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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.

Tuesday, December 24 2019

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

 

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

I Corinthians 13:1-7

 

I read the following Christmas adaptation of the familiar I Corinthians 13 passage at the Choir Christmas gathering Saturday night. I found it convicting and encouraging. I hope you will too. I'm going to place a copy inside the box of decorations for our tree for next year and a few copies inside our favorite Christmas movies to remind us early next season to linger in love as we celebrate the coming of the Christ child. Merry Christmas...



 

We pray that you will experience the peace of Christ during this Christmas season.

The office staff will be taking a much needed break, so Reflections and Connections will resume on 

Thursday, January 2, 2020.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, help me to prepare for Christmas and to live in Advent in love. Send your spirit to help me prioritize, to be mindful, and to be thankful. Amen.

Posted by: AT 01:16 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, December 23 2019

 "A great multitude . . . shouting . . . 'Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!'"

-Revelations 19:6-7  

 

All around me, people are walking with a purpose, headed in the same direction. It's Christmas Eve, and I'm wandering around Stockholm, Sweden.

 

Looking for an adventure, I followed the crowd, and they led me to a church. Delighted with the unexpected opportunity to attend a Christmas Eve service, I entered the sanctuary along with the other worshippers. An American couple sat next to me. They, too, had followed the crowd to this church.

 

With hushed anticipation, the service began. The music was a glorious celebration of Christmas. As for the sermon, I did not understand a word, but the priest's happiness was obvious. And, I easily comprehended the universal language of the offering plates. During the service, I was surrounded by strangers, but we worshipped as friends.

 

The dark, dreary afternoon had become a new cherished memory of celebrating Christ's birth. At the end of the service, we sang "Silent Night," a hymn that churches around the world would sing that night.

 

We are followers, not of the crowd, but of Christ.

 

Prayer for Today

Heavenly Father, on this silent and holy night, we worship you. Around the world, in many languages, our love for you becomes one language. Thank you for sending us your Son. Amen.

Posted by: AT 01:15 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, December 20 2019

Japanese Socks and Peace

 In the Advent season of 2008, Tom and I traveled to Japan. Our son, Christian, was involved in a study abroad program and would not be coming home for Christmas. We decided to journey to Japan to spend Christmastide with him.

It was difficult being away from well-known customs and traditions at this time of year. While Japan was exquisitely decorated for the season, it was all for the sake of decoration and held with it an emptiness. The total quandary of what this season represented to the Japanese was found on a cake in a bakery: it was decorated completely with pilgrims and a manger scene.

Christmas day arrived and we went out shopping. All the shops were open. As we were on a journey and clean socks were in short supply, I found a sporting goods store and bought three pairs of wool hiking socks. We presented the socks to each other as our Christmas gifts and remarked that it was the best gift ever: clean, warm socks on a chilly Christmas day.

A little later that day, as I was window-shopping, I found a small shop that beckoned me inside. The shop was simple, more like a small stall. The main thing for sale was many packets of origami paper. Each pack was so colorful and bright. I collected a few to buy. An older Japanese man was tending the simple till. He seemed so delighted that I was so interested in origami. After the yen was given, the older man and I had an encounter I will never forget. On this Christmas day, between two strangers, a common blessing was given. The man took an origami crane from his collection on the counter and placed it in my hand. "Peace," he said in English. And I stood speechless in awe.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, help me to move towards simplicity. Keep my eyes open for the wonders of simple encounters. Keep me humble and full of appreciation of simple gifts. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:03 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, December 19 2019

At the time of Jesus' birth, Magi came from the East seeking "the new King." This worried King Herod....

 

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."

 

An angel warned Joseph and the wise men in dreams that Herod wanted to kill Jesus, so Joseph took the family to Egypt and the wise men returned home a different route.

 

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.

-Matthew 2: 7-8, 16

 

The Christmas story, the birth of Christ, is not covered by all four Gospel writers. Mark and John begin with his ministry, skipping that part of the story. But it's too big a story for just one Gospel. Matthew and Luke cover different aspects. Matthew, for instance, tells us the story of the wise men (never mentioning how many), their journey, and their gifts, as well as their interaction with Herod. Luke, man of the margins, focuses on the shepherds.

