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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, June 30 2016

He calls his own sheep by name. -John 10:3

When I first meet a new group of students in the college composition class I teach, I already know their names. I take the time to familiarize myself with their names and photos on my student roster, so when they walk into my classroom I can say, "Hello, Jessica," or "Welcome, Trevor." I do this because I know how meaningful it is when someone knows and calls us by name.

Yet to truly know someone, we need to know more than that person's name. In John 10, we can sense the warmth and care Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has for us when we read that He "calls his own sheep by name" (v. 3). He knows even more than our name. He knows our thoughts, longings, fears, wrongs, and deepest needs. Because He knows our deepest needs, He has given us our very life-our eternal life-at the cost of His own. As He says in verse 11, He "lays down his life for the sheep."

Give thanks to Jesus!  He knows your name and your needs.

You see, our sin separated us from God. So Jesus, the Good Shepherd, became the Lamb and sacrificed Himself, taking our sin on Himself. When He gave His life for us and then was resurrected, He redeemed us. As a result, when we accept His gift of salvation through faith, we are no longer separated from God.

Give thanks to Jesus! He knows your name and your needs! 

Prayer for Today

Dear Lord, thank You for knowing my name and for knowing exactly what I need. Thank You for dying for my sin and for rising from the grave to defeat death and give me eternal life with You.  Amen.

Posted by: Our Daily Bread AT 06:24 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, June 29 2016

Monday night I went to bed, but woke up about 2:00 a.m. and could not get back to sleep. Some folks suggest that when you can't sleep, it is best to get out of bed and do something relaxing. So I got up and went into our family room, turned on a light, and began reading my Bible. I have found that reading my Bible when I can't sleep usually calms me down. Eventually I can fall back to sleep. For some reason I decided to read through the book of Revelation. Some of you who know anything about the book of Revelation may wonder why anyone would do that - and I agree with you. It is probably the scariest book in the Bible - which again makes no sense to read in the middle of the night - but I did anyway. I read all 22 chapters!

The good thing to know is that it starts and ends on a pretty positive note - except for all the warnings at the end of chapter 22. I am not going into all the different ways one can interpret the book of Revelation - but however you read it, it certainly gets your attention. Years ago there was a book called The Late Great Planet Earth in which the author presented a very concise view of the end of history based on his interpretation of the book of Revelation. It was all the rage. From time to time someone still asks me if I have read it and what I think about it. My short answer is that while I appreciate the author taking the book seriously, I don't think he got it right.
Of all the verses I read the other night, the one that comforted me the most was this one: "He [God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Revelation 21:4, NIV) However it turns out, God promises that in the end it will be okay - and that is good enough for me!

Prayer for Today

God of past, present, and future - we thank you that however it all turns out, you promise that for those who put their trust in you, it will be okay. Until that time, help us to live each day faithfully as followers of Jesus the Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen. 

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 06:23 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, June 28 2016

When was the last time that you participated in standing ovation - a time when we take a moment to recognize and give praise for greatness and hard work? It's a time where everyone stops what they are doing to stand up, clap and cheer for what has been done.

Do you stop and give God a standing ovation for all God's greatness? I would invite you to take a moment today to pause and think about all that God has created and all that God has done. What has God created or done in your life recently that causes you to stop and give a standing ovation?
Psalm 96 gives some words to guide us:
O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples. For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Honor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
I know that I can get caught up in the fast pace of each day, whizzing past all that God has created and overlooking what God has done. I appreciate that God took some time to stop me and invite me to appreciate life's blessings.

Prayer for Today

Creator God, I praise you for your amazing creation. Help us to be open to see and hear the ways that you are caring for us. Guide us with a spirit of affirmation and thanksgiving. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 06:22 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, June 27 2016

This past week I was re-awakened to the prayers of St. Francis of Assisi. A friend of mine shared a St. Francis prayer that he read at the memorial service for a fellow clergyman. Gray's sermon series on the Be-Attitudes took me deeper into the prayer lift of this revered Saint.

