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.
By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
"Oh my gosh, we could have been twins today!" The barista at my coffee was so excited to notice my Star Trek shirt peeking out from my rain jacket today. She was dressed as Belle from Beauty and the Beast, but apparently had simply been able to find her Trekkie outfit. It's fun finding out your friends or people you frequently interact with (my baristas see me a lot) have a common interest. Maybe you are both transplants with a love for the same sports team or college. Perhaps you're both die hard fans of a show or play. Maybe you have both been to concerts of the same beloved musician or collect the same things.
It's common for Star Trek or any one of a hundred niche interests from sci-fi to sewing, hunting or knitting, languages and travel. We seek common ground. Sometimes, that's faith. I've been amazed sometimes to see servers light up when we ask to pray for them and tell me about their church and family. I once befriended someone on a flight over discussing campus ministry and when we invited a third stranger to join us for dinner so he could get a table and make his flight, we soon discovered he was a pastor in Africa back home. Sometimes, people know our faith by our stories, but Jesus tells us that we can and should be known by something else... our love.
We are entering the "holiday season," a secular term for the months of shopping leading to Christmas, one of the major high holidays of our faith tradition. It tends to be busier, colder, darker, and more stressful. It's easy to go out to eat between the busyness and forget that it's just as stressful for the retail workers on minimum wage and the servers working off of tips. They, too, are rushing to buy gifts and make Christmas special in their gatherings, which may be brief or scheduled for alternate days so they can work the holidays. When we interact with folks in these stressful jobs, we have an opportunity to show them who and whose we are. Not by our stories, but by our love.
It may look like patience as they search for a size or we wait in line. It may look like gratitude above and beyond and words of affirmation that we value them as a person. It may look like forgiveness when they are short tempered or not as cheerful or attentive as we hope or forget part of our order. And it probably looks like a big tip. Even if the service was just ok, or maybe especially if it wasn't ok. And it definitely looks like saying, "and to you too," whether they say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. We love and serve someone who came to us not because we deserved it but to show us the fullness of God's love and a better way to live in peace and hope and be joyful. Jesus calls us to be known as his by our love. Make it a goal to be recognized this holiday season as one of his. Often.
Prayer for Today
Lord, I want to be known by your love. Help me to slow down, to forgive more quickly, to express gratitude more freely, to affirm those who help me, and seek to offer kindness to those struggling and stressing, so I'm spotted as one of yours. Amen.
"I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. . ."
- Philippians 1:3-5
Paul writes these words in the beginning of his letter to the church at Philippi. When Paul thinks of these fellow Christians, he is thankful because of their generosity -- not only to him, but of their time and energy in working together with him as partners to do God's saving work. Echoing our "Season of Generosity" theme - they also "Gave to Save."
This past Sunday as the bagpipes played, many of us brought forward our pledge cards during the hymn "Amazing Grace." It was a moving time for me. We don't often have the opportunity to come forward and make such a visible expression of our thanksgiving to God. I am especially grateful to all the members of our church family who made financial commitments for 2020. Your gifts will enable us to partner with God to save those around us. In addition to the members of our JCPC church family, 2,300 "friends" of JCPC are touched weekly by our ministries and those of our partners who meet on this campus - all because of your generous gifts.
We are off to a strong start. So far we have 71 pledges totaling $509,208. This is about 57% of our pledge goal of $892,500. I am so grateful for everyone who expressed their generosity through their pledge. Thank you for caring! If you were not here Sunday, we need you to help us complete our goal so that we can do God's saving work in our community and around the world. We can't do it without your support. Extra pledge cards will be in our Friendship pads in the chapel. Please fill one out and place it in the offering plate this Sunday, or mail it in. You can also make your pledge online to the JCPC website -- www.jcpcusa.org, or through the JCPC app.
This Sunday is All Saints' Sunday. During our worship service, we will remember those in our church family and others whom we have lost in the past year. I hope you will make a special effort to come!
Prayer for Today
Thank you, God, for being so generous to us. Thank you for giving us something to share with others. Use our gifts to make a saving difference in the lives of our church and our community. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
I recently read this quote by Henri Nouwen (In the Name of Jesus, 1989). I have been asking myself this question, do we follow "people with an ardent desire to dwell in God's presence, to listen to God's voice, to look at God's beauty, to touch God's incarnate Word, and to taste fully God's infinite goodness?"
