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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, March 29 2019

One day in physics class many years ago, our teacher asked us to tell him-without turning around-what color the back wall of the classroom was. None of us could answer, for we hadn't noticed.

 

Sometimes we miss or overlook the "stuff" of life simply because we can't take it all in. And sometimes we don't see what's been there all along.

 

It was like that for me as I recently read again the account of Jesus washing His disciples' feet. The story is a familiar one, for it is often read during Passion Week. That our Savior and King would stoop to cleanse the feet of His disciples awes us.

 

In Jesus's day, even Jewish servants were spared this task because it was seen as beneath them. But what I hadn't noticed before was that Jesus, who was both man and God, washed the feet of Judas. Even though He knew Judas would betray Him, as we see in John 13:11, Jesus still humbled Himself and washed Judas' feet.

 

Love poured out in a basin of water-love that He shared even with the one who would betray Him. As we ponder the events of this week leading up to the celebration of Jesus' resurrection, may we too be given the gift of humility so that we can extend Jesus' love to our friends and any enemies.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord Jesus Christ, fill my heart with love that I might roll up my sleeves and wash the feet of others for Your glory.  Amen.

Posted by: AT 06:39 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, March 28 2019

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.

-Matthew 18:20

 

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

-Romans 8:31

 

This year, I've been privileged to join a group of interfaith clergy that gathers for breakfast each month. Pastors Gray and Neal, myself, several other pastors, two Imams, and a Rabbi. We take turns hosting this gathering. The last was held at a nearby Mosque. We discussed many things, including the upcoming National Day of Prayer in May. We will all be present to offer prayers that day for our first responders and armed forces. 

 

This gathering of faith community leaders from the Abrahamic traditions share a faith in one God and a faith that God has created us and loves us and is still among us. And as each of our faith communities has been attacked by gunmen in the year since our last National Day of Prayer, each gathering where we stand to pray is in defiance of the terror and violence of extremists who put their trust in hateful ideologies and not the God of peace we share and serve and love. 

 

We gather in peace, in shalom, in salam. We gather in the name of God. And where two or more gather, God is in that place. And since God is with us, no one can be against us. On May 2, I hope you'll spend a few minutes in prayer. And I hope you'll remember those who have died for their faith and because of their faith. And I hope you will live for that peace and work for peace. 

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, make me a peacemaker who trusts in your name and seeks to love each of your children. Amen.

Posted by: AT 06:37 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, March 27 2019

May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice. Psalm 141:2, NIV

 

William Barclay was not only a first-rate New Testament Bible scholar, he was also gifted in writing prayers. When you read his prayers, you sense someone whose faith is both deep and genuine. He not only prays with spiritual insight, he uses beautifully-crafted language to express these thoughts. I have a book of his prayers that I return to often simply because of the excellent quality of these words spoken to God. They not only express how we think and feel - they are almost like little sermons. Here is one Barclay created for the season of Lent. Enjoy it. Pray it. Be inspired by it:

O God, our Father, help us through this day so to live that we may bring help to others, credit to ourselves and to the name we bear, and joy to those that love us, and to you.

 

Cheerful when things go wrong;

Persevering when things are difficult;

Serene when things are irritating.

 

Enable us to be:

 

Helpful to those in difficulties;

Kind to those in need;

Sympathetic to those whose hearts are sore and sad.

 

Grant that:

 

Nothing may make us lose our tempers;

Nothing may take away our joy;

Nothing may ruffle our peace;

Nothing may make us bitter towards anyone.

 

Prayer for Today

So grant that through all this day all those with whom we work, and all those whom we meet, may see in us a reflection of the master, whose we are, and whom we seek to serve. This we ask for your love's sake. Amen.

Posted by: AT 06:36 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, March 26 2019

Over the past couple of weeks, I have seen and heard messages related to fear. Sometimes I notice my own fear and other times I don't realize I'm acting out of fear until someone else notices it.

I can think of many times throughout scripture where God says, "Do not fear..." This passage in Isaiah is one that stays with me.

 

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.Isaiah 43:1-2

 

Many times the emotions we experience from those around us reflect how people deal with uncertainty. Life's difficulties can bring out the best of us and the worst of us. We notice grief, fear, and anxiety in ourselves and others around us.

Paul's letter to Timothy reminds us that, God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self-control. 2 Timothy 1:7

 

When we can understand that it is fear, anxiety, grief or hopelessness talking, we can realize the unexpected outburst is not about us. It then allows us to respond to the hurting person in a way we could not have before. I find it quite miraculous what we can give when we know the pain that someone is dealing within.

