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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.

Friday, April 29 2016

A Servant's Heart

Alicia Taylor

 
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:8 (NIV)
 
One of my favorite bumper stickers is one that we have all probably seen at least once - love God, love people. To serve God is to serve others, and we are surrounded by the poor and needy. The homeless on the streets of metro Atlanta may have nowhere to turn because of past mistakes, mental illness, or a life riddled with circumstances beyond their control.
 
The poor and needy need for us to help them. This doesn't mean that we do for them what they can do for themselves. Helping the needy means we let them know we care. All of us can have a ministry of presence in others' lives. Sometimes just being present is a ministry in and of itself; our presence lets others know how much we care.
 
While serving others is the greatest form of charity, the key is to know and understand our own capabilities and limitations and then to pace ourselves, allocating and prioritizing our time, our attention, and our resources to wisely help others. Sometimes knowing when to focus on ourselves actually allows us to be of more help to others.
 
One of the simplest ways to serve God and others is by befriending one another. God's children of all ages need our love, and we can give it! If we are to "come into the fold of God, and to be called his people," we must be "willing to bear one another's burdens, that they may be light." One of the easiest ways to do this is to visit and listen to those who are suffering.
 
Each of us has been given talents from the Lord that we should develop and use to serve God and others. I invite you to examine your life and see what talents you have. How could you use your talents to help those in need? Sometimes all it takes to serve God is to offer a smile, hug, prayer, or a friendly phone call to someone in need. Have you hugged a friend today?

Prayer for Today

Lord, help us to love each other as you have first loved us, we pray. Bless us with the needed strength, guidance, patience, charity, and love to serve your children. Amen.

Posted by: Alicia Taylor AT 05:01 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, April 28 2016

Earlier this month, I got out of bed at 4:45 a.m. knowing that this would be the last Sunday that I would serve breakfast to the homeless in downtown Atlanta after doing it most every month for 22 years with my two youth groups.  My son, Jackson would have joined me except for the fact that at the same time he was going with his mother to go skydiving from 14,000 feet to celebrate turning 18.  

Our going in two different directions that morning made me think:  living out one's Christian faith is a little bit like skydiving.  It's scary, it's exhilarating, it is truly an adventure!  While I've never been skydiving, serving the homeless has created quite a few memorable and at times entertaining, even exhilarating, moments.  I'll never forget that morning when youth advisor Shawn Rowland-Howell got doused with orange juice breaking up a fight that involved a cross-dresser.  But I also remember less sensational occurrences, especially the conversations with the homeless, folks down on their luck struggling to make ends meet. I will truly miss these monthly sojourns downtown.  On this last visit I was very touched when they made a presentation to me, which included a card signed by many of the participants.   
 
When I think about why we do this each month when our bodies would surely be amenable to sleeping in a little later, I figure we do it at least in part because it makes us feel good and maybe assuages our upper middle class suburban guilt some.  But on a deeper level, I think we do it simply because we are compelled to.  We have been so blessed by God in life that we are compelled to be a blessing to others, especially the "least of these." 
 
It is about cultivating habits that exhibit the fruits of the Spirit, especially kindness and generosity.  As I move on, I pray that I find a new opportunity to serve the least of these, one outside my "professional responsibilities." And I pray that this monthly experience continues with our church, and that more from JCPC, both youth and adults, join in the festivities so that habits of faith are nurtured.   Being a disciple is about believing, but it is also about doing.  It's about taking a leap of faith.  I'd rather do that than go skydiving any day!

Following Jesus is a little bit like skydiving!
 "But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers..." James 1:22

Prayer for Today

O God, you tell us that as we do to the least of these, we do it unto you.  May we take these words to heart.  As we have been so blessed, may we be a blessing to others.  Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Scott Huie AT 04:58 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, April 27 2016

"We learn to praise God not by paying compliments, but by paying attention."
-Frederick Buechner

One of the nice things about the location of the church is that I can walk to a number of restaurants for lunch.  A group of them are only 15 minutes away, which means I can get in a 30 minute walk in the middle of the day.  When I am out walking, I notice the nice landscaping someone has put in along the winding sidewalk.  There are even some chrome sculptures beside the path.  Most days the weather is nice and one of my great joys is noticing the sky.  So much of my time is indoors in my office looking at screens and reading books -- or driving in my car.  I am often so busy that I forget to pay attention to the world around me.  But when I am out on a walk, the wide-open sky is there before me and it is pretty hard to ignore.

