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Reflections

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.

Friday, December 26 2014

She was five, sure of the facts, and recited them with slow solemnity, convinced every word was revelation.  She said they were so poor they had only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to eat, and they went a long way from home without getting lost.  The lady rode a donkey, the man walked, and the baby was inside the lady.  They had to stay in a stable with an ox and an ass (hee-hee), but the Three Rich Men found them because a star lited the roof.  Shepherds came and you could pet the sheep but not feed them.  Then the baby was borned.  And do you know who he was?  Her quarter eyes inflated to silver dollars.  The baby was God.  And she jumped in the air, whirled round, dove into the sofa, and buried her head under the cushion, which is the only proper response to the Good News of the Incarnation.
-John Shea, The Hour of the Unexpected
 
What now?  December 25 has come and gone.  But this is where Christmas should begin!  What will your response be to the Good News of the Incarnation?  Luke tells us that the shepherds spread the word.  "When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child" (Luke 2:17). 
 
They told everyone they met what they had seen and heard.  I wonder if we would have been as obedient?  Would we have gone to Bethlehem in the middle of the night?  Would we have been as quick to tell the story?
 
Good news is for sharing!  That's what the shepherds did.  That's what all of us are called to do.  This is the first way we can all celebrate Christmas.  Go, tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born!
 
We pray that you will experience the peace of Christ during this Christmas season.
The office staff will be taking a much needed break after Christmas, so Reflections will resume on Monday, January 5.
 
If you would like to follow along with daily readings from the Bible, you can find them at the PCUSA website.
 
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Prayer for Today 

Lord, help us to fully receive the gift of Jesus this Christmas.  Open our eyes that we might seek opportunities to tell others about the Good News of our Savior, to share our faith, and to model the love of Christ to all we meet.  In the name of Jesus, we pray.  Amen.

Posted by: Alicia Taylor AT 10:27 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, December 25 2014

Merry Christmas, church family.  Perhaps you are reading this after opening presents with family.  You are sipping cocoa still in your pajamas, and the fire is burning hot and Christmas music is playing in the background.  It's a glorious day for God is with us!

 
I love the way Max Lucado put it-how God became man.  He writes, "It all happened in a most remarkable moment...a moment like no other...God became a man.  Divinity arrived.  Heaven opened herself and placed her most precious one in a human womb.
 
The omnipotent, in one instant, became flesh and blood.  The one who was larger than the universe became a microscopic embryo.  And he who sustains the world with a word chose to be dependent upon the nourishment of a young girl.  God had come near."
 
He gave up his place with God and made himself nothing.  He was born to be a man and became like a servant.               -Philippians 2:7

Prayer for Today 
We thank you, O God, that you are with us.  You are above us, you are beside us, you are behind us, you are before us, you are in us, you are with us.  Thank you.  Amen.   

Posted by: Rev. Scott Huie AT 10:26 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, December 24 2014

A while back I heard a minister preach an Advent sermon called "Hurry Up and Wait." He began by telling the story of a man who got so caught up in the busyness of the season that he went into a card store and grabbed the first Christmas cards he could find. He quickly signed all 49 of them and mailed them out as fast as he could -- not wanting to get behind with all the things he had to do before Christmas arrived. It wasn't until Christmas Eve that he sat down to read one of the cards he had sent out. He opened it up to find these words: "This card is just to say, a little gift is on its way!" Sometimes it doesn't pay to hurry.
 
The season leading up to Christmas is one in which we are all pushed to hurry and get things done. Even the countdown to Christmas which ends tonight, tells us how many fewer days we have left for shopping. That alone is enough to drive us a little crazy. Yet, the message of the season of Advent says something that seems counterintuitive: wait, slow down, pay attention to the here and now. Advent is a time of preparation to celebrate the coming of Christ into our lives anew, but the best way to do that is not to hurry up, but to slow down. What works against us is our anxiety over many things - not getting enough gifts, not meeting expectations, and wondering if we will "do" Christmas well this year. Yet, the word of God that leads to peace and joy invites us to wait and watch. Slow down and pay attention to God breaking into the everyday events of our world. If we spend our time hurrying, we may miss what is really important.
 
No one in the Christmas story seems to be in a hurry. Maybe that should tell us something.

