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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.

Thursday, March 31 2016

I had a fabulous nine days with my Madison this past week travelling all over Spain visiting wonderful sites, experiencing a rich culture, and delighting in hospitable people.  It was a father/daughter trip I will never forget!  Of particular interest to me were the cathedrals and palaces, especially the gorgeous Alhambra Palace in Valencia.  Originally constructed as a Roman fortress in the 9th Century, it was renovated and rebuilt by Muslim rulers in the 13th Century and then expanded upon toward the end of the Renaissance in the late 15th Century.  The palace architecture amazingly combines a mix of Christian, Muslim, and even Jewish influences. One of the Islamic features is a limestone etching written in Arabic and pictured below.  Translated, it reads, "There is no conqueror but Allah." It is inscribed a whopping 17,000 times throughout the palace.   I suppose they wanted to convey a message.

As Christians, we proclaim that the message of Easter is that God in Jesus Christ is the ultimate conqueror, who through his son's death and resurrection actually conquered all forces of darkness and evil, including death itself.  On Easter Sunday last week, Gray preached on the ultimate victory through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, a wonderful story of the radical hospitality of God.
 
This Sunday for that "faithful remnant" still around, I will be preaching on Paul's version of the resurrection and the promise it conveys.  The question for us to ponder this week is, do you actually believe the promise?  And if so, so what?  So come join us, one and all, and bring your friends.  And for those not around, may travel mercies and rest and renewal abide with you.  Have an awesome spring break!
 
For Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep...For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death."          
-1 Corinthians 15: 20, 25, 26

Prayer for Today

Thank you, O God, for the promise of resurrection, for the promise that we can live with you forever.  By your Holy Spirit, help us to believe the promise, and may our lives be transformed and made new.  Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Scott Huie AT 04:34 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, March 30 2016

This Sunday I am looking forward to hearing Scott preach on "Do You Believe the Promise?" from 1 Corinthians 15.  But the next Sunday I will be starting a new series of messages. We will be taking a little break from focusing on Radical Hospitality in the sermons, but we will still be talking about how to live it out in our lives.

The title of the new series will be "The Voyage of Life - What it means to be in the boat with Jesus." One of my favorite set of paintings is called "The Voyage of Life." They hang in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. They are four large canvases -- each one filling the wall of a small room. Each painting shows a man in a boat sailing down a river at different stages in life - from birth to death. The painter, Thomas Cole, includes all sorts of detail in the painting to indicate the kinds of things we all face in life.
 
In each scene there is also an angel who moves about the picture, depending on what is taking place in the life of the man. At the beginning, the angel is in the boat. In the time of youth, the angel is on the shore waving the young man off to face the adventures of life. In the third painting, the man is about to go over a waterfall in the boat and the angel is watching, but from above. In the last scene, the man is near the end of life and the angel is pointing the way to heaven.
 
In our sermon series, we are going to look at four stories from the Bible that involve Jesus, boats, and what it means to be followers of Christ. Each story focuses on a different stage in our spiritual lives. And instead of an angel being present, Jesus will be present with us in each of our stories. I hope you will make plans to be there as we find out what it means to "be in the boat with Jesus." 

Prayer for Today

Loving God, each day bring its own blessing and challenges. Yet, we know that as we make this journey of life, we are never alone. Even when we feel lonely, you promise that we are never alone. Thank you for you ongoing presence in our lives. Help us to trust you more and more each day. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 04:32 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, March 29 2016

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 this week for love to enlighten your world. Look to see what new understanding you have in the presence of love.

God promises love to us and shares love with us. In Jeremiah 31, God says, "I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you."

How do you respond to God's great love for us in your day to day choices? How do you share this love with others?

I can think of special times in my life when this was very evident. The day I was confirmed. The day I graduated from high school and then graduated from college. The day I was installed in worship in my staff position. The day I was married. The day my son was born. The day when Will was baptized. When I look back at pictures, I can see the way that love is evident through the joy and glow that those moments exude. You can see it in the expressions of family members' faces.

Where do you notice love illuminating spaces in your life?