I re-tweeted the above quote from Frederick Buechner yesterday.  I quote Buechner a lot, but I had never read these words before:  The Bible encourages us to praise God.  Sometimes I think we mistakenly believe that means we should spend our time complimenting God - almost as if God needed to have us build up his ego by reminding him how great he is.  But, as Buechner tells us in the quote above, praise is not about "paying compliments" but "paying attention."  Praise is what happens spontaneously when we notice a deep blue sky, the yellow flowers by the side of the road, or the smiling face of a young child hanging upside down from the playground equipment behind the church.

So I invite you to pay attention to your life.  Pay attention to the world around you.  Look up from your various screens and look out at God's creation.  It will move you beyond artificial compliments to a genuine sense of awe and thanksgiving for the beauty of our world.  And God gave it to us to enjoy and take care of.  So, don't just pay compliments - pay attention!

Prayer for Today

Thank you, God, for the beauty of the earth and for the glory of the skies.  Lord of all, to Thee we raise, this our hymn of grateful praise!  Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 04:55 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, April 26 2016

I always thank my God when I remember you in my prayers. That's because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus. I hear about your love for all of God's people.  I pray that you will be active in sharing what you believe. Then you will completely understand every good thing we have in Christ. Your love has given me great joy. It has cheered me up. My friend, you have renewed the hearts of God's people.  -Philemon 1:4-8

I was first introduced to this passage in the very short book of Philemon when I was in middle school. Since that time these verses will occasionally come to mind at times in my life when I am grateful, especially for a particular community of faith. We are going to take a moment this Sunday, to say thank you to those that have served as Sunday School teachers, Small Group Leaders, Youth Advisors and Children's Worship Leaders over the past year.

Please join me in sharing our appreciation to those that have responded to God's call in this way. Thank you so much for the ways that you continue to be active in sharing your faith and the love of Christ. At times like these, it can be overwhelming to have such an awesome cloud of witnesses to experience life with.

I would invite you to take some time today to think about those that you would remember in your prayers because they have helped you to experience God's love in a deeper way.

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, Thank you for each person that you place in our path to help us gain a greater understanding of your love. Guide us as we open our hearts to the ways that you will use us to share our faith and your love this day. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 07:27 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, April 25 2016

Stereotyping seems to be the way of the world these days. Perhaps it's been the way of the world all the way back to Adam and Eve; blaming, scapegoating and hiding all seem to be elements of stereotyping.

Of course, the ways of the world aren't necessarily God's ways. The gospel is full of Jesus' teaching that serve as correctives to the stereotyping ways of the world. Jesus instructed his disciples to "let the children come to me" at a time when children were stereotyped as sub-humans. The same goes for woman in Jesus' time. When Martha complained that Mary was sitting at Jesus' feet, she wasn't just complaining that Mary wasn't "carrying her load" to welcome guests, she was living within the parameters of female stereotyping that prohibited women from sitting at the feet of a teacher. To us all, Jesus commands, "Judge not, less you be judged."

Yet, we all stereotype. When the Pastor's Class began its study of Islam a few months back, I must confess that my mind swirled with stereotypes regarding Muslims. Though I attempt to follow Jesus' teachings, my fears and bias often stirred my boat. I can remember standing next to a woman in a black burka in the lobby of a hotel a few years ago and I feared her intent, even though we were both there due to a fire alarm.

One goal of our class was to confront our stereotypes and the past two weeks, our two presenters did just that. In the past, the name Mubarak would conjure a stereotype in my mind. But since I became a neighbor to Mubarak Chouhdry, that name now conjures up this image:


 
When I would see a woman in a head scarf my mind would conjure up an Islamic woman stereotype. But now I see Noor.


 
Noor is the Arabic name meaning inner light. For anyone whom heard Noor speak about women in Islam, she certainly shined a new light to break limiting stereotypes.

As Christians, may God's light help us see past our stereotypes in order to see God's love for humanity.

