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

Thursday, February 26 2015

In his "Oscar" acceptance speech this past Sunday for Best Adapted Screenplay for "The Imitation Game," Graham Moore gave a moving report on some of his earlier struggles in life.  He said, "I tried to commit suicide at 16 and now I am standing here. I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like he doesn't fit in anywhere. You do! Stay weird. Stay different, and when you are standing on this stage, please pass the same message along."

 For the last two months, my son Jackson has been doing something most people would consider "weird," as he participated in a wilderness adventure program called Aspiro in central Utah.  For 60 days in the dead of winter, he lived off the land.  He backpacked, mountain-biked, skied, snow-shoed, rappelled, and learned primitive survival skills exploring hundreds of miles of God's glorious, snow-covered creation. He never slept in a bed or even sat on a chair, often tolerating temperatures in the single digits.  He lived off of rice and beans, vegetable mush, 
oatmeal, and one small can of tuna and one small jar of peanut butter each week.  He read books and did a lot of journaling.
Jackson said it was the hardest thing he has ever done, but also "the most gnarly thing!"  You see, Jackson had been in a funk and needed to change the trajectory of his life, and so I pulled him out of his public high school at the end of the fall. I couldn't be prouder.   Some might say living outside in the winter in Utah is weird, and yes, it is.  I don't think I could do it.
But here is a profound truth: we are all weird, my son, me, and yes, even you.  We are all different in our own way.  Who said we were supposed to be "normal"?  Why in the world do we so often homogenize our person-hood, compromise our values, and bend over backwards to "fit in," while denying the very qualities that  make us the beautiful, intriguing, interesting, and yes weird people that we are?
Let's celebrate our differences and salute those who think and act outside the box.  God has made each one of us unique and from scratch. Embrace your "weirdness" for you are one in seven billion.  You are God's masterpiece.  So stay weird!
Prayer for Today
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.  -Psalm 139:13-14
O God, I thank you that I am unique. Help me to celebrate my uniqueness in bold and audacious ways.  Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Scott Huie AT 09:49 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, February 25 2015

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. - Matthew 6:34, NIV

 Do you ever "worry about tomorrow?" I know I do. Sometimes it is an occupational hazard - like last night when I was looking at the weather predictions and I was trying to decide whether or not to have Wednesday evening activities at the church. (By the way, we are not - in case you did not get the email.) Sometimes we even get paid to "worry about tomorrow." But I don't think that is primarily what Jesus was talking about in these words.
For me, the times of worry usually hit about 3:00 a.m. when I can't sleep. My mind is very adept at finding things to worry about. Now I have come to realize that if it were during the day, I would be less prone to worry because of the other demands on my time, or my ability to do something about it. But at 3:00 a.m., I usually can't do anything about it. And since my mind has nothing better to do, it becomes hard to tell myself not to think about it. It is kind of like telling someone to ignore thinking about elephants, and that becomes all you can think about.
So, one of the ways I have learned to deal with those times of anxious worry is to pray one of the Psalms. Of course, Psalm 23 is the one I know best - as many of us do. I take each line and recite it as if it were a prayer: The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want -- Thank you God for watching over me like a shepherd and for providing for my needs. Especially, I want to thank you for . . . That can go on for a while when I count my blessings and "name them one by one" -- as the great, old hymn encourages us to do.
This season of Lent, as we take an in-depth look at Psalm 23, I invite you to find times to pray this Psalm - particularly when you find yourself worrying about tomorrow.
Prayer for Today

Thank you, God, for reminding us that we do not need to worry because we can trust our lives and our future to you. We pray this in the name of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 11:55 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, February 24 2015

"I wonder if snow days are God's way of saying, 'If you won't take a Sabbath for yourself, I'm going to enforce one with this cold manna-type stuff. Have some cocoa and relax, will ya?'" These words from a favorite book, Sabbath in the Suburbs by MaryAnn McKibben Dana, were a good reminder to me this morning. 

