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.
2 Corinthians 8:1-5 They gave themselves first to the Lord, and, by the will of God, then to us. -2 Corinthians 8:5
Have you ever watched a tee-ball game where the children are just beginning to learn baseball? Have you ever seen a child, so excited to hit the ball off the tee, that the youngster runs directly to third base and then races back to home plate to score?
Too often we think of giving to the church as a financial decision rather than as a stewardship decision. We shortcut the ground-rules, like the child running directly to third. We rush to start off in the wrong direction. We hurry the process. As a result, we may make a donation to the church, but we do not make a stewardship commitment.
To make a stewardship decision, we have to go all the way around and touch all of the bases. Reaching first means making a faith decision before we even consider the financial aspect of our giving. Reaching first means calling to account our lives of faith before doing any financial accounting.
In 2 Corinthians 8:5, Paul says of the Macedonian church, "they gave of themselves first to Lord, and then to us in keeping with God's will." Getting to first means determining your commitment level before deciding your financial position. Making a stewardship decision means responding to a deeper calling of faith, not reacting to a quick accounting. A stewardship decision is first and foremost a faith commitment, not a financial calculation.
First things first. They gave themselves first to the Lord. That is the place to begin a conversation about a stewardship decision.
Action Item: First things first. Instead of rushing to the calculator or the budget, answer these questions first. What does God call me to be? What does God call me to do? What is God doing in my church now? How is God working in my life now? What could God do through me? How can I give myself more fully to God?
Posted by: Capital Campaign Daily Devotional AT 09:37 am
Luke 14: 15-24 Come, for everything is ready now. But they all alike began to make excuses. -Luke 14:17-18
How many reasons are there for not participating in a capital campaign? The possibilities are endless! There are more than enough reasons to justify anyone.
A modern parable might begin like this:
The kingdom of God is like a capital campaign. God gave His people a vision. "Come!" said God, "Take your place prepared for you. Take up your part in My work. Everything is ready now. All of you are invited to make a difference. When you take your place and take up your part, all will be blessed to break bread in My kingdom." But they all alike began to make excuses ....
The most important piece of a jigsaw puzzle is the piece that is missing. Every part is important to making the whole picture work. Synergy is a word best understood when divided. Ergo, is Greek for work, while the prefix syn means together. When merged, the words mean "working together." However, there is more. Synergy is better defined to mean that the result accomplished is greater than the individual parts. Sports teams demonstrate the meaning of synergy. Playing together makes them better than playing as individuals. However, even one team member failing to do his or her part can make everyone lose. Just like one musician not in concert with the orchestra can ruin the music.
A fighter jet was damaged and barely made a safe landing. The same plane was needed for a critical mission the next morning. A maintenance crew worked all night to make repairs. At dawn the pilot asked the mechanic if the plane was good to go. "Sir," he replied, "if this plane does not complete its mission it will not be because of me."
Your participation in the mission of this church is unquestionably significant. No one can play your part but you. No one can give your part but you. Others can only do their part. No one can make up for your part if your gift is excused.
Action Item: If you have already made up your list of excuses, then take that list and offer it up as a burnt sacrifice. Go back to the list you made on day two - reasons why these projects are important. Looking over that list, can you now find reasons to give?
Posted by: Capital Campaign Daily Devotional AT 09:18 am
Romans 12:1-2 Offer yourselves as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is.
Love the Lord your God ... with all of your mind.
What motto is on your T-shirt? What values do you conform to? Where do you re-shape yourself in order to "fit in." What do you give yourself to as a kind of living sacrifice? Anything advertising to make us the greatest, the most successful, the most famous, can capture us and conform us to its own set of values.
A magazine ran a series of articles asking people "How has your mind changed?" Some people answered by telling how a relationship changed their racial prejudices, or by sharing how some tragedy or suffering made them more aware of and compassionate toward others.
What can change your mind? That is an interesting question. Changing one's mind is a difficult and rare thing - especially if the transformation means changing our directions, our opinions, our goals, and our plans. Yet such change is exactly what Paul calls every Christian to. He calls us to be completely transformed by the renewing of our mind. And he calls us to give ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice.
Would anyone notice that your life is molded by the mind of Christ? Could anyone see your transformation? How has your life in faith changed your mind? How have your priorities changed? How has your life changed? Are you still conformed to this world, or are you being transformed? Could anyone notice the difference in you as you offer yourself more fully to God?