Below is his Peace Prayer:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, the truth;
Where there is doubt, the faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

At other times, we need some discomfort to become the instruments of peace God desires.

May God bless us with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships
So that we may live from deep within our hearts.
May God bless us with anger
At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of God's creations
So that we may work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May God bless us with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war,
So that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and
To turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless us with just enough foolishness
To believe that we can make a difference in the world,
So that we can do what others claim cannot be done:
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and all our neighbors who are poor.

Prayer for Today

Please pray the above prayers this week and notice what God brings into your life.

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 06:21 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, June 24 2016

Never will I leave you.  -Hebrews 13:5

Our hearts sank when we learned that our good friend Cindy had been diagnosed with cancer. Cindy was a vibrant person whose life blessed all who crossed her path. My wife and I rejoiced when she went into remission, but a few months later her cancer returned with a vengeance. In our minds she was too young to die. Her husband told me about her last hours. When she was weak and hardly able to talk, Cindy whispered to him, "Just be with me." What she wanted more than anything in those dark moments was his loving presence.

The writer to the Hebrews comforted his readers by quoting Deuteronomy 31:6, where God told His people: "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5). In the darkest moments of life, the assurance of His loving presence gives us confidence that we are not alone. He gives us the grace to endure, the wisdom to know He is working, and the assurance that Christ can "empathize with our weaknesses" (4:15).

Together let's embrace the blessing of His loving presence so we can confidently say, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid" (13:6).

Prayer for Today

Lord, thank You for the promise that You will never leave me. May the reality of Your constant supporting presence fill my heart with comfort, confidence, and courage.  Amen.

Posted by: Our Daily Bread AT 07:30 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, June 23 2016

Obey [your earthly masters] slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. -Ephesians 6:6 

"I'm a secretary," a friend told me. "When I tell people this, they sometimes look at me with a certain pity. But when they find out who I am secretary for, they open their eyes with admiration!" In other words, society often defines some jobs as less important than others, unless those jobs happen to relate in some way to rich or famous people.

For the child of God, however, any occupation, regardless of the earthly boss, can be held proudly because we serve the Lord Jesus.

In Ephesians 6, Paul talks to servants and masters. He reminds both groups that we serve one Master who is in heaven. So we need to do everything with sincerity of heart, integrity, and respect because we are serving and working for Christ Himself. As the apostle Paul reminds us, Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people.  -Ephesians 6:7

What a privilege to serve God in everything we do, whether answering a phone or driving a car or doing housework or running a business. Let us work with a smile today, remembering that no matter what we are doing, we are serving God.

Prayer for Today

Lord Jesus, I want to serve You in everything I do. Help me, as I begin each day, to remember this. Amen.

Posted by: Our Daily Bread AT 07:29 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, June 22 2016

The Lord will watch over you coming and going, both now and forevermore. - Psalm 121:8, NIV

Around JCPC, we have had a lot of "comings and goings" recently. With the loss of Connie Overby, and the departures of Scott Huie and Alicia Taylor from our staff, we know what it is like to say good-bye as folks go. Times of loss are never easy.
However, we also have some "comings" in the near future. Monday night our Session voted to call a congregational meeting on Sunday, July 24, to hear a recommendation from our Associate Pastor Nominating Committee about the next person to lead our youth ministry. The APNC/Youth Director Search Committee has spent many hours reading more than 85 resumes. From that pool, they chose the top candidates and interviewed them by Skype and face-to-face. They checked references, vetted the candidates through presbytery, and finally believe they have the right person God is leading JCPC to call as our next installed Associate Pastor for youth ministry.
The congregation will have the opportunity to hear all about the candidate on July 24 at the congregational meeting. In our tradition, we do not announce any information about the candidate prior to that date because the person may presently be serving another church. It would not be appropriate for the candidate to tell his or her present church they were leaving until the new congregation votes.
Also, we voted at the Session meeting to begin the search process for our next Director of Music and Worship. However, because of the relatively short time frame between now and when the choirs start back at the end of the summer, our Personnel Committee recommended we seek an interim Music Director first. This will give the search committee plenty of time to consider the needs of the congregation and find the right person. Our plans are to have an Interim Music Director by August 1. So be in prayer for our search committees and please express your thanks to our APNC for their hard work and long hours.

