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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, February 29 2016

Clay. I left our staff meeting last week with clay on my mind. No we didn't do a team building exercise using clay but if we would have been searching scripture during our discussion of community ministries here at JCPC, I'm convinced our minds would have turned to that material that is fashioned in a potter's hand. Clay.

After the meeting, my mind dialed up several scripture passages that speak about our relationship to God using this earthy metaphor. Here are two that jumped out at me:

"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us." 
-2 Corinthians 4:7

"Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, 'Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?' declares the Lord. Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel."   -Jeremiah 18: 5-6

So what had me thinking about clay when I left our staff meeting? We were discussing three unique ministry/missions of JCPC which help to shape young lives in our community. Each of these ministries is inspired by the knowledge that young souls are shaped or should I say molded through the attentive care of skilled potters.

Our preschool with its wonderful staff and teachers has been molding the clay of little one's for several decades now. The same is true of our scouting program as its selfless leaders have been molding timeless virtues. Newer on the scene, but with potter skill none-the-less is our Academy of Fine Arts. Years ago, I learned that "music is the universal language of hope" and the Academy is helping to shape hope in aspiring artists.

Together, in the hands of the potter, these ministry/missions of JCPC mold into earthen vessel's souls that learn to trust through loving care; learn to behave through life-giving and life-sustaining virtues, and learn the type of hope that transcends the toil and tear of daily living. "Like clay in the hand of the potter..."

Little wonder I was thinking of clay! Please take the time to pray for these ministries of the potter!

Prayer for Today

Eternal God, you are the potter and we are your clay. Model us into the people you would have us to become, so that through our lives, your love and your glory will shine brightly in the darkness of our world. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 05:02 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, February 26 2016

Alicia Taylor

O God, you are my God ... because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.  So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name.  My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night.
 -Psalm 63:1a, 4-6 (NRSV)
 
Our children are participating in worship this Sunday, singing "We, the Children, Lift Our Voices."  With a song, each heart rejoices, praising God forevermore, as God is the song and the joy of our lives.  Singing praises to God is one of the earliest forms of prayer, and there is nothing more beautiful than hearing the voices of young children offering praise to their Creator.
 
As children in Sunday School, we sang, "Praise Him, Praise Him, Jesus, our blessed Redeemer."  At Vacation Bible School, we attempted to see who could sing the loudest as we belted out, "Praise ye, the Lord, hallelujah!" as we jumped up from a crouched position and threw our hands up in the air, first one side of the room and then the other.
 
We grew up singing, "Praise ye the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation," and "This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long!"  There is no hymn any more rich in text than Psalm 103, "Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven," concluding with resounding alleluias descending from the tune's highest note, giving voice to the praise that the rest of the hymn evokes.
 
Each Sunday, after we have presented our offerings to God, we as a congregation rise to our feet singing the doxology to the tune of Old Hundredth, "Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow."  Praise is our response to the riches we enjoy - God's unfailing mercy, steadfast love, and abundant blessings.
 
When we've been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we've no less days to sing God's praise than when we'd first begun.  Praise ye the Lord, Hallelujah!  Everybody praise the Lord!  Have you hummed your way through this Reflections piece?  Praise God for the gift of music!

Prayer for Today

Omnipotent God, to thee our morning hymns ascends, and when the day thou gavest ends, Lord, thy praise shall hallow our rest.  Amen.

Posted by: Alicia Taylor AT 04:54 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, February 25 2016

Gray's sermon on Sunday on the radical hospitality of welcoming children reminded me of an inspiring letter from advice columnist Erma Bombeck entitled "On Smiling in Church":

In church the other Sunday, I was intent on a small child who was turning around smiling at everyone.  He wasn't gurgling, spitting, humming, kicking, tearing the hymnals, or rummaging through his mother's handbag.  He was just smiling.
 
Finally his mother jerked him about, and in a stage whisper that could be heard in a little theater off Broadway said: "Stop that grinning. You're in church."  With that she gave him a belt on the behind and as tears rolled down his cheeks added, "That's better," and returned to her prayers.
 