In late February, it seemed surprising that we would end up with school and business closings with winter weather. After all, aren't we supposed to be transitioning into early spring according to our Georgia groundhog? Either way, enjoy this rare occasion where you are really forced to rest, relax, enjoy time with family and experience some Sabbath. But, what about the rest of the year, when weather conditions don't cause us to stop? How do we take time to experience Sabbath rest?

As we continue on our Lenten journey this week, remember that Lent is part of the journey of faith. I would invite you to think about how far you have come already. What have been the challenges of your walk with Christ so far? The ups? The downs? The blind alleys? The backtracks? The side trips? The spiritual companions along the way? Take time to write a postcard to God from this point on your Lenten journey. Take a picture with your phone or camera or draw your own picture. You could pose a question to God, ask for guidance, describe where you are right now on the journey, or give thanks for those who have walked with you.
God provides for our needs just as he did for the Israelites when they journeyed in the wilderness. Maybe it's not manna and quail or a snow day, but if you stop to look back on where you've been so far you can name times, places or people that God has provided. As we continue these 40 days, look closely for how God may be using you to share your experiences with others.

These words from The Message translation in Paul's letter to the Philippians give an interesting perspective on the way that God provides for our needs: 

And now I have it all-and keep getting more! The gifts you sent with Epaphroditus were more than enough, like a sweet-smelling sacrifice roasting on the altar, filling the air with fragrance, pleasing God no end. You can be sure that God will take care of everything you need, his generosity exceeding even yours in the glory that pours from Jesus. Our God and Father abounds in glory that just pours out into eternity. Yes.  -Philippians 4:18-20
Prayer for Today

Gracious God, you are our way in the wilderness. In our times of testing be our spiritual nourishment. You are the manna, our source of life. Help us to come to you and receive all the good things you offer us, by worshiping and serving you alone; through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 10:26 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, February 23 2015

I want to share a story with you that illustrates the healing power of service.

Back in the 1950s, famed psychiatrist Erick Erickson visited a Milwaukee woman who had become reclusive and depressed. She had been a very active faithful Christian until she became wheelchair bound. Erickson himself had a disability; he was stricken by polio in his youth and walked with a limp. When the woman saw that Erickson was like her, she welcomed him into her home.
She was affluent and the tour of her home quite lengthy. It ended in a greenhouse where she proudly pointed to rows of one type of flower; an African violet. She held up a single flower and said that every other cutting came from this host. The flowers were her passion.
Erickson told the woman that she was depressed and she concurred, but he said that wasn't her problem. He said that her problem was that she wasn't a very good Christian! Of course, she took offense at this proclamation but once she gathered herself Erickson gave her this remedy.
He said, "I want you to get your church bulletin or weekly newsletter and whenever you see a happy or sad life event, a birth, a wedding, a death, an illness, etc. I want you to take one of these potted flowers and hand-deliver it. Be your Christian self!"
She had a chauffeur so this remedy was achievable. At the end of the visit they parted and never saw each other again.
About 20 years later, the headlines of the Milwaukee newspaper read, "African Violet Queen of Milwaukee Dies: Mourned by Thousands."
We become fully alive when our passion is used in service. As we continue to grow together as Christ's church, it's important to think about our invitation to church to be an invitation to service. If you've been wondering what to do next in your life, why not bring your passion and share it with us through service? 
Prayer for Today

Reignite in us our passion to serve, O Most High, so that we rediscover our purpose through the love we share with others. Amen. 