Prayer for Today 
Loving God, slow us down to pay attention and see where you are present in our lives this day. We pray this in the name of Jesus, whose birth we celebrate. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 10:26 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, December 23 2014

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.
-Isaiah 61:10-11

When I read these words, "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult my God", I thought about the joy that I see in many people during this season of the year. I see it in the family Christmas photos we receive in the mail. I see it in the children sharing the story of Christmas in our Chapel. The kind of joy that is shown in your whole being is one that I do not think I had fully experienced until I saw Will smile. When he giggles or smiles at me, I see joy in his whole being. I believe that God calls us to experience this kind of joy, in our whole being, when we worship and show God our appreciation for this amazing gift, his Son, Jesus Christ.
 
There are plenty of places this time of year that want to invite you to experience joy and often it means going to their place to experience it or buy it for someone else to experience. I believe that the kind of joy we experience when we realize the amazing gift Jesus Christ is one that will be evident from the top of your head to the tip of your toes. Here is a recent picture of Will and his cousin, Connor, over Thanksgiving. I see joy in his whole being.
 
I would invite you to take some this season to experience joy in your whole being. 
  
Prayer for Today 
Gracious God, Thank you for the gift of your son, Jesus Christ. Open our hearts, minds and whole beings to experience the joy of that gift this week. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 10:19 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, December 22 2014

Saturday evening Debbie and I were enjoying the company of my life long buddy, Tom Naumoff, and his family. Our home served as halfway point on their yearly Christmas journey to the Florida Keys and I had anticipated his stay for some time. We were sharing homemade chicken soup and engrossed in a theological discussion related to the revelatory topic of how God talks to us when the doorbell rang. I sprang up and groused, "What now...I don't want to be interrupted."

At first, it appeared as if there was nobody at the front door. Maybe it was a prank. Then I noticed a red velvety sleeve with a furry white cuff and a white glove close to the door handle. Imagine my surprise when I opened the door to encounter Santa Claus, in person, smiling an elf-like smile and greeting me with "how are you?!!"
Imagine my surprise!!!
 
Surprise and Christmas go together like a hand in a glove. When you read Luke's story of the birth of Jesus, surprise is the order of the day. Barren Elizabeth is told she will bear a son named John. Virgin Mary is told that she will be Mater Dei-the Mother of God. Angels bring to lowly shepherds keeping watch over their flocks "good news of great joy that will be for all people."
 
In Luke, each of these encounters with angels is met with fear and the angels saying "Fear not." Typically surprise is accompanied with a combined sense of relief and amazement.
 
When I welcomed Santa into my house on Saturday evening and introduced him to my guests I was delighted to watch the surprised expressions on their faces and their nervous laughter. They anxiously awaited an explanation. Surprise always searches for meaning. Santa's visit was lovingly simple. You see, he had visited in our neighborhood for many years blessing our young children with the gift of surprise. He was in the neighborhood to visit the newest crop of children and wanted to see how our children had grown up. This was the perfect Christmas gift I didn't even know my tired ole soul needed. Surprise!
May joyful surprise come visiting you this Christmas season!


 
Prayer for Today 

God of wonder, God of grace, surprise us this week with the gift of glad tidings and great joy as we celebrate the birth of your son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.  

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 09:12 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, December 19 2014

Christmastide is one of the seasons of the liturgical year in the Christian church, defined as the period between Christmas Eve and Epiphany.  The same period is also commonly known as The Twelve Days of Christmas, as in the popular Christmas carol, or "yuletide" as in the carol Deck the Halls.

The St. Olaf Chorus, the American Boychoir, and the Atlanta Sacred Chorale, among others, have all recorded a beautiful anthem titled This Christmastide.  I have the ASC Christmas CD in my office, and I listen to it in its entirety several times over when I need mental and spiritual respites from the demanding work of the Christmas season. 
 
This Christmastide is the last selection on the CD by the same name.  When it begins to play, I often stop what I am doing, close my eyes, and just listen.  This Christmastide is also known as Jessye's Carol because it was originally written for soprano Jessye Norman.  As much as I love the richness of her voice, though, I prefer the recordings that are sung in quiet unison or simple harmony.
 
The gift of music is a glorious one, and I hope you will take a few minutes out of your hectic day to listen to the voices of angels and reflect on the story born of old.
 
Christmas blessings to each and every one of you ... this Christmastide!
 
This Christmastide           

Words: Jane McCulloch   /   Music: Donald Fraser
 
Green and silver, red and gold, and a story born of old.
Truth and love and hope abide, this Christmastide, this Christmastide.
 