Suddenly I was angry.  It occurred to me the entire world is in tears, and if you're not you'd better get with it.  I wanted to grab this child with the tear-stained face and tell him about my God.  The happy God.  The loving God.  The God with a sense of humor to have created the likes of us. 
 
I wanted to tell him he is an understanding God.  One who understands little children who pick their noses in church because they are bored.  He understands the man in the parking lot who reads the paper while his wife is in the church.  He even understands my shallow prayers that implore, "If you can't make me thin, then make my friends look fat."
 
I wanted to tell him I've taken a few lumps from daring to smile in church.  By tradition one wears faith with the solemnity of a mourner, the gravity of a mask of tragedy, and the dedication of a Rotary badge.
 
What a fool, I thought.  Here a woman sitting next to the only light left in our civilization, the only hope, a miracle.  If he couldn't smile in church, where was there left to go?

May our radical hospitality at church and in our homes always include welcoming children...and smiling!

Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.  Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.  -Mark 10:14,15

Prayer for Today

O God, we thank you for our kids and for the wonderful privilege it is to share our faith with them.  Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Scott Huie AT 04:56 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, February 24 2016

I began reading through the gospel of John at the beginning of the year. This week I came across a verse that caught my attention. It says this about Jesus, "From this time many disciples turned back and no longer followed him."(John 6:60-69, NIV) Prior to this Jesus had been speaking words that sound like what we say during communion - referring to his body and blood. I can see how it might have sounded strange to those who heard it for the first time.

What was Jesus talking about? His disciples call it "a hard teaching" that is difficult to accept. But, to think of those who followed Jesus, who had heard his teaching in person, who had seen some of the miracles he performed -- simply deciding to walk away, that still surprises me. I wonder what I would have done in their situation. Would I have "turned back and no longer followed" Jesus, or would I have stayed the course - even if it was hard?
 
I wonder what tempts us today to turn back and no longer follow Jesus. Is it some teaching that we don't fully understand? Or, is it a teaching we understand too clearly, but the teaching is "hard" - something that is not easy to do, or does not fit in easily with our lifestyle? My guess is that this is something we all struggle with - I know I do.
 
When Jesus sees some of that larger group of disciples no longer follow him, he asks the smaller group, the Twelve, "You do not want to leave, too, do you?" Peter answers for the Twelve, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to know that you are the Holy One of God." Peter was not always the "smartest tool in the shed", but I think he got it right here. Because he believed Jesus was the Son of God, he was willing to stick it out, even when it was hard. I want to encourage us to do the same. In the long run, you will be glad you did!

Prayer for Today

Lord, sometimes following you is hard. Sometimes we don't understand, or we understand all too clearly -- but either way it is still hard. Help us to trust you and stick with you, even when it gets hard. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 05:23 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, February 23 2016

Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. Genesis 2:3

 Do not come any closer," God said (to Moses). "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. Exodus 3:5
"Holy" is a word we may hear a lot in church, but what does it mean?

One simple definition is "set apart." This doesn't necessarily mean being physically separate. It can mean to be different in your deepest self, in your way of being. To be holy is to be designated for a sacred purpose, set apart to live a life that does not look like others.

The Bible frequently praises God as holy. This makes sense - who would want to worship a God who was just like anyone else? We need God to be different than us and the standards we are used to.

What might it mean when God tells us to "be holy, as I am holy" (Leviticus 11:44)?

Perhaps it means that we are to live lives that look different, that are set apart from what is ordinary or standard, to serve a sacred purpose.

What might it look like for you to live as a reflection of a holy God today?

Prayer for Today

Dear God, Help me shine in ways that reflect how I am trying to live a life that is holy, set apart to serve you. 
In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 04:48 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, February 22 2016

For the past decade or so, I have heard people complaining that they have been stretched to their limits. Calendars have been subdivided to demarcate 15 minute segments of time. Parents fill what was once "free time" with chauffeuring several children to different locations for night time activities. Technology has created for many a 24/7 work week through their smart phones or tablets. We are stretched to our limits.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that even some of our technology is now stretched to the limit or should I say packed. Have you ever heard of Moore's Law? The premise is that computing power doubles every two years. Well Moore's Law may be coming to an end because computer chips are running out of space on which to add more circuits. Perhaps nothing is limitless in this life.

