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Reflections

Welcome to the JCPC Daily Reflections Blog. Reflections are daily devotionals authored by JCPC pastors, staff and members and provide insight, guidance and comfort to help you make it through each day. If you’d like to receive Reflections each day via email,  provide your email address.

Friday, November 29 2019

The sound of a siren increased to an ear-piercing level as an emergency vehicle sped by my car. Its flashing lights glared through my windshield, illuminating the words "hazardous materials" printed on the side of the truck. Later, I learned it had been racing to a science laboratory where a 400-gallon container of sulfuric acid had begun to leak. Emergency workers had to contain the substance immediately because of its ability to damage whatever it came in contact with.

 

As I thought about this news story, I wondered what would happen if sirens blared every time a harsh or critical word "leaked" out of my mouth? Sadly, it might become rather noisy around our house.

 

The prophet Isaiah shared this sense of awareness about his sin. When he saw God's glory in a vision, he was overcome by his unworthiness. He recognized that he was "a man of unclean lips" living with people who shared the same problem (Isaiah 6:5). What happened next gives me hope. An angel touched his lips with a red-hot coal, explaining, "your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for" (v. 7).

 

We have moment-by-moment choices to make with our words-both written and spoken. Will they be "hazardous" material, or will we allow God's glory to convict us and His grace to heal us so we can honor Him with everything we express?

 

Prayer for Today

Dear God, help me to see how my words affect other people. Show me how to encourage them.  Amen.

Posted by: AT 04:42 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, November 28 2019

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.

-Ephesians 4:25

 

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is in theaters now and one of the most incredible films of Tom Hanks' career. It's about America's pastor, Mr. Rogers, and very much for adults and teens. The messages and themes are more important than ever. One of those poignant messages is one of the ideas Fred tried to impress on all of us throughout his life and ministry, a mantra of sorts. "Anything human is mentionable. Anything mentionable is manageable."

 

This is critical for all of us to learn, so we can navigate the tough subjects with which we wrestle, from faith and friendship and family to suffering, and as Fred says in the movie, death. Most of us are taught as polite Southerners or good Mid-westerners or pragmatic Northerners that speaking about hot topics like religion or politics. This is largely because we have forgotten that important childhood lesson from Mr. Rogers. The passion, the goodness, the mad or frustration we feel is mentionable and manageable. We can express ourselves in managed ways and "stop stop stop when we want." A skill that is essential to authentic and caring relationships and gatherings... like Thanksgiving and Christmas.

 

This week, we will gather with the people we love, and many parties and gatherings in the weeks to come. We can be polite (or rude) or we can be authentic and loving. Fred said repeatedly that love wasn't a perfect state of caring. It requires of us to do the work. We may have to cover tough subjects or deal with relatives with whom we have had hard times over the years or faced mutual loss. We will have to offer and receive forgiveness, which Fred called, "It's a decision we make to release a person from the feelings of anger we have against them." In other words, we aren't called to just be polite and avoid the tough stuff. We are called to work very hard to love one another and manage our emotions together. I hope your gatherings will be full of that kind of authenticity and love. And I hope you have a beautiful day in your neighborhood.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, help me to mention what matters and ask others for help. Because that's okay too. Amen.

Posted by: AT 04:40 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, November 27 2019

"Fear not!" - Luke 1:30, KJV

 

When it comes to fear, we often seem to have something of a love/hate relationship with fear. For the most part, we don't like to be afraid. It makes us feel uncomfortable - at least for a while. Brain research tells us that when we are afraid, it activates the "fight or flight" parts of the brain that go back to our most primitive brain structures. When something scares us, we tend to react quickly - maybe because that response is what saved our ancestors from the lion prowling in the forest looking for the next meal. But, we still react the same way now when we are afraid -- even if there is no real lion anymore.

 

However, there are some of us who seem to like it when we are afraid! Many of us will actually pay someone to scare us. Between 1995 and 2013, we paid $7.6 billion to go to watch movies that make us feel afraid. And that doesn't include books, TV shows or video games that do the same thing. One psychologist suggests a reason for this: "Fear is a very normal human emotion. One way of mastering that fear is to put yourself in a fearful situation that you know is going to have some external controls." (Rahul Mehra) That psychologist goes on to say that it is often the assurance of safety that makes the fear worth the price of admission - the knowledge that, in the end, it is going to be okay. That feeling of the adrenaline rush, combined with the assurance that we made it through, feels good to some of us.

