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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, August 31 2015

The ministry of the Apostle Paul exemplifies the power of Promise and how the four Ps of Promise work together. 

The first P, pivotal decision, motivated Paul to follow Christ. His letters to the earliest Christian churches sketched the second P, path he traveled to share the gospel. The third P, persistence, demonstrates that Paul was anything but persistent as he proclaimed the gospel to Jew and Gentile alike.

The final P we will reflection upon today is perseverance. Hear Paul's words:

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."  2 Timothy 4:7

The language of promise is based in covenant; God's promise of grace in which God chooses to share a loving relationship with us. Throughout the scriptures we witness God's loving pursuit of humankind and our efforts to love God in return. The faith God places in us and our faith in God strengthens our ability to persevere. Through the ups and downs, the good times and the bad, and adversity and abundance, Paul reminds us that the perseverance of God's promises are found in these three; faith, hope, and love. When  we practice faith, hope, and love in all things and at all times we too can say with Paul, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race and I have kept the faith!"

I think this picture is worth a million words and illustrates the 4 Ps of Promise...

Take a few moments to study the picture. How do you see the Ps in this couple's lives?
Pivotal decision
Path
Persistence
Perseverance

I'd be delighted if you would share your thoughts with me about how this picture and our discussion of Promise helped you examine your relationship with God, neighbor, and self.

Prayer for Today

Grant us the perseverance of faith, O Lord, to fight the good fight, run the good race, and keep faith with you in times of adversity and abundance. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 09:36 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, August 28 2015

"For I know the plans that I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  Jeremiah 29:11

As I said goodbye to Steven at the Atlanta airport in May of 2013, neither of us could have anticipated the incredible journey that would be God's plan for Steven to prosper.  The Lord was paving the way for Steven's future, and now that the future is here, we are counting our blessings that God loves us enough to point us in the right direction when we encounter the crossroads of life!
 
Last month, at the conclusion of his third summer as Day Camp Coordinator for Highlands Presbyterian Retreat Center, Steven was offered and accepted a wonderful 
full-time position as the camp registrar for Highlands.  
Two weeks ago, he and I packed up my van with all of his belongings and drove straight through to Colorado in a 
26-hour trip!  We then spent an entire day together visiting his local haunts and checking out surrounding towns.
 
Highlands sits atop a 17-mile canyon road that is a part of the Roosevelt National Forest.  The St. Vrain River runs the entire length of the gorge, and the surrounding scenery is breath-taking, to say the least.  The clouds are sometimes lower than the treetops at 8,500 feet above sea level, and it literally seems as though you can reach out and touch the blue skies above!
 
Knowing that this was a permanent move to Colorado for Steven, the goodbyes this time were even more difficult; however, as I traveled down the winding highway to the lovely little town nestled below, I offered prayers of thanksgiving with a grateful heart (through many tears) for this incredible opportunity for my eldest son.  Of course I wish he weren't 1,500 miles from home, but I rest in the peace of knowing that he is in the place just right!
 
Enjoy these pictures of (1) the outdoor chapel at Highlands, (2) sunrise outside my cabin, and (3) the heavens mere inches from the treetops!

 
Prayer for Today

Great is Thy faithfulness, O Lord.  Thank you for ordering our steps!  Help us to listen for your leading as you guide and direct our lives according to your plans for our future.  Help us live into the hope you have created for each of us!  Amen.

 

Posted by: Alicia Taylor AT 07:39 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, August 27 2015

I came upon a thought-provoking quote this week on social media compliments of Rick Coulon: "So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.  When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when the time comes, they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way.  Sing your death song and die like a hero going home." So said Tecumseh.

This past year I lost my dad and my nephew, and this past weekend I found out one of my best friends has stage 3 melanoma cancer.  Ever since I hit 50 years old, I've found myself looking over the obituaries in the Atlanta Journal/Constitution almost daily, something I never did before.  Maybe it is a morbid thought but every day I am getting one step closer to death, be it tomorrow or in fifty years.  It makes me think, what will be my legacy?  What will I regret?  What will I cherish?  Will I be prepared?  How can I live this moment in a way that truly matters? Tecumseh's words indeed remind me of my calling as a follower of Jesus-to serve boldly, love deeply, create beauty, and "sing" life with utter joy.