 

We think of the Christmas story as one story or one account, rather than two. As a result of these different focuses, we sometimes draw the conclusion that the one story is drawing our attention to the great difference between local poor shepherds and distant rich kings. And while it's absolutely an important point that God draws all people to the birth, both high and low, there's more going on in the story, and we have to take care not to miss it. Going back to just Matthew's Gospel, we see both the wise men and another king. Remember? Herod, the local ruler, upset about the news of a new king when the magi (the distant kings) arrive.

 

This is where it gets interesting. The biggest polar opposite in the story isn't the rich and the poor people seeking Christ. It's their reaction to his birth. The shepherds and wise men hear of his birth and go to worship him, giving thanks and offering gifts. King Herod responds very differently from the wise men he meets. He is terrified, and he plots to kill the new king. Matthew is telling us some important things about wealth and power - you don't have to have it to be welcome at the feet of Christ, but you do have to be willing to give it up to Christ. There is good news here for poor people and for rich. But this is devastating news to those who love power and wealth more than God or God's people.

 

As we approach Christmas, it's worth asking ourselves important questions. In our day and age, people are still oppressed. We still have refugees like Christ's family. We still have poor and rich. People in service and agricultural jobs and people of learning and education. We still have powerful leaders. If Christ returned today, who would be eager for a message of hope and relief to the suffering and who would cling to their power and wealth and continue to oppress, to scatter families, and refuse change that looks like love and peace? Who would look like wise men, bowing humbly and offering gifts, and who would plot to keep what they have and not share it with the poor, the hungry, the oppressed, the lonely and lost? Because Christ's kingdom is our job to help build, and our nation and world can be changed by our participation and following God's call each day.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, make me as wise as your magi and humble as your shepherds. Make me as contemplative and strong as Mary, as righteous as Joseph, and as worshipful and obedient as the Angels. Help to let go of my own wealth and power to inspire others and to challenge power that oppresses your children. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:01 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, December 18 2019

Last Sunday we talked about Mary's story - when the angel Gabriel appeared to the young Mary and told her she would have a child in a miraculous way. (Luke 1:26-38) This child would be Jesus -- the Son of God sent to save the world. When the angel says this, there seems to be an implied pause, because it is only afterwards that Mary agrees to this. Apparently, she had a choice - a real choice.

 

Kathleen Norris writes about this and the other choices we face in life. She describes them as doors we can choose to walk through . . . or not. She also quotes a poem by Denise Levertov called "Annunciation" which describes these choices in life as roads we may or may not take, or gates we can walk through -- but if we choose not to enter in, "the pathway vanishes." All of this makes it even more amazing that Mary chose to go through with God's plan and give birth to this child. Because of her faith and courage, Jesus was born to save us and all of creation. Here is a part of the poem "Annunciation" by Denise Levertov:

 

Aren't there annunciations

of one sort or another

in most lives?

         Some unwillingly

undertake great destinies,

enact them in sullen pride,

uncomprehending.

More often

those moments

     when roads of light and storm

     open from darkness in a man or woman,

are turned away from

in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair

and with relief.

Ordinary lives continue.

                                 God does not smite them.

But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.

 

Prayer for Today

God of life and giver of life's choices, may we discern the pathways you invite and call us take in life. Give us the courage to walk those roads, enter those gates, and go through those doors. Remind us that we can trust you to be present as we follow your path. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus who is the way, the truth, and life. Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:57 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, December 17 2019

Much of our time each week is spent preparing for the hours to come. I know that each week I spend many hours in preparation for a few hours on Sunday or a couple of hours on a weekday.

 

What do you spend your time each week preparing for? But even as we wait for what is going to happen, it is important to stop. To stop and simply be still. Sometimes being still is the best preparation of all.

 

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises. Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord. Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it. Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming to judge the earth. Psalm 98:4-9

 

As you are spending time preparing for the birth of our Savior, take a moment to listen to the sounds of the season: Silver bells! Up on the housetop: click, click, click. Just hear those sleigh bells jingling; ring, ting, tingling too. Eleven pipers piping. The cattle are lowing. Gloria! What else would you add to the list of sounds of this season for you?

 

Maybe you would add pots rattling in the kitchen as special meals are prepared...

 

The psalmist also mentions lyres, trumpets, and horns as making joyful noises to the Lord. The psalmist even goes so far as to say that the sea, floods, and hills will erupt into joyful praise as the Lord is welcomed to earth. What sound of celebration will you claim as the birth of Christ occurs in you?

