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.
Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving ...
-Psalm 95:1-2a, NIV
A while back, I was given a box with some notes from some members of the church I was serving at the time, thanking me for serving as their pastor. Since then, I have added to that box when someone passes along a particularly kind thought. When things are difficult, it is amazing how remembering the simple expression of gratitude can enhance our lives. It is really what life is all about - showing the spirit of gratitude through how we live and give.
Thomas Merton put it this way:
To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything [God] has given us - and [God] has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of [God's] love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from [God]. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference. (Thomas Merton quoted in Words of Gratitude by Robert A. Emmons and Joanna Hill)
Today, I want to give you a homework assignment. I want to invite you to take the time to sit down for a few minutes and write a "thank you" note to God expressing your gratitude for what God has given you in life. It doesn't have to follow any form. It doesn't have to be fancy - just your own words to God. You don't have to show it to anyone -- though you can, if you like. But take the time to put down in your own words why you are grateful to God. If you do that, I believe it will add some meaning and perspective to your life. It will help you find what it is we are all looking for in life.
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, we thank you for all that makes life good, and for all that makes our individual lives good. Thank you for the gift of a new day - to experience the unexpected joys of simply being alive. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Every year Jesus' parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom.
After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you."
"Why were you searching for me?" he asked. "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?"But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.
The gospels are not full of stories of the childhood of Jesus. We get two birth narratives and a story of Jesus preaching in the Temple when he's 12. All good stories can have multiple lessons to be learned. One is certainly that Jesus knew who he was and his purpose early. The other lesson, I appreciate as a parent... God chose the best parents in all of history for his only son. And they forgot him in Jerusalem. For several days. If the parents of Jesus can mess up this badly, it offers so much grace as parents and people.
Recently, a young girl invented a device that assists parents in remembering they have a child or infant in the car. After many deaths this year in the news from children left in hot cars, it was tremendous news. Some reacted by saying that forgetful or distracted people shouldn't be parents. The sin of leaving a child behind or forgetting them was and is unforgivable. And yet, it happens to many parents, even the holy parents. It reminded me that we all have sins we hold as unforgivable... and sins we forgive easily because they are common to us.
How far do we extend grace? How far does God? I think it's clear in our passage today that God didn't see such a massive parental failure as reason not to trust his son to the care or Mary and Joseph. But I think passages like Isaiah, "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the sin of us all." God's grace goes all the way. And so must ours, if we are to be disciples of that messiah who came to save each of us. Who in your life has committed the unthinkable or unforgivable? Maybe it's an enemy. Maybe family. Maybe it's you. Start there. Keep going. Go all the way.
Prayer for Today
Lord, you sent your only son to take on every single sin, no exception. Only he was perfect. Not even his parents were. Help me to see that following him is the way of love and grace, and to expect perfection only from you. Amen.
Do you have a favorite insect? I wondered about this after reading a story from an author I enjoy, Rachel Macy Stafford. She shared about a time when her daughter asked her this question. Her daughter said, "You can't choose butterfly, everyone chooses that". As they continued their conversation Rachel learned that her daughter's favorite insect was a firefly. As they considered that for a little while, Rachel noticed with her daughter what a beautiful choice that was, as fireflies shine from within.
You may know some people who seems to have that light within. Maybe they aren't noticed for the big or obvious things, but as you get to know them you realize they have a deep, unique light within them. I would encourage all of us to consider ourselves as fireflies as Jesus reminds us in Matthew 5.
"Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand-shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16, The Message)
Notice the light of Christ in those around you. Don't wait for someone to hand them an award or a give them a certificate to make their talents and gifts "official." That day may never come. So say it now. Say this:
I see your light.
I see it when you pick up your guitar.
I see it when you make brushstrokes of
yellow, green, and gold.
I see it when you sing with your eyes closed.
I see it when you laugh with your mouth open wide.
I see it when you stand along the water's edge
dreaming of your future.
I see your light, my brave and courageous, firefly.
You shine from within.
-Rachel Macy Stafford
Prayer for Today
Creator God, thank you for the gift of light all around us and deep inside of us. Open us up to share it today and notice it those we encounter. In Christ's Name, Amen.