Holly, ivy, mistletoe, and the gently falling snow.
Truth and love and hope abide, this Christmastide, this Christmastide.
 
From a simple ox's stall came the greatest gift of all.
Truth and love and hope abide, this Christmastide, this Christmastide.
 
Children sing of hope and joy at the birth of one small boy.
Truth and love and hope abide, this Christmastide, this Christmastide.
 
Let the bells ring loud and clear, ring out now for all to hear.
Truth and love and hope abide, this Christmastide, this Christmastide.
 
Trumpets sound and voices raise in an endless stream of praise.
Truth and love and hope abide, this Christmastide, this Christmastide.
 
Green and silver, red and gold, and a story born of old.
Truth and love and hope abide, this Christmastide, this Christmastide.

Prayer for Today 

Amidst the green and silver, red and gold, may we all remember the story born of old this Christmastide.  May the truth and love and hope of Christmas abide in our hearts this day and forevermore.  Amen.
 

Posted by: Alicia Taylor AT 08:27 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, December 18 2014

One of the wonders of the Christmas story is witnessing the birth of Immanuel, God with us, through many different eyes: Mary, Joseph, the angels, the shepherds, and the wise men.  How did Jesus' birth change their lives?  One intriguing character to consider is the innkeeper.  Believe it or not, there is no such person in the Bible.  All we know is that Mary and Joseph laid the baby Jesus in a manger, "because there was no place for them in the inn" (Luke 2:7).

Surely there was an innkeeper.  Did he know that Mary and Joseph were about to deliver a baby?  Was he ignorant or just heartless?  And could he have known that that baby was to be the Messiah of the world?  Was there really no room in the inn, or were Joseph and his family turned away because perhaps they didn't have enough money?

These are interesting questions to ponder.  Well this coming Wednesday, on Christmas Eve, at the 11 p.m. late candlelight, communion service, I will dramatically present the innkeeper discussing his encounter with Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus and what that might mean for the world. Yes, there will obviously be some creative license here. 

I invite you to join us for this more intimate candlelight communion service-yes, even if you come to one of the earlier services that day.  You would be hard-pressed to find a better opportunity to share the love of Jesus Christ than to invite an unchurched neighbor to JCPC for any of our four Christmas Eve services.  And especially for the late service, you can even wear your pajamas!  Merry Christmas to all!

"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors" (Luke 2:14).

Prayer for Today 

Dear God, Ignite our hearts anew with the wonder and glory of Immanuel, God with us!  Amen. 

Posted by: Rev. Scott Huie AT 08:09 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, December 17 2014

In his letter to Titus, Paul writes, "The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you." (1:5, NIV, italics mine) 

From the time Paul started planting the first churches, he appointed elders to help oversee these new congregations. This Sunday, at our annual meeting, we will do the same. The church members nominated by our congregation and recommend by our Nominating Committee are: Julia DeKold, Ross Johnston, David Lee, Connie Overby, and Tom Traylor. If elected, they will fill the positions being vacated by Christie DiPietro, Render Freeman, Karen Jordan, Terri MacDonald, and Steve Simpson. These elders have served well, but it is now time for some new elders to follow in their footsteps as they get a well-deserved break. We are blessed with many leaders at JCPC who take seriously their call to serve this church. Please make sure to thank those rotating off our Session for their good work.

In addition to electing elders, we will pass out a printed copy of the Annual Report. We will also hear an update on the Capital Campaign and some of the options our Session is considering in the coming weeks. We will also look at the factors related to the possible timing of the building. There will be a time for questions at the end of the meeting. It begins at 10:00 a.m. in the Chapel, following the 9:00 a.m. worship service. It will conclude at 10:50 a.m., before the 11:00 a.m. service begins.

I hope you will make plans to attend. It may answer questions you have about what our next steps might be. It will also give our Session a chance to receive input from the church members. In many ways, this is how a Presbyterian church works, at its best. We elect elders to lead us. We also have the opportunity to give our input as together we seek to do God's will.

See you Sunday!

Prayer for Today 

Thank you, God, for women and men who have the gift of leadership. Thank you for blessing our church with so many leaders of all different types. Make clear your will for our church in the coming days, so that we might serve others in the name of Christ. We pray this in his strong name. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 09:27 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, December 16 2014

Each week as we light the candles on the Advent wreath we focus on one word. This Sunday it is love. In a recent devotion I was reading focusing on Advent and love, this scripture passage was included. This is not a passage that I read very often.