 

So, why is the message of "Fear Not" found in four of the stories about the birth of Jesus? Is it simply because folks are terrified when a real angel appears in each story, or is there more to it than that? That is what we will begin talking about this Sunday as we start Advent and look forward to the good news of the birth of Christ!

 

Prayer for Today

Loving God, when we face our fears in life, help us to remember you promised that you will always be with us, no matter what we face. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: AT 04:39 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, November 26 2019

But even there, if you seek God, your God, you'll be able to find him if you're serious, looking for him with your whole heart and soul.

-Deuteronomy 4:29

 

The writer calls for us to seek God with all our being-heart, soul, and body. That's no small task.

 

Where are some places that you have experienced God's presence recently? Where were you? Who were you with?

 

I have been spending time over the past few weeks working with Susan McLeish to prepare our Advent devotional. I have been reflecting on how we prepare ourselves for Advent and thinking about ways that we can prepare a space for people to be open to experiencing and learning more about God's great love for us. Often times, my most meaningful experiences or "aha" moments happened when someone else had prepared a space where I was open to listen and look for God working in my life. They helped me to feel comfortable to ask questions and challenged me to open up my heart to encounter God.

 

Take the risk to find God today in your life. Search, and you will find God in unexpected places.

 

Every single encounter with God holds the promise of a new direction; a new perspective; a change of heart and mind. Go now resolved that your life will be different, transformed, made over again by the overwhelming grace of God.

 

Prayer for Today

God, help us to be bold in searching for you in unexpected places today. Surprise us with finding you in the actions and words of friends and strangers. Help us to find you today. Make your presence known to us in a real, tangible way. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 04:35 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, November 25 2019

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Friday, November 22 2019

Author Henri Nouwen recalls his visit to a museum in 

St. Petersburg, Russia, where he spent hours reflecting on Rembrandt's portrayal of the prodigal son. As the day wore on, changes in the natural lighting from a nearby window left Nouwen with the impression that he was seeing as many different paintings as there were changes of light. Each seemed to reveal something else about a father's love for his broken son.

 

Nouwen describes how, at about four o'clock, three figures in the painting appeared to "step forward." One was the older son who resented his father's willingness to roll out the red carpet for the homecoming of his younger brother, the prodigal. After all, hadn't he squandered so much of the family fortune, causing them pain and embarrassment in the process? (Luke 15:28-30).

 

The other two figures reminded Nouwen of the religious leaders who were present as Jesus told His parable. They were the ones who muttered in the background about the sinners Jesus was attracting (vv. 1-2).

 

Nouwen saw himself in all of them-in the wasted life of his youngest son, in the condemning older brother and religious leaders, and in a Father's heart that's big enough for anyone and everyone.

 

What about us? Can we see ourselves anywhere in Rembrandt's painting? In some way, every story Jesus told is about us.

 

Prayer for Today

Father, help me to see myself for how much You love me. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:20 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, November 21 2019

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

-John 13:35

 

 

One of my happy duties as a pastor and youth worker is to document our activities through photography. And I try to teach and share this duty with our youth to capture new perspectives and free myself up for other duties. Like every good youth leader and parent, I typically force them all into one group photo at the end of a major event. It's rarely our best picture. It identifies everyone who was present, but doesn't capture the moments of interaction and relationship. But I left the camera on the tripod as we loaded the van at the end of our weekend retreat last Sunday. And the youth snapped some of our best photos of the weekend of pure joy and shenanigans. Pastor Neal saw the photos and commented, "they look like they love each other." They do.

 

Youth do things that we forget to do or choose not to do as adults. They're silly with each other. I think silliness is essential to love. Aside from the physical restrictions and limitations of aging we have as adults, when is the last time you gave a piggy back ride? Got one? Did a silly prom pose with three of your best guy friends? Laid across the legs of five friends in a queen size bed? Wrote your name in the smoke rising from a campfire? Gave someone bunny ears in a photo? Posed silly for a picture? On purpose? When did you last laugh till you cried and became totally vulnerable to a group of people? When did you last dance with no music? When did you last throw your arms around as many people as could squeeze into a selfie and take 10 pictures and try desperately to find one where you were the least blurry from laughter?