When you think about the people or leaders that we follow, what characteristics do they have? When choosing who you will follow, what is important to you?
Nouwen gives some helpful priorities as we consider, how we will serve in leadership roles and live our lives as Christians.
He reminds us that it's not just about listening or speaking, there are other senses to consider as well. Think about these actions for a moment, Dwell, Listen Look, Touch, and Taste.
How do you encounter God with more than just your eyes or ears?
Go into this day knowing that you have been claimed by God. May you see the opportunities to lead and have the humility to follow the leaders who are following the Lord's path.
Prayer for Today
Lord, may we always follow and lead in ways that give you glory. Lead us into life through your ways. In Christ's Name, Amen.
A friend gave me a houseplant she'd owned for more than forty years. The plant was equal to my height, and it produced large leaves from three separate spindly trunks. Over time, the weight of the leaves had caused all three of the stalks to curve down toward the floor. To straighten them, I put a wedge under the plant's pot and placed it near a window so the sunlight could draw the leaves upward and help cure its bad posture.
Shortly after receiving the plant, I saw one just like it in a waiting room at a local business. It also grew from three long skinny stalks, but they'd been braided together to form a larger, more solid core. This plant stood upright without any help.
Any two people may stay in the same "pot" for years, yet grow apart and experience fewer of the benefits God wants them to enjoy. When their lives are woven together with God, however, there is a greater sense of stability and closeness. Their relationship will grow stronger. "A cord of three strands is not quickly broken" (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
Like houseplants, marriages and friendships require some nurturing. Tending to these relationships involves merging spiritually so that God is present at the center of each important bond. He's an endless supply of love and grace-the things we need most to stay happily united with each other.
Prayer for Today
Dear God, I welcome You into my closest relationships today. Amen.
Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely, who conduct their affairs with justice.
My two year old niece came down the stairs the other day to head to the playground. She was dressed for the adventure... and carrying a heaping armload of her favorite things. Her mother was taken by surprise, and as she contemplated how to ask her to scale back, my niece proudly announced with a grin ear to ear... "I have too much stuff!" Apparently, this was an achievement, rather than a dilemma.
Perspective is everything, isn't it? She and her mother agreed she had too much. But perhaps not that that was a good thing. I think this is common to us adults too. We acquire perhaps far too much and we are scared to leave any of our favorite stuff behind... or share it... or give it away. Meanwhile, God looks at us and shakes a weary head. Perhaps less fortunate people do too, or people who will have to sort and sell our favorite stuff when we pass away. It would of course be little use to reason with my niece that her armful of stuff will keep her from enjoying her walk or the playground or time with friends. Nor would it help to remind her she may lose some things or maybe having too much is a good reason to give to someone with nothing. But shouldn't those clear reasons be sufficient for us with maturity, age, and wisdom? Those of us with faith?
It's easier to giggle at the logic of a toddler than to buckle down and take our own advice. It's easier to judge or be amused than to take our own advice or God's word and build our life on it. Do we have too much? Enough? If so, can we step out in faith and be generous, watching the joy it brings, rather than walking around with our arms full until we can lay it all down to be buried? I'd rather look at my arms, smile like my niece, say, "I've got too much stuff..." and find people who need it. That's what we will do this Sunday. Come join us.
Prayer for Today
Lord, you have blessed me. Help me to see when I have enough and too much and to be bravely generous, giving thanks to you, trusting in you and not my stuff. Amen.
A while back I heard Scott Weimer, former pastor of the North Avenue Presbyterian Church, talking about a woman who was one of their international members from Kenya. She came down front after a service and she told Scott that she missed some parts of the worship from Kenya. Scott asked what she missed. The woman said that she missed how they gave the offering. In her country, they placed the offering plates down front, and then people danced down the aisle while carrying their gifts up to place them in the offering plate. I wonder how that "offering dance" would go over here at JCPC.