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, you oversee all of the comings and goings of our lives. Guide us in this time of transition as we say "good-bye" to those who have served this church, and as we say "hello" to the new persons you are bringing our way. We trust you and your guidance. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen. 

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 08:44 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, June 21 2016

For 31 years, June 21 was just another day on the calendar. For me it didn't have any special significance other than sometimes it was Father's Day or sometimes it was the first day of summer. Since 2014, when our son, Will, decided to arrive three and a half weeks early it suddenly became a very important day. Last year, June 21 gained eternal meaning when we celebrated Will's first birthday, Father's Day, and my Dad's passing after a battle with cancer.

There are many things about Will that often remind me of my Dad and I'm grateful for the joy that is deep within him. Whenever we celebrate a milestone occasion in my family, my Dad would always write a song. So it was no surprise when he wrote Will a song shortly after his birth. I am going to share the words to the song he wrote along with two pictures today as a way to remember what a gift God has given me in my Dad and my son. The first photo is my Dad with Will within a few days of him being born. The second one is Will with my Dad a few days before he passed when we celebrated Father's Day. We gave him a frame with the words to the song and a photograph of him with his two grandsons.

May these words be a reminder to you that "in life and death we belong to God".

Moments and Memories

His little heart was beating, before his time was due
We couldn't have help but wonder, what a journey he'd been through
We thought, we planned, we wondered, what God had put in store
Could never have imagined, it would be so much more
Now when his time had come, his moment to arrive
We knew his destination, was not to be denied
His tiny toes and fingers, and captivating eyes
Remind us God's miracles, were really no surprise

The moments and the memories, 
this child will surely bring
The laughter, tears and heartaches,
and lullabies we'll sing
And when the day is over, 
and you think you've done your part
His tiny hands will touch you, 
cause he's tugging at your heart.

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, you are both the giver and renewer of life. Guide us in our day to see those places where you give life and renew life for us. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 08:42 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, June 20 2016

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father.
-Romans 8:15

The topic of fatherhood has been floating in my head. Yesterday we celebrated Father's Day and I must confess that it has been awhile since I've experienced fatherhood being held in such high esteem. Through Facebook posts, fathers being acknowledged in worship and a wide array of other forms of fatherly acknowledgements, I noticed fathers being honored. I enjoyed the sense of intimacy.

In two weeks we will be honoring a different breed of fathers. On July 4th we will be honoring the work of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. Please take time over the next two weeks to brush up on your U.S. history in order to remember the sacrifices they made on our behalf and the freedom we enjoy.

Jesus taught us to call God Abba. The word Abba is the Aramaic word for father. The word has a type of hologram quality for me because at the time when you pray Abba there is an intimacy like praying "Daddy." At other times, praying Abba has more of a "Father" quality of obedience and reverence. At other times, the prayer beginning with Abba is both intimate and obedient.

In Paul's letter to the Romans, he is offering both the promise and the hope of crying Abba. I found myself crying Abba this morning as I read that 65 million people were displaced by war in 2015. I cried Abba when I read about the Venezuelan food riots. I cried and prayed Abba last week when I heard of the Orlando massacre.

Yesterday in worship our opening hymn was This is My Father's World. As a congregation we affirmed God as Abba when we sang:

This is my Father's world. O let me ne'er forget, that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet!

To God be the glory.

