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.
In our media-saturated age, image consultants have become indispensable. Entertainers, athletes, politicians, and business leaders seem desperate to manage the way they are perceived in the eyes of the world. These high-priced consultants work to shape how their clients are viewed-even if sometimes there is a stark contrast between the public image and the real person inside.
In reality, what people need-what all of us need-is not an external makeover but an inner transformation. Our deepest flaws cannot be corrected cosmetically. They are directly related to who we are in heart and mind, and they reveal how far we have fallen from the image of God in which we were created. But such transformation is beyond any human ability to accomplish.
Only Christ offers us true transformation-not just a facelift or an outward adjustment. Paul said that those who have been raised to eternal life in Christ have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him. -Colossians 3:10
Prayer for Today
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
-2 Corinthians 5:17
"Since no one knows the future, who can tell someone what is to come?" Do you know where those words come from? If you do, I will be surprised. They actually come from the book of Ecclesiastes in our Bible. If folks know any passages from the book of Ecclesiastes, it is usually the words that found their way into a song written by Pete Seeger and made popular by the 60s musical group The Byrds. They song lyrics were almost verbatim from Ecclesiastes 3: "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die . . ." It is interesting that in both of these passages from Ecclesiastes, there is something about time. One talks about "the future." The other talks about there being a time for everything.
This week I am working on another message in our series called "The Newspaper and the Bible." Sunday I will be talking about "The Future." How do you think about the future? Do you look at it with hope or with fear? (Maybe even a combination of the two.) How should we think about the future? In the past few weeks there have been some very disturbing events reported in our news - the destruction in Baltimore, the earthquake in Nepal, the death of five young coeds - at least two of whom have connections with members of JCPC. Those kinds of events may lead us to become anxious and worry about the future.
Jesus never speaks about "the future." But when it comes to concern about "tomorrow" - Jesus tells us "Do not worry about tomorrow." (Matthew 6:34a, NIV) That is easier said than done. Is worry just something we can switch off at will? Is it just burying our heads in the sand when there is danger approaching on the horizon? I don't think that is what Jesus is saying here. If you ever worry about the future, I invite you to join us Sunday as we take a closer look at how we might face the future with faith and not fear.
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, it is hard to watch the news these days and not feel some anxiety. We care for those who are in danger. We wonder if this may spread to our part of the world. Give us the faith we need to trust you. Help us remember that your love for us is constant -- and that you are the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 10:51 am
One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked Him - and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, 'Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?' Then he said to him, 'Rise and go; your faith has made you well.
Out of the group of 10 lepers that Jesus healed, only one came back to say thank you. I also noticed that Luke made a point to mention that a Samaritan, a foreigner, was the one that came back. He was extremely grateful for the healing he received and immediately wanted to share his deep gratitude with Jesus.
Each day I experience kindness, compassion and hospitality from different people around me. Sometimes I take notice and express my gratitude and other times I continue moving through my hectic to do list of responsibilities for that day. This story in Luke reminds me that I need to be more intentional about taking a moment to say thank you.
As you travel through your day, be open to the kindness, compassion and hospitality shown to you today. How can you express your gratitude? Who will you say thank you to?
Jesus reminds us that we grow in our faith as we are mindful of situations where we need to say thank you. We have received a priceless gift Christ's sacrifice for us. I think of my life as a daily "thank you note" to God for this amazing gift. With this in mind, how might you live differently?
This Sunday, we have set aside some time during both worship services to thank all of our Sunday School Teachers, Children's Worship Leaders, Youth Advisers, and Small Group Leaders. Please join us in sharing your appreciation for all that they do to help teach and lead us.
Prayer for Today
For this new morning and its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For every gift His goodness sends
We thank you, gracious Lord. Amen.
I was inspired by the 19 confirmands who shared their statements of faith in worship yesterday. They were inspirational, funny at times, in-depth, and an indication that God is calling them and they are listening to God.
In his sermon, Gray shared a quote about God's calling from Frederick Buechner; "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." In this place, I think we both find and are found by God's calling.
I left church inspired only to hear excerpts on the radio of Creflo Dollar, the prosperity preacher, saying that God wants him to dream about getting a 75 million dollar jet. Then he went on to say that if they find life on Mars, he would dream for a rocket to get there to preach the gospel. Lofty goals indeed, but I didn't see the world's deep hunger meeting this out-of-this-world dream of his. This didn't seem like the place God calls you...
