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.
Last night on my walk with our dog, Belle, and Will I encountered a family of deer and a snake. In our neighborhood, I often see deer in our backyard or passing through the neighbor's yard, but rarely do I see them crossing the street, until last night. We took a moment to savor the experience and waited for the family to travel across one by one.
I enjoy watching this family of deer and it was so nice to have our rhythm interrupted. Then a little while later, we turned the corner to find a medium sized black and yellow snake. Unlike with the deer, we didn't stop to savor the moment. I quickly moved to the other side of the street and got us out of there as quickly as possible.
It's funny to me how sometimes interruptions in our day can bring moments of calmness and appreciation. While others we avoid like the plague. The same situation would have likely brought about a different reaction from any number of people.
I realize that these two encounters are not earth shattering in comparison to some of the challenging experiences that we face in life. They just reminded me that when we face situations that are unexpected, our response to them often shapes our faith in a significant way. So then, how do your reactions to life's interruptions or unexpected circumstances, shape your faith? Sometimes I find when life is a little bit unpredictable, I realize my need to live by faith and depend upon God's guidance.
As you consider the ways that life's interruptions shape your faith, listen to the words of this song by Jeremy Camp, "Walk by Faith". https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgWOcYpHm0o
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. -Hebrews 11:1
Happy Autumn! I hope you have been enjoying the wonderful fall weather we have had to close out the month of September. I hope that you enjoy the following prayer and find a time or two to pray it this week.
Prayer for Autumn Days
God of the seasons, there is a time for everything; there is a time for dying and a time for rising. We need courage to enter into the transformation process.
God of autumn, the trees are saying goodbye to their green, letting go of what has been. We, too, have our moments of surrender, with all their insecurity and risk. Help us to let go when we need to do so.
God of fallen leaves lying in colored patterns on the ground, our lives have their own patterns. As we see the patterns of our own growth, may we learn from them.
God of misty days and harvest moon nights, there is always the dimension of mystery and wonder in our lives. We always need to recognize your power-filled presence. May we gain strength from this.
God of harvest wagons and fields of ripened grain, many gifts of growth lie within the season of our surrender. We must wait for harvest in faith and hope. Grant us patience when we do not see the blessings.
God of geese going south for another season, your wisdom enables us to know what needs to be left behind and what needs to be carried into the future. We yearn for insight and vision.
God of flowers touched with frost and windows wearing white designs, may your love keep our hearts from growing cold in the empty seasons.
God of life, you believe in us, you enrich us, you entrust us with the freedom to choose life. For all this, we are grateful.
Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand-shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. -Matthew 5:14-16 (The Message)
Each summer, at some point during our family vacation week at the beach, my children and I visit the Pensacola Lighthouse. Nothing much changes about the lighthouse from year to year; however, the childhood friends invited as guests on our trip differ, so we stop by to see how the renovations are going and make the annual trek up the 177 steps to the top of the black and white cylinder.
Being the ardent history buff that I am, I never tire of hearing the history of the lighthouse, ghost stories and all, but especially the details shared about the 1000 watt bulb magnified by the First Order Fresnel Lens that shines across the harbor, navigating the way for seafarers up to 28 miles in the distance.
According to The Lighthouse Preservation Society, the first lighthouses were built long before the time of Christ, and in fact the earliest known reference to a lighthouse dates back to 1200 BC. The first onshore beacons that were used to guide ships were bonfires, eventually being replaced with iron baskets filled with burning wood or coal and suspended on long poles. In the 18th century, these baskets were replaced by oil or gas lanterns, and in the 20th century, electric beacons replaced the lanterns. In 1822, the Fresnel lens (a collection of multiple glass prisms) was developed, a magnifying lens that projects an intense beam of light.
As Christians, when we read the passage above from the Gospel of Matthew, we are reminded that we are called by God to shine as beacons of light in a broken world. God has called us to be light-bearers, and has even put us on a light stand to shine - to project an intense beam of light!
Many of us learned the song when we were young about not hiding our light under a bushel, but as adults that is exactly what we do sometimes. We get so caught up in living in this world that we forget we are children of the King.
This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine! Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!
