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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.

Monday, November 30 2015

At the Kenya Airways check-in counter, I presented my passport for verification. When the agents searched for my name on their manifest-the document that lists names of passengers-my name was missing. The problem? Overbooking and lack of confirmation. My hope of reaching home that day was shattered.

The episode reminded me of another kind of manifest-the Book of Life. In Luke 10, Jesus sent His disciples on an evangelistic mission. On their return, they happily reported their success. But Jesus told them: "Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (v. 20). The focus of our joy is not merely that we are successful but that our names are inscribed in God's book.
 
But how can we be sure of that? God's Word tells us, "If you declare with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9). 
 
In Revelation 21, John makes a breathtaking description of the Holy City that awaits those who trust Christ. Then he writes, "Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life" (v. 27).

The Book of Life is God's heavenly manifest. Is your name written in it?

Prayer for Today

Father in heaven, thank You for the gift of Your Son, who promised to prepare a place for us. Thank You too, that You are preparing us for that place.  Amen.

Posted by: Our Daily Bread AT 05:53 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, November 27 2015

Thank You For Being a Friend

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you.  John 15:12-14 (NRSV)
 
As a young Girl Scout, I remember well the evenings spent around a crackling campfire, roasting marshmallows for s'mores and locking arms around each other as we sang these familiar words ... "Make new friends, but keep the old; one is silver and the other gold.  A circle is round; it has no end; that's how long I will be your friend."
 
While enjoying the innocent camaraderie of those moments, I could not possibly have known that I would soon leave those friends behind, or that I would move more than twenty times during my life.  How little did I know that I would develop many "silver" friendships with each move, or how my life would be enriched by cultivating the beauty of "golden" relationships over the years.
 
Funny how certain words return to you in the most unexpected of times.  I invited a "new" friend to dinner last Saturday, enjoying the energizing and stimulating conversation of the "getting to know" you phase of friendship.  Very early this morning, I received a Facebook message from an "old" friend whose heart is heavy, asking me to pray for a young lady very near and dear to her who has recently been diagnosed with cancer.
 
Friendships are the blessings of life.  Friends give us the support needed during tough times, the shoulder to cry on, or someone we can be silly with, laughing over embarrassing situations.  Most importantly, a friend is someone who chooses us, becoming family by choice.
 
According to Jewish custom, disciples normally chose the particular Rabbi to whom they wanted to be attached, but it was not so with Jesus' disciples.  In the scripture passage above, Jesus said to his disciples, "You are my friends if you do what I command you ... you did not choose me, but I chose you ... this I command you that you love one another."  John 15:14, 16, 17 (NRSV).
 
To each of you reading this today, thank you for being a friend, a brother or sister in Christ whom I love.

Prayer for Today

Gracious and loving God, we thank you for friendship - one of life's greatest gifts.  We thank you for our friends who love us, laugh with us, support us, and sometimes sustain us.  May our lives reflect your love for us as we honor Jesus' commandment to love one another.  Amen.

Posted by: Alicia Taylor AT 05:48 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, November 26 2015

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all!  Today, hopefully you are eating turkey and fixings to your heart's content, maybe watching a little football, and definitely being with family.  As many of us gather this week with kinfolk near and far, I ponder the question, does Jesus have anything to say about dealing with difficult relatives and bringing peace to families who struggle getting along?  Yes, he does, and from his own experience. 

Jesus was not born into a vacuum or just descended from heaven.  Yes, believe it or not, Jesus had a family.  He had younger brothers and sisters.  As the gospel writer Mark wrote, Jesus was "just a carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and his sisters are here with us" (6:3).
 
I think it is safe to say that his family was less than perfect.  I'm not sure how much they really appreciated Jesus.  But still he didn't try to control them or make them all agree with him or make it his mission to please them.  So take heart if things don't go as smoothly as you would like with your family.  Enjoy them for who they are and give thanks to God for them, even if they drive you absolutely crazy!
 
Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother. 
-Mark 3:35

Prayer for Today

Dear God, I pause for but a moment of silence just to revel in the spirit of gratitude for the imperfect gifts of family around me today.  Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Scott Huie AT 05:46 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, November 25 2015

"Happy Thanksgiving Eve!" Those are words we probably don't here very often, if ever. There is All Hallow's Eve or Halloween, Christmas Eve, and even New Year's Eve - but Happy Thanksgiving Eve? I wonder why that is the case. Maybe because the nights before each of those other days have certain rituals - Trick or Treating, attending a worship service, or staying up past midnight to welcome in the New Year. So, why don't we have a celebration the night before Thanksgiving?

Now I do realize the "unofficial" ritual for Thanksgiving Eve is for the person preparing the meal to go shopping and start cooking. But, maybe there is something to that -- it is a form of hospitality. Remember that hospitality is more than just following Martha Stewart's recommendations for a perfect Thanksgiving. From a Christian viewpoint, hospitality begins with Christ, who is the Host at a feast provided for sinners like you and me.  Christ serves his guests. So maybe this Thanksgiving Eve, we can begin to think of ways to welcome others because we have each been welcomed to God's table.
 
When I was a kid, our family would go down to Georgia Tech and invite one or two international students to join us for Thanksgiving dinner. One year we went, but the student we were supposed to pick up was not there, so we took his roommate - a Korean graduate student whom we called "John Huang." John ended up coming back to our house again and again, and I will never forget the hospitality my parents showed to him. Yet, when he eventually returned home to Korea, I felt like we received as much as we have given -- if not more. So, look for some way to show hospitality to others today in preparation for Thanksgiving. And Happy Thanksgiving Eve!
 
Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.
-Psalm 100:2, 4

Prayer for Today

O God, you invite us to eat at your table, not because we are good, but because we need the bread you have to offer. We thank you for inviting us and for being the perfect host. Help us to share that same hospitality with others this day. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 05:26 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, November 24 2015

Matthew 25:34-40
"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' "The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'

Whenever I read this familiar passage, it challenges me to remember Christ's call for each of us.

We will begin the season of Advent on Sunday, a time set aside for preparing our hearts as we wait for the coming of Christ. Our Advent calendar begins to fill up with wrapping presents, decorating the home, preparing for Christmas parties, addressing Christmas cards and shopping for gifts. It can be difficult to set aside time to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ during this season.

Jesus calls us to something greater in the gospel of Matthew. If Jesus is the person who is poor, hungry, in prison, then life is not just about what we can do for that person, but it's also about how we can be in relationship with them, meet Christ in them, and receive from them, too. I would invite you to enter the season of Advent with this in mind.

Advent is not only a time of preparing for the joyous celebration of Christ's birth, but a reminder that as Christians we are to be prepared to meet our Lord and experience God's grace in those unexpected places and unlikely faces. While we complete our gift lists and search for replacement bulbs in a strand of multi colored Christmas tree lights, we must also search ourselves and prepare for Christ's coming in our opportunities to serve the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the stranger and the prisoner.

Prayer for Today

Gracious and Loving God,
Guide us as we enter this season of preparing for the miracle of Christ's birth. Open our hearts to share the joy of Christ's coming and unbridled love with those around us, both stranger and friend. Help us prepare ourselves to rejoice in Christ's coming through acts of kindness for those in need.
In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 07:48 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, November 23 2015

I love to walk our JCPC property and pray. Friday, November 20th, I took a stroll and before I knew it, I was offering a doxology of praise and thanksgiving to our Creator. I noticed the remaining fall colors and watched some leaves float gently to the ground. For each of the colors, I thanked God for the splendor of God's creation. Offer God a thank you prayer as you look at this picture.

Along my stroll, I came upon a blessing that all read as they leave the JCPC campus. I'm thankful for our church as we continually strive to share the gospel throughout our community and the world. Give thanks for a mission(s) of the church.

As I turned around to head back to my office, a car pulled up with the driver sporting a smiling face. It was Sue Dodd on her way to North Fulton Hospital to deliver a packet of CanCare information for the Director of Development. I was so grateful that Sue was going to North Fulton to share what God is doing in our community through CanCare. Sue told me how this mission brings her joy and she said she was thankful for being able to travel and share the good news. She has been recovering from a horrible auto accident and she beamed an appreciative smile as she gave God thanks. Give thanks for answering the call to be disciples who share good news.