 

 

Next week is Thanksgiving. Many of us will have kids home from school or be at gatherings with grand-kids, nephews, and nieces. Watch those kids and youth. Watch how they love. Observe their silliness... and join it. Scripture tells us that what is foolishness to the world is wisdom to God's kingdom. Love, real, accepting, silly, irrational, unconditional love is foolishness to the world. It's blurry photos and cackles and superhero poses. This week, find young people, and join in their silliness. That's the kind of love, in which God delights and calls us to live. Take some selfies and dive deep in their joy. They'll know you're a disciple when they see your love. So will everyone. And love for children is great practice for loving everyone else.

 

Prayer for Today

God, make me known as one of yours through the eyes of love. Make me so joyful in the expression of my love that it marks me as yours. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:17 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, November 20 2019

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...

- John 15:14-15a, NIV

 

I usually do not look to beer commercials on TV for inspiration, but recently I saw one that caught my attention. I really did not notice it until the very end of the commercial when it showed a few people who were obviously enjoying each other's company. It was then that the final words appeared on the screen: "A few friends are better than a thousand followers." The "thousand followers" part seemed to be directed at Twitter and those who might mistakenly think relationships are only about how many "followers" one might have. But, the picture of a few friends enjoying each other's company face-to-face, pointed to something deeper that may not be found online.

 

The words of Jesus from John's gospel found at the top of the page reminds us that Jesus often viewed those he encountered as his friends. Jesus even speaks of a transformation from "servants" to "friends." I think that one of the most important aspects of our Christian faith is relationships - first our relationship with God through Jesus; and secondly, our relationships with each other. Because Jesus calls us "friends" we can then become friends with one another. We need both kinds of friendships.

 

Recently, one of our church members was telling me that she and her husband had belonged to a number of larger congregations with thousands of members. However, she said that she and her husband had found many more friends as members of JCPC than at the larger churches they had belonged to before. Now that may seem kind of counterintuitive - if there are more people you should have more friends, right? Well, maybe it doesn't always work that way. I think one of the real gifts of a church the size of JCPC is that you don't get lost in a crowd and it may be easier to find friends. So, may God bless you with deep friendships.

 

Prayer for Today

Thank you, God, for calling us your friends. Help us to be faithful friends to one another as we reflect your love and grace into our world. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ, our Friend. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:16 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, November 19 2019

We have meaningful words and prayers that we share together in worship each Sunday. Do you look for words or prayer in the daily routines? I recently learned about a book, Every Moment Holy (Douglas McKelvey). It shares prayers and responsive liturgies that can be used in all kinds of situations. It guided me in a way I hadn't thought of to pray in situations where I may not have thought to do so. It has also been a guide for times when I'm not sure of the words to pray during a situation or season.

One part that I'll share with you today is Thursday's Table Blessing. 


Leader: O King of Joys Eternal, today we praise you for small wonders;
All Gathered: in them we see your delight.

For birds that thrill and warble their worship,
for the verdant witness of windblown leaves,
and of starlight sparkling, and of sunlit streams,
and of blooming flowers,

We praise you, O King.
Your joy is everywhere manifest,
even in the smallest things.


We praise you, O King,
for soft beds and blankets,
for stories and songs,
for kisses and kindnesses.

Your tenderness is displayed in all things nurturing.

Your mercy is manifest in the details of this world, O Lord.
Your grace is worked into every corner of creation,

Your care is evident in the fabric of created things,
even in the pleasurable and nourishing properties of this meal.
For this food and for all small wonders,
we give thinks and we give you praise, O God. Amen.


As you share your next meal with someone, tell of something you have paused to appreciate as you enjoyed the small wonders of this week.

