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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.

Monday, September 30 2019

I hope that you were able to worship with us yesterday during our Festival of Hymns. Music can move us to places deep in our souls like no other medium that I know. I thought the choir, Justin, Heidi, and Laura were remarkable in their worship leadership and I want to thank them.

 

Gray crafted a sermon which highlighted some of the personal tragedies that are the backdrop of our great traditional hymns. I was incredibly moved by the stories of personal loss and tragedy as well as the faith in God which permeate these hymns.

 

A common critic of Christianity is that it promotes a type of pie in the sky theology that isn't grounded in the hardships of life. On the contrary, our Festival of Hymns witnessed a faith in a God who meets us where we are in order to save, redeem, and sustain us.

 

The popular author/speaker Brené Brown has something to say about Christian faith that I want to share:

From the sounds of it Brené would make a good Stephen Minister!

 

I'm looking forward to seeing you this coming Sunday at our World Communion celebration.

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, may peace flow like a river through our souls and throughout our lifetime so that no matter what our lot may be; whether we are heavy with our sorrows or caught in trials that make it difficult to understand the strain, we will catch a glimpse of your amazing grace and in the stillness of clarity profess, it is well with my soul.

Posted by: AT 10:35 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, September 27 2019

I'm inspired by country singer Tim McGraw's song "Live Like You Were Dying." In it he describes some of the exciting "bucket list" things a man did after receiving some bad news about his health. He also chose to love and forgive people more freely-speaking to them more tenderly. The song recommends that we live well, as if knowing our lives will end soon.

This song reminds us that our time is limited. It's important for us to not put off for tomorrow what we can do today, because one day we'll run out of tomorrows. This is particularly urgent for believers in Jesus, who believe that Jesus may return at any moment (perhaps in the very second you're reading this sentence!). Jesus urges us to be ready, not living like the five "foolish" virgins who were caught unprepared when the bridegroom returned (Matthew 25:6-10).

 

But McGraw's song doesn't tell the whole story. We who love Jesus will never run out of tomorrows. Jesus said, I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. -John 11:25-26. Our life in Him never ends.

So don't live like you're dying. Because you're not. Rather, live like Jesus is coming. Because He is!

 

How will you live today like Jesus is coming soon? How does knowing He could return any day affect your choices?

Jesus, I look forward to the day You'll return. May I use the time I've been given to honor You and to serve others well.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, make me an explorer. Send me to new places in your word with fresh perspective and closer proximity. Amen. 

Posted by: AT 05:19 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, September 26 2019

Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.

-Psalm 119:18

 

 

 

Jupiter has fascinated us for hundreds of years, observable by the naked eye and later by telescope. It is massive and beautiful, one of many parts of the heavens that declare God's majesty. And since those days of the first telescopes, we have been fascinated by that red spot, a swirling and beautiful centuries old storm. And yet, as a matter of distance and limited perspective, its wonder has never been fully known to us. But recently, we had the chance to draw closer, and much was revealed. 

If you think of Jupiter as a swirling gaseous ball of reds and yellows, you're not alone. And yet, perhaps the most beautiful part of this heavenly body was hidden from our sight... till the Juno spacecraft from NASA soared above Jupiter and took pictures of its fiercely blue coral-like swirls at the northern pole (images above). If the known clouds of Jupiter are its mesmerizing fire, its newly discovered pole is the equally captivating cascading waterfall. We drew closer and our eyes have been opened by our new perspective and proximity to new wonder and beauty and a fuller picture of what Jupiter is. 

There are many scriptures that tell us that when we draw close to God, God draws close to us, and that when we draw close to God's Word, God is revealed. If the scriptures we love are a burning fire of singular beauty and depth for us, imagine what it would be like to soar back over them and see a new perspective of rushing water and greater depth in that discovery. We often read God's word in worship. But when did you last draw closer, change perspective, seek to see more, and come away with fuller understanding? If you're a youth, a young adult, or an adult of any age, when did you last attend Bible Study or draw closer? The school year just started. We'd love to help you draw closer and explore. 

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, make me an explorer. Send me to new places in your word with fresh perspective and closer proximity. Amen. 