At the Second Chance Bike Shop near our neighborhood, volunteers rebuild cast-off bicycles and donate them to needy kids. Shop founder Ernie Clark also donates bikes to needy adults, including the homeless, the disabled, and military veterans struggling to make it in civilian life. Not only do the bicycles get a second chance but sometimes the recipients get a new start too. One veteran used his new bike to get to a job interview.
Second chances can transform a person's life, especially when the second chance comes from God. The prophet Micah extoled such grace during a time the nation of Israel groveled in bribery, fraud, and other despicable sins. As Micah lamented, "The godly people have all disappeared; not one honest person is left on the earth" (Micah 7:2 nlt).
God would rightly punish evil, Micah knew. But being loving, He would give those who repented another chance. Humbled by such love, Micah asked, "Where is another God like you, who pardons the guilt of the remnant, overlooking the sins of his special people?" (v. 18 nlt).
We too can rejoice that God doesn't abandon us because of our sins if we ask for forgiveness. As Micah declared of God, "Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean!" (v. 19 nlt). God's love gives second chances to all who seek Him.
Prayer for Today
Heavenly Father, thank You for giving us the grace of second chances. Amen.
Cook. Event Planner. Nutritionist. Nurse. These are just some of the responsibilities regularly performed by modern moms. In 2016, research estimated that moms likely worked between fifty-nine and ninety-six hours per week doing child-related tasks.
No wonder moms are always exhausted! Being a mom means giving a lot of time and energy to care for children, who need so much help as they learn to navigate the world.
When my days feel long and I need a reminder that caring for others is a worthy pursuit, I find great hope when I see Jesus affirming those who serve.
In the gospel of Mark, the disciples were having an argument about which one of them was the greatest. Jesus quietly sat down and reminded them that "anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all" (9:35). Then He took a child in His arms to illustrate the importance of serving others, especially the most helpless among us (vv. 36-37).
Christ's response resets the bar for what greatness looks like in His kingdom. His standard is a heart willing to care for others. And Jesus has promised that God's empowering presence will be with those who choose to serve (v. 37).
As you have opportunities to serve in your family or community, be encouraged that Jesus greatly values the time and effort you give in service to others.
Prayer for Today
Jesus, thank You for reminding us of Your loving care for children and any who are vulnerable. Help us to follow Your example of service. Amen.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Each year, about this time, our students head back to school. Some are excited, some nervous. And some of the students are excited and nervous too. Many students dread the start of another rigorous year and difficult classes. Few express the same joy at attending that the children in developing parts of the world do at the opportunity school is. And sometimes, we teachers and educators dread the return of a busy schedule and the inevitable difficulties and challenges that students can present.
This is a great time of year to focus on what is so good about this fresh beginning, about learning, and about the students themselves. We do a disservice to our kids when we hype the school year but forget to get excited as adults. After all, especially as Presbyterians, we are lifelong learners, and we value education, and a theology of gratitude. We charge our ordained leaders to lead us with "energy, intelligence, imagination, and love," in their vows. So what do you do to prepare and how do you walk along side them?
Some of you are school teachers and professors and professional educators. This makes you trained and ready to teach at church too. Some of you are experts in raising successful kids who have grown and graduated, making you seasoned in assisting a new generation of parents with Sunday school and youth group. Some of us are aunts and uncles and coaches and mentors who have wisdom and expertise and time to offer. And all of us are called to see the goodness and image of God in our young people and volunteer to help make disciples.
This week, I watched a young man at our youth kickoff night from Casa Brasil, the Portuguese community that worships in the Youth Garage weekly. He ran alongside the giant inflatable, cheering on and encouraging his friends to cross the finish line. Brothers and sisters, this is the good and noble and worthy of praise we have been called to see and to emulate and encourage. Join us.
Prayer for Today
Great God of energy, intelligence, imagination, and love, send your spirit to fill us with inspiration as we witness what is good and noble so we may go and fan the flames of our young people's young faith. Amen.
Faith in God is not an escape from reality. Faith in God is a plunge into reality in all its dimensions, and not the least of these realities is death.