Action Item: Get in touch with the "mind-set" that you have entered this campaign with. What have you pre-determined? What are you stubborn about? What have you already decided? Be honest here - write those things down. Then make a commitment with yourself to be open-minded. Listen, look, reflect - and see what you learn. You may be surprised to find yourself transformed before this prayer journey is finished.
Posted by: Capital Campaign Daily Devotional AT 09:53 am
Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned.
Love the Lord your God ... with all your strength.
After a long morning of teaching in the temple courtyard, Jesus took a break with his disciples. Sitting right across from the treasury, their gazes drifted over to observing many people who were making their offerings.
Never one to miss a teachable moment, Jesus asked his disciples about what they had seen. "Who put in more?" is the implied question. The answer is obvious to anyone reading or watching -- those who gave the greatest sums put in more!
Jesus turns the tables on the obvious, teaching his disciples an important principle of giving. Giving is not measured by dollar amounts; giving is measured by how much we truly give of ourselves. Some who gave large sums offered out of their surplus gifts that they would never even miss. But what this widow offered meant the world to her, although it was just a penny. Her gift affected her life. Her seemingly small gift is the one Jesus singles out for praise. She put in more of herself than all of the others.
Commitments are not about equal gifts, but about an equal sense of sacrifice. Not everyone has the ability (the resources) to make a multi-million dollar gift; but every person does have the ability and the opportunity to meaningfully invest themselves in what God is doing in their church. In terms of the commitment, rather than the amount, would God be honored if every person in this church made a sacrifice equal to my own?
Action Item: Whether you imagine your financial gift to be "large" or "small," stop ... right now ... trying to measure your pledge (in dollar terms) with what other people are able to do. Put that kind of "measuring" away! Every gift from every person is immeasurably significant if that gift represents a meaningful commitment within the context of their blessings. Continue to ask yourself this question: in terms of the level of commitment (not the dollar amount), would God be honored if every person in this church made a sacrifice equal to my own?
Posted by: Capital Campaign Daily Devotional AT 08:06 am
Matthew 6:19-21 and Luke 19:1-9
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth ... but lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart.
We tend to grow uncomfortable when the church talks about money. Why? Are decisions about how we live and how we use those resources unimportant? Is our faith supposed to be separate from our finances? Are not believing, and praying, and loving more important to our faith?
Look at a revealing count of New Testament words:
Believe, Believing - 275 times
Pray, Praying - 371 times
Love, loves, loving - 714 times
Giving or give - 2,162 times
Jesus knew that our treasures and our hearts are inseparably linked. For Him, talking about treasure was to reach more completely for the full allegiance of people's hearts. Jesus knew that dealing with our treasures is one of those critical places where the rubber meets the road ... where the practicality of our faith is tested ... where what we believe becomes tangible and real.
Remember the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19? We have no idea what happened between Jesus and Zacchaeus other than they had dinner together. But we do know that Jesus reached and dramatically changed that person's heart. How do we know that? Follow the money! Look at what happened with Zacchaeus' treasure. Half of what he possessed he gave immediately. Every wrong he set himself to make right. Seeing where the treasure went, Jesus exclaims, "Today salvation has come to this house!"
Maybe we are uncomfortable with talk about money because that conversation is getting awfully close to the heart of our faith. Maybe we are uncomfortable with talk about our treasures because we are afraid for something as powerful as salvation to come very near our house today.
Action Item: Sketch out a simple budget of where your treasures are (of where your financial resources go). Now write down your current giving to the ministries of the church. How does your giving to God's work through the church compare to your investment in your other treasures? Does that level of giving represent what you believe in? What does that level of giving say about where your heart is? Where would you rather your heart be?
Posted by: Capital Campaign Daily Devotional AT 09:19 am
Matthew 14:13-21 and John 6:1-11
They need not go away; you give them something to eat.
There is a boy here with five loaves and two fish, but what are they among so many people?
Jesus had been with the crowds all day, ministering to people's needs. It was getting late - past suppertime. And, frankly, the disciples were tired of dealing with all these people. "Send the crowds away," the disciples told Jesus. Let them go home and take care of themselves for a while. Surely you do not expect us to be responsible for all of their needs.
When a church is challenged with growing needs, it would be easy to say "just send the crowds away" - surely it is not our responsibility to minister to all of these needs. It would be easy saying that to your fellow disciples who are also ready to go home for supper, but don't try saying that to Jesus. Jesus' response was, and still is, clear. "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat."