You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven."    -Matthew 5:13-16

Prayer for Today

O God, help us to be salt that give flavor and light that shines brightly.  May that be our legacy. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Scott Huie AT 10:23 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, August 26 2015

Last week I shared about losing our pet Ginger. I really appreciate how many of you took time sharing your condolences by talking, emailing, and even sending cards. I am also amazed at how many of you told me that you had experienced a similar loss recently. You told how, in this case, you did know something of what I was going through. With some of you, I even got a little choked up as we talked, or I read your email or your card.

Since that time I have been thinking more about how loss affects us. Losing someone or something we care about touches us deeply. While losing a pet often feels like we are losing a member of our family, I am wondering why this particular kind of loss brings out such strong emotions.
 
I don't know a lot about the theology of pets and the afterlife. I think that if God's plan, as talked about in the book of Revelation (21:1-2), is of a new heaven and a new earth when all shall be restored, then how could that happen without animals? The Bible also says that the lamb will lie down with the lion (Isaiah 11:6), so I assume that would also extend to dogs and cats getting along, too. No one knows for sure.
 
When we think of the loss of a person, we think not only about a person being gone for us, but where they are "going" next. So, we have some thoughts about the person being in the presence of God or heaven or somewhere. But with the loss of a pet, we probably don't spend a lot of time thinking about our pet's next "destination." For that reason, it seems like more of our attention is focused on our loss here and now. I wonder if that is one of the reasons the loss of a pet may hit us so hard. When we lose a person, we may think that we should not grieve too much -- particularly if our loved one is supposed to be in or on the way to heaven. On the other hand, maybe we can really let it all out when we lose a pet because, for us, they are really gone . . . and we feel it.
 
If you have any thoughts about this, I would be interested to hear them - grayn@jcpcusa.org.

Prayer for Today

Lord, when we care about someone and something, we hurt when they are gone - even if for just a little while. We pray for you to comfort those who mourn (Matthew 5:4). Thank you for walking with us through the all of the valleys of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4). We pray this in the name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 10:48 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, August 25 2015

Love enters the world of its own accord, for its own reasons. And love is always accompanied by light. That is, love always illuminates the space it occupies.

Watch now for love to enlighten your world. Look to see what new understanding is yours in the presence of love. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 
-John 15:9-11

How often do you hear commandments? It may depend on who is giving the commandments in your life as to how you receive them. The person giving them as well as the intent behind them are often important. The commandments we read about in scripture are not there because God likes to be the boss. God has given us commandments to show the best way for us to live.

It's better for us to love our enemies than to hate them. It's better to tell the truth than to lie. It's better to take a day of rest each week than to work without stopping. God knows that when we live by these commandments, we are not only living in the way that is safer and more productive for us, we are living in a way that allows us to experience God's love more deeply. What are some ways that you have experienced God's love more deeply recently?

Prayer for Today

God, you have called us to live in ways that at times seem difficult to do. Remind us each day that as we live in the way you have instructed, we am moving closer and closer to you. Make our joy complete, O God. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 09:35 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, August 24 2015

Today we will reflect upon the 3rd P of Promise; persistence. The previous two P's were pivotal decision and path.

This coming Sunday will be the 33rd anniversary of my ordination so of course the theme of persistence was brewing within me. When I entered seminary to pursue ordination I remember being asked why I wanted to become a minister. My response was sure and direct. 

"I want to be a man of prayer!"

To attain this goal has required persistence. However, when I reflect upon my prayer life I must confess that it can be described as a sporadic discipline which is often expressed spontaneously. Clear as mud? What I'm saying is that my prayer life isn't as consistent as I'd like and I have to persistently work at it. Maybe you can relate.