- Eugene Peterson
I came across those words while reading through Peterson's excellent book, Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers. His words reminded me that Christian faith is not an escape - even though some of the great skeptics have argued it was. Some versions of how people use or misuse faith may try to be that escape, but the Christ story we find told in the Bible deals directly with death - particularly with the death of Jesus on the cross. For the Christian, the final word is not death, but resurrection, new life, and hope. However, that does not mean we get a free pass when it comes to experiencing the end of this life. We will all face death - the end of this earthly life - before we experience resurrection.
Recently, one of our church members was talking about howimportant it is for the church to talk openly about death. She shared her own story about her struggles to find a way to do this. Most people do not want to talk about death. But I believe we can deal with the end of life challenges better if we know more about them -- whether we are doing this for ourselves or for someone we care about. This learning happens best, not only by hearing from those who have more experience than we do. It also helps to be with others like us - our peers.
Neal and I are focusing on this theme in our Pastors' Class beginning this Sunday at 10:00 a.m. We are calling it Peering Into the Sunset: End of Life Challenges for Today. The idea of "peering" is not only about looking down the road to try to discern what is coming. It is also about doing this with our "peers" - those like us who are trying to find our way. This class is for all ages and stages of life, so join us this Sunday as we begin this journey together!
Prayer for Today
God of the ages, you know our beginnings, our endings, and all that happens in between. Give us the courage to face the challenges of life and even death. In the strong name of Jesus, the resurrected Christ, we pray. Amen.
Have you enjoyed a recent celebration with family or friends? A birthday? A wedding? A new opportunity?
You might think of the Scriptures as one huge invitation to a celebration with God. I would invite you to take some time today to find a good reason to join the celebration.
In Paul's letter to the Romans he reminds us that, "Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ." (Romans 10:17)
We have the opportunity to grow in our faith through our encounters with God's Word in scripture. Listen for God's Word to you in the midst of your current circumstances and challenges of this week.
It takes at least two to celebrate, but you know, the more the merrier! God has made all the preparations and now awaits your response. Why not join all the many others who have also joined the party? It's the best celebration ever!
A class or small group can be a great way to connect with a community and celebrate with God together. This Sunday, join us for the following classes or groups at 10 a.m.
Children's Class in the Calvin Room for 3's-5th Grade. They'll gather for large group activities and Bible story then split up into age based small groups for activities and crafts.
Youth Class in the Youth Garage for 6th-12th grade using a video Bible study as a springboard for discussion.
Pastors' Class in the Dining Room. They will focus this fall on Peering Into the Sunset: End of Life Challenges for Today. The group will look at the various challenges we all, and those we care for, face at the end of life. Guest presenters will provide helpful legal, health and other insights.
Practical Christianity Class in Room 111. They will study Simon Peter with a DVD study from Adam Hamilton with a group of rotating facilitators.
Parenting Small Group in Room 110. They will use Parenting through the Phases DVD study focused on helping guide you through the responsibility and challenges of shaping your child's faith and character in each phase of their life. A group of seasoned parents will rotate as facilitators to journey with parents of all ages.
Prayer for Today
Loving God, we know that we are not perfect. We know we'll make mistakes. Help us to celebrate our successes and accept when we fall short. Give us faith in you and in ourselves. Grant us peace today. In Christ's Name, Amen.
A time to weep and a time to laugh,a time to mourn and a time to dance.
-Ecclesiastes 3: 4
The wisdom of this passage was personified on Saturday night at CanCare Atlanta's Fiesta of Hope. Everyone in attendance has been touched by cancer, or will be, in their lifetime. Our CanCare Atlanta volunteers are living testimonials to the wisdom that there is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. At our Fiesta of Hope, however, the time was to laugh and dance!
Another type of wisdom made itself known that night that had a profound impact on me. Perhaps you have heard the wise quote of Aesop-"You are known by the company you keep." The book of Proverbs puts it this way-
Become wise by walking with the wise...-Proverbs 13:20
How this came to be was in a series of conversations I had with Brooke Homan and her mother, who are owner/ operators of Mavericks Cantina. As we "debriefed" the events of a full day and evening, both Brooke and her mother, independently shared how friendly, kind, and gracious the people in attendance were to their staff. Both stated that our group, mainly CanCare volunteers and JCPC members, were unlike any other that has been served by their staff. I was told that there was no complaining and that the staff was appreciated and felt energized even though most had worked over 12 hours!