This reflection is my Thanksgiving card to you. Praise God from Whom all blessings flow...

Prayer for Today

For all of your blessings, O God, we give you thanks and praise; for both blessings known and unknown, we bow our heads with humble gratitude. Amen. 

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 07:35 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, November 20 2015

Living with Thanksgiving

"My counsel for you is simple and straightforward:  Just go ahead with what you've been given.  You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him.  You're deeply rooted in him.  You're well-constructed upon him.  You know your way around the faith.  Now do what you've been taught.  School's out; quit studying the subject and start living it!  And let your living spill over into thanksgiving."  Colossians 2:6-7 (The Message)
 
Each year around the time of the Thanksgiving holidays, we hear much about adopting an attitude of gratitude.  I believe, however, that gratitude is more than an attitude, that it's an action exemplifying one's faith.  In his letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul's words are a clear call to action!  The believer's intimate, spiritual, living union with Christ is mentioned repeatedly in the letter.
 
Counting your blessings, naming them one by one, helps you to identify and focus more on the privileges you have and less on what you may lack in your life.  A truly grateful heart sees each day as a gift, an opportunity to live into hope, to walk in the light of Christ, to serve others, and to live in accordance with the rules of Christ's kingdom.
 
The grateful heart is like a magnet sweeping over your day, collecting reasons for gratitude.    For the warmth of the sun on bare skin, for twinkling stars that form constellations in the night sky, for the miracle of the beating heart, for purple mountain majesties, for the wonder of each hour of the day and night, for friends on earth and friends above, Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
 
An encouraging word from Max Lucado provides this food for thought:  "To reflect on your blessings is to rehearse God's accomplishments.  To rehearse God's accomplishments is to discover God's heart.  To discover God's heart is to discover not just good gifts, but the Good Giver."  Since all blessings come from God, we are acknowledging God's accomplishments in and through our lives when we are living with thanksgiving in our hearts!

Prayer for Today

(From Peanut Butter and Jelly Prayers)
 
For all that you have made,
we give you thanks, gracious God;
for our homes, family, and friends; 
for our country and its leaders;
for freedom and for those who have sacrificed 
so much for that freedom;
and for all that you give us to eat this day - and always.
 
We remember those throughout 
the world and in our country
who go hungry this day - and many other days.
Help us to share what we have:  
a harvest of blessings and goodness.
In the name of Jesus, 
who taught us about justice for all people, amen.

Posted by: Alicia Taylor AT 07:29 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, November 19 2015

So here is a question that I came across recently on social media for all of us to ponder in the Paris aftermath:  do we as a church pray for the transformation of ISIS and their like or for their eradication?  It's a question not so easily answered, one I struggled with in Sunday's pastoral prayer.

On the one hand, yes, it is clear that sin needs to be punished, and God is a God of justice. The gospel doesn't say, "Don't worry about it.  It's all OK." God has a righteous anger toward sin, as should we as God's people.  Scripture makes it clear that the State is God's servant, and as "an agent of wrath" has the authority to bring punishment on the wrongdoer (Romans 13). Evil needs to be destroyed, and God's people are called to fight injustice.
 
But God is also a God of mercy and grace.  We are called to love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, and not repay anyone evil for evil.  We are called to recognize God's image in each and every human, believing that ultimately no one is beyond redemption. So, in the end, it's not an "either/or" but a "both/and" issue.  We pray that evil would be destroyed and lives would be changed.  We pray for both justice and for salvation.
 
God presented Christ Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.  He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished-he did it to demonstrate his justice in the present time, so  as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
-Romans 3:25,26

Prayer for Today

O God, we know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth at this present time.  We groan too as we await our adoption as your children.  As we groan, we pray for both the transformation and the eradication of evil in our midst.  Amen.  

Posted by: Rev. Scott Huie AT 07:04 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, November 18 2015

We begin each Session meeting with a devotional. Then we share pastoral concerns of the JCPC church family and other folks we need to pray for. At our meeting this past Monday night, I begin the pastoral concerns by talking about the recent shootings in Paris and how that has affected many of us. I asked the members of the Session how they were dealing with it and one of our elders said, "It felt like 9/11 again." Others shook their heads in agreement. The enormity of the loss, combined with the non-stop news coverage, took me back to those events that changed our world.

