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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, October 30 2020

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

-I Corinthians 12:27

 

 

One of the best parts of corporate worship is that members are around people they sometimes never see in their daily lives. In college, many of my peers would remark how strange it was to see children and babies after going months only seeing other college students and professors. It was less strange for me because I'd sometimes see them at church. Some of my youth have never known their grandparents or live hundreds of miles from them. Their main experiences with the elderly are their Sunday school teachers and mentors. Sometimes, Church, and its activities and outreach expose people to different generations and types of people they never see outside of church, of various ages, language and cultural groups, the homeless, differently abled, or of different affiliations.

 

Technology challenges us to interact differently too. In some ways, it opens the door to people who can't or won't come to in-person gatherings. In some ways, it levels the playing field. Like worship, those differences can be simultaneously uncomfortable and filled with growth. My first year here at JCPC, I advocated for video recorded faith statements from our Confirmands to respond to the needs of both one student with special needs and a few with crippling anxiety about public speaking. Their statements were profound, preserved, and shared with compassion in this new way. While it did not happen without resistance, the joy and thanks from the youth and parents who needed that accommodation was worth it. And now Covid has brought a similar growing pain and opportunity.

 

Our new youth group schedule is to meet every other week in person and socially distanced. While some lessons work in this format, it's better for games. Likewise, the alternating weeks and mid-week bible studies on Zoom are more conducive to lessons and discussion. Some of the youth, and maybe parents too, express their dislike of one or the other. My prayer for them and for you and the small groups to which you belong is to dig deeper! As an extrovert and relationship-oriented person, I confess I do NOT prefer Zoom meetings. I crave the intimacy of my youth squeezed around a table in the Chick-fil-A or local coffee shop. But you know what? I've observed my youth with special needs and anxieties who would ordinarily never pay close attention or share their viewpoints in person or large groups... they freely speak on Zoom. And we are enriched by that sharing. We are more closely resembling the full body of Christ. And when we only come for in-person OR online, we are diminished.

 

The full body shows up in the fullest gatherings, and there is growth in the places we are not the most comfortable. I've learned a lot in this growing time. I hope you'll join me for ALL the opportunities, and not just the ones you prefer. Let's learn together.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, help me to join in the body, even when I feel growing pains. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:42 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, October 28 2020

A while back I heard Scott Weimer, former pastor of the North Avenue Presbyterian Church, talking about a woman who was one of their international members from Kenya. She came down front after a service and she told Scott that she missed some parts of the worship from Kenya. Scott asked what she missed. The woman said that she missed how they gave the offering. In her country, they placed the offering plates down front, and then people danced down the aisle while carrying their gifts up to place them in the offering plate.

Last Sunday, we finished up our Stewardship sermon series called Faith in Action. And while we could not dance down the aisle to bring our pledge cards because of this pandemic, many of you have already pledged. You have placed your pledge card in the offering plate following Drive-In Worship, mailed it to the church office, dropped it by the Welcome Center drop box, pledged online on our church website, or used the QR code on the pledge card or worship bulletin. So far, we have received 47 pledges totaling $457,301 which is about 60% of our 2021 pledge goal of $762,600. Thank you to everyone who has pledged so far! If you have not done that yet, please do so as soon as you can so that together we can accomplish God's mission for JCPC in 2021.

Last Sunday was a great day of worship with Kirkin' of the Tartans! This coming Sunday we will remember those whom we have lost this past year during our All Saints' Day service. I hope you will make a special effort to attend the Drive-In service or watch Online.

Finally, if you have yet to respond to our survey about when to return to worship, we want your input, so please click this link and do that now. 

 

Prayer for Today

Thank you, God, for blessing us in so many ways - from financial resources to saints who have shown us how to live faithfully as followers of Christ. Help us to follow their generous example in our lives. In the strong name of Christ we pray. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:41 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, October 27 2020

"Then Christ will live in your hearts because you believe in him. And I pray that your love will have deep roots. I pray that it will have a strong foundation. May you have power with all God's people to understand Christ's love. May you know how wide and long and high and deep it is. And may you know his love, even though it can't be known completely. Then you will be filled with everything God has for you." (Ephesians 3:17-19)

 

In Paul's letter to the church at Ephesus, we hear that to know and be rooted in Christ's love, is to more fully be the people God has created and is calling us to be. We are empowered to be the best versions of ourselves. This passage reminds me of our call to pass on this message to the all children, youth and adults in our church as they are on their faith journey.