This Sunday in worship we welcome as our guest preacher someone who is a little unorthodox and not your everyday Presbyterian. In fact he's 2,700 years old, the prophet Amos. He has had the good fortune of traveling here through the spiritual time travel machine all the way from the northern kingdom of Israel. Please forgive him if he is not fully aware of how things are here in 21st Century Johns Creek. He may lack cultural sensitivity. He might even have a few "anger issues." But do know that he comes here very simply sent by God to deliver God's message.
I suppose we might need to get out of bed this Sunday and make our way into our beloved chapel since he is coming from such a faraway place and time with surely something important to share. Now mind you: the message may cause us to squirm. It may cause us to be a bit uncomfortable. It may cause us to think differently than before. But I am confident we can handle it.
Amos' message, he tells me, is about how justice rolls down like a waterfall. And waterfalls, as we all know, aren't subtle. Think Niagara, Yosemite, Victoria. We're talking churning, spewing, overflowing, cascading torrents of water. I suppose justice-God's justice-is a little like that. Join me Sunday in finding out more as we welcome Amos to our pulpit!
I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I \will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Recently, I have been talking with folks about preaching and what kinds of sermons speak to us. Some have told me they like well-crafted sermons with a clear path to follow. Others like sermons that are "Bible-based" - though even that can mean different things to different people. Still others talk about wanting to feel something deeply - for them it is about something that touches their heart. Others talk about wanting to be inspired, lifted up, and filled with hope. Some like sermons that begin with a story, while others are looking for something practical that speaks to everyday life.
When I listen to someone else preach, it is something of an occupational hazard for preachers to begin evaluating each other. We tend to look at things like homiletical integrity and exegetical faithfulness. But on another level, we are also looking for the preaching to speak God's word to us in some way that touches our heart, enlightens our mind, and gives us something practical to do in response to God's good news.
I have found that I often start off evaluating the preacher, not only from a professional standpoint, but also whether he or she is saying anything that "speaks to me." However, if I can get past that initial phase, I sometimes remind myself that this is not a performance. Nor is it all about me getting my needs met. It is ultimately about worshipping God. So, if that is our main purpose, then instead of sitting back and evaluating the preacher, I remember that actually we are all on the same side, trying to accomplish the same thing. It is at that point that I often begin praying for the preacher - that his or her words would say to all of us what we need to hear. It is amazing how much better the preaching gets when I do that! I don't think it is because I am good at praying, as much as it is about changing my perspective.
I am out of town this weekend for one of my daughter's Parents' Weekend at her college, but when Scott is preaching, I hope you will pray for him (and all of us who preach) so he can speak to you - and to everyone else.
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. Moses in his prayer in Psalm 90 reminds us that God is our home and has been since the beginning. We find comfort in the roof and four walls of our homes. Familiar furniture, special keepsakes and lasting memories are some of the things that make my house feel like home. What makes your house feel like home?
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 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, stands beside you and walks behind you.
The back cover of our worship bulletin identifies the church leadership structure at JCPC. It doesn't start with the Senior Pastor followed by the Associate Pastors, then program staff. Rather, it begins with the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ, and then is followed by the Ministers; All the members of the Church. You!
This is a very Protestant ecclesial structure. Martin Luther risked his life for the priesthood of all believers. Of course, as you read the passage from 1 Peter, you see that this leadership structure is grounded in scripture.
The priesthood of believers is active here at JCPC. A new prayer group has formed to offer prayers for the congregation, the community, the world, and anyone in need of prayer. The name of the group is Holy Hands in Prayer and its facilitator is Alice Ann Nilsen. The group meets on Tuesdays. If you would like to join Holy Hands in Prayer or would like to ask for prayers or offer a praise, you can email Alice Ann.
Also, Stephen Ministry invites you to a seminar this evening at 7:00 p.m. in the Calvin Room. Jenny Buckley RN, BSN,CHPN of Weinstein Hospice will be leading a discussion entitled: Hope and Communication in End of Life Care. As we approach end of life, whether our own or a loved one's, sustaining hope and communication is vital. Come join us in this most timely discussion. You will find Jenny a highly knowledgeable and enjoyable speaker.
