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Welcome to the JCPC Daily Reflections Blog. Reflections are daily devotionals authored by JCPC pastors, staff and members and provide insight, guidance and comfort to help you make it through each day. If you’d like to receive Reflections each day via email,  provide your email address.

Thursday, May 28 2020

For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.

-Matthew 18:20



This morning, I was preparing to come to church and record the worship service for Pentecost. Pentecost and the Holy Spirit have been on my mind all week with the video project we worked on, and as I lifted our three-month old from his bed, I whispered, "The Holy Spirit is in you too. Did you know that?" And he grinned the biggest grin I've ever seen. I was overwhelmed by a feeling of joy and sense that my words were more true than I could imagine.


The Spirit is indeed within each of us, from the quietest to the most prophetic. From the introvert to extrovert. I'm alone in my family as being an extrovert, unless that little baby is, and I suspect as much. Even in my extended family. My mom knows every lifeguard at her pool and I can introduce you to half the staff at my Kroger. It's how we are wired. Being apart from society, especially my church family, is painful. I long to be with everyone again, as much or more than anyone. But, like the youth I serve and admire, I understand why this is a time to refrain from gathering and embracing. I'm protecting the wise elder members and the nursery kids, as well as my smiling, Spirit-filled baby.


He reminded me that that Spirit came to people in their houses on Pentecost. It connected people, and it still does. He's never been to our church, the one I serve and love and worship with. He's never been to a church at all. But he's been a part of the Church from his birth. The Spirit filled his lungs, the lungs that caused a nurse to say, "wow, he's the loudest baby I've ever heard," and the lungs that were monitored in the NICU for three days while hundreds of people from OUR church and churches of my friends, the greater Church prayed for his return home, and the lungs I seek to protect at home, grateful that others wear masks.


And those lungs, God-willing, will one day sing out as he is baptized in that Spirit, as he confirms his faith, and as he sings in our chapel. That Spirit connects us as we serve in Mexico and the DR, downtown at the shelters and in Duluth at Hands of Christ. That Spirit connects us in our homes to the homes of foster children and the house of the Lord. It makes us one people, so long as we trust God to unite us and we never let ourselves be divided, even when we are separated. And if we forget that, we need only hold a baby to remember.


Prayer for Today

Lord, hold me as your child, and whisper to me that your Spirit lives in me too, wherever I am and wherever I go. There is the Church. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:41 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, May 27 2020

One "new" tradition that has emerged in our household over the Memorial Day Weekend is watching the video series, Band of Brothers. It is based on the true story of the World War II soldiers in Easy Company. The actual soldiers on which this story is based are interviewed at the beginning of each episode. Without exception, they each talk about the fear they all felt and how they each found a way to complete their mission -- in spite of their fears. I am inspired by the courage of these whom some have called "The Greatest Generation."


Recently, I heard a Pulitzer Prize winning historian compare our generation facing of this pandemic to that earlier generation facing World War II. While there are certainly differences between a World War and a pandemic, her point was that these were events that affected the whole world and required a response from everyone. When I watch Band of Brothers, I remember soldiers like my wife Pam's father who was a B-17 pilot in World War II. He was shot down over Germany and finished out the war in a prisoner of war camp. Pam's father was one of the "older" soldiers in his mid-20s -- a Captain and a Wing Commander called upon to lead others who were even younger than he was.


When I watch how the series depicts those young soldiers rising to the leadership challenge in spite of their fears, I'm also reminded of the excellent leadership book I have just finished by Peter Steinke called, Uproar: Calm Leadership in Anxious Times. I have shared with our session and our staff some of his key insights such as this one: in anxious times such as these, the most effective leadership comes from leaders who are able to calm their own anxiety, and then lead with a calming, non-anxious presence. This allows those of us who are experiencing the normal anxiety and fear that we all feel, to first take time to calm our own anxiety. Doing that first, then allows us to lead and make decisions based on our principles and our mission. I am grateful to be serving with leaders on our session and staff who are trying to lead in this way. Please keep our church's leaders in your thoughts and in your prayers, as we are praying for all of you -- the members of our JCPC church family.


