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.
Have you ever been in training for a sport, a race, or a contest of strength? Have you ever been in a situation where you really had to push yourself? Has your body ever surprised you with its ability to endure?
You've all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You're after one that's gold eternally. I don't know about you, but I'm running hard for the finish line. I'm giving it everything I've got. No sloppy living for me! I'm staying alert and in top condition. I'm not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.
-1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (The Message)
I think there are times when we push our bodies to their limits. There may also be times when you have noticed your heart and mind have one idea of what you are capable of, but your body has a different perspective. We are so much more than just our physical being. Our body is a vessel for our spirit, soul, and creativity.
Begin this week by acknowledging that YOU are so much more than your physical self with its limitations. You are created in the image of the one true God.
Paul also wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10: "...but he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.' So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong."
Go now confident even in your weakness, in your sorrow, in your shortcomings, knowing that even in the middle of it all, Christ remains powerful within you.
Prayer for Today
Creator God, With your Spirit in me, help me to see myself as you see me. Help me to see my neighbor as you see her. Help me to see my friend as you see him. Help me to see my enemy as one who is also created in your image. In Christ's Name, Amen.
The Greek philosopher Plato (c. 427-c. 348 bc) found an imaginative way of shining light on the dark side of the human heart. He told the story of a shepherd who innocently discovered a golden ring that had been hidden deep in the earth. One day a great earthquake opened up an ancient mountainside tomb and revealed the ring to the shepherd. By accident he also discovered that the ring had the magical ability to enable the wearer to become invisible at will. Thinking about invisibility, Plato raised this question: If people didn't have to worry about being caught and punished, would they resist doing wrong?
In John's gospel we find Jesus taking this idea in a different direction. There, Jesus, known as the Good Shepherd, speaks of hearts that stay in the cover of darkness to hide what they are doing (John 3:19-20). He isn't calling attention to our desire for cover-up to condemn us, but to offer us salvation through Him (v. 17). As the Shepherd of our hearts, He brings the worst of our human nature to light to show us how much God loves us (v. 16).
God in His mercy calls us out of our darkness and invites us to follow Him in the light.
Prayer for Today
Dear heavenly Father, thank You for the light of Your presence in my life. May I walk obediently in the light of Your truth in all that I do this day. Amen.
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. -1 Thessalonians 4:13
Even all these years after losing our seventeen-year-old daughter Melissa in a car accident in 2002, I sometimes find myself entering the world of "What If." It's easy, in grief, to reimagine the events of that tragic June evening and think of factors that-if rearranged-would have had Mell arriving safely home.
In reality, though, the land of "What If" is not a good place to be for any of us. It is a place of regret, second-guessing, and hopelessness. While the grief is real and the sadness endures, life is better and God is honored if we dwell in the world of "What Is."
When we do face hard times, our greatest help comes from trusting God.
In that world, we can find hope, encouragement, and comfort. We have the sure hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13)-the assurance-that because Melissa loved Jesus she is in a place that is "better by far" (Philippians 1:23). We have the helpful presence of the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3). We have God's "ever-present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1). And we often have the encouragement of fellow believers.
We all wish to avoid the tragedies of life. But when we do face hard times, our greatest help comes from trusting God, our sure hope in the land of What Is.
Prayer for Today
Father God, You know my broken heart. You know the pain of loss because You suffered through the death of Your Son. In the midst of ongoing sorrow, help me to dwell in the comfort of Your hope, encouragement, and comfort. Amen.
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! -Ecclesiastes 4:9-10
Together. I have a deep love of words, and one I fell in love with on my trip to Israel some years ago is the word, "yalla!" Perhaps because my tour guide and friend, Peter, said it with such enthusiasm. Perhaps because it's so much like another favorite word, "y'all," or perhaps because my boys love to say it too. I discovered recently that the origin of this word is Arabic, but it has become a common Hebrew phrase. Sometimes, a word is simply too good to be left alone in one language, and others adopt it. My family has.
The word "yalla" loosely means some mixture of "let's go" and "hurry up." It indicates more of an enthusiasm than a rush. It's playful. Its urgency is not hurried or condescending. In fact, it's a common phrase to wrap up a phone conversation. Instead of the less polite, "well, I should be going..." or something similar, it's an invitation for both parties to go and get things done. The implied meaning is that whatever is about to be done is done together, or in unity. Yalla is a team word, a family word.