 

A couple of years ago, I spent a season studying Ephesians with our Senior Adult Bible Study. The time spent with that group studying Paul's letter to the Ephesians was deeply meaningful to me. This letter from Paul and his message to us is a helpful reminder to me that each one of us has the opportunity to help others experience the width, length, height and depth of God's love.

 

What can you do to share God's love that is deeply rooted in you? Who has been a teacher or mentor along the way for you? What did they do that made an impact on your journey?

 

In a world where the pressure to succeed is high and many hear that they are only loved for as much as they can perform, Paul's reminder to us is even more relevant. In a country that can be divided and polarized in an election and pandemic, Paul's reminder to us is even more imperative. We are called to share that God's love is unconditional and far exceeds the limits of this earth.

 

A small example of this love was evident to me yesterday. I received a message and pictures from Will's teacher. The class has been working on weekly challenges and some of the class had completed all 9 for the first quarter of the school year. Rather than have just 6 of the children enjoy their popsicle reward, these generous students decided to share with their entire class. The smiles on their faces enjoying a sweet treat brought such joy to my heart to see the love that these friends have developed over the past year and a half (Will's class had the special privilege of staying together with their teacher from kindergarten to 1st grade).

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, Thank you for your gift of love. Help us to be open to experience your love and allow it to take root in our lives. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:37 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, October 26 2020

During a trip to celebrate our twenty-fifth anniversary, my husband and I read our Bibles on the beach. As vendors passed and called out the prices of their wares, we thanked each one but didn't buy anything. One vendor, Fernando, smiled wide at my rejection and insisted we consider buying gifts for friends. After I declined his invitation, Fernando packed up and began walking away . . . still grinning. "I pray God will bless your day," I said.

 

Fernando turned toward me and said, "He has! Jesus changed my life." Fernando knelt between our chairs. "I feel His presence here." He then shared how God had delivered him from drug and alcohol abuse more than fourteen years earlier.

 

My tears flowed as he recited entire poems from the book of Psalms and prayed for us. Together, we praised God and rejoiced in His presence . . . on la playa.

 

Psalm 148 is a prayer of praise. The psalmist encourages all of creation to "praise the name of the Lord, for at his command [everything was] created" (v. 5), "for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens" (v. 13).

 

Though God invites us to bring our needs before Him and trust He hears and cares for us, He also delights in prayers of grateful praise wherever we are. Even on the beach.

 

Prayer for Today

Help me praise You with every breath You've given me, God. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:33 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, October 23 2020

"We honor those brave pilgrims who kept faith when hope seemed all but gone. They prayed and sang to You, and through Your blessings, they did carry on."

-Text from Beneath Thy Guiding Hand (the anthem for this week)

 

This Sunday is Kirkin' o' the Tartans, as well as Reformation Sunday, and it is a tradition that many churches have to honor our Presbyterian Scottish heritage. The text above, taken from the anthem we will sing this Sunday, paints the picture of our spiritual ancestors who crossed the Atlantic Ocean in search of religious freedom, among other things.

 

I think this text is also appropriate for now in this time of pandemic. Have you had any days in the last six or so months where you felt like hope seemed all but gone? Even in this pandemic, a lot of us "suffer" with conditions that are drastically better than what the first Presbyterians who came over from Scotland experienced. While we might grovel about having to wear a mask at the grocery store, they didn't even have a neighborhood Publix to go to for food. While we debate whether we should leave our homes for fear of viral infection, they didn't have the choice to just stay home and wait out their hardships.

 

They risked everything and gave up so much, not because a virus forced them to, but because they felt compelled to. I'm sure they complained, but I'm glad they persisted and passed on the faith tradition that we still follow today. I also think about how we as Presbyterians have changed through the years. It reminds me that we are connected to our past yet different from them, because we have grown and adapted to many things. And we are literally in the midst of adapting to new things right now, yet we are still Presbyterians and we are still the church.