That is unless you are talking about God's love. The Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:7 says that the peace of Christ which transcends all understanding will protect our hearts. That's good news because our hearts need protecting when we wind down from our days so often packed beyond our limits.

In fact, it is Christ who entered into our human limitations in order to bring us peace. Jesus brought healing to those whose diseased bodies tested the limits of health. He welcomed sinners to come eat at his table while the self-righteous limited their table to only those like them. He beckoned little children to come to him, while society's norm at that time severely limited their value as human beings.

Jesus tested our beliefs on the limits humans placed on God; whom God loves, how to "win" God's favor and who is in and who is out in God's kingdom.

In fact, Jesus entered into the ultimate limit in life- death - to show how deep and how far God's love is willing to go for us.
This Lent as you reflect upon the greatest love of all, may your hearts be protected by the peace of Christ which passes all understanding.

Prayer for Today

Protect our hearts, we pray O Lord, for our burdens often overwhelm us and feel as if they are too much to bear. Bless us with the peace of Christ, so that through the mercy he offers to our lives, we might find our rest in him. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 04:45 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, February 19 2016

Though the fig tree does not bud . . . yet I will rejoice in the Lord.
-Habakkuk 3:17-18

The news was numbing.  The tears came so quickly that she couldn't fight them.  Her mind raced with questions, and fear threatened to overwhelm her.  Life had been going along so well, when it was abruptly interrupted and forever changed without warning.

Tragedy can come in many forms - loss of a loved one, an illness, the loss of wealth or our livelihood.  And it can happen to anyone at any time.  

Our God who has proven Himself faithful throughout the years is always with us.

Although the prophet Habakkuk knew that tragedy was coming, it still struck fear in his heart.  As he waited for the day when Babylon would invade the kingdom of Judah, his heart pounded, his lips quivered, and his legs trembled. -Habakkuk 3:16 

Fear is a legitimate emotion in the face of tragedy, but it doesn't have to immobilize us.  When we don't understand the trials we are going through, we can recount how God has worked in history (verses 3-15).  That's what Habakkuk did.  It didn't dispel his fear, but it gave him the courage to move on by choosing to praise the Lord (verse 18).

Our God who has proven Himself faithful throughout the years is always with us.  Because His character doesn't change, in our fear we can say with a confident voice of faith, "The Sovereign Lord is my strength!" (verse 19)

Prayer for Today

Dear Lord, when my world is turned upside down, help me to trust You. You have always been faithful to me. Amen.

Posted by: Our Daily Bread AT 05:27 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, February 18 2016

While visiting Nashville this past weekend, I had my first official interview with a church.  I do intend to work part time in a church, and this church of 40 members is looking for a pastor.  I met two men for breakfast at the City Café in downtown Murfreesboro, right off the square.  The place was bustling with patrons hungry for good food and fellowship, a restaurant older than my grandmother and with lots of local color.

We placed our orders and then began the process of getting to know each other.  I came to find out that that restaurant was where Hank Williams Jr. recorded his "Are You Ready for Some Football?" video for Monday Night Football, as well as where other famous country artists often gathered.  As we settled into our discussion and the waitress brought me my "redneck omelet," I asked the two men why they joined the church.  One of their answers caught my attention.  He said, "Of all the churches I visited, this one needed me the most."
 
It was such a simple yet provocative response.  He didn't say, "I joined this church because of the preaching or the music or the programming or the potlucks," or any other often cited reason.  He didn't say, "I joined this church because it met my family's needs."  He said very simply, "This church needed me the most."  Very profound answer.
 
While of course we want church to be inspiring, challenging, and a fun, meaningful place that does meet the spiritual needs of our families, a deeper, more selfless criterion is:  Where in the church am I needed?  Where can my gifts be used for the greater good?  Consider this day where God is calling you to a place of need within the church.  And then go for it!
 