And I'm going to set aside a place for my people Israel and plant them there so they'll have their own home and not be knocked around anymore. Nor will evil men afflict you as they always have, even during the days I set judges over my people Israel. Finally, I'm going to give you peace from all your enemies. Furthermore, God has this message for you: God himself will build you a house! Your family and our kingdom are permanently secured. I'm keeping my eye on them! And your royal throne will always be there, rock solid. (2 Samuel 7:10-11, 16)

We like having our own space. A place that is ours, where we feel safe. One of the ways that God shows love to the people of Israel is through giving them this safe place all their own. It's been rough for them, so God declares that the people get their own space where they will be left alone, where they can rest. Sometimes, we are the ones that get a safe place, and sometimes, we are the ones that make sure that somebody else has a safe place.

What are some of the ways that you experience God's love for you? Go into this week knowing that you are loved by God. You always have been. You always will be. How can you go and share that love with the whole world?

Prayer for Today  

God, thank you for safe places and for those who help make them safe for me. Show me how to do that for someone else so that they may feel your safe presence. Amen.

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 11:57 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, December 15 2014

Wapakoneta. How many of you know of Wapakoneta let alone have traveled to this small town in rural Ohio. Those "Buckeyes" among us may have an idea of where this is heading, but my guess is that most of you can't remember if you've heard of this town before; chances are you have.

I was talking with my mother the other evening and I dropped the name Wapakoneta on her as I told her a story from her past. Mom suffers from Alzheimer's, so I know the importance of stimulating her "back in the old days" memories. In high school, Mom was a cheerleader for the Celina Bulldogs. She loves to share memories about life in Celina, especially her cheerleading days. I had heard on a number of occasions how the gym at Wapakoneta was so small, a cracker jack gym, that the stage for the high school was the out of bounds on one side of the court. Mom would do her cheers and then jump onto the stage to get out of the basketball player's way.

When I mentioned Wapakoneta she laughed. "Nothing good came out of that small town, she proclaimed, "except that one young man." Do you know who she was referring to? Neil Armstrong! That little town in No-Wheresville had a native son who changed the world; "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind!"

Immediately, my mind turned theological because I had heard a similar proclamation in the Bible about somebody else who changed the world.

Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see."  -John 1: 46

During Advent we look to the rural country side and worship a child born in a manger, no crib for a bed. We are invited to remember the birth of the Messiah through scripture, songs, and sermons. Could anything good come out of Nazareth? Come and See.

May the coming week be filled with epiphany so that you can see anew how God has changed the world through the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

Prayer for Today 

Almighty God, 

0pen our eyes so that we can see the wonders of His love, born Christ the Lord. Amidst the commercialism of our times, as we wonder how we have traveled so far away from the manger, help us to see his bright star, so that by seeing,  our faith will be renewed. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 10:36 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, December 12 2014

May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You

One of my favorite Christmas CDs is one I have had for many years.  "Christmas Crooners" is the title of the album, featuring Bing Crosby, Johnny Mathis, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin, among others.  My favorite song on the CD is sung by Gene Autry, from his Melody Ranch Radio Show which broadcast in 1951.  I have often joked that it is Autry's "country fried" rendition of the Irish Blessing, but I love it nonetheless.

May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You is a simple little ditty, with an easy-to-whistle melody and catchy lyrics that one can memorize quickly.  Perhaps that is why I love this song so much - the simplicity of the tune offers sharp contrast to the complexity of life in these times.

While listening to the CD, I am most often decorating our family Christmas tree with the kids, baking Christmas cookies with my youngest son, delighting in the aroma of spiced apple cider, or enjoying the crackle of the logs in the fireplace - all simple holiday delights which bring much joy and remind me of life's little gifts.

But the greatest gift came to us in the form of amazing love!  What God gave was not a mere gift-wrapped present.  God's precious and perfect gift sacrificed his only Son so that we, who put our faith in Jesus Christ, will not spend eternity separated from God.  All we have to do is accept this gift.  Tell someone about God's marvelous gift today!  May the peace of knowing Christ rule in your hearts, and may the good Lord bless and keep you 'till we meet again.