Prayer for Today

Loving God, you have demonstrated your love for us throughout our lives. Open our eyes to see the love and light that you bring into our lives. Help us to share it with those we meet. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 04:36 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, March 28 2016

Today is traditionally called Easter Monday. I invite you to read this passage from Luke 24:36-49:

While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you."

They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?  Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have."

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet.And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, "Do you have anything here to eat?"  They gave him a piece of broiled fish,  and he took it and ate it in their presence.

He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms."
Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, "This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

 You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."

Prayer for Today

Holy God, open our eyes so that we may see the Risen Lord and understand more fully your call to be his disciples. Amen. 

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 04:53 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, March 25 2016

Christ Jesus who died-more than that, who was raised to life-is at the right hand of God. 
- Romans 8:34

Before Stig Kernell died, he told the local funeral home that he didn't want a traditional obituary. Instead, the Swedish man instructed them to publish only three words noting his passing: "I am dead." When Mr. Kernell died at age 92, that's exactly what appeared. The audacity and simplicity of his unusual death notice captured the attention of newspapers around the world. In a strange twist, the international curiosity about the man with the three-word obituary caused more attention to his death than he intended.

When Jesus was crucified, the Lord's obituary could have read, "He is dead." But after three days, it would have been changed to front-page news saying, "He is risen!" Much of the New Testament is devoted to proclaiming and explaining the results of Christ's resurrection.

Christ Jesus who died-more than that, who was raised to life-is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? . . . We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
Romans 8:34-37

He is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!

The three-word obituary of Jesus, "He is dead," has been transformed into an eternal anthem of praise to our Savior. He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Prayer for Today

Lord, we rejoice in Your great victory over sin and death through Your resurrection. May we live in light of it every day.  Amen.

Posted by: Our Daily Bread AT 07:04 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, March 24 2016

Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean though not all of you." For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason, he said, "Not all of you are clean." -John 13:8-11

While I was in youth group, I attended every event, every Bible Study, every everything.  Each summer as a youth group we would go on a mission trip. It was a common practice for the company we went with to have one night during worship dedicated to having a foot washing. Our youth advisers would all be given a bucket and a towel and were instructed to wash our feet. When I was a freshmen and a sophomore, I remember thinking that the whole thing was really gross. I felt bad for my youth advisers.

I began to think differently as I got older, as I senior in high school the gravity of the event really hit me. I began to really consider what it meant for Jesus, the son of God and King of Kings to wash the feet of those who were just dirty fishermen, tax collectors, and the one who would betray him. How were they worthy of this, how was I worthy of that?

Well friends, hear the good news, Jesus came to this world and died and rose for us. Jesus knelt down before his friends as an example for us; Jesus calls us to be a servant low and humble. Jesus forgives us for being part of the crowd that welcomed him with palms on Sunday and then called for his death on Friday. We are not clean, and even sometimes find ourselves in the same place as Judas, but even still Jesus serves as the great loving King. Take comfort in Jesus' act of service, but also, remember to take it as an example and serve the world around you! Get out into your mission field!

Prayer for Today

Dear Jesus,

We thank you for being the example for all of us, an example of love, of service, and of humility. Please help us to see the world as you did and to serve your people as you did! We acknowledge that at times we don't feel worthy of this act of service and of your grace, but help us to find comfort in that all are worthy from fishermen to tax collectors.

Thank you, Jesus, Amen.

Posted by: AT 07:01 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, March 23 2016

If you read my "Reflections" last week, you know that I talked about all of the special days during that week ("Pi" Day, The Ides of March, and St. Patrick's Day) -- except Wednesday. Well, since this is Holy Week, I thought I would check to see if this Wednesday was ever anything special in the same way tomorrow is Maundy Thursday and Friday is "Good Friday." It turns out that today is sometimes referred to as "Spy Wednesday" - particularly in the Orthodox Christian churches. It is called Spy Wednesday because the word "spy" originally had the meaning of "ambush" or "snare." In some traditions, Wednesday was thought to be the day when Judas met with the religious authorities and agreed to betray Jesus. From that point on, Judas started looking for the opportunity to "snare" Jesus. If you have never heard of this before, don't worry. I hadn't either. I just happened to stumble across it.

