as individuals. We have resented their need to be trained and discipled. 

Forgive us for believing the lies of our generation about motherhood. We have too easily come to see our children as an interruption to the good life.  

On the other hand, We have idolized motherhood and family. We have sought to find our significance in perfect children. We have been controlled by fear and shame when our children fail us. We have envied the success of others, and taken our eyes off of Jesus. We have defined womanhood through motherhood instead of through relationship with you. We have made carnal judgements about those with no children and those we perceive have too many children.

Our bodies are broken. Many of us have lost children to miscarriage or been unable to conceive. Our hearts are broken beyond our ability to bear it. Who will deliver us?

 We thank you our God and savior that in Jesus you have provided grace upon grace for us. 

 We thank you God for sending your son as a sacrifice for all of our sins, even the sins of motherhood.  We praise you that we do not have to live in the shame of our weakness or sinfulness.

 Our God, We thank you that we can commit our children to you with all of their sins and temptations. We confess that our hope for our children is found in you and your inexhaustible grace. 

We bless you for the grace that is already on display in the lives of our children. You have answered so many prayers and we thank you.

 We praise you for the daily grace  to help us to walk through the joys and challenges of motherhood knowing that our labor is not in vain in the Lord.

[i]Written by Pastor Matt Troupe

Easter Frustrations

At the top of my list of frustrations is the Evangelical push to shape all of church life into some form of man-centered entertainment. I am already seeing it in the mail box and social media ads. Sadly, the week that should be one of the most sober, joyful and sacred is ramping up to reflect some of the worst priorities in pop culture. Many churches are trying win the advertising and entertainment war, and trading their birthright for a pot of stew- Easter attendance.

Pastors, please remember that offering entertainment and self-help is not your calling. Having record attendance is not your calling. Please take advantage of the opportunity of having additional visitors on Sunday to preach the risen Christ. And remember, if you do it like the apostles, some will be convicted, some may get saved, and some may want to throw you in jail.

Here is an inspired reminder of your calling from 2 Timothy 4:1-5

"I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry." (ESV)

Gratitude Journal: One of The Most Rewarding Things I Have Done

I have journaled off and on since becoming a Christian in high school. But it has always been inconsistent. Even more, I felt strange about what to write. “Dear diary” seemed a strange approach to me. Several years ago a friend gave me the idea of keeping a gratitude journal and it has been one of the best things I have done. Now, the number 1 priority for my journal is to record the things I am thankful for. I use it for more than this. But using the journal for this has constrained my practice and made it a little easier to stay on track.

I write in my journal 3-4 times per week on average. Sometimes less. It us usually less than a page. Here are four significant things I have learned:

  • This is hard. I am surprised at how difficult this has been. My life is overflowing with blessings and often I find it hard to find something to write. My heart seems wired to complain and focus on the problems. This discipline has forced me to see the blessings in my life and put it down on paper.

  • One of the real benefits is in going back to review the journal. I have a day calendared once a month for reflection and solitude. I don’t always succeed at keeping this, but it has been helpful. I have created a list of profitable things to do on a day like this. One of them is to go back and review my journal. This has encouraged me to see God’s hand of mercy in my life. Throughout scripture God’s people left memorials and landmarks. This has functioned like those memorials.

  • This practice has helped me to see the big picture and overcome my emotional ups and downs. It shows me progress in my life over time. I just spent an hour doing reading entries from last year. Wow. So much mercy.. I often go back and make notes from what I read. It gives me ideas and helps me counter the false ideas that come from culture and my own heart. I am NOT a victim. Life is not horrible. The sky is not falling. My cup overflows.

  • Many of the things I read in later months are things that I would not have recalled if I had not written them down. Simple things like a good night of sleep, relief from a bad tooth ache, a meaningful conversation with one of my kids, growth in the way my wife and I handle problems, answers to prayer, etc.

A Great App for Bible Memorization: Fighter Verses

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As we enter the new year it is great to renew our commitment to God’s word. Last week we had a message on this. Here is a follow up on that, with a tool for scripture memory. Recently I have switched back to traditional flash cards because the other features on my phone were too much of a distraction. However, I still use the app when I am away from home as I don’t carry my cards with me everywhere.

The fighter verses app for iOS from Desiring God is a great tool for scripture memory. You can also get it for Android on Google play. This was created to help Bethlehem Baptist church work on scripture memory as a congregation. They have a set calendar of what they are memorizing together. I don’t use this feature but many of the others.