Two people that come to my mind that are living Buechner's quote about the place God calls you are Susie Howard and Jill Angove. Since the first of the year, Susie and Jill have been working diligently and what seems to be non-stop crafting our 3rd annual In Harmony for Cancer concert and silent auction. If you have visited the website, www.inharmonyforcancer.com you have seen their work up close and professionally.
Both Susie and Jill have their own stories to tell of how cancer has impacted their lives, and they are both finding and being found by God's calling in this place where their deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet. I can't recall a time in my 33 years of ordained ministry when I have been so inspired and delighted witnessing this finding one's calling that I see in Susie and Jill. You don't need a jet or rocket to do out of this world things. What it takes is bringing your deep gladness into the world's deep hunger.
Prayer for Today
Give us ears to hear your calling, O God, a heart filled with passion and the faith to enter into the unknown to experience your life transforming grace. Amen.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul. -Psalm 23:1-3a
I recently chaperoned Anna's band trip to New York City. The inventory of things I absolutely LOVE about The Big Apple is long. Topping the list are the beautiful churches and cathedrals. Being able to walk anywhere, the fascinating historical significance (especially Ellis Island), Lindy's world-famous cheesecake, the countless genres of amazing entertainment, the carousel and pick-up baseball games in Central Park, the intricate architecture of the buildings, Carnegie Deli's Woody Allens, talented street musicians, and the diversity of culture round out the top ten.
I have been blessed by a variety of meaningful worship services on previous visits. Strolling along Park Avenue one evening in 2001, a sidewalk sandwich board invited me to "Come As You Are" and worship at St. Bartholomew's Episcopal, so I did. Three vocalists, accompanied by a grand piano, acoustic guitar, and a drum set, offered all of the music. It was a glorious worship service, concluding with the Eucharist in the round under the dome, where I found myself holding hands and praying with complete strangers.
When members of our JCPC choir sang "A Great and Glorious Victory" under the direction of Jonathan Willcocks as part of a mass chorus in Carnegie Hall, we worshipped together at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian. The liturgy was familiar and the architecture gorgeous. I remember thinking that if any of our pastors, choristers, or acolytes had an aversion to heights, though, they wouldn't be able to lead worship at Fifth Avenue.
Then there was my visit to St. Patrick's Cathedral. Arriving seconds before the start of Sunday mass, one of the side-door greeters ushered me in and directed me to sit in the front pew beside a group of nuns. Only after the service began did I learn that the Archbishop of New York was officiating, and the nuns were celebrating their 60th Jubilee! Gazing up at Cardinal Egan as he climbed into the ambo, I couldn't help but feel more than a little uncomfortable, as I was definitely in the wrong pew!
On this most recent trip, I found myself reflecting on "the city that never sleeps" after one of our late-night bus trips passed a high-rise gym hosting dozens of folks on treadmills at 1:00 AM. As energizing as the city can be, I realized that an array of flashing neon lights in competing colors and the constant clamor and noise of the city would wear thin if I were to reside in New York City.
As we walked past Fifth Avenue Presbyterian last week, with no opportunity to even slow down or enter the church, I discerned how vital is our need to seek opportunity for renewal in God calling us to worship.
Prayer for Today
Merciful God, thank you for the Church and your provision of green pastures and quiet waters that restore our souls. Amen.
Of all the things I do as Associate Pastor for Youth, I don't think anything is more rewarding than walking young people through Confirmation. This process of claiming one's Christian faith is a beautiful reality. As one of our confirmands will share Sunday in her statement of faith, becoming a member of the church is becoming a member of a family, God's family. I will have many more friends. I will have opportunities to make new friends and to help the needy. I will learn more about my faith and will have friends to guide me in my search. I will learn what I am meant to do. I am a child of God.
This confirmand gets it, as, I think, all 19 of them do. Professing one's faith is one of life's true treasures as we discover that God adopts us into God's family.
Confirmation has been an exciting four month process with these exuberant, wide-eyed young people spanning the ages from 7th to 12th grade. They are ready to rise up and set sail on their faith journeys.