I was reminded of it this week. This shared Arabic/Hebrew word came to mind when a historic Jewish cemetery was vandalized in University City, Missouri. The Muslim community reacted to this act of anti-Semitism and hate with love and urgency. Yalla! They sprang into action. Linda Sarsour and Tarek El-Messidi started a crowdfunding campaign that raised over $80,000 to repair the damage to headstones, some marking the graves of holocaust survivors who made it to America after WWII.
I was inspired by the outpouring of grief, empathy, and support in such a moment. Their offer of condolences and a show of true solidarity in their actions was in the true spirit of their shared humanity. We should all be people who are ready to act when we witness evil and say, "Yalla! I am with you. Let's go."
Prayer for Today
Oh Lord, help us be witnesses, but not bystanders. Help us to turn to our brothers and sisters when we see evil and be quick to listen, quick to compassion, quick to love, and eager to say, "Yalla! Let's go!"
This morning I sent out the following tweet: "DISMISS OR DISCUSS? I think most of us would rather dismiss those who have different perspectives than discuss why they think that way." (If you want, you can follow me on Twitter, at "@GrayNors.") I wonder why we would rather dismiss than discuss. Maybe because sitting down to discuss with someone of a different perspective takes time and is not always easy. To really listen, we have to hold off on thinking only about how we want to respond. Yet, when we do take time to listen, it can actually reduce our anxiety when we begin to understand why someone thinks differently than we do. Maybe that person grew up in a completely different situation from us. Maybe they have challenges going on in their lives we do not know about. Maybe they have some bit of information or insight we have never considered. When we take time to really listen to each other's stories, we not only begin to understand them better, we demonstrate to them that we care. We show them the love of Christ.
This past Sunday I said in the sermon that as Christians we believe humans are both created in the image of God and sinners saved by God's grace. Taking the time to discuss rather than dismiss someone shows that we value others because they are made in the image of God. And because we are all sinners saved by God's grace - our listening can be one of the ways God uses to convey God's grace to that person.
In his classic book, The Road Less Traveled, psychiatrist M. Scott Peck writes about the effort it takes to express love through giving another person our attention: "Attention is an effort of will, of work against the inertia of our own minds." Listening to someone - especially someone with whom we disagree - is hard work. But, it is worth the effort! So this week, make the effort to get out of the comfort zone of talking only to those with whom you agree, and listen to someone who thinks differently - all in the name of love . . . Christ's love!
Prayer for Today
God, you are somehow able to give your attention to each one of us. We thank you for that sacrificial act of love. Show us someone who needs our attention. Enable us to slow down and really listen. Keep us from dismissing others simply because we don't want to make the effort to listen. And may your peace that passes all understanding work its way into our lives, our relationships, our communities, and our world. Amen.
Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 07:40 am
When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man's eyes, saying to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, "Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?" Some were saying, "It is he." Others were saying, "No, but it is someone like him." He kept saying, "I am the man." But they kept asking him, "Then how were your eyes opened?" He answered, "The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, 'Go to Siloam and wash.' Then I went and washed and received my sight." They said to him, "Where is he?" He said, "I do not know." John 9:6-12
Have you had an experience where God has sent you into a place unknown? When it's a mission experience, often before we go, we are commissioned. In some traditions, this sending includes a laying on of hands, a simple, but powerful ritual of the body of Christ. In that moment, those being sent may have little idea of the journey ahead. Who will we meet? What new adventures will we have? How will we see God at work?
I have been journeying with some friends who have been traveling into the unknown, but not in the sense of a mission trip experience. They have been entering unknown places in their lives through some very new and unexpected experiences in their own community.
Where have you encountered a new mission in your own community?
Often on these journeys we experience transformation and healing. There is a good chance that those who didn't share the experience with you will notice a change in us when we return. We may not be able to articulate clearly why we have changed, but it is important to share our stories. Sharing our own experiences of being sent by Christ may indeed be an eye opener for others.
Take a moment today to think about an experience where God has sent you. What did you learn? How have you been changed? I would invite you to share this experience with someone else this week.
Prayer for Today
God, help us to share our experiences with others in such a way that they too may see you. In Christ's Name, Amen.