Re-read 1 Peter 2:4-5
Through prayer and education, we build a spiritual house built on the cornerstone of Jesus Christ. To God be the glory.
... be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ ... Ephesians 5:18-b-20 (NIV)
One of the things I like about being Presbyterian and our liturgical tradition is that I, like you, am a participant drawn into the worship of God and my role remains that. I am not here to perform for you. I am here to help direct our common offering to God.
In his book Purity of Heart, Soren Kierkegaard was concerned about this very subject in the mid-19th century. He wrote that the people of the churches of his day in Denmark had forgotten the main thing in worship. They had come to view the minister and choir, organist, and soloists as the actors in worship. Those in the congregation were the audience.
He wrote that in fact all those in worship were a part of a drama performed as an offering to God. Each person was an actor who sought to provide a pleasing performance to God. The leaders of the drama-the minister, musicians, and others-were there as prompters in the drama, giving cues to the congregation on how to perform and what to say.
When you attend worship on Sunday, do you view your participation as that of a consumer? Are you seeking to be entertained by the paid leaders? Or do you come offering yourself as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God? Rather than being told what to say, it is the work of the congregation to find its voice. The congregation's voice is the voice of testimony, praise, and prayer, rising from the lives and hearts of its individual members.
The story behind one of my all-time favorite praise songs from the late 1990s - The Heart of Worship - speaks to this very point. The song, written by Matt Redman, was born from a period of apathy within Matt's home church in Watford, England. Despite the country's overall contribution to the current worship revival, Redman's congregation was struggling to find meaning in its music at the time.
"There was a dynamic missing," recalls Redman, "so the pastor did a pretty brave thing. He decided to get rid of the sound system and band for a season, and we gathered together with just our voices. His point was that we had lost our way in worship, and the way to get back to the heart would be to strip everything away."
Reminding his church family to be producers in worship, not just consumers, the pastor asked, "When you come through the doors on Sunday, what are you bringing as your offering to God?" Matt says the question initially led to some embarrassing silence, but eventually worshippers began encountering God in a fresh way. "Before long, we had gained a new perspective that worship is about Jesus and commands a response in the depths of our souls."
So, how does a congregation find its voice? It is the voice heard and shared when the members pray together, share a meal together, cry and rejoice together; it is the voice heard and shared when a congregation works out its differences, blesses its children, buries its saints, and sings songs of love and hope. It is a voice found first by listening, then by joining in the singing, the praying, and the fellowship. In their hearts, in the soul of the congregation, the members find their common voice in worship.
Psalm 150 closes with these words, Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with clanging cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!
Oftentimes we mainline church people are prone to confine church music to hymns written many moons ago, sung with just an organ accompaniment. When I read the last Psalm, however, praising God through rock music seems to be a worthy thing. That is exactly what we are going to do this Sunday evening as we welcome the JJ Weeks Band in concert right here at JCPC. Opening the show will be local artist Drake Kennedy.
I am grateful that I am a part of a church that welcomes pretty much all genres of music. While our roots may be traditional, we like to expand our repertoire to include a wide variety of music that praises God, which indeed enriches our worship. Contemporary Christian music may push the envelope for some of us. However, with JJ's music being a more melodic rock sound, this concert should span the generations. There is something for everybody. So come join us. Sponsored by the Academy of Fine Arts, the concert is free. I am reminded of Paul's words to the Corinthians, I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some (9:22). On Sunday night may we truly live out the Psalmist's words, Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!
You may have noticed that one of the large, old oak trees in front of the church fell down a few weeks ago. This week the tree service took the rest of the tree down, ground up the stumps and hauled away the branches and trunks. However, on Sunday the trunks, and branches were still there. Before the worship services, I walked outside to get a closer look at them. They were quite large. I am not an arborist, but from my unprofessional counting of the rings, it seemed to be well over a hundred years old! For a moment I thought about all that had happened under this tree in the time it was standing.
However, it was not easy to try to count the rings because the tree was rotten. By that I mean that it was almost hollow. Some kind of disease had been working away at the core of the tree, and while it looked okay from the outside - on the inside it was dead or dying. It reminded me of the description by Jesus of the Pharisees - "You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean." (Matthew 23:27b, NIV) Now those are pretty harsh words, but they speak of something that seems okay on the outside, but is not okay in the inside.