So, how do we as Christians respond to something like what happened in Paris? Feelings of helplessness, anger, and fear combine to raise our levels of anxiety. The age-old questions about suffering and why there is evil in the world resurface. As Christians, we wonder where is God in all of this. Why did God allow this to happen? Why doesn't God do something about this kind of suffering and evil in our world? What is the right response when something like this happens?
 
Last Sunday I talked briefly about these things at the start of the worship service. Scott Huie led us on praying for our world, the victims, and for wisdom for those who have to lead in response to such events. This Sunday I will be talking in the sermon about some of these questions I have mentioned above. The title of the sermon is "From Paris to the First Thanksgiving." The message will be based on the Bible passage - John 3:16-21. I hope you will make plans to be here if you are in town. Maybe it would be a good Sunday to invite a friend who is struggling with some of these same questions.
 
As Christians, we do not have to face these struggles alone. Not only is God with us, but we have each other to lean on as we face the challenges of life. No one can make it alone -- but together, with God's grace, we can make it through!

Prayer for Today

Loving God, we need your light in the dark places of our world. May the light of Christ shine along the paths of our lives. May we also reflect that light into the lives of those we meet. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus, the light of the world. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 07:42 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, November 17 2015

One week each year, we put an extra focus on gratitude and giving thanks. As Thanksgiving approaches next week, I find myself being more mindful of people, experiences and things that I am thankful for. In recent years, it is has become more difficult to enjoy Thanksgiving as the stores and TV commercials have quickly shifted from Halloween to Christmas.

It's not surprising then, that one of the toughest things to teach children is to live a life with an attitude of thanksgiving. Giving thanks and being grateful are a posture easily lost in our fast-paced life-style where immediate gratification is the expectation. I believe showing gratitude is a skill that requires practice.
 
How can we practice? How can we "give thanks in all circumstances"?
How can we be a "thanksgiving" rather than just saying thank you?
 
I would invite you to look for ways to practice thanksgiving this week and each day of the year. These words from Psalm 95, can serve as a daily prayer:

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.
For the Lord is the great God,
the great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth,
and the mountain peaks belong to him.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
for he is our God
and we are the people of his pasture,
the flock under his care.
 
So let's practice... Here's an idea for something to do with your family:

Make a Gratitude box.  Grab a shoe box, cut a hole in the top, and wrap it in your favorite wrapping paper.  Sit down as a family in the living room with pieces of paper and have everyone write down something or someone for which they are thankful and put it in the box.  Then set the box on your dining room table or somewhere near by.  Over the next few weeks, take time over dinner to write down something for which you're thankful and put it in the box.  This can be an ongoing practice with your family, and every week or every couple of weeks, pull out some of things from the box and read them aloud together.

Prayer for Today

A Thanksgiving Prayer: (from Scott Wesemann)
Lord, so often times, as any other day
When we sit down to our meal and pray
We hurry along and make fast the blessing
Thanks, amen. Now please pass the dressing
We're slaves to the olfactory overload
We must rush our prayer before the food gets cold
But Lord, I'd like to take a few minute more
To really give thanks to what I'm thankful for
For my family, my health, a nice soft bed
My friends, my freedom, a roof over my head
I'm thankful right now to be surrounded by those
Whose lives touch me more than they'll ever possibly know
Thankful Lord, that You've blessed me beyond measure
Thankful that in my heart lives life's greatest treasure
That You, dear Jesus, reside in that place
And I'm ever so grateful for Your unending grace
So please, heavenly Father, bless this food You've provided
And bless each and every person invited

Amen!

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 10:47 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, November 16 2015

Friday evening I stared at the television with surprise, fear, disgust, sadness, and anger. To say the least, my emotions were on high alert as I watched the slaughter in Paris unfold. In the age of televised terror, we find ourselves wondering about the more. We wonder what more can happen and we are told there is more to come. We can't help but wonder about the more when innocent people are murdered by radicalized fanatics who cry out Allahu Akbar; Allah is greater!