So come encourage them-and be encouraged-this Sunday in both our worship services. Some will share their faith statements at 9 and others at 11. As I say often, it is a beautiful thing to see the body of Christ at work!
Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
Prayer for Today
We thank you, O God, for the gift of faith, and for giving our confirmands the wings to fly like eagles. Amen.
This past weekend, we visited our daughter in Pennsylvania to hear her last performance with her college a cappella group. It was bittersweet - enjoying the music, yet knowing this was the last time I would hear her do this. On Sunday, we attended the worship service at Rooke Chapel on campus. The college chaplain preached a fine sermon. I will also miss hearing him preach from time to time.
In his message, he told the story of Ernest Hemingway and a bet he made with some other writers. During lunch, he wagered that he could write an entire novel in six words. The bet was on. Hemingway wrote these words on a paper napkin: For sale: baby shoes, never worn. Hemingway passed around the napkin and collected the bet.
We can't read those words without having a feeling of both hope and loss. Hope for what might have been. Loss for what was hoped for, but never was. Most of us would like life to be only the good stuff and none of the bad - all hope and no loss. But we know from experience, that is not the way it is. Each one of us could probably tell a story of something we had hoped for but did not come to pass.
The Bible story the preacher talked about was from the end of Luke's gospel - the story of the two men on the road to Emmaus. They were heading out of Jerusalem following Jesus' crucifixion on Friday and the rumors of his resurrection earlier that Sunday. As they are walking along, they are joined by a stranger who asks what they are talking about. They tell him about what happened to Jesus, at one point saying, "But we had hoped he was the one . . ." (Luke 24:21a, NIV) If you know the story, you know Jesus is the one who is walking beside them listening.
Even when we face loss in life, we are not alone. Jesus is there walking beside us - embodying the ultimate hope we all need to make it through.
Prayer for Today
Comforting God, we walk along this journey of life. It is filled with joys and losses. Even when hope seems to have vanished, help us to remember that you are there with us, bringing a deeper hope that can sustain us every moment of every day. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 07:48 am
Every meaningful relationship results in disappointment at some point or another; someone always messes up. It's just part of the human condition.
But to live within the will of God is to seek reconciliation when this happens, and it's usually best if the one who messed up takes the initiative.
Oddly enough, in our relationship with God, that initiative has been taken by God. Now what shall we do in response?
I would like to invite you into the spiritual practice of confession. For many Protestants, the spiritual practice of confession only finds expression in the form of responsive readings in worship. Yet, the practice of confession is a powerful way of reminding us of the unique relationship we have with God. It's not that in confession we share secrets that God does not already know. Rather, it is in the act of confessing that we are reminded that God knows us completely, even in our brokenness, and yet still loves us unconditionally.
It's no great revelation to say that we can struggle with identity and self-worth and may find the notion of God's unconditional love difficult to accept. I have to imagine the world would be a better place if we could learn to be both honest about our brokenness and also accept that despite our "sin" we are beloved of God.
Here are some ways that you could spend time with the spiritual practice of confession: -create your own confessional postcard to God, what would it say?
- think back over the mistakes of the past week, write a word or symbol in sand representing those failures, and then pass your hand through the sand, obliterating those words or symbols as a sign of accepting God's forgiveness.
-write on paper the places, attitudes, and relationships in our lives and in our world that keep us from God. Consider what it might feel like to let go of guilt. Consider how you will work to repair friendships/relationships. As you feel comfortable, you are invited to shred these confessions as an act of release and transformation, and then pray your own personal prayer.
As you go through this day, remember the words of Romans 8:38-39 - I'm absolutely convinced that nothing-nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable-absolutely nothing can get between us and God's love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us. -The Message
Prayer for Today
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, O Lord, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of your salvation, and renew a right spirit within me. Amen.
Yesterday in our Pastor's Sunday school class we were exploring the topic of how to understand God's will. Our class takes on some meaty topics and this discussion was no exception. One of our class members shared that she learned about God's will from her mother who reminded her that to live in God's will was to love and enjoy God. The lesson seemed to come straight out of the Westminster Shorter Catechism which states that "the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever."
Enjoy God! When was the last time you thought of enjoyment as an integral part of living in God's will?