This Sunday is the last in our "A Time to Give - A Time to Save" sermon series. We are asking you to bring your 2020 pledge card forward at the end of the service. Now, you do not have to dance - you can simply join others in placing your card on the communion table. However, if you do want to dance, as long as it is appropriate for worship, you can if you want. (We are not Baptists, you know!) Actually, our Presbyterian Book of Order says this about "prayerful participation" in worship: "Participation in worship may involve a wide range of actions: kneeling, bowing, standing, lifting hands, dancing, drumming, clapping, embracing, or joining hands, anointing and laying on of hands. The gifts of the Spirit are for building up the Church." (W-2.0202)
I hope you will prayerfully consider what "gifts of the Spirit" God is leading you to share this Sunday to build up the Church. I want to invite you to consider giving away a tenth or a "tithe" of what God has given you, so that God can use your generosity to save a part of God's world. Together we can do great things here in Johns Creek and throughout our world! See you Sunday and thank you for your generous support of God's work.
Prayer for Today
Generous God, we thank you for the many blessings of our lives. If we were to try to "name them one by one" as the words of a hymn invite us to do - it would take a very long time. So, today we will simply say thank you. Help us to become more generous in our giving. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ, who gave his life for the whole world! Amen.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
-1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
I read a reflection this week of the life and routines of Fred Rogers. He was an important part of my childhood as he was to many. The person shared about him and said, "Everything Fred Rogers did was a prelude to- or an outcome of- prayer". She noted how he started his daily routine with prayer and continued it throughout the day during each of his activities.
He lived these words from 1 Thessalonians in a way that can guide us as well. The essence of prayer is relationships, how we connect with God and those around us. Sometimes it is hard to find the words or find the time to stop and pray. Mr. Rogers is one example of how we can continue to pray through each part of our daily rhythm. For me prayer is a conversation with God, sometimes listening, sometimes sharing.
What does prayer throughout your day look like? Are you still in a quiet place? Are you taking deep breathes in a loud, chaotic room? Are you driving down the street soaking in what's around you?
A few years ago, Fred Rogers have the invocation at Boston University's graduation. Here are some of the things he shared with God... what will you share with God today?
Dear God, please inspire our hearts to come ever closer to You. We pray for those who know us and accept us as we are. Those people who encourage us to see what's really fine in life.
We pray for all the people of Your world, our sisters and brothers whose names we may not know but whose lives are ultimately previous in Your sight. With all our hearts, we pray for all of your children everywhere.
And finally we offer our strengths and weaknesses, our joys and our sorrows to your never-ending care. Help us remember all through our lives that we never need to do difficult things alone, that your presence is simply for the asking and our ultimate future is assured by your unselfish love. In our deepest gratitude we offer this prayer. Amen.
If you were on the JCPC campus yesterday afternoon you might have spied this cheery group dressed in their Sunday best! What were they doing in gardening clothes you might ask? Well, they planted 1,000 daffodil bulbs that will blossom for the first time in the spring of 2020.
Daffodils are the official symbol for the American Cancer Association symbolizing hope for a cure. Daffodils are one of the earliest flowers to blossom in the spring and are often associated with rebirth and new beginnings.
Johns Creek Beautification, led by Marilyn Davis, has partnered with CanCare Atlanta, to bring both beauty and hope to Johns Creek by planting daffodils throughout our city! The program is titled Daffodils 4 Hope. The JCPC daffodil planting is the first planting at any Johns Creek house of worship. It is a fitting start in that JCPC is the lead church in developing CanCare Atlanta.
Flowers that blossom around Eastertide have been invested with religious meaning:
Lilies. Perhaps the flower most closely associated with Easter, lilies represent purity and hope.
Tulips. White tulips stand for forgiveness, while the purple represent royalty.
Azaleas. The showy blooms of azaleas represent temperance, or self-control.
Daffodils. Hope for a cure for cancer.
Following our Kirkin' of the Tartans Dedication Sunday service at 11:00 a.m. we will be consecrating the Daffodils 4 Hope. I hope you will be able to join us!
Prayer for Today
Fill your world with the beauty of hope, O loving God, and carry us through our days with the gifts of renewal and rebirth. Amen.
When nine-year-old Willie was abducted from his front yard in 2014, he sang his favorite gospel song Every Praise over and over again. During the three-hour ordeal, Willie ignored the kidnapper's repeated orders to keep silent as they drove around. Eventually, the kidnapper let Willie out of the car unharmed. Later, Willie described the encounter, saying that while he felt his fear give way to faith, the abductor seemed agitated by the song.