Sometimes I wonder why Judas did what he did. The Bible seems to indicate that he was influenced by Satan to do this. (Luke 22:3) The Bible also suggests that Judas had a problem with money and often stole from the common purse. (John 12:6) Maybe he just did it for the thirty pieces of silver. He certainly would not be the first person who did something wrong for financial gain. The movie Jesus of Nazareth portrays Judas as someone who wanted to force Jesus' hand and make him show who he really is. In a strange way, he betrays Jesus in order to let everyone know he is the Messiah. There is no real Biblical evidence for that theory, but it is interesting.
 
I have always thought it remarkable that Jesus chose Judas in the first place. At what point did Jesus know that Judas would betray him - from the beginning, or was it not until near the end? Whatever the case, Judas reflects the worst of humankind. Yet, amazingly God still uses his betrayal as a way to bring salvation to the world through the death of Jesus on a cross. And if God can do that -- then God can do anything!

Prayer for Today

Thank you, Lord, that you somehow manage to take the worst the world has to offer and redeem it in such a way that the end result is good. Help us to do the same in our world today. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen. 

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 06:00 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, March 22 2016

Now a large crowd spread their clothes on the road. Others cut palm branches off the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds in front of him and behind him shouted, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" And when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up. "Who is this?" they asked. The crowds answered, "It's the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee." - Matthew 21:8-11

On Sunday, we remembered this familiar story of Palm Sunday and joined with those in the story who came from far away to see Jesus. Those who may have experienced Jesus' healing power or those who merely heard of his miracles. Jesus' ministry so captured people's hearts and minds that they traveled far to see him.

When we remember Palm Sunday, we break the practice of examining our lives during Lent and instead we join the gathered community to welcome Jesus into the Holy City.
We are reminded as we shout "Hosanna!" and wave our palm branches, that thousands of years ago, there were common people with uncommon courage who stood together to join "the one who comes in the name of the Lord" [v. 9].

History has story after story of how ordinary people have come together to accomplish something great. The small group that shows up to volunteer at the food bank week after week. Volunteers who serve as first responders in times of disaster. Remember these stories and countless others that you have seen or heard so that you might find the courage to march with Jesus to proclaim a word of peace, reconciliation and hope.

What are those stories in your life where you have realized you can accomplish more together than alone? How can you embody peace and reconciliation as an ongoing practice and stand with "the one who comes in the name of the Lord"?

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, Open our hearts and minds to the messages of this Holy Week. Help us to see both the joy and the sacrifice that took place. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 05:58 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, March 21 2016

How could the weather be so beautiful and I feel so awful? Spring is in full blossom and my allergies are in full bloom. This is a paradox that many of us living in Atlanta experience at this time of year. Spring in Atlanta can be a contradictory experience to say the least when all around us nature is coming back to life while so many of us who suffer from allergies often feel like death warmed over.

That's what paradox is all about; living with seemingly self-contradictory realities. Here are a few you might find entertaining:

  • Nobody goes to that restaurant, it's too crowded.
  • Don't go near the water until you've learned to swim.
  • The man who wrote such a stupid sentence cannot write at all. 
  • If you get this message, call me; if you don't, then don't worry about it. 
  • If a person says about himself that he always lies, is that that the truth or a lie???

The paradox of Spring coincides with the paradox of Holy Week; both beginning yesterday. The sacred journey of this week opens us to the divine paradox where the omnipotent creator and ruler of the universe loves us so much that this God, in his son Jesus Christ, dies a God-forsaken death on a cross.

Paul puts it this way:
"in your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be used to his advantage; rather he made himself nothing by taking on the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death-even death on a cross! 
-Philippians 2:5-8

But death wasn't the ultimate ending but the road to a new beginning! God's yes to Jesus through his resurrection was God's no to the seemingly ultimate power of death!

Paul continues:
"Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow..."