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 11:16 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, February 20 2015

The Spirit then compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness, where he was tempted by Satan for forty days.  He was out among the wild animals, and angels took care of him.  -Mark 1:12-13

 We all go through wilderness experiences in our Christian journey.  We enjoy great highs in our walk with God, but most all of us at some point will find ourselves in spiritual turmoil, periods that can shake even our deepest convictions and leave us with more questions than answers about life and faith. 
Though we don't know a lot about the forty days Jesus spent in the desert before his temptation, we do know it was a time of fasting.  When Satan tempted him, the conquering words of scripture were quick on Jesus' tongue, so it may have been a time of meditation and prayer, a time of special communion with his Father.
Lent is indeed a time of reflection and wondering as we make our journey to the cross.  The Lenten season provides opportunity for personal meditation and penitence, but it is also a very communal journey.  We never journey alone, no matter how "lost" or "lonely" we may feel.  As the body of Christ, we are always journeying together. 
If we will allow ourselves to share experiences with a close friend, or with our worshiping community, we can enjoy and share the support and environment that allows grace to flourish.  Let us pray for one another on this pilgrimage to Easter joy!
Prayer for Today
Lord, who throughout these forty days for us 
did fast and pray;
Teach us with you to mourn our sins and 
close by you to stay.
As you with Satan did contend 
and did the victory win,
O give us strength to persevere, 
in you to conquer sin.
And through these days of penitence, 
and through this Passion-tide,
Yes, evermore, in life and death,
 O Lord, with us abide.
Abide with us, till when this life of
 suffering shall be past,
An Easter of unending joy 
we may attain at last.  

Posted by: Alicia Taylor AT 11:17 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, February 19 2015

If there ever were a scripture that needed no sermon, Psalm 23 would be it.  These timeless words have been etched into the consciousness of God's people for centuries.  What would a funeral be like without the words of Psalm 23?  What words have been more calming when read at a hospital bedside?  This is indeed the scripture of all scriptures.

Trying to preach on this text, some may say, is a little like trying to repaint Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa," or 
re-chiseling Rodin's "The Thinker." And yet, that is precisely what we will be doing during the season of Lent as we preach a series called "The 23rd Way" on this beloved text.  I will kick us off this Sunday focusing on the first words, "The Lord Is My Shepherd," and Gray will tackle the rest of the Psalm through Easter Sunday.
We invite you to spend time at home meditating and memorizing these words, as well as the related texts we will offer each week.  Let them marinate in your consciousness and sink in and bring you peace during this Lenten season as we set our gaze toward the cross.  Whatever circumstances surround you at such a time as this, may God's peace abide with us all as we journey together.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. -Psalm 23:1
 Prayer for Today
O God, we don't need a cowboy to herd and brand us.  We need a shepherd to guide and protect us.  During this Lenten season, remind us that you are that shepherd.  And therefore we have all that we truly need.  Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Scott Huie AT 11:19 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, February 18 2015

Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy
It snowed a little bit on my way into work this morning. Maybe you noticed it, too. I found it very pleasant to look at. Yesterday someone said how beautiful the trees looked with the coating of ice. On the other hand, that same ice caused a willow tree in my backyard to fall over and land on the fence in my neighbor's back yard. The night before we lost power about 1:00 a.m. because of the ice. And when I think about homeless folks looking for shelter on a night like that, I am both concerned and thankful for places like the Central Night Shelter where a group of our men served this past weekend. Snow might be nice to look at, but if you live in Boston or on the street in Atlanta - it can be life-threatening.
Songwriter Amy Grant wrote a song that said, "The same sun that melts the wax can harden clay/and the same rain that drowns the rat will grow the hay." ("How Can We See That Far") The Bible says this about God: "He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." (Matthew 5:45b, NIV) Sometimes the rain (like snow) brings good things, but sometimes it causes floods.
In the Sunday School Class Neal and I are leading about why there is suffering and what is God's role in all of this, someone has noted that the context often affects whether we view something as tragic or not. Rain or snow can be both good and bad - depending on where it falls and how much.
One of the truths we hold as Christians is that God does not cause evil. However, God has created a world in which evil and suffering exist. I heard someone speak after a hurricane hit the gulf coast who said that the hurricane was not an "act of God" -- what we choose to do to help those who suffered is really the act of God.  So, find one way today to be "an act of God." You will be glad you did!