Willie's response to his dire situation is reminiscent of the experience shared by Paul and Silas. After being flogged and thrown into jail, they reacted by "praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone's chains came loose" (Acts 16:25-26).
Upon witnessing this awesome demonstration of power, the jailer believed in the God of Paul and Silas, and his entire household was baptized along with him (vv. 27-34). Through the avenue of praise, both physical and spiritual chains were broken that night.
We may not always experience a visibly dramatic rescue like Paul and Silas, or like Willie. But we know that God responds to the praises of His people! When He moves, chains fall apart.
Prayer for Today
"[God], You are holy, enthroned in the praises of Israel."
See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight-indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.
Peeking out from the edges of Halloween decorations, preparing to pounce, are Christmas decorations! We still have Thanksgiving to celebrate and Black Friday to survive and Advent to enjoy, but preparing ourselves is a holy task. Preparing for God entering the world is indeed holy. You've maybe heard hints of Advent, our preparation season, if you belong to the choir or worship team. You've certainly heard the Christian Ed team asking for you to share your stories and memories (please go do that now!) and begun to think of annual favorite traditions and gatherings, preparing your home and maybe a shopping list? Checking it once or checking it twice?
If you're anything like me, you love to give gifts and you have your eyes open all year for good ones, saving online links and coupons, hopping on sales and squirreling things away all year. Or, maybe you're not and you freeze in fear and worry and wonder how you'll ever find anything meaningful or in the right sizes or age appropriate or well-loved. Why bring it up now? Couldn't I have waited till after Halloween for that stress?!
No. I don't want you to be stressed. I hope that you'll see your advent season as one for blessing and not stressing. If Christ's coming was to save and not condemn, the coming of Christmas is for goodness and not frustration and worry. And gift giving can indeed be a blessing when done thoughtfully and in that spirit of love and grace and compassion. Before you begin making your lists, let JCPC and the Mission Team help. This year, we will once again be providing an Alternative Christmas Market. We know many said last year... I wish I'd known about this sooner! Now you do.
The gifts available at this event in the weeks leading up to Christmas (end of November through Christmas in the Welcome Center) will be of a spiritual nature. All of the organizations represented are agencies we support as a church and trust to care for the least of these throughout the year. Choose from many different price points a gift of a donation in honor of a loved one and receive a Christmas card to send them with a message explaining your gift. Give the gift of feeding a family at Hands of Christ or providing bed linens to a family receiving their first home from one of our youth build teams. Feeding or housing a family in the season of welcoming the holy family is truly the greatest gift you can give. I hope you'll join us.
Prayer for Today
Lord, make me ready for the holidays, both secular and holy. Make me a child of joy who is ready to give thanks for my many blessings and then ready to bless those in need. Amen.
A Harvard Business School economist wanted to test out the theory about whether offering people more money would lead people to do something. He set up an experiment in which people were approached and asked to let someone cut in line. The person who wanted to cut in line began to offer money to those in line let them do it. He found that if you offered $1.00, half the people let the person cut. At $3.00, 65% of the people let them cut in. At $5.00, 75% let them cut.
While the economist thought this proved the point about money being the prime motivator, the odd thing was that even when they let the person cut in line, almost no one actually took the money! The economist had to revise his theory - that instead of one's own financial self-interest being the main reason someone allowed another person to break in line, that the real, hidden factor was the obligation people felt to help those in need. He said, "The more someone needs our help, the more obligated we feel to provide it. . ." (From Pre-suasion by Robert Cialdini: 52) The amount of money simply expressed how badly someone must need to break in line.
Maybe God has made us so that when we see genuine a need, we want to help. Jesus said this: "Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you." (Luke 6:30-31, NIV)
In the next day or two, you will receive a letter from me. We have entered into our "Season of Generosity" during which we are talking about how to become a more generous person. Last Sunday we said that "God Gave to Save" - which is why "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son. . . to save the world through him . . ." (John 3:16a,17b, NIV) We need every one of us to give generously in order to do our part to save the world God so loves. That is one way to become a more generous person.
Prayer for Today
Thank you God for creating and loving this world and everyone in it. Help us to give so that you can use our gifts to help save the world. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus, the Savior of the world. Amen.
"Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:6-7)
This has been a familiar passage to me since 7th grade. That's when I memorized it and it's been imprinted on my heart ever since. What words come to mind when you hear the word peace? Where are the places that really need peace right now? What relationships are required? How might God be a part of bringing that peace through us?
Perhaps peace in our world begins with peace in our own lives. We each have places of unrest, and perhaps if we work for peace here, inside our lives, we might be able to know more of God's peace in the world.
Do you think all of the noise and busyness in our lives makes it difficult to find peace? Do our schedules, our time, our lives look like that of person who wants to experience God's peace? Is it possible that sometimes we search for God in the winds, earthquakes and fires, but God is waiting to speak to us in the silence and peace?
Last week, we snuck away for a few days to find some peace. It started out as work, filling the car with everything we thought we would need for 2 nights of camping, driving down to St. Mary's, GA to stay overnight and be prepared for an early ferry ride. In order to camp on Cumberland Island, you load up everything you need for your trip onto the ferry boat and that's it. Once we made the hike to our campsite and settled in, we felt this wave of peace and calm. At that moment, I stopped to listen, you could hear the ocean waves and the creatures that lived among the palmettos.
This is our view at the end of a long hike. May it bring you some peace today.
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, Help us to see the needs of others around us. Help us to know those needs which we can fulfill. Help us to fulfill them and make your peace known. In Christ's Name, Amen.
On the first Sunday of November we will be celebrating All Saints Sunday. Traditionally, as part of our worship we read the names of JCPC members who have died during the calendar year and following each name spoken, a bell rings out and resonates in our souls. We remember.
Remembering is fundamental to our being. As much as we are told to stay in the present or move forward into the future our very being is rooted in remembrance. Such is our faith. Wayne Oates states that first and foremost Christian faith is about remembering the past. We remember what God has done!
The bell rung during All Saints Sunday reverberates in our hearts to recall the loved one whom we remember and miss. It rings a mixture of both knowing and missing; of presence and absence. In our hope and our grief there is a strong bond with the departed and All Saints Sunday reminds us of that sacred bond. As one author states, "the Christian celebration of All Saints Day and All Souls Day stems from a belief that there is a powerful spiritual bond between those in heaven and those the living. This bond and its remembrance bring both joy and grief.
If you have lost a loved one or know someone who has I want to invite you to Safe Harbor following the 11:00 a.m. worship service on November 3 from 12:30-2:00 p.m. in the small dining room. As we approach the holidays it is important to remember that our grief gets activated when we remember holidays past.
Stephen Minister, Angie Ferrell recently told how her grief was triggered at the holidays. Angie had lost her mother and as she and her daughter were planning the family meal Angie's daughter asked, "But Mom, who will make the dressing?" Out of the blue her grief washed over her.
Perhaps you've experienced some of these out of the blue moments which can leave you feeling blue. Safe Harbor is a gathering of others who share in similar experiences.
If you would like to attend email me at email@example.com or call me at 678-467-4909.
We thank you gracious God for the gift of love. We grieve because we are able to love, so we ask that through your loving support and the support of others that you will walk with us through our times of grief. Amen.
I once heard about a student taking a class in preaching at a prominent seminary. The student, a young man who was a bit full of himself, delivered his sermon with eloquence and evident passion. He sat down self-satisfied, and the professor paused a moment before responding. "That was a powerful sermon," he said. "It was well organized and moving. The only problem is that God was not the subject of a single one of your sentences."
The professor highlighted a problem all of us struggle with at times: We can talk as if we're the primary actor (emphasizing what we do, what we say) when in truth God is the primary actor in life. We often profess that God is somehow generally "in charge," but we act as if all the outcomes depend on us.
The Scriptures insist that God is the true subject of our lives, the true force. Even our necessary acts of faith are done "in the name of the Lord"-in the Lord's power (Psalm 118:10-11). God enacts our salvation. God rescues us. God tends to our needs. "The Lord has done this" (v. 23).
So the pressure's off. We don't need to fret, compare, work with compulsive energy, or feed our many anxieties. God is in charge. We need only trust and follow His lead in obedience.
Prayer for Today
God, I've been paying lip service to You being in charge of my world. It's exhausting, and I want to stop doing that. Help me trust You. Amen.
And rend your heart and not your garments " Now return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in mercy And relenting of evil.