 

How can you respond to fear in a new way knowing that God says, "I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you..."?

 

Prayer for Today

 

Creator God, In your love you have called us to know you, led us to trust you, and bound our life with yours. Fill us with the Holy Spirit. Guide us so that we may walk in the way of Christ, and continue to grow in the knowledge of your love. 

In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 06:32 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, March 25 2019

A friend and I went for a walk with her grand-kids. While pushing the stroller, she commented that her steps were being wasted-they weren't being counted on the activity tracker she wore on her wrist because she wasn't swinging her arm. I reminded her that those steps were still helping her physical health. "Yeah," she laughed. "But I really want that electronic gold star!"

 

I understand how she feels! Working toward something without immediate results is disheartening. But rewards aren't always immediate or immediately visible.

 

When that's the case, it's easy to feel that the good things we do are useless, even helping a friend or being kind to a stranger. Paul explained to the church in Galatia, however, that "a man reaps what he sows" (Galatians 6:7). But we must "not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest" (v. 9). Doing good isn't the way to gain salvation, and the text doesn't specify whether what we reap will be now or in heaven, but we can be assured that there will be "a harvest of blessing" (6:9 nlt).

 

Doing good is difficult, especially when we don't see or know what the "harvest" will be. But as with my friend who still gained the physical benefit from walking, it's worth continuing to do good because the blessing is coming!

 

Prayer for Today

 

Are you discouraged? Ask God to help you trust Him to be faithful in what He's called you to do. Help me do a good thing for someone today.  Amen.

Posted by: AT 06:30 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, March 22 2019

On January 30, 2018, almost thirty-eight years after his conviction, Malcolm Alexander walked out of prison a free man. DNA evidence cleared Alexander, who had steadfastly maintained his innocence amid a myriad of court proceedings that were tragically unjust. An incompetent defense attorney (later disbarred), shoddy evidence, and dubious investigative tactics all put an innocent man in prison for nearly four decades. When he was finally released, however, Alexander showed immense grace. "You cannot be angry," he said. "There's not enough time to be angry."


Alexander's words evidence a deep grace. If injustice robbed us of thirty-eight years of our lives and destroyed our reputations, we would likely be angry, furious. Though Alexander spent many long, heartbreaking years bearing the burden of wrongs inflicted upon him, he wasn't undone by the evil. Rather than exerting his energy trying to get revenge, he exhibited the posture Peter instructs: "Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult" (1 Peter 3:9).

The Scriptures go a step further: rather than seeking vengeance, the apostle Peter tells us we are to bless (v. 9). We extend forgiveness, the hope of well-being, for those who have unjustly wronged us. Without excusing their evil actions, we can meet them with God's scandalous mercy. On the cross, Jesus bore the burden of our wrongs, that we might receive grace and extend it to others-even those who have wronged us.
 

Prayer for Today

Lord, lead me to places and people and your Word, that my thoughts may be deep, discussed, and inspired by your Spirit. Help me to pray with and for all my neighbors and be driven by your Spirit to righteous action to make this world more like your kingdom. Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:48 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, March 21 2019

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord's people.

-Ephesians 6:18 (the NT)

 

Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.

-Proverbs 4:6-7 (the Torah/OT)

 

Recite what is sent of the Book by inspiration to thee, and establish Regular Prayer: for Prayer restrains from shameful and unjust deeds; and remembrance of God is the greatest (thing in life) without doubt. And God knows the (deeds) that you do.

-al-Ankabut 45

 

"Our thoughts and our prayers are with you." What used to be the safest and kindest expression of love and support in times of crisis, from natural disasters to terrorist attacks has become a lightning rod of lately. However, lately it's been attacked for being a call to inaction. The criticism that little has changed in our world and nation as public spaces, schools, and houses of prayer are attacked again and again is fair. We have not made as much progress as needed. But there's more going on in this phrase. 

 

For us as believers, we believe prayer IS an action. While we can pray alone, it is central to our core identity among many world religions to gather for prayer, to pray the same prayer, to have prayer leaders and prayer postures and prayer places and times. We can now say Charleston, Pittsburgh, and Christchurch and all know we are referring to violent shootings of peaceful people... praying. To insist that prayer is not an action is to denigrate the lives of those who gathered in those places. And the same is true of our school shootings. They were in those places to learn to think for the rest of their lives. Schools are gatherings of people deep in thought. We build houses of learning and houses of prayer to foster thoughts and prayers. Because people of wisdom and prayer can change our world for the better.