Posted by: AT 05:17 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, September 25 2019

Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. Psalms 96:1, NIV

 

I am really looking forward to our next "Fifth Sunday" worship service which is a Hymn Festival. We have asked our church family to suggest hymns we might sing in worship this Sunday. I have been working with our music staff to build the whole service around hymns. Almost every part of our worship service will be based on a familiar hymn - so plan to sing a lot!

We will also share the stories of a few select hymns which give background to the life circumstances surrounding their creation. The stories are moving and inspirational.

 

In preparing for this service, I came across this explanation as to why hymns are so important to worship:

 

The purpose of hymns is to enable as many Christians as possible to identify with their faith experiences, to enjoy the spiritual insights, to experience the sustaining reality of God's love which belonged to the hymn writers and which are expressed in the words and music of their great hymns (James Sydnor)

 

There is great value in hymn singing. When we sing hymns, Christians can . . .

 

-          Express their feelings and their ideas

-          Tell others what they believe

-          Experience closer fellowship

-          Be instructed in the fundamentals of their faith

-          Be sustained in daily life

 

Hymns are more than just singing a good tune - they nurture us as we worship God. Please plan to be there this Sunday and invite someone to join you! 

 

Prayer for Today

"Speak Lord, for your servant hears..." (1 Samuel 3:9 & 10).
Try it this way: Ask God a question. Then breathe in your longing for God's guidance... Breathe out stress and hurry.

"The Lord is my Shepherd... I shall not want" (Psalm 23:1).
Try it this way: Breathe in to entrust yourself to Jesus... Breathe out to let go of wanting _______.

In Christ's Name, Amen.
Posted by: AT 05:15 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, September 24 2019

I have often heard the phrase, "God is as near as your every breath." What does that mean for you? How often do you notice your breathing throughout the day? When it's so quiet, that it's the only sound you hear... or when it's more pronounced like when you are exercising (on purpose or when you are trying to hurry). I would invite you today to be more aware of your every breath, and when you do remember that God is near to you.
 

Below are some breath prayers.
They are prayers that help you focus on your breathing while you pray. Take these prayers with you as you continue your day, remembering God's spirit abides in each of us.

"The Spirit of God made me what I am, the breath of God Almighty gave me life!" Job 33:4

 
 

Prayer for Today

"Speak Lord, for your servant hears..." (1 Samuel 3:9 & 10).
Try it this way: Ask God a question. Then breathe in your longing for God's guidance... Breathe out stress and hurry.

"The Lord is my Shepherd... I shall not want" (Psalm 23:1).
Try it this way: Breathe in to entrust yourself to Jesus... Breathe out to let go of wanting _______.

In Christ's Name, Amen.
Posted by: AT 05:13 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, September 23 2019

Posted by: AT 05:12 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, September 20 2019

One spring after a particularly dreary winter during which she helped a family member through a long illness, Emma found encouragement each time she walked past a cherry tree near her home in Cambridge, England. Bursting out at the top of the pink blossoms grew blossoms of white. A clever gardener had grafted into the tree a branch of white flowers. When Emma passed the unusual tree, she thought of Jesus's words about being the Vine and His followers the branches (John 15:1-8).

 

By calling Himself the Vine, Jesus was speaking of an image familiar to the Israelites in the Old Testament, for there the vine symbolized God's people (Psalm 80:8-9; Hosea 10:1). Jesus extended this symbolism to Himself, saying He was the Vine and that His followers were grafted into Him as branches. And as they remained in Him, receiving His nourishment and strength, they would bear fruit (John 15:5).

 

As Emma supported her family member, she needed the reminder that she was connected to Jesus. Seeing the white flowers among the pink ones gave her a visual prompt of the truth that as she remained in the Vine, she gained nourishment through Him.

 

When we who believe in Jesus embrace the idea of being as close to Him as a branch is to a vine, our faith is strengthened and enriched.

 

Prayer for Today

Jesus, thank You for helping me to remain in You. May I find the peace, hope, and strength I need today. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:15 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, September 19 2019

Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.