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, your Son taught us to judge not!  Help us to see beyond our stereotypes less we miss the goodness of the people you place in our lives.  Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 07:19 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, April 22 2016

Alicia Taylor

High Tea
 
Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.  They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.  And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.  -Acts 2:46-47
 
One of my dear friends is a wonderful lady named Risa.  
I have known her for many years, and a visit with Risa always leaves you wishing you could linger longer in her company.  She definitely has the gift of hospitality, and as your hostess she warmly welcomes you into her clean, cluttered, and comfortable home.
 
Risa collects teapots, and over the years she has amassed quite a collection of beautiful, unique, and even funny teapots, all of which are on display in her home.  She often invites friends to join her for tea, and when you receive such an invitation from her, you know it is an occasion not to be missed!
 
In Great Britain and other parts of the world where British culture has had an influence, people sometimes celebrate "high tea."  Served in late afternoon or early evening, "high tea" is a special occasion because the food is presented formally, turning a "snack" into a true event that gives an intentional pause to the day.  Tea time at Risa's home is always served in the tradition of "high tea."
 
Our Lord invites all to the high tea of eternal life.  There, his cup of grace is always overflowing.  He has prepared the table for us and is always ready to receive us and serve us as his own (Psalm 23:5).  Day by day, the Holy Spirit continues to send out invitations.  Day by day, the guests arrive and make themselves at home in the peace that a relationship with Jesus provides.

Prayer for Today

Lord, we give you thanks that where two or three come together in your name, you are in our midst.  Help us to practice hospitality with God's people who are in need and to invite them to sit at table with you and to be at home in the peace of Christ.  Amen.

Posted by: Alicia Taylor AT 07:25 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, April 21 2016

Of all the things I do as Associate Pastor for Youth, nothing is more rewarding than walking young people through Confirmation.  This process of claiming one's Christian faith is a beautiful reality.  As one of our confirmands will share Sunday in her statement of faith, "I have been fortunate in my life to have always known Christ. My faith journey is pretty simple because I have always been surrounded by the love of Christ...I hope one day I can help others on their faith journey and be a shining example of God's love."

This confirmand already is a "shining example of God's love," as are the others, and JCPC has always done a splendid job of surrounding our young people with the love of Christ. Professing one's faith is one of life's true treasures as we discover that God adopts us into God's family. Confirmation has been an exciting four month process with these exuberant, wide-eyed young people, who are ready to rise up and set sail on their faith journeys. 
 
So come encourage them-and be encouraged-this Sunday in both our worship services.  As an anomaly, this year we have only four confirmands, so we are allowing them all to share in both services. As I say often, it is a beautiful thing to see the body of Christ at work!

Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. 
-Isaiah 40:31

Prayer for Today

We thank you, O God, for the gift of faith, and for giving our confirmands the wings to fly like eagles.  Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Scott Huie AT 08:46 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, April 20 2016

With Scott Huie getting ready to leave us at the end of May and head off to Nashville, folks often stop me to ask how the search process is going for the new youth staff person. While I can't break the confidentiality of our process, I can speak in general terms.

I tell them that I think it is going very well. This is a great search committee elected by the congregation and made up of parents, youth advisors, and youth. Everyone is working hard and wants to do this as quickly and as effectively as possible. No one wants to waste any time. And yet we do not want to unnecessarily hurry the process. We want to find the right person to minister to and lead our youth in the coming years. We believe our youth, both those present and those to come, are precious in the sight of God. We are committed to taking the optimal amount of time needed in order to find the right person for our church.
 
We have been reading through a bunch of resumes. In the Presbyterian Church we call them "PIFs" or Personal Information Forms. We evaluate each one as to whether we believe this person could be the right youth leader for us. If we all agree that there is significant potential, we then set up an interview, and off we go!
 
One of the results of our changing world is how digital platforms play a major role in the interview process. Resumes can be electronically submitted and read quickly. Interviews can be conducted through Skype. You can google a candidate and find out a lot about them - sometimes more than you really want to know. And yet I believe that God is still at work in this discernment process. Each meeting of our search committee begins and ends with prayer for God's guidance.
 
So please keep us in your prayers daily. We need them. Thanks!

