Go Forth In Peace

The words of Isaiah 55 convey a profound message to us during A Season of Peace:

For you shall go out in joy, and be led forth in peace.

Go out in joy. When we look around our world these days, it is sometimes hard to feel joyful. Yet joy inherently embraces optimism. Joy is the companion of faith and hope. In our polarized world torn by war, famine, and marginalization of the poor and disenfranchised, we are in desperate need of joyful and brave people who are willing to ask the hard questions and live the difficult solutions that make peace possible.

Be led forth in peace. Through the Peace & Global Witness Offering, we connect with each other, as the Church, together, to confront systems of injustice and promote reconciliation in places around the world and right here at home.

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Building a Life of Faith

“We plan and God laughs” is identified as a Yiddish proverb, the title of a book or two and the headline of multiple online articles meant to help people navigate periods in life when personal plans seem to disintegrate in front of our eyes. When we hear or read the proverb, it can be difficult not to nod along, especially when the phrase encapsulates something most of us have experienced: a perfected resume or proposal sent, but no word back; a flawless itinerary dissolved by the smallest delay; an event set to begin, upended by a storm; a setback or an entirely “new normal.”

As much as we might nod along, or wince at our own experience, the proverb points us in the other direction, too. And if not the proverb, Scripture certainly does.

In the Book of Jeremiah, the tone and task are predominantly focused on God’s judgment, but then Jeremiah shares the statement: “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans … to give you a future with hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). These words were sent by the prophet Jeremiah to the Israelites who had been taken into Babylonian exile. These striking, comforting words reminded them that, despite their experience of the present, God’s gesture, thoughts and plans for them — and for us — are peaceful, abundant and hopeful. “We plan and God laughs”? Perhaps. But it is just as possible that “we plan, and God imagines a future with so much more.”

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The Perfect Gift

In the story of God, as we tell it, there is a barrier that exists between the Created world and its Creator. A wall. Sin, we say, separates us from God, and separation from God is unbearable.

And our story goes on to say that God, seeing that we had no hope in ourselves of getting over, or through or around what separates us, offered us a gift in Jesus Christ who opens a door — a door we could not open ourselves.

What a gift!

But the story goes on to say that Jesus is the perfect gift; not only opening a door but coming through it. Our story says God is with us.

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Because Water is Life

When Manuel Nazario casts his net into the water these days, his catch is far less plentiful.

In the remote area of Bolivia near the Paraguay-Argentina border, Manuel and the members of his indigenous community are finding that fishing, their traditional livelihood, is now in severe jeopardy.

The Capirendita (pronounced CAP-IR-EN-DITA) community is grappling with the devastating impact of climate change, irregular rainfall patterns, prolonged droughts, disease and mining pollution. As a result, their age-old ways of life and their means of economic support are increasingly threatened.  The degradation of the environment and the mounting lack of access to water threatens their very survival.

Manuel has emerged as one of the leaders in his fishing community. A born innovator and community organizer, he is now leading the families in Capirendita toward the promise of a better way, in partnership with a local organization called CERDET (Center for Regional Studies of Tarija). Together they are working to develop irrigation systems and to collect and store rainwater for safe drinking.

Because of gifts received through One Great Hour of Sharing, like the gifts you and I will make to this Offering here in our congregation, CERDET is building infrastructure to address the communities’ critical water shortage. Their goal is to create 500 meters of pipes to transport safe well water to those in need. Manuel will be responsible for carrying out the excavation work on the underground piping system. Our gifts will also support the distribution of plastic containers to collect and save rainwater.

One Great Hour of Sharing helps us address critical water needs in places like South Sudan, training technicians to dig water wells for their communities and on maintenance, hygiene and sanitation. And in places like Detroit, our gifts have joined We the People of Detroit to secure access to water for those who have had their water shut off during the pandemic. Imagine not being able to wash anything during the pandemic! One Great Hour of Sharing is the single, largest way that Presbyterians come together every year to share God’s love by becoming “repairers of the breach,” joining with people in need to build God’s house, together. Together we are making a better world for those in need no matter where they are. Please give generously, for when we all do a little — it adds up to a lot.

Text SHARING to 56512 to learn more about how your gift to One Great Hour of Sharing makes a difference, or visit http://pcusa.org/oghs

Building a Life of Faith

Take a minute to look back on your life. Who all have you lived with? In the earliest parts of our lives, we might live with parents or grandparents or other caring adults. Perhaps siblings. Over the years, we might live with friends and extended family, family of choice or even sometimes with strangers. And sometimes we might find ourselves living alone.