A crowd of more than 5,000. How can we meet that kind of need? It is overwhelming! As Philip says in John's version, "Six months wages would not buy enough bread for each of them even to get a little!"
Then, seeing the need and determined to do what he could about it, a boy in the crowd gave five loaves and two fish. It must have taken all the composure the disciples had to receive the boy's gift with gratefulness and seriousness without laughing in his face. What are these gifts among so many people?
Jesus took the gift, blessed it - and the crowd of more than 5,000 were fed.
Every miracle begins with a person - with a person making a gift of the best they can offer and asking Jesus to bless and to use that gift. Expect a miracle. The need may seem overwhelming. Your gift may appear to be inadequate to cover all of the need. But all Jesus asks is the best that you can offer. When you give the best that you can to Jesus, then expect a miracle. Expect God's grace to work in and through you - and in and through other people - to accomplish more than you ever imagined.
Action Item: Begin now to think about your part, your gift, in this campaign. No one can do your part for you. No one can make up for your part. You have a part in this miracle that only you can provide. Start the conversation that asks, "Lord, what would You do through me?"
Posted by: Capital Campaign Daily Devotional AT 08:40 am
1 Samuel 3:1-11
Speak Lord, for your servant is listening. -1 Samuel 3:10
In the time of Samuel, the Bible says, "the word of the Lord was rare in those days, and visions were not widespread." It is easy for people to feel the same way today. Who has heard God call their name? Who has heard God speak a word to them? And what great, Godly vision drives your life?
Most people seem to want to think that the word of the Lord is rare, that the word of the Lord only comes to people like the pastors who are somehow "specially" called. Most people seem to want to think that God has no word, no calling, no vision for them.
Maybe, like the boy Samuel, we simply are not listening well. We hear something calling our name and tugging at our heart, and assume that something is just Pastor Eli making a fuss again. Perhaps we need to learn to listen better for a word from God. Perhaps it is not a word from God that is rare, but faithful listening from those who would serve God that is so rare.
Every Christian has a calling. In fact, every Christian has several callings -- as well as the God-given gifts, graces, and blessings to respond to those callings.
Every Christian is called to be a faithful steward of the talents and time and resources God has blessed them with. Being a faithful steward is a personal calling - a word from the Lord. It is a calling that comes with your name attached to it. It is a calling that only you can make a decision about. You can ignore that calling completely. You can brush off that calling by responding only in minimal ways. Or, recognizing God's claim over your life, you can wake up and listen for God's own voice. There is a word from the Lord for you in this campaign. There is a God-given vision for your church in this campaign. "Speak to me Lord. I am your servant. I am listening to hear from You."
Action Item: Are you listening for God's word? List where you hear God's word (in scripture, in worship, in prayer, in other faithful people, etc). In your daily prayer time and your journaling, make note of the ways that God is speaking to you.
Posted by: Capital Campaign Daily Devotional AT 11:43 am
When a church has a capital campaign, everyone seems to have the same kind of question - Are we building? What does the building look like? What color will the carpet be? Or perhaps, what debt are we eliminating? What am I going to get out of this? What is my part to play?
Fundamentally, all of those "what" questions are far and away the least important questions to ask. The most important question in a capital campaign challenge is not what, but WHY.
Why are you building? Why are you expanding ministries? Why are you eliminating debt so the church can invest itself better in ministry programs? Why is your church here? Why are you here?
No church builds a structure just to have a nice building. No church expands ministries just to be a bigger church. No person makes a sacrificial financial commitment just to get some kind of service or program benefit. People - and churches - do not give their lives or their resources or their selves to a building or to a program or to being bigger. What people will give their lives to is a God-given purpose, a higher calling. So the most important question to answer in any capital campaign is not what are you doing, but WHY are you are doing it.
Why is your church doing these things? In other words, what does God call this church to be and to do? What is the purpose God calls you and your church to? And how does this capital campaign provide tools for your congregation to respond to that calling?
The last commandment Jesus spoke for every Christian was, "Go ... make disciples of all nations ... teach them all that I have commanded you." Every church and every Christian has a God-given purpose. Why are we building? To be and to do what God calls us to be and to do. This campaign is not simply about buildings or finances. This campaign is about reaching and teaching and changing the lives of people with the good news of Jesus Christ. The resources raised provide the necessary tools to help us better reach, better teach, more effectively change the lives of those people.