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, we know that you are at work in our church. Please guide this process so that we can find the right person, and he or she can find us. We thank you that you already know who that will be! Give us patience and perseverance in the process. We pray this in strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 08:42 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, April 19 2016

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'" Now John wore clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 
(Matthew 3:1-6)

Have you ever prayed for what you knew was impossible? Maybe you prayed for events not to occur, to pass tests you did not study for, for clocks to turn back, for cancer not to be terminal, or for world peace. We cannot help ourselves. We long, we dream, we hope, we strive because that is how God created us.

When John the Baptist said the Messiah was coming, people had a hard time believing it, especially when it came from a guy who ate bugs and wore strange clothes. And yet they followed him, eager to hear more about the One who would save us.

Here's a question to consider: What would you do if you knew you could not fail? As Christians, God asks us to wonder what we would do if we believed the impossible could happen. What if the Messiah really is coming again? What if there is a revolution ahead? What if God is bringing heaven to earth?  God knows your needs, because God knows you.

As we continue to celebrate this season of resurrection and renewal, open your heart to the ways that God is preparing you to experience the risen Christ in a new way.

Prayer for Today

Lord, prepare me for the incredible. Teach me to pray for what is in your heart, what is your desire, even if I think it is impossible. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 08:37 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, April 18 2016

Last week I mentioned how Gray's sermon got my theological mind spinning, but this week it was a spontaneous conversation that I had with my wife Debbie. I was thinking out loud with her about finding a topic for today's reflections. What ensued was a theological give and take that lasted close to an hour as we mused about whether faith in God was simple or complex. Of course, faith is both simple and complex; it's not an either/or proposition. At times faith is simple like child-like faith or a letting go faith and other times faith is complex like a "what does God want me to do?" search for meaning and purpose. Faith is well, simply complex.

During our faith talk, Debbie offered a blessing that I have heard her share with our children when they are struggling with the perplexities of what they want to do with their lives. With motherly assurance, she says, "Remember, nobody will get God's blessings that are meant for you."
What a simple blessing, yet so profound. Remember, nobody will get God's blessings meant for you. At times, I need to be wrapped in this assurance of faith like an embrace that both allows me to slump into the loving arms of God as well as straightens my backbone to ready me for the next battle. This blessing has both an in the moment sense of relief and a forward looking trust in God's purposes for our lives.

As I was walking along the back parking lot at church toward my office, I was simply complex attributes of faith and the in the moment and looking to the future quality of the blessing. I walked right past a blooming azalea when the day's talk came into focus for me. See if you can notice it in the picture I took.

I almost missed it in my hurry; God's blessing meant for me in that moment. See the oak tree branches and leaves? It was planted close to 20 years ago. The azalea was planted a few years ago. The building behind them is a work in progress. I wonder what will blossom from its growth; such a simple moment whose complexities are under construction.

Prayer for Today

God, grant us the eyes to see your blessings you have placed in our lives. Fill us with rich hope that renews faith and grants us a bounce in our steps. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 08:34 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, April 15 2016

 

In the Place Just Right

Alicia Taylor
 
'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free, 'tis the gift to come down where we ought to be, and when we find ourselves in the place just right, 'twill be in the valley of love and delight."
 
One of our congregants posted a quote on Facebook this week that I think is relevant and worth sharing - "Sometimes when things are falling apart, they may actually be falling into place."  As I read that quote, I was reminded of this simple song and thought to myself "perhaps even the place just right."
 
How many times in our lives have we prayed for God to make clear a path for us?  We look for an open door to walk through, a lightning strike to show us the way, or a definitive answer to an earnest plea.  Even when we feel we are stumbling, unsure of our next steps, the good news is that God is with us wherever we go, guiding our feet, and walking alongside us each step of our journey.
 
Consider a portion of Psalm 139.  "Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the Heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast."
 
Oftentimes we are able to see God's perfectly orchestrated plan only in hindsight.  We struggle with the puzzle pieces, attempting to force a fit, even when the cut of the angle is wrong.  But we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
 
Like a loving father, God offers us a hand to hold and will lead us where we need to go.  Of this I am certain.