"Therefore say to them, 'Thus says the LORD of hosts, "
Return to Me," declares the LORD of hosts, "that I may return to you," says the LORD of hosts.
'I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will
return to Me with their whole heart.
Let us examine and probe our ways, And let us return to the LORD.
Therefore, return to your God, Observe kindness and justice, And wait for your God continually.
Rabbi Leizer survived the Holocaust and returned to his hometown of Czenstockchow, Poland after the war. For many years, he wandered the streets playing his hand organ. Mostly, he would play familiar secular tunes. But he would occasionally play the Kol Nidrei, a tune set to the words of a sort of liturgical rite or prayer in the service for Yom Kippur - the day of atonement. He would look for a glimmer of recognition in the eyes of the children who heard him play. And by this, brought many children back to their people. In worship, this familiar tune and the Aramaic words bring the people back, to recognize and return.
Our own weekly worship in the Christian church is filled with a specific order and familiar words that invite us back. The earliest followers of Christ, a devout Jew, steeped in tradition, were called Followers of the Way. Our way, like our Jewish brothers and sisters is marked by signposts lived by Christ, righteous living through forgiveness, kindness, grace, and humility. We are called to return to our people and to the Way each week in the ritual calling of worship.
I attended Yom Kippur services at Congregation Dor Tormid on Tuesday at the invitation of Rabbi Jordan, a friend from our interfaith clergy group. He recognized me and a few others at the start of worship, including a WWII veteran. He didn't recognize him by age, but by the words, "celebrating his 97th Yom Kippur." How wonderful would it be to mark our lives by our faith, our commitment, our returning on High Holy Days? This will be my 97th Christmas or Easter? I hope to say that one day. Even war could not keep our brother from returning again and again. What shall keep us from returning each high holy day? Each Sunday? Let us hear the call and keep returning to God and the people of God.
Prayer for Today
Lord, help me to hear you, and I'm hearing, return to you and your people. Amen.
One of our church members just shared with me that world-renown scholar and author N.T. Wright will be speaking at Peachtree Presbyterian Church the evening of Sunday, November 17, at 7:00 p.m. Many of you may recognize his name from how often I refer to him. I think N.T. Wright is the most influential Christian thinker of our generation - as was C.S. Lewis in his time. Wright is often quoted in magazines when a Biblical or historical perspective is needed. He is an Anglican priest who has served in England as the Bishop of Durham, in addition to his teaching duties. We will plan to get a group from the church to go hear him, so keep your eyes open for more details as the date gets closer.
One of my favorite podcasts is called "Ask N.T. Wright Anything." I wholeheartedly encourage you to check it out. Listeners send in many of the more challenging questions those of us who are pastors often hear. Tom Wright always gives what I think are helpful, accessible, and even practical answers to every question.
So, I want to try to take a different approach with my "Reflections" blog each week. I want to make it an opportunity to "Ask Gray Anything." I will try to answer questions you give me if they are appropriate for this column, and if I can do that in about 350 words - which is our limit for this blog. I want to invite you to think of those question you want me to try to answer and I will do my best. If I don't get a question each week, I will try to answer one of the many I have been asked before. Now I do not mean to suggest that my answers will be the final word on anything. More than likely, they will be merely my first word of an ongoing discussion which we may get to continue later in another setting. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org and my phone is 770-813-9009, ext. 224.
Prayer for Today
I want to close today with a prayer from William Barclay:
O God, help me all through today to do nothing to worry those who love me, to do nothing to let down those who trust me, to do nothing to fail those who employ me, to do nothing to fail those who are close to me. Help me all through this day to do nothing which would be a cause of temptation to someone else or which would make it easier for someone else to go wrong; not to discourage anyone who is doing his or her best; not to dampen anyone's enthusiasm or to increase anyone's doubts. Let me all through this day be a comfort to the sad, be a friend to the lonely, be an encouragement to the dispirited, be a help to those who are up against it. So grant that others may see in me something of the reflection of the Master whose I am and whom I seek to serve. Amen.
I was recently considering how we share our story as Christians with those around us. When I read John 13:1-17 and think about the message Jesus was sending to the disciples through the experience of foot washing, I have some clarity for one way we can share our story. While foot washing is unusual today, it was customary in the days of Jesus, a common way of greeting your guests. However, it was not something that the "master" of the house performed. Foot washing was a service usually reserved for the lowest household servant. Jesus washed feet to show his love.