You needed Christ. Your life has been reached, taught, changed by the witness and ministries of this church. Would you like for other people to have a story of faith to tell and a purpose for their lives? Their stories depend now on your faithfulness.
Action Item: Make a list of WHY these projects are important. How many people will they help your church reach? How many people will they help your church teach? Can you put a value on what changing those people's lives may be worth? When you focus on the WHY question, how important do these projects become for you?
Posted by: Capital Campaign Daily Devotional AT 09:20 am
And I say to you, Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. -Luke 11:9
Most of us are good at the first baby step of prayer. It is easy to ask God to do something! Unfortunately, after the asking, we think that we are finished; we think that since we have already asked, we are expected to do nothing more.
The first step in any journey is critical. We do need to ask in order to receive. But asking is just the first step. It takes many more steps to continue a real journey of prayer.
Jesus offers his disciples a model for such a prayer journey. Ask - yes, of course! But then seek. And finally, knock on the doors that you find.
Seeking God's will is much more work than simply asking; seeking takes time, attention, listening, looking, searching. That journey of prayer will lead us far past asking, deep into new paths of seeking God's way for our lives. Along those paths we will discover doorways - places where choices and decisions must be made. Do we have the courage and commitment to knock on those doors? And when those new doorways are opened, will we step into a new way of life?
Simply asking demands little of us. Seeking means searching for God's will in our lives; and such seeking will undoubtedly change us -- redirecting us in God's way. Knocking on the doors that God would open to us may well lead us down paths that we never imagined! We do not know what God has in store for us when we begin such a journey, but one thing is certain - such a journey of prayer will change our lives. After all, changing us has always been the real power of prayer.
Posted by: Capital Campaign Daily Devotional AT 09:21 am
Epaphras is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, and be mature. -Colossians 4:12
Wrestling is an ancient sport. In the first century, wrestlers struggled for their lives, not for TV ratings. In the language of the day, the wrestling ring was called the agone, and the wrestlers were called antagonists.
Such is this word-image that Paul uses to describe the work of prayer from a spiritual leader of the Colossian church, Epaphras. Paul tells the church that Epaphras wrestles in prayer for them. We would catch Paul's wordplay if we say that Epaphras agonizes in prayer for them. What a powerful image - and a biblical image too - like Jacob wrestling with the angel all night for a blessing (Genesis 32:24-31) - and like Jesus praying so fervently in the Garden of Gethsemane that his sweat became like drops of blood (Luke 22:41-44).
What is so important that Epaphras would pray so fervently? That the Colossian church would grow in their knowledge of God's will and in their maturity of faith.
This capital campaign is a call to prayer for you and for your congregation. You and your congregation will be encouraged to reflect on a simple question -- What would You do through me Lord to make Your will happen in this church? Genuinely reflecting on that question will mean prayerfully wrestling with God's will in your life and with God's will in your church. This challenge is a time to exercise your faith. The struggle to respond faithfully will not be - nor should it be - easy. As Paul would later say of Epaphras, "I vouch for him that he is working hard for you." The process of making a decision will not be - nor should it be - short-lived. Like Jacob, you may spend more than one restless night wrestling for an answer and a blessing.
Your church needs an Epaphras or two just now. Your church needs people who will pray earnestly to seek God's will. Would you be willing to pray, to wrestle hard, for the future of this church?
Posted by: Capital Campaign Daily Devotional AT 09:51 am
When our daughter was too young to walk or crawl, she created a way to hide from people when she wanted to be left alone or wanted her own way. She simply closed her eyes. Kathryn reasoned that anyone she couldn't see also couldn't see her. She used this tactic in her car seat when someone new tried to say hello; she used it in her highchair when she didn't like the food; she even used it when we announced it was bedtime.
Jonah had a more grown-up strategy of hiding, but it wasn't any more effective than our daughter's. When God asked him to do something he didn't want to do, he ran in the opposite direction. But he found out pretty quickly there is no place God couldn't find him. In fact, Scripture is full of stories of God finding people when they didn't necessarily want to be found (Ex. 2:11-3:6; 1 Kings 19:1-7; Acts 9:1-19).
Maybe you have tried to hide from God, or maybe you think even God can't see you. Please know this: If God sees and hears the prayer of a rebellious prophet in the belly of a big fish, then He sees and hears you wherever you are, whatever you've done. But that's nothing to be afraid of. It's actually a great comfort. He's always there, and He cares!