"You make grass grow for the livestock, hay for the animals that plow the ground. Oh yes, God brings grain from the land, wine to make people happy, their faces glowing with health, a people well-fed and hearty." Psalm 104:14-15

If you're interested in seeing a few other prayers from this resource, you can visit this website for the book and they share a few of them free to download.

https://www.everymomentholy.com/liturgies

Posted by: AT 11:15 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, November 18 2019

This past week I found myself praising God on numerous occasions. There was a sun drenched Monday which reflected the season of fall in all its glory. The leaves were a spectacular palate of colors pressed upon the Carolina blue sky. Later in the week, these same leaves were falling; sweeping across roads and roads powered by a brisk wind. Later, they would gently fall in the sub-freezing temperatures.

 

I would say prayers of praise and gratitude to God our creator. Prayers led to songs and I began to sing one of my beloved hymns For the Beauty of the Earth. Here are the lyrics.

 

For the beauty of the earth,

For the glory of the skies,

For the love which from our birth

Over and around us lies:

Lord of all, to Thee we raise

This our hymn of grateful praise.

 

For the joy of human love,

Brother, sister, parent, child:

Friends on earth, and friends above;

For all gentle thoughts and mild:

Lord of all, to Thee we raise

This our hymn of grateful praise.

 

For Thy Church that evermore

Lift'eth holy hands above,

Offering up on every shore

Her pure sacrifice of love;

Lord of all, to Thee we raise

This our hymn of grateful praise.

 

 

When I behold the beauty of the earth I can't help but worship. I think at the core of our being is the desire to behold the beauty of earth and to worship our Creator.

 

Here's how the psalmist states this drive to worship:

 

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are him; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. -Psalm 100: 1-2

 

Notice that the hymn For the Beauty of the Earth doesn't end with us outside in nature! We are born and built to worship God and church is the place we share our joy through the beauty of our worship together. See you next Sunday and we'll share thanks and praise together!

 

Prayer for Today

Fill our hearts with such joy and awe, Creator God that we will shout for joy together as we gather to worship you. Amen!

Posted by: AT 11:14 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, November 15 2019

In the 1994 fictional movie Forrest Gump, Forrest becomes famous for running. What began as a jog "to the end of the road" continued for three years, two months, fourteen days, and sixteen hours.

 

Each time he arrived at his destination, he set another one and continued to run, zig-zagging across the United States, until one day when he no longer felt like it. "Feeling like it" was the way his running began. Forrest says, "That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run."

 

In contrast to Forrest's seemingly whimsical running, the apostle Paul asks his readers to follow his example and "run in such a way as to get the prize" (1 Corinthians 9:24). Like disciplined athletes, our running-the way we live our lives-might mean saying no to some of our pleasures. Being willing to forgo our rights might help us reach others with the good news of our rescue from sin and death.

 

With our hearts and minds trained on the goal of inviting others to run the race alongside us, we are also assured of the ultimate prize-eternal fellowship with God. The victor's crown God bestows will last forever; we win it by running our lives with the aim of making Him known while relying on His strength to do so. What a reason to run!

 

Prayer for Today

Jesus, help me stay focused on the reason I run: to share about You with those around me.  Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:36 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, November 14 2019

During Elizabeth's sixth month of pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin. She was engaged to marry a man named Joseph from the family of David. Her name was Mary. The angel came to her and said, "Greetings! The Lord has blessed you and is with you."

 

But Mary was very startled by what the angel said and wondered what this greeting might mean.

 

The angel said to her, "Don't be afraid, Mary; God has shown you his grace. Listen! You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of King David, his ancestor. He will rule over the people of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will never end."

 

Mary said to the angel, "How will this happen since I am a virgin?"

 

The angel said to Mary, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you. For this reason the baby will be holy and will be called the Son of God.

 

Now Elizabeth, your relative, is also pregnant with a son though she is very old. Everyone thought she could not have a baby, but she has been pregnant for six months. God can do anything!"

 

Mary said, "I am the servant of the Lord. Let this happen to me as you say!" Then the angel went away.

Luke 1:26-38

 

The value of children and young people is throughout scripture, as present as admonitions to honor and respect one's elders. The Bible is perhaps one of the most historic inter-generational texts we have, unique in its time, ahead of it, perhaps by millennia. My youth have heard me say many times that they are not the future. They are the present. And so must our commitment to them be present too. We show that commitment in giving them positions of leadership and training them, but also by showing up to be with them, even when they fuss and complain and want their independence from us.