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, hear our sounds of praise and receive them as celebration over your coming this Advent. Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:55 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, December 16 2019

On Saturday, I witnessed a scene that would awaken me to awe, wonder and joy. I was returning from a walk on the Greenway with Walker and Cowboy when I noticed a father pushing his two preschoolers on the swing set in our neighborhood's recreational area. It was my neighbor Justin and his two daughters so I decided to stop by and let the dogs say hello to the children. They love each other.

 

Tails were wagging and children were smiling as their father pushed his daughters on the swings. "Higher Daddy, both proclaimed, push me higher!" The youngest, Allie, shared with me that she had found a candy wrapper and that she loved gummy bears. She was sharing her sense of awe, wonder and joy and I soaked it all in while I admired the dedicated father in the background. A father's support in the background is essential in order for the gifts of God to grow and mature.

 

Later that day I was organizing a collection of keepsakes and I found saved Father's Day cards that my children had given me and I had collected over the years. One card read:

"God in all His wisdom came up with something new to show how much He loved the world and all His children too. Something really useful, something strong and kind and good, a gift sent straight from heaven and He called it Fatherhood."

 

With each card that I read and re-read, I was awakened to the supportive role of fatherhood and its importance. Yet so much of this support is in the background; not drawing attention to itself nor demanding repayment for the effort. To be a father is to both drive and take a backseat at the same time.

 

Maybe that is why Joseph's role in the gospel takes on more of a background quality. In Luke, Mary sings the Magnificat while in Matthew's gospel, Joseph says nary a word.

 

Throughout the life of Jesus, Joseph takes on a supportive role in the background. This coming Sunday as we hear Joseph's story let us remember the gift of Fatherhood which pushes the swing of awe, wonder and joy securely in the background.

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, as we remember the birth of our savior keep us mindful of the support he received which helped him grow into his role as Messiah. May the gifts of support, nurture and care be three of the gifts we focus on during this Christmas season. Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:54 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, December 13 2019

When my husband, Dan, was diagnosed with cancer, I couldn't find the "right" way to ask God to heal him. In my limited view, other people in the world had such serious problems-war, famine, poverty, natural disasters. Then one day, during our morning prayer time, I heard my husband humbly ask, "Dear Lord, please heal my disease." 

 

It was such a simple but heartfelt plea that it reminded me to stop complicating every prayer request, because God perfectly hears our righteous cries for help. As David simply asked, "Turn, Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love" (Psalm 6:4).

 

That's what David declared during a time of spiritual confusion and despair. His exact situation isn't explained in this psalm. His honest pleas, however, show deep desire for godly help and restoration. "I am worn out from my groaning," he wrote (v. 6).

 

Yet, David didn't let his own limits, including sin, stop him from going to God with his need. Thus, even before God answered, David was able to rejoice, "the Lord has heard my weeping. The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer" (vv. 8-9).

 

Despite our own confusion and uncertainty, God hears and accepts the honest pleas of His children. He's ready to hear us, especially when we need Him most.

 

Prayer for Today

Dear God, as you cleanse our hearts, grant us courage to ask for Your divine help, believing that You hear us and will answer. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:34 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, December 12 2019

The angel said to him, "Zacharias, 

do not be afraid. Your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to a son. You are to name him John.

-Luke 1:13

 

The angel said to her, "Mary, do not be afraid. You have found favor with God.

-Luke 1:30

 

The angel said to the Shepherds, "Do not be afraid. See! I bring you good news of great joy which is for all people.

-Luke 2:10

 

This past Saturday, our 13 year old and I had a big first... his first All-State band tryout. He had practiced and prepared, but was nervous nonetheless that it wasn't adequate. We sat and waited for his turn in the school cafeteria with dozens of other kids practicing and waiting. I wondered how many were nervous and excited, ready for something new, and how many felt prepared. I figured in our moment of hope and expectation, I'd call in some prayers. I texted three of our recent youth graduates who were active in marching band, one of whom had been a drum major.

 

They each replied with similar sentiments that made me quite proud of their maturity and experience. They all indicated that going to one's first all-state tryout under-prepared is in itself a bit of a right of passage, but that it helps to adjust for more realistic expectations in the future. And they agreed anyone could and should be anxious, but that they'd pray for him. To me, their messages were familiar. Like the words of God's messengers to the holy family and Elizabeth and Zechariah. "You won't be prepared. It's okay to be anxious while you wait, but don't be afraid. You won't be alone."