Prayer for Today

Lord God, we lift up the name of Jesus and praise you for his obedient faith which made the ultimate sacrifice. May our minds be more like his, so that with self-giving love we will witness the glory of his name; a name which is above all names. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 05:55 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, March 18 2016

One of my neighbors has the most beautiful spread of daffodils lining the entire length of his front yard near the curb, probably 40 feet long and 6 feet deep.  Every day on my way to and from work, as I pass by the beautiful flowers, I am simultaneously reminded of William Wordsworth's poem I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud and the Natalie Sleeth anthem Hymn of Promise.

With the unseasonably warm weather of late, the flowers came early this year.  Though a light frost is predicted in the days ahead, reminding us that we are still in the cold of winter, these blooms are a wonderful reminder of a spring that waits to be, offering hope to you and me!  
 
Hymn of Promise
 
In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;
In cocoons, a hidden promise:  butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter, there's a spring that waits to be,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
 
There's a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;
There's a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
 
In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity,
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

Prayer for Today

Creator God, we thank you for this day that you have made!  We thank you that we do not wander lonely as a cloud, but that you walk with us each step of each day.  Help us to delight in the daffodils of our Lenten journeys and to rejoice in the hope of butterflies freed at Easter.  Amen.

Posted by: Alicia Ward AT 08:06 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, March 17 2016

I'm so excited.  Tomorrow I leave for Madrid, Spain to visit my daughter Madison who is studying abroad this semester, and it's her spring break.  For the weekend, Madison will show me around town.  We might even attend a Real Madrid soccer game on Sunday, as well as worship at a local international church.  Then on Monday we leave on a six day tour of Spain, visiting such exotic places as Seville, Cordoba, Valencia, Grenada, and of course Barcelona, where we will be on Easter morning.  We have spent much time preparing for this trip, and now it's all come to fruition!

As I wind down my preparation for this trans-Atlantic sojourn, I am reminded of Jesus words to his disciples, "And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile" (Matthew 5:41). Known as one of the hard sayings of Jesus, such words remind us that discipleship calls us to go the extra mile in the journey of life. 
 
That extra mile may mean we are to cook a meal for a stranger in need, even though we have to cook for our own family and still have 10 loads of laundry to wash.  That extra mile may mean that we drop off a friend at their home even though he lives on the other side of town and you are running behind schedule.  That extra mile may mean that we stretch our resources and give generously to that good cause even as we struggle to pay all the bills and save for retirement.  That extra mile looks different for each person, but when we respond to this call, God has another opportunity to bless us. 
 
The lesson I take is that we are not to get too comfortable in what we might think is our final destination.  God may have some unexpected blessings in store for us whether we are in Johns Creek or in Spain.

Prayer for Today

Dear God, Your blessings are truly amazing, but oftentimes they demand that we go an extra mile. Help us be obedient to your call.  We also pray that you give us travel mercies, especially as we approach spring break.  Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Scott Huie AT 06:52 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, March 15 2016

Do you have a wanderer in your family? Are there times when you've owned a pet that had a tendency to get outside and then wander off? Or a toddler that was easily distracted and would wander in a store? 

Right now, I have both of those. Our dog, Belle, is a great dog and most of the time stays within the confines of our yard. As the sights and smells of late winter and early spring have become more evident, she has started to wander away and sometimes gets as far as the neighborhood behind ours. Our son, Will, is a curious and busy boy. Wherever you are with him, he can move from a place of safety to a place of danger within seconds. In both cases, we are always trying to do our very best to provide boundaries and a safe place for both Belle and Will.
So this morning, I began to reflect on their wandering ways and how I can identify with them. These words from a favorite hymn, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, resonate with me:

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. 
Prone to leave the God I love. 
Here's my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

God has created a place of safety for us within His Word. God's commandments are designed to protect us, not restrict us. God gives us the good gifts of mercy, grace and forgiveness to remind us to stay near. God pours His love on us and draws us deep into His family, and yet ... Sometimes my heart still wanders.