I experienced a once in a lifetime moment yesterday during our Stephen Ministry meeting. The group was discussing our Caring Ministry when Gail Steyer invited us to watch Space X launch its Falcon 9 rocket into space in order to deliver supplies to the International Space Station. The things you can do with our smart phones! Certainly, this was a first for me to witness a rocket launch on a smart phone at church. However, that wasn't the once in a lifetime moment. This was the first time that a private business launched a rocket from an Apollo era launch pad so the launch was historic; however, still not the once in a lifetime moment.
The once in a lifetime moment was the fact that one of our very own from JCPC played an integral role in the rocket's successful launch. Ryan Simpson, son of Steve and Helen Simpson and grandson of Helen Steyer is an important member of the Space X team which witnessed the fruits of their labor as the rocket screamed into space.
Gail and I shared a moment before Sunday school and we talked about how Ryan grew up at JCPC. He was an accomplished Eagle Scout as a member of our Troop 2000. Gail told me that while Ryan helped in the process of the successful launch of the Falcon 9 rocket, JCPC helped successfully launch Ryan.
Have you ever thought of JCPC as a launching pad? I remember reading the comments of one of my Christian Education professors who said that the church plays the role of a launching pad for our young people. Brian Daoust told us over the Christmas break that there are more than 60 JCPC young people currently in college.
Let's keep these young people in our prayers. When I look on my Facebook and see people like Davis O'Brien leading the Miracle Dance Marathon at UGA to raise money for Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and then leaving with a group for a mission trip to Honduras I am so moved knowing that JCPC has been and continues to be a wonderful launch pad for our kids!
To God be the glory.
Prayer for Today
Loving God, bless the young people of our church so that they will grow in their faith, serve you with fervor and share their unique gifts to make the world a better place. Amen.
We live by faith, not by sight. -2 Corinthians 5:7
I enjoy gazing up at a cloudless blue sky. The sky is a beautiful part of our great Creator's masterpiece, given for us to enjoy. Imagine how much pilots must love the view. They use several aeronautical terms to describe a perfect sky for flying, but my favorite is, "You can see to tomorrow."
"Seeing to tomorrow" is beyond our view. Sometimes we even struggle to see or understand what life is throwing at us today. The Bible tells us, Why do you not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. -James 4:14
But out limited visibility is not cause for despair. Just the opposite. We trust in the God who sees all of our tomorrows perfectly, and who knows what we need as we face the challenges ahead. The apostle Paul knew this. That's why Paul encourages us with hopeful words:
We live by faith, not by sight. - 2 Corinthians 5:7
When we trust God with our day as well as our unseen tomorrows, we don't need to worry about anything life throws at us. We walk with Him and He knows what is ahead; He is strong enough and wise enough to handle it.
Prayer for Today
Lord, I know I can trust You for today and tomorrow because You are kind, good, loving, wise, and powerful. Teach me not to worry.
Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!
-Psalm 149:3 (ESV)
In my favorite ministry book, Contemplative Youth Ministry, Mark Yaconelli shares that among his favorite questions to ask parents is at what age they stopped dancing. We have a rather straight-laced western culture. Dancing, singing, general expressions of joy are reserved to specific occasions or for professionals. People reserve their praise and exuberance for worship, weddings, and sporting events. It's as if enthusiasm of the spirit is a sign of immaturity. If you can't do it with skill, you leave it to young people or professionals.
This was not so in the cultural context of those in scripture or for most of the world today. In most cultures, it is not only accepted, but expected and encouraged. People sing for joy, and not just in church or in groups or sporting events. They don't schedule a solo. They sing at the news of the birth of a new baby or their pastor bursts forth into song mid-sermon. They dance in celebration of good news. No one takes the time to evaluate how good or bad it is because it's not a performance. It's an expression of joy and life and articulates what the soul knows and words cannot express alone.
And I think this is why there was so much joy in the room Sunday night at the talent show. There was singing, there was dancing, there was costume wearing, and there was spontaneity. Although all of the acts had signed up to perform, it was clear that caution and reservation had largely been thrown to the wind, and so had any spirit of critique or criticism. The line between stage and crowd was blurred. The joy of participants and observers melted in laughter. And I watched as children and adults alike, on stage and on the floor danced as if no one was watching but the Lord.