 

I'm sure Joseph and Mary, as well as their cousins were full of anxiety and hope for their children. And I'm sure that messages from those with experience, close to the source, assurances they weren't alone were meaningful and calming. They were for me and my child. As you wait for Christmas and prepare your heart and home for what is coming and any anxiety that accompanies those preparations, I hope you'll hear from people and messengers and still small voices that peace is coming and you are not alone. Peace. You are not alone.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, help me be at peace this Advent. Remind me I am yours and not alone. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:33 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, December 11 2019

"That was a lot of beautiful music." Those were the words I heard myself repeating this past Sunday when folks asked me about our worship services. I felt gratitude for a number of things, but especially for our Chancel Choir. My thankfulness was not only for what they did on a "big" Sunday, like one that contains "a lot of beautiful music" - but also for the not-so-big services all through the year when they lead us in worship. For most of the year, they meet each Wednesday night and part of Sunday morning to prepare for worship. Not only do I appreciate their musical gifts, but I admire their diligent rehearsing each week. In recent years, that choir is not only a musical group, it also functions as a small group. Walking by the choir room on Wednesday evenings, I have heard laughter as they enjoyed each other's company, and seen tears as they prayed for one another in hard times.

 

Last Saturday I took time during the preparation for Sunday's worship to welcome our eleven guest musicians and five soloists who were hired to help our choir lead worship. Knowing that some of them may not have come from church backgrounds, I shared with everyone these words from our Presbyterian Book of Order about the place of music in worship:

 

The singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs is a vital and ancient form of prayer.  Singing engages the whole person, and helps to unite the body of Christ in common worship. The congregation itself is the church's primary choir; the purpose of rehearsed choirs and other musicians is to lead and support the congregation in the singing of prayer. Special songs, anthems, and instrumental music may also serve to interpret the Word and enhance the congregation's prayer. Furthermore, many of the elements of the service of worship may be sung. Music in worship is always to be an offering to God, not merely an artistic display, source of entertainment, or cover for silence. (W-2.0202)

 

I thank God for our Chancel Choir and the gift of beautiful music!

 

Prayer for Today

Praise God from Whom all blessings flow. Praise Him all creatures here below. Praise Him above ye heavenly host. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen. (The Doxology)

Posted by: AT 02:32 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, December 10 2019

I seem to be surprised a lot by the passage of time. Sometimes it's hard to settle down in the midst of all the internal and external chaos. We are entering into a season of holidays that are filled with so many events and celebrations. Each year this season often sneaks up on me and I feel a sense of being overwhelmed by all that happens in the next 13 days. When the to-do list keeps growing, my stress level increases and then I am reminded of God's invitation through the prophet Isaiah:

 

All of you who are thirsty, come to the water! Whoever has no money, come, buy food and eat! Without money, at no cost, buy wine and milk! Why spend money for what isn't food, and your earnings for what doesn't satisfy? Listen carefully to me and eat what is good; enjoy the richest of feasts. Listen and come to me; listen, and you will live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful loyalty to David.

-Isaiah 55:1-3

 

When I get overwhelmed during this season, I have learned to stop and notice what I am doing, what I am buying, and how I am using my time. God's promise is for a deeper life, a different way of living, one that doesn't balance on the edge of chaos and collapse but is grounded in God's abundant, generous, restful life.

 

At the height of his success, when the crowds pressed him for more, Jesus drew away to quiet places to pray (Luke 5:16). When anyone else would have been hurrying faster, trying to perform bigger miracles and preaching to more people, he took a slower path, really seeing even lepers along the way (Luke 17:14) and noticing a woman who touched the hem of his cloak (Luke 8:45).

 

Life, schedules, demands, needs - they'll never let up. But God's promise is that in the midst of life's chaos, in spite of life's chaos, there is a different path, a better way, into which we can live.

 

I would invite you to be overwhelmed by the presence of God in the birth of our Savior rather than overwhelmed by the chaos of the season.

 

Today, what will you do to live into that better way, grounded in God's abundant life?

 

May you find God's peace and enjoy the richest of feasts as we enter into a season of thankfulness and gratitude for the amazing gift of God, in Jesus Christ, our Savior.

