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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, May 31 2019

I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.

-Deuteronomy 15:11

 

 

 

On the outskirts of Paris, as in other cities around the globe, people are coming to the aid of the homeless in their communities. Clothing, covered in waterproof bags, is hung on designated fences for those living on the streets to take according to their needs. The bags are labeled, "I'm not lost; I'm for you if you're cold." The effort not only warms those without shelter, but also teaches those in the community the importance of assisting the needy among them.

 

The Bible highlights the importance of caring for those who are poor, instructing us to be "openhanded" toward them (Deuteronomy 15:11). We might be tempted to avert our eyes to the plight of the poor, holding tightly to our resources instead of sharing them. Yet God challenges us to recognize that we will always be surrounded by those who have needs and therefore to respond to them with generosity, not a "grudging heart" (v. 10). Jesus says that in giving to the poor we receive an enduring treasure in heaven (Luke 12:33).

 

Our generosity may not be recognized by anyone other than God. Yet when we give freely, we not only meet the needs of those around us but we also experience the joy God intends for us in providing for others. Help us, Lord, to have open eyes and open hands to supply the needs of those You place in our paths.

 

Prayer for Today

Are you holding too tightly to your resources? If yes, why? What need can you fill today?

Generosity displays confidence in God's loving and faithful provision.

Posted by: AT 05:00 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, May 30 2019

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

-1 Thessalonians 5:18



 

 

Like most parents, we try hard to offer more praise, encouragement, and affirmation than criticism to our kids. This can be challenging. Like adults, they have so much to learn and a strong inclination not to do so. After one particularly difficult and challenging evening last week after much lecturing and frustration about contributing and being grateful, Jessica and I settled in to cook dinner. Our oldest wandered into the kitchen and hugged my wife and mumbled. Then he hugged me and mumbled again, "thanks for getting me this far."

 

I was struck by his gesture and his little heart that generated it. I wondered to myself if I had thanked enough people this week and if my prayer life had recently included that sentiment. I had earlier in the week attended both a church preschool graduation and a public high school graduation. At the former, there was a strong emphasis on gratitude to the parents and teachers and of course, to God. At the latter, I listened to three of their top grads give speeches. They lauded the student body and its accomplishments. But I never heard them thank their teachers, faculty, coaches, parents, or administrators who have made it one of the top schools in the state and nation. The difference was glaring. Gratitude. 

 

When JCPC celebrated our graduates a few weeks ago, I saw proud parents and mentors. They all stepped forward and surrounded our grads to show them love once more in the laying on of hands and prayer. I know how grateful these kids are for the love they've received and the encouragement and challenges. We've all had those people and moments. This week, I encourage you to write a letter or make a call to your mentors and supporters, parents and coaches and teachers. Thank them. And do some reflection. Are you showing gratitude by offering that same guidance to someone else now? And have you said a prayer to the one who gives us parents and mentors? Have you said, "thanks for getting me this far?"

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, thanks for getting me this far. Thank you for every mentor and teacher you've given me, your prophets, and your son, the rabbi, teacher, our brother. Help me to be a good mentor and teacher to the young people in my life. Amen. 

Posted by: AT 04:57 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, May 29 2019

Worship the Lord with gladness...

-Psalm 100:2a, NIV

 

In February of 2018, our church family began our "Dare 2 Dream" long-range planning process. We invited everyone to attend on four consecutive Sundays. We wanted to envision what God might be calling Johns Creek Presbyterian Church to do in the coming years. Many of you attended and shared your best insights regarding what God's vision might be.

 

Last fall, we took the ideas shared by our congregation and shaped them into our "Dare 2 Dream" long-range plan. (Copies of that plan can be found throughout the church.) Goal #4 was summarized this way: "Explore ways to enhance the variety in our existing worship services, and the possibility of adding new worship services." We set a Spring 2019 to Winter 2020 time-frame for implementation. A Task Force was created in February to survey the congregation about ways to "enhance the variety" in worship. During this past April, we asked everyone in worship to take that survey - either on paper or online. Thank you to everyone who took the time to do that!

 

Our Task Force took that information and summarized the key points of the survey. All of the survey information was shared -- first with our Worship Ministry Team, and then with our Session. Both the Worship Ministry Team and our Session agreed with the findings and the suggested courses of action, which are beginning soon. The Worship Ministry Team will be using all of this information to guide new enhancements to worship in the coming months.