I have found that turning to scripture can enhance and deepen my prayer life.  Scripture encourages us to be persistent in prayer:

"Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." -1 Thessalonians

"Jesus told them a story showing that it was necessary for them to pray consistently and never quit."  -Luke 18:1

Both these readings emphasize the persistence of prayer but have very different stories related to them. Feel free to look them up and notice the differences.

If you are like me you can take heart that even though it's difficult to pray consistently, we are not on our own and God's spirit offers up prayers for us:

"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words." 
-Romans 8: 26

Scripture can help us be persistent in prayer. If you'd like to learn how to use scripture to enhance and deepen your prayer life join us for FOCUS, our prayer retreat on Saturday, September 19.      

To R.S.V.P., contact Karla Arnold or 
phone 770-813-9009, ext. 240.

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, bless us with the gift of your Spirit so that we will remain constant in prayer; lifting up neighbors who are in need, seeking guidance for our lives, and offering praise and thanksgiving for the multitude of your blessings. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 07:09 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, August 21 2015

I wrote the piece below on May 24, 2013.  I am sharing it with you again as a precursor to next week's follow-up Reflection.  Sometimes it is only in hindsight that we can see God's handiwork in our lives.  Time travel back to 2013!

Less than one month ago, my eldest son, Steven, stood at a crossroad, trying to discern God's call on his life for the summer months.  He phoned me late one evening, relating that his prior supervisor at The Calvin Center, Bill Davis, had offered him a position as the summer day camp coordinator at Highlands Presbyterian Camp & Retreat Center just outside Denver. 
 
While Steven has held camp coordinator positions at Calvin for the past three summers, taking a position in Colorado was perhaps a bit outside his comfort zone.  I told him that the choice was his to make, and that I would certainly support whatever he decided.  I suggested that he ask Bill for time to pray about it and discern God's leading.
 
As we ended the call, the text of one of my favorite youth anthems came to mind ... "Order my steps in your Word, dear Lord.  Lead me, guide me every day.  Send your anointing, Father, I pray.  Humbly, I ask Thee, teach me your will.  While you are working, help me be still.  I want to walk worthy, Lord, my calling to fulfill."
 
Life is a never-ending series of choices for each of us.  How can we know whether we are making the right decisions?  As children of God, we are promised that we don't walk blindly.  When we pray with a humble heart, seeking God's will for our lives, the psalmist David tells us that "our steps are made firm by the Lord, when he delights in our way; though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong, for the Lord holds us by the hand."  Psalm 37:23-24
 
I took Steven to the airport on Monday, and he boarded a plane for Denver to begin this leg of his journey.  Through moist eyes and with a lump in my throat, I hugged him, told him I loved him, and wished him a terrific summer.  Later that evening, I received a lengthy email from Steven, telling me all the details of his flight, the long car ride to camp through many small towns, and how much he already loved the view of the snow-capped mountain behind his lodging.
 
A picture is worth a thousand words, as they say.  Highlands' home page displays a photo of the snow-capped mountain in the distance beyond the lodge Steven will call home for the summer, and I have the peace of knowing that he is in the place just right!
 
Prayer for Today

Great is Thy faithfulness, O Lord.  Help us to be still, with humble hearts, truly seeking your ordering of our steps this day.  Lead us and guide us, we pray.  Amen.

Posted by: Order My Steps AT 10:08 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, August 20 2015

Earlier this week, Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker James Harrison did something that has created quite a stir on social media.  He stripped his kids of all non-winning participation trophies, saying he wants them to EARN a real trophy.  He said,

On the one hand, I do get it.  Both my kids have quite a few participation trophies sitting on their shelves that don't mean all that much to them frankly.  Moreover, entitlement is not a quality I want to inspire within them. 
We do live in a dog-eat-dog world.  Competition is the foundation of so much we do.  It really begins in school and on the athletic field and then it really takes hold once we enter the job market.  So we want our children to be prepared.  Work hard.  Earn it.  Get what you deserve.  Otherwise, you could easily be left behind. That is what justice is all about.  That is what our world is about.
 