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, guide us into a way of life grounded in your love. May we take time to stop and experience your peace and nourishment this holiday season. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:30 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, December 09 2019

Advent is a time where light and darkness co-mingle in a redemptive dance. John's gospel announces the mystery this way:  

 

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  -John 1: 4-5

 

St. Paul continues the theme:

"For it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;"   -2 Corinthians 4: 6-8

 

Earthen vessels we are; chipped, cracked and imperfect. Yet it is the light that shines through our brokenness that reflects the redemptive dance of Advent.

 

The great singer-writer Leonard Cohen offered these lyrics in his song Anthem that reflects this truth:

"Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."

 

The story of Emmanuel, God with us, is the incarnational story of Jesus being God incarnate and entering into our brokenness in order to heal us. Strange mystery this incarnation, it isn't the perfect offering we bring to God, but rather God's light shining through our cracks, our human brokenness.

 

This coming Sunday, December 15, 2019 in our Great Hall at 5:00 p.m. we will worship God as earthen vessels through whom God's love light shines brightly. Our Stephen Ministry is hosting a Blue Christmas service where we pray for healing and wholeness in the light of the one born in Bethlehem. Please join us and bring a friend. The light of the world is the love of God. Come all ye faithful and experience God's love.

 

Prayer for Today

Light of the world, come shine brightly through our cracks and brokenness. Where we are broken heal us and teach us to love deeply for it is in the depth of our wounds that you heal us. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:29 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, December 06 2019

According to an old story, a man named Nicholas (born in 

ad 270) heard about a father who was so poor that he couldn't feed his three daughters, much less provide for their future marriages.

 

Wanting to assist the father, but hoping to keep his help a secret, Nicholas threw a bag of gold through an open window, which landed in a sock or shoe drying on the hearth. That man was known as St. Nicholas, who later became the inspiration for Santa Claus.

 

When I heard that story of a gift coming down from above, I thought of God the Father, who out of love and compassion sent to earth the greatest gift, His Son, through a miraculous birth. According to Matthew's gospel, Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy that a virgin would conceive and give birth to a son whom they would call Immanuel, meaning "God with us" (1:23).

 

As lovely as Nicholas' gift was, how much more amazing is the gift of Jesus? He left heaven to become a man, died and rose again, and is God living with us. He brings us comfort when we're hurting and sad; He encourages us when we feel downhearted; He reveals the truth to us when we might be deceived.

 

Prayer for Today

Jesus, thank You for the way You left Your Father to be born in humble circumstances. May I never take for granted Your presence in my life.  Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:26 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, December 05 2019

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

-John 3:16

 

 

Christmas is my favorite. I freely admit I'm a sucker for every Christmas movie and TV episode ever. I own a stack of them none of my friends can rival and I eagerly dive in each year. So many of them explain in touching or silly or sad moments some facet of the meaning of Christmas. Spoiler alert - there are many. One of my favorites is in Home Alone. The film is primarily a story of a child outwitting burglars and surviving being left home alone. But anyone who has seen it knows that it remains so popular because the main character, a bratty child, learns to appreciate his family, and they, him.

 

In one particular scene, toward the climax, the kid has realized how much he needs and misses his family. He heads to see Santa on Christmas Eve, catching him with his beard down, trying to get into his car. He says he's old enough to know how this works and even though he isn't the real Santa, he knows he works for him. He says that instead of toys, please tell Santa he just wants his family back. This is remarkable as a breakthrough, but also because it's already been revealed that he knows he doesn't deserve presents at all this year, that he's been "a pain." But he's still expecting Santa will come and bring gifts.

 

I think that reveals the remarkable child-like faith we are all to emulate. This is important! The original historical St. Nicholas brought gifts to poor children and helped poor families. His gifts were not a reward for a year of good behavior, but a reminder of the gift of grace Christ was to our world, and each of us. We do a disservice to St. Nick and to Christ, as well as our kids, when we emphasize the naughty and nice list or the behavior-monitoring duties of elves on shelves. Gifts are not earned. Gifts are given for love, for relationship. And every kid knows what we can only learn from them... gifts come because we need them, because we expect them, because we are loved.

 

This Christmas, celebrate the magic and myths of Santa and elves and flying reindeer, but be sure the emphasis is on the mystery of love and God breaking into our lives because God loves us. And maybe find a way to do like St. Nicholas. Go find those in need, share what you have. Remind the world of the first Christmas gift... one we needed, not one we deserved.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, help me to give and receive gifts with grace and in the spirit of your greatest gift to us, your son. Amen. 