I shared with the class that enjoyment and God's will weren't part of my early seminary training. The emphasis was on prophetic ministry and enjoyment had the ring of something suspicious, maybe even akin to hedonism. Picking up your cross to follow Christ seemed far too serious for enjoyment. Yet, our chief end or purpose in life is to glorify and enjoy.
Being a witness for God is serious business, but it can also be enjoyable. This lesson visited me on Saturday during our Becoming a Champion for CanCare training. This training is when we train our newly trained CanCare volunteers how to share the good news of their survivorship in their community. One of our "seasoned vets" named Kristi shared with the "newbies" how she has experienced God's hand working in her life. Recently, she was at her water aerobics class and a woman she knew from the class for several years shared that she was nervous because she was having surgery to remove her cancer. Kristi looked her in the eye and proclaimed, "I'm a survivor!" and for the next several hours they talked.
Kristi shared that she felt the conversation was no accident, but rather, was part of God's will. And she enjoys the experience of being able to offer, comfort, support, and above all, hope to those God puts on her path. All in attendance enjoyed how Kristi witnessed to them.
Speaking of enjoyment, I hope you all will support In Harmony for Cancer! God's hand is at work.
Prayer for Today
Eternal God, help us to witness your will by sharing with those in need how you have comforted us in our times of need. May our witness glorify you and may we enjoy sharing your good news through loving kindness. Amen.
A pastor's wife was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. That put the family in a difficult, stressful situation. The pastor wondered how he was going to be able to take good care of her while he still had responsibilities for his church family. But he needn't have worried because church members stepped up and volunteered to assist him with meals and some of her care.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church about the purpose for which the Lord gave them their spiritual gifts. Before he listed the diversity of gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, he reminded them that "a spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other" (v.7 nlt). God does not give His spiritual gifts for our own selfish use but to serve others, and in so doing, we serve Him.
We are all given different gifts to be used at different times and in different ways. But they are all to be used in love for the "edifying of the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12). Wherever God has placed us, we can use what He has gifted us to do as we see the need, remembering that we are all part of the church-the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13-14).
Prayer for Today
Thank You, Father, for the wonderful gifts You have given Your church. Help me to understand how You have gifted me to encourage other believers, and to spread the message of Your love to the world. Amen.
Do you ever have doubts about your faith? Are there important questions that linger in your consciousness that at times might even keep you up at night? I imagine if you are a living, breathing human being, the answer is yes. As Frederick Buechner has said, "Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it alive and awake."
Let's be honest: we all have doubts, some more than others. Especially in my college years, I remember having big doubts and asking the question: is it true? Is the Christian faith truly real? Was Jesus really raised from the dead, and if so, what relevance does that fact have for my life today? Having grown up in the church, my Christianity was almost assumed, and my college years became a meaningful time of prayerful engagement with questions and doubts.
This Sunday in worship we will look at the story of the healing of a boy with an evil spirit and will consider the place of doubt in our Christian faith. When is doubt a good thing, and when is it bad? Lots of questions - hopefully some answers! Consider calling an unchurched friend and inviting him/her to worship this Sunday. See you in the pews!
Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief." -Mark 9:24
Prayer for Today
O God of Mystery, help us by your Spirit with our doubts and questions and may they lead us not to put you at arm's length, but rather to welcome you into our lives. Amen.
When I thought about writing my "Reflections" for today, I began humming a 60s tunes made popular by Diana Ross and The Supremes called "Reflections." It was written by the songwriting team of Holland, Dozier, and Holland. You may remember it. (Here is a link if you want a reminder -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRjCqaX2IvQ. The final chorus went this way:
Reflections of the way life used to be
Reflections of the love you took from me
In you I put all my faith and trust
Right before my eyes my world has turned to dust
If you know that song, it will probably be stuck in your head all day - sorry about that!
The lyrics are obviously about love lost and looking back over a past, failed relationship. But I find it interesting how the language of faith and belief slips in when talking about someone once loved: "In you I put all my faith and trust/Right before my eyes my world has turned to dust." It made me think about what "I put all my faith and trust" in.
I want to invite you to think about that. What do you put your faith and trust in? Is that God -- or something or someone else? Can that thing or that person carry the weight of that kind of faith and trust? Was it ever meant to do that - or is that something only reserved for God?
The lyrics from a much older song than "Reflections" put it this way:
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm. -Psalm 20:7-8, NIV
If we put our trust in things or individuals, eventually they will let us down. But, if we put our faith and trust in God, we will "rise up and stand firm" to face the challenges life may bring.