 

By clicking here, you will see these observations that were presented to the Worship Ministry Team and the Session. We hope you will take time to review this information. If you would like to see the complete survey data, including comments, (but without the names of those who responded), simply contact the church office. We will gladly provide you a copy.

 

We are excited at some of the suggestions that came from our church family. If you have any questions, or would like to talk further about this, you can contact me or our elders serving on the Worship Ministry Team -- Angela Baker and Spencer Olsen. Also, please pray for JCPC, that we would continue to worship God well - because, as we say around JCPC, "Worship is the most important thing we do!"

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, bless Johns Creek Presbyterian Church - that we might reflect the light of your love out into our world. May we also reflect the praise of our world back to you through our worship. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: AT 04:55 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, May 28 2019

Do you prefer to be comfortable? Often we can devote our time, money, and energy to keeping it that way. If it's hot in the summer we turn on the AC. If it's cold in the winter we crank up the heat.  Your closest friends tend to be those that you feel the most comfortable around. And there's nothing wrong with being comfortable-the problem is when we become too comfortable. God didn't create us just to be comfortable. He calls us to live for something much bigger. 

 

Relationships are sometimes the hardest area for us to be stretched in. It's easy to get so caught up with our circle of friends that we don't make room for anyone new. When have you had an opportunity recently to reach out to or interact with someone new?

 

Did you miss an opportunity to share God's love with someone struggling with loneliness, or maybe it was a chance to be challenged by a fresh perspective and new insight? Life's not always about what's easy and comfortable for us.

 

As part of the body of Christ we are called to get involved. But what if there aren't any needs in my area of comfort? Instead of only looking to get involved in the areas we feel most comfortable in or "called to" as some put it,  why not ask what the most pressing needs are and fill those even if it's not our first choice. Luke 10:2 says, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few." To follow Christ's example is to become servants and allow Christ to use us in unexpected ways.

 

How will you be open to God using you in unexpected ways this week?

 

Prayer for Today

Creator God, Open our eyes to some new opportunities this week where we can be stretched in our faith. Give us the courage and strength to step out of our comfort zones and follow you with our whole hearts. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 04:51 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, May 27 2019

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. 

-Hebrews 11: 1-2

 

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe." 

-John 20: 24-25

 

This coming Sunday we will be observing Cancer Survivor Sunday in our worship. Cancer survivors are one of God's gifts to/for us. The survival rate of 5 years and beyond has risen over the 70% mark and God willing will continue to rise. The journey of survivorship is full of faith, doubt, and hope. While the two Biblical passages above may seem contradictory, they are not; rather they are complimentary.

 

When you hear the words, "you have cancer," the thought, "will I die" is automatic. Much of life becomes shrouded in doubt and you don't know what the future will bring. It can seem like a game of 52 card pick-up. Doubts abound and may seem contrary to faith, but they really aren't. Doubts are an attempt to sort our grief out and regain our footing. That's why we need survivors to help navigate the way.

 

What our CanCare volunteers are able to provide cancer patients and their families is a hope in a future not yet seen; but rather hoped for as a possibility. CanCare volunteers are hope on feet and provide a survivor by the side of the cancer patient and/or caregiver.

 

CanCare is teaming up with local restaurant Mavericks Cantina for a Fiesta of Hope fundraiser on Saturday, August 17th. Mark that date on your calendars. If you want a preview of what the event will be like, Mavericks invites you to Miracle at Mavericks this coming Saturday, June 1st. For more information go to www.maverickscantina.com/charityguild.

 

Prayer for Today

God of mercy, healing, and wholeness, grant us a faith that hopes for things not seen, so that when we are in our troubles, we can look back on the faith of those who have gone before us and be renewed with hope; especially when we doubt. Amen.

Posted by: AT 04:49 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, May 24 2019

When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

-John 8:44

 

 

When Aaron (not his real name) was 15, he began praying to Satan: "I felt like he and I had a partnership." Aaron started to lie, steal, and manipulate his family and friends. He also experienced nightmares: "I woke up one morning and saw the devil at the end of the bed. He told me that I was going to pass my exams and then die." Yet when he finished his exams, he lived. Aaron reflected, "It was clear to me that he was a liar."

