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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, January 31 2020

Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone.  -Proverbs 23:5

 

The mischievous artist Banksy pulled off another practical joke. His painting Girl with Balloon sold for one million pounds at Sotheby's auction house in London. Moments after the auctioneer yelled "Sold," an alarm sounded and the painting slipped halfway through a shredder mounted inside the bottom of the frame. Banksy tweeted a picture of bidders gasping at his ruined masterpiece, with the caption, "Going, going, gone."

 

Banksy relished pulling one over on the wealthy, but he need not have bothered. Wealth itself has plenty of pranks up its sleeve. God says, Do not wear yourself out to get rich . . . . Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle. 

-Proverbs 23:4-5

 

Few things are less secure than money. We work hard to earn it, yet there are many ways to lose it. Investments go sour, inflation erodes, bills come, thieves steal, and fire and flood destroy. Even if we manage to keep our money, the time we have to spend it continually flies. Blink, and your life is going, going, gone.

 

What to do? God tells us a few verses later: always be zealous for the fear of the Lord. There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off  (vv. 17-18). Invest your life in Jesus; He alone will keep you forever.

 

Prayer for Today

God, help me to give my insecurities to You and to trust in Your goodness and faithfulness. Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:46 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, January 30 2020

Everything the Lord has made should praise him in all the places he rules. My whole being, praise the Lord.

-Psalm 103:22

 

If you have not yet seen the Netflix special, Two Popes, make some time. The depth of the story and faith of the men it portrays and is challenging, moving, and inspiring. There are so many small conversations from the film that I've been thinking about for weeks now. In one, Cardinal Bergoglio (to be Pope Francis later), tells Pope Benedict a story. Bergoglio says as a young man, he asked an older priest if it was permissible to smoke while praying. The priests says of course not. Bergoglio asks the follow up... May I pray while I'm smoking? Pope Benedict chuckles, and Bergoglio says, "Perhaps we don't always ask the right question."

 

I think that's a point worth considering, especially in the context of prayer and worship, perhaps even more so in the western world and America. How often do we seek to make our prayer and worship more comfortable? Can I have a padded pew? My favorite pew? Can we skip singing new hymns? Only hymns? Only praise songs? Timpani, but not snares? Guitar but not electric? A specific time slot? Different day of the week? I'm as guilty as anyone. I'd love to have my coffee with me in worship. I have preferences for certain songs, styles of preaching. But what I like about what Bergoglio says is that it's not so much if we like the answer to our question but whether we are asking the right question. What if instead of asking if I could have my coffee in worship or more acoustic guitar or a comfier seat... what if I were to ask myself... when I go for coffee with friends, could I ask them what I can pray for them, and then we pray together? What if when I play my guitar, I pray? What if when I sit in my comfiest seat at home, I think of all my blessings and close my eyes and thank God?

 

This week, when you think of questions, preferences, statements that focus on your needs or desires, think of a new way to frame them. Get creative, especially about prayer and worship. Imagine a new question, a new perspective. Imagine inviting God into your life in new ways and new places. Invite God to your commute, your meals, your quality time with loved ones, your morning routine. And then share that with someone. Definitely share it with me. I'll be curious what you find.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, help me to ask new questions and invite you into more of my life. Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:45 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, January 29 2020

Yesterday, Brian and I were coming back from lunch. We parked behind the church offices and were walking toward the sidewalk by the playgrounds behind the church. There was a woman standing there on the sidewalk leaning against the playground fence. She appeared to be waiting for a ride. I couldn't help but notice her breathing apparatus, wondering if that is why she was waiting for a ride -- because it would be hard for her to walk to a car.

 

As we approached her, we both spoke and she cheerfully replied. After we had walked a few steps past her, she called out to us and said, "You know you're saving a lot of lives here, and we appreciate it." It was at that point that I realized she probably attended one of our many 12-step meetings that take place on our JCPC campus every week. You're saving a lot of lives. I remarked to Brian, "Now that's not something you hear every day." And yet that is why we are here. That is why Johns Creek Presbyterian Church exists -- to save lives. In our New Testament, the Greek words for "to save" and "to heal" come from the same root word.