Prayer for Today

God of peace, in these anxious and challenging times, fills us with your peace - a peace that passes all understanding and a peace like only you can give. Help us to calm our anxiety and face our fears in a way that allows us to fulfill the mission of this church you love - Johns Creek Presbyterian Church. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus, who faced his fear when giving his life on a cross in order to fulfill his death-defeating, life-saving mission. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:39 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, May 26 2020

God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

-John 4:24

Lord, you have been our home since the beginning.

-Psalm 90:1


I was recently reminded that God is not far away or up there, but rather as close to us as our home. This Sunday, we will celebrate Pentecost and as I can recall from previous years, I shared a book in Children's Worship as a part of our scripture reading, The Day When God Made Church. Throughout the reading the children looked intently at the images and followed the story. They enjoyed creating sound effects to accompany parts of it. This part sticks with me, "Then the room grows brighter. Something hot and blazing shines on us. Darkness is gone. FIRE fills the cold space. Now we feel WARM inside our bodies. Smiles paint our faces. We all know something new is happening. We feel our hearts change inside". The disciples gathered in a home together on that day and their lives were forever changed by experiencing the presence of the Holy Spirit in a powerful way.


Remember that God is with us in the presence of the Holy Spirit anytime and anywhere. God can be equally familiar to us, like our homes. Max Lucado says it well, "with time you can learn where to go for nourishment, where to hide for protection, where to turn for guidance. Just as your earthly house is a place of refuge, so God's house is a place of peace."


As you spend time in your home this week, think about the ways that you can invite God into every aspect of your life. Put your trust in God knowing that he goes before you, stands beside you and walks behind you.
If you would like to see this children's book read by the author, click here.


Prayer for Today

Loving God, Thank you for the comfort and security that you bring into our lives. Help us to see you in every part of our day. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:38 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, May 25 2020

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.

-John 15:13


On Memorial Day, I think of many military veterans but especially my dad and uncles, who served in the military during World War II. They made it home, but in that war hundreds of thousands of families tragically lost loved ones in service to their country. Yet, when asked, my dad and most soldiers from that era would say they were willing to give up their lives to protect their loved ones and stand for what they believed to be right.

When someone dies in defense of their country, John 15:13-"Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends"-is often recited during the funeral service to honor their sacrifice. But what were the circumstances behind this verse?

When Jesus spoke those words to His disciples during the Last Supper, He was about to die. And, in fact, one of His small group of disciples, Judas, had already left to betray Him (13:18-30). Yet Christ knew all of this and still chose to sacrifice His life for His friends and enemies.

Jesus was willing and ready to die for those who'd one day believe in Him, even for those who were still His enemies (Romans 5:10). In return, He asks His disciples (then and now) to "love each other" as He has loved them (John 15:12). His great love compels us to sacrificially love others-friend and foe alike.


Prayer for Today

Jesus, we're so thankful that You were willing to die for us!  Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:36 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, May 22 2020

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.

- John 15:12-14, NIV

This Sunday we will be talking about how the word of God can help us to stand firm in the storms of life. It is important not only to try to hear and study God's word -- but to do what it says. The words above from Jesus remind us of that.

This coming Monday we will celebrate Memorial Day and remember those who have literally laid down their lives for others in service to our country. What an amazing sacrifice that is! I believe each one of us has the opportunity every day as Christians, to consciously "lay down our lives" for those around us by doing the very things Jesus commanded us to do. Showing the love of Christ - what is best for the other person -- every moment of every day of our lives is something we can all do. However, we do this not to try to earn God's favor -- because we already have that through God's grace. We do it in response to what has been given to each one of us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ - the same Jesus who laid down his life giving the ultimate sacrifice for each one of us.

Enjoy Memorial Day and remember those who gave their lives and made the ultimate sacrifice. But then live every day, "laying your life down for a friend" - following the example of Jesus who did that for each one of us!


Prayer for Today

Loving God, we thank you that Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice by laying down his life for all of us - whom he called his "friends." We thank you for those men and women who have given their lives to protect others in service to this nation. May this coming Memorial Day be a time of remembrance, thanksgiving for their sacrifice, and comfort for those who mourn the loss of loved ones. Help us to lay down our lives for one another this and every day. In the strong name of Jesus, who gave his life for the whole world, we pray. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:33 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, May 21 2020

For the Lord grants wisdom!