 

As we honor our past this Sunday, let's also remember that we are making history right now. Our Drive-In Worship experience has been a model for our community and it has been a way for us to keep faith, pray, and sing to God. And through God's blessings, we can make it out of this pandemic yet, stronger and more deeply connected.

 

Prayer for Today

God of the past, present, and future, thank you for our spiritual ancestors who trusted in you and acted. Help us today to bless you, and use our time, talents, and treasures for your purposes so that our spiritual descendants can have a chance to continue the mission. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:30 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, October 22 2020

And Jesus answered them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.

-Luke 5:31

 

 

 

Among my favorite images for Christ is as "the Great Physician," as this works so well for his role as a healer in his ministry and spiritual healer to each of us. I especially like it because it works with my favorite image of the Church as a hospital. And not just any hospital. If you've seen the film Patch Adams or read about the real-life doctor it's based upon, you'll know what kind of hospital I mean. In the film, Patch Adams, a second-career medical student and genius has built a facility and diverted medical supplies to it. His professors at the school try to kick him out for his unorthodox approach to personal relationships with his patients and "excessive happiness." Professional detachment is what they advocate.

 

Patch Adams finds himself on trial defending his version of a hospital, one where unlicensed folks are practicing medicine and treating patients, a clear violation of the law. He explains that's not quite true. The prosecutor asks if those who come to his facility are patients. Patch says, "everyone who comes is a patient... and everyone is a physician." He explains that each patient is also given another patient to care for, whether changing their bandages or helping them walk or listening to them. Everyone a doctor, and everyone a patient... just like the church.

 

There are times in our life when we seek a hospital out because we are in need of care. But there are other times when we seek a hospital out to offer our own resources and skills for the care of others. Patch Adams does both in his life and story, in that order actually. For many of us, receiving care inspires us to a life of giving it. The charge above reminds us of two things... one is that most of us are blessed enough that we need a weekly challenge to be the ones offering care, to be a physician. The second is that being a patient and a physician are not exclusive; we can be both. Like Christ in his ministry and in his death on the cross, we can be wounded healers, as renowned author Henry Nouwen says. So whether you are in need of healing or offering healing to another... or both... I hope you'll join me this Sunday at our busy hospital that we call church.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, make me a good physician and a well patient. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:28 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, October 21 2020

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. . . .You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh, rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: love your neighbor as yourself.

 -Galatians 5:1,13-14, NIV

 

This coming Sunday is not only the last in our Stewardship "Faith in Action" series, it is also Kirkin' of the Tartan Sunday when we remember our Scottish roots and our Presbyterian heritage as a church. It will take place during the Drive-In Worship service. On this Kirkin' of the Tartan Sunday with all the bagpipes and drums, how can we not also think of Mel Gibson as Sir William Wallace in the movie Braveheart. Wallace fought for Scottish independence, and as he is literally being tortured to death, his last word is "Freedom."

 

Certainly, freedom is one of the best ways for human beings to fully express who they are as those made in the image of God. But in our New Testament, freedom is more than just the right to do whatever we want - it is freedom to do the right thing. And it is freedom from the sin and brokenness in our lives. It is also the freedom to choose to use whatever God has given us to partner with God in loving our world and the people in it.

 

If you have not yet had a chance to make your pledge to God's work through Johns Creek Presbyterian Church in 2021, I hope that you will do that either this Sunday or sometime prior. Hopefully, you have received at least one pledge card in the mailings that went out. You can bring that pledge card to worship on Sunday and place it in the offering plate at the end of the service, you can mail it in or put it in the drop box outside our welcome center, you can go to our website or church app and make your pledge at any time, or you can scan the QR code on the pledge card or at the bottom of the Sunday Drive-In worship bulletin and it will direct you to where you can make your pledge. There are also QR codes which will link you to our stewardship video on our website which I hope you will watch prior to making your pledge. Thank you for your generous support of God's work through Johns Creek Presbyterian Church!

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, in Christ you have set us free -- not only from what hinders and entangles us from living our lives fully -- but you have set us free to help others find freedom in Christ. Use what we have to offer to make a life-transforming difference in others. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:25 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, October 20 2020

This quote by Henri Nouwen (In the Name of Jesus, 1989) has been meaningful to me. I have been asking myself this question, do we follow "people with an ardent desire to dwell in God's presence, to listen to God's voice, to look at God's beauty, to touch God's incarnate Word, and to taste fully God's infinite goodness?"