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the might acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. -1 Peter 2:9,10

Prayer for Today

O God, help us each to find our place in your church, a place where we are needed, a place where we can live out our calling as your people.  Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Scott Huie AT 05:11 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, February 17 2016

Last Monday evening we had a very energetic Session meeting, filled with good ideas and decisions. One of those decisions was to adopt "The Five Practices of Faithful Congregations" as our church-wide themes for now through Spring of 2018. These "Five Practices" are Radical Hospitality, Extravagant Generosity, Risk-Taking Mission and Service, Intentional Faith Development, and Passionate Worship. Our plan is to focus on each of these themes for part of the year in the hope that we will discover ways to live these out. I have already begun a new series of messages for the season of Lent leading up to Easter called "Radical Hospitality." Each Sunday we will look at a different Bible story to help us imagine what this looks like. This Fall we will focus on "Extravagant Generosity."

For our recent Session Retreat, we started going deeper into each one of these five practices and how they might begin to shape what we do here at JCPC. Some of our Ministry Teams are already beginning to explore new ways to engage these practices.  As our current Long-range Plan comes to an end with the completion of our final goal - the building of the new multipurpose building - it is time for us to renew our focus for the coming years. Please be in prayer for our church as we seek to be faithful in doing what God would have us do.
 
This is a challenging time for all churches - but we will make it through as we pull together and move forward into God's future. One thing is for sure - following Jesus is never boring! On our Session Retreat, I shared the Bible story about the time Jesus is asleep in the boat with the disciples during a storm. Jesus seems unfazed by what is going on -- but the disciples are panicked! Jesus calms the storm, and then they move on. I believe it is always safer in the boat with Jesus - even when there is a storm! God's faithful promise is that the One who can calm the storm will never leave us and will always see us through.

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, in the storms of life we often feel anxious and afraid. In the same way that Jesus calmed the storm, calm our fears. Help us to trust you that, in the end, it will be okay and it will be good! We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 05:30 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, February 16 2016

Consider the word wonder in this passage from Deuteronomy:
The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. -Deuteronomy 26:8-9 

It seems that we live in a culture that is not easily impressed. We are inundated with so much information and sensory experiences that we may be numb to experiences of awe and wonder. Do we minimize feeling awe and wonder out of pressure to know it all? Or a fear of feeling small? Am I too busy?
 
We each have our own images and associations with the word wonder, informed by our life experiences and our hopes. Today, as you read these verses from Deuteronomy and the fulfilled promise that God would lead Israel from being a wandering people to being a people with a home and a plentiful land on which to live.
 
As we experience this forty day season it is a time to reflect on one's journey of faith, to examine our relationships, and to become a part of the story of Jesus' journey to Jerusalem and the cross. By observing this season, we are invited to step out of regular time (school...jobs...activities...) and into God's time for awhile. We are called to examine our lives and repent or gain a new perspective or path forward. We are also challenged to be open to experiences of being in awe or wonder.
 
As we consider the word wonder and its meaning for us let's also remember those who are still waiting. Waiting to experience signs and wonders and land that is theirs.

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, you know the tests and trials we face. Walk with us through this wilderness. Come to us with ministers of healing and visit us with messengers of hope,
so that we may return to you in faith, believing the good news of the gospel. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 07:43 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, February 15 2016

Gray began a series of Lenten sermons yesterday focusing on one of the 5 practices of fruitful congregations; radical hospitality. If you were in worship, you heard him tell the story of a pastor who learned a lesson about hospitality from a 94 year old woman who befriended him while he served her country church.

I immediately connected with this story because when I was a seminarian I became one in the line of many student pastors who filled the pulpit of Grayville Presbyterian Church in Grayville, Illinois. Beginning in January of 1981, 
I would drive 135 miles from Louisville, KY to serve the role of pastor at the ripe old age of twenty three.

The members of this rural church taught me many lessons in hospitality. One of their primary missions was to allow a student minister to learn how to preach weekly, provide pastoral care and work with the session before they graduated and went out into the "big world." When I reflect upon their hospitality, I'm indebted to them (as well as those who preceded and proceeded me) because we were all beginners.

But they didn't want us to think of ourselves as beginners. I think they understood how fragile our preacher esteem was for all us neophytes. So they gave us a gift at the beginning of our tenure. One that they were able to enjoy when we strode up to the pulpit and one that allowed us to feel grown up.

I'm proud to say that this month marks the 35 year that I have worn the robe that the kind members of Grayville Presbyterian Church presented to me in the winter of 1981. I was so proud to dawn this robe and its newness was like wearing a freshly pressed suit.