The opening verses of Psalm 103 provide a key to keep my wandering heart close to God: 
Praise the LORD, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all his benefits. Psalm 103:1-2 NIV

When I want to wander, the verses that follow Psalm 103:1-2 list even more reasons to praise and thank God: 
Who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's. Psalm 103:3-5

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, Thank you that you have given us such a long list of benefits for which to praise you. Settle our hearts in the safety of your home with faithfulness and contentment. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 06:25 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, March 14 2016

Last week I attended an event that was an inspiring ceremony, celebration, and interfaith prayer service all in one. Our friend, Chaplain Tim Park, had invited me to attend the blessing of the space that when completed in July will become the chapel for Emory Johns Creek Hospital. Tim has been a champion for advocating a chapel that will be welcoming to all faiths living in our community. This is especially critical in the fact that Johns Creek and our surrounding communities have many faiths being practiced by our citizens. Our community hospital welcomes people from all walks of life and faith during times when these people are at their most vulnerable. They are seeking deliverance from their afflictions.

Leading the gathering in prayer were three representatives of the Abrahamic faith traditions. As we have been learning in our Pastor's Sunday school class through our study of Islam, the three great monotheistic faiths are all descendants of Abraham; Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Leading us in Judaic prayer was Rabbi Judith Beiner, an accomplished female Rabbi. Next, Rev. Tom Kenney, a Lutheran pastor who was once a Catholic priest offered a Christian prayer. Finally, Noor Abbady, who is a member of the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta and an immigrant to the United States led us in a Muslim prayer. Pictured below are Marilyn Margolis, CEO of Emory Johns Creek Hospital, Tim, Judith, Noor and Tom.  

The book of Exodus speaks of God's sanctuary throughout the story of deliverance.

You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of your inheritance-the place, Lord, you made for your dwelling, the sanctuary, Lord, your hand has established.
-Exodus 15:17

Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. -Exodus 25: 8.

According to Exodus, God both makes the sanctuary and calls us to have our hand in it. Thanks Tim for listening to God's call to make a sanctuary that welcomes all who call on the name of the Lord.

Prayer for Today

Create room in our hearts, O Lord, so that where ever we find ourselves in life, we will be welcomed home by your spirit to share our gratitude, ask for help and surrender our will to trust in your greater ways. Amen. 

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 06:22 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, March 11 2016

Alicia Taylor

This Lonesome Valley
 
Jesus walked this lonesome valley.
He had to walk it by himself.
Oh, nobody else could walk it for him.
He had to walk it by himself.
 
We must walk this lonesome valley ...
You must go and stand your trial ...
 
Our Chancel Choir will sing this text as part of the anthem on Sunday.  The Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song debated a long time over whether to include in Glory to God this hymn.  It does appear in the Lent section of the 1990 Presbyterian Hymnal.
 
Opponents of inclusion argue that the text makes statements that are theologically questionable.  How can Christians sing that "nobody else" can walk the lonesome valley with us or that we have to stand our trial "by ourselves," when the very heart of the crucifixion narrative holds that Jesus walked-and continues to walk-alongside those who suffer and that he went on trial for our sakes?
 
Proponents of inclusion argue that the text is making an experiential rather than a theological claim: there are times when we feel as if we are starkly alone and to voice such a lament resonates with cries of forsakenness going back at least as far as the Psalms.
 
Although there is lack of agreement on the origins of this hymn, often sung on the first Sunday of Lent, it seems clear that "Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley" does exist as an African American Spiritual, although in a slightly different version than the one printed in most hymnals. 
 
I must walk my lonesome valley.
I got to walk it for myself.
Nobody else can walk it for me.
I got to walk it for myself.
 
I must go and stand my trial ...
Jesus walked this lonesome valley ...
 
Aside from the reordering of the verses, two differences are immediately apparent:  first, the use of "I" (as opposed to "we" and "you" in the first two verses); second, the use of "for" instead of "by" in the second and fourth lines ("for myself" instead of "by myself"). 
 
One could argue that using "for" can overcome some potential theological objections to the idea of walking "by ourselves."  As aptly put by American theologian James Cone, "the journey of salvation is like a lonesome valley of hard trials, and the believer has to travel the valley for himself."