 

This Sunday we will be looking at a story from Luke's gospel in which Jesus is healing the sick inside of a house. Because there are so many people, a man who has been paralyzed for life and who is brought by his friends to be healed by Jesus cannot get into the house where Jesus was healing. So, his friends take him up on the roof of the house, cut a hole in the roof, and lower the man down on his mat so that Jesus might heal him. Jesus notices the faith of the man's friends who brought him and lowered him into the room. But the first thing Jesus says to the man is this, "Friend, your sins are forgiven" - which is the language of salvation. Only then does Jesus then tell the man to "get up" and he is healed.

 

I am grateful that God is still in the business of healing and saving -- especially in a place like JCPC!

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, we thank you for sending Jesus into the world to save sinners like each one of us. We also thank you for sending Jesus to bring healing and wholeness to each one of us. What a friend we have in Jesus! Help us to bring our friends to Jesus -- the Friend of sinners. Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:43 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, January 28 2020

This past week my life has been eventful, filled with challenges and celebrations. As I take some time to reflect this morning, I am reminded of the importance of friendships in the body of Christ. In our friendships, we find comfort in times of grief, we share joy in moments of celebration and we provide support in the challenges of each day.

 

"I've told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I'm no longer calling you servants because servants don't understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I've named you friends because I've let you in on everything I've heard from the Father." John 15:12-15

 

Jesus Christ sought out friendships on his journey here on earth. He reminds us of the importance of these bonds in times of joy and sorrow. Take some time to lift up in prayer those that have been your support through challenges, shared in your joy, and provided comfort in your grief.

 

As you go through your day, be challenged by Christ's command to love one another as He loved us.

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, Open our eyes to the friendships we have in lives. Help us to turn to you as our example for how we can care for one another. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:40 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, January 27 2020

We are in the middle of a sermon series entitled Get Up that Gray is preaching. Joseph is instructed by an angel to get up and go to Egypt in order to escape the violence of Herod and when the threat had passed to get up and return home. Jesus commands an invalid at the pools of Bethesda to get up and enter into a strange new ambulatory world.

 

Both of these stores have me thinking of the dynamic of out of the box thinking. You have probably heard or used this phrase, out of the box thinking on numerous occasions. Typically, it is referring to doing something different, radical and entering into a paradigm shift. The gospels are a prime example of out of the box thinking and living!

I came upon the illustration below that illustrates what out of the box thinking and doing might look like when following Jesus.

I especially like following Jesus includes taking naps in boats. At our JCPC 25th anniversary our Presbytery Executive, Rev. Aisha Brooks-Lytle and I were talking about a theology of rest and now I have the perfect excuse to get a boat...or maybe I'll work at taking a nap. Following Jesus should have its perks!

 

Prayer for Today

Loving God, help us have the mind of Christ so that we will think outside of the box and experience your grace on the road less traveled. Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:39 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, January 24 2020

I have made you and I will carry you.

-Isaiah 46:4

 

Sometimes when my Labrador retriever wants attention, he'll take something of mine and parade it in front of me. One morning as I was writing at the desk with my back turned, Max snatched my wallet and ran off. But realizing I hadn't seen him do it, he returned and nudged me with his nose-wallet in mouth, eyes dancing, tail wagging, taunting me to play.

Max's antics made me laugh, but they also reminded me of my limitations when it comes to being attentive to others. So often I've intended to spend time with family or friends, but other things occupy my time and awareness; and before I know it the day slips away and love is left undone.

 

How comforting to know that our heavenly Father is so great that He's able to attend to each of us in the most intimate ways-even sustaining every breath in our lungs for as long as we live. He promises His people, Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you.  -Isaiah 46:4

 

God always has time for us. He understands every detail of our circumstances-no matter how complex or difficult-and is there whenever we call on Him in prayer. We never have to wait in line for our Savior's unlimited love.

 

Prayer for Today

You always have time for me, Jesus. Please help me to live every moment for You!  Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:35 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, January 23 2020

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.