As I listened to Gray preach about hospitality, I thought of my robe and the people of Grayville. Their hospitality paid it forward and little did they know that this traveling robe, presented 35 years ago would find its home at Johns Creek Presbyterian Church.

Prayer for Today

God of grace and God of glory, we thank you for the gift of hospitality. Help us to see that so much of our lives is based in gift, the kindness of strangers, and the sacrificial love of others. In the name of Christ, we thank you. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 08:39 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, February 12 2016

Alicia Taylor

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.  Hebrews 4:15

One of my favorite Lenten hymns is "Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley," an American spiritual which rose out of poor rural white communities in the South.  The hymn portrays the true humanity of Jesus Christ in enduring the trials and temptations of life just as do all other humans.  When singing the hymn, I always feel especially close to God, thinking that Jesus understands all too well how challenging life can sometimes be.
 
A New Testament allusion to the hymn may be the Hebrews passage above.  Jesus' temptations in the wilderness were not new, not unique to him.  They were as old as the Garden of Eden, where the serpent tempted Adam and Eve with the promise to be like God.  They are as ordinary as the temptations you and I encounter every day. 
 
We may not see how Jesus' temptations relate to ours, but I believe they do.  In his book on Christian leadership, In the Name of Jesus, the late Henri Nouwen wrote about "the temptation to be spectacular," and churches and individual Christians fall prey as often and as easily as anyone.
 
Nouwen's antidote for this temptation may be hard for us to swallow - confession and forgiveness.  It means that we need to admit to God and one other person how we have failed, how life has broken us, how we are not so fine after all.  When we confess to God and another person, we can accept forgiveness, which means we are loved by God, no matter what, which means we can be fully human, like Jesus.
 
The text of the hymn moves on to make these experiences personal by saying in stanza 2, "We must walk this lonesome valley."  We can believe Jesus knows our lonesome valley, maybe even better than we ever realized.  He walked it long before we did, all the way to the cross, and came out the other side, up from the grave.  Because he did, we can live with confidence that nothing in life and in death can separate us from the one who knows us through and through, and loves us still and all.  He did it all to save us and strengthen us, so we can finish the song, "You must go and stand your trial, you have to stand it by yourself, O, nobody else can stand it for you, you have to stand it by yourself."

Yet, since Jesus walked this lonesome valley, we are never alone when we face our trials.  He stands alongside of us, stands in our place, and supports us every step of the way. 

Prayer for Today

Lord, we offer thanksgiving this day and every day that we never journey alone.  Amen.

Posted by: Alicia Taylor AT 08:04 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, February 11 2016

While we are cherished by God and made in the image of God, we are also "dust and to dust we shall return."  There are moments we may sit in the defendant's box and there are moments we may sit in the jury box, but no one is fully good, and no one is fully evil.  We are a complexity, fully able to act loving one moment and then hurtful the next.  So as we enter into Lent, let us all turn to our God for forgiveness and discover God's grace once again.

"All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God..." Romans 3:23

Prayer for Today

May we be ever mindful of who we are, O God, both as sinners and those made in your image.  Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.  Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.  Amen. 

Posted by: Rev. Scott Huie AT 08:02 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, February 10 2016

Today begins the season of Lent. Tonight at our Ash Wednesday service (beginning at 7:00 p.m. after dinner at 6:00 p.m.) we will enter into a period of time in which we prepare ourselves for the coming of Easter and the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. So, why do we put ashes on our foreheads?

Traditionally, it goes back to practices that Christians have used for centuries to symbolize penitence and mourning for our sins. I have to admit that those things seem so out of touch with our world today. How many of us even know exactly what the word "penitence" means? And "mourning" our sins? Most of the time I see people celebrating their sins -- or at least challenging anyone who calls anything a sin anymore.
 
But, maybe that's exactly why we need something like Ash Wednesday - to remind us of something important we may have forgotten. We do this not to beat up on ourselves in some masochistic way, but to admit we all have missed the mark and need some help to find our way back home.
 