 

Hoping to meet girls, Aaron went to a Christian festival, where a man offered to pray for him. "While he was praying, I felt a sense of peace flood my body." He felt something "more powerful, and more liberating," than what he felt from Satan. The man who prayed told Aaron God had a plan and Satan was a liar. This man echoed what Jesus said of Satan when He responded to some who opposed him: "He is a liar and the father of lies" (John 8:44).

 

Aaron turned to Christ from Satanism and now "belongs to God" (v. 47). He ministers in an urban community, sharing the difference following Jesus makes. He's a living testament of God's saving power: "I can say with confidence that God saved my life."

 

God is the source of all that is good, holy, and true. We can turn to Him to find truth.

 

Prayer for Today

How have you experienced God rescuing you from evil? Who can you share your story with this week?
We are thankful God is more powerful than the father of lies.  Amen.

Posted by: AT 03:57 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, May 23 2019

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.

-I Thessalonians 4:13

 

He will wipe away all tears from their eyes. There will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain. The old things have disappeared.

-Revelation 21:4

 

This Monday, I had the privilege to take several of our underclassmen to the Northview HS graduation. As I arrived back from that joyous event, I received a phone call from a friend and colleague who serves in youth ministry at a nearby church. A family had just lost their daughter over the weekend in a tragic accidental fall, days before her graduation from Johns Creek HS... could we help by hosting her funeral?

 

I knew immediately we probably could and that our community of faith and staff would be eager to provide the space and support. I had also already recently met the young woman's Young Life pastor because a few of us Johns Creek area youth ministry workers have been gathering in our Youth Garage for monthly breakfast to pray for our kids and community. We believe in the Church being one body of believers active in many places and we believe it's important for us to be connected.

 

That connection gave me hope and support in a moment when I was reeling with this awful news. And as I tried to process it and think what needed to be done, my friend Emilio said to me on the phone, "She went to sleep and woke up at the feet of Jesus." I knew that we would all be grieving this week, deeply. But I also knew there was truth in his words. That we mourn but not as those without hope. We have faith in the promise that she is walking with God, and that our God will wipe every tear. Tomorrow, and for many weeks to come, I may not know the right words. But I'll cling to that truth as we all struggle together in this loss.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, we mourn. We pray in groaning too deep for words and you hear us. We weep and trust in you to dry our tears and care for your precious daughter who we miss today. Help us to lean on one another and your spirit in the difficult weeks and months ahead. Amen.

Posted by: AT 03:56 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, May 22 2019

Next Monday is Memorial Day. While he did not die in battle, my wife Pam's father, Buck Mason, was a pilot who served our nation in two wars and was a POW. He was awarded the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Bronze Star. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Buck knew what it was to fly through God's heavens. The poem "High Flight" has been read at some significant events in the life of this nation. It captures this feeling of what it means to fly:

 

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling 
mirth of sun-split clouds, - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air...
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark nor even eagle flew-
And while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
                                                -John Gillespie Magee

 

I don't know if Buck actually "touched the face of God," but I believe that God certainly loved the face of Buck - who was a child of God.

 

In one of Paul's letters to Timothy, Paul says, " . . . the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." Being an athlete in college and a soldier in wartime, Buck knew about "running the good race," and about "fighting the good fight" for what he believed to be right -- particularly in serving his country. His life was guided by service and duty, which made him a genuine hero. Buck embodied all that was noble in what has been called "The Greatest Generation." May we give thanks for those men and women who gave or risked their lives for others.

 

Prayer for Today

 

Eternal Father, may we remember in the coming days all of those who risk their lives to protect others. In the strong name of Christ, who gave his life for all. Amen.

Posted by: AT 03:53 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, May 21 2019

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

-Romans 15:13

 

Do you know anyone who just overflows with hope? They often are the encourager or see the good in a situation. I have experienced people along the journey that help point me back to the joy, peace, and hope that God provides for us through the Holy Spirit.

 

Many of the messages we hear or say to ourselves may be criticism or frustration. I would invite you into a space where you can look around you for evidence of a day well lived.