Posted by: AT 02:25 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, December 04 2019

When St. Augustine was trying to find his way in life before he was a Christian, he tells of a time he heard the voice of a child somewhere nearby saying over and over again, "Take up and read. Take up and read." It led St. Augustine to take up and read the Bible, and as the saying goes, "The rest is history." God spoke to St. Augustine through those words and it changed his life. He would later change his world, and today he is considered one of the great pillars of the Christian faith.

 

As we begin the season of Advent, we may already be thinking about gifts for Christmas. If you know me, you probably know I read a lot of books. So, if you are looking to give books as gifts this Christmas, I have three to recommend. The first is The New Testament in Its World by N.T. Wright and Michael F. Bird. N.T. Wright is one of the world's leading authorities on the New Testament. This rather large book takes most of his writings and condenses them into one volume. If you are looking for a great resource on the Bible, this would be a good place to start.

 

My second recommendation is Who Is An Evangelical? by Thomas S. Kidd. If you follow the news and politics, you know the word "evangelical" gets tossed around a lot to describe people. This accessible book traces the history of the movement, leading up to where it is today. This is a book for anyone who follows politics and wants to be informed.

 

My third recommendation is Holy Envy by Barbara Brown Taylor. She writes from her Christian perspective about teaching her college students the world's great faith traditions - and what she discovered she likes about each of them. It is a really insightful book for anyone who wants to think about how we relate to other faiths as Christians.

 

Prayer for Today

Holy God, fill our minds with your knowledge and wisdom, so that we might live this life you give us to the fullest. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:24 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, December 03 2019

What was the first thing to bring light to you this morning? A lamp? The sun? An overhead light?

How do lights help you throughout your day? Where do we need light?

 

Can you think of someone who is like a light for you?

At the Giving Thanks Dinner, Chap and Will did one of the craft activities where they created a star out of air dry clay and put a tealight candle in the center. They chose blue clay and decorated it with small beads. As we prepared for Advent over the weekend, I placed the star in a small red bowl and wrote this prayer that accompanied the activity on a card.

 

Star Prayer

As we light this star,

we pray that people will find the light of Jesus this Christmas:

Light in darkness

Light to the lonely

Light to the sad

Light to the sick

Light to the worried

Light to the lost. Amen.
(written by Mina Munns)

 

Each dinner so far, Will turns on the light and we say the prayer together.

 

Consider the star in the story of the Nativity leading to Jesus who is the light of the world. How will you share that light this Advent season?

 

Prayer for Today

Prayer included in Reflections.

Posted by: AT 02:23 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, December 02 2019

And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.  -Luke 2:7

 

No place for them. Such stark words Luke chooses to use to proclaim the birth of Emmanuel; God with us! No place for them.

 

The mystery of God with us is that God enters into human existence through vulnerability on the outside of warm security. Try as we might we can't squeeze this truth out of advent. We fill our calendars with parties, gift exchanges, and our trees will be crowded beyond belief with presents. Yet the Christ child is birthed to be with us in the space of no place for them.

 

On Sunday, December 15th at 5:00 p.m. the Stephen Ministries of Johns Creek Presbyterian and United Methodist churches will be hosting Walking to Bethlehem- A Light in the Night Blue Christmas Service.

 

This special time of worship recognizes the darker places in our lives that include loss, grief, and longing. We need a time to walk to Bethlehem because much of the ways that we celebrate Christmas don't allow for our deeper emotions to be honored and experienced. In other words, there is no place for them in our traditional Christmas celebrations.

 

Yet we need a place for them, a special time and space for them and according to Luke's gospel this is where we meet our Savior. The service will include prayers, litanies, scripture lessons, and a prayer labyrinth on which you can experience a closer walk with God.

 

I hope you will make space in your schedule to worship with us as we Walk to Bethlehem together and encounter the one who meets us where we are at; making a place where there appears to be no place for our deepest hurts and challenges. Join us, will you, Sunday, December 15th at 5:00 p.m. in the Great Hall.

 

Prayer for Today

Saving God, you enter into our lives through the places we are most vulnerable. Through your Spirit, help us to sense your presence and restore our souls through the faith and hope that nothing can separate us from you in Christ our Lord. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:20 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
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