When you think about the people or leaders that we follow? What types of characteristics do they have? When choosing who you will follow, what is important to you?

 

Nouwen gives some helpful priorities as we consider, how we will serve in leadership roles and live our lives as Christians.

He reminds us that it's not just about listening or speaking, there are other senses to consider as well. Think about these actions for a moment, Dwell, Listen, Look, Touch, and Taste. How do you encounter God with more than just your eyes and ears?

 

Go into this day knowing that you have been claimed by God. May you see the opportunities to lead and have the humility to follow the leaders who are following the Lord's path.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, may we always follow and lead in ways that give you glory. Lead us into life through your ways. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:23 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, October 19 2020

Within twenty-four hours of his mother Sharonda's tragic death, Chris found himself uttering these powerful, grace-filled words: "Love is stronger than hate." His mother, along with eight others, had been killed at a Wednesday night Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina. What was it that had so shaped this teenager's life that these words could flow from his lips and his heart? Chris is a believer in Jesus whose mother had "loved everybody with all her heart."  

 

In Luke 23:26-49 we get a front row seat to an execution scene that included two criminals and the innocent Jesus (v. 32). All three were crucified (v. 33). Amid the gasps and sighs and the likely groans from those hanging on the crosses, the following words of Jesus could be heard: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (v. 34). The hate-filled initiative of the religious leaders had resulted in the crucifixion of the very One who championed love. Though in agony, Jesus' love continued to triumph.

 

How have you or someone you love been the target of hate, ill-will, bitterness, or ugliness? May your pain prompt your prayers, and may the example of Jesus and people like Chris encourage you by the power of the Spirit to choose love over hate.

 

Prayer for Today

Father, forgive me when I find it hard to forgive others. Help me to demonstrate that love is stronger than hate. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:19 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, October 16 2020

The lyrics of the anthem you will hear in worship this Sunday (both online and drive-in!) were written by Lutheran minister, theologian, and hymnwriter Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676).  The music was written by contemporary British composer Richard Shephard (b. 1949).  In my opinion, the tune is inspiring, and the lyrics make it even better!

 

God is my strong salvation, no enemy I fear; 

He hears my supplication, Dispelling all my care:  

If he, my head and master defend me from above, 

What pain or what disaster, can part me from his love?  

 

Pain?  Disaster???  Some of us have had quite enough of that this year already!!  And here is a reminder that none of it will "part me from his love" because just in this first verse alone, God hears us, God defends us, God saves us.  If you miss the rest of the hymn, you've heard the most important part!  But since Gerhardt was famous for writing LOTS of stanzas for his hymns, let's read on...

 

I fully am persuaded and joyfully declare, 

I'm never left unaided, my Father hears my prayer; 

His comforts never fail me, He stands at my right hand; 

When tempests fierce assail me, they're calm at his command.  

 

Tempests??  Hmmm.... where have we heard that before??  Right!  Remember back when this whole (pandemic) thing started, and we heard the sermon series about storms?  And let's look up "assail."  Merriam-Webster defines it as "to attack violently or angrily with blows or words."  So we're not talking about how good God is to us when he sends us 4 drops of rain... we're talking about how loving and comforting and present he is with us when the hurricane comes and wipes out our home, family, job... to the point where we can still declare that God hears us, God defends us, God saves us, God calms the storm with his command.  Jesus is in the boat with us, remember?

 

The ground of my profession is Jesus and his blood; 

He giveth me possession of everlasting good.  

To me his Spirit speaketh full many a precious word 

Of rest to him who seeketh, a refuge in the Lord.  

 

This verse brings to my mind every time we refer to Jesus as the solid rock, the firm foundation, the mighty fortress... this "ground" cannot be washed out from under our feet by any tempest.  God, our refuge, is always stronger. 

 

My merry heart is springing, it can no more be sad; 

With laughter and with singing, in God's own sunshine glad; 

For Christ is now preparing his city new and bright, 

Where saints his throne are sharing and faith is turned to sight.