Prayer for Today 

May the good Lord bless and keep you, 
whether near or far away.
May you find that long-awaited golden day today.
May your troubles all be small ones and 
your fortunes ten times ten.
May the good Lord bless and 
keep you 'till we meet again.
May you walk with sunlight shining and 
a bluebird in every tree.
May there be a silver lining back 
on every cloud you see.
Fill your dreams with sweet tomorrows, 
never mind what might have been.
May the good Lord bless and keep you 'till we meet again.  Amen.

Posted by: Alicia Taylor AT 01:35 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, December 11 2014

Yesterday, Charlie Cousar died.  He was 81 years old and had suffered many years from Parkinson's disease.  He passed away at his home in Decatur while receiving a sponge bath from a nurse-not a bad way to go!

Charlie was my New Testament professor at seminary.  As a world class Biblical scholar and prolific author, he had an amazing knack for bringing scripture alive and making it relevant in today's world.  Through his wonderful insights in class, he helped make the books of Romans and Galatians two of my favorite in all the Bible.

But Charlie was more than a great teacher; he was a mentor and role model to me especially for what it means to be a faithful father.  You see, the Cousars and the Huies were best family friends ever since my childhood, and Charlie and my Dad were about as close as two friends can be as colleagues at Columbia Seminary.  Charlie's wife and three sons were all near and dear to us Huies.   Charlie was also my soccer coach growing up, and he was among the first adults to show me how to hit a tennis ball.

I will never forget that man.  I am grateful for his impact and rich legacy of Christian nurture and inspiration.  His death makes me want to be a better man and a more faithful follower of Jesus Christ.  Let us all think of the "Charlie Cousars" of our world and give thanks to God for them. 

And I heard a voice from heaven saying, "Write this: Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord." "Yes," says the Spirit, "they will reset from their labors, for their deeds follow them."                     
-Revelation 14:13  

Prayer for Today
O God, we give thanks for such saints as Charlie Cousar and commend them into your care until that day when all your children shall be together in glory.  Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Scott Huie AT 01:12 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, December 10 2014

Are we there yet? Those words would come from the backseat of our car when our kids were younger and we took trips. Sometimes they asked even before we left the local traffic. When it came to trying to explain to them who much longer until we arrived at our destination, talking about minutes and hours did not make sense to them. So we talked about it in terms they did know. When there was an hour left until we arrived, we would say, "It will be two Barneys before we get there." Barney was the purple dinosaur they would watch on TV. Each program lasted about thirty minutes, so two "Barneys" equaled an hour. It is how we answered the question, "Are we there yet?"

This past Sunday we announced the total, so far, for our "Bridge to the Future" Capital Campaign. As of Sunday, we had received 129 pledges totaling $2,214,867. This is 74% of our goal and is a really good start. I am very grateful for each person who made a generous, sacrificial pledge. Our goal was to reach $3,000,000. So if we were task the question, "Are we there yet?" The answer would be, "Not yet." (I am still not sure how to convert the difference into "Barneys.") But I believe we still have folks out there who can help us close the gap so that we can build this "Bridge to the Future." If you have yet to make a pledge, or if you want to increase yours so that we can close the gap, please do so soon. That way our session can move forward with the next step to build these new buildings and share the love of Christ with more folks.

In the season of Advent, we also ask the question, "Are we there yet?" "There" in this case means "Christmas." So, like the time we have to wait for Christmas before opening presents, we also have to wait to fully celebrate the coming of Christ. So we wait - maybe for many "Barneys" -- but Christmas comes each year, and we will soon celebrate that Jesus came into our lives and our world! 
 
Prayer for Today 
Loving God, we confess our impatience with life. We want everything now. Teach us to wait patiently -- trusting that you will work in our lives at just the right time. We pray this in the name of Jesus, who came into our world so that we might experience abundant, new life. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 07:55 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, December 09 2014

Many of you may be familiar with Jesus' Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes section. Each line starts with Blessed are.... I have read these verses in chapter 5 of Matthew's gospel many times.

Last week, I read them in The Message version and was struck by this verse. You're blessed when you're content with just who you are-no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought. -Matthew 5:5 The Message

I often get overwhelmed by all of the decisions this time of year. How will everything get done? Will I choose the right gifts for my family members? Will I take time to enjoy the message of this season and focus my heart on the birth of Christ? What traditions do I want to be sure to share with our baby boy?

Take a moment and read those words again.

In a season where we do a lot of buying, these words caused me to stop and assess my thoughts and plans for this Advent and Christmas season.