But on the other hand, I'm not sure that a dog-eat-dog world is a value that our
faith lifts up.  Sure we want justice in life.  We want our fair share.  Yet, too much competitive fire can of course lead to burnout and shame, especially if one lives by the motto, if you're not first, you're last.  I do wonder if James Harrison's sons will grow up to be productive, healthy contributors to society, or if they will need a lifetime of therapy because they never won a gold medal or became an NFL 
all-pro linebacker and measured up to their father's expectations.
 
On a deeper, spiritual level, I think what we really want and need is not justice, but very simply grace.  We live by grace.  We are saved by grace.  We don't get what we deserve-separation from God.  We get grace, the greatest gift of all, the promise of God's presence forever. 
 
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God-not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.  -Ephesians 2:8-10 

Prayer for Today

Thank you, God, that we are saved by grace and not by anything we do. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Scott Huie AT 07:27 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, August 19 2015

Monday I shared with both the staff and the Session that we had to "put to sleep" our dog Ginger last Friday. She was close to fourteen years old. For the past year, her cataracts had been getting worse to the point that she could no longer see. When we talked to the veternarian about surgery, he advised against it given her age. It would be a very difficult procedure for her. Her hearing was also going. She had arthritis, but in recent days she just seemed "lost." On Thursday she woke up confused and would not budge. She howled for the first time ever when I tried to move her. She weighs more than seventy pounds and I had to pick her up to take her outside in our front yard. I sat there next to her on the grass at 3:30 a.m. wondering what we were going to do. The next morning I called and made an appointment with out veterinarian. We made the tough decision that "it was time." Making Ginger suffer any more was not the best thing to do. It was a very difficult morning at the vet, even though they were as helpful as could be expected.

After Ginger was gone, I found myself wondering why this affected me so much. In my calling, I am around dying people quite often. This was not a human person but our dog. Yet, she was as much a part of our family as any non-human could be. Our kids grew up with her. One of our favorite pictures is of Mason sitting on the hill in our old backyard hugging a baby Ginger.
 
I am coming to understand that saying good-bye to her involved grieving the loss of a whole period in our family life. It is very painful. Yet, I also began to realize how much pain is a part of life. I don't like the pain, but I am grateful that God gave us this wonderful companion to be part of our lives. So, I am learning to live into the pain of life when it comes. This may take a while.

Prayer for Today

Loving God, you give us relationships with people, and even animals. We know that when we face loss, we grieve because we care. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to care, even if it causes us pain in the end. And remind us that in your kingdom, the last word is not death, but new life. We pray this in name of Jesus - our Risen Savior. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 07:22 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, August 18 2015

It's a new school year and many of us enter into the rhythm of learning, testing, studying, and reading. Even if you aren't a student, parent of students or a teacher, we all can be reminded that education is not just a process that happens for the young, learning is a process that happens throughout your life.

Jesus lived on this earth as God in the flesh and even he took time to learn everything he could. There was one time early in his life, when said to his parents, "Why were you looking for me? Didn't you know that I had to be here, dealing with the things of my Father?" But they had no idea what he was talking about. So he went back to Nazareth with them, and lived obediently with them. His mother held these things dearly, deep within herself. And Jesus matured, growing up in both body and spirit, blessed by both God and people." Luke 2:49-52

As you enter into this new school year, what new things is God teaching you? How are you being challenged? What are you teaching others about who God is through your words and actions? I would encourage you to take what you are learning and let it fill your mind, and also your heart and spirit.

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, I'm going to look for you every day this school year. 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.

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 07:16 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, August 17 2015

Today we will be reflecting upon the second P of the four P's of promise; path which follows a pivotal decision.

My wife Debbie made a pivotal decision when she decided to test her hand at repurposing furniture for resale. She had always wanted to work with wood, but she didn't have any formal instruction nor apprenticeship. So she did what many of us do these days. She watched You Tube videos.

If you've ever worked with wood you know that it can be very unforgiving and you can be certain that your flaws will find you out! To follow this path she was on, Debbie learned that flaws and mistakes are not an option, rather, they are a certainty. She discovered that the path of promise is a mix of excitement, creativity, curiosity, uncertainty, disappointment, and the need for flexibility. Regularly when I asked her how it was going she would respond, "It's not what I envisioned, but we'll see...I'm not giving up on it!" Truth be told, the end product has never ended up as her beginning vision, but each new piece she works on goes through a similar cycle with stunning results. The path we forge in life is a direct result of our handiwork.