And if I could have glimpsed God among us, wiping chili from the sides of his mouth and a few stray saltine crumbs in his beard, I think he would have been grinning ear to ear like all of us.
Prayer for Today
Lord, fill us with your Spirit. Remind us that dancing, song, music, laughter, and art are different dialects of the same language of our soul that expresses the truth of the gifts you give us. Help us to share our gifts with others generously and to encourage those brave enough to share theirs with us. Amen.
Yesterday I had lunch with a long-time friend, Dr. George Wirth. George served as Senior Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta for over twenty years. Not only has George been a friend, he has also been a mentor to me. Because George is a few years older than I am, he has been someone I could learn from.
I am reminded how much we need someone like that in our lives. Businesses have been using mentors at work for a while, but I think we need spiritual mentors, too. As a pastor, I am asked to do this from time to time. A church member will ask to meet with me and talk over a spiritual struggle. After listening, I try to ask the right questions. Eventually I will share my best understanding. My hope is to help them make their way a little further down the spiritual path of life.
I think we can fill this role in each other's lives. Our Reformed tradition emphasizes "the priesthood of all believers." This not only means that we can each have direct access to God through Jesus Christ, therefore we do not need an intermediary like a priest to intercede for us -- it can also mean other things. Perhaps it could refer to how we can be there for others as they seek to follow Christ.
Maybe the best model would be for each of us as followers of Christ to have someone we mentor, as well as someone who mentors us. In that way we would be like a lake in which water flows in and out, keeping the life (and the creatures) in the lake alive. This is different from a body of water like the Dead Sea in the Middle East in which water only flows in, but never out. We need not only to receive but to give in order to be all that God created us to be. When Jesus said the following words, I don't think he was only talking about money: "Give, and it will be given to you." (Luke 6:38a, NIV) So, who might God be asking you to mentor?
Prayer for Today
Loving God, we thank you for those persons you have placed in our lives who helped us find our way to you. Show us how we can be a mentor to others. And help us to find those who can guide us along your paths. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 07:40 am
Love enters the world of its own accord, for its own reasons. And love is always accompanied by light. That is, love always illuminates the space it occupies. Watch now for love to enlighten your world. Look to see what new understanding is yours in the presence of love.
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. -John 15:9-11
How often do you hear commandments? It may depend on who is giving the commandments in your life as to how you receive them. The person giving them as well as the intent behind them are often important. The commandments we read about in scripture are not there because God likes to be the boss. God has given us commandments to show the best way for us to live.
It's better for us to love our enemies than to hate them. It's better to tell the truth than to lie. It's better to take a day of rest each week than to work without stopping. God knows that when we live by these commandments, we are not only living in the way that is safer and more productive for us, we are living in a way that allows us to experience God's love more deeply. What are some ways that you have experienced God's love more deeply recently?
Prayer for Today
God, you have called us to live in ways that at times seem difficult to do. Remind us each day that as we live in the way you have instructed, we are moving closer and closer to you. Make our joy complete, O God. In Christ's Name, Amen.
RHave you ever looked for God in our parking lots? Seriously, when is the last time you expected to encounter the Risen Lord in the parking lots of JCPC?
Typically, I think of parking lots as an "asphalt jungle" or a "hot zone" that radiates excessive heat in the summer.
When I think of parking lots the Joni Mitchell's catchy tune Big Yellow Taxi begins to play in my head:
Paved paradise, put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique and a swinging hot spot
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got till it's gone
Paved paradise, put up a parking lot
-Joni Mitchell Big Yellow Taxi
Mitchell's song is a prophetic reminder to cherish what God has given us rather than find out what we have lost when it's too late.
So imagine my surprise when I encountered the Risen Lord in our parking lot on Friday night! That's right in our parking lot. It wasn't some mystical vision or a cosmic revelation due to the "Snow Moon" rising above our steeple. I encountered the Risen Lord in the Compassion International trailers where I walked the path of Olive, a young Ugandan girl who overcame poverty, illness and terror, through the assistance of Compassion International. Our Risen Lord's words come to mind:
Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. -Matthew 25: 34-36
In God's kingdom, sometimes we are found in a parking lot. Come meet Jesus in the Compassion International trailers today.