How can you find contentment in who you are? What will you do differently this year to enjoy those things that God provides for you?

Prayer for Today 
Gracious God, open our hearts to you. May we live each day content with what you have created in us and see the ways that you continue to provide for us. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 11:42 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, December 08 2014

In the musical, Westside Story, Tony and Maria sing the classic song of a dreamy vision of hope, Somewhere.

There's a place for us, somewhere a place for us. Peace and quiet and open air, Wait for us, Somewhere!

During the season of Advent, Christians liturgically proclaim their dreamy vision of hope.  The prophet Isaiah announces the Somewhere promised by God:

A voice cries out; "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, every mountain shall be made low...
-Isaiah 40:3-4

Whether it's biblical times, Westside Story's warring gang times, or the close of 2014, our hearts yearn with the hope of Somewhere.

The Christmas story places that hope in the light of a star that shone over Bethlehem, a bright radiant light that pierced the darkness of our world. During Advent we witness that light fulfilling a promise made in the prophet Micah.

"But you, Bethlehem, only a small village in Judah, yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from a distant past ... And He will stand to lead His flock with the Lord's strength ... Then His people will live undisturbed, for He will be highly honored all around the world. And He will be the source of our peace."
-Micah 5:2, 4-5

Where is the Somewhere of hope and who prepares this highway in the wilderness that provides comfort and hope to God's people?  In Bethlehem, in the manger, in the Christ child.
 
Prayer for Today 
Shine your light of hope in our world, O Lord and spread the good news throughout the land. Through the radiant light of Christ, conquer the darkness of our times and bring peace and hope to all people. In His name we pray. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 08:06 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, December 05 2014

E'en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come

My all-time favorite Advent choral anthem was composed in 1953 by Paul and Ruth Manz, written during a time when their three-year-old son was critically ill.  Reflecting on that time, Ruth reported, "I think we'd reached the point where we felt that time was certainly running out, so we committed it to the Lord, and said, 'Lord Jesus, quickly come.'" 

During this time, Ruth had prepared some text for Paul for a composition based on the Book of Revelation.  While at his son's bedside, Paul began composing.

Peace be to you and grace from him who freed us from our sins, who loved us all and shed his blood that we might saved be.  Sing holy to our Lord, the Lord, Almighty God, who was and is and is to come; sing holy Lord!  Rejoice in heaven, all ye that dwell therein, rejoice on earth, ye saints below, for Christ is coming soon!  E'en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come, and night shall be no more; they need no light, nor lamp, nor sun, for Christ will be their all!

Paul's anthem was made popular by its performance at The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King's College, Cambridge, and more than a million copies have been sold.  Paul and Ruth's son did recover from his gravely ill state, to which the couple owed to prayer.

From time to time, we hear stories in the news about the end times - apocalyptic fever!  Ruth's text, however, gives us reason to ponder Advent - Latin for the coming - in a different light.  As we prepare our homes and our hearts to celebrate the birth of our Savior this Christmas, we are like watchmen, also praying for enlightenment as we await the second coming of Christ.

Prayer for Today
Almighty God, this Advent season and always, help us to live thoughtfully and prayerfully, vigilantly searching for the path of love in our lives.  Amen.

Posted by: Alicia Taylor AT 01:06 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, December 04 2014

Does your past ever hold you back?  Do your circumstances or your family get in the way?  Does your family dysfunction ever derail your dreams?  Out of a deep hatred and jealousy, in the book of Genesis, Joseph's brothers sold him off into slavery and left their father thinking Joseph had been torn about by a wild animal. But the good news is Joseph didn't let his family dysfunction squash his dreams.  By the grace of God, he went on to become a powerful leader in Egypt. 

What about you?  Has your dysfunction, whatever it is, squashed your dreams?  If so, consider this interesting fact that I once heard from a speaker:  From a physical standpoint everything on our bodies point forward.  Our feet and toes point forward...Our knees, our chest, our nose, our eyes, our mouth...they all point forward.  There is only one part of our body that points backward...

Let me put it to you gingerly and gently...Don't be that part of your body! You will never be able to pursue your dreams if you are constantly looking backwards. Don't let the dysfunction define you.  Don't let it derail the dream! Passionately pursue the dream that God has in store for you.