-Psalm 32:8

 

"Let not your heart be troubled," His tender word I hear,

And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears;

Though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see;

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

His Eye is on the Sparrow 

(Civilla Durfee Martin)

 

Recently, I shared coffee with a church member who told me about a visit with one of our aging church members in a care facility. This woman had told her how much she loves when her husband tells her he loves her. She said, "he closes one eye, and I know he's just looking at me." It reminded me of those words from the hymn, based on Matthew 6:26 or any of the scriptures about God keeping an eye on us (such as Psalm 32:8). I had always wondered why God would be characterized as keeping only one eye on me and not more. Not that I presume God has two eyes, but there are other scriptures about God's eyes. I think I finally get it. There's something about being singled out by a wink or a parent or family member volunteering to keep an eye on us. There's a focus, there's a reassurance, there's love.

 

As a lifeguard, I spent years in a chair or on pool decks, scanning back and forth, both eyes wide open, watching everyone. Although I watched all the kids and parents, I never felt as attuned as some mothers and fathers who almost seemed to be paying no attention at all as they chatted with a friend or focused on another kid. And yet, time and time again, a kid I thought only I was watching would be caught mid-air or yelled at in the middle of breaking the rules by a parent I didn't think was even watching. They didn't have both eyes on their kid. They had a watchful, loving eye on all they did. They were safer with one parental eye than my trained pair of lifeguard peepers. And I think the difference was that relationship. The difference was their parent knew them well enough to know what they would do next. The difference was love.

 

God knows us better than anyone. God loves us. God keeps a watchful eye on us, even when the rest of the world has both eyes on us, seemingly all the time. And when we are doing what we shouldn't, we hear God call out to us. And when we think no one is watching or cares, God closed one eye, looks right over with a little smile, and says, "I love you." And we know that's just for us.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, when I close my eyes, help me to see you with your wink and smile, and know I am loved. Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:33 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, January 22 2020

Last Monday evening we had our monthly Called Session Meeting. This meeting included our elders-elect who will be ordained and installed this coming Sunday. The elders-elect brought a new energy to our meeting. This is the time of year when we are seeking to finalize our ministry and mission budget for the new year. 2019 was a good year for JCPC when it comes to giving. You may remember that our giving income was ahead of our mission and ministry expenses throughout most of the year. This was due, in part, to generous gifts of about $80,000 by some of our members, who gave above and beyond their normal pledge to make the 2019 mission and ministry budget a reality.

 

However, our 2020 ministry and mission needs are greater than the pledges we have received. So, our session is wrestling with how to address those needs. Our Ministry Teams are in the process of looking at their requested budgets for 2020 to see where reductions can be made. Our session is also exploring ways to increase our income to close the gap. In the coming weeks, the congregation will be hearing more about this need through both a church-wide letter and an announcement in a worship service by some of our elders.

 

When our Session met this past Monday, what impressed me most in the meeting was not only the energy, but the interest and the ideas shared by our elders, both old and new, about how we might move forward and make this work. Over the years my experience in churches has been that budget discussions can be very difficult. And while the challenge is there for us this year, I am grateful for the way our elders have struggled well and come together to address this challenge.

 

Please keep our elders and our staff in your prayers in the coming days. Please be praying that God would open our minds, our hearts, and maybe even our checkbooks, so that we might come together and do everything that God wants us to do in 2020. If we are open to the leading of God's Spirit, I believe we can discern the way forward that God wants us to follow.

 

Prayer for Today

Generous and loving God, thank you for being with us, especially in the challenging times of life. We are grateful for all that you have done in the life of Johns Creek Presbyterian Church for the last 25 years. Guide us as we move forward in the coming days so that we might press on and do what you want us to do. Help us to be good and generous stewards of all that you have given to us. In the strong name of Jesus the Christ, we pray. Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:32 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, January 21 2020

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, This is the way; walk in it.

-Isaiah 30:21

 

In life we certainly encounter crossroads or challenges and might be unsure about what path to choose. There have been times in my life where things were settled and comfortable then I started noticing God's nudging me to move in a direction. It often takes me a while to catch on to the change. I am a creature of habit and routine.