Sometimes, I can relate to that. On the outside it may seem like I am doing okay, but inside I know there are things going on that are not the way God would have me to live. And if we ignore things like that, like our fallen tree, they can consume us from the inside out. And when the next storm of life comes along, we won't have the inner strength to withstand it.
But through God's grace, we can open up even our deepest shortcomings and feel the healing power of God's love that can help us to heal from the inside out. Today I invite you to spend a few moments to consider where you need that kind of healing in your life today, and ask God to begin that work in you. I know you will be glad you did!
I tell you not to worry about your life. Don't worry about having something to eat, drink, or wear. Isn't life more than food or clothing? Look at the birds in the sky! They don't plant or harvest. They don't even store grain in barns. Yet your Father in heaven takes care of them. Aren't you worth more than birds? Can worry make you live longer? Why worry about clothes? Look how the wild flowers grow. They don't work hard to make their clothes. But I tell you that Solomon with all his wealth wasn't as well clothed as one of them. God gives such beauty to everything that grows in the fields, even though it is here today and thrown into a fire tomorrow. He will surely do even more for you! Why do you have such little faith? -Matthew 6:25-30
For some of you these may be a familiar passage and for others these words may be something new. As I was recently reflecting on the times during the day that I worry, I remembered these words from Jesus in the gospel of Matthew. Sometimes I find myself being overwhelmed with all of the responsibilities of life and wonder how everything and everyone will be cared for. I sometimes lose sight of these promises from Jesus that God will provide. As I look through my life, I see the many places where God provides for me and my family again and again. Each day I am challenged to overcome my worries and put my trust in God as my provider.
As you go through your week, I would invite you to hold on to these words from Jesus reminding us that we do not have to worry.
On Labor Day, I was fly-fishing on the Chattahoochee River with my fishing mentor, Joe Araoz. I'm eternally grateful to Joe for introducing me to this sport and for his patience and hospitality as he teaches me the basics. On this occasion, Joe had invited a fellow named Rob to join us. Rob was visiting from Holland and had never fished in Georgia, let alone the U.S., so Joe had invited him to join us.
Rob asked me about the meaning of my last name, Kuhlhorst. I told him that it was German. The Kuhl means cool and I had been told that horst meant hill, so that the name described someone who lived on a cool hill. I live on a cul-de-sac now-a-days. My name doesn't quite match my current residency any longer so I do wonder if I should change it to Kuhldesac. Back in 1996, we built our home on this cul-de-sac so that our children could have a safe street on which to play. They actually called themselves the Cul-de-sac kids when they were younger and putting on shows for the neighborhood. We believed this place was where God wanted us to raise our children.
What does your name mean and from whence did it originate. In the Bible, knowing the name of a person helped to understand something about where they came from and what their destiny was to become. I was reading 1 Samuel during my devotional time and rediscovered the story of Samuel's birth. His mother Hannah was barren, without child, and she prayed through her grief and great anguish. She promised that if God would grant her a son that she give him to the Lord for all of his life. This story is much more than a tale that illustrates Kubler-Ross's bargaining stage of grief. She conceived and gave birth to a son and named him Samuel which means heard of God or God heard.
What's in a name? For many of us, it's a road sign of God's will for our lives.
Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.
John 4:23-24 (NIV)
John Calvin wrote, "Wherever the Word of God is purely preached and received and the sacraments administered according to Christ's institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists." The place of worship is irrelevant but true worship must be in keeping with God's nature, which is spirit. In John's Gospel, truth is associated with Christ, a fact that has great importance for the proper understanding of Christian worship.
Churches, no matter how homogenous they may appear, are made up of multiple cultures. Generational differences lend to this reality. The most obvious differences in worship culture regard the arts and, in particular, music. With the introduction of a new hymn, some may resist the unfamiliar text and tune as not relevant to their worship "experience." When greeting the pastor at the end of the service, some may remark that they still prefer that "old time religion" and have no use for contemporary hymns or "praise music."
