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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.

Thursday, February 28 2019

The article in the local newspaper was short but heartwarming. After attending a faith-based program on building stronger family ties, a group of prison inmates were given a rare treat of an open visit with their families. Some hadn't seen their children in years. Instead of talking through a glass panel, they could touch and hold their loved ones. The tears flowed freely as families grew closer and wounds began to heal.

 

For most readers, it was just a story. But for these families, holding one another was a life-changing event-and for some, the process of forgiveness and reconciliation was begun.

God's forgiveness of our sin and offer of reconciliation, made possible through His Son, is more than a mere fact of the Christian faith. The article's news of reconciliation reminds us that Jesus's sacrifice is great news not just for the world, but for you and me.

 

In times when we're overwhelmed by guilt for something we've done, however, it's news we can cling to desperately. That's when the fact of God's unending mercy becomes personal news: because of Jesus's dying on our behalf, we can come to the Father washed clean, "whiter than snow" (Psalm 51:7). In such times, when we know we don't deserve His mercy, we can hold on to the only thing we can depend on: God's unfailing love and compassion (v. 1).

 

Prayer for Today

Father, I'm sorry if I've taken Your mercy and love for granted. Thank You for this wonderful gift and privilege that I don't deserve yet You've promised unconditionally.  Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:43 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, February 27 2019

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: . . . a time to plant and a time to uproot.

Ecclesiastes 3:1, 2b, NIV

 

Last week I was contacted by the Rev. Yeonkwon Jeon, the pastor of the Korean Atlanta Good Church that has been meeting at JCPC for about a year. He shared some bittersweet news. His Atlanta Good Church had been given a church building by our Presbytery of Greater Atlanta in which to meet, so they would be leaving us shortly. Of course, it was good news because The Atlanta Good Church has grown to the point that they can now meet in their own space. But it was sad for me because I will miss them, even though they have not been here very long.

 

It was a little more that twenty years ago that the New Church Development Commission of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta bought fifteen acres, including a house, to start this church. Dr. Frank Harrington was the chair of the commission that called Dr. Larry Wood as our founding pastor. The presbytery also helped with financial support of the church for the first five years, until the church could fully support itself.

 

Now we have been given the privilege of helping to start another Presbyterian church. I look forward to the time when our presbytery will officially charter The Atlanta Good Church. Even though I don't like seeing that new church family leave, I have to remind myself that is exactly what we want them to do. It is like raising kids - it is hard to see them leave, yet that is ultimately the goal - for them to make it on their own in the world.

 

I want to say thank you to the members of the JCPC church family who nurtured this new church by providing space for them to gather for worship and fellowship. It is one more example of generous giving and I am honored that we have all been a part of that!

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, it is good to be a part of what you are doing in this world. We pray for this new church we have helped to birth. May they grow and share your good news with others as they serve in the name of Christ. In the strong name of Jesus the Christ we pray. Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:41 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, February 26 2019

Have you experienced moments when you are reminded that each day is a gift?

 

Knowing that each day is a gift, how do you want to live your life? Always busy, working on the next project, chore, or errand? Or with an attitude of unhurried trust and joy being immersed in the current moment?

 

This verse stuck with me in the midst of this morning's event, "God is our Refuge and Strength, a very present help in trouble." Psalm 46:1

 

Some of the images that I look to reminded of this refuge God provides are found in the empty cross. Many of the significant crosses that I see on a regular basis have been a Celtic Cross. My church growing up had a wooden one hanging in our sanctuary that was cut and carved by our minister's son. Another is one I encountered on a the Isle of Iona while on a Heritage trip to Scotland during college.

 

What images remind you of God being your "refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble"? Take some time to look at them today and remember the gift of this day.

 

We are providing some opportunities for prayer and reflection during Lent. Our 24 hour prayer vigil offers an opportunity to pray in the Chapel for one hour. On March 20, we will have a Lenten Labyrinth Experience in the Great Hall from 4:00-9:00 p.m. This labyrinth is a canvas copy of the labyrinth on the floor of Chartres cathedral in France. It is a wonderful tool to be used as a spiritual practice during Lent as we reflect on our own journey and Christ's journey. This sacred path is full of twists and turns which allow you time for prayer as you travel to the center. The practice of walking the labyrinth as a way to pray, has been very meaningful to me. I would invite you, if you are able to walk it.         