What does that look like for you? Some of the things that help me to see the joy, peace, and hope Paul talks about are when... I made someone smile. I hugged and wasn't the first to let go. I encouraged. I laughed. I believed. I lifted. I kneeled. I forgave. I lived. I loved.

 

I have been spending time this winter and spring studying Paul's letter to the Romans with our Senior Adult Bible Study. We haven't gotten to chapter 15 and some of his sending words and conclusion yet, but this passage is one that I have taken with me since my Dad passed away nearly 4 years ago. That is who he was, someone overflowing with hope.

 

May Paul's words today be your encouragement to experience this day as one that is well lived.

 

Prayer for Today

Creator God, 
Open our minds and hearts to experience the joy and peace that come from trusting in you. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 03:50 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, May 20 2019

"My frame was not hidden from you    when I was made in the secret place,    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body;    all the days ordained for me were written in your book    before one of them came to be." 

-Psalm 139: 15-16

 

Have you ever thought that God's book of life, referenced here in Psalm 139 might be written in sidewalk chalk?

I must admit that I'm a fan of sidewalk chalk and the glee with which children express themselves wherever and whenever the chalk is in hand. This week was the final week of our preschool year and graffiti such as this ordains our JCPC campus.

 

Twenty years from now our preschoolers will be expressing themselves in much more mature and surprising ways; through professions, volunteer activities, and potentially creating families of their own.

 

The Psalmist's faith holds all of our activities close to God; "all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be."

 

The following tapestry hangs on the wall that connects the Welcome Center to the Great Hall.

 

All of these little hands were nurtured and blessed in our JCPC preschool. They have all grown up and launched into adulthood. This tapestry serves as a reminder of the faithful parenting, teaching, and loving kindness that believed in them long before they learned to believe.

 

I have a request for you. The next time that you see Pris Horne, Lisa Lucas, or one of our preschool teachers, current or alumni, please thank them for their loving faithfulness. You could also send them an email to express your appreciation; preschool@jcpcusa.org.

 

Their names were written in God's book of life and behold what sharing their giftedness has brought forth as ordained by God!

 

Prayer for Today

Thank you Lord for the children who are raised here in our family of faith. Thank you for the leaders that assure that they are loved, cherished, and blessed. Amen.

Posted by: AT 03:48 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, May 17 2019

Twenty minutes into a flight from New York to San Antonio, the flight plan changed as calm gave way to chaos. When one of the plane's engines failed, debris from the engine smashed through a window causing the cabin to decompress. Sadly, several passengers were injured and one person was killed. Had not a calm, capable pilot been in the cockpit-one trained as a Navy fighter pilot-things could have been tragically worse. The headline in our local paper read, "In Amazing Hands."

 

In Psalm 31, David revealed that he knew something about the Lord's amazing, caring hands. That's why he could confidently say, "Into your hands I commit my spirit" (v. 5). David believed that the Lord could be trusted even when life got bumpy. Because he was targeted by unfriendly forces, life was very uncomfortable for David. Though vulnerable, he was not without hope. In the midst of harassment David could breathe sighs of relief and rejoice because his faithful, loving God was his source of confidence (vv. 5-7).

 

Perhaps you find yourself in a season of life when things are coming at you from every direction, and it's difficult to see what's ahead. In the midst of uncertainty, confusion, and chaos one thing remains absolutely certain: those who are secure in the Lord are in amazing hands.

 

Prayer for Today

Father, help me to be encouraged knowing that Jesus prayed Psalm 31:5 when He was on the cross. In the midst of pain and suffering, He committed His life into Your hands.  Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:21 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, May 16 2019

See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

-Matthew 10:16

 

A couple weeks ago now, I got to go to career day at River Trail Middle School. I was eager to share about my own job, and just as eager to encourage the kids to consider non-profit work. I was correct in guessing that many of the parents represented careers in high-skilled for-profit jobs and it might be a rare opportunity to challenge these young people to think more broadly and imaginatively about how they would not only make a living, but make the world a better place. 

 

Most of the students were familiar with the pressures to determine what they are good at and can make money doing. And most of them are familiar with the concept of doing "what makes you happy," so it never feels like work. I told them neither of those worldly pressures is a whole truth. When I asked how many kids in each session had mystique interests and skills, almost every hand went up. These gifted and bright young people are good at many things, what's come to be known as multi-potentialities. And when I told them that even adults with jobs they love have bad days and sometimes it's hard every day and they still love their job and life, they seemed surprised. 