We must remember that trying to satisfy everybody's "wants" in worship will result in us losing sight of the main thing. Worship becomes about us, not about God.
Driving to church last Sunday, I was listening to The Lutheran Hour, a popular Sunday morning radio ministry. A portion of the sermon went like this ... "The other day a parish pastor sent me a list of suggestions on what a church might do if they wanted to hold Sunday worship services which would appeal to [all].
"His first idea was to have part of the parking lot be set aside for a driving range so folks could practice their golf swing before worship. He thought reclining chairs should replace the last six rows of pews so those who need Sunday for a day of rest might be comfortable. Clickers would be handed out at the door for those who like to keep track of the number of hypocrites who come to church, and a stopwatch could be provided for those who time the sermon. Relatives would be imported to satisfy those who believe Sunday is for family, and eye drops would be available from any usher for those who had stayed up too late watching TV on Saturday.
"The pastor did draw the line at providing steel helmets for those who said, 'The church will cave in if I ever came to worship,' but the pastor did not think it excessive to offer blankets for those who said the church was too cold, or fans for those who consider it too hot. The preacher said they already had hearing aids for those who think he speaks too softly, but they were now going to be offering cotton balls for those who think he's too loud.
"Shrubs and small trees were being set up near the altar for those who want to find the Lord in nature, and his congregation now had a standing order at the local hot house to make sure the church would be decorated with Christmas poinsettias and Easter lilies to make the facility seem more familiar for those souls who had never been to church without those plants being in place.
"His final offering was to provide apps which will, at the appropriate time in the service, broadcast hymns to their smart phones in different music styles. He felt most would be pleased to know their hymns were being broadcast in jazz, blues, classical, country, folk, electronic, hip-hop, funk, Latin, reggae, new age, R&B, and heavy metal. 'It is,' he said facetiously, 'a small price to pay for those folks who are committed to keeping their worship commitment small.'"
As absurd as these suggestions may seem, you can see that offering worship services based on personal preference has little, if anything, to do with authentic worship. The true, inner fulfillment is realized only in believers who worship God with genuine spiritual worship and who glory in Christ as their Savior. True worship "in spirit" is worship in the Holy Spirit and originates in the heart of the believer.
The world is changing. So are today's teenagers. Any parent who feels unequipped to raise a child in today's world knows that parenting and leading this generation can be a big challenge.
Beginning this Sunday, I will be teaching an adult Sunday School class called "Parenting a New Generation." Together we will explore the scriptures and have frank discussions about both the joys and the trials of raising children in our 21st Century world. Aiding our discussion each week will be a DVD lecture by Chap Clark, both a youth ministry and parenting guru as well as a seminary professor. Assisting in this class will be Kelly Swicegood and Marx Wolf. Parenting is not for wimps. We need each other. Join us each Sunday morning (or whenever you can) for the fall quarter in room 202.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
This past Monday I spent time at our Annual Missions Golf Classic. Each year I begin that event with a few thoughts and a prayer. Good weather was in question on Monday, so I did pray for no rain. A number of folks asked me Monday, "Do you play?" (I assume they meant golf.) I said, "No, I pray." Someone asked me to pray especially for his golf game. But I did pray for good weather in order for the golfers to enjoy the day more, and surprise - it turned out to be a pretty day. I joked that I would be like Moses who held up his hands when the Israelites went into battle, and as long as he held up his hands, the Israelites were winning. He even had two helpers hold up his arms when he could do it no more. I imagined praying for the rain to stay away like that, but thankfully that was not needed.
Now do I think God cares a great deal about the weather in our lives? Well, yes and no. (Sounds like a preacher answer.) I do think God cares about every event of our lives because Jesus tells us that God knows things like how many hairs are on our heads. On the other hand, I wonder if praying for good weather is at the top of God's list when there are so many other greater needs in the world. But I still ask, and then I leave it up to God to answer the best way.
Sixty-seven golfers showed up to support the classic and the missions that are made possible because of it. Last Spring, I went with a group of folks from our church to the DR on a mission trip supported by this event. It affected us so much that we plan to "dive deeper" in the coming years to make a long-term difference there. Thank you to all who played, gave, volunteered, or attended!