 

Over the past two decades, I have experienced three big moves. I moved to college, over six hours from home. Then after college moved to Aiken, SC for my first job and then moved to the Johns Creek area over eight years ago. Each time, I have moved to the new place only knowing a handful of people at the start. With each move, I have grown in my knowledge, understanding of myself, and found a community to grow with me. For an introvert, this has not always been easy and has taken lots of time to establish deep relationships.

I have been considering this passage from Isaiah as a part of my devotional time today and reflecting on how and where I heard God's voice each time. When you have been discerning God's direction for your life, in what ways has God communicated with you?

Did you feel brave when traveling in a new direction?
Annie F. Downs shared this and it resonated with me, "I never felt brave. But day after day, I just did the next thing, took the next step, said the next yes. And God built a life for me... that I could not have dreamed up... I may not have felt brave, but I was taking brave steps in obedience to God."

 

How can you take a brave step in obedience to God today? As I study the Old Testament prophets with our Senior Adult Bible Study, I am gaining a greater understanding of the prophets calling to take brave steps in obedience to God and share God's message with those they were encountering.

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, 

Guide us as we seek obedience and open us up to be brave in our words and actions. Thank you for the gift you provide in the prophets old and new to challenge us. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:30 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, January 20 2020

One of my favorite books related to prayer is Theodore Jennings insightful read,

Life as Worship: Prayer and Praise in Jesus' Name. His message is embedded in the title namely that how we live our lives through faith is worship. How we pray comes in many forms. I came across this description of faith the other day and it echoed what I learned from Jennings.

Today is Martin Luther King's birthday. As I watched Dr. King and listened to his messages as I was growing up in the 60's he seemed to me to be a living prayer.

 

May your prayer come to fullness as you live faithfully and may your worship be pleasing to our Lord.

 

Prayer for Today

Fill us with your Spirit, Eternal God, so that in all we say and do, we will be living prayers striving to fulfill your will. Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:24 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, January 17 2020

He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed.

-Psalm 107:29

 

"Chasing tornadoes," says Warren Faidley, "is often like a giant game of 3D-chess played out over thousands of square miles." The photojournalist and storm-chaser adds: "Being in the right place at the right time is a symphony of forecasting and navigation while dodging everything from softball-sized hailstones to dust storms and slow-moving farm equipment."

Faidley's words make my palms sweat and heart beat faster. While admiring the raw courage and scientific hunger storm chasers display, I balk at throwing myself into the middle of potentially fatal weather events.

 

In my experience, however, I don't have to chase storms in life-they seem to be chasing me. That experience is mirrored by Psalm 107 as it describes sailors trapped in a storm. They were being chased by the consequences of their wrong choices but the psalmist says, They cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm. 

 -Psalm 107:28-30 

 

Whether the storms of life are of our own making or the result of living in a broken world, our Father is greater. When we are being chased by storms, He alone is able to calm them-or to calm the storm within us.

 

Prayer for Today

Thank You, Father, that You're with me in my struggles and Your power is greater than any storm on my horizon. Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:22 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, January 16 2020

When [Jesus] had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets." When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 

 

But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people." When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

-Luke 5:4-11

 

It's mid-January and time to check in. Have you made any resolutions? Are they going well? Are the same ones as always? Did you skip making any? I'm hoping, that like me, you're resolved in this new year to grow deeper in your faith. Maybe you took on resolutions about coming to church more, bringing your kids more, volunteering with the youth group, going on the Dominican Republic trip, or joining a small group. If you did, great, and if not, maybe start there. Either way, I'd like to make a suggestion.

 

Go deeper. Jesus suggested the disciples needed to go deeper. Deeper waters can be more work, but also more rewarding. It was a metaphor for the work ahead, to which Jesus was calling them. Back when I lived in Colorado, I joined a gym. It was walking distance from my house and shared a parking lot with the Chipotle, so I knew I could make myself go, and the membership fee was super low. In addition, they had advertised a free 30-minute session with a trainer for signing up. I knew that if I worked even once with a trainer, they could set me up with a good workout plan to target my goals and make my time in the gym more effective. Even a short time with an expert is valuable. Sure enough, Ivan put me through a killer workout. I could barely move for three days after, but what I learned made every following workout far more effective than anything I'd done for years before that.