 

Anyone can change the world. As my friend David LaMotte reminds me often, we change the world by being in it. So, brothers and sisters, we are called to change it for good. And the first step, the first action, is thoughts and prayers. And I promise, if you gather with me and the pastors and rabbis and imams I'm proud to know, it won't be the last thing you do. It'll be the first of many good things. After the Pittsburgh shooting, I attended Friday evening service at Dor Tamid. And last week, after the Christchurch tragedy, Pastor Gray attended prayer service at the mosque on Friday. Brothers and sisters, prayer, with our neighbors is a holy act. This Lent, I encourage you to pray for and with people you've never prayed for and with ever before. Your thoughts and prayers are needed to change this world. 

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, lead me to places and people and your Word, that my thoughts may be deep, discussed, and inspired by your Spirit. Help me to pray with and for all my neighbors and be driven by your Spirit to righteous action to make this world more like your kingdom. Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:47 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, March 20 2019

This morning during my quiet time, I finished reading the last of "Fifty Passages from the Bible" that were printed on a bookmark we gave out on September 11, 2016 - the day we dedicated our new buildings. Dr. Tom Tewell preached that Sunday, and this was his list of fifty recommended readings from the Bible. (You can still pick up this bookmark in the  Church Office.) I have enjoyed reading through these. Tom has a great sense of which passages in the Bible everyone should read. This was the last passage on the list from Revelation 21:1-5a:

 

Then I saw "a new heaven and a new earth," for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 'He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death'or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!"

 

Revelation is a challenging book to understand, but many believe this is a picture of when heaven and earth will finally come together, and everything will be as it should be. Presently, there is so much pain and suffering in our world. We all long for a time when these things will end: when God will dwell among us, God will rule lovingly over all of creation, and everything will be made new!

 

So, what do we do until then? We wait. We hope. Yet, our waiting is not passive. We actively "lean into" God's future. And we live our lives here and now -- doing what we can to make our part of this world what it will one day be completely.

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, thank you for the hopeful promise of how this world will one day be. Until then, help us to live each day, leaning into and living on your love. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:45 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, March 19 2019

Jesus, grilled by the Pharisees on when the kingdom of God would come, answered, "The kingdom of God doesn't come by counting the days on the calendar. Nor when someone says, 'Look here!' or, 'There it is!' And why? Because God's kingdom is already among you." Luke 17:20-21

 

This passage was shared with me during our Women's Retreat a couple of years ago. Since that time it's been a reminder to me to be aware of how God's kingdom is already among us. How do we live each day knowing God is with us and among us? How does that impact how we treat others and ourselves? As a part of that retreat experience, we were invited to write a letter from God to ourselves. I was surprised during the course of this prayer practice by what God had to say to me. It wasn't a letter of judgement, but rather a letter filled with grace. God invited me to show more grace to myself, and to those around me.

 

Anytime I try a different type of prayer practice, God has used it to help me grow in my understanding.

 

We have a unique opportunity to walk a labyrinth tomorrow in our Great Hall. This prayer experience is an ancient way to connect with God. A walking prayer practice has been a meaningful way for me to set aside all that is running through my mind and pause to really pray without distraction.

 

I would invite you to come tomorrow sometime between 4:00 and 9:00 p.m. to see what God might be saying to you during this Lenten season and in this prayer time.

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, as we enter into this day, may our lives be sustained through the love of you Our Heavenly Father. May we feel the presence of our Savior walking beside us, and know the power of the Spirit in both our actions and our words. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:44 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, March 18 2019

I came across this picture the other day. How would you like to live at the intersection of Easy Street and Shamrock?!! Could it get any better than that? Having just observed St. Patrick's Day I think not.

However as we are observing the season of Lent we have to pause and ask ourselves the question, "Is life about finding Easy Street? I think Lent is fashioned to serve as a reminder that in this world there is no Easy Street because there is no bypass to suffering.

 

That's a message not easily received. Wouldn't we like to bypass suffering, get so lucky as to find a shamrock and avoid the messiness of life? Lent redirects our attention to look further on down the road and we need to look no further than Jesus and his disciples. Half of the gospel of Mark is Jesus preparing his disciples for his trip to Jerusalem and his fated execution on the cross. No Easy Street for this Messiah. His disciples didn't understand because they thought the Messiah was destined to enter Jerusalem to the tune of "Good ole days are here again." Even those closest to our Lord, his disciples, couldn't comprehend what it meant that the Messiah would be the Suffering Servant." One theologian I have read affectionately calls them the fallible faithful.