 

As we talked about the countless hats I wear in my career as teacher, preacher, counselor, translator, social media coordinator, graphic designer, service and volunteer coordinator, travel agent, medic, and inter-faith ambassador, I encouraged them to look for jobs where they could use many of their skills and could contribute to making their community and world better, whether for profit or not. As we celebrate our graduates this Sunday, I hope you'll join me in asking good questions of them. What are they doing next? (Don't assume college and grad school and career) What passions and skills do they have or are they developing? (Not just what classes they're taking or internships they're doing or their majors.) What ways do you want to make the world better or contribute to the lives of others? (Not what job they think they can get.) Encourage them to find a faith community and make sure they know JCPC is their safe harbor as they venture out and explore. 

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, help me to be an encouragement and challenge to our young people. By your spirit, let me imagine with them a future of service and creativity far beyond job. Help me dream of your call on their lives and bless them as they struggle in their search and training. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:20 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, May 15 2019

This Sunday is Graduate Recognition. No doubt many of our graduates have already heard a commencement speech. A while back I read about someone who went through an experience that changed his life. It was Stephen King, the author of many scary books and creator of some scary movies. Back in 2001, he was asked to give the commencement address at Vassar College.

 

He began by saying this: "I have to tell you the scary truth, because that's my job. And you knew I was the scary guy when you picked me for this job, so deal with it." But he went on to talk about what happened to him after he was hit by a van at night and left by the side of the road for dead:

 

What will you do? Well, I'll tell you one thing you're not going to do, and that's take it with you. I'm worth I don't exactly know how many millions of dollars . . . and a couple of years ago I found out what 'you can't take it with you' means. I found out while I was lying in the ditch at the side of a country road, covered with mud and blood and with the tibia of my right leg poking out the side of my jeans like the branch of a tree taken down in a thunderstorm. I had a MasterCard in my wallet, but when you're lying in the ditch with broken glass in your hair, no one accepts MasterCard.

 

For Stephen King, that was a life-changing revelation - that when we face the end of our lives and what it all means, how much money or credit we have, really means nothing. We might have gained the whole world - but real life, which nurtures our souls, is more than that.

 

Jesus sums it up this way: "What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?" (Mark 8:36, NIV) It is more than "what's in your wallet" that counts in life!

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, reveal to us what is really important in life. Help us to use that revelation to guide how we live our lives today - serving others and You. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:19 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, May 14 2019

Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.  

-Psalm 90:1-2, 4, 12

 

How often in your daily conversations do you use the words time or busy? When you use them, what are the phrases they are included in? Take a moment to write down a phrase that you often use that includes either the word time or busy.

Do you think that our culture talks about time in a way that encourages us to be more frantic? Are there terms we need to let go of so we can think about time in a more gracious way?

May is often a month that seems more "busy" than even the holiday season in December. A lot of things are wrapping up in terms of the school year and all that goes along with it. I would invite you re read these words again at the end of the day. Each day is a gift from God and when we close a school year, we may realize how quickly it has gone or how we may have rushed through some of these days.

 

For a brief moment, I pray that they can bring some calmness, peace and pause to your day.

 

Prayer for Today

Creator God, you are the Maker of everything that exists, the Author of the world and of all living things. You are the Creator of both space and time. Because you give us the gift of time we have the opportunity to think and to act, to plan and to pray, to give and to receive, to create and to relate, to work and to rest, to strive and to play, to love and to worship. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:17 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, May 13 2019

I'm still in awe having listened to Debra Roberts present the keynote address at the 2019 UGA Commencement Service. I must confess I was mesmerized at her downhome wisdom that she wove into an inspirational tapestry for all in attendance. I want to share a couple of her insights that left me affirmatively nodding my head as a father and a pastor.

 

Debra told how her daughter received many high school graduation cards from well-wishers several years ago. Most were Hallmark inscriptions to do your best and that you will have a bright future. However, one came from a family friend, Miss Emily, who inscribed her own message at the bottom of the card. "Remember that there will be failures." As a mother, Debra was taken aback from the note that seemed like it was a downer. However, when she shared the card with her husband, Al Roker, they both agreed it was one of the best pieces of advice they had seen in years. As Debra prepared her commencement speech, her daughter told her mother, "Don't forget to share Miss Emily's card with them!"