 

So, go deeper. Are you in a small group? Choose a challenging book to tackle. Take notes. Do you come to worship regularly (or plan to)? Is it hard to focus on scripture and preaching because you're worried about the week? Take notes, maybe knit or doodle. Afterwards, go to lunch with the family or your friends and discuss the text, the sermon. Go deeper. Do you drop your kids off for Sunday school or Youth Group? Ask what we need you to do. Join a Sunday school. Stay and help with youth group. When you go home, ask your kids about the lesson. We need you. Go deeper. Do you give money to the mission trips or pray for the teams? Go on a mission trip or offer to be a baby or pet sitter for someone going; write prayer cards. Go deeper. This year, make goals of your attendance and participation in your faith, but go deeper. And if you need a little encouragement from one of us trainers, our time is yours, a lot more than 30 minutes. Let's grab coffee or a bite, and let's go deeper.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, make me a person of depth. Make my faith deep with questions and commitment. Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:21 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, January 15 2020

This past weekend was a wonderful celebration of what God has done in and through this church over the last 25 years! 

I have heard some wonderful comments. One person said that this is what heaven will be like. Another former member said it was even better than they imagined it might be. Rev. Aisha Brooks-Lytle preached a great message challenging us to "Press on!" At one point in the worship service, she turned to me and commented on what a positive spirit there was in our church. It reminded her of her home church.

 

So many people worked hard behind the scenes to make this happen. The plans began almost a year ago. Dawn Melin soon assembled a great team to plan and facilitate many of the events. So many of our members worked hard throughout the weekend, including our Connecting Ministry Team members who were here for both of our church-wide events. Bill McLeish did a masterful job as our chef -- cooking as well as organizing his helpers. And I am grateful for all the members of our church staff who worked so hard in so many ways.

 

Hearing founding pastor Dr. Larry Wood and wife Helen tell the stories of how this church got started and how God was at work here was amazing. It links us with our past. It reminds us of how faithful God has been. It also encourages us to trust God with our future. I know there have been many outstanding events in the life of this church, but I must believe this last weekend was at or near the top of those highlights.

 

If you were not able to attend the big events, they are posted on the Johns Creek Presbyterian Church Facebook account for you to enjoy again and again. I look forward to seeing what great things God will do in the next 25 years!

 

Prayer for Today

Thank you, God, for all you have done to bring this church into being. Help us to continue the great heritage we have been given as we live into your future. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:19 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, January 14 2020

Have you ever seen this video? (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw )


It includes insightful words from Brene' Brown about the distinction between empathy and sympathy.  

 

When we are able to be empathetic, we take the time to see things from the other person's perspective, stay out of a place of judgement, and recognize emotion in another person.

 

I like how she defines "empathy as a sacred space...I know what it's like down here and you're not alone...Empathy is a vulnerable choice... A connection rather than a response helps make something better".

 

When you face difficult conversations, what are some ways to connect and share empathy? What are some ways that you have experienced empathy in a helpful or meaningful way?

As Jesus was sharing some of his final messages with the disciples, he shared these words, "I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid." (John 14:26-28)

 

The Holy Spirit works through us and provides us opportunities to share empathy. I invite you to be open to how God will use you today.

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, thank you for the gift of relationships and the sacred space we can experience there. Open our hearts to ways that you will use us today. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:17 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, January 13 2020

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

-Matthew 9:36

 

When Jeff was a new believer in Jesus and fresh out of college, he worked for a major oil company. In his role as a salesman, he traveled; and in his travels he heard people's stories-many of them heartbreaking. He realized that what his customers most needed wasn't oil, but compassion. They needed God. This led Jeff to attend seminary to learn more about the heart of God and eventually to become a pastor.

Jeff's compassion had its source in Jesus. In Matthew 9:27-33 we get a glimpse of Christ's compassion in the miraculous healing of two blind men and one demon-possessed man. Throughout His earthly ministry, He went about preaching the gospel and healing "through all the towns and villages" (v. 35). Why? "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (v. 36).