Prayer for Today
Gracious God, sometimes we see things happening around us that we don't understand. Suffering is real. Help us to be your hands and feet this day as we find a way to care for those facing difficult times in their lives. We thank you for working through us and in us. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen. 

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 07:53 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, February 17 2015

People often wear masks during the Mardi Gras activities that come just before Lent. Masks symbolize the way we often try to hide something from those around us. Lent is a time of taking off our masks, of examining our true selves, of being real before God so that we can come to understand that God knows us fully, forgives us, loves us, and encourages us to grow and become all we were created to be.

In Matthew 4:1-11, we hear of Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness, where he fasted and was tempted.  The journey Jesus takes into the desert -- the journey to be alone with God and to seek God's guidance about our true identity -- is the journey we are all invited to focus on during Lent.
As we approach the start of Lent, what do you need to set aside so that the glory of the Lord will shine freely through you?

When you want time alone to think/pray/reflect, where do you go? What do you do?

What might be the benefit of spending time in Lent examining your life, considering your sins, thinking about what God wants for you?
Here are some suggestions of practices for reflection and prayer that you could do during Lent this year, I would invite you to find what works for you:

Fold Your Hands
Say Thank You
Light a Candle
Sing the Verses to a Hymn or Favorite Song
Stare at something Holy
Repeat One Word or Phrase
Create a space
Share a meal
Give something up
Pray Scripture
Ask Questions
I would invite you to find what works for you.
Prayer for Today
God, forgive me for holding anything back from you. Let my spirit shine freely, so that my whole life can be a reflection of your love. Amen.

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 08:02 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, February 16 2015

Today I'm continuing the discussion of reigniting your passion through invitation, service, commitment, and worship.
Debbie and I were eating a late dinner at Cracker Barrel last week. Our waiter, though semi-attentive, was almost nondescript as he took our order and checked on us once after our meal was served. As I laid his tip on the table, he smiled and put his hand out to shake mine. I had never had a waiter extend his hand as I was leaving. He asked, "Are you folks from around here?" I replied that we were and he said, "Good, I want to invite you to my church, the Visionary Baptist Church, home of the Reverend..."
I smiled as I interrupted his enthusiastic invitation and placed my hand gently on his shoulder. "I'm a pastor at Johns Creek Presbyterian Church and I think our folks would miss me on Sundays."  He looked confused but then exclaimed, "There's a whole world out there that doesn't know Jesus."
Inviting people to church is a wonderful way to deepen faith in Jesus. He and I seemed to miss each other because there was a missing ingredient to the invitation and that was the process of identification.
I became a Presbyterian because of an invitation that shared a passion. My family moved to Indiana at the 
start of my 6th grade year. The Presbyterian minister, 
Rev. William Heimach, welcomed us to town and he asked me how old I was. I replied I was 11 years old and he said, "Good! My son is having his 11th birthday party on Saturday and you are invited. Well I was new to town and didn't know anybody so it was a good opportunity to make friends. We shared a passion for sports and played on various teams together until we graduated from high school. Rev. Heimach was my inspiration to become a minister.
An invitation is most powerful when we identify through a shared passion. What area in the life of JCPC are you passionate about? Whom might you invite to share in that passion? 

Prayer for Today

Holy God, by your Spirit may our passion for loving Christ lead us to open our lives up in the fellowship of believers, so we may be one in the Spirit and one in the Lord. Amen 

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 09:16 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, February 13 2015

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  -Matthew 22:39a
Tomorrow is February 14 - a day of red roses, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, sentimental greeting cards, and candlelit dinners - even at Waffle House!  Love is in the air!  While Valentine's Day is celebrated as the expression of romantic love - a wonderful gift from God! - the holiday is actually named for two different Roman saints, both called Valentine and both utterly unconnected to romantic love.
All around the world, Valentine's Day is the day that people show their love for someone special.  It is a great occasion to express love and appreciation for any of our loved ones, but it is just as important to show that love the other 364 days of the year.  The fresh-cut flowers eventually fade, the candy box is littered with empty brown wrappers, and the "press here" button on the glittery valentine no longer produces an Elvis-like rendition of "Love Me Tender."
But God's love for us will never end.  As followers of Jesus Christ, we are commanded to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind ... and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  We love because God first loved us.
One simple way to express love is simply to let someone know you are thinking about them.  An email, a card, a phone call, a letter, a text, an instant message, or a personal visit - we have so many ways to keep in touch with those whom we care about.  Find little ways to show acts of kindness to those you love before and after Valentine's Day this year!