 

So what is our response to God's great love and care for us?  Gerhardt's "merry heart" was "springing" with joy!  Why??  What were his tempests about??  Well, if you look at his family life alone, only one of his five children lived beyond childhood, and his wife died after a long illness.  What an example of being assailed!!!  

 

I believe this last verse is about hope.  This is about the new Jerusalem, "coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband."  (Revelation 21:2)  This is the place Christ is preparing, where "faith is turned to sight!"  The end of the storms... where social distancing is not required, and we can all see each other's faces and fearlessly embrace.  Of course, these are NOT safe practices anywhere currently on this earth during this pandemic.  We can't rush medical progress as much as we want to.

 

So let's worship together this Sunday... in our parking lot... and/or online... and we will worship God, our refuge and strength, and respond to his great love with our thanks and praise!

 

Prayer for Today

Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee; 

Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise.  Amen.--

Posted by: AT 02:15 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, October 15 2020

Train children in the right way,

    and when old, they will not stray.

-Proverbs 22:6

 

Albert Einstein, brilliant physicist and astrophysicist is famous for saying, "If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself." This is a man who as great a command of science and the universe as anyone who has ever walked the Earth. Science Communicator is a relatively new job in human history, and it wasn't even a term when folks like Einstein and Carl Sagan were in their prime. But now we've all heard of Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson, and new folks like Emily Calandrelli of Emily's Wonder Lab are appearing. They often quote Einstein's theory. They're people who understand that to teach children and non-experts is to be an expert, and one cannot claim to be an expert if they cannot teach children and non-experts.

 

So what does this mean for us believers? Can we claim the name of Christ follower if we don't take time to explain and teach our faith to children and non-experts? Does the Great Commission demand that we try? Can pastors and educators take pride in their learning, if we do not bring the same enthusiasm and humility and accessibility to the faith as Nye or Tyson or Calandrelli? One of the benefits of this quarantine has been for many of us parents to watch the dedicated teachers of our students teach them here in our homes through distance learning, seeing their energy and enthusiasm, and yes, their love, for the students and the material. It's a reminder that I would require much more training to do the job they do so well each day. And it's also a reminder that their expert instruction does not become cemented, contextualized, or made important without the time we take as parents to review it, test it, study it, and discuss it. Why do I still remember many of these middle school lessons and concepts? Where have I used them occasionally or daily? Why are they vital?

                

That's when I think about worship on Sunday, youth group, and our many Bible Studies. When we leave those moments, have we digested the material? Do we seek deeper understanding? And most importantly... have we looked for young people and non-experts to teach and engage? When your student comes home from VBS or youth group or Bible Study, do you take the time to unpack the lesson and review? Do you share stories of how you've struggled with, failed, or triumphed in that area of life and faith? What about after the Sunday sermon? What about with your peers after small groups and studies? Do you share those lessons excitedly with your friends and family who have left church behind during the pandemic or never been before? You don't need a flashy bow-tie or vest or a Wonder Lab to share your story of faith and grace (although I certainly approve of all of the above). Great communicators look for common ground, a shared language, and establish a relationship through love and sincerity. We can all do that. And if you need practice, Allison and I would be happy to connect you with young people and non-experts. They will love having your time and attention.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, make me a Faith Communicator. Make my words simple, true, and understandable. Let my enthusiasm and love for the story of your Good News come tumbling out of me. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:14 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, October 12 2020

When I moved to a new country, one of my first experiences left me feeling unwelcome. After finding a seat in the little church where my husband was preaching that day, a gruff older gentleman startled me when he said, "Move along down." His wife apologized as she explained that I was sitting in the pew they always occupied. Years later I learned that congregations used to rent out pews, which raised money for the church and also ensured no one could take another person's seat. Apparently some of that mentality carried on through the decades.

 

Later, I reflected on how God instructed the Israelites to welcome foreigners, in contrast to cultural practices such as I encountered. In setting out the laws that would allow His people to flourish, He reminded them to welcome foreigners because they themselves were once foreigners (Leviticus 19:34). Not only were they to treat strangers with kindness (v. 33), but they were also to "love them as [themselves]" (v. 34). God had rescued them from oppression in Egypt, giving them a home in a land "flowing with milk and honey" (Exodus 3:17). He expected His people to love others who also made their home there.