The scriptures speak of God's handiwork. " For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." 
-Ephesians 2:10

Our handiwork is a part of this path that God has prepared for us in advance. Many times I have been in a pastoral conversation where a person who says to me, "I guess God's not through with me yet or I guess God has more for me to do, I just need to figure out what it is."

That is a faith analogy for God repurposing our lives, much like how Debbie repurposes furniture. If you are on that path, stay tuned for next week's reflection regarding the third P of promise; persistence.

Prayer for Today

God of promise, shine your light on our path and show us the way that you want us to travel, so that by faith, our trust in you will grant us the courage to forge ahead into your promised future. Amen. 

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 09:44 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, August 14 2015

Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world." 

-John 8:12 

We remember Albert Einstein for more than his disheveled hair, big eyes, and witty charm. We know him as the genius and physicist who changed the way we see the world. His famous formula of E=mc2 revolutionized scientific thought and brought us into the nuclear age. Through his "Special Theory of Relativity" he reasoned that since everything in the universe is in motion, all knowledge is a matter of perspective. He believed that the speed of light is the only constant by which we can measure space, time, or physical mass.
 
Long before Einstein, Jesus talked about the role of light in understanding our world, but from a different perspective. To support His claim to be the Light of the World (John 8:12), Jesus healed a man who had been blind from birth (9:6). When the Pharisees accused Christ of being a sinner, this grateful man said, "Whether He is a sinner or not I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see" (v. 25).

While Einstein's ideas would later be proven difficult to test, Jesus' claims can be tested. We can spend time with Jesus in the Gospels. We can invite Him into our daily routine. We can see for ourselves that He can change our perspective on everything.

Prayer for Today

Lord Jesus, You are the one constant in this chaotic world. Thank You for being the one true Light that the darkness can never extinguish. Amen.

Posted by: Our Daily Bread AT 07:49 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, August 13 2015

Quick: name this year's Heisman trophy winner, the winner of the Miss America contest, someone who won a Nobel or Pulitzer Prize, and any of this year's Oscar winners.  Now name the person most responsible for bringing you to Christ, two people who stood with you during a tough time, three teachers who have stirred in you a love for God's word, and four friends who have touched you with unconditional love.

How did you do?  Chances are a lot better on the second list.  We live in a world that glorifies the first list.  Fame, even 15 minutes of it, is a prerequisite for greatness.  Yet a greatness so quickly forgotten isn't great after all.  One list fades; the other list remains because it contains the true heroes in our lives, the ones who have helped connect us to God and to eternity. 
 
While I might be a bit biased, I believe the greatest ministry of the church is transferring the faith from one generation to the next, of truly connecting people to God and eternity. This coming year you, the members of our church, have an opportunity to be a part of that by volunteering in either the children's or youth ministry here at Johns Creek.  This Sunday morning from 9:00-10:45 a.m. in Friendship Hall Allison Shearouse and I will be training our adult volunteers for their work with our young people.  Would you prayerfully consider being a part of either of these important ministries?  If so, then come join us whether you are fully committed or simply curious.  We would love to have you.
 
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them on your children.                                  
-Deuteronomy 6:4-7a

Prayer for Today

We pray today for our children and youth, that we as a church would raise them up in the ways they should go so that when they grow older they will not part from them.  Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Scott Huie AT 04:35 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, August 12 2015

Yesterday I had the privilege of driving my son's 1988 Cadillac Coupe De Ville - a "classic." It used to belong to his grandfather and it is one year older than he is. The car still runs, but the air-conditioning usually doesn't. Even at its age, it is still the smoothest riding car in our family.

The term "classic" is one we use to describe something that transcends time. Classical literature is more than just a contemporary bestseller. It is a book that continues to speak of timeless themes, like a play by Shakespeare or a novel by Melville. We can go back and read them again and again to find something new that still speaks to our life situations today.
 
