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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, November 30 2020

We stared at the piles of donated shoes as we entered a local homeless shelter. The director had invited our youth group to help sort through the heaps of used footwear. We spent the morning searching for matches and lining them up in rows across the concrete floor. At the end of the day, we threw away more than half of the shoes because they were too damaged for others to use. Though the shelter couldn't stop people from giving poor quality items, they refused to distribute shoes that were in bad condition.

The Israelites struggled with giving God their damaged goods too. When He spoke through the prophet Malachi, He rebuked the Israelites for sacrificing blind, lame, or diseased animals when they had strong animals to offer (Malachi 1:6-8). He announced His displeasure (v. 10), affirmed His worthiness, and reprimanded the Israelites for keeping the best for themselves (v. 14). But God also promised to send the Messiah, whose love and grace would transform their hearts and ignite their desire to bring offerings that would be pleasing to Him (3:1-4).

At times, it can be tempting to give God our leftovers. We praise Him and expect Him to give us His all, yet we offer Him our crumbs. When we consider all God has done, we can rejoice in celebrating His worthiness and giving Him our very best.

 

Prayer for Today

Mighty God, please help me place You first and give You my best. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:56 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Saturday, November 28 2020

"Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." 

-1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV

 

 

Do you hear that?  Christmas music!!  And it was on the radio BEFORE Thanksgiving even got here!!  Now we have Black Friday, followed by Cyber Monday, and there are only 28 (?) shopping days until Christmas???

Now just hold on a minute!  I'm already exhausted, and I could stand another day of Thanksgiving... What if Thanksgiving were more than just one day??  What if Thanksgiving were every day?  Not the turkey and stuffing and pie (well, okay on the pie!) and extended family every day...giving thanks every day... reflecting on all the people and things we are thankful for?  Giving thanks where thanks is due, to God, the giver of all good gifts!

The apostle Paul told the Thessalonians to "give thanks in all circumstances..." but is he saying we should thank God for our painful circumstances?  The way I've always heard it explained, Paul is encouraging the readers to thank God not for but in all circumstances.  Surely, God isn't expecting us to say thank you for chronic pain, or a child's illness, or the return of cancer... but I think it helps us, as children of God, to thank him for all he has given us that is wonderful in our lives!

What if every time we felt upset about what was missing from our lives, we immediately started thanking God for all the gifts that we currently enjoy?  Even when we experience tragedy, we usually find that God's gifts abound, and sometimes genuine gratitude for those gifts can begin the healing within us.  Think about how God has blessed you, as you read the words of this hymn of thanksgiving:

Now thank we all our God with heart and hands and voices, 

Who wondrous things hath done, in whom this world rejoices; 

Who, from our mothers' arms, hath blessed us on our way 

With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.  

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us, 

With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us; 

And keep us in God's grace, and guide us when perplexed, 

And free us from all ills in this world and the next.  

All praise and thanks to God, who reigns in highest heaven, 

To Father and to Son and Spirit now be given; 

The one eternal God, whom heaven and earth adore, 

The God who was, and is, and shall be evermore.

And Sunday, when we are ready to begin Advent (to prepare our hearts and minds for Christmas), join us online or in the parking lot for our annual Hanging of the Greens worship service!!

 

Prayer for Today

We give you thanks, Lord God, for all the ways that you have blessed us, for your countless gifts of love, for family, friends, and other blessings too numerous to count.  When our vision narrows, and we are consumed by our troubles, open our eyes back up to you, remind us of your love, and move us to share it with others.  In Jesus' holy name we pray.  Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:54 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, November 26 2020

A voice cries: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

-Isaiah 40:3

 

I work in the church world. I often have to translate things for others or remind myself that not everyone runs on the same set of assumptions or by the same calendar. Talk to any pastor or musician and they'll remind you that any time from October till mid-December is prep time for Christmas. And the planning starts earlier. It's a surprise to most folks the amount of planning and work and how early we start. It was not a surprise to my wife. She worked retail when we were dating and first married. She managed a children's clothing store and her prep for the holiday season put years of my preparations in Advent to shame. I moved here to begin this call in late August. And it was already too late for my wife's business to transfer her away from her store. It was "the Holidays."

Sometimes, I think the secular world is in desperate need for leadership, direction, and inspiration from the Church. Sometimes, it's the other way around. The cultural practices of many parts of the world have enriched Christian traditions. And maybe so could stores inspire us. Why do they prepare so far in advance for a six-week holiday spending spree? As my wife explained to me, up to 40% or more of her yearly sales fame at this time. With such an abundant and extravagant gift expected to arrive at that time, they can either prepare for it and receive it with thanks and joy, serving others, or take it for granted and miss the fullness of it. What would you do?