Prayer for Today

Abba, we lift up to you our broken world. Pour your healing Spirit out upon your people, we pray and set free the captives, find homes for the homeless and heal the grieving hearts of those who mourn. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 08:40 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, June 17 2016

Alicia Taylor

Life Is a Song, Love Is the Music
Be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts.  
-Ephesians 5:18b-19 (NRSV)
Martin Luther once said that music is the art of the prophets, the only art that can calm the agitations of the soul, one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.  Every kind of appropriate song - whether psalms like those of the Old Testament, or hymns directed to God or to others that Christians are accustomed to singing - can provide a means for praising and thanking God.
Singing has always been a central experience of the people of God.   From very early on in the scriptures right up to today, singing has been a powerful, shared experience of God's people.  Across the country and around the world, we gather weekly to worship.  We assemble with the people of God, filled with joy, and we sing!
Music evokes powerful memories, and singing the songs of our faith instills hope and helps us to connect with one another in a way that is rich and deep.  As a young child in Vacation Bible School, I remember one particular song that was my favorite.  How many of you know this tune by heart and can sing along from memory? 
I have a song that Jesus gave me.
It was sent from heaven above.
There never was a sweeter melody.
'Tis a melody of love.
In my heart there rings a melody,
There rings a melody with heaven's harmony. 
In my heart, there rings a melody,
There rings a melody of love!
I cannot imagine a life without music, and I thank God every day for the gift.  I thank you for sharing in my song and for allowing me to write a verse or two with you.  It has been a privilege and my sincere joy to serve with you in ministry for the past eleven years. 
I covet your prayers as I begin a new chapter in my life.  Please know that you will remain in my heart and prayers always.  Life is a song, and love is indeed the music.  Sing a new song to the Lord, and know that I love you! 
For now, I will sign off with the signature Erma Bombeck quote which sums up my entire life of ministry in song.  To God be the glory!

Prayer for Today

Let every instrument be tuned for praise!  Let all rejoice who have a voice to raise!  And may God give us faith to sing always:  Alleluia!  Amen.

Posted by: Alicia Taylor AT 08:39 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, June 16 2016

Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies.  -Judges 2:18

Around our home, the words "some assembly required" have been the cause of great frustration (mine) and great humor (my family). When my wife and I first married, I attempted to make simple home repairs-with disastrous results. A repaired shower handle worked perfectly-if the plan was for the water to run between the walls. My fiascoes continued after we had children, when I assured my wife, Cheryl, I "don't need instructions" to put these "simple" toys together. Wrong!

Gradually, I learned my lesson and began to pay strict attention to the instructions and things went together as they should. Unfortunately, the longer things went well, the more confident I became, and soon I was again ignoring instructions with predictably disastrous results.

The ancient Israelites struggled with a similar tendency: they would forget God, ignoring His instructions to avoid following after Baal and the other gods of the region (Judges 2:12). This produced disastrous results, until God, in His mercy, raised up judges to rescue them and bring them back to Himself (v. 18).

God has reasons for all of the instructions He's given us to keep our affections on Him. Only by a daily awareness of His loving presence can we resist the temptation to "construct" our lives our own way. What great gifts He has given us in His Word and His presence! 

Prayer for Today

Lord, keep me close to You this day. Remind me of Your presence through Your Word and prayer and the leading of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Posted by: Our Daily Bread AT 05:33 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, June 15 2016

A crowd came together in dewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.  
-Acts 2:6

Walking in my North London neighborhood, I can hear snatches of conversation in many languages - Polish, Japanese, Hindi, Croatian, and Italian, to name a few.  The diversity feels like a taste of heaven, yet I can't understand what they're saying.  As I step into the Russian café or the Polish market and hear the different accents and sounds, I sometimes reflect on how wonderful it must have been on the day of Pentecost when people of many nations could understand what the disciples were saying.

On that day, pilgrims gathered together in Jerusalem to celebrate the festival of the harvest.  The Holy Spirit rested on the believers so that when they spoke, the hearers (who had come from all over the known world) could understand them in their own languages (Acts 2:5-6).  What a miracle that these strangers from different lands could understand the praises to God in their own tongues! Many were spurred on to find out more about Jesus.