Prayer for Today

Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, help me stand; I am tired, I am weak, I am worn; through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light; take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.  Amen.

Posted by: Alicia Taylor AT 08:18 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, March 10 2016

Sunday night I gathered with a group of JCPC parents to discuss the task of parenting.  It was a fabulous discussion.  We all agreed that parenting is a long journey, sometimes on a road that is flat and smooth, but also one that is often rocky and uphill.  At times, we don't always see the destination or even feel like we are making progress.  We get tired and fearful and might even feel overwhelmed and lack resolve in trying circumstances.    Parenting is not for wimps.  That's for sure.

In all my 22 years of youth pastoring and in my 21 years of parenting, I've discovered that not only do our kids need hugs, but our parents do too.  I've discovered that parenting teenagers can be a lonely, thankless job.  I've discovered that some parents are carrying some excess baggage.  I've discovered that parents sometimes feel alone in their failures.  And I've discovered that while being a parent is tough work, it can also be the richest, most rewarding calling on our lives.
 
I once heard from an esteemed pastoral counselor (NK) that for every one word of criticism, we need to provide five words of affirmation and encouragement toward our teens and pre-teens to help them be healthy and whole.  I'm not sure I've lived up to that standard, but I know they are words of great wisdom.
 
But I also know that parents need encouragement too.  We are in this thing together.  As I head off on the Confirmation Retreat tomorrow with a slew of fresh-faced, energetic middle schoolers, I know it's a sacred calling to raise our kids in the faith.  There is no greater challenge.  There is no greater joy.  Have you hugged a parent today?  Have you hugged a kid today?  Hey, we all need them!
 
Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in  life, in love, in faith, and in purity.   -1 Timothy 4:12

Prayer for Today

O God, today we lift up our families, especially those who need hugs and encouragement right now. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Scott Huie AT 06:44 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, March 09 2016

Yesterday I went out for a lunch meeting. When I returned to the church, I looked up at the new building to check the progress. It was then I saw that the white beam or steel girder that we had asked folks to sign was already in place. From ground level I could still see the outline of the many signatures where church members and preschoolers had taken the time to write their name or some other message. I happened to sign it yesterday at noontime, so I am glad I made it in time.

I have enjoyed the different things we have done to make this construction process more than just putting up brick and steel. Even before we broke ground, a number of folks gathered for our prayer retreat and spent time praying over the ground where the new building would be constructed. They prayed for what would take place in each room of the new building and in the renovated space of the old. They prayed for the children, youth, and adults who would pass through these halls with the hope that God's Spirit would be at work in their lives.
 
We also collected the prayer cards from our church members and placed them in the foundation of the new building. These not only expressed our prayers to God for the ministry that will take place in the buildings, they also reminded us that our church is built on a foundation of prayer.
 
And finally we have put up this white steel beam that contains the names of many of our folks. Maybe it reminds us of what the children's hymn says: "I am the church. You are the church. We are the church together. The church is not a building. The church is not a steeple. The church is not a resting place. The church is a people." While the church is not just a building, it is in sacred spaces like these buildings that we can encounter God and connect with one another. Thank you to everyone who helped make these new places for doing God's work possible!

Prayer for Today

Loving God, we stand on the solid rock of Jesus Christ, who is the cornerstone of our faith. May we be the living stones of your building, who show our world what the grace of Jesus looks by how we love one another and the whole world. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 08:14 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, March 08 2016

God invites us into community with one another. This community is who will teach us, challenge us and sustain us in our journey of faith. Who are some of the people pictured in your home? How can you pray for them this week? When someone new comes to mind, find a way to help you to remember to pray for them in the coming week. Maybe you'll save a picture of them on your phone, write their name on your calendar, or make a note of them in your prayer journal. These may be a helpful reminder to lift them up in prayer.