From his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

He grants a treasure of common sense to the honest.

He is a shield to those who walk with integrity.

He guards the paths of the just

and protects those who are faithful to him. 

-Proverbs 2:6-8


My grandfather was the greatest fan of baseball I ever knew. To be honest, I don't know if he even had a favorite team. He loved the game itself. He once told me that at a baseball game, a runner slid into third base and the umpire called him, rightly so, "Safe!" However, with equal enthusiasm, signaled "out." The fans couldn't hear the call, but they saw the sign. He told the runner to go sit on the bench because he was out. Under protest, the runner said, "but you said I was safe!" The umpire replied, "Sure I did. But all those fans saw me call you out."


Perception can be everything. The opinion of the crowd can often matter more to us than the opinion of one person or our very integrity. We can be tempted to ignore what is good or right or true in favor of what keeps us from looking silly, foolish, or wrong in the eyes of others, even if they are strangers. For some of us, this means speaking up when people say things that are cruel, fowl, racist, or false. For some of us, it's remaining silent when people call our faith into question. Or we may stay silent when we benefit from an error, a mistake, or a system that ignores oppressed people we don't know or actively dislike. My teenagers will sometimes wear or not wear clothing appropriate to the weather or a specific event to gain the approval of their peers. And even adults may skip wearing masks or gloves to protect the health of others, if we fear we will be inconvenienced or ridiculed.


In Proverbs, we are called to show our love for neighbor and faithfulness to God by living with integrity. This is a call to honesty, to humility, admitting fault, speaking up for what is right, and enduring shame or ridicule to live with compassion and obedience to the guidance and authority of God and wise leaders. The runner my grandfather spoke of acted with integrity and obeyed the bad call, but also spoke up for what is right. But the umpire was more concerned with his reputation and looking foolish than acting with integrity. We must always be careful to seek to do what is right for others and not convenient for ourselves only.


Prayer for Today

Lord, help me to be a person of integrity, living for what is right, true, compassionate, and holy. Help me to err on the side of loving others more than self. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:32 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, May 20 2020

Those of us who feel called to preach, may do so for a variety of reasons - some better than others. But my sense is that most of us who preach regularly do so because of this: we want to share the good news of God's love in some way that connects with listeners and calls them into a deeper relationship with God and others. Sometimes it is hard to know if we are doing that effectively.


One thing I miss during this pandemic, our time of sheltering-in-place, and online worship services is standing at the back at the end of the service and seeing people. It is not only a time to connect, but to hear from others, as well. Some share concerns or celebrations. Some ask me to pray for them or someone they are concerned about. Some share information they think I should know. But most Sundays, some people will not simply thank me for the sermon, (which I appreciate), but they will tell me how God spoke to them through the sermon. These are often very sacred moments for me - not only because someone took the time to share this - but because I know what I have tried to do may have worked.


One of our members, Mary Todaro, emailed me this song she wrote in response to last week's sermon. What a creative way to internalize and express God's Word to her! She said I could share it with you. Enjoy!



by Mary Todaro


Stand firm. Stand firm.

Stand firm in the armor of God.

Buckle on the belt of truth.

Trust God to show the way.

Put on the breastplate of righteousness.

Wrestle through the pain.

Stand firm. Stand firm.

Stand firm in the armor of God.

Fit your feet with the gospel of peace.

Find support step by step.

Use your shield of protection from flaming arrows.

Stand firm. Stand firm.

Stand firm in the armor of God.

Wear the helmet of salvation.

Break free from the chains of fear.

Take the sword of the Spirit.

Stay strong in love.

Stand firm. Stand firm.

Stand firm in the armor of God.

Stand firm in the armor of God.


Prayer for Today

Thank you, God, for speaking to us in ways we can each hear. Help us to stand firm as we seek to live our lives in response to your Word to us. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus - the "Word made flesh." Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:30 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, May 19 2020

From an early age I enjoyed listening to stories, then reading them, and later telling them. My elementary school had a special storytelling program where a few students from each grade worked with our media specialist to memorize a children's book. We then had to be able to tell the story in an engaging way to an audience of students in our school. Once we learned our story for that year, we had many opportunities to share it.