Prayer for Today
Loving God, it is so easy to try to trust things or persons in this life. Sometimes they may even prove trustworthy, but other times they will fail. Yet you are always faithful and constant. Help us today to put our faith and trust in you. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 01:50 pm
As an introvert, I often process situations internally first before speaking. One thing I've noticed about myself, is that I can go for long periods of time in silence when I'm alone. I reflect on what I see around me and photographs have often been a powerful way for me to express thoughts, feelings, or emotions. When looking at a particular image, I can begin to notice what it might mean or how parts of it might impact me. A few years ago, I participated in a photo a day reflective practice during the season of Lent. Each day, I was given a word to reflect on and then take a picture or choose an image that represented that word for me.
Today, I am going to invite you into this practice for reflection in reverse. Take a look at the image below. What do you see? What emotions are expressed? What word or phrase comes to mind when you look at it closely? How does this word or phrase open your heart to something God may be teaching you?
When I first saw this picture, this passage of scripture came to mind, it's one that I have held onto since middle school.
Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything; tell God your needs and don't forget to thank him for his answers. -Philippians 4:6
Without any words, the expressions on their faces, says a lot to me about how God uses each of us to care for others and we can share so much joy when we're together.
This photo was taken shortly after my nephew was baptized on Saturday night at his family's church in Florida. I can see Will saying to Connor, "Welcome to God's family, buddy. We're so glad you're here."
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, Thank you for the way you speak to us through no words at all. Open our hearts to receive your care through the actions of those we encounter. In Christ's Name, Amen.
I just finished watching 21 year old Jordan Spieth win the Masters Golf Tournament. His record setting victory culminated a week that was filled with so many big events that I can't remember a week quite like it. Easter Sunday is the Highest Christian celebration and our worship services were moving. They were followed by the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship won by Duke. The NCAA Women's Basketball Championship was won by Connecticut. If you can believe this, the 2015 rebuilding Atlanta Braves have started the season 5-1! The crescendo came with Spieth's start to finish victory. What a week, but there's more.
My daughter, MaryNeal ordered her high school graduation notices as the countdown for seniors is well on its way. As she launches into her blessed future, Debbie and I venture into the land of empty nesters. In three short weeks, we will be hosting the third annual In Harmony for Cancer and
I hope that you will be in attendance on May 2. Looking ahead to these big events, it seems like stringing pearls of big events to create a beautiful necklace.
I must confess that I'm like most people and can get caught up in the big. However, my Christian faith helps me to see what appears to be the big is usually many little moments of dedication, sacrifice, loss, resilience, loyalty, and love. Those events that appear to be awesome inevitably find their genesis in the humble. The ambition to become great becomes truly unique in the practice of servant hood. Pearls are created by little specks of sand as are all that goes into what becomes the big.
We shouldn't be surprised. We worship a God who humbled himself and took on the human form of servant in Christ. The Almighty became one of us, Emmanuel, and walked among us. May you experience God walking with you in the days ahead!
Prayer for Today
Open our eyes to see you in our midst, O God, so that in both the blessing and trials of our days, we may experience your grace. Amen.
I love the house where you live, O Lord, the place where your glory dwells. -Psalm 26:8
Mature Christians understand that we are each a "house" for the Lord, and are part of a larger body of Christ known as the church. We know that God dwells in us, in our brothers and sisters in Christ, and in God's creation. We at JCPC are blessed with a beautiful church that is a holy place for the people of God to gather, but we know it is not God's only house.
As a child, though, the attachment I felt to the physical place of worship was important to me - a large part of the connection I felt to God. Children are literalists, and in my mind, the church was God's actual house. There was nowhere else quite like it, and I loved to go to the church with my grandfather. I even loved the aromas in God's house - hymnals, beeswax, Bibles, and wooden pews!
I was taught at a very young age that I was to behave differently in God's house. Traipsing alongside my grandfather for whatever we set about to accomplish that day, I learned that it was acceptable to use my normal tone of voice when we were weeding in the gardens or setting out materials in preparation for his Sunday School class the next morning.
However, once we opened the large wooden doors to the sanctuary, I was to speak only in hushed tones, and heaven forbid that I should run, skip, hop, or plop down in a pew!