 

To be fair, I think there is something about the notion that suffering leads to redemption that gets us most of the time. I often point out that we love Psalm 23, The Lord is my Shepherd, yet we bypass Psalm 22, My God, My God, why have you forsaken me. Once I emphasized this point to a group by reading Psalm 23 and then Psalm 22 and 23 together. When I asked the group what it sounded like combining the two Psalms together, one participant said, "my mind just wanted to bypass Psalm 22 to get right to Psalm 23.I understood.

 

Lent won't let us bypass Psalm 22 and its witness to suffering. But there is good news there. The good news is that there is redemption in suffering. This is the message of the cross and resurrection!

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, slow us down this season of Lent to open our minds and hearts to the messages of suffering and your promise to be there with us and for us in our struggles. Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:44 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, March 15 2019

Working in the corporate world allowed me to interact with many talented and levelheaded people. However, one project led by an out-of-town supervisor was an exception.

 

Regardless of our team's progress, this manager harshly criticized our work and demanded more effort during each weekly status phone call. These run-ins left me discouraged and fearful. At times, I wanted to quit.

 

It's possible that Moses felt like quitting when he encountered Pharaoh during the plague of darkness. God had hurled eight other epic disasters at Egypt, and Pharaoh finally exploded, "[Moses,] get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again! The day you see my face you will die" (Exodus 10:28).

 

Despite this threat, Moses eventually was used by God to free the Israelites from Pharaoh's control. "[By faith] Moses left the land of Egypt, not fearing the king's anger. He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible" (Hebrews 11:27 nlt). Moses overcame Pharaoh by believing that God would keep His promise of deliverance (Exodus 3:17).

 

Today, we can rely on the promise that God is with us in every situation, supporting us through His Holy Spirit. He helps us resist the pressure of intimidation and wrong responses to it by granting us supernatural power, love, and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). The Spirit provides the courage we need to keep going and to follow God's leading in our lives.

 

Prayer for Today

When situations upset me, God, help me to remember to rely on you.  Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:42 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, March 14 2019

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

-I Corinthians 13:1

 

Churchy language/ Christianese

 

A local priest and a pastor were fishing on the side of the road. They thoughtfully made a sign saying, "The end is near! Turn yourself around now before it's too late!" and showed it to each passing car.

 

One driver who drove by didn't appreciate the sign and shouted at them, "Leave us alone, you religious nuts!"

 

All of a sudden they heard a big splash, looked at each other, and the priest said to the pastor, "You think maybe we should have just said 'Bridge Out' instead?"

 

There's a temptation among Christians, and especially Presbyterians, to use lots of insider language and lingo. Sometimes in prayer, sometimes in signage, in acronyms, or group names. If you've ever belonged to an organization you refer to as two letters followed by PC or Prez, have any clue what a PNC, the CPM or COM or an EP or the GA, you're definitely Presby. Such lingo is hard for outsiders who want to join. So, maybe for Lent, one spiritual practice would be to practice saying things in plain English. "I go to a Presbyterian church in Johns Creek, neighbor. We go to a class between worship services that the pastors teach and our kids go with the the teenagers downstairs to their hangout for a class." Tell me your story of speaking NOT in tongues this week. 

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, help me to speak so others may understand and live so others may seek to follow. Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:40 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, March 13 2019

I was looking for something in my church office closet yesterday, when I came across a framed reproduction of a Rembrandt painting from a sermon series. It shows the disciples in a boat with Jesus during a storm. The painting was just sitting in my closet, so I decided to hang it in my office. I found a spot right next to my desk so I can look at it often. The painting is very dark because it is a storm at night on a very rough Sea of Galilee. Waves are crashing over the side of the boat, and the disciples try to tie down sails that look like they are about to tear apart. Meanwhile, Jesus sits peacefully in the back of the boat while all of this is happening.

 

You may remember the story. Jesus was actually asleep in the back of the boat when the storm hits. The disciples are panicked that Jesus doesn't seem very concerned about their boat in the storm. I remember preaching a sermon on this that reminded us the safest place in the storm is in the boat with Jesus. You may also remember the end of the story. Jesus tells the storm to quiet down - and it does!