 

The world today is still full of troubled and hurting people who need the Savior's gentle care. Like a shepherd who leads, protects, and cares for his sheep, Jesus extends His compassion to all who come to Him (11:28). No matter where we are in life and what we're experiencing, in Him we find a heart overflowing with tenderness and care. And when we've been a beneficiary of God's loving compassion, we can't help but want to extend it to others.

 

Prayer for Today

Heavenly Father, we're so grateful You had compassion on us! We would be lost without You. Help us to extend Your overflowing compassion to others.  Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:14 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, January 10 2020

The Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

2 Timothy 1:7

 

Legend has it that at the edges of medieval maps, marking the boundaries of the world the maps' creators knew at the time, there'd be inscribed the words "Here be dragons"-often alongside vivid illustrations of the terrifying beasts supposedly lurking there.

 

There's not much evidence medieval cartographers actually wrote these words, but I like to think they could have. Maybe because "here be dragons" sounds like something I might've written at the time-a grim warning that even if I didn't know exactly what would happen if I ventured into the great unknown, it likely wouldn't be good!

 

But there's one glaring problem with my preferred policy of self-protection and risk-aversion: it's the opposite of the courage to which I'm called as a believer in Jesus (2 Timothy 1:7).

 

One might even say I'm misguided about what's really dangerous. As Paul explained, in a broken world bravely following Christ will sometimes be painful (v. 8). But as those brought from death to life and entrusted with the Spirit's life flowing in and through us (vv. 9-10,14), how could we not?

When God gives us a gift this staggering, to fearfully shrink back would be the real tragedy-far worse than anything we might face when we follow Christ's leading into uncharted territory (vv. 6-8, 12). He can be trusted with our hearts and our future (v. 12).  

 

Prayer for Today

Loving God, thank You for the new life You've given us, for freedom from all that would cripple us in fear and shame. Help us to find peace in You. Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:12 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, January 09 2020

"Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" He said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

-Matthew 22:36-40

 

See also: 

Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:18, and Exodus 20:1-17

 

It is clear for us Christians, and for our Jewish brothers and sisters, that the basis for living our faith is loving God and loving neighbor. This man is both quoting the Old Testament and summing up the first 4 Commandments as Love of God and the second 6 Commandments as Love of Neighbor. Practically, in our lives, it means striving for generosity and avoiding selfishness. Anyone who lets someone into traffic or ahead of them in line at the grocery store, holds the door for a stranger, or helps someone who is elderly, disabled, or struggling in anyway understands this principle and is living it out. If any part of one's earnings or time goes to charitable giving, service, or helping those in need, that is generosity. Generosity, especially to those who cannot pay you back, is the opposite of self-interest. You have only the possibility of reputation to gain and what you do with that recognition is your witness.

 

Our lives as disciples are about making those daily decisions of self-interest versus generosity. Humility is thinking of ourselves less, not less of ourselves. Putting others first in a spirit of generosity means our decision-making becomes a lifestyle of generosity. We cannot choose to be generous only some of the time. Being generous with our time to our kids but stingy when we tip our waiter is not a spirit or lifestyle of generosity. It must be a part of us in every decision. And the more power and wealth we have, the more powerful each decision becomes. Decisions about how we spend our money, the cars we drive, the energy and resources we consume, where we travel, they have greater impact than those of our brothers and sisters in the developing world. One of the greatest decisions we make, is to vote.

 

Those of us with the right to vote in our country are among the most powerful people in the world. Our votes influence one of the most powerful militaries the world has ever seen and therefore, the world's resources, land, and people. Do we vote out of self-interest of ourselves, our families, and like-minded friends in local and national elections, or do we remain faithful disciples who vote within a lifestyle of generosity and selfless love for neighbor? Do we vote for just our blood-related brother and sister and next door neighbor or for all our brothers and sisters and a biblical definition of neighbor - those who need compassion? We cannot call ourselves disciples of Christ, if we are generous with our time, our talents, and our treasures, but not our vote. That is not love. We become clanging cymbals and noisy brass, people of partial faith. As believers, it is never enough to vote in our self-interest, especially if we are overly-represented in our government by people who look just like us. I pray we live each day this year as faithful and generous disciples, perhaps especially when we are asked to vote.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, make me generous in all times and places, and not just my time, talents, and treasures. Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:07 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, January 08 2020