We may not speak or understand many languages, but we know that the Holy Spirit equips us to connect with people in other ways.  Amazingly, we are God's hands and feet - and mouth - to further His mission.  Today, how might we - with the Spirit's help - reach out to someone unlike us?

Prayer for Today

Lord, give us eyes to see those around us as You see them. Give us ears to hear their stories; give us hearts to share Your love.  Amen.

Posted by: Our Daily Bread AT 05:33 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, June 14 2016

Many individuals accompany us on the journey of faith and through the wilderness. Some offer us a shoulder to lean on when we tire of the walk. Others ask for our help when they are weary on the journey. With the recent tragic events in the news I often need a way to refocus my thoughts and worries. Today I would invite you to, take some time to reflect on those in your life, past or present, who you want to remember in prayer. Write each name down and reflect on how these relationships provide you opportunities to grow in the ways of love, kindness, hospitality, peace, patience and grace.

Paul's message to the church is that we are to "Live in love as Christ loved us"(Ephesians 5:2).  In Colossians 3:14-17, Paul tells us to clothe ourselves in love, letting the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, treat one another as brothers and sisters, and make everything we do something we do in the name of Jesus Christ.

Our guiding principle for how to live together as the body of Christ is love. At one time it was common for people in the church to address one another as "brother" or "sister". The practice still exists in some traditions and has biblical roots. Paul used the words over 121 times to address his churches, the body of Christ. If we speak and come to think of each another as brothers and sisters- as family- we are more likely to act toward one another with love and care. Paul used brother and sister intentionally. He wished for the church to understand itself as a family.

When we as the church come to understand ourselves as the body of Christ, the living presence of Christ, acting out of love and in the name of Jesus Christ, the world sees the presence of Christ. The gospel is proclaimed in a manner that is apparent to all.

As you continue through your week, may these words from Paul and reflections on how we are called to care for one another as the body of Christ, guide your thoughts and actions.

How will our actions and words reflect our place in the body of Christ this week? How will we proclaim the gospel through these actions and words?

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, in Jesus you call us Christian families and homes to be signs of living faith. By the light of the Holy Spirit, lead us to be thankful for the gift of faith, and by that gift may we grow in our relationship with Jesus, your Son, and be confident witnesses to Christian hope and joy to all we meet.
In the name of Jesus Christ,  Amen.

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 05:31 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, June 13 2016

I had just finished preaching on Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, "Don't be anxious about your life," when life came crashing in. Or should I say evil?!!

I was informed that 50 people had been massacred at a night club in Orlando in the wee hours of the early morning. I was stunned and sickened by the news. While Jesus' teaching stands as a practical lesson for life, the coverage of the indiscriminate slaughter took over my senses and I am numbed in the face of evil.

Where to go in scripture during times like these? I didn't have to travel too far from Jesus' teaching about anxiety, because earlier in Matthew 6 Jesus teaches us how to pray. In the Lord's Prayer, we speak to evil every Sunday and whenever we prayer His prayer we take evil head on; "deliver us from evil." Let us continue to pray fervently our Lord's Prayer. Our Father, deliver us from evil.
In praying for victims of terrorism, I came across this prayer that I would like to share with you.

Loving God,
Welcome into your arms the victims of violence and terrorism.
Comfort their families and all who grieve for them.
Help us in our fear and uncertainty,
And bless us with the knowledge that we are secure in your love.
Strengthen all who work for peace,
And may the peace the world cannot give reign in our hearts.

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 05:31 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, June 10 2016