"I think it's because you are Christians," each said to me. I think they are correct, but I think it runs deeper. I believe you can be a Christian, I would imagine many of their patrons are, and behave in less than a wise fashion. Our company, the company we keep, however; has grown in character through the faithful balance of weeping, laughing, mourning, and dancing. When you realize how precious life truly is and that means not only your life but all life, then appreciation, kindness, and love are all part of walking with the wise.
I thanked Brooke and her mother for their kind words. As I reflected on their gracious blessing I found myself thinking that when you are have the opportunity to spend time with member of JCPC and CanCare Atlanta volunteers you are in good company!
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, you give us all good gifts and provide us with comfort and hope in our times of trouble, so inspire us to always be good, kind, and loving so that we will walk in your wisdom and share your gifts freely, joyously, and with thanksgiving. Amen.
When he was a young boy, Benjamin West attempted to draw a picture of his sister, but he succeeded only in making a mess. His mother saw his creation, kissed him on the head, and remarked, "Why, it's Sally!" He would later say that it was that kiss that made him an artist-and the great American painter he would become. Encouragement is a powerful thing!
Like a child learning to paint, Paul didn't have much credibility early on in his ministry, but Barnabas affirmed his calling. It was through Barnabas's encouragement that the church accepted Saul as a fellow believer (Acts 9:27). Barnabas would also encourage the fledgling church of Antioch, helping it to become one of the most influential in the book of Acts (11:22-23). And it was through Barnabas's encouragement, as well as Paul's, that the Jerusalem church embraced the gentile believers as Christians (15:19). So, in many ways, the story of the early church is really a story of encouragement.
The same should apply to our own lives. We might think encouragement is merely saying something nice to someone. But if we think that way, we fail to recognize the lasting power it possesses. It's one of the means by which God shapes our individual lives as well as the life of the church.
Let's thank God for the moments we receive encouragement and strive to pass it along to others.
Prayer for Today
Father, help me encourage others as You have encouraged me. Amen.
And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.
But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
Saw a sign outside a church recently: Welcome back to School, Welcome back to Church. Welcome is a wonderful word. But it struck me that the assumption seemed to be that people had chosen to be absent from church for the summer. I hope you haven't been gone from your family of faith this summer, and that when you've traveled, you've found other places to worship or streamed one of the thousands of options to your phone or listened to a service you missed at JCPC recently as you drove down the highway. The boys and I streamed a service a few Sundays ago when we were in NC and it was a lot of fun for them and me. And I'm sure we will have that for JCPC in the years ahead.
However, if you've been gone, welcome back, and I hope you'll join us for the Sunday school breakfast this week and Youth Group Kickoff on Sunday night. I hope you'll come with your kids, but also as parents, like any back to school night, getting your kids excited for something vital to their lives and finding out what you will need to do to help them succeed, signing up to volunteer and committing to their success. Your child will likely have as many as 8 or 10 teachers and administrators and specialists working with and for your child this year, but even they need volunteers. Your children and youth will need the same or more at church, and that's a family commitment.
I sat last week, drinking from my River Trail Middle School coffee mug, feeling appreciated as this was a gift for coming as a volunteer to Career Day for kids I mostly didn't know. I reflected how this event, one of their best and most important required dozens of volunteers and how they sought to honor that. To instill in our young people a love for God, a love and dedication to serving others, and an understanding that God loves them, we will need dozens of volunteers this year, their parents and gifted members of JCPC who have no children, empty nesters, and young adults. If any church is God's house, for our house to follow the Lord, we will all have to do so together. Come join us. And welcome back.
Prayer for Today
Lord, help me to seek where I am needed, gift me with what is needed, and make me generous to show up and help your children. Amen.
See how good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in harmony!
- Psalm 133:1
Last Sunday in worship we talked more about our "A Time for Everything" sermon series based on the Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. The pairs of words mentioned in that Bible passage help us find balance in our lives today. The last two weeks we have looked at some challenging passages like "a time to die" and "a time to kill." Given the recent tragedies in El Paso and Dayton, as people of faith we struggle to see how God is at work in our world.