Prayer for Today

Loving God, show us how to love one another as you have first loved us.  Guide our thoughts and guard our lips that the world may see the love of Christ in us.  Remind us that our actions speak louder than words, and help us slow down and purpose to spend quality time with our friends, families, neighbors, and brothers and sisters in Christ.  Amen.

Posted by: Alicia Taylor AT 12:24 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, February 12 2015

And so it arrives, the most anticipated movie in ages. Already declared a blockbuster,

50 Shades of Grey will likely bring in around a staggering $90 million dollars this opening weekend alone, which isn't surprising considering the book version has sold over 100 million copies. Yep, 100 million.
So the big question is, are you going?  Will there be a movie date night this weekend with your honey, or maybe you'll be joining a group of ladies at the cinema?  My encouragement to all as people of faith is, to borrow a cliché, to just say "no."
As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called very simply to flee sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18).  We are not called to toy with immorality, or indulge it, or to get as close to it as we can.  We are called to run the other way.  Flee.  Call me old fashioned if you must, but I uphold that God's design for the wonderful gift of human sexuality is that it is to be fully and freely indulged only in the covenant of marriage.
In a society already overrun with sexual brokenness and a loosening of standards, my biggest concern regarding this movie is its mainstream appeal. I worry especially for our young people and the dangerous message that sex will lead to love.  I worry about the message that sexual violence is okay.
Martin Luther once said, "You can't stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from making a nest in your hair."  Yes, temptation is all around us.  All the more reason we need each other and the church.  My prayer this weekend is that we don't choose to allow pornography to nest on our heads. The Gospel has so much more to offer.
"Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends....And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love."                   
-1 Corinthians 13:4-8, 13
Prayer for Today

Dear God, we pray for purity in mind, body, and circumstance.  Send your Holy Spirit to give us the courage of our convictions.  Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Scott Huie AT 09:58 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, February 11 2015

For everything there is a season, and time for every purpose under heaven. - Ecclesiastes 3:1
Some of you know those words as the lyrics to a song by The Byrds, but they actually originated in our Bible. Sometimes we hear them read at funeral services and think about them in relation to the end of life. After pastoring for a number of years, I also see them as talking about the "seasons" of our lives - both individually and as the church. The longer we live, the more we can look back and recognize the different seasons.
In the church, I have seen this in programs, ministries, Sunday School Classes, and Small Groups that thrive for a season, but eventually come to an end. It is really the normal pattern of life. While we would like the prime years of anything to last forever, that usually is not the way it works. However, we can celebrate when something has served its purpose, while also blessing it when its time ends.
We have such a seasonal change in the life of JCPC with our Wednesday evening dinners. While those dinners have been well-attended over the years and provided great fellowship, in recent years there has been less and less interest in them. Maybe it has to do with the increasing time demands of busy families, or the difficulty of getting anywhere in Johns Creek by 6:00 p.m. I grew up in a time when Wednesday night was almost as sacred as Sundays. Now, even Sunday morning events have to compete with numerous non-church events.
While Wednesday Night Dinners will be concluding at the end of March, our Connecting Team is refocusing our attention on some of the larger, annual, church-wide events such as the upcoming Ash Wednesday Dinner, the Giving Thanks Dinner, Cookies, Caroling, and Cocoa, Chili Cook-off/Talent Show and the World Communion Sunday Joint Luncheon -- rather than having a weekly event. Wednesday Choirs, Bible Studies, and Small Groups will still continue to meet. 
Finally, if there is a great upsurge of interest in restarting this, we will certainly reconsider it. Personally, I am grateful to all who worked hard to support these dinners and I will miss the good fellowship I experienced getting to know folks better around the table.
Prayer for Today