 

Prayer for Today

Oh Lord, my refuge, my strength, in times of trouble you are my help. Bring me peace. In stillness and silence you are with me; My heart rejoices in your presence. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:39 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, February 25 2019

This past Saturday, our new presbytery executive Rev. Aisha Brooks-Lytle facilitated our session retreat. Her presentation involved what she calls the 4 P's of healthy congregations; prayer, passion, priesthood of believers, and purpose. 

 

During her presentation on priesthood of believers she used the image of theotokos in order to describe the vital importance of each person in our congregation. Theotokos is the Greek word meaning God Bearer; or God birther. In the Catholic tradition it is used to describe Mother Mary; however it has also been used to describe others in our faith such as St. Ignatius of Antioch.

 

During our breakout session, elder Dennis McLynn asked what I thought (and still do) was one of the most important theological questions I have heard in some time. He asked,"where are you in your God bearing years?" It is a play off the phrase child bearing years and it opens up the questions of when and how we bear God's image in the world. This question of where are you in your God bearing years is at the heart of being an intergenerational church.

 

From infant to nonagenarian each of us has the ability to be God bearers. When I look into the eyes of an infant I see the face of the Creator God and when I converse with a nonagenarian I see the face of the God of the covenant. Being served communion by teenagers at our Youth Sunday worship service I saw the face of the God of Promise. Regardless of where we find ourselves in life we have the vital calling to be God Bearers.

 

I remember when I was a young pastor in Louisville, KY and visiting some church members in their home. As I walked through the threshold of their front door I could see a door at the other end of the living room. It led to the basement. Soon I heard the pitter-patter of little feet coming up the basement steps. It was 4 year old Cory. As he looked up and saw me he stopped dead in his tracks and exclaimed, "Its God!" Well, I wasn't God, but it reminded my 25 year old self that I was a God Bearer no matter the age!

 

Where are you in your God bearing years?

 

 

Prayer for Today

Grant us the wisdom to know, O God, that we bear the vital responsibility to share your image in the world. Help us to see that no matter where we find ourselves in our lives your image can shine from us to bring both others and ourselves closer to you. Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:37 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, February 22 2019

I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
-Isaiah 41:10

The little girl who navigated the stairway one Sunday at church was cute, spunky, and independent. One by one the child-who appeared to be not much older than two years-took the steps down to the lower level. Descending the stairs was her mission and she accomplished it. I smiled to myself as I pondered the daring independence of this courageous toddler. The child wasn't afraid because she knew her caring mother's watchful eye was always on her and her loving hand was extended to help her. This aptly pictures the Lord's readiness to help His children as they make their way through life with its varied uncertainties.

Today's Scripture includes two "hand" references. After cautioning His ancient people not to fear or be dismayed, the Lord told them, "I will uphold you with my righteous right hand" (Isaiah 41:10). Many anxious and fearful children have been steadied by the strength of a parent. Here God's power comes into view. In the second "hand" reference, once again it's the Lord who acted to secure the safety of His own. "For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand" (v. 13). While life situations and times have changed, the Lord hasn't. We need not despair (v. 10) because the Lord still assures us with the promise of His support and with the words we desperately need to hear: "Do not fear" (vv. 10, 13).

By Arthur Jackson

 

Prayer for Today

Father, thank You for always watching over me. Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:35 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, February 21 2019

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

-Matthew 5:23-24

 
 

One of many moments that deeply impacted me while I was in the Dominican Republic happened outside a classroom as Tom Traylor and I were painting. A young boy came out of a classroom with tears streaming down his face. His expression said he was more angry than sad. He assumed a familiar position facing the outdoor wall of his class, riveted to the spot. I wasn't sure what he'd gotten in trouble for, but after years of teaching, I know the drill, in any language. What happened next was new and unfamiliar. 

 

After several minutes, a boy and a girl from his class came out, each laying a hand on his shoulders and whispering gently to him. In Spanish, they whispered, "bien," over and over. Bueno means good, but bien means well or okay. They consoled him. They didn't excuse what he'd done, whatever that was. But they assured him it was okay now, and arm in arm, the three entered the classroom and returned to their seats.

 

What struck me was how natural this reconciliation and return was. It was as natural as the position he'd assumed facing the wall. How many of us assume the position in desperation or hope? How many of us need to feel the hands on our shoulders? And perhaps most importantly, who is standing outside right now in need of our gentle hands and assurance it's okay now? This week, consider who in your life, in the world, or in the news is standing outside and needs your gentle hands and assuring words. Let's come back in together. 