In Paul's letter to the Thessalonians he gives us an example of how and why we can pray for one another. With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. 
-2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, Open our hearts to those we hold most dear. Thank you for giving me ____________ (name someone who is on your heart) to help me grow in knowledge and understanding of your love. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 08:28 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, March 07 2016

The year 1986 started off with the wrong type of bang. You might remember that it was in January of that year that the space shuttle Challenger exploded into smithereens 3 minutes into lift off. I remember my stomach being turned into knots and my eyes consistently on the verge of tears. The reason I'm referencing this event that took place 30 years ago is because of an article I read last week about a man named Bob Ebeling.

Perhaps you know his story. I certainly didn't until I read the article. Mr. Ebeling was an engineer who worked with the Challenger mission team and he warned his supervisors of the impending catastrophe. His warnings fell on deaf ears and for 30 years he has been burdened with guilt and doubt. Rather than recap the article, I decided to provide you with a link to it so that you can read it for yourselves. It is worth the 2 minutes it will take you to click and read.

http://a.msn.com/01/en-us/BBq0Kx6?ocid=se

When I read this story, the familiar knot returned to my stomach and my eyes are on the verge of tearing up as I write this. This time; however, it's because there is redemption in the tragedy. Bob experienced mercy through the encouragement of other's whose lives were transformed by his efforts; not his lack of effort.  I'm reminded of St. Paul's gripping 8th chapter of his letter to the Romans where he states:

"And we know that in all things God works for the good for those who love him..."

Sometimes it takes 30 years to see good, God's goodness, coming out of tragedy. As we approach Easter Sunday, we continue to see good come out of the tragedy of the cross, even though the resurrection took place several thousand years ago. I hope that the story of Christ's death and resurrection still brings a knot to your stomach and tears to your eyes. Only God can bring about good out of horrific tragedy.

Prayer for Today

Eternal God, renew in us a trusting faith that you work for good in all things; especially in times when we can't possibly see any good. Through faith in the Resurrected Lord, strengthen our belief in your mercy and your love. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 09:06 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, March 04 2016

Alicia Taylor

Pathways
 
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.  
-1 Thessalonians 5:11
 
As Christians, we are each on a spiritual journey, and that road may take us in many directions.  Some circumstances will be beyond our control, while others will be based on decisions we make - both right and wrong.
 
When we are young adults, we may dream about our futures, thinking that our lives will follow a predictable path, but often the reality is far different.  Sometimes our journeys take a turn we never expected and certainly didn't plan for, and it is comforting at those times to know that we never walk alone.
 
In the "Footprints" poem, we are reminded that when life is tough Christ carries us, but so too do our brothers and sisters in Christ who come alongside us, help us, and encourage us through times when we might wish to give up.  Sometimes there will be people who are instrumental in helping us, and at other times there will be those who simply walk alongside us as we journey together. 
 
The Apostle Paul admonished the members of the Church at Thessalonica to edify one another, to pray for one another, to encourage and not judge one another, and to be patient and accepting of one another.  God created us to be in fellowship with a community of believers.  We all will stumble from time to time, so take comfort in the hand of another and walk together children to the Promised Land.

Prayer for Today

Lord, thank you for the people you send to walk this journey with us.  Thank you that you promise never to leave us, no matter what direction our paths take.  Amen.

Posted by: Alicia Taylor AT 04:24 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, March 03 2016

I am not a fan of driving.  Driving is awfully boring.  I would rather clean out septic tanks than be a truck driver.  As much as I have loved working here at Johns Creek Presbyterian Church, the one thing that I don't like about it is my commute from Snellville.  It's 19.4 miles of traffic-laden drudgery.  As I drive from one end of Pleasant Hill Drive to another, I find it anything but "pleasant."

Last week, I had two very interesting drives to church.  The first was on Sunday.  There are 33 traffic lights between my house and the church.  That morning, I made it to church in record time, 26 minutes, driving through 31 green lights and but two red lights.  As I walked through the church's double doors, I had some pep in my step.  Life is good.
 
On Thursday, however, I encountered morning commute Hell driving to the Senior High Breakfast Club gathering at Chick-fil-A.  I got stuck at the Abbott's Bridge/Peachtree Industrial intersection for precisely 17 minutes.  After 11 light changes, I made it through, but still it was bumper to bumper.  As I finally walked into Chick-fil-A, I was exhausted.  Life stinks.
 