Prayer for Today

Lord, we thank you for orchestrating a plan for our lives.  Help us to hear your voice and to know that place just right that will surely lead us to the valley of love and delight.  Amen.

Posted by: Alicia Taylor AT 07:07 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, April 14 2016

This past weekend I received a rather serendipitous gift in the mail, the 1915 North Georgia College yearbook Cyclops.   It came from an antique store and was acquired by fellow Presbyterian minister Cheryl Gosa.  She noticed a prominent name over many pages, W.P. Huie, and thought it might be kinfolk.  It happened to be my grandfather, Wade P. Huie, Sr., who was an insurance salesman from Elberton, Georgia, a quiet, dignified Presbyterian man who died when I was 10 years old.

I know very little about my granddaddy, which made this discovery so absolutely cool.  Looking through the yearbook, I discovered that he was the editor-in-chief, manager and catcher on the baseball team, offensive tackle on the football team, first lieutenant in their military program, class poet, president of the literary society, and a member of the rifle team.  He was also voted "Best Student" and "Deepest Thinker" by the student body.  I love finding out new things about my family, especially the good stuff, even stuff that happened over 100 years ago.
 
I posted this discovery on Facebook this weekend with an overwhelming response.  Funny how we are so prone to post the things for which we are proud, and normally not the things for which we might be even a little ashamed.  Admittedly, I likely would not have posted this information had my grandfather been a C student and served time in jail.  I suppose that is human nature.
 
And that is why I have such a deep reverence for scripture, God's word.  It is not like Facebook or any other social media.  It does not sugarcoat the human condition.  Rather it tells the human story in ways that are real and raw.  Take King David, for example, the most revered person in all the Old Testament.  Yes, we see David as a man truly "after God's own heart," and yet we also hear about his frailties and foibles, his shortcomings and sins.
 
Just read 2 Samuel 11, David's affair and cover-up with Bathsheba, where we see David in clear violation of perhaps half the Commandments, from adultery to murder.  The Bible does not flinch from even the darkest side of the human condition, but deals with it in all its nuances.  We are made in the image of God, and yet we all still sin.  We witness both sides of that reality so clearly as we engage God's word.  After all, even the greatest king could slip and fall, and did he ever!  To me, the inclusion of this story is one of the clearest signs of the inspiration of scripture.  Meanwhile I will likely continue to post mostly just the good stuff about my granddaddy and all else in my world.
  
But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.   
-1 Samuel 11:27b

Prayer for Today

O God, we thank you for our family trees, and especially the generations who have preceded us.  May we learn from their stories, just as we learn from all the great stories of the Bible.  Amen.  

Posted by: Rev. Scott Huie AT 07:04 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, April 13 2016

Yesterday, Neal and I took a break between our meetings to walk outside for a few minutes. It helps keep me sane on days when I am at the church for more than twelve hours. As we walked, we were looking at the woods next to the road when Neal started talking about snakes. If you have time, ask Neal about his encounters with snakes over the years. He has some very interesting stories!

I am one of those individuals who really does not like snakes. Last summer, I was walking outside the fence next to the ballfield at the church when I brushed up against a tree branch. I noticed something green fall on my shoulder and then to the ground. It was only then that I realized it was a snake. It happened so fast, I didn't have a chance to experience that reflexive fear that I normally have. I didn't have time to be afraid.
 
When it comes to fear - the word can mean different things in the Bible. In last Sunday's message I spoke about Jesus telling Simon Peter not to be afraid. "Fear not" is something Jesus, angels, and even God says often. On the other hand, the Bible also says things like "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom." (Proverbs 9:10) So, which is it - "Do not be afraid" or "Fear God?" Actually, I think it is both.
 
Because God is  love, we do not need to be afraid that God is always "out to get us." That is fear as in being afraid of something or someone. On the other hand, I believe there is an appropriate sense of awe we should feel and express simply because God is God. Maybe it is the kind of awe we feel when we look out over the Grand Canyon, or we stand on a mountaintop at night and get a good glimpse of the stars in the Milky Way. This kind of fear is reverence and awe.
 
This Sunday we will be looking at a story where both kinds of fear are present.
 
See you then!