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, send me to be your hands and your voice to reconcile and return any who stand outside our community in anger or shame. Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:33 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, February 20 2019

Valentine's Day was last week and I remembered one of my favorite stories about that day:

 

Little Chad was a shy, quiet, young kid. One day he came home and told his mother he'd like to make a valentine for everyone in his class. Her heart sank. She thought, "I wish he wouldn't do that!" because she had watched the children when they walked home from school. Her Chad was always behind them. They laughed and hung on to each other and talked to each other. But Chad was never included. Nevertheless, she decided she would go along with her son. So she purchased the paper and glue and crayons. For three whole weeks, night after night, Chad painstakingly made thirty-five valentines.

 

Valentine's Day dawned, and Chad was beside himself with excitement! He carefully stacked them up, put them in a bag, and bolted out the door. His mom decided to bake him his favorite cookies and serve them up warm and nice with a cool glass of milk when he came home from school. She just knew he would be disappointed - maybe that would ease the pain a little. It hurt her to think that he wouldn't get many valentines - maybe none at all.

 

That afternoon she had the cookies and milk on the table. When she heard the children outside, she looked out the window. Sure enough here they came, laughing and having the best time. And, as always, there was Chad in the rear. He walked a little faster than usual. She fully expected him to burst into tears as soon as he got inside. His arms were empty, she noticed, and when the door opened she choked back the tears. "Mommy has some warm cookies and milk for you." But he hardly heard her words. He just marched right on by, his face aglow, and all he could say was: "Not a one - not a one." Her heart sank. And then he added, "I didn't forget a one, not a single one!" (as told by Dale Galloway in Dream a New Dream)

 

I think Chad understood what it meant when Jesus said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." (Acts 20:35b, NIV)

 

Prayer for Today

Loving God, help us not to "forget a single one" we meet today who needs some kindness. Thank you for never forgetting a single one of us. In the strong name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:03 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, February 19 2019

When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man's eyes, saying to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, "Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?" Some were saying, "It is he." Others were saying, "No, but it is someone like him." He kept saying, "I am the man." But they kept asking him, "Then how were your eyes opened?" He answered, "The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, 'Go to Siloam and wash.' Then I went and washed and received my sight." They said to him, "Where is he?" He said, "I do not know." John 9:6-12

 

Have you had an experience where God has sent you into a place unknown? When it's a mission experience, often before we go, we are commissioned. In some traditions, this sending includes a laying on of hands, a simple, but powerful ritual of the body of Christ. In that moment, those being sent may have little idea of the journey ahead. Who will we meet? What new adventures will we have? How will we see God at work?

 

I have been journeying with some friends who have been traveling into the unknown, but not in the sense of a mission trip experience. They have been entering unknown places in their lives through some very new and unexpected experiences in their own community.

 

Where have you encountered a new mission in your own community?

 

Often on these journeys we experience transformation and healing. There is a good chance that those who didn't share the experience with you will notice a change in us when we return. We may not be able to articulate clearly why we have changed, but it is important to share our stories. Sharing our own experiences of being sent by Christ may indeed be an eye opener for others.

 

Take a moment today to think about an experience where God has sent you. What did you learn? How have you been changed? I would invite you to share this experience with someone else this week.

 

Prayer for Today

God, help us to share our experiences with others in such a way that they too may see you. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:01 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, February 18 2019

When I attended Louisville Presbyterian Seminary I found myself drawn to St. Anselm who emphasized

faith in search of understanding. I was searching out my place in life and drawn to inquire deep questions about God. Though faith can never be pinned down through logic I thought, and still do, that we need to be both believers and thinkers of our Christian faith.

 

I believe that God gave us scripture to slow us down to think. How we think of reality should be both challenged and informed by God's Word. Often we encounter what we might call polarities; opposites on a continuum that need each other in order to understand reality better.

 

Here is an example of a polarity that holds to opposite truths together:

 

       Look before you leap                He who hesitates is lost

 

Our Pastor's Sunday School class is a group of adults who take seriously St. Anselm's faith in search of understanding. Struggling together to understand death's place in life as well as death's role in deepening our faith in God we look at these two passage.