I recall thinking that the mammoth cross at the front of the church must surely have been a thousand feet high, and the monstrous organ sported so many keyboards I couldn't imagine how one person could possibly play them all at the same time. The sanctuary was a place of reverence, and
I lived my young life in awe of its many wonders!
Even to adults, a church building (or in our case, an addition) is a symbol of growth and thriving ministry.
I imagine we're all a bit like children in the connection we make between these things. But like a child, those who do not know Christ may come to understand the magnitude of God through tangible witness and observable events. We are building to add space sufficient for the needs of our members, as well as for those whom God has yet to call to this place!
As we embark upon the privilege of constructing our new multi-purpose building, it is my prayer that all will feel
"at home" in our church, and that we the people, serving together, are indeed building the "house" of the Lord.
Prayer for Today
Lord, we give you thanks for our beautiful church building and for our brothers and sisters in Christ who congregate here. Help us to be the place where your glory dwells. Amen.
Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don't try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God's voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; God is the one who will keep you on track. -Proverbs 3:5-6
These words from the Message translation really stuck with me today. What does it mean for you to trust God from the bottom of your heart? Dig way down deep and don't just trust God on the surface or with those situations that seem easy. What are some challenging situations or places that you've traveled in your life where trusting God meant you had to really dig in?
I know that I can easily shift into auto pilot and try to take charge of everything on my own, forgetting that God's plan is far greater than mine. These words in Proverbs can be a daily reminder for me to listen for God in each moment of my day and be open to where God is guiding me to go.
Take a moment to think about your day so far. How have you put your trust in God? What actions have you chosen that help you to continue to trust? What times in your day did you just move so quickly that you didn't take a moment to listen for God's leading?
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, I'm going to look for you every day. I expect I'll see you around. Give me a heart that's open to your mysteries so that I can see and hear your work happening right before me. In Christ's Name, Amen.
Recently, one of our newer church members gave me a present. It is a little sign in a clear plastic holder that says, "Life is . . . messy." When the church member gave it to me, she said she had given one to the pastor at her last church and she hoped it made sense to me. I told her it did. Life is messy! If your life has yet to be messy - just wait. It's coming.
When I was younger, I envisioned life as being a pretty smooth process in which things just got better and better. I thought that by the time I reached the age I am now, I would have it all figured out. Life would be a "piece of cake." Maybe your life has always been a piece of cake - good for you. But for the rest of us, we sooner or later have to deal with the messiness of life. Plans do not turn out the way we thought they would. Life situations just happen. Some of them we can control and others are beyond our control. Life is messy.
Sometimes I find it amazing that God chose to enter into this messy world to start cleaning things up. One way to talk about the messiness of the world is to call it "sin" or "brokenness." That messiness can be seen in the ways we fall short of loving our neighbor and God as we do ourselves. Sometimes the mess comes from not loving ourselves in a healthy way -- as opposed to an unhealthy narcissism.
Now what we call "messiness" may simply be the parts of life we can't control. And that may not be "bad" - that's only being human. As human beings, God gave us some "normal" limits.
The good news is that God did not look at us and our world and say, "What a mess - I'm outta here!" The Bible says that "while we were yet sinners" (messes), the God who created us, saw the good in us and reached out in love to help fix the broken messes in our lives and our world. Life may be a mess, but that is not the last word - thank God for that!
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, you enter into the messes of our lives and show us what needs to be cleaned up and straightened out. You also help us to see what may not be mess at all - just something beyond our control. Thank you for cleaning up the mess and for helping us to accept the rest. In the strong name of Christ we pray. Amen.
Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 01:18 pm
After our glorious Easter worship service this past Sunday, my son Jackson and I traveled down to see my father in his dementia care facility in Atlanta. We found him asleep sitting upright surrounded by ten elderly women in the common room. All seemed to be resting content in silence.
Walking in, we stirred everyone with a rather boisterous Easter greeting. Dad woke up and said, "Hello, hello, hello," and pretended in his advanced stage of Alzheimer's to know who we were. Though oblivious to so much around him, Dad was still his usual jovial self, I was grateful to see.
Jackson and I engaged the group in some small talk about the day. I then asked, "How's everybody's Easter?"