Maybe we can think of the good news of the gospel as "classic." When we speak of God's love that literally transcends time (and space), we are re-telling a story that speaks to each person in every life situation. John 3:16 (yes, the same Bible verse you see on the signs held up during televised football games) tells the classic message: For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (NIV) Classic!
 
Sometimes we see or hear something that some might call "classic", but all we see is old, out-of-date, obsolete, or irrelevant. However, in this case, when it comes to the love of God, we would be missing out on something that continues to be new, up-to-date, timely, and relevant. We would be missing out on what life is all about.
 
Is there anything in your life that you would describe as truly classic? A song? An episode of a TV show? Your favorite pair of shoes? A jacket? What about the ways God has shown you his love over the years? Today, think about one of those times and then thank God for how he has shown you his classic, transcending love.

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, your love for us is not confined by time or space. It is infinite, deep, all-powerful, comforting, and exactly what we need. Thank you for your classic love. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 07:07 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, August 11 2015

It's the time of year when I extend invitations to our church family to teach and lead in our Education ministries. This passage that Paul writes to Timothy is a powerful message for all of us:

Get the word out. Teach all these things. And don't let anyone put you down because you're young. Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity. Stay at your post reading Scripture, giving counsel, teaching. And that special gift of ministry you were given when the leaders of the church laid hands on you and prayed-keep that dusted off and in use.
-1 Timothy 4:11-14, The Message
 
Everyone needs to be reminded that God creates us with a calling for each of our lives. Everyone is given gifts that need to be shared with the world.
 
Many of us have talents and gifts that no one knows about or that we use or share hesitantly. You have been given with many talents and abilities. They may be small or large. Whatever your gift may be, God can use it. Have you tucked them away? Have you developed your gifts for God to use?
 
My challenge for you this week is to dust them off and put them to use!

Prayer for Today

Eternal God,
who are the light of the minds that know you,
the joy of the hearts that love you,
and the strength of the wills that serve you;
Open our minds, hearts and strength to use the gifts you have provided for us.
in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
-Augustine

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 07:42 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, August 10 2015

Last week, I mentioned that I would be reflecting on the 4 Ps of Promise; pivotal decisions, path, persistence, and perseverance.  Here we go with pivotal decisions.

Tomorrow we are moving our daughter, Maryneal, into her dorm room at UGA. She had dreamed of being a Bulldog for many years, but Maryneal made the pivotal decision last fall that set her on this course. As parents, we dreamed of Maryneal's promised future, her destiny, and here it is.

The Bible is full of stories that involve necessary pivotal decisions to live within the promises of God. Abraham and Sarah pivoted their lives in order to follow God in the promise of covenant. Moses invited the children of Israel to make a pivotal decision when they prepared to enter the land that God had promised Abraham and Sarah. He said, "...I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse, therefore choose life that you and your descendants may live!" (Deuteronomy 30: 19).

 The tax collector Zacchaeus was invited to pivot his life through a decision when our Lord beaconed to him: "Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today!"  (Luke 19: 5) You probably know the rest of the story of how this up-a-tree cheat turned his life around and reconciled with those he had cheated.

Scripture teaches us how pivotal decisions can be simply profound in shaping the course of our lives. However, let's not forget that while decisions are formative they ultimately aren't burdened with the make-it/break-it quality with which we often burden them. So often these pivotal decisions are preceded with decisions that just didn't seem to pan out. Could it be that pivotal decisions rest on a foundation of both successful and failed decisions? If so, there is hope for us all and isn't that what's at the heart of the scriptural stories I referenced above?!!

If so, we can proceed along the next of the 4 Ps: path. Talk to you next week.

Prayer for Today

God of promise, grant us the wisdom of your Holy Spirit to place our trust in you so that as we make pivotal decisions in our lives.  We trust that we are striving to live the life you are calling us to live. Amen. 