  

 

Proverbs 27:1 is typically paraphrased into a type of common wisdom that states, "tomorrow is promised to no one." We tend to lean into this wisdom when we experience tragedy and loss and realize the fragility of life. Here one day, gone the next. While the passage doesn't specifically state this you can infer this meaning into the text.

 

The polarity is that tomorrow is promised. When you read Psalm 139: 16-17, all the days of our lives are written in God's book even before we live them. There seem to be many tomorrows built into the wonderful tapestry God uses to knit us in our mother's womb. However, those days are numbered and we know not how many we are promised.

 

Come join us on Sundays if you want to think, use your brain and struggle with other faithful Christians as we seek to more deeply understand God and our place in the world.

 

Prayer for Today

Teach us to value each day as a gift from you, O Lord, and help us plan our lives with this wisdom so that in all we say and do, we will come to know you more deeply as we seek you. Amen.

Posted by: AT 01:58 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, February 15 2019
Finally, on January 8, 1964, seventeen-year-old Randy Gardner did something he hadn't done for eleven days and twenty-five minutes: he nodded off to sleep. He wanted to beat the Guinness Book World Record for how long a human could stay awake. By drinking soft drinks and hitting the basketball court and bowling alley, Gardner rebuffed sleep for a week and a half. Before finally collapsing, his sense of taste, smell, and hearing went haywire. Decades later, Gardner suffered from severe bouts of insomnia. He set the record but also confirmed the obvious: sleep is essential.

Many of us struggle to get a decent night's rest. Unlike Gardner who deprived himself intentionally, we might suffer sleeplessness for a number of reasons-including a mountain of anxieties: the fear of all we need to accomplish, the dread of others' expectations, the distress of living at a frantic pace. Sometimes it's hard for us to turn off the fear and relax.

The psalmist tells us that "unless the Lord builds the house," we labor in vain (Psalm 127:1). Our "toiling" and our relentless efforts are useless unless God provides what we need. Thankfully, God does provide what we need. He "grants sleep to those he loves" (v. 2). And God's love extends to all of us. He invites us to release our anxieties to Him and sink into His rest, into His grace.
 

By Winn Collier

 

Prayer for Today

God, I'm so anxious. I churn inside. Would You help me trust You with my night, with my day, with my life?  Amen.

Posted by: AT 01:56 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, February 14 2019

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

-John 13:34

 

 

 

We are back! The DR God Squad, or your JCPC mission team to the Dominican Republic, is back from our week of hauling and pouring nearly 30 tons of concrete and painting hundreds of square feet of the school in La Lachosa. In the coming weeks, I'll share more about that trip and our experiences, but for now, I want to say thank you.

 

It's Valentine's Day, and we are reminded that we are called to love one another as Christ loved us. We can do that in so many ways. The life Christ lived of sacrifice, humility, compassion, intentionality, awareness, and generosity can be emulated in so many ways. For ten of us, it was traveling to the DR to work and love and hug and listen and grow. For hundreds more, it was making that trip possible. A dozen JCPC members wrote prayer cards for the team. Dozens more donated school supplies, clothes, medicine, and even laptops. Still others made monetary donations, sponsored or played in the golf tournament, went fishin' for mission, or wrote a check. And dozens of our family members and friends pitched in to take us to and from the airport and care for our families in our absence. I'm grateful to my own family and my mother for supporting our mission team in that way. 

 

If you were a part of the support team by your time or treasures or prayers, our team is humbled and thankful. We hope you'll join a future trip as a commissioned mission team member or part of our amazing support team. Thank you for loving us and sending us to love those in need. 

 

Prayer for Today

 

God, make me one known by your love through sending and being sent. Amen.

Posted by: AT 01:55 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, February 13 2019

A while back, I pastored a church in Staunton, Virginia. Staunton is near Charlottesville, where I went to college and where I met my wife Pam. Pam worked as a news anchor at the TV station in Charlottesville, so whenever we drove there, we had to drive over Afton Mountain. The road wound up and through a pass in the Blue Ridge Mountains. When it was cloudy, the fog on Afton Mountain could get very thick. They actually put runway lights in the road because of the limited visibility. Occasionally there were multi-car accidents.

 

Last week I shared one of my poems. I heard from some of you who liked it, and others who did not really connect - but I appreciate the feedback. Last Sunday I preached on the "I AM" saying of Jesus, "I am the light of the world." The poem below was written when I was thinking about what it was like to follow the sometimes faint light God offers us in life. Faith is often a journey of trust. God rarely shows us the whole path of our lives before us. More often it is just one light at a time.