 

As I like to say, "In growing up school we all attend the class of hard knocks." We need faith most when we are confronted by our failures; yet it is often the perseverance through our failures which defines our lives. Hope is in things unseen; yet believed, especially in the tough times.

 

The second insight I'd like to share comes from an interview Debra had with a researcher, whom she didn't name, on how we find ourselves. The researcher stated that we don't find ourselves through looking inside; rather we only truly discover who we are and who we are meant to be when we learn to reach out to others through compassion. Imagine that! We are most human when we are acting humanely.

 

I suspect this then guides us to put this truth into play in our own lives. Could it be that it is the compassion of others who reached out to us in our trials that helps us to become who we are and who we are called to be? Read 2 Corinthians 1:3-7

 

Prayer for Today

God of compassion and calling; lead us by faith into our future with compassion, hope, and love. Help us to rise up when we fall and to offer a hand up when one is needed. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:15 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, May 10 2019

Following her husband's death, Betsy has spent most days in her flat, watching television and boiling tea for one. She's not alone in her loneliness. More than nine million Brits (15 percent of the population) say they often or always feel lonely, and Great Britain has appointed a minister of loneliness to find out why and how to help.

 

Some causes of loneliness are well known: We move too often to put down roots. We believe we can take care of ourselves, and we don't have a reason to reach out. We're separated by technology-each of us immersed in our own flickering screens.

 

I feel the dark edge of loneliness, and you may too. This is one reason we need fellow believers. Hebrews concludes its deep discussion of Jesus' sacrifice by encouraging us to meet together continually (10:25). We belong to the family of God, so we're to love "one another as brothers and sisters" and "show hospitality to strangers" (13:1-2). If we each made an effort, everyone would feel cared for.

 

Lonely people may not return our kindness, but this is no reason to give up. Jesus has promised to never leave nor forsake us (13:5), and we can use His friendship to fuel our love for others. Are you lonely? What ways can you find to serve the family of God? The friends you make in Jesus last forever, through this life and beyond.

 

Prayer for Today

Dear God, show us who needs our friendship.  How might we serve someone in our church or neighborhood this week?

We know the family of God is intended to be the answer to loneliness.  Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:14 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, May 09 2019

I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs, and will tear open the covering of their heart; there I will devour them like a lion, as a wild animal would mangle them.

-Hosea 13:8

 

Or what woman having 10 silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?

-Luke 15:8

 

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

-Luke 13:34

 

 

Mother's Day is Complicated. One of the universal truths of growing up is discovering your experiences of growing up are not the same as everyone else's. The majority of issues in couples, families, and friendships stem from a difference of expectations based on families of origin. For instance, I grew up believing everyone had a really amazing mother who worked full-time but also made time to give their kids every opportunity, help with school work, have a foot in both the Boy and Girl Scout troop, and still have time for church and service. I assumed everyone's mother shared leadership of the household with dad and loved them unconditionally. And that every mom was an amazing cook who filled her table with every stray kid and adult she could find.

 

However, I also learned at a young age that my stray friends didn't lead the same life I did. Some of them had parents suffering from addiction. Some came from split households and homes where they were ignored at best, or even hurt. Our home was their sanctuary. And it wasn't long after that when I figured out not everyone had a mom like mine. Some had no mom and even members of my extended family had moms that were absent, neglectful, or abusive. Some of my friends wanted nothing more than to be a mom and could not, while others had no desire to be a mom. Some had lost their mothers. Mother's Day is very hard for many people.

 

It has become popular in some circles to ignore Mother's Day because of these complications. It is, after all, not a church or Christian holiday. However, I don't know any therapists or pastors who advocate avoiding topics that are difficult or painful. Especially in the faith community. We face and embrace topics as scary as death and loss and change, money and sex, power and sin on a weekly basis. And we should. My prayer is that we be mindful this Sunday. The woman in your pew may be struggling to be a mother or lost a child. She may not be speaking to her mother or doesn't want to be one. The man in your pew may have recently lost his mother or not know who she is. As we celebrate with meals and gifts and flowers, may we be mindful in our celebrations, our prayers, our words, and offer the same grace we offer at the holidays as we recognize that they bring joy, as well as sorrow for many. And remember that the God who holds us close as a mother and father will be with us in our joy and our grief, and offer deep compassion we can share.