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.                  
-Psalm 37: 4

Prayer for Today 
O God, please help me to be the person you have called me to be.  Help me to not allow my dysfunction to derail your dream for my life. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Scott Huie AT 09:35 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, December 03 2014

He will judge between the nations  and will settle disputes for many peoples.  They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. - Isaiah 2:4, NIV

The words above are from one of today's lectionary readings for the season of Advent. In reading these words that describe how the Messiah will come as the Prince of Peace, I am reminded of how much we need peace in our lives and our world today. I just read an article in The Wall Street Journal about how a Muslim in Syria was working hard to save a Jewish synagogue near Damascus from being destroyed by the war. For centuries it has been a religious site venerated by three major religions. But soon it may become a causality of war, along with the many individuals.

With the recent riots, violence, and abusive behavior on some of our college campuses, we need a kind of peace in which human beings treat each other as persons made in the image of God. So I invite you this Advent and Christmas to pray for peace. Pray that the God, who has promised one day, in passages like the one above from Isaiah, to bring peace to this world, would continue to work now. And I also pray that you would ask God how you can work for peace in your life right now. Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers." Ask God what specific thing you can do today to make peace. Maybe it will be to find a way to bring healing to a broken relationship. Maybe it will be choosing to stay connected to others when you would rather go your own way. Maybe it will be to support someone who is working for peace in another part of the world. Pray for and work for the peace that can only come through Jesus Christ - the Prince of Peace.

Prayer for Today 
Lord, let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me -this day, right now. Amen. 

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 09:08 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, December 02 2014

What are some special activities/traditions you do in your family to get ready for Christmas?

Most people may think this is the season of Christmas, but for the Church, we are in the season of Advent. Advent is time of waiting before the coming of Jesus. Advent is sort of a short form of the word "adventure." Why might this season be described as an adventure?

A scripture we often share at the start of Advent focuses on John the Baptist who was all about adventure. In fact, he was bold enough to go live by himself out in the desert with just the clothes on his back and eat only locusts and wild honey. And he was waiting for something to happen!

What was John to be up to out in the desert? Read Matthew 3:1-12.  Why was he baptizing people? John knew the messiah, the one from God, was almost here and he wanted people to get ready. Baptism was a way of showing that they were ready to get rid of things in their lives that would get in the way of experiencing the new thing that God was about to do in the world.

Consider what might be getting in your way of really focusing on God and Jesus in this season of gift-buying and money-spending. How can you simplify your Advent season and make room for God?

Prayer for Today 
Gracious God, Open up our hearts and minds to your message for us during this Advent season. Guide us as we live in a way that is pleasing to you. In Christ's Name, Amen.
 

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 07:48 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, December 01 2014

I hope you were able to attend the Hanging of the Greens worship service yesterday. My hat is off to all who planned this service and participated in it, especially Alicia Taylor. I needed a worship service full of ritual, hymns, and scripture lessons to usher in the season of Advent. During the service, Alicia reminded us that the meaning of Advent in the Latin is coming. Over the next four Sundays, we will wait with expectant hearts for the coming of the Prince of Peace.

I treasured the peace that this service brought to me. My mind contrasted how the advent themes of coming, light, peace, and justice assured my soul that God is at work in our world. Having watched a plethora of news coverage on the verdict in Ferguson, Missouri and the riots, vandalism, and looting that occurred over several nights I needed a different type of drama.

I can't help but think that our world has these advent themes upside down. At Ferguson, the lights in the darkness were television lights and in my humble opinion, they welcomed more sin and confusion than they illuminated the highway in the wilderness that the prophet Isaiah spoke of in chapter 40. The light of the night seemed corrupted in the name of justice in order to increase viewership and sell commercials. In effect, the sin of greed and bearing false witness ruled the night rather than ushering in the rule of the one called Wonderful Counselor. This is not the advent drama foretold in scripture.

Come Lord Jesus!

I needed to hear the words of Isaiah anew, ancient words which breathed hope into my wearied soul.

"The people walking in the darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given and the government will be on his shoulders."

Our service concluded with a litany of hope. The refrain of the people went as follows:

"Lord, let your light shine upon us, that our light might shine before all people and our hearts be filled with hope."

During worship the drama of advent was back in order. It's good to know our worship gets it right! 

Prayer for Today 
Come Lord Jesus, come into our lives. Shine your light into the darkest recesses of our hearts so that we may experience your healing and your truth. Shine your light into the darkness of our world, so that your love and justice will usher in your new creation promised through Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 01:47 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
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