Be Still

Alicia Taylor
Be still, and know that I am God.  Psalm 46:10 (NIV)
Psalm 46 begins and ends by proclaiming that the God of Jacob is our refuge, our strength, and our stronghold.  The Lord of hosts is with us!  We can take comfort in letting go and resting in God to provide help, strength, and safety.
The Hebrew definition of "be still" is to cease striving, to surrender.  The literal translation taken from the Greek is to hush.  How often do we pray, asking God to answer our supplications, but we don't stop to be still and to listen?  The act of being still and getting quiet is a veritable challenge in our hectic days.  The world asks us to be busy; God asks us to be still.
Our brains process upwards of 60,000 thoughts each day, of which approximately 56,400 are related to our own needs, wants, and concerns.  Unfortunately, not all of our thoughts serve us well.  Quieting the mind requires practice, and one powerful way is by practicing meditation.  Jesus often went off to meditate and to take himself away from the world.
Romans 12:2 says, "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect."  Meditation helps to renew the mind, to be still, to cease striving, to let go and surrender the thoughts that do not serve us well.
I leave you with a listening link and the lyrics of this Sunday's offertory.  Take just a moment to be still, quiet your mind, and meditate on this text, the beautiful music, and the incredible images of God's creation.  Be transformed by the renewing of your mind ...
Be still and know that he is God.
Be still and know that he is holy.
Be still, O restless soul of mine.
Bow before the Prince of Peace;
Let the noise and clamor cease.
Be still and know that he is God.
Be still and know that he is faithful.
Consider all that he has done;
Stand in awe and be amazed,
And know that he will never change.
Be still.
Be still and know that he is God.
Be still and know that he is God.
Be still and know that he is God.
Be still; be speechless.
Be still and know that he is God.
Be still and know he is our Father.
Come, rest your head upon his breast;
Listen to the rhythm of his unfailing heart of love
Beating for his little ones, calling each of us to come.
Be still.  Be still.  Be still.  Be still.

Prayer for Today

Creator God, we offer thanksgiving for the beauty of your creation.  Help us to dismiss the noise of the world and the clamor of our own thoughts.  Draw us closer to you and help us to be still, we pray.  Amen.

Posted by: Alicia Taylor AT 04:44 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, June 09 2016

In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.
-Philippians 2:3-4

Two men sat down to review their business trip and its results. One said he thought the trip had been worthwhile because some meaningful new relationships had begun through their business contacts. The other said, "Relationships are fine, but selling is what matters most." Obviously they had very different agendas.

It is all too easy-whether in business, family, or church-to view others from the perspective of how they can benefit us. We value them for what we can get from them, rather than focusing on how we can serve them in Jesus' name. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote, Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  
-Philippians 2:3-4

People are not to be used for our own benefit. Because they are loved by God and we are loved by Him, we love one another. His love is the greatest love of all. 

Prayer for Today

Teach me, Lord, to see people as You do-bearing Your image, being worthy of Your love, and needing Your care. May Your great love find in my heart a vessel through which that love can be displayed. Amen.

Posted by: Our Daily Bread AT 04:43 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, June 08 2016

I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.  -Philippians 1:23

A siren wailed outside a little boy's house. Unfamiliar with the sound, he asked his mother what it was.  She explained that it was meant to alert people of a dangerous storm.  She said that if people did not take cover, they might die as a result of the tornado.  The boy replied, "Mommy, why is that a bad thing?  If we die, don't we meet Jesus?"

Little children don't always understand what it means to die.  But Paul, who had a lifetime of experience wrote something similar:  I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far (Philippians 1:23).  The apostle was under house arrest at the time, but his statement wasn't fueled by despair.  He was rejoicing because his suffering was causing the gospel to spread (verses 12-14).

So why would Paul be torn between a desire for life and death?  Because to go on living would mean "fruitful labor."  But if he died he knew he would enjoy a special kind of closeness with Christ.  To be absent from our bodies is to be home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:6-8).

People who believe in the saving power of Jesus' death and resurrection will be with Him forever.  It's been said, All's well that ends in heaven.  Whether we live or die, we win.  For to me, to live in Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).

Prayer for Today

Dear Jesus, help me to keep my eyes on You, whether I face difficulty in life or death. Let me find security and peace in You.  Amen.

Posted by: Our Daily Bread AT 04:42 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, June 07 2016

What does home mean to you? How many places have you called home so far in life?