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, find us in our wants and needs by inspiring us to reach out to others in their wants and needs and in doing so share in the mercies of our Risen Lord. Amen.
Sometimes when I put my head on my pillow at night and pray, I imagine I'm leaning on Jesus. Whenever I do this, I remember something the Word of God tells us about the apostle John. John himself writes about how he was sitting beside Jesus at the Last Supper: "One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him" (John 13:23).
John used the term "the disciple whom Jesus loved" as a way of referring to himself without mentioning his own name. He is also depicting a typical banquet setting in first-century Israel, where the table was much lower than those we use today, about knee height. Reclining without chairs on a mat or cushions was the natural position for those around the table. John was sitting so close to the Lord that when he turned to ask him a question, he was "leaning back against Jesus" (John 13:25), with his head on his chest.
God, I cast all my cares on You and praise You because You are faithful.
John's closeness to Jesus in that moment provides a helpful illustration for our lives with Him today. We may not be able to touch Jesus physically, but we can entrust the weightiest circumstances of our lives to Him. He said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).
How blessed we are to have a Savior whom we can trust to be faithful through every circumstance of our lives! Are you "leaning" on Him today?
Prayer for Today
Dear Lord Jesus, help me to lean on You today and to trust You as my source of strength and hope. I cast all my cares on You and praise You because You are faithful. Amen.
O Lord you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are the work of your hands. -Isaiah 64:8
Parenting is perhaps the best way for us to understand the joys and frustrations of the heart of God. And by parenting, I mean the care and nurture of children and even our critters. The joys of teaching self-love and care and sufficiency and generosity, the triumph of good and well-received discipline and encouragement, the despair of failure or disobedience. In fact, Yiddish, a modern dialect of Hebrew, holds two words that reflect these emotions. One, for the pride only a parent can feel for a child (I think grandparents, uncles, teachers, pastors, and coaches experience it too)... "naches." The other Yiddish word is for the shame or embarrassment only a parent can feel when their child does something wrong.
Both of these words reflect the outer ranges of the emotional journey of parenting. And I believe this helps us understand God and our relationship with God. How often do we growl in frustration when clear boundaries are tested or broken? How often do we sigh when priorities aren't met or expectations are dismissed or our best example isn't followed? How often are we angered or discouraged by a lack of respect or obedience or interest in the important lessons and experience and love we offer? And by that same turn, how do our hearts leap when they finally understand or eagerly go above and beyond or care for a sibling or friend or stranger or show compassion for someone in need or use their gifts to help shape the world?
In my calmest moments, after my kids or youth have frustrated me or let me down, I wonder to myself how often my own bad choices have given God reason to ache in God's heart or growl under God's holy breath. I've been known to mutter what my dad used to say, "some species eat their young." But then one of my kids does a chore for their mother without being asked or my youth lead worship and say powerful things we all need to hear, and I feel that naches deep in my heart. I sometimes hashtag youth photos with "#youthpastornaches." And I think, maybe I can strive to make my Lord feel that way too. And most days, that's enough.
Prayer for Today
Lord, help me to make the choices you have called me to make, to follow the example of your son, and to be an example to the ones who look to me. Amen.
I still can't believe they lost! Since no other staff member has tackled this sports tragedy yet, I thought I would give it a shot. So where do I begin? With grief? Yes, I am still grieving from time to time, especially when I read The Wall Street Journal yesterday -- calling it perhaps the greatest "choke" in sports, except the infamous boot by Bill Buckner of the Chicago Cubs in the World Series. Yikes! It all seemed too good to be true when the Falcons were dominating the Patriots. In the end, it did turn out to be "too good to be true." Yes, I am really bummed out about this.
However, I will try to put it into perspective. I was amazed at the Falcon players who said they were still a very tight team ("brothership"). They planned to learn from this and come back even stronger next year so they could put themselves in a position to win it all. That is a positive and hopeful way to look at it. Maybe we can learn from that, especially if -- no when they win it next year. Also, I don't want to ignore the great year they had up until the final minutes of this game. As a fan I would still rather have had the experience of seeing them in the Super Bowl - even with the bad ending - than not seeing them there at all.