 

As you encounter strangers in your midst, ask God to reveal any cultural practices that might keep you from sharing His love with them.

 

Prayer for Today

Father God, You welcome me with open arms, for You love me day after day. Give me Your love to share with others. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:12 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, October 09 2020

"The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it"

- Psalm 24:1

 

As we enter Stewardship season this year, we ought to first take a step back and think about what it all means. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word stewardship as, "the conducting, supervising, or managing of something, especially: the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care." So stewardship is about being a good "steward" of something that we have been entrusted with.

 

The psalmist proclaims that the earth and everything in it is God's, and we believe that God has entrusted us with the earth. It's quite a task then to try and be good stewards of everything! I think there are many ways that we can be "good stewards", but I think taking care of the earth - that is, the environment - is right up there towards the top. God says to Moses that, "The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers," (Leviticus 25: 23) and the word of God was revealed to Ezekiel, saying, "Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet?" (Ezekiel 34:18). Some heavy stuff there! How can we be "foreigners" and "strangers" in what we call "our planet" or "our country"? And it's hard to argue with the sentiment from Ezekiel. I'm reminded of rivers that have caught on fire because of all the pollutants emptied into them by nearby factories.

 

As we begin to discern how we will manage our time, talents, and treasures this Stewardship season, I think it's a great time to think not just about finances but also about all the ways in which we can truly live as good Christian stewards of everything. How do your spending habits impact the earth? How do your daily routines have an impact on your time? Are there ways in which we can make small changes in our lives that will lead towards improvements somewhere else?

 

Prayer for Today

God of everything, thank you for the incredible abundance you have given each of us and for the variety of that which you have given. Give us a renewed sense of gratitude and center our minds on being good stewards of our own bounty. Be our guide in each and every decision. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:11 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, October 08 2020

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,

The leopard shall lie down with the young goat,

The calf and the young lion and the fatling together;

And a little child shall lead them.

-Isaiah 11:6

 

It's easy to take a look at the world today and be discouraged. Grown adults in the news and on television argue and scream and talk over each other like toddlers. News programs and debates are chaos. Expert medical folks give advice and grown adults refuse to follow or accept it. People scream for causes in the streets that we hoped had died out decades ago or for causes we hoped were long ago achieved and haven't been yet. It's enough to want to avoid turning on a tv or radio or opening a paper.

 

And yet, opening scripture to the prophets once more, reminds us that isn't the adults who are meant to give us our best examples for who or how to be in the kingdom. We are not called to be child-ISH, but child-like. Lisa Lucas, the director of the preschool reminds of this regularly with stories of our precious children and daily acts of kindness and love and the wonder they show all over the bulletin boards. And I'm reminded in our youth and young adults each week.

 

Before the school year began, several of our college kids asked me about forming a Zoom Bible study. Years of me pushing them to seek worshipping communities and small groups in college led them to do just that. Except those are hard to find or join in this current quarantine. So they asked for one. I was happy to organize it and nearly a dozen showed up this week for our first meeting, including some new roommates. I find hope not in the adults who should be setting a finer example, but the children who have heard God's word because or in spite of us. And they inspire me. I hope you'll be inspired too.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, give me opportunities to watch children and young people. Inspire me by their example of how they delight in and follow you. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:08 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, October 07 2020

So, what do these people have in common? Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel. Maybe you recognized that these are all names from the Bible, which is a good start. You may also have figured out that they are all from our Old Testament -- which is true! However, all of these names are also mentioned in our New Testament, in the book of Hebrews. The writer of Hebrews lists all of these names in the eleventh chapter. But before listing each of these names and telling a little about what they did, the author of Hebrews uses two simple but profound words to describe each one of these individuals: "By faith . . ." For example, when it talks about Abraham it says, "By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going." (Hebrews 11:8, NIV)

 

Again and again, the book of Hebrews talks about these individuals who acted "by faith." The heading for this eleventh chapter of Hebrews calls this section "Faith in Action." The amazing thing is that these examples of faith in action are not perfect - in fact, they are far from it. Noah did embarrassing things. Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife because he was afraid. Moses committed murder. Rahab was a prostitute. David had the husband of Bathsheba killed in battle because he wanted her for himself. Not a perfect crew by far!