Prayer for Today

Awesome God, we remember that you tell us to "fear not." In faith we trust you that we do not have to live our lives in fearful anxiety. Yet, we sometimes forget that you are the Creator of our world and the one and only God. Help us to have an appropriate reverence for who you are. Thank you for caring enough to love us. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 07:02 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, April 12 2016

One of my favorite hymns to listen to is, "It Is Well With My Soul".

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
 
And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.
 
Some of you may be familiar with it. I have shared just the first and last verses with you this morning.

This hymn was written at a time when the writer had experienced some recent tragedies in his life. When I experience life changing situations or tragic events, it takes me a while to get to the point of expressing my faith like the writer of this hymn. There is a grieving process that takes place before I can say, "it is well with my soul".
 
Each time I hear the words in the last verse of this hymn, 
I experience deep emotion. I do look forward to the day when my faith shall be sight. Until that time, I continue to experiences glimpses of God in my life each day.
 
I would invite you to look around today and notice the places, people and experiences where you see glimpses of the day when our faith shall be sight.
 
For we live by faith, not by sight.
-2 Corinthians 5:7

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, Thank you for the gift of each day. Open our eyes that we may see you at work in our lives and open our hearts that our faith may grow deeper. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 05:36 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, April 11 2016

Sometimes a sermon series will catch my theological imagination so that I see faith in action all around me. I rather enjoy looking past my daily routines and rituals to see God's hand at work through faith shared in everyday activities. That is what happened for me when Gray began his new sermon series, "The Voyage of Life: What does it mean to get in the boat with Jesus?"

The text for yesterday's sermon was Luke 5: 1-11. Take a moment to read the story. Jesus was preaching the good news on the lake shore when he entered into a boat belonging to Simon and asked Simon to put out a little off the shore so he could continue preaching. Simon agreed and a friendship/discipleship was born. Jesus and Simon were strangers to each other, but God's will for something greater brought them together. The gift of faith was shared between the two.

Hearing this story, my mind did a Google word search on faith and gift. Having been trained in the art of pastoral care and counseling I am enthralled by the development of faith in our lives; both in how our faith shapes us and how we shape our faith. What this passage did for me; however was to reawaken  me to the gift dynamic of faith. Strangers responding to a call from God to share the gift of faith for something larger than themselves (the Kingdom of God).

Suddenly, the minute for mission regarding the Beacon of Hope and its Baby Bottle Boomerang project fit right into the gospel story. Sharing our overlooked spare change is sharing our faith as a gift to strangers whom we will never meet, but whom God is tending to through the Beacon of Hope. And the Blood Mobile outside became more than a souped up van and looked more like a boat that our members got on board in order to share the gift of life with strangers they will never meet. Faith is God's gift of life to us shared through the blood of his Son.

How will you share the gift of faith with a stranger this week? You never know, you might have an encounter with the Risen Lord.

Prayer for Today

We thank you for the gift of faith, O Lord. Call us to share your gifts with those we meet this week, so that your Kingdom will come alive in our lives. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 05:33 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, April 08 2016

We will be with the Lord forever. 
-1 Thessalonians 4:17

People post obituary notices on billboards and concrete block walls in Ghana regularly.  Headlines such as Gone Too Soon, Celebration of Life, and What a Shock! announce the passing away of loved ones and the approaching funerals.  One I read - 
In Transition - points to life beyond the grave.

When a close relative or friend dies, we sorrow as Mary and Martha did for their brother Lazarus (John 11:17-27).  We miss the departed so much that our hearts break and we weep, as Jesus wept at the passing of His friend. (John 11:35).

Yet, it was at this sorrowful moment Jesus made a delightful statement on life after death: I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in me will live even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. -John 11:25

On the basis of this we give departed believers only a temporary farewell. For they will be with the Lord forever, Paul emphasizes.  
-1 Thessalonians 4:17

Of course, farewells are painful, but we can rest assured that they are in the Lord's safe hands.

In Transition suggests that we are only changing from one situation to another.  Though life on earth ends for us, we will continue to live forever and better in the next life where Jesus is.  Therefore encourage one another with these words. -1 Thessalonians 4:18

Prayer for Today

It is because of You, Jesus, that we have hope and are sure of a forever life. We're grateful.  Amen.