I recently came across a blog by Peter Enns entitled, "Ten Things I Wished Everyone Understood about the Bible." I found it particularly insightful reflecting modern scholarship while at the same time holding a high view of the scriptures. I've always said the Bible is three things: God's word, God's playbook for Christian living, and God's love letter to us. Peter shares ten things about scripture. Here they are:
1. The Bible doesn't answer all - or even most - of our questions.
Many of our questions, even some of the more pressing questions we face daily, aren't answered in the Bible. The Christian Bible isn't an answer book but a story of how Jesus answers for us the biggest question of all: what God is like.
2. The Bible isn't like God's version of Apple's "Terms and Conditions" agreement.
The Bible doesn't lay out before us God's terms and conditions, where failure to adhere to one clause in the middle of page 87 will cause a breach of contract and banishment from God's graces. The Bible is more like a grand narrative that reorders our imaginations and holds out for us an alternate way of seeing reality - with God at the heart of it rather than ourselves.
3. The Bible isn't a sourcebook for fighting culture wars.
The Bible isn't a club we use to gain political power or a way of forcing secular culture to obey our rules. America is not God's country and the Bible isn't its constitution. Stop it.
4. The Bible doesn't guarantee "success in life."
Don't listen to those T.V. preachers. The Bible isn't a step-by-step guide to success, as if buried there are deep secrets for being happy, healthy, and rich. It is a book that shows what dying to self and surrendering to God are about. The Bible crushes our egos.
5. The Bible is open to multiple interpretations, not just one meaning.
The Bible is ancient and obscure, and its stories are "gapped" and flexible, which allows-even demands-readers to interpret the Bible legitimately in various ways. This is exactly what has been happening among Jews and Christians for over 2,000 years.
6. The Bible invites debate.
An extremely important lesson for Christians to learn from Judaism is that the Bible invites debate. In fact, it can't avoid it, given how open it is to multiple interpretations. Winning Bible feuds with others, getting to the right answer, isn't the end goal. The back-and forth with the Bible, and with God, is where deeper faith is found.
7. The Bible doesn't "record" history objectively but interprets it.
The biblical writers didn't try to get history "right" in the same sense an author of an academic textbook does. Instead, they interpreted the past in their place and time, for their own communities, to answer their own questions of faith. That's why the Bible contains two very different "histories" of Israel and the four Gospels that recount Jesus' life differently.
8. The Bible was written by Jews (and at least one Gentile in the New Testament) in ancient times.
This may sound too obvious to say, but it's not. The biblical writers were ancient writers expressing their faith in God using the vocabulary and concepts of their ancient cultures. When we transpose our language and concepts onto biblical writers, even if we are trying to understand the Bible, we will actually distort it.
9. The Bible isn't the center of the Christian faith.
Some form of the Bible has always been a part of the life of the church, but the Bible isn't the center of our faith. God is - or, for Christians, what God has done in and through Jesus. The Bible doesn't draw attention to itself, but to God.
10. The Bible doesn't give us permission to speak for God.
At least not without a lot of wisdom and humility behind it. Knowing the Bible is vital for Christian growth, but it can also become intoxicating. We don't always see as clearly as we might think, and what we learn of God in the Bible should always be first and foremost directed inward rather than aimed at others.
Sometimes I think it is hard to talk about money. When I do premarital counseling with couples planning to get married, we always talk about how they will handle money -- but I can tell that for many this is an uncomfortable subject. That is sometimes true in our church families, as well. Maybe it seems "unspiritual" to talk about things like this. However, if we look at the Bible, one could make the case that it talks about money and how we handle our possessions more than any other single subject.
This Sunday we are officially kicking off our Bridge to the Future Capital Campaign. You will be hearing a lot about this in sermons, mailings, and meetings. This campaign is first of all a spiritual journey before it is about raising the financial resources to build new buildings. One of the key components of this spiritual journey is a devotional guide called "20 Days of Discovery." We are giving a guide to everyone and asking members to read one each day. Our small groups are also invited to join in this. But in order to make it available to everyone, we will begin publishing each daily devotional here in "Reflections" beginning next Monday. As a staff, we will be taking a break from our daily writings so you can experience the inspiration from these well-written devotionals.