 

And yet . . . God chooses these imperfect persons to live "by faith." And in the end, they each act in ways that God blesses. They persevere in hope, trusting that God will see them through - even if they themselves do not see the final outcomes of their efforts in their lifetimes here on earth.

 

I find great hope in knowing we don't have to be perfect to be used by God - we simply have to be willing to act in faith. As we enter Stewardship season, may God help us show our "faith in action" by sharing our time, talents, and treasure to do God's work here and now!

 

Prayer for Today

Thank you, God, for your willingness to use imperfect persons, like all of us, to live by faith and to do your work here and now. Use all that we have and all that we are to serve others in the name of Christ. We pray this in his strong name. Amen.

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Tuesday, October 06 2020

"We cannot delight and despair at the same time. So we must do all we can to make delight part of our very fiber, notice it, document it, memorize it, and tell others about it. Delight in something right now and take a temporary reprieve from despair." (Rachel Macy Stafford)

 

This quote was followed by a reflection from an author I appreciate. She shared it recently and it has continued to be repeated in my mind since. There are many times during recent days or in earlier seasons of this year when we can feel despair. 2020 has not been the year any of us planned for or predicted. In the midst of the heavy things we are processing that may cause despair, I was grateful to hear these words from Rachel to turn my eyes towards the God sightings and blessings in each day, month or season and to not just notice, but delight in them. 

 

"Keep company with God, get in on the best. Open up before God, keep nothing back; he'll do whatever needs to be done: He'll validate your life in the light of day and stamp you with approval at high noon." Psalm 37:4-6 The Message

You may be familiar with the translation of this passage starting with "delight yourself in the Lord..."

 

I want to invite you to name those things in your day that bring you delight. Share them with God and another person. You may also find that writing them down on good or challenging days is particularly meaningful and helps to ground you in God's truth and presence in your life.

 

We are living through a season where lots of voices are trying to ignite anger, division, hurt and despair. I would invite you as the church to find delight and joy around you and share it. 

Where did you find delight today? 

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, open our hearts and mind to delight in your presence and in the blessings of each day. Guide us to be a light in the darkness and share your Word in this world. In Christ's Name, Amen.

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Monday, October 05 2020

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" I was often asked that question as a child. And the answers changed like the wind. A doctor. A firefighter. A missionary. A worship leader. A physicist-or actually, MacGyver (a favorite TV character)! Now, as a dad of four kids, I think of how difficult it must be for them to be asked that question. There are times when I want to say, "I know what you'll be great at!" Parents can sometimes see more in their children than the children can see in themselves.

 

This resonates with what Paul saw in the Philippian believers-those he loved and prayed for (Philippians 1:3). He could see the end; he knew what they'd be when all was said and done. The Bible gives us a grand vision of the end of the story-resurrection and the renewal of all things (see 1 Corinthians 15 and Revelation 21). But it also tells us who's writing the story.

 

Paul, in the opening lines of a letter he wrote from prison, reminded the Philippian church that "he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6). Jesus started the work and He'll complete it. The word completion is particularly important-the story doesn't just end, for God leaves nothing unfinished.

 

Prayer for Today

Dear Jesus, You're in charge of my story. It's not up to me to make it happen. I surrender my life to You. Help me to trust You. Amen.

Posted by: AT 01:58 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, October 02 2020

This Sunday is World Communion Sunday, first celebrated at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1933 where Dr. Hugh Thompson Kerr served as pastor.  

 

"Dr. Kerr first conceived the notion of World Communion Sunday during his year as moderator of the General Assembly (1930). Dr. Kerr's younger son, the Rev. Dr. Donald Craig Kerr, who is pastor emeritus of the Roland Park Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, was sixteen in 1933. He has related that World Communion Sunday grew out of the Division of Stewardship at Shadyside. It was their attempt to bring churches together in a service of Christian unity-in which everyone might receive both inspiration and information, and above all, to know how important the Church of Jesus Christ is, and how each congregation is interconnected one with another. When Donald Kerr was asked how the idea of World Communion Sunday spread from that first service to the world wide practice of today, this is what he replied:
 

"The concept spread very slowly at the start. People did not give it a whole lot of thought. It was during the Second World War that the spirit caught hold, because we were trying to hold the world together. World Wide Communion symbolized the effort to hold things together, in a spiritual sense. It emphasized that we are one in the Spirit and the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

-- excerpts from presbyterianmission.org

 

Well, here we are 90 years later, about to celebrate World Communion Sunday!  And it seems the world is still trying to hold things together during this tumultuous time... how blessed we are to know that we can still be one in the Spirit and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, even though socially distanced.