 

Teenagers are learning how to become independent and they often express a wish to be apart from adults. And often, we as parents are all too content to let them have their own space. Mark Yaconneli writes and speaks about how youth remind us of our struggles at their age, our questions, our mistakes. They crash through boundaries and discuss topics that make us uncomfortable. It's hard to be around our own kids in the teen years, much less ones that aren't ours. But that's what heroes of the faith do. I've had many heroes over the years in my faith journey. But none so much as the ones who show up week after week for the often thankless, sometimes discouraging, under appreciated task of being with young people, sacrificing time and rest and their own activities to be with them.

 

When I think about the young parents God chose for his only son as we approach advent, I think about the young people they were, Mary probably a teenager herself. They needed godly people and couples so they could navigate the biggest responsibility in history. They needed role models so that when Jesus was a teenager, of which we only get one story - a challenging one where he gets left behind exercising his independence, they were ready to be there and help him grow in "wisdom and stature." I wonder who will be with our teens to help them do the same on Sunday nights and trips. As each group of kids graduates, a new set of parents and caring adults from JCPC will need to join us. This Advent, consider your own calling to be with young people for a season. And if an angel or a teenager or a pastor appears and tells you the Lord needs you, respond like the trembling and scared teenager Mary... "I am the servant of the Lord. Let this happen to me as you say!"

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, send me to your children, the little ones, the teenagers, the young adults, and adults of all ages. When I feel overwhelmed or under-qualified, send your spirit to guide and encourage and empower me to the important work of being your servant. Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:35 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, November 13 2019

But since you excel in everything-in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you -see that you also excel in this grace of giving. 

-2 Corinthians 8:7, NIV

 

One person tells the story of what happened at a concert in November 1995 -- when the violinist Itzhak Perlman performed at the Lincoln Center in New York City. Perlman had polio as a child and walks with crutches. The audience waited patiently as he made his way slowly across the stage to his chair, sat down, put his crutches on the floor, removed the braces from his legs, settled himself in his characteristic pose, one foot tucked back, the other pushed forwards, bent down to pick up his violin, gripped it with his chin, and nodded to the conductor to indicate he was ready. "'Just as he finished the first few bars,' the Houston Chronicle music critic recalls, 'one of the strings on his violin broke. You could hear it snap - it went off like gunfire across the room. There was no mistaking what that sound meant. There was no mistaking what he had to do.' It was obvious - he had to put down his violin, replace his braces, pick up the crutches, heave himself to his feet, make his laborious way offstage and either get another violin or restring his crippled instrument. "He didn't. He closed his eyes for a moment, and then signaled the conductor to begin again.

 

Everyone knows it is impossible to play a symphonic work with just three strings . . . . but that night Itzhak Perlman refused to know that. He played with such passion and such power and such purity...You could see him modulating, changing, and recomposing the piece in his head...At one point it sounded like he was de-tuning the strings to get...sounds from them they had never made before.

 

"When he finished there was an awed silence, and then the audience rose, as one. We were all on our feet, screaming and cheering - doing everything that we could to show him how much we appreciated what he'd done." He smiled, wiped the sweat from his brow, raised his bow to quiet us, and then he said, not boastfully, but in a quiet, pensive, reverent tone, 'You know, sometimes it is the artist's task to find out how much music he can still make with what he has left.'

 

You don't have to be a genius in order to excel, you just have to keep at it. And excelling at the grace of giving is something each one of us can choose to do. As of last Sunday, we have pledges of $679,948 toward our goal of $892,500 (76%). Thank you to those who have made pledges. If you have yet to make one, please help us excel in our generosity.

 

Prayer for Today

Generous God, help us excel at the grace of giving. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus, who gave it all. Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:34 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, November 12 2019

Where are the places that you have time to reflect?

 

This past weekend, I spent time at Amicalola Falls on our Women's Retreat. Each year, I enjoy the opportunity to explore the landscape on a hike. While I was hiking on Saturday, I had some time to reflect on things I had heard and read over the past few weeks and consider how that might impact my journey forward.

 

An author I enjoy, Rachel Macy Stafford, shared in an interview about a study with college athletes. They were asked what their parents said that made them feel great, that amplified their joy during and after a ballgame. Their overwhelming response: "I love to watch you play." Upon reflection, she realized the amazing way this response then connected with her own children.