The message Jesus is sending here is clear. The way to be happy in this world is not to "Lord" over the world, but to serve the world. Think about what Jesus said: Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. -John 13:16-17
Jesus was teaching us about the importance of humility. Think about it. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords washing the feet of those who knew him for the Lord He was. Humility was one of the Lord's greatest qualities and one that we should want others to see in our lives. Finally, Jesus taught us about the importance of sacrifice. The Bible says that when Jesus washed His Disciples' feet, he laid aside His garments. (John 13:4). He said, What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this. (John 13:7)
I don't know just when John came to understand the importance of what Jesus was trying to teach us, but there's no doubt that at some point in time, he realized what Jesus meant, and it really had nothing to do with foot washing at all. It was all about serving others, which as Christians we are not just called to do, but told that it will lead to true happiness.
As you journey through this week, pause for a moment to consider the message Jesus brings to us through the experience of foot washing. How will you go and serve today?
Prayer for Today
Blessed are you, Lord God. The basin and the towel are signs to us of your Son's servant hood. As we go forth, give us grace to count others more important than ourselves, to love our enemies, and to make peace. Send the Spirit of truth to keep alive in us what Jesus taught and did, that our words may carry his good news, and that our lives may bear the shape of the cross of the One who lives and reigns with You and with the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.
A week after our Festival of Hymns service I found myself continuing to sing the old classic What a Friend We Have in Jesus in my head. The theme of friendship was resonating within me.
One morning listening to the radio as I drove to work I was awakened to the use of the word friend in several commercials. Tom Shane bellowed, "Now you have a friend in the diamond business." The next commercial followed in line as the host said, "My friend, Mark Spain." The concept of friendship in these commercials in intended to create a good feeling and a sense of familiarity. However, in this use it is really about a transaction of convenience for profit.
Jesus had a different understanding of friendship. Hear what he says to his disciples as recorded in the gospel of John:
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. -John 15: 9-15
Yesterday, on our World Day of Communion we made new friends of Jesus around the communion and fellowship tables. Our friends are members of Casa Brasil, Crossings Community Presbyterian Church and World Healing Ministries. Rev. Lindsay Armstrong preached a sermon entitled Be Open and my prayer is that we remain open to the working of God's Spirit in our lives because we are in the midst of some wonderful friends. Be Open and grow in God's abundant grace!
Prayer for Today
Pour your Spirit upon us, O God of Creation, so that we open ourselves to the friendship you place before us through the sharing of our faith. Surprise us with the gift of friendship and remind us to be friendly and caring disciples. Amen.
Jim was frantically sharing about problems he was encountering with his work team: division, judgmental attitudes, and misunderstandings. After an hour of patiently listening to his concerns, I suggested, "Let's ask Jesus what He would have us do in this situation." We sat quietly for five minutes. Then something amazing happened. We both felt God's peace cover us like a blanket. We were more relaxed as we experienced His presence and guidance, and we felt confident to wade back into the difficulties.
Peter, one of Jesus's disciples, needed God's comforting presence. One night he and the other disciples were sailing across the Sea of Galilee when a strong storm arose. All of a sudden, Jesus showed up walking on water! Naturally, this took the disciples by surprise. He reassured them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid" (Matthew 14:27). Peter impulsively asked Jesus if he could join Him. He stepped out of the boat and walked toward Jesus. But he soon lost focus, became aware of the dangerous and humanly impossible circumstance he was in, and started sinking. He cried out, "Lord, save me!" and Jesus lovingly rescued him (vv. 30-31).
Like Peter, we can learn that Jesus, the Son of God, is with us even in the storms of life!
Prayer for Today
Jesus, thank You that You have the power and authority to calm the storms in our lives. Help us to trust You. Amen.
His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.'
As a child, my first introduction to what a Steward is was in reading and watching Lord of the Rings. The Steward of Gondor was intended to watch over the kingdom until the return of the King. Tolkien was fond of biblical imagery, implying we are stewards of the kingdom only until the return of our own King, Christ. And although I started flying often as a young kid, I didn't connect that title and responsibility to Stewardesses. And soon after I began flying, their title was changed to Flight Attendants. And while I appreciate the inclusion intended in that new title, like many modern words, it loses the meaning of the older word.