Immediately one of the ladies from the back shouted out, "What's Easter?"
It seemed like an odd comment, especially with all the Easter decorations on every wall in the room. But looking around, it was evident that virtually no one there had any comprehension of the day's importance.
"You know, it's the day that Jesus came back to life," I exclaimed. "It's a big celebration."
"Who's Jesus?" one lady shouted.
"When is Easter? my dad chimed in.
For the next 10 minutes, I found myself sharing the Easter story. It was as if these elderly people were hearing the story for the first time as they were holding on to every word. I talked about Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem and then moved to his betrayal, his arrest, his trial, and his crucifixion. And then I brought the story to resolution with that fabulous ending with the stone being removed and Jesus being raised from the dead. I spoke of the angel at the tomb sharing the good news with the women that Jesus was alive and had gone to Galilee where the disciples were to go meet him. It was good news that would change the world!
After hearing the story's finale, Dad looked me in the eye and said in all seriousness, "Do you suppose I could send him a THANK YOU note?"
"Yes, Dad," I responded, "You can send him a THANK YOU note." What a great idea!"
It was about the most charming conversation I had had in a long time, as if I were sharing a children's sermon with 90 year olds hearing the gospel message for the first time.
Dad's suggestion is a good one-not just for elderly Alzheimer's patients, but for all of us who call ourselves Christian. May each of our lives be a big THANK YOU to God for the gift of the risen Jesus, who makes all things new.
And the one who was seated on the throne said, See, I am making all things new...Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.
Prayer for Today
O God, may we hear the good news of the risen Christ this season as if hearing it for the first time. May we get beyond ho-hum routines of the season to truly be passionate and joyful that you are alive in the world and in our lives. Amen.
He is risen! He is risen indeed! This is the traditional Paschal greeting with which early Christians greeted each other and one that is said on Easter.
During our worship yesterday, I greeted all whom I met with this greeting. Some people looked at me somewhat bewildered and said "Happy Easter", while others said "He is risen indeed!" All the greetings were said with enthusiasm. We were filled with the joy of Easter!
There were many visitors in worship; travelers from across the country who were in town to visit family and friends. This year, Easter is at the front end of spring break for many families who have school kids and therefore many people are traveling this week.
In Mark's gospel, when the woman visited Jesus' empty tomb, they were greeted by a young man who said, "He is risen." After explaining that Jesus was no longer there, he said, "now, on your way."
Christians are to be people on the go who proclaim the gospel. We are also people who go on vacations with our families, visit friends, and take a break from the break neck pace of our lives. So I want to share a traveler's prayer with you to say on "on your way."
Gracious God, guide the hands of those who are taking us to our destinations. Whether by car, bus, train, or plane, guide the hands of those who steer so that accidents can be avoided. Deliver us to our destinations safely. Bless and protect our families, those who are traveling along side of us, as well as those who are traveling to their jobs this week. In the name of the Risen Lord, Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.
Safe travels my friends!
Prayer for Today
Awaken us to the joy and surprise of resurrection faith, Most Holy God, so that we will experience a rebirth in our convictions, a renewal of our spirits and a readjustment to the course of our lives as we go on our way in the good news you share with us through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Christ has set us free to live a free life ... it is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don't use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that's how freedom grows.
-Galatians 5:1a, 13 (The Message)
Butterflies are some of the most beautiful creatures in our environment. Captivated by their flight, I am always in awe that their paper thin, fragile wings are somehow strong enough to sustain them as they sail through the air. Knowing that a 12-legged pest eventually morphed into the delicate insect before me seems nothing short of a miracle!
The process by which a butterfly develops - metamorphosis - is a Greek word that means transformation. The evolution of furry crawler into airborne fairy is the perfect metaphor for change, new life - even life after death.
Jesus' death on the cross and subsequent resurrection set us free from the yoke of the law. We are no longer bound by the burden of the rigorous demands of the law as the means for gaining God's favor. However, the apostle Peter admonishes us that the genuine freedom we find in Christ is the freedom to serve God.
Just as a butterfly is eventually freed from its cocoon, we in Christ are transformed. The old things have passed away, and we are no longer struggling caterpillars, but brand new creations! Through Christ's suffering, we have been set free, but with Christ as our example, we are to exercise this freedom by serving others, treating everyone we meet with dignity, and loving our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Our chapel will be adorned with hundreds of butterflies this Easter season, crafted with love by some of the children in our church, their parents, and grandparents. As you come to worship each Sunday, I invite you to imagine yourself as a butterfly - free to fly, free to love, free to serve.