 

As I thought more about it, this phrase, "I love to watch you..." can apply to all parts of our relationships. When our first thought may be criticism, instead may we start with affirmation. When our first thought is competition, instead may we start with collaboration. When our first thought is there is not enough, maybe we start with there's more than enough.

 

As you go into this week, when you encounter loved ones or strangers, notice things that you love first and say them out loud.

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, Thank you for the gift of love that you show to us and invite us to share. Guide as we notice your love this week. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:33 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, November 11 2019

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Friday, November 08 2019

It was the seventh-grader's first cross-country meet, but she didn't want to run. Although she'd been preparing for the event, she was afraid of doing poorly. Still, she started the race with everyone else. Later, one by one the other runners finished the two-mile course and crossed the finish line-everyone except the reluctant runner. Finally, her mom, who was watching for her daughter to finish, saw a lone figure in the distance. The mother went to the finish line, preparing to comfort a distraught competitor. Instead, when the young runner saw her mom, she exclaimed, "That was awesome!"

 

What can be awesome about finishing last? Finishing!

 

The girl had tried something difficult and had accomplished it! Scripture honors hard work and diligence, a concept often learned through sports or music or other things that require perseverance and effort.

 

Proverbs 12:24 says, "Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in forced labor." And later we read, "All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty" (14:23). These wise principles-not promises-can help us serve God well.

God's plan for us always included work. Even before the fall, Adam was to "work [the Garden] and take care of it" (Genesis 2:15). And any effort we make should be done "with all [our] heart" (Colossians 3:23). Let's work in the strength He gives us-and leave the results to Him.

 

Prayer for Today

Heavenly Father, whatever it is You have asked me to do today-big or small-help me to do it.  Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:14 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, November 07 2019

And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me."

-1 Corinthians 11:24

 

It's been said that there are two ways to have enough... acquire more... or want less. For most of us in the U.S. and Johns Creek, especially, it's easy to take an inventory of our resources and blessings and to see we have enough, therefore, freeing us from making mental and physical lists of what we want and need to gain, and focus on what we can be generous enough to share.

 

Thanksgiving is a much older tradition than our American November tradition (October for our Canadian friends). Long before that, our Jewish ancestors of the faith gathered for the Passover meal. This meal, Christ's last, was and is a meal of thanksgiving and why it remains The Great Thanksgiving meal for us. Like the pilgrims, Jesus' family, and later his disciples, gathered to give thanks that God delivered them from bondage and oppression to a new promised land. They gave thanks that they'd been spared, set free to worship God fully, and they had enough to eat and share a feast together. I imagine this led to similar conversations and traditions that many of us have today... sharing that which we are most thankful, taking a spiritual inventory of all our blessings, thanking God, and reorienting annually to a spirit of thankfulness and generosity.

 

I think it's wonderful that such a season arrives just prior to a season we prepare to receive. We prepare to receive guests and gifts and the son of God, God's gift of grace. But first, we take inventory, we give thanks, we reorient our hearts to generosity and thankfulness, becoming people of bounty and generosity. I encourage you to make November your season of gratitude and reflection. See how that changes your season of Advent. Happy Thanksgiving, y'all.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, I give you thanks for my many blessings. Thank you for giving me enough. Help me to see the bounty I have and to be generous with it. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:10 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, November 06 2019

I thank my God every time I remember you. 

- Philippians 1:3, NIV

 

It dawned on me this week that our worship services recently have a common theme. On our Kirkin' of the Tartans Sunday, we remembered not only our Presbyterian heritage, but those who went as far as to give up their lives as martyrs for our Christian faith. Last week on All Saints' Sunday, we remembered those who had gone before us and were no longer with us - especially those in our church family. Next Monday is Veterans Day. This coming Sunday we will honor our veterans as we remember those who have served this country in the military, so that we might all experience freedom. All three Sundays involve remembering.

 

Paul is writing to the church at Philippi when he pens these words, "I thank my God every time I remember you." I want to invite us to remember those who have given in some way that has made our lives better or more meaningful. It may include those who proclaimed the faith, even to the point of it costing their lives. It may be someone whose life modeled for you some aspect of the grace of Jesus Christ. Or, it may be someone whom we tend to forget, until we are reminded of the sacrifice that person made for us.