 

This Sunday we will finish up the "I Am" series talking about what it means when Jesus says, "I am the way." I know there are times I wish God would show me the whole way in life, but that is not God's way. So, we trust God -- one step, one light at a time. God's promise is that when we do that, he will eventually lead us to where we need to be. And I believe that is all we really need.

 

Crossing Afton Mountain

 

I move up the gradual incline

through fog thicker than sunlight

amber runway lights embedded in concrete

lead me deeper into the fog.

It is a faith journey of sorts.

 One light at a time,

trusting the road

and the road-maker

leading me on.

 

Prayer for Today

Thank you God, for leading us along our way in life. Help us to see enough light to take the next step of faith. Help us to trust you, for you are indeed trustworthy. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: AT 01:54 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, February 12 2019

Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 'This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 27:37-39

 

Love is not happy with evil. But it is full of joy when the truth is spoken. It always protects. It always trusts. It always hopes. It never gives up. 1 Corinthians 13: 6-7

 

Are you a noticer? Are you a keen observer of details? When do you do that best?

During a week when there are lots of expressions of love. I would invite you to share God's love by noticing others today. Rachel Macy Stafford, a writer and encourager, shared this invitation recently.
"Let us notice our endless efforts, rather than any less-than-desirable outcomes. Let us notice how hard people are working, not how quickly they are providing service. Let us notice where our love and kindness is needed, rather than spew criticism and scrutiny where it is not needed. Love others right where they are. Love others just as they are. Someone is just waiting for us to notice what's blooming (or wilting) inside that could use a little undivided attention. We are all just waiting for someone to notice- notice our pain, notice our scars, notice our fear, notice our joy, notice our triumphs, notice our courage. And the one who notices is a rare and beautiful gift."

 

How can you share God's love with someone in this way?

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious and Loving God, thank you for the gift of your unconditional love. Guide as we go through our day to be open to the ways you would have us share it today. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:57 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, February 11 2019

Yesterday in our Pastor's Sunday School class we watched a video by 

Dr. Tom Long which encouraged to befriend death in order to live more fully in love. He said:

 

"When we gain the deep knowledge that we are limited in days and incomplete in ourselves, this can draw us ever closer to the God who is immortal and who brings our life to completion."

 

Not too long after reading this quote, I was on Facebook looking to see if our DR mission team had made their daily posting. I didn't see one at that time, but I did see a post that my brother shared.

Charlie Brown's comment looks innocent enough. I've said it a time or two in my life and perhaps you have as well. "You only live once, Snoopy" has that "eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you might die." You only live once so make the best of it.

 

Snoopy's response is more in the vein of what Dr. Long was teaching. "Wrong! We only die once. We live every day!" The knowledge that we die and the limits that places on our days is the deep knowledge that can draw us closer to God. Somehow each day seems more precious and beckons for deeper love and appreciation.

 

As you know, I'm fond of dogs; especially Walker and Cowboy. On the summer like day we enjoyed last week I received two pictures via text messages. The picture on the left is of Walker with Debbie on a stroll at Caney Creek Park and on the right is Cowboy on a stroll on the campus of UGA with Maryneal.

 "Still, anyone selected out for life has hope, for, as they say, "A living dog is better than a dead lion." The living at least know something, even if it's only that they're going to die...Seize life...Each and every day of your precarious life. Each day is God's gift." 

-Ecclesiastes 9: 7-10 selected

 

Live and love fully!

 
Prayer for Today

God of wisdom, teach us that our days are numbered, and our moments limited so that as we turn our focus to you, we will grow more deeply in the knowledge of Love's wonderful gift to and for our lives; for you, O God, are LOVE. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:55 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, February 08 2019

Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs." And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.

-Matthew 19:13-15

 

Entonces le trajeron algunos niños para que pusiera las manos sobre ellos y orara; y los discípulos los reprendieron. Pero Jesús dijo: Dejad a los niños, y no les impidáis que vengan a mí, porque de los que son como éstos[a] es el reino de los cielos. Y después de poner las manos sobre ellos, se fue de allí.