Prayer for Today
If I were a butterfly, I'd thank you, Lord, for giving me wings! Help me to exercise my freedom in you by serving and loving others as you first loved us. Amen.
On this eve before the day that commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus, I sense that often we are reluctant to talk about the darker side of Jesus' passion, especially with our children. With all the betrayal, brutality, and blood, frankly many of us often like to move straight from Jesus' triumphal entry to his resurrection skipping all the messy stuff in between. We want to get to Easter quickly and talk about butterflies and dogwoods and new life.
How do we share the story of Jesus' passion with children? Contrary to the cultural taboo of not talking about death,
I believe our kids can handle it. Death surrounds us; it is part of life. Children encounter death in their families and communities. I don't think we will scare them by talking about it. So how do we talk about Jesus' death and its meaning to our children? Recently I came across a blog with words from a Christian educator named Wendy Claire Barry. She shared them with the children of her church, but I think they are meaningful for people of all ages:
We call Good Friday 'good' because we are an Easter people. Even in the name we give it, we can't look at this day alone for the terrible thing that happened, that Jesus whom we love died on the cross. We look all the way to Sunday, when Jesus who died on the cross rose again. All the same, we don't skip over this terrible thing, that Jesus whom we love died on a dark day when soldiers shamed him, nearly all his friends left his side, and he wasn't even sure that God was with him. We tell the story of what happened that day because it is important, it's necessary: Jesus was afraid, he suffered, he died... and God turned his fear, his suffering, and his dying into hope, wholeness and new life.
We tell our story, our Christian story, over and over again because it tells us the truth: not that there is no darkness, but that "light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it." Remembering that gives us comfort and makes us bold, it helps us encourage others and find goodness in the most difficult of days. We are an Easter people because we have been to the cross and the grave and we know the promise God makes to us in Jesus: God's power and grace can transform anything, God's love is stronger than the cross, stronger than death itself. God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and make all things new.
Join us this evening at 7:30 in the chapel for our Maundy Thursday Tenebrae Service as we reflect on the darkness that surrounds us and is within us before we return on Sunday for Easter to celebrate the light that shines brightly in the darkness!
Prayer for Today
O God, we thank you for the gift of Jesus, who was obedient even unto death. May we too be dead to sin so that we might also be alive to you and all that is good. Amen.
Tomorrow I will be heading up to Virginia. This Friday I will be officiating the graveside service for Pam's mother at Arlington National Cemetery. Pam's mother will be buried next to her father who served as a Colonel in the Air Force. I had the privilege of officiating her Father's service, so this will be my second time at Arlington. It is a very special place and I find it very moving to be there.
Because so many veterans wish to be buried in Arlington, there is a fairly long time period between when someone dies and the actual burial. They simply inform you of the date and time the burial will take place. When they told us a few months ago that the service would take place on
April 3, 2015 at 11:00 a.m., it did not occur to me until a few days later that it was Good Friday of Holy Week - the day in the life of the church when we remember the death of Christ on the cross. Different Christian traditions observe it in different ways. At Johns Creek Presbyterian Church we simply have the Chapel open for prayer from 9:00 a.m. to
Because we are travelling on Thursday, I will not be able to attend our Maundy Thursday service. As some of you know, this is one of the most meaningful worship services for me during the year. Maybe it is the music played by a wonderful string ensemble and sung by our choir. Maybe it is the re-telling of the events of Jesus' last days here on earth leading up to his death on a Roman cross. Maybe it is the ritual of dimming the lights bit by bit until there is only darkness and we leave in silence. Whatever it is, I experience the presence of God's Spirit in a very powerful way that night. I just finished reading over the words of our Tenebrae service and even that had a profound effect on me. I hope you will come Thursday night so that you might experience something profound and meaningful.
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, as we move from the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, to the Last Supper you shared with your disciples, to the death of Jesus on a Roman cross, and on through a time of waiting until Sunday dawns and Jesus is raised from the dead -- help us to slow down enough to experience your presence in our lives in deep and profound ways. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 11:50 am