I like the way the writer Anne Lamott talks honestly about her experience of Ash Wednesday:
Ash Wednesday came early this year. It is supposed to be about preparation, about consecration, about moving toward Easter, toward resurrection and renewal. It offers us a chance to break through the distractions that keep us from living the basic Easter message of love, of liv­ing in wonder rather than doubt. For some people, it is about fasting, to symbolize both solidarity with the hungry and the hunger for God. (I, on the other hand, am not heavily into fasting; the thought of missing even a single meal sends me running in search of Ben and Jerry's Mint Oreo.)  (From Traveling Mercies)
I hope you will make time in your busy schedule to join us tonight at JCPC for dinner at 6 p.m. But, if you can't make dinner - to at least come to the Ash Wednesday service at 7:00 p.m. I believe it will be worth your time.

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, we are so busy. Maybe one reason we are so busy is so that we don't have to slow down enough to think about life. So, help us to slow down today, tonight, and in the coming days -- that we might find rest and renewal for our souls. We ask this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 08:03 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, February 09 2016

As most of us are experiencing some type of snow today, I was reminded of an excerpt from a book I've enjoyed, "Sabbath in the Suburbs" (MaryAnn McKibben Dana).  Her insight is a helpful one as we embark on the journey of Lent together.  She raises this question, "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?'"

I have experienced a few days or in some cases a whole week of winter conditions that shut things down in the south. It's a rare occasion where you really are 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?

This week marks the beginning of our Lenten journey together, starting tomorrow with Ash Wednesday. Since Lent is part of the journey of faith I would invite you to think about where you are as we begin. 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 as you prepare for your experience with Lent this year. 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 start these 40 days, look closely for how God may be using you to share your experiences with others.

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 05:11 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, February 08 2016

Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst

How many times in your life have you used the phrase "I can't wait for....?" When I begin to reflect on my use of the phrase my mind floods with seminal events. I can't wait to see if I made the team. I can't wait to graduate. I can't wait to get married. I can't wait to be a father. I can't wait for my kids to be old enough to play games with me. I can't wait to see where they choose to go to college. I can't wait to get out from under their college expenses. That's just a quick sampling that came to my mind.  I can't wait...

One phrase that I don't hear is "I can't wait until Lent!" For most of us, growing up with Lent meant deciding whether you would give up decadent chocolate for Lent. Unlike Christmas when most of us say, "I can't wait for Christmas" because we are looking forward to getting presents, Lent meant giving up; a kind of cruel Lenten diet after the over indulgence of the Christmas feast. No wonder you won't hear many proclaim, "I can't wait for Lent!"

But wait! The Lenten season is upon us and this week we have two major Lenten observances that help bring meaning into the preparation Lent call us to make in order to be ready for Easter. Ash Wednesday is in two days and I hope you will be attending the Ash Wednesday service. The scripture lesson from which I will be preaching is Psalm 27. The end of the Psalm says, "Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. The phrase "I can't wait for" is based in anticipation and hope. Join me to hear more about the hope that waits for the Lord.

Our prayer vigil is Friday and Saturday. Begin Lent with the ashes of Wednesday and the prayers of the weekend. I can't wait to worship with you!

Prayer for Today

Help us to wait on you, O Lord so with strength of heart we will place our faith in you. As we seek your face, helps us to sense your presence in this day. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 05:21 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, February 05 2016

Aprons, Pineapples, Cookie Jars, and Lemonade

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.  -Hebrews 13:2

My Aunt Gwen has always been one of my very favorite people!  Conjure up the image of Aunt Bee of Mayberry, and you have a pretty good idea the type of individual my aunt is to those who know her best.  For as long as I have known her, Aunt Gwen has always been busy in her kitchen, preparing meals for her family and making certain to have homemade "refreshments" on hand for any back-door friends who may drop by to "sit a spell."
 
And she always wears an apron.  I have vivid memories of my aunt's collection!  I remember watching her don an apron first thing in the morning to roll out her famous biscuits, and she pretty much wore it all the day long, unless she needed to run into town on Saturdays, or until it was time to go to church on Sundays and Wednesdays.
 