 

Remember, this is not just a Presbyterian celebration!  Although it began with a Presbyterian pastor in a Presbyterian church, a few years later in 1940, the Department of Evangelism of the Federal Council of Churches (a predecessor body of the National Council of Churches) promoted extending the celebration to a number of churches around the world, and the celebration became widespread!  Now our other church neighbors (of many denominations) near (in Johns Creek) and far (worldwide), celebrate this special day on the first Sunday in October every year!

 

And what makes this so exciting is that every communion celebration points us to the ultimate gathering where "people will come from East and West, and from North and South, and take their places at the banquet in the Kingdom of God." (Luke 13:29)  On World Communion Sunday, we get a priceless glimpse of that feast!!  So wherever you are this Sunday, whether in your living room, or our parking lot, or anywhere else in the world, join us in celebrating this foretaste of the feast to come!

 

Prayer for Today

Lord Jesus, as we remember your sacrifice that unites us, may we also focus on the joyful feast that lies ahead.  In your holy name we pray, Amen.

Posted by: AT 01:56 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, October 01 2020

Let me sing for my beloved

    my love-song concerning his vineyard:

My beloved had a vineyard

    on a very fertile hill.

 

He dug it and cleared it of stones,

    and planted it with choice vines;

he built a watchtower in the midst of it,

    and hewed out a wine vat in it;

he expected it to yield grapes,

    but it yielded wild grapes.

 

And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem

    and people of Judah,

judge between me

    and my vineyard.

 

What more was there to do for my vineyard

    that I have not done in it?

When I expected it to yield grapes,

    why did it yield wild grapes?

 

And now I will tell you

    what I will do to my vineyard.

I will remove its hedge,

    and it shall be devoured;

I will break down its wall,

    and it shall be trampled down.

 

I will make it a waste;

    it shall not be pruned or hoed,

    and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;

I will also command the clouds

    that they rain no rain upon it.

 

For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts

    is the house of Israel,

and the people of Judah

    are his pleasant planting;

he expected justice,

    but saw bloodshed;

righteousness,

    but heard a cry!

 

-Isaiah  5: 1-7

 

I have a unique opportunity this week to teach with JCPC. I led both the pastor bible study and our youth bible study on the same passage I'm preaching this week, so I've done a deep dive on that passage. That passage, which you'll see Sunday is from Matthew. In it, Jesus is likely referencing all the prophets in his parable, and specifically these verses from Isaiah 5.

 

Reading this now, you'll be able to hear the parable like the original crowd with Jesus or the first Jewish converts reading Matthew. The words of this prophet will be in your ears and mind as you hear about the vineyard in the parable and the prophets/servants of the Master in that story. When God tells a story of a garden or vineyard or farm, it often stands for all of creation. The Master is often God and the servants or children are often us or God's people. Would this chapter be hard to hear? Do you think God's people would want to hear about possible invaders? As it turns out, they didn't. Isaiah was killed. He's considered one of the great major prophets by Jews today and in the day of Jesus. But in his own day, he was reviled. Just like Jesus. Hard messages are hard to hear.

 

That's a message that seemed to come through this week from Isaiah and Matthew. The words of the prophets and Jesus are hard to hear. They're challenging. They're good news to the homeless and hungry and poor and widows and orphans and prisoners and refugees. But for those of us with many blessings, they call us to serve more and give up a lot. What a privilege to be so blessed that the words of the gospel compel us to be generous. What words from the prophets and Jesus are challenging you right now? What will you do next? Please share those ideas and conversations with me. The work is great, but we have each other to work the vineyard and help produce the fruit.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, make me an eager and hard worker who produces good fruit in your vineyard, entrusted o us to be plentiful and a blessing. Amen.

Posted by: AT 01:52 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
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