-Mateo 19:13-15


 

We just finished our first work day in the Dominican Republic. Our mission team from JCPC is 10-strong and with help from Victoria Melin, we've dubbed ourselves the DR God Squad. We arrived this morning at the school that JCPC and its mission teams have helped to build over the last five years. And now, what started as a lot with boulders and garbage is a beautiful school teeming with 250 students.

 

As we got to work on paint jobs and a playground, a supply truck arrived with our concrete mix supplies. We all went to unload it. Moises, our long-time contact here and administrator for the local hospital walked with us to the tailgate. Then he stopped and grinned ear to ear. He held up a finger and we all paused. "Listen," he beamed. We did. Workers nearby laughed and cars drove by. But above all, children in the classrooms of two stories of the school could be heard. "The sound of children is music," he said. 

 

God tells us that it is children to whom the kingdom belongs. It is children we are to love, to welcome, to teach, and to emulate. And so this week, supported by each of you, we will labor in concrete and paint, to the music of children. Thank you for sending us and please continue to pray for the work we do and the lessons we will learn. 

 
Prayer for Today

God, bless the work we do for children so we may teach them and learn from them. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:54 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, February 07 2019

When a burly stranger approached my wife and me on a street abroad, we shrunk back in fear. Our holiday had been going badly; we had been yelled at, cheated, and extorted from several times. Were we going to be shaken down again? To our surprise, the man just wanted to show us where to get the best view of his city. Then he gave us a chocolate bar, smiled, and left. That little gesture made our day-and saved the whole trip. It made us grateful-both to the man and to God for cheering us up.

 

What had made the man reach out to two strangers? Had he gone around with a chocolate bar the entire day, looking to bless someone with it?

 

It's amazing how the smallest action can bring the biggest smile-and possibly direct someone to God. The Bible stresses the importance of doing good works (James 2:17, 24). If that sounds challenging, we have the assurance that God not only enables us to do these works, but has even "prepared [them] in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:10).

 

Perhaps God has arranged for us to "bump into" someone who needs a word of encouragement today or has given us an opportunity to offer someone a helping hand. All we have to do is respond in obedience.

 
Prayer for Today

Who can you pray for or help today? Who might God be putting in your path?

Posted by: AT 11:52 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, February 06 2019

Over the years I have learned to appreciate poetry. It began for me in high school when I had great teachers who gave me the tools to begin to understand what was going on with language and symbolism. I know that poetry is not everybody's favorite. Former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins used to joke about when the teacher would ask the class what a poem meant after reading it aloud. Most students suddenly found a reason to not make eye contact with the teacher, or maybe to drop their pencil and look down so they would not be called upon to respond.

 

In college I began to try to write my own poems. I learned that you had to be merciless in editing your own poetry. Over the years, I continued writing poetry simply because I enjoyed trying to express something meaningful in a relatively few words. I have even been fortunate enough to have a few of my poems published in journals. Though you do not make a lot of money writing poetry, it was nice to actually get a check in the mail and see one of my poems in print. Again, I realize that poetry in not for everyone, so if that is true for you, that is okay. But for those who like poetry, here is one of mine from of few years ago that was published. Enjoy!

 

            The View

 

            Eighth floor motel view --

            the vastness, the flatness of the land

            northeast of Denver

 

            This is openness . . .

            To lie spread-eagle

            like the land

            which stares up at the sky

            and God.

 

            No fetal positioning here.

            No roly-poly curling up

            in an armored, silver ball.

 

            From the moment of your birth,

            you are forced open

            flat on your back

            to face the sky

            and God.

 

            How can you look

            upon the face of God

            and live?

 

            Only, on your back.

 
Prayer for Today

 

Loving God, sometimes it is hard to be open with you. We often try to curl up and protect ourselves from your gaze, and yet you love us. Help us trust you with our innermost selves. Thank you for loving us - all of us. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

 

Also, here is the link to the "Virtual Reality" Church video I showed Sunday -- Enjoy! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_bkNkrWdz8

Posted by: AT 11:51 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, February 05 2019

I give you all the credit, God- you got me out of that mess, you didn't let my foes gloat. God, my God, I yelled for help and you put me together. God, you pulled me out of the grave, gave me another chance at life when I was down-and-out. All you saints! Sing your hearts out to God! Thank him to his face! He gets angry once in a while, but across a lifetime there is only love. The nights of crying your eyes out give way to days of laughter.  -Psalm 30:1-5

 

I reflected on the words of this Psalm this morning. What struck me was the message of hope in times of difficulty. Each one of us have been faced with experiences that brought shock, frustration, grief or loss in our lives. Sometimes life's challenges seem overwhelming. I read one person's story today and she reminded me that during the hard part, it's difficult to move into a place of hope. Sometimes we try to rush, or maybe rush someone else we care about, to get to the good part rather than move slowly. She reminded me that moving toward gratitude and hope takes being specific. She said, "True gratitude is not a discipline you can impose on yourself. It is a joyful and heartfelt response to grace - and it is often through the most minute openings that grace reaches us."