Gracious God, we thank you for the seasons of our lives. We thank you for the gift of time. We thank you that with many endings, there are also new beginnings. Give us eyes of faith to see how you are at work in our lives. We pray this in the name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 08:00 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, February 10 2015

I give you all the credit, God- you got me out of that mess, you didn't let my foes gloat. God, my God, I yelled for help and you put me together. God, you pulled me out of the grave, gave me another chance at life when I was down-and-out. All you saints! Sing your hearts out to God! Thank him to his face! He gets angry once in a while, but across a lifetime there is only love. The nights of crying your eyes out give way to days of laughter. -Psalm 30:1-5
In my morning devotion time, I reflected on the words of this Psalm. What struck me was the message of hope in times of difficulty. Each one of us have been faced with experiences that brought shock, frustration, grief, or loss in our lives. Sometimes life's challenges seem overwhelming. And yet, as Christians, those that are called to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world, we have hope that things can get better. The hope we have in Christ is alive and moving through our being and we can't help but share that with the world around us.
So with this knowledge, "Sing your hearts out to God! Thank him to his face!" We experience a love far greater than one challenging set of circumstances. Go out and share this hope we have in Christ with the whole world.

Prayer for Today
God, guide me today. Help me to find ways that I can show Christ-like love to those I encounter today, and by that love to tell the world that hope is alive. In Christ's Name, Amen. 

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 08:35 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, February 09 2015

I saw a human interest story last week that touched my heart. A series of winter storms had buried a Wisconsin town in snow and one of the parks in town had become impassible. Two of the park's maintenance crew had shoveled a path to a park bench that was inaccessible prior to their labor. Now shoveling snow does not touch my heart; but rather it was the reason that they cleared the solitary path to the park bench that stirred my soul.
The bench had been donated by one of the park's patrons in honor of his deceased wife. Each and every day following the installation of the park bench the bereaved husband would walk the trail to place flowers on her bench and say a prayer. The snow was so deep that the husband couldn't come to her bench and share his love as had become his ritual in her absence.
The park's crew sprang into action and they cleared the path so that this loving husband could come and place flowers on the bench and say his prayers. This was the only path that was shoveled for several days; an act of service that wasn't solicited, but rather was freely given.  Think of the passion in this story. The entire story ignites the passions of the heart.
At our Session retreat, we talked about re-igniting our passion for God. As a group, we shared intimate thoughts regarding our passion for God and its role in our leadership at JCPC.  As I listened to our elders open their hearts to each other, I noticed four interrelated dynamics that relate to re-igniting our passion for God. Over the next four weeks, I will be exploring these dynamics with you in the hopes that your hearts will be touched in such a way that your passion will be re-ignited.
Here are the 4 dynamics:
            invitation, service, commitment, and worship
See if you can identify how they are part of the story above. 

Prayer for Today
Grant us a passion for ministry, O Loving God, so that how we love you will be reflected in our love for neighbor and how we love our neighbor will bring glory to your name. Amen. 

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 08:37 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, February 06 2015

Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air.  
-1 Corinthians 9:26

The Apostle Paul often used athletic imagery to represent the Christian life.  In the passage above, he uses the figure of boxing, not aimlessly beating the air, but disciplining his own body in serving Christ.  At the end of his life, looking back over 30 years of labor as an apostle, Paul again uses symbolic language as he charges Timothy to fulfill his ministry.  Like an athlete who had engaged successfully in a contest, he spoke of having "fought the good fight," that he "finished the course," and "kept the faith."  Paul ran his race with conviction and purpose.
While I am not one to make New Year's resolutions, I do believe that the start of any new season is a great opportunity for personal reflection and reevaluation.  Most any time is a good time to stop and assess things, and it's prudent to regularly ask oneself, "Where am I heading?"  Am I racing ahead to nowhere?
God did not create us to lead aimless lives.  We were created to bring God glory.  God gave each of us gifts and abilities to fulfill our life's purpose.  We can glorify God in many different ways - through our work, our family, our churches, our hobbies, our friends.  When we bring glory to God in the Christ-like example we model to others, in whatever way God has gifted us, then we will truly feel we are running with purpose.