One of Aunt Gwen's favorite Bible verses was the Hebrews passage above from the King James Version.  She did her very best to impress upon her daughters and nieces that your home should be made ready to entertain at a moment's notice.  The pastor might come for a visit, a friend may knock at your door for a cup of sugar, or a complete stranger may be in need of a warm meal.
 
Aunt Gwen's advice was to always have a starched apron handy, a pineapple in the fruit bowl on the table as a sign of welcome, a cookie jar full of homemade goodies, and a pitcher of fresh-squeezed lemonade chilling in the fridge.  That way, in a pinch, you could entertain johnny-on-the-spot and offer the gift of gab until you could get a "real meal" on the table.
 
I was recently delighted by the invitation of a young couple in our congregation to share a meal with them in their home.  Upon arriving, the first thing I noticed was that the hostess was wearing a beautiful denim apron, the very same apron her young daughters had given to me as a Christmas gift.  When I opened the box and unfolded the apron, my mind was flooded with warm memories of my Aunt Gwen, and I felt it was truly a God moment in my life.
 
I have felt an undeniable connection with this family since first meeting them last fall, and I offer thanks to them for welcoming me into their home.  That evening, I was truly blessed to read bedtime stories to their beautiful daughters, to share a scrumptious meal prepared with love, and to have the opportunity to "sit a spell" with a brother and sister in Christ.

Prayer for Today

Lord, we thank you for Christian fellowship.  In our busyness, help us to slow down long enough to catch our breath, lest we miss an opportunity to convene with our brothers and sisters in the love of Christ.  Amen.

Posted by: Alicia Taylor AT 06:38 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, February 04 2016

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God."  -Hebrews 12:1-2

I hate running-I abhor it-but I loved running in the Will to Live 5K Run this past Saturday.  There is something about being a part of a greater cause, and raising over $72,000 for suicide prevention awareness with 1600 other runners is indeed a greater cause.
 
But again, running for the sake of running in itself is something I crave about as much as I do cauliflower.  Within the first kilometer, I found myself tired and in pain.  Part of me wanted to give in to my out-of-shapeness and just walk the rest of the way.  But then suddenly, my eyes spotted some motivation.  It was a striking, sandy-haired "old guy" running 50 yards ahead of me who caught my eye: the Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst.  "I can't let Neal beat me," I thought.  "He's old!"  So with my eyes on Neal, I continued jogging with purpose and some renewed pep in my step. 
 
Move forward two kilometers, I'm maintaining and letting Neal set the pace before me, but man, am I ever getting tired again.  I feel like walking.  But then out of nowhere, my friend and church member Honey Cunningham catches me in the run.  It's great to see a familiar, friendly face.  We banter back and forth as she offers encouragement to continue strong.  I find new life with my new running buddy as we approach the final kilometer.
 
However, in connecting with Honey, I notice that Neal has pulled farther ahead.  Like a laser beam, I focus in on the reverend and become determined to catch him.  I put my legs in high gear and fight off the pain for the stretch run.  With a hundred yards to go, I put my motor in high gear.  I tap him on the backside as I pass him and strain across the finish line feeling victorious.  Unbeknownst to Neal, who didn't even know we were "racing," he was my primary motivation for running hard and finishing strong.
 
Such a run is a powerful metaphor for the Christian life. As we run the race of faith and life, as it says in the book of Hebrews, we focus on our leader, not Neal, but Jesus.  He gives us the strength to carry on, to lay aside our sins, persevere in life, and finish the race of faith with creative resilience.  We might even find additional encouragement from our Christian friends around us to hang in there.  Jesus ran his race before us, and that gives us motivation every hour of the day in every task we face.  Praise God!
 
The Trautweins share some family teammate love 
at the Will to Live 5K Run January 30, 2016.

Prayer for Today

O God, we thank you that you don't leave us to our own resources to run the race of life.  You give us Jesus-and one another.  Thank you.  Amen.  

Posted by: Rev. Scott Huie AT 06:10 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, February 03 2016

Twice a year your church staff gathers for a planning day. We usually go offsite. It was at my house this past Monday. We try to spend the morning in some kind of learning event - perhaps bringing in a guest speaker to help us grow in our capacity -- both as individuals and as a staff.