Some of you may be looking for opportunities to discuss these devotionals. I will be offering at least two opportunities for you to meet with me and others to share your thoughts or ask questions. The first meeting will take place next Wednesday, October 22 at 6:45 p.m. in the Calvin room during my weekly Bible Study. The next one will take place on Sunday, November 2 at 10:00 a.m. in one of our classrooms. I hope you will join me as we consider the meaning of these devotionals.
This Sunday, please make a special effort to be in worship as we begin a new sermon series called "Bridges to the Future." There will be a special video highlighting our vision for the new buildings and why we are doing this. There will also be a Q&A session following each service in Friendship Hall. See you Sunday!
Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 10:08 am
Close your eyes and picture a family dinner. What do you remember from these meals? Is it what you ate, a favorite dish that your mother used to make? A funny mishap on a holiday with one of your siblings or children? Words of wisdom from your dad?
Each of us probably has a memory that we could recount from a family meal together. What an important ritual family meals and table fellowship have on the growth and development of each one of us.
I believe that it's a practice that God calls us to take part in as a church family as well. The disciples and other believers that gathered together in the early church knew the importance of fellowship together around a meal. 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, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. -Acts 2:46-47a
As we grow in our faith together, spending time in fellowship and conversation around a meal is a valuable experience for each of us to learn from one another. In a culture that whizzes through a fast food drive thru to get a quick bite on the way to the next thing, taking time to stop and sit down around the dinner table can be challenging.
I would invite you to take some time on a Wednesday evening to join us for dinner in Friendship Hall or choose a time in the next week when your family can enjoy some table fellowship. I believe that our souls are longing for some time to slow down for a few moments, enjoy some nourishment for our body and engage in some meaningful conversations.
The pastor's Sunday school class has been studying Philip Yancey's The Jesus I Never Knew. We just finished "struggling" with Jesus' Beatitudes; the blessed are the...saying in Matthew 5. Below is a flavor of the class as Yancey personalizes the Beatitudes and offers us a fresh take:
I am blessed because in my loneliness, my fear, and my inner struggles, God has promised me a beautiful future. That promise helps me see my struggles in a new way.
I am blessed as I grieve. In the depths of my sorrow Jesus meets me and mourns with me, bringing comfort in unexpected ways.
I am blessed choosing not to exalt myself. This means I get overlooked at times, but I'm living for God, not for the acclaim of men and women. Someday I'll be glad I chose the way of humility.
I am blessed in my yearnings to live as Jesus did. God is faithful to me as I ponder Jesus' righteous ways and pray for the Spirit to guide how I live and who I am.
I am blessed when I choose to show mercy, even when others don't really deserve it. I see much in me that is undeserving, yet Jesus has been merciful again and again.
I am blessed because I'm careful about what I do, see, read, and think about. I want to be pure because this is when I can see God most directly. This is when I am closer to God.
I am blessed because I long for peace among those around me. I desire to enter into the world of others to better understand and come alongside them. I'm willing to do what is uncomfortable for the sake of peace, following in the footsteps of Jesus.
Notice which one of these personalized Beatitudes speaks to you this week. Allow yourself to use them to guide you in your prayers.
One of my favorite childhood toys is making a comeback-the hula hoop. My friend Suzi and I spent hours on the front lawn perfecting our technique and competing to see which of us could keep a hoop circling our waist longer. This year I relived that part of my childhood. While sitting in a park, I watched as children of all ages and sizes tried their hardest to keep hula hoops from falling to the ground. They twisted and turned with all their strength, but despite their exertion the hoops landed on the ground. Then a young woman picked up a hoop. With hardly any motion, she moved it smoothly and rhythmically up and down from her waist to her shoulders and back to her waist. Her success depended on strategic movement, not vigorous motion.
In our spiritual lives, we can expend all kinds of energy trying to keep up with others in service to God. But working to exhaustion is not a virtue (Galatians 6:9). Before feeding thousands of people with only five loaves and two fish (Mark 6:38-44), Jesus called His disciples away to rest, proving that He doesn't need our frantic exertion to accomplish His work. The truth Jesus taught His disciples, He wants to teach us: Quiet obedience accomplishes more than wild activity.
Perhaps there are times when we wonder very simply if God is enough. We may say, "Just give me Jesus," but in reality we may think that we need "Jesus plus." That is, we need something more, like more money, a new significant other, a new home, or a new job. The story of the Israelites bowing down to a golden calf in the wilderness and the subsequent discussion between God and Moses raise the same question, Is God enough?