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 08:57 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, August 07 2015

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.  -Genesis 1:1, 31
 
The words to this hymn were written by Mrs. Cecil Frances Alexander, the wife of William Alexander, the Anglican Bishop of Ireland.  Fanny, as she was known to her family and friends, was born in 1818 in Dublin, Ireland, the third and final child to a wealthy and prominent family.
 
The introverted Fanny showed an interest in poetry at a very young age, the earliest of which first appeared in a family weekly magazine.  Her writing was greatly influenced by clergymen and proponents of the influential Oxford movement. Fanny was a prolific author, and a number of her books and writings were published during her lifetime. 
 
She was inspired to write "All Things Bright and Beautiful" when trying, with difficulty, to teach a group of children the meaning of the Apostles' Creed.  When traditional teaching methods failed, she decided to write a series of hymns based on various phrases of the creed.
 
She based this hymn on the phrase, "I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth."  The hymn celebrates "each little flower that opens" and "each little bird that sings," and speaks of "glowing colors" and "tiny wings," but most of all it affirms that "the Lord God made them all." 
 
Fanny wrote other hymns to illustrate other phrases of the Apostles' Creed, including such famous hymns as "Once in Royal David's City" and "There Is a Green Hill Far Away."  She thought of these as children's hymns and published them in a collection of hymns entitled Hymns for Little Children.  It was a wildly successful hymnal that went through nearly seventy editions during her lifetime and one hundred editions altogether.
 
Mrs. Alexander was quite generous with her time and money, donating the profits from her hymn collection to a school for the deaf.  She was active in ministry to unwed mothers, and was instrumental in establishing a nursing service in her area.  She was known for her devotion to the poor, mentally handicapped, the deaf, and the sick.  Upon her death in 1895 in Londonderry, the cathedral bell began to ring, announcing her passing to the city, and her family was surprised by the outpouring of thousands of condolences.
 
As we sing this hymn on Sunday, may we sing with gusto, offering heartfelt praise and thanksgiving for all things bright and beautiful in our world!

The ivy-clad Llanwenarth House in the Usk Valley near Abergavenny, on the estate where Cecil Alexander was inspired to write "All Things Bright and Beautiful."
 

The "purple-headed mountains" and "river running by" 
of the Usk Valley referred to in the hymn 
"All Things Bright and Beautiful" penned at Llanwenarth House by Irish composer Cecil Alexander.

Prayer for Today
 
Praise to thee, O Lord, for all creation.  Give us thankful hearts that we may see all the gifts we share and every blessing, for all things come of thee.  Amen. 

Posted by: Alicia Taylor AT 07:27 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, August 06 2015

With the school year beginning and kids consumed with all the stress that that brings, I am reminded once again of the parable of the pencil.  

The pencil maker told the pencil five important lessons just before putting it into the box:
1) Everything you do will always leave a mark.
2) You can always correct the mistakes you make.
3) What is important is what is inside of you.
4) In life, you will undergo painful sharpenings, which will only make you better.
5) To be the best pencil, you must allow yourself to be held and guided by the hand that holds you.

So much gospel truth in these five life lessons about the pencil.  God made us to shine, to be light, to be salt-to leave our mark.  There is nothing we can do that can't be forgiven by God.  Character counts.  Life is hard, but in hard times we grow.  Ultimately, it's a God thing, so "let go, and let God."  Not every sermon has to be 20 minutes! 

 
To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.  -Colossians 1:27

Prayer for Today
 
Dear God, Thank you for our schools - places that equip us to grow and mature and learn.  May we all be good students - and more importantly, faithful disciples. May our abiding hope be your presence in us. Amen. 

Posted by: Rev. Scott Huie AT 08:53 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, August 05 2015

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 
- Mark 1:35, NIV
 
During my recent time off, part of my Continuing Education was spent at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. The spiritual retreat I attended lasted from Monday to Thursday. In addition to six presentations on "The Spirituality of Imperfection", we were invited to pray with the monks at 4:00 a.m., 7:00 a.m., 12:20 p.m., 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.  Each time of prayer was a service of singing, scripture reading, a few words, and sometimes communion.
 