Posted by: Our Daily Bread AT 04:50 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, April 07 2016

Last week while in Spain on a father/daughter trip I will always remember, one thing I loved doing each day that I always love was riding elevators.  Yeah, I know, that seems so weird.  Granted it may not be as exciting as experiencing a new culture and seeing all the fabulous sites, but there is just something about elevator-riding.  The anticipation of waiting for which door will open is often too much to handle!  And then with the "ding" of the elevator's arrival, I position myself front and center.  As the doors part, my mind starts to race, my palms get sweaty, my pupils dilate.  Will there be room for me?  Will I have to wait for the next one?  What faces will be there to greet me? 

And then once aboard the elevator, the real fun begins.  More questions flood my mind:  How many stops will there be before I need to get off?  Will it be awkward silence with everyone staring in different directions?  Will we all fit?  Will I be invading someone else's space?  Do these people speak English?  Where are all these people from?  And with each stop, the same process begins again. On the packed hotel elevator in Valencia, I broke the silence by saying, "I suppose you all are wondering why I've called you together today for this meeting."  It brought forth a few snickers. 
 
In most all the hotel elevators I rode, it was very crowded, and each time, I found myself saying the same thing as the doors opened and someone wanted to get in: "Come on in, there's always room for one more!"  And there was, even when we were crammed in.  It never occurred to me or us to evaluate the people wanting to get on based on their ethnicity, their apparent economic status, their morality, their accomplishments, or their looks.   But those standing across the threshold were invited to join us simply because they wanted to.  "Come on in, there's always room for one more." 
 
My hope is the same can be said of our church for you and for the world.

A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.  -John 13: 34, 35

Prayer for Today

O God, may our love for one another and for the world communicate clearly that all are welcomed here.  Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Scott Huie AT 04:48 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, April 06 2016

Last week I mentioned the new sermon series we are beginning this Sunday called, The Voyage of Life - What does it mean to be "in the boat" with Jesus? This Sunday's message is called "What Floats Your Boat?" The title comes from an expression you may have heard - "Whatever floats your boat!" What it usually means is something like, "Whatever makes you happy." Sunday we will begin with this phrase that I have turned into a question, "What floats your boat?" -- but we plan to head in a different direction.  

In looking at four stories from the Bible that talk about Jesus and boats, I think we will discover something about our journey or voyage in life and what it all means. For example, in this Sunday's story about Jesus calling the disciples to leave their fishing boats and follow him, I wonder what different things the boats might represent - both to the disciples and to us. Perhaps the boats represented their way of making a living - their livelihood. Maybe the boats represent the familiar - what they know and feel comfortable doing. Whatever it means, Jesus invites the disciples to leave their boats behind and follow him.
 
Yet, even when Jesus invited the disciples to leave their boats and follow him, this would not be the last time we see boats in the gospel stories. The disciples may be leaving their boats for now - but we will see Jesus and boats come together again in some very significant events in the lives of the disciples.
 
As followers of Christ, I believe we are all in the same boat with Jesus. And I think that is actually very good news! Jesus is right there with us "in the boat" at the beginning, the middle, and even the very end of our lives - through both the good times and the bad. So, come this Sunday to find out more about what that means for your life today.

Prayer for Today

Loving God, as we make our way in life, we remember that somewhere along this journey you invited us to follow you. Help us to remember what a high calling it is to be a child of God and a Christ-follower. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 04:46 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, April 05 2016

While in college, I spent 10 days in Scotland on a trip with a Presbyterian Leadership group at Presbyterian College. This place, was Iona, the tiny isle where Christianity touched Scotland for the first time. Columba, the Irish monk built an abbey church there. A nunnery came later, and then for many generations, Iona was a mission outpost for western Scotland. It was first discovered when an Irish monk hopped aboard a boat with no steering system convinced that God and providence would wash him ashore where he needed to be.

It is now a place where many tourists and pilgrims travel. I spent 3 days there with a group of Presbyterian students reflecting, worshipping and experiencing community in a very new way. One of the parts of my experience there that sticks with me is the silence. There were very few mechanical sounds on the island, maybe one car, sometimes a lawn mower, but that was about it. I had an opportunity to hike with our group around the island one day. We traveled to the rocky beach, where Columba first encountered this small island. I learned that many of these rocks are some of the oldest in the world. They were there long before I arrived and will be there long after I leave.