 

Find time to say a prayer of thanksgiving for those people in your life. And if they are still around - find some way to reach out and tell them thank you in a personal way. I know it will mean something to that person, and it will be good for you.

 

On another note, each week I plan to update you on how we are doing with our "Season of Generosity" pledges for 2020. As of this past Sunday, we have received pledges of $665,748 toward our goal of $892,500 -- about 75%. Thank you to everyone who has made a pledge for 2020! If you have not had a chance to do this, please join with those who have already pledged and help us make a difference in the lives of others. Pledge cards are in the friendship pads each week, or you can do this at our website or on the church app.

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, we give thanks for those who have given to us in some way. May we continue to remember them and what they have done. May we also learn from their example, so that we might live faithfully as followers of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:09 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, November 05 2019

Let us make man in our image. 

-Genesis 1:26

 

Whenever we read the creation story, I think we often focus on the second part of this sentence, we are made in the image of God. The first part, "let us" first tells us a little more about who God is. Before the creation of the world began God dwelled in perfect, loving harmony as a threefold being: Creator, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is community: one God, three persons.

Since we are made in God's image that's why our longing for community seems so deep within us. It's how we're made. 

I was recently reading an article about brain development and why it's important to connect children with a worshiping community of faith. One part of the article really struck me. It said, "Positive feelings are rarely the product of isolation. Many positive emotions (empathy, gratitude, acceptance) actually require others... Communities can experience emotion and feeling together in ways individuals cannot." The article went on to discuss why it's important for children, as their brain is developing, to experience these emotions in community in order for them to know and then understand these emotions.

What are some of the communities that you are a part of?  How do your experiences in them help you better understand empathy, gratitude and acceptance?

These types of relationships are at the core of who we are as human beings. I would encourage you to make time to connect with a community this week.

 

Prayer for Today

Creator God, Thank you for creating in us a longing for community. Guides as we open ourselves up to connecting with others this week. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:08 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, November 04 2019

One Lord, one faith, one baptism; One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. 

-Ephesians 4: 5-6

 

The Apostle Paul had a way of getting to the point when he was dealing with complex theological issues. Here in his letter to the Ephesians he breaks down what are the essentials of Christian faith.

 

I was drawn to this type of simplicity this past week because Christmas has intruded on the fall season. The entire reason for the season takes a back seat to commercialism and the ever growing need to push Christian faith to the recesses.

 

Remember these simple statements of faith:

      • God is love. 
      • Jesus is Lord. 
      • Love your neighbor. 

What more could you want or need?

 

In the same spirit of simplicity my sister shared the following:

Keep it simple this holiday season my friends!

 

Prayer for Today

Move toward simple acts of faith and love, Gracious God, so that in the simple moments our lives will be filled with your generous Spirit. Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:52 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, November 01 2019

Inside St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland, there's a door that tells a five-century-old tale. In 1492 two families, the Butlers and the Fitzgeralds, began fighting over a high-level position in the region. The fight escalated, and the Butlers took refuge in the cathedral. When the Fitzgeralds came to ask for a truce, the Butlers were afraid to open the door. So the Fitzgeralds cut a hole in it, and their leader offered his hand in peace. The two families then reconciled, and adversaries became friends.

God has a door of reconciliation that the apostle Paul wrote passionately about in his letter to the church in Corinth. At His initiative and because of His infinite love, God exchanged the broken relationship with humans for a restored relationship through Christ's death on the cross. We were far away from God, but in His mercy He didn't leave us there. He offers us restoration with Himself-"not counting people's sins against them" (2 Corinthians 5:19). Justice was fulfilled when "God made [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us," so that in Him we could be at peace with God (v. 21).

Once we accept God's hand in peace, we're given the important task of bringing that message to others. We represent the amazing, loving God who offers complete forgiveness and restoration to everyone who believes.

 

Prayer for Today

God, thank You for not leaving me in a place of no hope, separated from You forever. Thank You that the sacrifice of Your beloved Son, Jesus, has provided the way for me to come to You. Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:49 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
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