In talking about that passage Sunday, I shared that I am part of a newly formed inter-faith clergy group from Johns Creek. We are a group of religious leaders from Christian, Jewish and Muslim congregations. We usually meet each month for breakfast. We have begun to know and trust each other. We also realize how all of us are experiencing many of the same challenges in our congregations. While we do not agree on everything, we find we agree much more than we disagree. We do not ignore our differences. In fact, this gathering is a great place to explore exactly how we are different.
After the tragic events of the past weeks, we decided to create a statement we could all support. This is something we do agree on. We believe that the kind of violence we have seen recently is wrong and not what God wills for our world. We are also called to do whatever is right to end this. Our statement can be found at the link below.
It was also meant to be a public statement. Perhaps it will model for our community how those who have different religions and even ethnic backgrounds can come together to work for something good. It was also printed in the Johns Creek Herald Monday under "Letters to the Editor." Please continue to pray for God's peace in our world. Also, pray about what God is calling you to do to make a positive difference here and now.
Prayer for Today
God, give us the insight to see what is really going on, the wisdom to know what we are each called to do, and the courage and perseverance to do it. Amen.
I heard Amy Grant share a story on the radio a while back and it has stuck with me ever since. She heard Jimmy Gentry, a World War II veteran and recently retired teacher and coach in Nashville, TN, share some thoughtful words on life. He said that these five words or phrases can help guide you on your journey.
5. How Can I Help You?
4. I'm Proud of You
3. I Love You
2. Thank You
Take a moment to consider a time when you recently used one of these. Each of these words can gain new meaning based on how they integrate into the fabric of your life. What would it look like if these were the five most used words or phrases in your daily life? How might it impact your interactions with others?
I would invite you this week to use one of them more often. Be open to how God may be using you in these situations to share God's love in a new way.
Join us this Sunday as we gather for breakfast and fellowship in the Great Hall starting at 10:00 a.m. and connect with our church family. This is a time of year when we can share stories, connect with each other and make commitments to grow in our faith through the Education ministry at JCPC. At 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. worship, we will commission all of those who have made the commitment to teach and lead this year through our small groups and classes. Take some time to not only to make new commitments and promises, but to renew our covenant with God.
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
Prayer for Today
God, you have called us to live in ways that at times seem difficult and even impossible to do. Remind me each day that as I live in the way you have instructed, I am moving closer and closer to you. Make my joy complete, O God. Amen.
A while back, a friend of mine shared this inspirational quote with me:
"Be gentle in your kindness for everyone has their troubles."
I think this quote is an invitation to come along side of each other with an openness that meets the other where they are.
Paul's letter to the Colossians uses a clothing metaphor to expand this invitation to live life in the Spirit.
Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
-Colossians 3: 12-15
Our caring ministries here at JCPC are all clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
One of these ministries is CanCare Atlanta whose mission is to assure no one endures cancer alone.
You can make a difference in the life of someone touched by cancer in our community and beyond by attending CanCare Atlanta's Fiesta of Hope at Mavericks Cantina on this coming Saturday, August 17th beginning at noon and going into the evening.
When we first saw the stream in our backyard, it was just a thin vein of water trickling through a bed of rocks in the heat of the summer. Heavy wooden planks served as a bridge we could easily cross. Months later, torrents of rain pounded our area for several days in a row. Our tame little creek swelled into a quick-moving river four-feet deep and ten-feet wide! The force of this water heaved the bridge boards up and deposited them several feet away.
Rushing water has the potential to overwhelm almost anything that stands in its path. Yet there's something that's indestructible in the face of a flood or other forces that might threaten to destroy it-love. "Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away" (Song of Songs 8:7). Love's persistent strength and intensity is often present in romantic relationships, but it's only fully expressed in the love God has for people through His Son, Jesus Christ.
When the things we consider to be sturdy and dependable are swept away, our disappointment can open the door to a new understanding of God's love for us. His affection is higher and deeper and stronger and longer lasting than anything on earth. Whatever we face, we face with Him beside us-holding us up, helping us along, and reminding us that we're loved.
Prayer for Today
Heavenly Father, thank You for comforting me with Your love during times of rejection or loss. Help me to believe I can depend on You to meet every need in my soul. Amen.
Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
One of many reasons I am humbled by my calling to ordained ministry is that it is, or can be, a greater community of faith leaders from many faith traditions. After the shooting last year at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, a group of us pastors, rabbis, and imams began gathering to become connected, celebrate our common ground, and work for peace in our part of this world. It wasn't long after this that the shooting at the mosque in New Zealand happened. We grieved. Together.
This past weekend, my first awareness of the shooting in
El Paso was a text by the rabbi to our group text suggesting we draft a statement from our group to speak against this violence. In the midst of our texting, we received word of a second shooting in Dayton. We could not even speak out with one voice, only hours after one act of violence before another atrocity. That is the deeper tragedy. The frequency of this devastating violence does not even give us time to respond.
I was deeply humbled when we gathered Tuesday morning to gather with other committed faith leaders who think deeply and pray fervently each day because thoughts and prayers always produce action, and our thoughtfulness and prayer shared with one another on common ground yielded a beautiful statement and a fruitful conversation about actions we hope we and our leaders will take. Just as our writing process from different faith traditions necessitated compromise of wording and vocabulary, structure, and thought, so too will our solutions to ending violence in our nation and world. There will be many approaches and many ideas. And together, through thoughtfulness, prayer, and righteous action, we will find peace together in God's world.
Prayer for Today
Lord, help me to think. Help me to pray. Help me to value the thoughts and prayers of all people. And help me to act on common ground for peace and love and hope for your world. Amen.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.
A few weeks ago, I was looking for a photograph of me from my childhood. We were beginning our new sermon series, "A Time for Everything" about how to maintain balance in life. I was sharing about learning to balance and ride a bicycle. I asked Pam where the best place would be to look for that old photograph. She directed me to our basement where she keeps the photo albums of family pictures.
I went downstairs and looked for that picture. The bad news is that I never found that photograph. The good news was that I spent at least an hour looking over all of the pictures Pam has saved of our family. It was kind of like seeing my whole life pass before my eyes - and I didn't even have to have a near-death-experience to do it!
Not only did it bring back many wonderful memories I have not thought about in a very long time, it gave me a brief overview of my life. I realized that often I am so consumed by the present moment - what is happening right now or next on my planning list - that the present seems to dominate my outlook. It is kind of like riding behind a big truck on the highway -- you mostly see the back of the truck and you miss a lot. But, seeing those photos gave me a sense of the overall flow of my life. I think it is healthy and helpful to look back over the seasons of our lives from time to time as we reflect on the chapters of life we have completed.
This Sunday at 10:00 a.m. in The Great Hall is our Annual Congregational meeting in which we do just that - we look back over how God has been at work in and through our church family this past year. We will also be hearing an exciting report from our Director of Music Search Committee about our newest staff member, as well as about great plans for our upcoming 25th Anniversary Celebration. I look forward to seeing you there!
Prayer for Today
God of the ages, you not only give us life - you bless us with memories of all that is good. Thank you for the gift of life, the good memories we possess, and the hopeful future that awaits us! We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Have you ever planted bulbs? I have planted them on several occasions during my adult life and waited patiently throughout the winter. Once spring began to arrive, I watered them regularly and impatiently waited to see the first hint of green sprout through the soil. When I finally did, I wanted to see growth overnight and have the beautiful daffodils to enjoy. As you probably know, it did not happen overnight or even over the course of a week.
These daffodil bulbs are a reminder to me that growth does not happen overnight in our lives either. As adults in our community of faith, we serve in roles as teachers, leaders, parents and friends to the children and youth in our midst. God calls us to help plant the seeds and continue to nurture them. The nurturing process takes time and sometimes we are not the ones who get to see them bloom.
As we begin a new school year, I am reminded of what a privilege it is to be called to water and nurture these children and young people. We walk with them at a very important part of their journey. There are lots of ways that our church family participates in the nurture of our children and youth. If you are sensing a call to work with them at JCPC in a more specific way this year, please contact me to talk about it.
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.
Prayer for Today
May our vision each day of the world around us remind us that you so loved the world that you sent Jesus, your Son, to be one of us. In all that we observe, open our eyes so that we may really see and grow in wonder and appreciation. In Christ's Name, Amen.