On social media, I quickly read how some commenters blame religion for this type of evil. As a "man of the cloth," I reject this call to quick judgement of religion, but I do sympathize with the belief that religious people can perform evil acts.

William James was a brilliant writer and teacher. I studied his work The Varieties of Religious Experience at various stages of my academic life. One notion of James' that has stayed with me is his belief that the religious experience with the More leads to the choice to promote safe and loving relationships with other people. In my words, true experience with the Divine, the More, is reflected in Jesus' teachings that addressed a squabble between the Pharisees and the Sadducees.

Both Pharisees and Sadducees thought their understanding of God was greater than the other's. They attempted to trap Jesus theologically by asking him which commandment was the greatest. Jesus said "love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul....and love your neighbor as yourself!"

In the gospel of John, Jesus says this to his disciples: "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command." John 15: 12-14.

I believe that Jesus' life and teachings are the true path to the More of life; our gospel truth. 

Prayer for Today

Redeeming God, we pray lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil whenever we pray our Lord's Prayer. Hear our fervent prayer that in times like these, the world will know us by how we love one another and witness Christ's lordship and his good news. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 08:11 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, November 13 2015

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  
-1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NRSV)

There are 138 passages of scripture on the subject of thanksgiving; however, few hymns are devoted exclusively to thanking God.  Among the rich handful we do have is "Now Thank We All Our God."  Upon hearing the hymn, one would never realize that this paean of praise was penned during times of tragic experiences.

From some of the most severe human hardships imaginable during the Thirty Years' War came this stately hymn, often called the national "Te Deum" of Germany because it has been sung on many occasions of national rejoicing.  German Christians sing this hymn like American believers sing the Doxology.
 
Martin Rinkart, born in Eilenberg, Saxony, Germany, was the son of a poor coppersmith.  He was for a time a boy chorister in the famous St. Thomas Church of Leipzig, Germany, where J. S. Bach was later musical director.  Rinkart worked his way through the University of Leipzig and was ordained to the ministry of the Lutheran Church.  At the age of 31, he was called to be the pastor in his native town of Eilenberg.
 
Rinkart arrived in Eilenberg just when the dreadful bloodshed was starting.  Because it was a walled city, Eilenberg became a frightfully overcrowded refuge for political and military fugitives from far and near.  Throughout the war years, several waves of deadly pestilence and famine swept the city as the various armies marched through the town, leaving death and destruction in their wake.
 
The Rinkart home served as a refuge for the afflicted victims, even though it is said that Rinkart often had difficulty in providing food and clothing for his own family.  The plague of 1637 was particularly severe.  At its height, Rinkart was the only remaining minister, often conducting as many as forty to fifty funeral services daily.  In 1637, he conducted funerals for over five thousand residents, including his wife.
 
Yet, amazingly enough, he was a prolific writer of seven different dramatic productions on the events of the Reformation, as well as a total of 66 hymns.  Germany is the home of protestant church music, and no hymn, with the exception of Martin Luther's "A Mighty Fortress is Our God," has ever been used more widely in German churches than has this hymn. 

Prayer for Today

Now thank we all our God, 
with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, 
in whom this world rejoices.  Amen.

Posted by: Alicia Taylor AT 09:10 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, November 12 2015

Now that the idiotic Starbuck's red Christmas cup "controversy" has subsided, the latest news item to catch my attention has been the recent study showing a spike in white, blue-collar deaths in the United States.    While the mortality rates among Americans of all racial and ethnic backgrounds have been in steady decline in recent decades, white males age 45-54 (my group!) have seen a 20% increase in their death rates since 1999, largely by suicide.  Wow.

The exact reason for change in mortality rates is not known, although, as journalist Bill Torpy points out, "a common theme revolves around the dying of the middle-class, the feeling that the new normal of American life-sketchy work arrangements, smaller wages, increased debt, reduced life expectations, and a frayed safety net-will kill you."  The trend seems to hit middle aged white males with no more than a high school diploma.  With the loss of so many manufacturing jobs over the last few decades, I suppose you could call this new epidemic "death by blue collar."
 