This past Monday we spent the morning reviewing Stephen Covey's classic book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. We had all read the book beforehand. We listened to overviews of each habit presented by a member of the staff. We then asked how we could apply what we learned to our personal lives, our interactions as a staff, and what it might teach us about our congregation as a whole.
 
In some ways, we just scratched the surface of the material because there was so much of it! We will probably be referring back to it for months to come. But, the core concepts are helpful for everyone. They are: 1) Be Proactive; 2) Begin With the End in Mind; 3) First Things First; 4) Think Win/Win; 5) Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood; 6) Synergize; and 7) Sharpen the Saw.
 
The whole time we spent Monday could fall under the heading of "Sharpening the Saw." In his book, Covey talks about how it is worth the time investment to sharpen the saw before you try to cut down the tree. If you do not, you have to exert a lot more effort with a dull saw. Covey suggests that many of us are so busy in life that we forget to sharpen the saw physically, mentally, spiritually, and socially/emotionally.
 
In the church, we talk about the need for Sabbath -- at least one day in seven to stop, slow down, and do the things that renew us. One of these is worship. When we worship God well, we find our spiritual "saw" sharpened. So, make time to "sharpen the saw" weekly - you will be glad you did!

Prayer for Today

Thank you, God, for giving us your commandment to seek out spiritual renewal through our weekly worship of you. Help us to keep the Sabbath holy -- because in doing that, we will make the time to renew our souls. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 04:25 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, February 02 2016

This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.  For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. -Colossians 1:7-10

When you hear the word "wisdom," what comes to mind? Paul writes to the church at Colossae, a young church - just a kid - not old enough to be wise. Despite this, Paul knows by their love that they are filled with the Spirit, so he prays that they would also be filled with wisdom.

The wisdom that Paul is talking about comes from the Spirit. This wisdom is active and dynamic - it will shape their lives and bear fruit in the form of good works and a growing knowledge of God. Where do we find this kind of wisdom in our lives?

I can think of times in my life when I recognized the active and dynamic Holy Spirit at work. It is a joy to witness the youngest children hearing God's good news and great love, each week. We walk alongside them, as we grow in our knowledge of God and bear fruit. As you have grown in your faith in this community over the years, you can see how all of the prayers, teaching, and mentoring have begun to blossom into wisdom.

What faith encounters can you recall that helped you grow in your wisdom and knowledge of God? Who was involved? How can you serve in the role of Paul, affirming and praying for believers as they grow in their faith and seek to lead lives worthy of the Lord?

Prayer for Today

God, We pray for understanding. Help us to be a part of a loving community where your Spirit moves. Let your Spirit develop the kind of wisdom that helps us to bear good fruit. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 06:37 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, February 01 2016

Have you completed your prayer cards that will be included in the foundation of the new building when it is poured? Alice Ann Nilsen and the Holy Hands in Prayer group have championed an inspired effort to have as many prayers as possible be added to the foundation when it is poured hopefully this week.

When I think about the foundation of the church, my mind goes to the prophet Isaiah.

Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord: Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn;
-Isaiah 51:1.

According to Isaiah, God is our bedrock and our foundation from which were hewn. Funny word hewn; we don't use it much these days. The prophet's use of word point to the strenuous effort God has put into the shaping of our faith and our lives. Isaiah's exhortation is contrary to popular notions that faith is a private matter and is really about what I believe. Certainly, faith is personal and much of our faith has an inner resonance which is private. Why does he emphasize hewn and not just say build your faith on God?

Perhaps the answer lies in the action of cutting. When scripture tell of God's relationship with us and ours with God, the Bible uses the language of covenant. To understand God's covenant we do well remember Abraham and Sarah. In fact, that is what Isaiah does in the second verse:

Look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth. When I called him he was only one man, and I blessed him and made him many. -Isaiah 51: 2

The covenant that is the basis of our faith was cut with Abraham using a sacrificial ritual with birds. The covenant the God has cut with us is a sacrifice that God made for us. What great efforts God made in Christ Jesus through his sacrificial love! Remember the rock from which you were cut!

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, help us to remember you are our Rock and our Salvation. Grant us the understanding of how far you went in your love for us, so that we will go the distance in our love for you. Amen. 

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 06:36 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
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