This Sunday, the youth group tackled the idea of Stewardship, in preparation for our annual giving time in the church. We discussed Stewards and Stewardesses. They care for the airplane, the galley, the bags, the pilots, and passengers. They do not own the plane. They care for it and its passengers. If we are stewards of the earth, its people, and the resources on it, we are not owners, but caregivers. Our students understand well the concept of caregiving. They all have clothes, cars, bedrooms, phones, and various personal belongings. They think of them as their own, but they all voiced that they have clear expectations and rules set forth by their parents about how they use and care for those items.
Stewardship is a relationship of care-giving and nurture, one of trust that is rooted in love and generosity, but also in rules and expectations. What a gift and responsibility to be a steward of an entire kingdom. And so we are, as brothers and sisters in God's world. When seen this way, our care and generosity must be our common and most important purpose as we await the return of the King. Our youth are ready to be generous of their time, talents, and treasures. I hope we will all match their enthusiasm and joy this year.
Prayer for Today
Lord, help me to see my life as service to the King and the Kingdom, a steward who is good and generous and eager for your return. Amen.
"We are the World" was a song from 1985 recorded by many of the most famous pop music artists at the time. It was a part of the "USA for Africa" effort to raise money for famine relief. The song went to number one on the charts and raised $44 million. I think it was one of the highlights of the 80s.
This Sunday is "World Communion Sunday." Christians all around the world will be celebrating communion that day as a reminder of our unity as the body of Christ. Here at Johns Creek Presbyterian Church, we have the privilege of gathering with the three other churches who worship on this campus each week. These are Casa Brasil (Brazilian/Presbyterian), Crossings Community Church (Korean/Presbyterian), and World Healing Ministries (Indian/Pentecostal). At our 11:00 a.m. worship service, we will have our own "We are the World" moment as we come together to worship God. Our service will be in English, Korean, and Portuguese (our Indian congregation also worships in English.) The Rev. Lindsay Armstrong, Executive Director of the New Church Development Commission of our presbytery, will be bring an inspirational message called "Be Opened." Lindsay has preached here at JCPC before.
Our music will combine songs with guitar from Casa Brasil, a solo from a member of the Korean church, as well as music from our own Chancel Choir. We will also have our 9:00 a.m. service, however the other congregations will only be there at 11:00 a.m.
Not only will we be worshiping together at 11:00 a.m., we will then gather in our Great Hall for a great feast with food from each of our congregations. The church will provide fried chicken, salad, and drinks. We are asking members of JCPC to bring either a side dish (last name A-L) or a dessert (last name M-Z). Food from Brazil, Korea, and India will also be shared. I am already getting hungry just thinking about it. In addition, musicians from Casa Brasil will be sharing some lunchtime music.
So, please make it a priority to be here this Sunday - we need you here! And invite your friends to this unique worship service. I know you will be blessed by coming.
Prayer for Today
Thank you, God, for "so loving the whole world" that you sent Jesus -- your only son, to save us from our sins and brokenness. Thank you for the rare privilege of gathering with those from around the world, who are now our neighbors and friends -- our brothers and sisters in Christ. May our time together be both blessed and a blessing to others - one example to our community of how you intend the people of your world to get along. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
On Sunday, I shared at our Pancake Breakfast about an opportunity for you to share with us during the Advent season. We are assembling a Johns Creek Presbyterian Advent devotional. This booklet will contain brief submissions that can be used to help us all keep our focus on Jesus Christ in the midst of what is always a busy time of year.
I shared this video as a part of our conversation on Sunday as an invitation for how you might share with those in our church and others in our community about the impact that the "Best Night Ever" has had on you over the years.
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
"I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way" -
"a voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.' " Mark 1:1-3
At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
You are invited to create a written reflection with scripture, original art, share recipes from family rituals or traditions, poetry or song lyrics, or family activities to do together during the Advent season. We are asking for all submissions to be turned in by November 1. We will print these booklets and have them available during the Advent season.
Open our hearts to how we can share the message of Jesus coming into the world as a baby and the impact that his life has had on ours. Guide us to how we can tell this story to those around us. In Christ's Name, Amen.