I go back to what I said in the Children's Sermon last Sunday morning - even before we knew the outcome of the game. There were at least two things happening that were more important than the Super Bowl on Sunday. The first was worship and gathering around the table of our Lord to celebrate communion. Maybe it wasn't as exciting - but I believe it was much more important. As we say around JCPC, "Worship Is the Most Important Thing We Do."
We also took up a collection for the "Souper Bowl of Caring" to help those who are hungry. Serving others in the name of Christ is still more important than the Super Bowl. Maybe next year for the Falcons to win it all, but we can worship God and serve others in the name of Christ every day of our lives. So "Rise Up" today and do that!
Prayer for Today
We give thanks, God, for the joy of sports and competition - even when our team loses! Yet, we know there are more important things in life. Help us to maintain our perspective in life - to see things as you see them. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ - who rose up from the dead that we might all have new life! Amen.
Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 07:34 am
I give you all the credit, God- you got me out of that mess, you didn't let my foes gloat. God, my God, I yelled for help and you put me together. God, you pulled me out of the grave, gave me another chance at life when I was down-and-out. All you saints! Sing your hearts out to God! Thank him to his face! He gets angry once in a while, but across a lifetime there is only love. The nights of crying your eyes out give way to days of laughter. -Psalm 30:1-5
I reflected on the words of this Psalm this morning. What struck me was the message of hope in times of difficulty. Each one of us have been faced with experiences that brought shock, frustration, grief or loss in our lives. Sometimes life's challenges seem overwhelming. And yet, as Christians, those that are called to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world, we have hope that things can get better. The hope we have in Christ is alive and moving through our being and we can't help but share that with the world around us.
So with this knowledge, "Sing your hearts out to God! Thank him to his face!" We experience a love far greater than one challenging set of circumstances. Go out and share this hope we have in Christ with the whole world.
Prayer for Today
God, guide me today. Help me to find ways that I can show Christ-like love to those I encounter today, and by that love to tell the world that hope is alive. In Christ's Name, Amen.
A favorite Christmas present I received is a sign I have displayed on the book shelf of my office. The sign reads: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding." Proverbs 3:5
If you read the next verse it says, "In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths" Being the pragmatist that I am, I ask the question "how does that really work?"
Well I gained a sense of this proverb in action when I attended the 33rd annual Marriage and Family Institute sponsored by the University of Georgia several weeks ago. The title of the Institute's workshop was Quests and Questions. The presenters took us back to what they call the basics by highlighting how important questions are for understanding our lives. I believe at the heart of Proverbs 3:5-6 is a simply powerful question; "will you help me."
I've been a licensed marriage and family therapist for 20 years. That's a few years down the path, but I didn't get here on my own. At the Institute I searched out Bill Nichols; a prolific author, mentor, and friend. As I began the training to become licensed, I had to take 4 post-doctoral classes. Bill was the instructor in one of those classes and I appreciated his insights and wisdom. I wanted to be supervised by "one of the smart ones" so at the end of one of his lectures, I approached him and asked if he would be my supervisor. In other words, will you help me? He didn't say yes until he interviewed me, but he did say yes. I learn some of the most important lessons in my life being supervised by Bill.
I believe God put Bill on my path, but I had to ask for help. At the Institute I thanked Bill for helping me on my path; a path that always leads straight back to the ones who help us.
Who will you thank for saying yes to you and helping make your path straight?
Prayer for Today
Thank you Lord for placing people on our path at the right time. Help us to ask for help and in doing so, rely not on our own understanding, but rather place our trust in you. Amen.
"I see you," a friend said in an online writers' group where we support and encourage each other. Having felt stressed and anxious, I experienced a sense of peace and well-being with her words. She "saw" me-my hopes, fears, struggles, and dreams-and loved me.
When I heard my friend's simple but powerful encouragement, I thought of Hagar, a slave in Abram's household. After many years of Sarai and Abram still longing for an heir, Sarai followed the custom of the culture and told her husband to conceive through Hagar. But when Hagar became pregnant, she treated Sarai with contempt. When Sarai mistreated her in return, Hagar fled far away to the desert.
To know that God sees us gives us comfort and confidence.
The Lord saw Hagar in her pain and confusion, and He blessed her with the promise that she would be the mother of many descendants. After the encounter, Hagar called the Lord "El Roi," which means "the God who sees me" (Gen. 16:13), for she knew she wasn't alone or abandoned.