 

 

One of the reasons I like the painting is because I think the boat represents the church. Throughout history, artists have used the image of a boat or ship at sea to represent the church. Some even trace it back to Noah and the ark. But for me, I think it describes what it is like to be the church in our day and time. While we may not face anything like the persecutions some Christians face in other parts of the world, it is not exactly smooth sailing when it comes to being the church. Maybe the best we can do in the stormy times of today is to trust Jesus and hang on until the storm dies down. Whatever we face in life, it is good to know Jesus is with us! Jesus said, "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:20, NIV)

 

Prayer for Today

Thank you, Lord, for being with us in the storms of life. Help us to trust in you to see us through. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:38 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, March 12 2019

A mom was sharing these words from her teenage daughter as they were sitting near the bank of rushing river. "Do you hear that? Isn't it beautiful? It sounds so soothing." The mother shared that celebratory tears filled her eyes. She thought: "She's learning how to fill her cup. She is learning what soothes her soul. She's learning what she needs to thrive."
 

Where do you go for rest? What do you do to recharge? I believe that God longs for us to find times and places to soak in the gifts of creation and fill our cup, soothe our soul and thrive. 
 

Author and Pastor, MaryAnn McKibben Dana says "I've preached on the story of the Hebrew people as slaves in Egypt and how Pharaoh heaped more and more work on them. I said, 'Sabbath isn't about being well rested so you can go back to Pharaoh's job site. Sabbath is about realizing that you don't want to make those bricks anymore."
So when you take time for Sabbath it's not just about the rest and renewal that you experience, but rather the perspective that you gain from giving your brain and body a break or diving into things that re-energize you. Given MaryAnn's perspective, how would you re-evaluate your "work" and your "Sabbath"? What are the things in your work load that could be done differently or taken off your plate? How can you spend time in Sabbath so that you gain perspective on how you spend the hours and days in your week? What are you being called to do with each day?
 

She went on to share a quote from Mike Rowe of "Dirty Jobs", "The happiest people I've met over the last few years have not followed their passion at all-they have instead brought it with them." So wherever you are in work life and family life, bring your passion and joy for life with you and know that you don't walk this journey alone.
 

But now, God's Message, the God who made you in the first place, Jacob, the One who got you started, Israel: "Don't be afraid, I've redeemed you. I've called your name. You're mine. When you're in over your head, I'll be there with you. When you're in rough waters, you will not go down. When you're between a rock and a hard place, it won't be a dead end- Because I am God, your personal God, The Holy of Israel, your Savior. I paid a huge price for you: all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in! That's how much you mean to me! That's how much I love you! I'd sell off the whole world to get you back, trade the creation just for you. Isaiah 43:1-4, The Message

 

Prayer for Today

Thank you, Gracious God, for granting us signs to see your mighty work among us. Strengthen us and embolden us to have hope in things unseen so that as we look back on our ministry here at JCPC we will gain a deep appreciation for all that you have done through us. Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:37 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, March 11 2019

 

Have you ever seen any of these oak leaves in our doorway here at JCPC? They are leaves that find their way into our buildings whenever we get a storm or a windy day. Over twenty years ago, oak trees were planted around our facilities with the hope that someday majestic oaks would shade our property. What the planters couldn't foresee is the constant pilgrimage these uninvited guests, these oak leaves, entering into our buildings whenever a door is opened.

 

I must confess that I find them to be an annoyance and I'm sure Richard Myer would agree that they cause a lot of clean-up work. However, last week I found myself looking at these leaves in a different manner. You see it takes opened doors to invite these leaves into our buildings and that's a good thing. During preschool recognition Sunday, Gray pointed out that there are several thousand Friends of JCPC and that as our invited guests they regularly enter JCPC to grace us with their ministry or mission. Gray mentioned that when you add up 175 preschoolers, their parents and grandparent you average about 500 people visiting JCPC weekly. We truly are impacting lives! When you add in our 13 AA meetings, our scouting programs, CanCare, Fine Arts Academy, etc. the number reaches up into the thousands each month.

 

Throughout the week our doors are opened and the leaves enter. Could it be that these uninvited leaves are really signs of the footsteps of our invited guests?!! When I allowed my annoyance of these leaves to be reframed into a deeper sense of appreciation for their message I noticed a shift in me. It was as if God's timeline became more visible for the moment. The faithful who planted these wonderful oak trees had hoped in the unseen. They could not have possibly seen these symbolic leaves when they were planting the saplings. However, the hope certainly was based in what Hebrews 11:1 states:

 

"Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see."