I have been reading a book entitled, "Seamless Faith: Simple Practices for Daily Family Life". The concept of weaving our faith into your daily routine seamlessly can be challenging at times. Our faith in Jesus Christ is at the center of our lives, but sometimes finding a way for it to be "seamless" can be challenging. I like the approach that Traci Smith takes with keeping it simple. As my family's life has changed significantly in the last couple of months, with the addition of our baby boy, I am looking for ways to simplify and make time for what's most important.
One of the prayer practices that Smith suggests in her book is a Photo Prayer. This experience can take place at your home on your own, with your spouse, or with your children of any age (even the littlest ones). Set aside 5 minutes at the very beginning or the very end of your day. Walk around your home and stop each time you pass a picture of one of the special people in your life. Take a moment to say a simple prayer for that person.
God invites us into community with one another. This community of family and friends is who will teach us, challenge us and sustain us in our journey of faith. Who are some of the people pictured in your home? How can you pray for them this week? When someone new comes to mind, print a picture of them and put it somewhere in your home where you will pass it daily. This will be a helpful reminder to lift them up in prayer.
In Paul's letter to the Thessalonians he gives us an example of how and why we can pray for one another:
With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Several years ago I was hiking in North Georgia when a stranger walked up to me, introduced himself, and said that he wanted to introduce me to his friend Jesus. I listened to him politely, but he didn't seem much interested in me, only that I would come to know his friend Jesus. Finally, I interrupted him and said that I knew Jesus as well and followed him to become a Presbyterian minister.
A few months later, a Presbyterian colleague of mine walked up to me and out of the blue said, "Kuhlhorst, I want to introduce you to my friend Jesus." I didn't wait to hear what he had to say or was as polite as I was to the stranger in the mountains. I simply said, "perhaps you could learn something about Jesus from me!" He stopped, laughed and said, "perhaps I could."
Who is Jesus and what does his life mean for us? Thousands of books have been written about Jesus since the gospels were circulated amongst the early Christians. My seminary education was filled with books attempting to answer the question who is Jesus and what does his life mean for us. One of the books I read was Albert Schweitzer's The Quest for the Historical Jesus. Schweitzer noted that Jesus' life and what it means to people changes with the times and often Jesus seems to resemble the person who is either writing or talking about Jesus. We project meaning onto Jesus just as we do with others.
This quote of Schweitzer's has resonated inside of me ever since I read it:
He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same words: "Follow thou me!" and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.
Beginning this Sunday during the Sunday school hour, I will be leading a 12 week discussion on who Jesus is and what his life means for us. We will be using Philip Yancey's, The Jesus I Never Knew curriculum. The material is rich and I trust the discussions will be spirited. I hope to see you there.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God - this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12:1 (NIV)
This Sunday, we consider the third of the Great Ends of the Church - the maintenance of divine worship. When we hear the word maintenance, we think of routine work on our cars, our homes, even our health. It's one thing to just keep something going; however, it is another to keep it in good or very good condition. To achieve divine worship requires vigilance to keep things in very good shape.
So what is worship? Our Directory for Worship describes worship in this way: "Christian worship joyfully ascribes all praise and honor, glory and power to the triune God. In worship, the people of God acknowledge God present in the world and in their lives. As they respond to God's claim and redemptive action in Jesus Christ, believers are transformed and renewed. In worship, the faithful offer themselves to God and are equipped for God's service in the world. (W-1.1001).
This description says essentially that 1) worship is focused on God, and 2) results in the transformation and renewal of those who are gathered. The object of worship is God, the creator and sustainer of the universe; Christ, the redeemer of the creation; and the Holy Spirit, the presence and wisdom of God in us, among us, and to us. Worship is not about me personally, except as I am a part of "the people of God," the body of Christ.
That being said, people often end up placing particular forms of worship ahead of God. We want to have worship "our way." Elements become more important than the purpose of the element. We forget that our enculturation and socialization in worship are just that - that to which we are accustomed. How we worship is an aspect often of our culture, not of any divinely determined necessity.