When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon 50 years ago, history was made in several ways. Armstrong's words, "one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind" have been memorialized in our memories. History was also made by Buzz Aldrin through a ritual; a remembrance he observed. Not many of us remember his words that day:
"I would like to request a few moments of silence," he said. "I would like to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever he may be, to contemplate for a moment the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his own individual way."
A Presbyterian elder, Aldrin brought communion elements blessed by his pastor to the moon. What came next, his holy remembrance was observed by two men alone on the moon.
"In the radio blackout, I opened the little plastic packages which contained the bread and the wine. I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup. Then I read the Scripture, "I am the vine, you are the branches. Whosoever abides in me will bring forth much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing." I had intended to read my communion passage back to earth, but at the last minute [they] had requested that I not do this. NASA was already embroiled in a legal battle with Madelyn Murray O'Hare [sic], the celebrated opponent of religion, over the Apollo 8 crew reading from Genesis while orbiting the moon at Christmas. I agreed reluctantly. I ate the tiny Host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility. It was interesting for me to think: the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the communion elements. And of course, it's interesting to think that some of the first words spoken on the moon were the words of Jesus Christ, who made the Earth and the moon - and Who, in the immortal words of Dante, is Himself the "Love that moves the Sun and other stars."
Prayer for Today
Holy God, we confess that all things were created through Christ and for Him. Through the gift of your Holy Spirit, hold our lives together so that through our prayer and praise we will proclaim the Lordship of Christ and remember his call to be his disciples. Amen.
The trash man's house sits atop a steep street in a poor Bogota neighborhood. Not one thing about it looks special. Yet the unassuming abode in Colombia's capital is home to a free library of 25,000 books-discarded literature that Jose Alberto Gutierrez collected to share with poor children in his community.
Local kids crowd into the house during weekend "library hours." Prowling through every room, each packed with books, the children recognize the humble home as more than Señor Jose's house-it's a priceless treasury.
The same is true for every follower of Christ. We're made of humble clay-marred by cracks and easily broken. But we're entrusted by God as a home for His empowering Spirit, who enables us to carry the good news of Christ into a hurting, broken world. It's a big job for ordinary, fragile people.
"We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us" (2 Corinthians 4:7), the apostle Paul told his congregation in the ancient city of Corinth. They were a cross section of people from across this region, so many might have been tempted to "go around preaching about [them]selves," Paul said (v. 5 nlt).
Instead, Paul said, tell others about the priceless One living inside of us. It's Him and His all-surpassing power that turns our ordinary lives into a priceless treasury.
Prayer for Today
Jesus, fill up my ordinary life with the power of Your Spirit. Amen.
It is so good to be back. After a very full summer with our children and youth and various mission projects and Bible studies and events, it was time for a much needed break. Jessica and I spent some time with just the boys. While we did schedule a few fun things like a day of robo-camp and an evening at Stone Mountain, the rest, we played by ear. So there was much bike riding, swimming, hiking, board game playing, costume wearing, and a sprinkling of movie watching.
Before working in and for the church, Sabbath was easy to carve out. Back then, I simply found a worship service to attend, friends to join for lunch, and tried to take a break from work and school. When I began working for the church, worship was still worship, but Sunday was no longer sabbath. With the exception of the occasional nap here and there, Sundays get filled with youth group and prep for that, and racing around with the family. I've spoken with many other pastors who face the challenge of finding sabbath that looks like rest and time away with God, rather than simply being content to be AT church five or six or seven days a week.
I was grateful for a week away from work, though I did miss the work and my coworkers and those I serve. However, like all Sabbath, it is a reminder from the creator that we are human beings and created ones. Not human doings. We are loved and called to purpose, not just busyness. It gave me time to be intentional, to watch my boys that God has given me to raise, and to more fully appreciate my wife as their mother, the meals and activities she prepared for us. I hope that this Sunday, or on your next vacation or day off that you'll spend time with God and reflect on who God calls you to be and give thanks, and not just thinking about all you have to do when that time is over.
Prayer for Today
Lord, help me to pull away from busyness in my sabbath time. Help me to reflect, to be intentional, to give thanks, and to take rest in you. Amen.