The one place in life where I was shy and reserved was at school. Being a part of the storytelling club was a powerful tool to help me gain confidence to speak in front of groups of my peers and teachers. One of the main reasons that I continued to participate in this club each year, was the media specialist who led us. She was a very engaging story teller as well as gifted encourager. She had the ability to inspire me and helped me find the courage to be myself.

I recently read this quote shared by a colleague, author Philip Pullman said, "After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world." It reminded me what a powerful thing it is to share stories with one another.


During this time many are longing for companionship and finding places to share their stories, I am inviting you to connect with a JCPC child, youth or adult through our summer Pen Pals. You can write letters, share artwork, connect by phone or email and begin sharing stories and prayers with a new JCPC friend. If you're interested, contact me and I can help you get paired up with someone.


In Matthew 5, we are reminded of how the disciples were called away from their everyday life and the comforts of the familiar to join Jesus in sharing the Gospel. As followers of Christ we are still responding to the same call. How can you share your story and God's story today?


Prayer for Today

I give thanks, Gracious God, for all of those people over two thousand years who have inspired others and played their part in passing on to generation after generation the living heritage of their faith. Especially I give thanks for those who lived their faith through difficulties and blessings. I pray that I may continue to grow in my faith and love through good times and bad. In Jesus' Name, Amen.  

Posted by: AT 12:14 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, May 18 2020

Everybody loves a parade or at least that's how the ole saying goes. Some of my best childhood memories were of parades I attended and some of my favorite adult memories are of taking my kids to watch a parade. Any size would do!

On Thursday of this past week I was reminded of how much I miss the parades at JCPC. Now you might ask yourself, "What parades could Neal possibly be talking about? I don't remember parades at JCPC."

The parades I'm talking about are the daily parades of teachers walking their preschoolers to the playground. You see, during the school year, I get to not only watch these daily parades but I enjoy talking with the little children and the teachers that love them so.

We haven't had teachers, parents, and preschoolers on campus for two months until Thursday when a caravan of cars and minivans snaked around our campus carrying our preschoolers with the teachers lining the parade route with signs, bags, well wishes, and a lot of love.

Praise God for this preschool which has served our community for over a quarter of a century!


Prayer for Today

Thank you Lord for the inspired love and care devoted to raising children. Continue to bless our preschool in the days, weeks, and years ahead. Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:57 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, May 15 2020

"Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." - Galatians 6:2


I have just finished an excellent book by pastor Jay Y. Kim called Analog Church: Why we need real people, places and things in the Digital Age. I like it so much that I have bought copies for our program staff and some of our elders to read. If you are looking for a good book, I encourage you to buy it.


Since we have had to create an online worship service, we are now looking down the road trying to decide our online needs in the long run. Kim's book has challenged me to think about this in new and somewhat counter-intuitive ways. Kim writes this:


In his book Tribe, Sebastian Junger writes about instances throughout history when people surprisingly rallied together in the midst of unspeakable tragedy. Earthquakes, tsunamis, and wars that led to the loss of countless lives resulted in the shocking rise of embolden communities that began to care and provide for one another, friends and strangers alike, in ways never seen before. He [Junger] writes, "What catastrophes seemed to do, sometimes in the span of a few minutes, is turned back the clock on ten thousand years of social evolution. Self-interest gets subsumed into group interest because there is no survival outside group survival, that creates a social bond that many people sorely miss." When we create spaces in our churches for people to be present with one another in the midst of their pain, we too create opportunities for these social bonds. But what they sorely miss is so much more than social. It's spiritual. It's the way God designed us to be human with one another, bringing all of ourselves, all our pain, the weak and the strong, gathering as one. (2020:119)


In these difficult times, I think we have a real opportunity to carry each other's burdens. No one can do it alone. But through God's grace, we can and will make it together - so hang in there!


Prayer for Today

God of grace, help us to bear each other's burdens, so that together we can make it through whatever difficult times we are facing. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ, who carried the burden of our sin on the cross. Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:54 am   |  Permalink   |  Email

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