 

Prayer for Today

God, you have spoken your love to us in your word, giving us images of a loving mother and a loving father, widow and shepherd, loving father on the road and mother hen gathering her brood. Help us to offer your love and compassion, your eager search and embrace to all who need it this week. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:11 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, May 08 2019

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

-Words of Jesus in Matthew 6:34 from The Message

 

If we take care of the moments, the years will take care of themselves. Yesterday I was invited by our Johns Creek Presbyterian Preschool to give the blessing at their annual Mother's Day Luncheon for the preschool moms. Before introducing me and inviting me up, Pris Horne, our preschool director, shared the words at the beginning of this paragraph. She said she had found a book while cleaning up just a few moments before. When she opened the book's cover, these words about taking care of the moments were on the very first page.

 

When I heard Pris say these words, I thought about how much wisdom they contain - not only for parents of preschoolers, but for all of us. I am reminded of the A.A. motto of "one day at a time." A friend of mine who is a pastoral counselor advises that when we don't know what to do in the future, "just do the next right thing." I also thought about the words of Jesus printed above. I like the way it is translated from Eugene Peterson's The Message: "Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now . . ."

 

Being present to our children, no matter what their age, is something we all struggle with. I know I constantly must fight my attention going to the next thing to do. When I am in that mindset, I often miss what is taking place right now. We can never really live our lives in the future or the past. We can only live in the present.

 

I want to invite you this day to think about being intentionally present in whatever you are "doing right now." And especially if you are having a face-to-face encounter with someone, try to listen and pay attention to that person. That gift of attention is one of the greatest gifts we can share with one another.

 

Prayer for Today

Patient God, it is hard for many of us to stay in the present. Our minds wander forward and backward through time. Help us to be present to each other and to you. We ask this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:10 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, May 07 2019

God invites us into community with one another. This community is who will teach us, challenge us, and sustain us in our journey of faith.

It's Teacher Appreciation week in many of the schools and a time when we can reflect on those that have taught us.

 

Who has taught you on your faith journey so far? Another way to think about it, who are some of the people pictured in your home? How can you pray for them this week? When someone new comes to mind, find a way to help you to remember to pray for them in the coming week. Maybe you'll save a picture of them on your phone, write their name on your calendar, or make a note of them in your prayer journal. These may be a helpful reminder to lift them up in prayer.

 

In Paul's letter to the Thessalonians he gives us an example of how and why we can pray for one another. 

 

With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

-2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, 

Open our hearts to those we hold most dear. Thank you for giving me ________ (name someone who is on your heart) to help me grow in knowledge and understanding of your love. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:09 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, May 06 2019

I admit it. I have commencement on my mind. This coming Friday, my youngest child/adult, Maryneal is graduating from the Terry College of Business at UGA. As her proud family, we will be attending two commencement services to celebrate the beginning of the rest of her life.

 

Yesterday our confirmation class joined the membership of JCPC. This is another commencement. Of course, the month of May could be renamed Commencement due to all the graduation ceremonies held during this month.

The word commencement has a wide array of meaning. Webster's dictionary notes these synonyms; birth, alpha, beginning, dawn, day one, get-go, start, threshold, kick off, launch, and morning to name a few.

 

Whenever we commence, it's off into an unknown future which holds both promise and uncertainties. When the Apostle Paul wrote about the power of resurrection he was speaking of God's new commencement; a new age was ushered in where the old is past, and God has made new.

 

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

-2 Corinthians 5: 16-21

 

My prayer is that our resurrection faith will embrace all who are in the process of commencement and that the new creation ushered in through our Risen Lord will be their launching pad.

 

Prayer for Today

God of new creation, we lift up to you all who are in the process of commencement. Create in each a new heart, filled with faith, hope, and love; and grant them your spirit of wisdom to be a light unto their path. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:06 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, May 03 2019

In the summer of 2017, Hurricane Harvey brought devastating losses of life and property to the Gulf Coast of the US. Many people provided food, water, clothing, and shelter for those in immediate need.