At the end of the classic movie the "Wizard of Oz," Dorothy uttered those now famous words, "There is no place like home, there is no place like home." How right she was. Where we live serves as the basic foundation for our daily life. Home is where our day usually begins and ends. It is the place we can go to escape from the world and find peace and rest. The incredible importance of where a person calls home is the same in the United States as it is in Canada, in Europe, in Asia, in South America, in Africa, or anywhere else in the world. Our home is a major part of most people's journey through this life.

Pray every day for God to not only protect your home, but that your home will be a refuge, a place of safety and comfort and peace for you and your family to live.

Your home should not only be a place of safety, of comfort, of peace, of rest, where you and your family live, but your home should also be a place where the Spirit of God resides! How and when do you feel God's presence in your home?

What are some of your traditions that you have when moving into a new home? How do you begin to make the house feel like your home?

In my life, I have called many places home... from my childhood homes, to college dorm rooms to my first apartment after college graduation, to my first home with Chap, and our current home where we brought Will home from the hospital almost two years ago this month. What are some of your favorite memories in your home?

Take a moment to thank God today for the place that you can call home. Look around you and identify ways that God has provided for you in this place and be open to the ways that you can continue to be renewed and refreshed here.

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, Thank you for the blessing of the places we call home. Help us to be open to the rest and renewal that can be provided here and open our hearts to the ways that you will work through us in this place. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 04:40 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, June 06 2016

One of my favorite sections of the New Testament is Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Found in Matthew chapters 5-7, Jesus' sermon begins with the Beatitudes in which he offers his blessing onto the multitude. Jesus finishes his sermon saying that anyone who puts into practice what he taught has built there house on rock; namely a firm foundation.

Jesus' teachings are meant to be put into practice. I will be preaching a mini-series the next two Sundays entitled Practically Speaking: How to Apply Jesus' Teaching to Your Life. We will be exploring two of Jesus' most practical lessons for living but ones that, strangely enough, aren't taught in a practical manner.

Both lessons begin as injunctions; "do not worry about your life and do not judge or you too will be judged." Both of these injunctions have typically been taught as high ideals and you know what they say about high ideals. They are rarely achieved.

If these lessons are about ideals, then we have a problem. Why would Jesus say that life is about ideals we can't achieve? That doesn't seem to be Jesus' intent when we look at the ending of the Sermon on the Mount which says if we put into practice what he has taught us then we will build our lives on a strong foundation. Since all of us are anxious and critical (be honest) from time to time, where's the practical application in the lesson?

Here's a hint. Jesus uses images to direct our attention to bring about the change we need when we are worrying and when we are judgmental. Read Matthew 6: 25 through Matthew 7: 14.

If you thought I was going to share more of my thoughts on this passage, you are correct. I will be Practically Speaking to you in worship on June 12 and 19. Join me to learn more about how to practically apply Jesus' teaching to your life. See you then.

Prayer for Today

Keep us mindful of your ever present care when worry begin to consume our thoughts, O Lord, and teach us to look at others with compassion rather than judgement, so that we might seek first your kingdom and the rest of our lives will follow. Amen. 

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 04:40 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, June 03 2016

Love without End, Amen!

Alicia Taylor

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  John 3:16 (NIV)
Our theme this Sunday in worship is all about love, love, love!  Psalm 136 recites again and again that we are to give thanks to God, for his steadfast love endures forever.  Romans 8 tells us that there is nothing we can do to separate ourselves from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  God's love is a love without end, amen!
In the year 1990, George Straight made famous a country song by that title, referencing a father's love for his child.  The song obviously resonated with the listening audience as it spent five weeks in the number one spot on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart. 
If you are a country music fan, you will remember that the song begins by referencing a father's love for his young son, but the final verse of the song was written about our Father in heaven's love for us as children of God.
Last night I dreamed I'd died and stood outside those pearly gates
When suddenly I realized there must be some mistake
If they know half the things I've done, they'll never let me in
Then somewhere from the other side, I heard these words again
And they said
Let me tell you a secret about a father's love
A secret that my daddy said was just between us
You see daddies don't just love their children every now and then
It's a love without end, amen.