In recent weeks we have heard of several horrific tragedies around the world. Many of us have also experienced difficult situations in our own families and communities. When we face a tragedy, these questions may come to mind: Have you experienced moments when you are reminded that each day is a gift? Knowing this, how do you want to live your life? Always busy, working on the next project, chore or errand? Or with an attitude of unhurried trust and joy being immersed in the current moment?
This verse stuck with me through the past few days in the midst of these events, "God is our Refuge and Strength, a very present help in trouble." Psalm 46:1

As reminder of my experience on Iona, I have a picture of one of the Celtic crosses that I found on the island. Each time I stop to take a look at it, these experiences come rushing back and I attempt to reclaim the rhythm of my journey and the messages that God revealed.

Prayer for Today

A prayer from St. Columba:
Be, Lord Jesus, a bright flame before me,
a guiding star above me, 
a smooth path below me,
a kindly shepherd behind me: 
today, tonight, and forever. Amen.

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 04:43 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, April 04 2016

AI-these initials stand for Artificial Intelligence. With the ever expanding potential created by the evolution of our increasingly complex technology we are promised that someday humans will develop Artificial Intelligence. You have probably watched movies such as I, Robot which reveal the human quest to create artificial intelligence and the problems that ensue.

Recently, Microsoft launched a chat box form of AI it named Tay. Rather than being a screaming success, Microsoft had to shut down Tay within 24 hours. The reason is that after chatting with humans for less than a day, Tay had been transformed into what has been called a genocidal racist. The lesson seems to be that if AI is to be created by mimicking human behavior then AI will include our sinful nature. What we create will not be free from sin.

The Apostle Paul was clued in on this all too human truth when he wrote to the Corinthian church. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul makes a proclamation that we often hear following our confession of sin:

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old is gone, the new is here!"

No matter what we attempt to create, it will somehow and someway be stained by sin. But in Christ, God has created a new order of things, one that we ourselves are unable to create.

That is the power of Christ's resurrection. By our own intelligence, we just can't be free of the power of sin. But through Christ's resurrection, God has set us free so that we can participate in the ministry of reconciliation.

"All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sin against them."

As we continue to celebrate the resurrection of Christ, let us practice the ministry of reconciliation and be the imitator of Christ. It seems the only intelligent way to be.

Prayer for Today

Create in us a clean heart O Lord, and lead us in paths of righteousness for your name sake. Through your Spirit, guide us to be ambassadors of Christ sharing in the ministry of reconciliation. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 04:41 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, April 01 2016

Alicia Taylor

Blessed Assurance
 
In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.  John 16:33
 
Some promises in life feel more like threats.  "Click it or ticket," promises the highway patrol when motorists fail to fasten their seatbelts.  Not all promises warm the heart - and that includes Jesus' promise of trouble in John 16:33.  Note, though, that these words are not a threat.  Our Lord simply states a fact of life - life that in our fallen world often includes trials, traumas, and turmoil.
 
Shakespeare once wrote about "Double, double toil and trouble ..."  Some days, weeks, or years, toil and trouble do seem to double down on us.  Fraying relationships.  Unraveling finances.  Workplace worries.  Double toil and double trouble seem to be our lot in life.  Even Jesus confirms turmoil's inevitability.
 
The hope we need comes from the Lord's promise that comes at the end of this same verse:  Take heart!  I have overcome the world.  From our Lord's cross and empty tomb flows ample proof that those who cling to Christ in faith simply cannot lose!  In life and in death, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.  Christ has conquered!  He lives and reigns, now and forevermore.
 
Trusting that Jesus has overcome and that he shares his victory with us makes every promise of our Savior comforting - even his promises of trouble and trials.  Christ walked the earth fully human and knows how tough life's troubles can get.  He understands and empathizes with us.  The sacrificial love of Jesus gives us hope in this world, come what may.
 
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!  O what a foretaste of glory divine!

Prayer for Today

Lord, you overcame the world.  Teach me to "take heart" as right now I face ...

Posted by: Alicia Taylor AT 05:06 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
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