No matter whom we live with now, or whom we have lived with before, God’s vision for the world is that everyone find a place within God’s kingdom—God’s house. What we celebrate at Pentecost is God’s pouring out of the Holy Spirit so that people of every identity and language can hear a word of welcome into God’s household. All belong in God’s household, and we get to live together, and learn together and celebrate together.

At Pentecost, we look especially to the children, youth and young adults with whom God has called us to live. The psalmist reminds us of the importance of faith being established during our earliest years, saying, “God from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.” God’s youngest family members need support to build their full potential in both faith and life, and all of us have a role to play.
These young ones also show and sometimes teach all of us more about faith in Jesus Christ and how the Holy Spirit is moving in our world.

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One Great Hour of Sharing

In Isaiah 58, the author is addressing a people who have returned to Jerusalem,
where the Temple—God’s house—was in shambles. I imagine it was a heartbreaking
scene. And in that rubble, the prophet challenges the people not to rebuild the
building or to restore their religious rituals, but to care for the hungry, the weak and
the vulnerable–the prophet called the people to become the house of God. We are called to become, as Isaiah promised long ago, “repairers of the breach, restorers of streets to live in”.

Together, we become the household of God.

It’s Not Too Late

In the lead up to Christmas, many of us spend time in search of the perfect gift — the gift that communicates to friends and family how much we know and love them. We search our memories for indications of what gift might cause the faces of our loved ones to light up. We scour the stores and shops, hoping to come across the thing that will communicate a depth of love that our words cannot.

As important as gifts to loved ones are, we have an opportunity to give gifts that help many people we do not know through the Christmas Joy Offering. These gifts in particular draw us back to the manger and God’s perfect gift to us — Jesus Christ.

Jesus came to live among us, bringing light into darkness, and reconciliation to God and to one another. A perfect gift from a gracious God.

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OGHS: Restoring Streets in Syria

In 2012, civil war broke out in Syria, where ISIL’s presence continues to create violence and fear. More than 250,000 people have been killed, and 13.5 million others have had to leave their homes to seek safety in Lebanon, Europe, and the United States.

Thanks to our gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) was able to respond to this refugee crisis soon after it began. Working with churches in the region, primarily the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon, PDA helps Syrian refugee children in Lebanon continue their education and provides refugee families food, shelter, and heating oil. Across the denomination, PDA assists efforts by congregations to resettle Syrian refugees. Their welcoming hands bear witness to our biblical imperative
to extend hospitality to the stranger and the foreigner.

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The General Assembly

ga222-circle-colors-vector-smaller-border-300x292Every other year when Our General Assembly meets, it’s helpful to remind ourselves what it is. It’s helpful to remember, too, how we are organized. The Presbyterian Church, USA is a “representational” Church. We are not a “hierarchical” church where many key decisions are made by a bishop or a central body. We are not a “congregational” church, independent from all other congregations and church bodies,
making decisions that apply only to us.

  •  We follow a pattern we find in the Scriptures. We are led by “ruling elders,” elected by a congregation, and “teaching elders,” church pastors and others in different ministries.
  • A group of Presbyterian congregations in a geographical area is a “presbytery.” Central, Faith, and First here in Pine Bluff, along with almost 90 other congregations, are part of Arkansas
    Presbytery.
  •  Groups of Presbyteries in different regions of the country are called a “synod.” Presbyterians in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Louisiana, are in the Synod of the Sun.

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The Minute for Mission

stop-watch-icon-hiWe’ve traditionally used the PC(USA) Mission Yearbook for our “Minute for Mission” during worship each Sunday. But, some of you have had questions about it recently. Here is some of what we’ve heard:

  • “Why do we have a Minute for Mission every Sunday?”
  • “Why is it about people and places we don’t know about?”
  • “Why is it always a lot more than a minute?”

Those are the kinds of questions we pastor-types enjoy hearing. That means you’re taking worship seriously.

One of the ways we Presbyterians have talked about worship over the centuries is that “through the Word and Sacrament the church is empowered to serve God in the world.” Notice that last phrase: “to serve God in the world.” When we come together to worship it isn’t to hide out from a harsh world. We worship to give thanks for God’s presence in our lives and to help us see more clearly that God is active in our world. Worship will give us more commitment and energy to serve God beyond the church walls.

So, to make that part of our worship more clear and less boring, we’re going to be doing some things differently:

  • The Minute for Mission will be more focused, more clear, more condensed;
  • It will include more information about church mission in our community, our state, and our region, as well as the rest of the world;
  • It will help us learn more about how our mission dollars and other gifts are being used in the name of Jesus Christ to ease people’s burdens and give them hope;
  • It will challenge us to find ways to give thanks for God’s blessings to us by making gifts that will help others also experience God’s blessings.

We hope to see you Sunday!