Signs of alarm come from so many directions, and it's both interesting and exasperating listening to the solutions bantered about by politicians on both sides of the aisle in recent days.  Truth be told, there are no simple solutions.
 
In such an environment, what is a church to do?  What does the Lord require?  In the words of the prophet Micah, we are very simply to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God. -Micah 6:8  And so we pray, we worship, we vote, we serve, we love, and we stand up for what is right, for we are all in this thing together!

Prayer for Today

Dear God, Through good times and bad, help us to stand together and fulfill our calling to serve and to love.  Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Scott Huie AT 07:10 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, November 11 2015

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command . . . This is my command: Love each other. 
- John 15:13,14,17  NIV

Today is Veterans Day. There will be celebrations and parades. We will remember and honor those men and women who served this country in the Armed Forces -- who were willing to make "the ultimate sacrifice", if necessary, for the well-being of others.
 
The words above are spoken by Jesus. Whenever I think of those who are willing to lay down their lives for others, I think of these words. Our Christian faith is made possible by Jesus who laid down his life for us on a Roman cross. It is what Jesus did for his "friends." In these words, Jesus defines what it means to be his "friend" - it is someone who does what Jesus commands. And in the last verse above, Jesus tells us what he commands - "Love each other."
 
We live in a world that was created good, but has fallen short of what God intended it to be. It is a world that has sin and brokenness, as well as goodness and grace. If we all really lived out Jesus' command to "Love each other" then we would not need armies and police forces. But because of our sinfulness, we need those willing to maintain order. It is a difficult job. Thankfully, most who do this job, do it well!
 
Today, I hope you will say a prayer of thanksgiving for all of those who keep order in our world and do what is right and just. That is sometimes a life-threatening task. I would also invite you to pray for God's just peace in our world, and to do what you can to work for it. Ask God to show you what you can do. Finally, do what Jesus commands: "Love each other." If we all did that, we would not need anyone to lay down their lives. One day, God promises it will be that way - but until then, we are all called to love one another the way Christ did.

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, we thank for those in our world who are willing to lay down their lives in order to maintain a safe and just world for others. We pray for peace, so that no one will have to lay down their life for others. In hope we look forward to the day when that will be the way it is. We pray this in the name of Jesus, who laid down his life for us all. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 10:57 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, November 10 2015

As the holiday seasons are approaching, I find myself overwhelmed by all of the stuff already in retail stores. All of the decisions and plans that happen during the six weeks can feel like a huge mountain to climb. In an effort to begin this time of year with a different mindset, I began to ask myself these questions:

Do you feel that each day is overscheduled? Have you ever have to collect your scattered self so that you could make an important decision? Do you ever lay awake at night thinking about all you have to do? Do you ever ask why your life is so full?

Simplicity may sound like an oasis in the desert during this time of year. Living simply is not about deciding to get your life under control but about giving control of your life to God.

The summer before we moved here 4 years ago, I had been experiencing a season like this one at home and work. God guided Chap and me into a simpler life on a lake. Our pace of life and amount of possessions we traveled with changed significantly as we moved into a small cabin at our presbytery's camp. You may take time to retreat for a few hours, a day or a weekend to reflect and prepare for all that this season of the year requires. I found this renewal this past weekend when I traveled up the mountain to Amicalola Falls for our Women's Retreat.  I would invite you to reflect on when Jesus talks about wealth and worries in Matthew 6, his message is simple: seek God, trust God, and receive God.

How can we live simply in a consumer focused culture?

In the midst of all of the busyness, how can we focus our lives on seeking God, trusting God and receiving God?

How might these responses affect the way we enter this season of holidays?

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, may we who have plenty live simply. Guide us so that we will seek you, trust you and receive you each day.   Amen.

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 07:12 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, November 09 2015

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted!
-Matthew 5:2

Recently I had a conversation with a friend who dreads the upcoming holidays. This holiday season will be the first since his father died a few months back. What use to be a time of joyous family gatherings, great celebrations, spirited arguments about whose team would win the array of televised football games, and nostalgic stories beginning with the phrase, "remember when..." was now dreaded a time. "Dad won't be there, my friend lamented, so it just won't be the same. I wish we could just skip the holidays this year!"