 

The owner of a piano store in Maryland felt prompted to do something more. He considered how music could bring a special kind of healing and sense of normalcy to people who had lost everything. So he and his staff began to refurbish pre-owned pianos and to make inquiries to see where the need was the greatest. That spring, Dean Kramer and his wife, Lois, began the long trek to Houston, Texas, driving a truck filled with free pianos to give to grateful families, churches, and schools in the ravaged area.

 

We sometimes assume the word neighbor means someone who lives nearby or at least is someone we know. But in Luke 10, Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan to teach that our love for our neighbors shouldn't have barriers. The man from Samaria freely gave to a wounded stranger, even though the man was a Jew, part of a people group at odds with the Samaritans (vv. 25-37).

 

When Dean Kramer was asked why he gave away all those pianos, he explained simply: "We're told to love our neighbors." And it was Jesus who said, "There is no commandment greater" (Mark 12:31) than to love God and our neighbor.

 

Prayer for Today

Father, help me to look beyond borders and barriers, to see everyone as my neighbor, and to love in generous ways as You have taught me. Amen.

Posted by: AT 05:27 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, May 02 2019

In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit.

-Ephesians 1:13

 

"Payton is marked as safe at UNCC." Marked as safe. Those words have come to mean someone has survived a natural disaster or an attack of some kind. My friend from my home church growing up marked herself as safe and a wave of relief passed over me, even though I'd entirely forgotten she was attending the university. But then another feeling crept in, one that's been gnawing at me in the wake of the last few years of tragedies of nature and evil. Mournful compassion.

 

What about the families searching social media for any sign their loved one is okay and never see another post? My own family panicked when we heard the news. My brother-in-law is graduating from UNCC next weekend and we have plans to go attend his party. He wasn't immediately reachable. He's okay, and we thank God. But if we only thank God he's okay, we neglect what that means. Someone else's precious family member is one of the two who didn't make it or one of the four injured or the countless traumatized. For every few thousand "marked safe" is a person who is not. And is any of us safe in a world where tragedy is our new normal?

 

For us as believers, we of course, hope that the ones we love are indeed safe. But the safe we trust in is a safety of God's care. We are safe in God's arms living here or with God in eternal life. God has not called us to safety in this world, but to life in the next. We can go bravely to our schools and churches and the world because we are safe in that promise. And because we have work to do. We have work to do in seeking and saving the lost and loving those who seek violence. Our mission is to seek those who are angry and hurt and offer them love and compassion and help and to eliminate easy access to the means to harm others. We are marked as God's children. And we have work to do.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, we pray for the families and friends of recent violence. We pray for the courage to change this world and fight for peace and compassion. And we pray for your love to seek and save those who walk in darkness. Amen.

Posted by: AT 05:25 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, May 01 2019

"And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" 

-Micah 6:8b, NRSV
 

This week I am preparing the words I will share in the service this Friday at 2:30 p.m. to remember Jack Shea, who died recently. In talking about Jack's life with his family last week, they mentioned the Bible verse above as one which described the type of person Jack was - someone who tried to do justice, who showed kindness, and was humble while doing these things. Justice, kindness, and humility are great qualities for any person who seeks to live life God's way.
 

In preparing for Jack's service, I came across this story about kindness:
 

Huston Smith, the great scholar, tells of a time when he was teaching at MIT. Aldous Huxley, author of

A Brave New World and other books, was a visiting scholar and Smith volunteered to be his social secretary and to drive him all over New England to his many speaking engagements. On the way to one of those engagements, Smith remembers what Huxley said to him. He said, "You know, Huston, it's rather embarrassing to have spent one's entire lifetime pondering the human condition and to come toward its close and find that I really don't have anything more profound to pass on by way of advice than, 'Try to be a little kinder.'" (from

Chronicle of Higher Education, 6/20/97, cited in

Context, 11/1197, Leadership, Vol. 19, no. 3.)

 

What does God want us to do each moment of our lives? Maybe we could all just "be a little kinder." That advice is more profound than we might think, and it could go a long to making things better in our world.

 

Prayer for Today

Loving God, help all of us to be a little kinder today to one another. We pray this in the strong name of the kind one -- Jesus the Christ -- who showed us what kindness in the flesh looks like. Amen.

Posted by: AT 05:25 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
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