Our human failings at times render us incapable of honoring relationships with those whom we love.  Our tendency to abandon our own commitments makes it easier for us to wonder about our Lord's commitment to us.  We begin, we fail, we try again, and again we fall short.  Still, our God, who is rich in mercy, continues to lavish his love on us.  In the cross of our Savior, repentant sinners find forgiveness. 
And we sing, "O love, how deep, how broad, how high, beyond all thought and fantasy."  "Amazing love, how can it be that thou, my God, should die for me?"  "O how He loves you and me!  He gave his life.  What more could He give?"  "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling, joy of heaven to earth come down."  "O Love that wilt not let me go ... I give thee back the life I owe."
For today, let's all look for ways to be a conduit of God's amazing grace, his undeserved love.

Prayer for Today

Merciful God, thank you for never giving up on me!  You forgive and forgive, you love and love and keep on loving.  Teach me to trust your lavish grace and to show that same kind of tenacious love to others in my life, especially ...

Posted by: Alicia Taylor AT 05:18 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, June 02 2016

Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. -Hebrews 4:16

I was so happy for my friend when she told me she was going to be a mum! Together we counted the days until the birth.  But when the baby suffered a brain injury during delivery, my heart broke and I didn't know how to pray.  All I knew was who I should pray to - God.  He is our Father, and He hears us when we call.

I knew that God was capable of miracles.  He brought Jairus' daughter back to life (Luke 8:49-55) and in so doing also healed the girl of whatever disease had robbed her of life.  So I asked Him to bring healing for my friend's baby too.

But what if God doesn't heal?  I wondered.  Surely He doesn't lack the power.  Could it be He doesn't care?  I thought of Jesus' suffering on the cross and the explanation that "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).  Then I remembered the questions of Job and how he learned to see the wisdom of God as shown in the creation around him (Job 38-39).

Slowly I saw how God calls us to Him in the details of our lives.  In God's grace, my friend and I learned together what it means to call on the Lord and to trust Him - whatever the outcome.

Prayer for Today

Lord, to whom can I go but You! I trust You with my life and the lives of my loved ones. I'm grateful You always hear my cry.

Posted by: Our Daily Bread AT 05:16 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, June 01 2016

For the next two weeks beginning this Sunday, I will be hanging out with our youth. The first week I will be attending the Montreat Youth Conference with our senior highs. The next week I will be going to The Great Escape with our middle-schoolers. I am really looking forward to spending time with our JCPC youth. At last count we had 27 going to Montreat and 17 to The Great Escape.

It has been a few years since I went to the Montreat Youth Conference, but I have been there many times. I actually began my ministry as an Associate Pastor for youth. The youth group at my first church did not yet go to Montreat, so I started the tradition with two youth attending. By the time I left five years later, we had almost 30 youth going and it was the highlight of the year.
Over the years the Montreat Youth Conference has been the best thing our Presbyterian church does. Montreat is a beautiful town in the mountains of North Carolina. For that week, the town becomes a great place to be if you are a teenager. The speakers are outstanding and the fellowship is amazing. This year Rodger Nishioka, who has spoken at JCPC, will be the keynote speaker. Rodger is one of my favorite preachers and I can't wait!
The next week I will be heading up to Lee University for The Great Escape. While I have heard about The Great Escape, I have never been there before, so this will be new for me. Linda Benson, our Interim Youth Director, will be there both weeks to help keep things in order, along with a few of our youth advisors.
I want to ask you to start praying daily for our youth now. Pray that God would be at work in their lives so that each one of them can deepen their relationship with Christ. Pray that our speakers would know how to inspire, motivate, and challenge our youth. Pray for those of us who are in charge, that everything will go relatively smooth. And pray that everyone comes home safe and sound.

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, we pray for each of our youth getting ready to go to Montreat and The Great Escape. May your spirit work in their lives so that they deepen their relationship with you, enjoy the fellowship with each other, and have a great week of safe fun! We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 05:26 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
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