Driving to church can be an interesting metaphor for our lives.  At times, everything goes precisely as planned, maybe even better.  We have our desires, our plans, our goals, and things seem to fall into place without a lot of "red lights" getting in the way.  On the other hand, there are days when it seems like anything that can go wrong does indeed go wrong.  There are things that indeed impede our plans for life.  There is more "stop" than "go" and at times even tragic accidents all around us.
 
But in the end, that is OK.  God's plans for our lives may not always be our plans.  But I am convinced that life is so much richer when God is the pilot, and we are just the co-pilot.  After all, I can't imagine driving down Pleasant Hill without any traffic lights whatsoever.  Now that would be chaos!
 
"For I know the plans 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

Prayer for Today

Lord, give us patience and peace as we welcome your plans into our lives.  Help us to "GO" and help us to "STOP" at the right time.  Bless us, we pray.  Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Scott Huie AT 06:53 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, March 02 2016

I voted yesterday. Since I also wrote this blog yesterday, I don't yet know who won the primaries. However, I have to admit that I am not really excited about any of the candidates. So what do we do as Christians when we feel that way? Well, as I tweeted yesterday, I believe it is still a great privilege to vote. There was no waiting in line when I voted, but I am reminded of the pictures from countries in which the right to vote is fairly new and people patiently wait for most of the day simply to cast their vote.

One reminder of how we might think about any election comes from the Bible when it tells us the first affirmation of faith Christians made - it was very short and simple: Jesus is Lord! (Romans 10:9) Maybe we should affirm that one Sunday instead of the Apostles' Creed. When Jesus walked this earth, if you asked most folks walking around who was Lord, they would say "Caesar is Lord!" To say "Jesus is Lord" was something pretty radical - it could even get you killed!
 
What does that have to do with presidential elections in this country? Well, no matter who eventually gets elected, as Christians we believe this: Jesus will still be Lord! His kingdom may not be of this world, but one day we believe it will all become clear. We will see what the kingdom and the lordship of Jesus look like in their fullness. Until that time we wait, we hope, and we work to live out the values of God's kingdom here and now.
 
Jesus will never stop being Lord. Jesus will never look at the results of any election and say, "Well, that does it -- if that person is elected, then I am out of here!" And thank God for that! Looking back over the history of the church, we see both good and bad political leaders. Yet, God remains faithful through it all! Someone will be elected president, but Jesus is always going to be Lord!

Prayer for Today

Gracious God you have told us in scripture that if we confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts that Jesus is Lord, by your grace we will be saved. Help us to remember that Jesus is Lord through both the good times and the bad . Help us to show the love of Christ to all we meet. We pray in the strong name of Jesus who is the Lord. Amen. 

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C Gray Norsworthy AT 05:07 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, March 01 2016

Give us this day our daily bread.
-Matthew 6:11

Jesus gives us a simple, yet profound example of a way to pray when he shares the words of the Lord's Prayer in Matthew. During Lent, we are invited to live simply and put our trust in God to meet our everyday needs. What are those basic needs that we overlook because we are so concerned with chasing after what everyone else has?

Part of Jesus' 40 day journey that we remember during this Lenten season included temptation. In his encounter with the Temptor he responds by saying, Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.  -Matthew 4:4

How can we sustain ourselves daily with the Word of God?

Some of the temptations Jesus faced during this time may seem very far from the temptations we deal with today. I think that what we face today maybe even harder to resist, because the things we face are sometimes faceless and nameless. Sometimes we make judgments about the choices others make without understanding their situations. Sometimes we compare ourselves to the lives of our friends and we feel like what we have isn't enough.

As we journey through this Lenten season together, may we find the courage to face those temptations and fears, name them, understand them, and seek to mend and ask forgiveness for them, so that we might be freed from the fears and insecurities that rule us.

Prayer for Today

Dear God, give us our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive others who do us wrong. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 05:05 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
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