 

Since the planting of Church of the Hills which is now JCPC, thousands upon thousands have experienced God's hospitable love in this place. How do I know? I've learned to read the leaves!

 

 

Prayer for Today

Thank you, Gracious God, for granting us signs to see your mighty work among us. Strengthen us and embolden us to have hope in things unseen so that as we look back on our ministry here at JCPC we will gain a deep appreciation for all that you have done through us. Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:35 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, March 08 2019

As the enemy occupation of the Netherlands increased, Anne Frank and her family bravely prepared and then moved to a secret hiding place to escape the danger. They hid there two years during World War II before being found and sent to concentration camps. Yet Anne, writing in what became her famous Diary of a Young Girl, said this: "In the long run, the sharpest weapon of all is a kind and gentle spirit."

Gentleness can be a complicated issue as we deal with real life.

 

In Isaiah 40 we get a picture of God that shows Him to be both gentle and powerful. In verse 11 we read: "He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms." But that verse follows this: "See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm" (v. 10). Full of power, but gentle when it comes to protecting the vulnerable.

 

And think of Jesus, who fashioned a whip and brandished it as He flipped over the money-changers tables in the temple but who also gently cared for children. He used powerful words to denounce the Pharisees (Matthew 23) but forgave a woman who needed His gentle mercy (John 8:1-11).

 

While there may be times to stand up with power for the weak and challenge others to pursue justice-we're also to "let [our] gentleness be evident to all" (Philippians 4:5). As we serve God, sometimes our greatest strength reveals a heart of gentleness to those in need.

 

Prayer for Today

Help us gently but firmly promote justice and mercy today, and that the Holy Spirit will help us be both gentle and powerful.  Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:54 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, March 07 2019

Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and 

people.

-Proverbs 3:3-4

 

Lent began last night with Ash Wednesday. This begins a yearly 40-day season of reflection and repentance in the Church. An intentional period of time to reflect is essential to discipleship and our faith. I was fortunate to have just such a time this past week in Arkansas. Our denomination offers a retreat for "mid-career" pastors based on a program by the Episcopalians, called CREDO. I spent a week of continuing education with 30 other Presbyterian pastors and eight faculty at Ferncliff Camp & Conference Center taking classes and meeting with a small group and various faculty members. I'm incredibly grateful for the support I received to go and learn there. 

 

One of our areas of focus was especially relevant for us given the season. We studied spiritual practices and worshipped together each day. Hearing new ideas from our adviser and from other pastors was valuable to enriching my own faith life. I now have some ideas for things I want to try for Lent.

 

I hope that as we enter Lent, you'll consider not just things you want to give up, but new practices to add or try for these 40 days. At JCPC, we have personal devotional guides and ones for families. You can try a new prayer practice. You can join us tomorrow night for a one hour shift in the chapel or walk the labyrinth downstairs in the Youth Garage. You can write an email or a real letter of encouragement to family or friends each day or each week. Try something new this year that connects you to your faith and your faith family.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, help me be intentional for these 40 days and to find ways to grow closer to you. Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:50 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, March 06 2019

Today begins our season of Lent. Tonight, at our Ash Wednesday service beginning at 7:00 p.m., we will enter into a time of preparation for the coming of Easter. So, why exactly do we put ashes on our foreheads? Traditionally, it goes back to practices that Christians have used to symbolize penitence and mourning for our sins. I have to admit that those things seem somewhat out of touch with our world today. How many of us even know exactly what the word "penitence" means? And "mourning" our sins? Most of the time I see people "celebrating" their sins -- or at least challenging anyone who calls anything a "sin" anymore.

 

But, maybe that's exactly why we need something like Ash Wednesday - to remind us of something important we may have forgotten. We do this not to beat up on ourselves in some masochistic way, but to admit we all have missed the mark, and we all need some help to find our way back home.

 

I like the way the writer Anne Lamott talks honestly about her experience of Ash Wednesday:

Ash Wednesday came early this year. It is supposed to be about preparation, about consecration, about moving toward Easter, toward resurrection and renewal. It offers us a chance to break through the distractions that keep us from living the basic Easter message of love, of liv­ing in wonder rather than doubt. For some people, it is about fasting, to symbolize both solidarity with the hungry and the hunger for God. (I, on the other hand, am not heavily into fasting; the thought of missing even a single meal sends me running in search of Ben and Jerry's Mint Oreo.) (From Traveling Mercies)

I hope you will make time in your busy schedule to join us tonight at JCPC for our Ash Wednesday service at 7:00 p.m. I also want to ask you to come this Sunday at 10:00 a.m. in the Great Hall for a wonderfully inspirational presentation by our recent Mission Team to the DR. I believe both will be well worth your time!