The app allows you to “add a verse” of your own to the list. You can also categorize the verses by topic (e.g. anxiety, temptation, etc). The greatest benefits include:

  • The app goes with you on your iPhone or android so it is a great alternative to mindless activities online when you have a few extra moments.

  • You can share the verse to social media or make a cool screen background to remind you of an important passage from within the app.

  • You can listen to a single verse or larger passage you are trying to memorize by playing the audio of the verse. This will simply loop and play it again and again until you stop. I have used this feature to listen to a larger psalm that I am trying to memorize several times in one sitting, or perhaps while driving.

  • The “quizzes” feature includes helpful ways to engage your mind while you are working on the verses. These are really helpful. You can work on filling in the verse with words blanked out at various levels until all the words are blank. You can record yourself reciting the verse and then listen to the recording with the words in front of you to check your progress. etc. This is great to use with kids too.

  • The app is inexpensive, you can get it for a few bucks. Well worth the price.

Call to Confession

The Prayer of Confession we used this past Sunday:

Father of mercies, Quiet our anxious thoughts and help us to be still before you. We confess that we do not run to you as our refuge and strength, but turn to many other sources of hope and help when our souls are troubled. When our lives fall apart and our hearts are like roaring and foaming seas, we are prone to fear you, accuse you, hate you, and feel abandoned by you. If we have been obedient to you, we think that you owe us better than this cup of suffering. When we have disobeyed, we fear that you are judging us and imagine that we have spoiled your wonderful plan for our lives. Father, thank you for your presence with us in our joy and our sorrow, in our strength and our weakness. We praise you that we cannot ruin your plans, for you work all things, even our own sin and the sins of others against us, together for our good and for your glory.

Lord Jesus, you obeyed your Father with every thought and action, yet his wonderful plan for your life was to give you the bitter cup of suffering that should have been ours. You trusted and loved God even when he didn’t let that cup pass from you; your faith never wavered when he turned his back on you, so that he would never have to forsake us. Thank you for obeying in our place and giving us your righteousness.

Holy Spirit, exalt Christ in our hearts. Give us strength to trust in him, for we are weak and it is hard to practice what we believe. You alone can restrain our sin, for without your grace to sustain us, we quickly fall. When we resist sin, show us that all the glory is yours and not ours. When we fall, remind us of the oceans of love and forgiveness that are ours in Christ, and of your complete sovereignty over all sin. May we treasure Christ in our weakness and failure, celebrating the love of such a wonderful Savior. Thank you for times of pain when you dismantle our idolatries and disarm the fortresses that we turn to instead of you. When life is stormy, let us find safety, peace, and hope in Christ, our best refuge and only source of true and lasting strength. In his priceless name we pray, amen.

- Taken from the book, Prone to Wander: Prayers of Confession and Celebration

You can purchase either the physical or electronic version of the book by clicking here.

Confession of Sin

This is the Litany of Confession we used this morning during our worship service. Someone asked me for a copy so I figured I would share it. It is adapted from a Presbyterian book of worship.

Prayer of Confession

Almighty God: you alone are good and holy. Forgive us for our sins, purify our lives, and make us brave disciples. 

We do not ask you to keep us safe,but to keep us loyal, so that we may serve Jesus Christ.Your goodness continues to lead us to repentance, and we are controlled by the love of Christ.

We confess our sins and cry out that you to make us more like your son Jesus.

From lack of reverence for truth and beauty; for participating with carnal and ugly things; 

O God, deliver us. 

From cowardice that avoids the truth; laziness content with half-truth;or arrogance that thinks we know it all; 

O God, deliver us. 

From loving in words and talk rather than in truth and deed.

O God, deliver us. 

From a hypocritical life and worship; from all that is hollow or insincere; 

O God, deliver us. 

From loving the pleasures of the world, from rudeness, pride and gossip. 

O God, deliver us. 

From neglect of your word and the fellowship and worship of your church 

O God, deliver us. 

From being satisfied with things as they are in the church or in the world;from failing to share your indignation about injustice; 

O God, deliver us. 

From selfishness, entitlement, or self-pity; 

O God, deliver us. 

From token concern for the poor,for lonely or loveless people;from confusing faith with good feelings, or love with wanting to be loved; 

O God, deliver us. 

From losing our savor as the salt of the earth and hiding our lights from a dark world

O God, deliver us

From trusting idols and trying to serve two masters,

O God, deliver us. 

God we believe your promise to forgive all our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We take comfort that you look in mercy on those who are humble, and contrite and who tremble at your word.  Amen

Adapted from the book of common worship p. 404, Westminster/John Knox Press Louisville, KY 1993