-Philippians 4:11-12

 

My niece is easily the cutest ever. This isn't an opinion. It's a fact. I'm her uncle. I would know. She's two. She's the source of endless amusement... perhaps more for me and my wife than my sister and her husband. I get frequent texts with her latest antics captured on video. This week, I got an adorable video from the Goodwill. My niece was in a shopping cart. She was clutching an enormous rubber ducky around the neck, a duck nearly as big as her. She was pleading with every fiber of her little body over and over, "I wannnnnnnnnt it."

 

Her mother and I found this hysterical - though we disagreed on the necessity of buying this duck. However, as funny as we both found this childish attachment and begging, I couldn't help but think that it's not unique to toddlers. I work primarily with teenagers. But it doesn't stop with them. Adults? We want absurd things too. I sat in front of a woman at a middle school volleyball game last night who could not stop berating the referee or the young girls, and at one point, me for turning to look at her in bewilderment. Based on her comments, she expects her daughter to make the Olympic team one day. Based on my observations, this is an unrealistic goal. But then I found myself driving home and debating buying a late-night burger or shake, something I did not need, but I did want.

 

How often do we cling to our own rubber duckies? Giant, absurd, impractical, unnecessary, only-a-good-idea-in-the-moment wants that we can't let go of... pleading with our heavenly parent to say yes and clutter up our life with our wants? Simply being realistic isn't the solution. We are all too good at rationalizing for that. It's been said there are two ways to get what you want... acquire more... or want less. Mr. Rogers says that appreciation, gratitude is a holy act. This week, and this weekend, take a moment to ask yourself if what you want most is what you need, and then if what you have is wonderful... and when is the last time you gave thanks for those things, those people? I believe God tells us to give thanks because grateful hearts want less. And maybe your uncle will buy you a rubber duck for Christmas anyway.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, help me to see the wonderful things I already have, to focus on the good things I have and only what I need. And help me to want what you long to give me. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:14 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, September 18 2019

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

- Mark 1:35, NIV

 

There is a rhythm to life. There is the normal day/night rhythm -- though some research suggests the presence of light 24/7 has thrown that off. There are weekly rhythms, monthly rhythms, and even the rhythms based on our Earth making an orbit around the Sun. Life has rhythm. Not following the natural rhythm of life can cause some tension.

 

Our spiritual lives also have a rhythm. The verse above from the first chapter of Mark's gospel gives us a glimpse into the spiritual rhythms of the life of Jesus. He gets up before dawn to go away by himself and pray. I wonder if that was his daily rhythm? It is mine - most of the time. I get up early, usually when our dogs awaken me, and I begin my day on our screen porch with my coffee. I read scripture and other Christian writings, pray, reflect, and journal. That's my daily spiritual rhythm.

 

My weekly spiritual rhythm is focused on Sunday worship. However, my Sabbath day of rest is Friday, because Sunday is a work day for me. Over the course of the year, I will take some time off for renewal during vacation or continuing education. About every seven years I take a sabbatical - a few months to renew my spiritual batteries.

 

This weekend about twenty of us are heading to the mountains of north Georgia for our annual Men's Retreat. (The JCPC Women's Retreat is not that far off, either.) This is a time for us to get away and find renewal. Not only do we have time to experience God's creation, we will also be inspired by a guest speaker. Some unstructured fellowship and Sunday worship are also part of the weekend. Please pray for our group as we seek to draw closer to God and to each other. I encourage you will find your own rhythms of spiritual renewal.

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, Jesus spent time way from the busyness of life in your presence. May we make our time with you a priority so we can enjoy your presence. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:12 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, September 17 2019

When you think of community, what are the first couple of images that pop into your mind?

You might think of your neighborhood or your co-workers or your church. I believe that being in community is something that God calls us to do. We cannot meet life alone. It's easy to shut others out, but when times are difficult, we need support from our communities. When it's time to celebrate, we need someone to join in the festivities. Whether we like it or not, we have been called to be in community with one another.

 

Hebrews 10: 24-25 reminds us: let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

We are never truly alone with God, but having someone's physical presence that you can see, touch, and hear is a gift. We are lucky enough to have people placed in our lives that are embarking on this journey we call life together. In life we face challenges and experience celebrations. We face mistakes and experience victories. We face tragedy and experience joy.