Colin Fleming is a writer. He is also a recovering alcoholic. In a recent

Wall Street Journal opinion piece, he talks about what it takes to make the kinds of changes in life necessary to quit drinking or even write a book. ("Don't Wait a Year to Make Resolutions", December 30, 2019) This is what he said:

 

Any change in life requires momentum and the determination to build on it. But fresh starts-especially the expectations we apply to New Year's-are endued with a kind of officiality that makes them intimidating. We feel as if we must have everything in order in our lives-desk cleared of stray papers, pencils all sharpened and in a row-before we start writing the story. But that's not how stories are composed or anything gets done. They're wrought amid the bracken of life, with space cleared and clutter elbowed aside, not vanquished. They're created in the small starts that link segment to segment until you have a road and you are roaring down it, momentum doing its thing.

 

At the core of our Christian faith is the idea that human beings can make new starts. We use the language of faith to talk about this: sin, repentance and grace. Of course, these words apply to things with a serious moral dimension and not just starting a new diet. The good news we have just celebrated over Christmas is that God sent Jesus to save the world from it sin and brokenness. That world includes each one of us. As John's gospel tells us, "God so loved the world that He sent His one and only son . . ."(John 3:16) Jesus came to break to bonds of sin that hold us back from becoming the persons God created us to be. Yet, because of God's love, we can accept the gift of God's grace and start anew. The new start it is often "amid the bracken of life" and "the small starts" that join together to build momentum in life.

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, thank you for the possibility of new starts in life. Help us to turn to you sooner rather than later, so that we might fully experience your forgiveness and renewal. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:06 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, January 07 2020

Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don't try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God's voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; God is the one who will keep you on track.

-Proverbs 3:5-6

 

What places do you expect to experience God? Maybe it's church, or nature, or the graveside of a loved one, or in our very selves. As we begin a new school year, what if we looked for God at school or work or morning carpool? Does God show up during your first period class that begins at the break of dawn, or in that early morning wake up from your child, or even in the long first meeting of the day?

 

It's important to expect God to show up in all kinds of places. What are some unexpected places where you can look for God this week?

 

This past week, I saw God at work in a found $5 bill and was reminded of a long term connection with our church and two teenage children that we sponsor through Compassion International. 


I was walking our dog by myself in our neighborhood. I went along one of the usual streets and noticed $5 in the road. I looked to see if it was near a house and it wasn't. I picked it up and put it in my pocket and then thought about what to do.
 

As often as possible, Will has a dollar or some coins to put into an offering envelope to give during our Children's Worship offering. Each week we talk about where the money will go, and most regular attendees can tell you. The offering helps support Simba Mumo and Itzel de Jesus Romero our two Compassion International children that we sponsor.

 

Our children and families at JCPC have been supporting Simba and Itzel for at least a decade. They are now in high school and continue to have a connection with church, school, and an extended faith community because of the generosity of our children and families.

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, I'm going to look for you every day this school year. I expect I'll see you around. Give me a heart that's open to your mysteries so that I can see and hear your work happening right before me. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:04 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, January 06 2020

Wow! We've entered a new year and a new decade. I'm wondering if you made any New Year's Resolutions for 2020. I have and I'll get to mine after a brief commentary.

 

When I think of the traditional New Year's resolution I tend to think of resolution as being a type of conviction expressed in a self-promise. You probably have practiced this conviction motif at various times in your life with resolutions like "I'm going to lose weight this year or I'm going to stay in the moment and not hurry through life." Being resolved to live a healthier and happier life is a great goal.

 

Of course experts advise that our resolutions should be achievable and realistic because if we set them too high we will come crashing to earth before we know it. Face it, our lives are cluttered with broken promises that we make to ourselves regardless of how resolved we start out.

 

I heard someone say that their New Year's resolution this year was to not be critical for three days. I thought that was great until I realized that I probably would fall short of that goal within the first hour. I wanted to be similarly resolved but knew that I would need to bake failure into the recipe. So how to do that; build failure into the resolution so that it would have a real chance of succeeding?