Is Christmas the gift we are given that sustains us all year? Do we prepare rather than simply await its arrival? Do we see it as the biggest opportunity of the year or take it for granted? Normally, I'd suggest shopping local, being overly kind to retail workers, and tipping tremendously. As most of us are planning to shop online, I suggest this... Many local businesses have online presence. Buy your gifts and gift cards there. Get them through the tough times. And plan to make a major part of your giving be alternative Christmas gifts. As we have done for several years now, JCPC will offer the chance to support both local and international partners through the Alternative Christmas Market. You can help local families get a meal, support foster families, or help build homes for those most in need, just to name a few. My prayer is you will join us in preparing for Christmas like it's our big season.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, prepare my heart and home for your coming, and prepare me to serve. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:50 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, November 25 2020

Tomorrow most of us will celebrate Thanksgiving. Maybe we will also remember the very first Thanksgiving in this land of ours. Edward Winslow was one of the pilgrims present at that first Thanksgiving. His was the only eyewitness account which was written down. He described that celebration with the Native Americans in this way:

. .. amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, and many of the Indians coming among us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

Now, if you know the history between the Native Americans and the pilgrims, it was not always this cordial. Both before and after this first Thanksgiving, there were terrible killings on both sides. But for a few days, people from different cultures who rightly or wrongly had great distrust of each other, sat down at a meal and enjoyed each other's fellowship. Winslow attributes this to "the goodness of God."

What does the coming kingdom of God look like? I think it looks like that! It looks like the first Thanksgiving. That celebration seems to illustrate the words found in scripture that say, "People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God." (Luke 13:29, NIV) Those are also the words we say every time we gather around the communion table. Not only do we remember Jesus whom God sent to this world to save it and all of us, we also believe these words point forward through history to that time when we will all sit around a great table -- feasting in God's kingdom to come!

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, you show your goodness to us in so many ways. Thank you for all your blessings. May our time around the table this Thanksgiving remind us that the best is yet to come. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:49 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, November 24 2020

What are some special activities/traditions you do in your family to prepare for Christmas?

All around us, we hear commercials, store advertisements and community events focused around the season of Christmas, but for the Church, we are entering into the season of Advent this Sunday. Advent is a time of waiting before the coming of Jesus. Advent is sort of a short form of the word "adventure." Why might this season be described as an adventure?

A scripture we often share at the start of Advent focuses on John the Baptist who was all about adventure. In fact, he was bold enough to go live by himself out in the desert with just the clothes on his back and eat only locusts and wild honey. He was waiting for something to happen!

What was John up to out in the desert? Read Matthew 3:1-12.

Why was he baptizing people? John knew the Messiah, the one from God, was almost here and he wanted people to get ready. Baptism was a way of showing that they were ready to get rid of things in their lives that would get in the way of experiencing the new thing that God was about to do in the world.

Consider what might be getting in your way of really focusing on God and Jesus in this season where so many of the messages we see and hear are about gift-buying and money-spending. How can you simplify your Advent season and make room for God?

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, Open up our hearts and minds to your message for us during this Advent season. Guide us as we live in a way that is pleasing to you. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:47 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, November 20 2020

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

-Matthew 25: 31-32

 

We did it! We've made it to the end of the year. This Sunday marks both the final Sunday in the liturgical calendar and Christ the King Sunday, also known as The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. This celebration of Christ as King is relatively modern and was started by Pope Pius XI in 1925 as a reaction to the denial of Christ's authority among European governments of the time. The term "messiah" and "Christ" themselves are royal titles, meaning, "anointed one", or alternately, "anointed king". We end the liturgical year in this way to prepare us for Advent, where we await the coming of the Christ child, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

When we think of kings, we probably think of golden crowns, luxurious palaces, and militaristic achievements. But we know Jesus didn't come as this kind of worldly king, but instead came to humbly serve the least of these. This passage in Matthew goes on to say that the "sheep" are those that will inherit the kingdom, while the "goats" are sent to eternal fire. It's interesting because, as you'll hear Sunday, modern sheepherders tend to prefer goats over sheep, because, well, sheep are dumb and kind of smelly! Isn't it ironic then that Jesus refers to the righteous as stinky sheep and not goats? This makes me think of how Jesus was always calling the Pharisees out, even though they appeared to be holier than others on the surface.