 

In a world with so many ways to connect, many times we can feel disconnected. Electronic media connections can fill our days and we may be longing for a face to face encounter with someone who cares for us.

 

Don't isolate yourself from developing relationships. Don't run away from community. Consider each of the communities that you are a part of and dive right into them. Find ways to be present each day. You are a member of the Christian family here at JCPC. What are some ways that you can connect with that community today and this week?

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, you gather us together in our faith journey
Trusting in you, we join one another as a community
A community of faith on a journey
A journey to grow ever deeper in our faith
Along the way, remind us of your Love
Of your sacrifice for us
Of your ever mindful presence
Guide us as we go out and share your love with all those in our community.
In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:10 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, September 16 2019

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. 

-Matthew 13:44

 

What a peculiar parable Jesus tells us to illustrate God's activity in our lives. It may not seem so peculiar at first glance because most of us have harbored a fantasy of finding buried treasure. Perhaps it would be treasure buried in the ground, submerged underwater, or perhaps a painting bought at a flea market that turns out to be a classic. Found treasure captures our imaginations and it's meant to do so in this parable.

 

In Jesus' time, treasure was a common metaphor for the reward for moral behavior. If you practiced sacrificial love and gave of yourself unselfishly there would be a reward; a treasure awaiting you. I think most of us can relate to this belief that there will be a pay-out for good behavior. We wonder what the treasure will be as our reward.

 

What makes this parable peculiar is that the treasure is the first thing found when Jesus illustrates the kingdom of God in this parable. The treasure has a quality to it that is both surprising and baffling. Rather than a reward at the end, the treasure is found at the beginning of the story and then buried again. What can this possibly mean for us?

 

This coming Sunday, I'm going to be preaching on this peculiar parable through a sermon entitled, "Amends and Amens." The sermon will be the most personal sermon I have preached in 33 years as it's related to a phone call I received in August that was a follow up to one of the most tragic experiences in my family's life which happened 20 years ago. This phone call has allowed me to understand Jesus' parable in such a manner that I believe I was able to get Jesus' teaching on a most personal level. I trust when you hear this sermon, you will too.

 

Prayer for Today

Open our eyes to the treasure of your kingdom, O Most High, so that in the tragedies of life we can experience your grace in down-to-earth experiences offered to us through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:10 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, September 13 2019

In Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis confessed he came to Christianity at the age of thirty-three, "kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance to escape." Despite Lewis's own personal resistance, his shortcomings, and the obstacles he faced, the Lord transformed him into a courageous and creative defender of the faith. Lewis proclaimed God's truth and love through writing powerful essays and novels that are still being read, studied, and shared more than fifty-five years after his death. His life reflected his belief that a person is "never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream."

 

As we make plans and follow dreams, God can purify our motives and empower us to devote whatever we do to Him (Proverbs 16:1-3). From the most ordinary tasks to the greatest challenges, we can live for the glory of our almighty Maker, who "works out everything to its proper end" (v. 4). Every action, every word, and every thought can become an expression of heartfelt worship, a sacrificial gift to honor our Lord, as He watches over us (v. 7).

 

God can't be limited by our limitations, our reservations, or our tendencies to settle or dream small. As we choose to live for Him-dedicated to and dependent on Him-He will bring about His plans for us. Whatever we do can be done with Him, for Him, and only because of Him.

 

Prayer for Today

God, thank You for reminding us that no jobs are too small and no dreams are too big in Your great kingdom.  Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:08 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, September 12 2019

O Lord, I remember your name in the night, and keep your law.

-Psalm 119:55

 

 

 

Forgetting is an easy thing to do; much harder than remembering. When events of significance happen, especially tragedies, someone always says, "Remember!" It's been said about the Alamo, Pearl Harbor, 

D-Day, and countless other dates of infamy, including September 11th, 2001. But remembering is hard to do. Our brains are hardwired to forget as much as possible most days, in order for us to be able to try to remember what we deem important.