His lament is a universal experience. Navigating the presumed holiday cheeriness can be difficult at best for the bereaved. There are so many triggers for grief, such as the empty chair where he use to sit and the question of who will carve the turkey this year. Face it, the holidays aren't the same following the loss of a loved one. There are so many subtle and unsubtle changes that reawaken within us the experience of the Psalmist who stated, "My heart has turned to wax, it has melted within me."

Many of you have experienced a significant loss in the last year or two and you might be wondering how you are going to cope with grief over the holidays and beyond.

Stephen Ministry and I will be hosting a time to reflect upon this question called Safe Harbor. The purpose of Safe Harbor is to provide a port in the storm of grief. Safe Harbor is a place to share your grief, learn coping strategies for the holidays and experience support from others who have experienced the loss of a loved one. Safe Harbor will take place on Sunday, November 22 at 12:30 p.m. in the Calvin Room.  For more information, click here.  To R.S.V.P., please send email to nealk@jcpcusa.org.

Prayer for Today

God of Compassion, help us to know how to comfort those who mourn and bring peace to all who have experienced their heart turning to wax and melting within. Heal the broken hearted and fill their lives with the support of friends. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 08:23 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, November 06 2015

Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come.  
Mark 13:33 (ASB)

This passage refers to the return of Christ.  Many predictions have been made in my lifetime about when "that day" will be, but scripture tells us that "of that day or hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone."  (Mark 13:32)
 
A map of the future would be a hindrance, not a help, to faith.  While on earth, Jesus lived by faith, and obedience was the hallmark of his ministry.  So, what does it mean for us to "keep watch" while waiting for the second coming of the Son of Man? 
 
How do we really stay alert?  It obviously isn't a matter of stopping and staring up into the sky, though that is what the disciples did when Jesus ascended into heaven.  But the angels told them, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky?  This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched him go into heaven."  (Acts 1:11)
 
Being alert while we wait means actively fulfilling the commandments Jesus left us with, to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and to love the Lord our God and our neighbors as ourselves.  Though the second coming of Christ may not be in our daily thoughts and prayers, if we are zealous in our ministry, striving to fulfill God's purpose in our lives, we will be ready when God's promised day comes.

Prayer for Today

O day of peace that dimly shines through all our hopes and prayers and dreams,
Guide us to justice, truth, and love, delivered from our selfish schemes.
May swords of hate fall from our hands, our hearts from envy find release,
Till by God's grace our warring world shall see Christ's promised reign of peace.  Amen.

Posted by: Alicia Taylor AT 07:07 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, November 05 2015

Is the world coming to an end?  Are the signs of the times pointing us toward the close of human history? The way the world is today I sometimes wonder.  With population explosion, the emergence of such heinous groups as ISIS and Al Qaeda, weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Lord-knows-who, and the increasing reality of global warming, at times it makes we want to throw my hands up in the air and quit-or at least gather bottled water, canned goods, and duct tape, and head for the basement.

 Bad news, it seems, all around!  Such doomsday talk, however, has been around for a long, long time.  I recall such cult leaders as Jim Jones from the 70s and David Koresh from the 90s claiming "the end is near."  And of course I remember all the Y2K hysteria 15 years ago at the turn of the millennium that made many of us more mainstream people a bit nervous about the world.
 
Jesus himself even talked of end times way back in his day as a time of nation against nation, earthquakes, famines, wars and rumors of war.  And yet Jesus didn't dwell on the bad news, but rather went on to describe these times as the beginning of birth pangs.  -Mark 13:8
 
This Sunday I will be preaching that the "end" could very well be "near."  But in the midst of the bad news, there is good news galore for the people of God.  We will explore that good news this Sunday.  So come-and bring a friend.  See you in church. 