Prayer for Today 
Creator God, I'm your child.  Help me to know your purpose for my life.  Hold my hand while I run this race, yes, my Lord!  Guide my feet that I might run not without aim, for I don't want to run this race in vain!  Stand by me and help me to press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Posted by: Alicia Taylor AT 09:48 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, February 05 2015

"Worship is the most important thing we do," we like to say at JCPC. Bringing glory to God grounds us in the faith, and Sunday worship  is where it all begins.  As I once heard, "It's about Sunday, stupid." 
I do get it.  For the vast majority of people, the Sunday service is the one time we are all together as the body of Christ.  It is the initiation point for visitors.  It is the hub around which the church revolves and the culmination of a week of staff planning and rehearsing.  It all begins with worship.
There is, a danger, however, in too much focus on worship.  Worship is not the only  thing we do.  Equally important is the task of being equipped for discipleship and mission.  Worship equips us to go into the world and live out our mission to be disciples. Worship is breathing God in; mission is breathing God out.  Worship is the yin, and mission is the yang. 
I love those Sundays each month (this Sunday beginning at 5:45 a.m.!) where a group from our church goes and serves the homeless in downtown Atlanta before we return to Johns Creek to gather to worship God.  Worship and peanut butter and jelly.
I'm afraid too much focus on worship can anesthetize us and diminish or obscure what our real mission is as a body.  No wonder many people come to church for an hour on Sunday and then fail to live out their faith once off the church grounds.
As I once heard, church is not an hour on Sunday. Faith is not a staged show. Evangelism isn't the act of parking butts in pews. Discipleship isn't the process of dispensing oratory to passive spectators.  We don't "go to church." We are called to be the church. Every day. Everywhere. 
The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the works of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.
-Ephesians 4:11-13
Prayer for Today 

O God, may our worship on Sunday lead to faithful mission and discipleship throughout the week.  Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Scott Huie AT 10:11 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, February 04 2015

Recently, someone shared with me a magazine article called "Six Success Strategies, from One Cheeky, Caffeinated, Twenty-something Entrepreneur to Another." Not the shortest title, but this was strategy number three: "Fail fast and cook slow." It went one to summarize this advice: "Fail fast. Learn. Move on. Your sanity will thank you." (Gary Nijak, Jr., Notre Dame Magazine)

This Sunday we are continuing to look at the leadership development of Moses. The title of this Sunday's message is "A Failure of Leadership." We will be talking about a time Moses failed and what we can learn from that experience. As both this story from the Bible and the above-mentioned article make clear - do anything long enough and you will fail. This runs counter to the words from the movie Apollo 13, "Failure is not an option." Many will tell us that we actually learn more from our failures than our successes.
In one sense, the whole story of the Bible, beginning with the Garden of Eden story in Genesis, is about human failure and what God chooses to do about it. Instead of leaving us to reap the results of our moral failures, God develops a rescue plan - a way to turn our failures into God's redemptive plan for us and our world. This happened not because we were good or even "good enough." It happened simply because God loved us first. As John's gospel reminds us, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son . . ." God loved us first and devised a divine plan to address our failures.
I want to invite you to think about one time you have failed in life. Also, think about what you learned from that event. Finally, consider if there was anyone who reached out to you to bring something good out of that failure. Maybe it was simply a hug, or a pat on the back. Maybe it was a word of forgiveness. Maybe it was someone who stepped in to take the punishment for your shortcoming. Remember that in Jesus, God did all of that for each one of us.
Prayer for Today 

Thank you, God, for not leaving us to wallow in our failure. Thank you for helping us to get back on track with our lives. Thank you for Jesus -- whose life, death, and resurrection makes possible all that is good. We pray this in his strong name. Amen. 