 

In order to remember, we create holidays, memorials, stories, and movies. We write songs and teach our children, and we recall our memories annually. Because otherwise, the busyness of our lives gets in the way, and memories fade. And sometimes, the very places we live make it easy to forget that the rest of the country or world experiences life differently. It would be easy to forget in most of the U.S. that war goes on in other countries, including a war that started on September 11th. We now have children born that day who are old enough to be deployed to that war, a generation of war. And in our bubble of Johns Creek, it would be easy to forget that the diversity and relative peace we enjoy is not common to even our whole country and that there have been shootings at houses of worship and white power rallies in other cities.

 

Memory still remains a powerful tool for learning lessons and working for peace. I was reminded of that this week. Yesterday, on September 11th, as I walked through the preschool, I heard the lyrical voice of one of our teachers, a beautiful British accent, articulating the words of our pledge of allegiance with a chorus of children. I peeked in to see a beautiful display of a small child holding a tiny flag proudly and his classmates, a true representation of the diversity of our community, God's kingdom, and likely, those in the towers and planes that day. They spoke the words that they were one nation and indivisible. They will remember those words for a lifetime, as most of us do. And the country and world they inherit will depend on how we choose to remember and live as a unified people, or choose to be divided. I pray we leave them a world of hope.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, God of all nations, help us to remember from our history that we are stronger together and stronger united for peace. Help us remember to choose peace, to seek common ground, and to love one another as you loved us first, remembering we are yours. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:07 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, September 11 2019

Today is 9/11. When I realized I would be writing my Reflections on this date, I was reminded of what it has come to symbolize. In the same way that July 4, 1776 means something to Americans, so does 9/11. Some have suggested that it changed us forever in a number of ways. Maybe it did. I remember being at church when it happened and finally going down to our Youth Lounge in time to watch on TV the Twin Towers fall. I was stunned at what I was seeing. Today you will probably hear some reference to that event. When I think about words from Scripture that may speak to us, Psalm 46 comes to mind. It reminds us of God's presence, even in the chaos of life. God promises that one day, it will be better than this. Until then, we wait, we hope, and we work to make this world as God created it to be.

 

God is our refuge and strength,

   an ever-present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way

   and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam

   and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

   the holy place where the Most High dwells.

God is within her, she will not fall;

   God will help her at break of day.

Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;

   he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;

   the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,

   the desolations he has brought on the earth.

He makes wars cease

   to the ends of the earth.

He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;

   he burns the shields with fire.

He says, "Be still, and know that I am God;

   I will be exalted among the nations,

   I will be exalted in the earth."

The Lord Almighty is with us;

   the God of Jacob is our fortress.

 

Prayer for Today

God, help us to know when to be still and trust you. Help us also to know when to work to make this world as you created it to be. Thank you for being "our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble." Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:04 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, September 10 2019

One recent morning, Will found his binoculars laying on the table. They had been put away from summer travels and were found when unpacking a backpack. He immediately took the binoculars outside on our deck said he was going to do some bird watching. He heard birds, but didn't see any. So then he noticed the sun was starting to rise and directed his binoculars through the trees to get a closer look. He called me out to join him and we stopped for a few moments to enjoy the sound of birds and the view in front of us. It was so nice to have our busy morning rhythm interrupted. Our mornings are not always so calm and peaceful. Some include unexpected bugs or spiders who have made a web blocking the exit to the deck. These we often pass by quickly.

It's funny to me how sometimes interruptions in our day can bring moments of calmness and appreciation. While others we avoid like the plague. The same situation would have likely brought about a different reaction from any number of people.

I realize that these two encounters are not earth shattering in comparison to some of the challenging experiences that we face in life. They just reminded me that when we face situations that are unexpected, our response to them often shapes our faith in a significant way. So then, how do your reactions to life's interruptions or unexpected circumstances, shape your faith? Sometimes I find when life is a little bit unpredictable, I realize my need to live by faith and depend upon God's guidance.