Other questions emerge, such as: What were the Israelites thinking? What was God thinking? Did God throw a temper tantrum? Can we actually change God's mind? Is the future open? This story might even shatter our preconceived notions that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever in a way that actually brings comfort.
So come to worship Sunday ready to wrestle with the questions that emerge from this highly intriguing story that I will be preaching on. And invite a friend to join you who doesn't have a church home.
They cast in metal a bull calf at Horeb and worshiped the statue they'd made. They traded the Glory for a cheap piece of sculpture-a grass-chewing bull! They forgot God, their very own Savior, who turned things around in Egypt, who created a world of wonders in the Land of Ham, who gave that stunning performance at the Red Sea. Fed up, God decided to get rid of them-and except for Moses, his chosen, he would have. But Moses stood in the gap and deflected God's anger, prevented it from destroying them utterly.
This past Sunday I lost a good friend of mine - Jim Owens. Jim was diagnosed with a brain tumor a few weeks ago and he died from other related medical complications. I have known Jim for a long time. He was an attorney for Bell South and worked in the legal department with my father. But I reconnected with Jim and his wife, Ann, when I went to serve as the Senior Chaplain for the Big Canoe Chapel -- where they were members. Like my parents, Jim and Ann were from Mississippi. After I lost both of my parents, every visit with Ann and Jim would remind me of them.
Jim was a Sunday School teacher and a real student of the Bible. He read all of the time and enjoyed a good, challenging debate. Being a lawyer, he could certainly hold his own. Prior to working for Bell South, he was a labor attorney. Some nights I would stay at the home of Jim and Ann so I would not have to make the drive back to Atlanta. I will always appreciate their friendship and hospitality.
I have been asked to help lead the service for Jim this Friday. I have been wondering what words from scripture might speak to the occasion. The passage that keeps coming to mind is from Paul's first letter to Timothy when he writes, Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. -1 Timothy 6:12, NIV
Both Paul and Jim were lawyers - though not exactly the same kind. Paul was educated in the Jewish law and had to discern what it meant to keep that moral code. Jim practiced labor and corporate law -- but both of them knew what it was like to "fight the good fight" particularly "in the presence of many witnesses." And now Jim has taken "hold of the eternal life to which" he was "called." As Paul says in another letter, Jim has fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the faith. -2 Timothy 4:6, NIV
I am grateful for folks like Jim in my life who show me how to live life well!
Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 08:24 am
This past week my life has been very eventful, filled with challenges and celebrations. As I take some time to reflect this morning, I am reminded of the importance of friendships in the body of Christ. In our friendships, we find comfort in times of grief, we share joy in moments of celebration and we provide support in the challenges of each day.
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. -John 15:12-15
Jesus Christ sought out friendships on his journey here on earth. He reminds us of the importance of these bonds in times of joy and sorrow. Take some time to lift up in prayer those that have been your support through challenges, shared in your joy, and provided comfort in your grief.
As you go through your day, be challenged by Christ's command to love one another as He loved us.
Several weeks ago, Jenny Buckley was the presenter at our Stephen Ministry's continuing education seminar. Jenny highlighted the importance of hope during the end of life and one of my take-a-ways was the poignant question, "what are you hoping for?" We do well when we not only ask others this question, but as important, ask ourselves, "what am I hoping for?"
The question can address in-depth life concerns, but also it can lead us forward in our aspirations. This weekend, I was fly-fishing with Joe Araoz at Frog Hollow on the Chestatee River. I am a novice fly fisherman and Joe is my mentor; the master, so to speak. This was the first time I was going solo on a river fishing expedition without Joe at my side and the question, "what am I hoping for" was center stage. My immediate hope was that I would catch fish, which was certainly not a given. Hope is for the moment and I was hoping for that moment when a fish rested in my net. However, hope is also for the future. Though I didn't want to get shut out, tangle and break my line, lose my reel and/or fall into the water above my waders, my hope was that the experience of doing it all on my own would be an integral step in developing my skills as a fly-fisherman. My ultimate goal, "what I am hoping for" is that fly-fishing will be a time of respite, fellowship, and getting closer to God through the experiences. I can see this becoming a reality if only in a mirror dimly.
"What are you hoping for" has an immediate quality, a future dimension, and an ultimate goal(s). Our Christian faith takes shape through this question and acting in alignment with it.
As the book of Hebrews tells us; "now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Hebrews 11:1.