Prayer for Today

Through all the tough times, O God, may we be strong and courageous.  May we "endure to the end" and find salvation.  Make us instruments of your peace, we pray.  Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Scott Huie AT 07:11 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, November 04 2015

A few weeks ago, Dr. Bill Carr led our Men's Retreat. Bill talked about his ministry. His ministry included pastoring a church in a small town, serving as a pastor on the largest Presbyterian Church in the country, caring as a Chaplain in the Army, and ministering the grieving as part of a funeral home staff. In addition to his stories, Bill also shared with us a copy of this prayer by Thomas Merton:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. (Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude)

These words remind me of what we talked about in the sermon this past Sunday. The key to living long and prospering is to trust in God. Trust can diminish the fear that often feels overwhelming. Merton's words remind us of what Jesus says at the end of Matthew's gospel - that Jesus is with us always. Merton's words also echo Psalm 23 - "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, you are with me." (ESV)
 
Whenever you feel like you are lost and afraid, trust God to help you find your way. Remember that whatever you face in life or death, you are not alone. Together, you and God can handle anything!

Prayer for Today

Try praying Merton's prayer.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
(Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude)

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 07:14 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, November 03 2015

When you think of community, what are the first couple of images that pop into your mind?

You might think of your neighborhood or your co-workers or your church. I believe that being in community is something that God calls us to do. We cannot meet life alone. It's easy to shut others out, but when times are difficult, we need support from our communities. When it's time to celebrate, we need someone to join in the festivities. Whether we like it or not, we have been called to be in community with one another.

Hebrews 10: 24-25 reminds us: let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

We are never truly alone with God, but having someone's physical presence that you can see, touch, and hear is a gift from God. We are lucky enough to have these gifts in forms of people placed in our lives that are embarking on this journey we call life together. In life we face challenges and experience celebrations. We face mistakes and experience victories.

In a world with so many ways to connect, many times we can feel disconnected. Electronic media connections can fill our days and we may be longing for a face to face encounter with someone who cares for us.

Don't isolate yourself from developing relationships. Don't run away from community. Consider each of the communities that you are a part of a dive right into them. You are a community member of the Christian family here at JCPC. What are some ways that you can connect with that community today and this week?

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, you gather us together in our faith journey.
Trusting in you, we join one another as a community,
A community of faith on a journey,
A journey to grow ever deeper in our faith,
Along the way, remind us of your Love,
Of your sacrifice for us,
Of your ever mindful presence,
Guide us as we go out and share your love with all those in our community.
In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 07:12 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, November 02 2015

I'm a sports lover. Since I began reading the newspaper as a kid, I have followed my favorite teams and even my dreaded rivals in order to have the most up-to-date information. On more than one occasion, my daughter Maryneal has teased me for reading about a game that I had just watched on TV with her.

As of late, I've noticed how often the sports pundits muse about a program that they no longer view as relevant. The Miami Hurricanes' football team was dished last week by sports writers and alumni as being irrelevant and perhaps never being relevant again. What a terrible fate to lose your relevance.

Our pastor's Sunday school class has been engaging Philip Yancey's material, Vanishing Grace. In his own way, Yancey is addressing the question of why the Christian faith is viewed by so many people as being irrelevant in our day and time.  Yesterday, Yancey walked us through stories of how the good news transforms individuals, communities, and societies in relevant ways.

Following the class, I shared an afternoon of fly fishing with Joe Araoz, Sam and Pat Brasher and a fellow named Frederick from Peachtree Presbyterian Church. This was our inaugural Fishing for Missions that Joe has developed. It was perfect weather for trout fishing, a light rain, and nobody got skunked. We all caught fish!

More importantly, we experienced the good news in relevant ways. No I'm not referring to catching the trout! Rather, we all know the power of giving back; when we share what God has given us, the Lord uses our gifts to strengthen the kingdom. We grew together in our Christian faith through our fellowship, we shared the good news with the owners of Fern Valley, Marty and Glad, who were our gracious hosts and half of our fishing fee was directly deposited to our JCPC mission fund. These funds will help share the good news when our mission team goes to the DR or another location next year. With each cast, catching a fish became irrelevant. Sharing in God's good news is always relevant!

Prayer for Today

Help us to share your good news, Most Gracious God. Help us to be open to the day to day encounters in which you call us to share the gospel, so that our witness will be powerful, profound and life-changing. In Christ name, we pray. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 09:41 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
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