 

My answer was to look at resolution through the lens of vision. Every now and then I will walk over to the televisions at Target and marvel at their improved resolution. Today's televisions have such brilliant resolution that it almost feels as if you can walk into the scene. Resolution improves vision.

Now I can be resolved to be less critical in the New Year by resolving my vision. It goes like this; when I think a critical thought I will follow it with a kind thought. There's an old proverb that goes like this; what you focus on will grow. Now my resolution works in both ways. It will lessen my time being critical and when I am it will open the door to kindness. Happy New Year!


 

Prayer for Today

God of new beginnings we pray that you mold us with your redemptive hands so that when we are doing your will we will be glorifying you and when we fall short your glory will open the door of mercy with the invitation to try again. Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:00 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, January 03 2020

People the world over spent an estimated $98.2 billion on chocolate in 2016. The number is staggering, yet at the same time not all that surprising. Chocolate, after all, tastes delicious and we enjoy consuming it. So the world rejoiced collectively when the sweet treat was found to have significant health benefits as well. Chocolate contains flavonoids that help safeguard the body against aging and heart disease. Never has a prescription for health been so well received or heeded (in moderation, of course!).

 

Solomon suggested there's another "sweet" worthy of our investment: wisdom. He recommended his son eat honey "for it is good" (Proverbs 24:13) and compared its sweetness to wisdom. The person who feeds on God's wisdom in Scripture finds it not only sweet to the soul but beneficial for teaching and training, equipping us for "every good work" we'll need to accomplish in life (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

 

Wisdom is what allows us to make smart choices and understand the world around us. And it's worth investing in and sharing with those we love-as Solomon wished to do for his son. We can feel good about feasting on God's wisdom in the Bible. It's a sweet treat that we can enjoy without limit-in fact, we're encouraged to! God, thank You for the sweetness of Your Scriptures!

 

Prayer for Today

God, please nourish us with Your wisdom. Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:43 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, January 02 2020

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.

-Jeremiah 29:11-13

 

This will be my first post of the new year here in 2020. The natural rhythm of our culture is a big celebration and day to recuperate. And in the midst of this lull after Christmas and before the new year, we reflect on the past year and consider the next, perhaps making goals and plans. These plans can be resolutions about matters that are physical, emotional, or even spiritual - plans to eat better, exercise more, or avoid temptations that we have given in to before. Perhaps we make plans to be kinder or avoid toxic people or negative social media, or take on the challenge of learning something new like a language. What about spiritual plans?

 

Another thing our culture provides us is platitudes, often masquerading as God's wisdom or specific scripture. "God helps those who help themselves," or, "cleanliness is next to Godliness," or, "God has a plan." If you're about to check your Bible, don't bother. You won't find any of those in its pages, even that last one. What you will find is the scripture above. God has plans. This is great news of the Good News variety. God makes plans - plural. What does this mean for us? It means that when we make our plans, choices, split second decisions, we cannot mess up what God has in store for us. Whatever the direction or mistake or alternative, God is there to keep calling us forward, to serve others and be in closer relationship with God. Whether it's a new job, a college, a relationship... when we step out in good faith, God goes with us, helping us, guiding us. God makes plans with us. God helps us fix and heal. So what's next?

 

God has plans for us. We know that sheep become familiar with the shepherd's voice over time and through trusting relationship, as we come to recognize the voices of our loved ones. We do that with God. As we listen to God in prayer, reading scripture, and gathering with other believers to study the word and serve those in need, we hear God's voice and continue to grow closer. So, if you're making plans this year of a spiritual variety, start there. Could you attend worship more often? Join a small group? Go on your first mission trip... or first in a while? Could you be the hands and feet that join the Connecting Team in setting up and cleaning up an event that welcomes your brothers and sisters and visitors into our doors from stressful work weeks? Could you teach a Sunday school class? Could you rise early on a Sunday morning or stay up all Friday night to serve meals to the homeless? Maybe you're being called to support foster families or become a foster parent. The promise is clear... a future with hope... when we seek God. Say yes to one or more of those plans this year. See what plans God is making for you. Say yes, Lord. Here I am.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, help me to make my faith a part of my plans and resolutions. As I spend more time with you, help me to know your voice and follow your call. Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:42 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
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