 

As Christians, those that are called to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world, we have hope that things can get better. The hope we have in Christ is alive and moving through our being, but sometimes we may need to take deliberate steps of being specific with our gratitude to slowly move back into the space where we are joyful and grateful.

 

So with this knowledge, "Sing your hearts out to God! Thank him to his face!" one small, simple expression of gratitude at a time. We experience a love far greater than one challenging set of circumstances. Go out and share this hope we have in Christ with the whole world.

 
Prayer for Today

God, guide me today. Help me to find ways that I can show Christ-like love to those I encounter today, and by that love to tell the world that hope is alive. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:12 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, February 04 2019

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux was known for his passionate prayers. He involved all of our human senses into his prayers so that his entire being was reaching out to make contact with God. Here's an example:

 

"Lord, with my mouth I touch and worship Thee, With all the strength I have I cling to Thee, With all my love I plunge my heart in Thee, My very life-blood would I drawn from Thee,- O Jesus, Jesus! Draw me into Thee!

How Sweet Thy savor is! Who tastes of Thee, O Jesus Christ, can relish naught but Thee; Who tastes Thy living sweetness lives by Thee; All else is void-the soul must die for Thee; So faints my heart,-so would I die for thee."

You get the flavor of his prayers. As the Caring team began planning our annual prayer vigil the theme of tasting and savoring filled our prayerful senses.

So in the prayerful tradition of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, the 9th Annual Prayer Vigil has this theme:

 

Coffee, Donuts, and Prayer

 

During a planning session, Alice Ann Nilsen told us about the importance of donut holes and coffee for those who were praying late into the evening and the wee early hours of the morning at last year's vigil. The donut holes were gobbled up in no time. This led Alice Ann to suggest that donut holes be served throughout the day and the night. We loved her idea.

Little did Alice Ann know that donut holes are an important part of the JCPC DNA. In the early formative days of Church of the Hills, donut holes greeted worshipers as they departed from Sunday morning worship. Those tiny donut holes packed a wallop perhaps in the same vein as Saint Bernard's statement; "How Sweet Thy Savor is!"

 

At the 9th annual, that's right, 9th annual prayer vigil on March 8th-9th from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. you will experience both the sweet savor of donut holes and prayer! Come pray with us and savor the taste of Coffee, Donuts, and Prayer!

 
Prayer for Today

Fill our senses with your presence O Lord, so that as we pray we will come to know you more fully and connect with you more deeply. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:08 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, February 01 2019

When they first met, Edwin Stanton snubbed U.S. President Abraham Lincoln personally and professionally-even referring to him as a "long-armed creature." But Lincoln appreciated Stanton's abilities and chose to forgive him, eventually appointing Stanton to a vital cabinet position during the Civil War. Stanton later grew to love Lincoln as a friend. It was Stanton who sat by Lincoln's bed throughout the night after the president was shot at Ford's Theater and whispered through tears on his passing, "Now he belongs to the ages."

 

Reconciliation is a beautiful thing. The apostle Peter pointed followers of Jesus there when he wrote, "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins" 

(1 Peter 4:8). Peter's words cause me to wonder if he was thinking of his own denial of Jesus (Luke 22:54-62) and the forgiveness Jesus offered him (and us) through the cross.

 

The deep love Jesus demonstrated through His death on the cross frees us from the debt for our sins and opens the way for our reconciliation with God (Colossians 1:19-20). His forgiveness empowers us to forgive others as we realize we can't forgive in our own strength and ask Him to help us. When we love others because our Savior loves them and forgive because He has forgiven us, God gives us strength to let go of the past and walk forward with Him into beautiful new places of grace.

 
Prayer for Today

Gracious God, give us the strength to let go of the past and walk forward with You into beautiful new places of grace.  Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:06 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
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