As you might imagine, starting my day at 3:30 a.m. was new for me -- but of all the times I went to prayer, the 4:00 a.m. services were the most meaningful to me. After some brief singing and scripture reading, there were 30 minutes of silent prayer. You might think I was tempted to fall back asleep, but surprisingly that became a time in which nothing else seemed to claim my attention except God. Maybe it was because no one else was awake at that time - except those of us gathered together to pray. Our part of the world seemed like it had yet to get busy, so the stillness allowed some moments of deep communion with God.
 
Since that time, I have been starting most of my weekdays by getting up at 5:00 a.m. to pray. (4:00 a.m. still seems a little early for me - at least for now.) I can see why Mark's gospel tells us about the time Jesus got up before dawn to pray. There is something special about focusing on reading scripture and praying for others that establishes a spiritual foundation for my day even before it begins. It doesn't mean the day is without challenges -- I just feel better equipped to face them. (If you are looking for a good online resource, the PCUSA's "Daily Prayer" app is what I am using now.)

Prayer for Today
 
Gracious God, whatever the time of day, wherever we are, you have promised to be there. Open us up and slow us down enough to focus on you. Fill us with your Spirit this day. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen. 

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 09:09 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, August 04 2015

Have you ever planted bulbs? I have planted them on several occasions during my adult life and waited patiently throughout the winter. Once spring began to arrive, I watered them regularly and impatiently waited to see the first hint of green sprout through the soil. When I finally did, I wanted to see growth overnight and have the beautiful daffodils to enjoy. As you probably know, it did not happen overnight or even over the course of a week.

These daffodil bulbs are a reminder to me that growth does not happen overnight in our lives either. As adults in our community of faith, we serve in roles as teachers, leaders, parents, and friends to the children and youth in our midst. God calls us to help plant the seeds and continue to nurture them. The nurturing process takes time and sometimes we are not the ones who get to see them bloom.
 
As we begin a new school year, I am reminded of what a privilege it is to be called to water and nurture these children and young people. We walk with them at a very important part of their journey.
 
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.
-Ephesians 3:16-18

Prayer for Today
 
Creator God, 
May our vision each day of the world around us remind us that you so loved the world that you sent Jesus, your Son, to be one of us. In all that we observe, open our eyes so that we may really see and grow in wonder and appreciation. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 07:05 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, August 03 2015

Last week I read a Facebook post by my nephew Nick. He is an accomplished guitarist and he was reflecting upon the number of people and opportunities he has experienced since making the childhood decision to learn to play the guitar. Nick stated, "One simple decision changed the course of my life!"

Have you ever thought of how pivotal a decision can be? In Nick's case, he proclaimed that it changed the course of his life. I remember watching him grow in his skill set and thinking that he was a promising young guitarist that could go places.
 
I decided to comment on Nick's post and I reminded him that accompanying this pivotal decision were hours upon hours of practice. For promise to grow the pivotal decision needs to follow the path of perseverance and persistence.
 
The Bible speaks to the promises of God in the language of covenant. Remember the story of the covenant that God made with Abraham and Sarah? God promised them both land and descendants that would outnumber the stars! Of course, this golden aged couple didn't sit back and think, "Wow! We're set for retirement!!!" Rather they had to make the pivotal decision to leave home and follow a path which required both persistence and perseverance.
 
I believe that God holds many promises for our lives and that we both live within these promises and come to understand the magnitude that they hold for us through the process of making pivotal decisions to follow a path which requires both persistence and perseverance.
 
Over the next several weeks, I will reflect out loud with you about these 4 Ps of promise: pivotal, path, persistence, and perseverance. Feel free to share with me stories about how these 4 Ps has changed the course of your life. Or perhaps you are thinking about a simple decision which holds a promise to change the course of your life. Feel free to share your thoughts on that as well.

Prayer for Today
 
God of Abraham and Sarah, grant us the gift of your promises. Help us to decide to follow your path and through your Spirit, grant us the faith of persistence and the hope of perseverance, so that we will come to know the fullness of your purposes for our lives. Amen.  

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 09:33 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
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