Our Presbyterian form of government recognizes as much when it says that the church in its witness to the uniqueness of the Christian faith is called to mission and must be responsive to diversity in both the church and the world. Thus, the fellowship of Christians as it gathers for worship and orders its corporate life will display a rich variety of form, practice, language, program, nurture, and service to suit culture and need. (G-4.0401)
Our Book of Order says what it does regarding cultural need because worship is about lifting up God and the work of God in the world in such a way that people first come to know Jesus as their savior, and then they grow in that faith. Worship is the front line of evangelism and, therefore, must be relevant and vibrant.
Those who are drawn to Presbyterian churches usually come looking for a theological emphasis that is peculiar to us. They also tend to stay with us because our theology and our worship form speak to them emotionally and spiritually in a way other churches do not. Liturgy - the work of the people - is an aspect of that peculiarity. The formulary according to which we conduct our worship of God is very relevant to the congregation.
Having said that, we must keep the main thing the main thing. If we start trying to satisfy everybody's wants in worship, we will lose sight of the main thing. Worship then becomes a mess of stuff put together on a needs based model. Worship becomes about us, not about God.
Our witness to others in the offering of ourselves is the evidence of our faith that is seen in our worship. To that end, may we be faithful and true, joyfully ascribing all praise and honor, glory and power to the triune God.
Recently I had lunch with three high school friends. We get together in fact every three months for Mexican food in Decatur to share our joys and sorrows in life, to reflect on the "good 'ol days", to discuss challenges in our present world, and to talk about dreams and fears for the future. I cherish those gatherings. Today I came across this splendid and relevant quote from author Dave Goetz: "Most of us crave deep friendships, those that sweeten life and take the edge off its difficult parts. Authentic friendships are subversive in a culture that values who you know, what you own, or what your status is, and whether you got invited to the party of the summer."
I love the idea of "subversive friendships," that is, relationships that aren't based on what I can get from you, but rather on who we are as children of God made in God's image. These are the types of friendships I have with my high school buddies. They are also the types of friendships I find more than at any other place right here at JCPC.
It doesn't matter if you are extroverted or introverted, the best medicine in life is a friend, someone you not only like to hang out with, but someone you can truly count on and bare your soul to. Some questions to ponder: what quality of friendships do you have? Have you yourself reached out to be a faithful friend to others? Why do men so often have difficulty bonding with others?
I remember my pastor in New York City often said, "You can't go it alone in New York City," yes even in that bustling metropolis of 12 million people. The same is true here, "You can't go it alone in Johns Creek." As we kick off a new year at church, I challenge you to reach out and make connections here at church. Come this Sunday to Rally Day. Come, young people, to Sunday Night Live. Come, step out of your comfort zone. Introduce yourself to three new people this Sunday. Be a friend!
A friend loves at all times, and kinfolk are born to share adversity. -- Proverbs 17:17
In my bookcases at the church office I have three shelves filled with books on leadership. While reading about leadership is not the same as actually leading, I believe some of those books have helped me learn how to lead better. One of the great leaders in the Bible was Moses. Think of it - even though he did not want to, he responded to God's call to lead God's people out of slavery in Egypt, through the desert for forty years, and into a promised land. The challenges he faced required him to adapt his leadership style over time.
At one point, Moses realized his leadership task had grown beyond his capacity, so he sought advice from his father-in-law, Jethro, who said,
What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.
So Moses began to delegate and the task moved forward!
Last night, our Calvin room was filled with leaders, energy, and the spirit of God - at least that's the way I saw it. We began our intensive leadership training for our upcoming Capital Campaign and by the end of the meeting the excitement in the room was palpable. I am so grateful that those leaders responded to the call to step up and help lead our congregation through this campaign so that we can complete the vision we believe God has set before us. I certainly know that, like Moses, I cannot lead this campaign alone. In fact, being Presbyterian means that we are led by elders -- that is what the word "Presbyterian" means - to be governed by elders. Together we are able to do what none of us could ever do alone.
Today, I would ask that you pray for those leaders who have courageously agreed to help organize and arrange all that needs to happen this fall. Thank God for their willingness to serve and pray for strength to move forward. And if one of them calls and asks you to help them, please say "Yes."