Take some time to you consider the ways that life's interruptions shape your faith.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. -Hebrews 11:1

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, Help me to be more aware of your presence with me each day. Guide me as I seek to walk in faith, even when I cannot see the outcome. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:03 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, September 09 2019

My supervisor is a huge fan of a certain college basketball team. This year, they won the national championship, so another coworker texted him congratulations. The only problem was my boss hadn't yet had a chance to watch the final game! He was frustrated, he said, knowing the outcome beforehand. But, he admitted, at least when he watched the game he wasn't nervous when the score stayed close to the end. He knew who won!

 

We never really know what tomorrow will hold. Some days can feel mundane and tedious, while other days are filled with joy. Still other times, life can be grueling, agonizing even, for long periods of time.

 

But despite life's unpredictable ups and downs, we can still be securely grounded in God's peace. Because, like my supervisor, we know the end of the story. We know who "wins."

 

Revelation, the Bible's final book, lifts the curtain on that spectacular finale. After the final defeat of death and evil (20:10, 14), John describes a beautiful victory scene (21:1-3) where God makes His home with His people (v. 3) and wipes "every tear from their eyes" in a world with "no more death or mourning or crying or pain" (v. 4).

 

On difficult days, we can cling to this promise. No more loss or weeping. No more what-ifs or broken hearts. Instead, we'll spend eternity together with our Savior. What a glorious celebration that will be!

 

Prayer for Today

Dear God, we are thankful the hope of heaven gives us strength and that one day God will soothe every hurt, heal every wound, and wipe away every tear.  Amen.  

Posted by: AT 11:02 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, September 06 2019

Shirley settled into her recliner after a long day. She looked out the window and noticed an older couple struggling to move a section of old fence left in a yard and labeled "free." Shirley grabbed her husband, and they headed out the door to help. The four of them wrestled the fence onto a dolly and pushed it up the city street and around the corner to the couple's home-laughing all the way at the spectacle they must be. As they returned to get a second section of fence, the woman asked Shirley, "You be my friend?" "Yes, I will," she replied. Shirley later learned that her new Vietnamese friend knew little English and was lonely because her grown children had moved hours away.

 

In Leviticus, God reminded the Israelites that they knew how it felt to be strangers (19:34) and how to treat others (vv. 9-18). God had set them apart to be His own nation, and in return they were to bless their "neighbors" by loving them as themselves. Jesus, the greatest blessing from God to the nations, later restated His Father's words and extended them to us all: "Love the Lord your God . . . . Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:37-39).

 

Through Christ's Spirit living in us, we can love God and others because He loved us first (Galatians 5:22-23; 1 John 4:19). Can we say with Shirley, "Yes, I will"?

 

Prayer for Today

Loving God, thank You for the love You've shown me. Please, Holy Spirit, love others through me so that You might be glorified. Amen.

Posted by: AT 06:51 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, September 05 2019

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!

-Psalm 100:1

 

 

I grew up in a small Presbyterian church in Charlotte, NC. The youth choir was mandatory for middle and high school youth before dinner. Contrary to what recent research has revealed - that almost everyone can be taught to sing well and that the greatest barrier to this is not skill or anatomy, but being told at a young age you cannot sing - most of us young boys were told we sounded awful. Not by the leader, but by his followers - as so often is the case. Thus, it was a wretched experience, most weeks, to come and be mocked by high school girls as my voice changed from alto to tenor to bass in my middle school years. As if that weren't bad enough, we were called Joyful Noise.

 

Our phenomenal choir director was at least sensitive to our plight, having been a middle school boy at some point, I imagined. He filled our hour of torture with gifted instruction and humor. He silenced most of the snickering. And he never made us sing solos. He taught us music, and even a love for the music, if not a total assurance we young boys could make it. And he was probably my first theology teacher. He assured us repeatedly that a joyful noise was not the same as a perfect one and God desires joy. Everyone, he told us, deserved to be there and contribute.