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 09:15 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, February 03 2015

God is good to one and all; everything he does is suffused with grace. Creation and creatures applaud you, God; your holy people bless you. They talk about the glories of your rule, they exclaim over your splendor, Letting the world know of your power for good, the lavish splendor of your kingdom. Your kingdom is a kingdom eternal; you never get voted out of office. God always does what he says, and is gracious in everything he does. God gives a hand to those down on their luck, gives a fresh start to those ready to quit. All eyes are on you, expectant; you give them their meals on time. Generous to a fault,    you lavish your favor on all creatures. Everything God does is right-the trademark on all his works is love. (Psalm 145:9-17, The Message)

When I first read Psalm 145, many of the words or phrases seemed to be familiar to me from other Psalms or prayers. Then I read this passage in the Message version and saw this prayer in a new light. Some of the things that struck me in this reading...

"Everything God does is suffused with grace." Suffused is not a word I use very often, maybe never. It means to gradually spread through. What would it look like for you experience to God's grace as being gradually spread through your life, rather than just at times when we needed it the most in large doses? I had to sit with that thought for a moment. God's grace in our lives is spread throughout each aspect of our being, day by day, moment by moment. What a gift!
"God always does what he says, and is gracious in everything he does." What would it look like for us to live in such a way that we are gracious in everything that we do? What a way to share God's love in the world through our daily choices and actions.
"The trademark on all his works is love." How can we share God with others leaving this trademark of love with them?
Maybe some of the other phrases in this section of Psalm 145 took on a new meaning for you by reading it in the Message version. I hope that you find a few moments to let it sink in how much love God has for you, embrace that gift and let it gradually spread through each aspect of your life.
Prayer for Today 

Gracious God, open our eyes, ears, hearts and minds to experience your grace and love this day. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 09:16 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, February 02 2015

As a preacher, I'm familiar with the phrase "you were speaking right to me this morning."

It's a confirmation that the sermon connected on a deep level with the listener.  Worship as a whole often has that type of connective disclosure
when what happens in the service is a mirror of what is happening in life. When I reflected upon Sunday's worship at JCPC, I was left nodding a knowing grin that the service was speaking right to me.
We shared our gratitude with Barbara Maples as we said goodbye to her. Miss Barbara, as she will forever be known to me, was the face of JCPC for visitors to the welcome center and the welcoming voice of JCPC on the other end of the telephone line. I will miss Barbara, but she will always be a friend and a leader. Thank you Miss Barbara!!!
Speaking of leadership, Gray has been preaching an inspired series on the leadership Moses models for us in scripture. I left the first service by putting my arm around Gray and saying that I wanted to be a banana tree and not a banyan tree.  If you were worshiping with us, you will know what I mean. If you weren't, take heart! You can read Gray's sermon on our website.  

Banana tree leadership strengthens a group through a type of shared confidence that we are in this together and even if we don't know what we are doing, we'll figure it out. And how do you attain this confidence? One answer is to practice, practice, practice while you work, learn, and grow together. Strange thing happens when you share confidence as you work together. You develop friendships. 

That's why the worship service was speaking right to me.  
I have been working with several leadership groups within our growing CanCare community. We are gearing up for an active spring. Our CanCare volunteer training is scheduled for March 20-22 and the third annual In Harmony for Cancer concert and silent auction is scheduled for May 2.  
CanCare is a mission of our church that is becoming a true community ministry as leaders share confidence in and with those who answer the call to participate. Deep friendships are forging. 

I'm thankful for worship that speaks right to me and I trust to you as well.

Prayer for Today 
Thank you Lord, for the fellowship and friendship we develop through our worship of you. Strengthen the bonds we share, so that together, we will reflect the glory of you mercy through our acts of service. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 09:07 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
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