Take time to ask yourself this question and reflect upon the meaning for you. If you are like me, it will open you up to the depth of your life and perhaps open your life up to the depth of God.
"I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one-I in them and you in me-so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." John 17:22-23 (NIV)
The theme for the Montreat Worship and Music Conference this past summer was "Rise, O Church." The conference hymn text "Rise, O Church, like Christ Arisen," written by Susan Palo Cherwien, was sung daily in worship. Paul Westermeyer, professor of church music at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, wrote a little volume titled "Rise, O Church - Reflections on the Church, Its Music, and Empire" based on Cherwien's hymn.
Westermeyer's writings are about the church rising, as it does generation after generation, to take up its role in the world. In worship this Sunday, Gray will conclude his sermon series based on the Six Great Ends of the Church, or one could say six roles of the Church that constitute its purpose in the world.
Cherwien's hymn was written for the occasion of the consecration of Rev. Shannon Johnson in 2007; however, the text could well have been penned in relation to the Six Great Ends of the Church. In the passage above from John's Gospel, the Lord emphasized the importance of unity among his followers, and the standard is the unity of the Father and the Son.
There are two indwellings here: that of the Son in believers, and that of the Father in the Son. It is because the latter is a reality that the former can take place, perfected in unity. Again the emphasis on unity is connected not only with the mission of Jesus but also with God's love for people and for Christ. When our focus remains unified on the "roles" of the Church, we live into the future glory God has promised each of us.
In this day and age of instant gratification, we would do well to remind ourselves that the Christian's greatest blessing is to be with Jesus in eternal splendor. Rise, O Church, like Christ arisen! May we through our love for one another envision whose we are, and whose, our praise - Christ, our present, past, and goal.
The longer I'm in ministry-and really just the longer I live-the more I realize that everyone carries burdens. Some are more tragic than others, but everyone, no matter how happy they appear, has pain in his or her life. King David gave expression to some of his pain when he wrote, God, God...my God! Why did you dump me miles from nowhere? Doubled up with pain, I call to God all the day long. No answer. Nothing. I keep at it all night, tossing and turning. -Psalm 22:1, THE MESSAGE
Yet, while pain is a universal experience, I also realize that many such burdens are hidden and carried alone, which often only exacerbates the pain. I am grateful that I have people in my life with whom I can share my burdens when I open myself up to them and become vulnerable. Because of such friendships, I know that I am a fortunate, blessed man.
One burden I carry is losing my dad to Alzheimer's.
I had lunch with him on Friday. He's lost most of his memory, both short term and long term, and barely knows who I am. God bless his wife, who provides such great care, along with all the nurses who tend to him. Still, it is so painful to watch, like a slow death.
I encourage you, if you are able, to share your burdens with others. Be vulnerable. Take a risk. And not only share your burdens with others, but share the burdens of others. In doing so, community is formed, burdens become lighter, and life is richer.
Almost thirty years ago, a group of pop singers came together to record a song whose proceeds would benefit those facing famine in Africa. It was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie and recorded by the top artists. It sold over 20 million copies and all of the proceeds went to relieve famine. Many of us know the name of the song, "We Are the World." The video of the many artists singing was a little surreal - especially seeing someone like Bob Dylan singing next to Diana Ross. If those names mean nothing to you, sorry about that! The chorus repeated the line "We are the world!" It was a good attempt at trying to respond to a very real crisis.
This Sunday is World Communion Sunday. While we will not have any pop stars (that I know of) gathering in our Chapel to sing Sunday, we will be joining together at 11:00 a.m. with our sister congregation - The New Vision Korean Presbyterian Church - to sing songs with both know to the glory of God. All around the world, Christians will be worshiping and celebrating the Lord's Supper as a reminder that we are all connected as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Here at Johns Creek Presbyterian Church, we have the privilege of actually worshiping with Christians who may speak a different language from ours and are often born in another country. Yet, in spite of these differences, we worship the same Lord! For one hour this Sunday, we are trying to live out what it means to be "one in Christ."
I will be preaching on the final "Great End of the Church" and what it means for us to exhibit the kingdom of heaven here on this earth. After the service, we are all invited to gather in our Friendship Hall for a shared meal of Korean food and side dishes and desserts brought by our own folks. Last year's meal was a feast and a great time of fellowship. You will not want to miss it! It will be our way to show others what we mean as Christians when we say, "We are the world!"
Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 10:28 am