 

That choir taught me some important lessons. I learned how to sing. I learned that people other than the leader could be influential...for good or bad. I learned that a leader, like Christ in the Church, can espouse inclusion and the giftedness of everyone, and emphasize the importance of joy over perfection and that their followers can drown that message out with derision and scorn. It has been important to me in every group I've joined or led to see that a message of that hopeful inclusion and appreciation and joy is central and practiced. I've seen that in the guitar group Mark Fallis formed and the people who have fostered that joy. And I saw it this week among the youth who gathered to play stringed instruments this Sunday night. I encourage you to make each group you join one that includes all who come and affirms their gifts. And if you want to make a joyful noise, we have places for you to do that at JCPC.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, inspire me to joyful noise. And help me to encourage others to join and lift their gifts to you. Amen.

Posted by: AT 06:49 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, September 04 2019

"The words are like an acorn from which an oak tree can grow." 

-Eugene Peterson

 

On the side of our house is an oak tree. It is large and has a round canopy. It looks like the picture of a perfect oak tree. When I cut the grass and it is very hot, I will take a break and stand under its shade. The branches are so thick that it almost feels dark under the tree. It is certainly much cooler than being out in the direct sunlight. If there is any breeze, it is very pleasant. It reminds me of summers when I was a kid and we spent most of our days outside. We naturally gravitated toward the shade of large trees such as this one when we needed to sit down and take a break.

 

It takes a long time to grow an oak tree like the one in my yard. The words by Eugene Peterson above remind us that such magnificent trees began small - with an acorn. I find those words encouraging and daunting at the same time. When I am in the early stages of a new ministry or program, "acorn thinking" helps me to imagine what this acorn could grow to be - like a large oak tree. On the other hand, I realize that real growth takes time. This applies to humans, churches, and about everything else. Often I am impatient. I want maturity - and I want it now! But that is not the way it works. Maybe this is where faith can enter in. We can trust God to bring the growth over time where it is needed. So, we do not need to worry or be anxious. We can simply trust God with the outcomes of our lives, our work - even the whole world. So may God bless the good acorns you are planting here now, to become oak trees in the years to come!

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, show us where we need to plant and nurture acorns today that will grow into oak trees tomorrow. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: AT 06:48 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, September 03 2019

As many along the east coast have been preparing for hurricane Dorian, I am getting updates from many family members and friends. When natural disasters like this hit, we are filled with questions.

 

I would invite you to take a moment today to listen for God. The words of Psalm 46 often come to mind in times like these.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Be still and know that I am God.  -Psalm 46

 

After reading this scripture, I would invite you to find an image from this week's storm that serves as a reminder to you of the message of Psalm 46. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Take time to lift up in prayer those in the Bahamas that have already been affected by the storm and those that will experience effects over the next couple of days.

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, you are our comfort and strength in times of sudden disaster, crisis, or chaos. Surround us now with your grace and peace through storm or earthquake, fire or flood. By your Spirit, lift up those who have fallen, sustain those who work to rescue or rebuild, and fill us with the hope of your new creation; through Jesus Christ, our rock and redeemer. Amen.

Posted by: AT 06:47 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, September 02 2019

One of the patterns of life which consumes much of our waking hours is work, our labor. Our work has the ability to either be a blessing or a curse. In the Bible, work has both a blessing and a curse quality as found in Genesis 3. What makes work a blessing is when if fulfills the higher goals in life.

 

Today is Labor Day, so I imagine you are in the mood for a bit of a light-hearted reflection. Here is a tale about the importance of setting meaningful goals in life.

 

A farmer had a dog who used to sit by the roadside waiting for vehicles to come around. As soon as one came he would run down the road, barking and trying to overtake it. One day a neighbor asked the farmer "Do you think your dog is ever going to catch a car?" The farmer replied, "That is not what bothers me. What bothers me is what he would do if he ever caught one." Many people in life behave like that dog who is pursuing meaningless goals.

 

 

Well, I hope you aren't chasing cars today, but rather are enjoying a more relaxed holiday. When your work resembles the pursuit of meaningless goals, take time to perform an inventory of what in life is important to you. Many times in our jobs it might seem like we are chasing cars, so reflect on the higher purpose of your labor. There you will find your blessing.

 

Prayer for Today

Bless us, O Lord, with the higher calling of labor. May our work be meaningful, may our tasks be productive and may our efforts find favor in your will. Amen.

Posted by: AT 06:45 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
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