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, we are too busy. Maybe one reason we are too busy is so that we don't have to slow down enough to think about life. So, help us to slow down today, tonight, and in the coming days -- that we might find rest and renewal for our souls. We ask this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:49 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, March 05 2019

As I am preparing for my own journey this Lent, I read this scripture and prayer from a new book recommended by a colleague (The Awkward Season, Prayers for Lent).

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Psalm 51:10

 

What will you pray for as you prepare for Ash Wednesday tomorrow? What new practice will you take on this Lenten season? What will you let go of?

There will be devotions and resources available tomorrow and throughout Lent. I would invite you to take something home with you.

 

The prayer of confession shared in this book was a helpful one for me to consider.

 

Prayer for Today

O God, who makes all things new, new stars, new dust, new life; take my heart, every hardened edge and measured beat, and create something new in me. By the power of your Spirit, I need to be turned toward Love again. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:47 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, March 04 2019

Our 24 hour prayer vigil begins this Friday at 10:00 a.m. I hope that you have signed up to pray with us during one of the one-hour time frames. Gray always says that you don't have to pray for 24 hours and that is true; however, when you are participating in one of these time frames you help to ensure that our family of faith is collectively praying for 24 hours.

 

At our session retreat several weeks ago Presbytery Executive Rev. Aisha Brooks-Lytle, discussed potential barriers to prayer. While prayer is meant to be at the center of our daily lives most of us will confess that often that we have some discomfort with our prayer life. I want to invite you to think of the following hurdles to prayer and how the prayer vigil can help to remove these barriers.

 

Hurdle 1-" I don't feel comfortable praying out loud." During the vigil you pray silently.

 

Hurdle 2- "I don't know what to pray for." We provide prayer guides and a sheet of needs submitted to us over the past month so that we can pray for specific needs.

 

Hurdle 3- "I'm so busy I forget to pray." By committing to one hour of prayer in the sanctuary you will intentionally spend time with God in prayer. Slowing down to pray can be transformative.

 

Hurdle 4- "I don't like praying in front of people." You will experience an intimate sense of solitude in the sanctuary so the sense of any other people in the sanctuary will disappear.

 

Hurdle 5- " Praying for 1 hour seems like a long time." Past participants regularly say they had this concern but experience a sense of calm that lessened their time consciousness and that the 1 hour really flew by.

 

If you are experiencing a hurdle feel free to discuss this with one of the pastors, Allison, Alice Ann, or past participants. Get over the hurdles and come pray with us!

 

 

Prayer for Today

Help us to stay faithful in prayer, O Lord, removing any of our hurdles so that we will pray without ceasing and find our rest in you when we join together with you in prayer. Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:46 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, March 01 2019

And all who believed were together and had all things in common.

-Acts 2:44

 

 

The mission trip to the Dominican Republic remains fresh in my mind and I wanted to share another story from our time there. As a teacher and someone who works with young people, I observe their behavior wherever I go. Some things are different because of culture, language, region, or religion. Some are not. 

 

As I was painting the second floor of the school in La Lachosa with Tom Traylor, I noticed two little girls skipping and holding hands down the balcony, whispering to each other. One whispered she'd see the other again soon. Then they parted and entered different classrooms. It was mid-school day, so it was easy to surmise they had timed their bathroom break from class to meet up and skip class for a moment. It reminded me of my friends growing up who did the same thing. It's soldiering to know that wherever you go, friends skip class together. 

 

The moment was echoed again on Sunday as the Haitian pastor preached to us in the Batey, the small sugar cane village. He said he was old with black skin and white hair and pointed at me to say I was young with white skin and black hair... but we were both pastors. Both children of God. He reminded us that the miles between us were not miles between us and God who loves us, nor did they keep us from being brothers and sisters in that God. This week, remember we are not so different. Each person you meet is a child of God, beloved, and carrying more in common with you than you may ever imagine. 

 

Prayer for Today

God, help me to see what connects me to each of my brothers and sisters I meet. Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:44 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
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