As Hagar was seen-and loved-so are we. We might feel ignored or rejected by friends or family, yet we know that our Father sees not only the face we present to the world, but all of our secret feelings and fears. He speaks the words that bring us life.
Prayer for Today
Father God, just as You saw Hagar in her distress, so You see those who are hurting, fleeing oppression, and afraid. Please send them help and encouragement. Amen.
Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.
GO SLOW. SMILE. If you were here for Youth Sunday and saw and heard and experienced what a wonderful job our youth did in leading worship, you were probably sitting in the congregation and couldn't see the sign on the pulpit. It was a reminder for each speaker to see so that they would look and sound their best. Each of them was trying to lead worship, rather than perform. We talked about how doing our best, speaking slowly and clearly, and looking happy to share good news would help to lead well. We discussed how speaking poorly or quickly and looking sad would be distracting and shift the focus away from God and toward us. I was immensely proud of how well they did, how seriously they took their preparation and their task.
As I was cleaning up Monday morning in the chapel, I saw the sign. And although it was meant for the youth on Sunday morning, it is such a good reminder for all of us in our daily Christian life. The ability to intentionally slow down in a world that is so fast, to be still and spend time with God, to worship weekly and pray daily and notice those in need and respond... that is one of our greatest callings as believers. It's one of the hardest things we do, and one of the most important as a witness to others.
And then... to smile. We can tell people all day about the good news of the Gospel. We can even live in such a way that shows we believe it. But when we do it in such a way that no joy is evident, it simply isn't believable. God asks us to do all things to his glory, to do all things in love, but Paul reminds us that if we do not rejoice, no one will believe us. No one will follow us. No one will be reached or changed or found or saved. It is vital to our walk as believers to be able to smile, especially when sharing good news.
I hope that as you go through this week, you can be inspired by our youth. I hope you will slow down. I hope you will smile. And I hope in your still moments, you will find time to rejoice in the Lord, and that you will share that smile with others, and give them reasons to smile with you.
Prayer for Today
Lord, help me to slow down and be still. Help to rejoice and to smile. And help me to seek to be someone whose life is a witness to the grace I've been shown when people see me. Amen.
It's too bad this Super Bowl didn't take place on Easter Sunday because every preacher in metro Atlanta would probably be preaching a sermon called "Rise Up!" It has been fun to see the Falcons get this far. I remember my father buying season tickets to the very first Falcons season. They went 3-11 that year. The best player was a linebacker named Tommy Nobis. The quarterback was Randy Johnson, and the wide receiver was a guy near the end of his career named Tommy McDonald who did not even wear a faceguard on his helmet! Over the years I have enjoyed the high points like the teams led by Steve Bartkowski (who I think still lives just down from JCPC on Bell Road), and the only other Falcons team to go to the Super Bowl while dancing the "Dirty Bird." But this year's theme "Rise Up!" is a good one. It reminds us of the myth of the Phoenix, which is the symbol of Atlanta, rising from the ashes after it was burned to the ground during the Civil War. Thankfully we have come a long way since that time in so many different ways!
But from the earliest of times, Christians gathered for worship on Sunday because it was the day of Christ's resurrection. Remember that the Jewish Sabbath was the day before. In one sense, every Sunday is Easter - the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. If ever someone showed us what it was like to really "Rise Up" - it was Jesus. Christ's resurrection reminds us that God's love is stronger than death and that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ Jesus. For the believer, the resurrection points to the hope of a new, resurrected life beyond this one. But it also follows the crucifixion and the beginning of God's kingdom here on earth. So our primary focus is not on escaping this earth after death, but on serving God here and now. When we face trials, God promises that we are not alone. God also promises to help us "Rise Up" from the suffering we face in life.
So enjoy the game this Sunday - but every time you hear someone say" Rise Up" remember who did it first and what it means for you, me, and the whole world!
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, we thank that you chose to make Jesus "Rise Up" on the first Easter after he gave his life on the cross for each one of us - even the whole world! When we face trials, help us to trust you that somehow you will enable us to experience resurrection in our lives. And may we find at least one way this day to help raise up someone we meet who needs a helping hand. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the resurrected Christ. Amen.
Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 11:37 am