As we celebrate Christ's sovereignty over the universe this Sunday, take some time to reflect on the ways in which you are living your own life. Are you living as Christ taught us by feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and imprisoned? There are so many people in need in the world, that it can seem overwhelming to serve. But our Cosmic Christ guides us to serve. Let us continue to serve those in need as the sheep of our Shepherd King.

 

Prayer for Today

Sovereign God, we are like scattered sheep, divided by political biases and personal convictions. We turn away from you, Gentle Shepherd, and seek comfort in lonely pastures. Guide us to pastures of understanding, acceptance, and service, and open our eyes to your authority. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:46 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, November 19 2020

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me,

 

 is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one.
-John 10:27-30

 

Once again, we had a really meaningful annual blessing of the animals.  This year, we gathered in cars in the parking lot and shared a liturgy thanking God for our pets and service animals.  We also prayed for those animal friends we have lost in the last year.  For so many of us, our creatures are a part of family life at home.  When we gather on Sundays, that is our faith family.  After the service, the youth gathered to talk about animals in scripture.  God made animals first and then Adam to care for them.  It's only after the creation story that God makes more people so Adam isn't lonely, but God calls the creation good before there are people everywhere. 

We find animals depicted prominently in the Psalms and in Proverbs, in Job and Jonah, the minor and major prophets, and the ways God and angels are described throughout the Old Testament.  Jesus begins the Gospels by being born among animals in a manger and visited by shepherds.  His ministry is kicked off by the Spirit descending like a dove at his baptism.  Jesus advises his disciples to be as wise as serpents and gentle as doves, to be obedient sheep and not wandering goats or like broods of vipers.  And Jesus weeps over Jerusalem in his final week, longing to gather his people like a mother hen.  And animals are important in Revelation and the prophetic visions of the peaceful kingdom where animals live in peace and a child leads us all.

Reading and discussing the many Biblical examples of animals, including the dogs that tend to Lazarus' wounds, it feels appropriate to have a service each year that honors them.  I asked the youth what lessons animals teach us.  They talked about friendship and unconditional love, the way pets love them no matter how bad a day they have.  They talked about learning to care for someone who depends on them like a younger sibling, a child one day might, or an aging relative.  And they talked about how loyal and obedient they are.  Lastly, they mentioned how pets don't tend to live as long as us and we experience loss and grief, preparing us for those parts of life when we lose people we love.  Animals have gifted our youth a maturity and spirit of readiness for what God calls them to next.  The service provides an opportunity to acknowledge the gift God gives us in animals, both the joys and sorrows.

Last year, after our service, one family reached out to me with sad news.  The small dog they brought was much older than I knew and had been ill.  She passed away that night.  The family said it was like she was waiting to be blessed.  That story stuck with me all year.  They didn't attend this year's blessing, but I know why.  They were on the road out of state to pick up a new little dog.  One of the youth said, "I hope they'll be here next year!"  I imagine they will be.  I hope you will be too, whether you have a pet or not.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, make me a student of your creation so I may better follow you as one of your sheep.  Amen.

Posted by: AT 09:56 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, November 18 2020

For many years since we moved here, we have participated in Salvation Army Angels. This year I am grateful that with all that is different, this tradition is a constant. I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude when I opened the online sign up for this year and found that so many names were already claimed.

 

 

Each year I gain a renewed perspective as we begin the holiday season by Christmas shopping for this child first. When I consider this ritual, I am reminded of this passage from Paul's letter to the Corinthians. Even though we will not have a chance to see this little boy open his gifts on Christmas, we have sent a Gospel message to him through our actions.

 

You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
(2 Corinthians 3:2-3)

 

God speaks through us to others. God is still speaking if we are open to listen. There are messages to be heard, comfort to be received, strength to be gained, and hope to be given. There are mysteries that God wants to reveal to us. God speaks with a quiet and simple word. God who reigns is still speaking. Be still today, and listen.

 

May you find ways to be still and listen, so that you can share the message of Christ written on your heart.

 

Prayer for Today

Speak, O Lord. Create a stillness in me, that I may hear and understand your voice. Amen.

Posted by: AT 09:37 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, November 17 2020

For many years since we moved here, we have participated in Salvation Army Angels. This year I am grateful that with all that is different, this tradition is a constant. I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude when I opened the online sign up for this year and found that so many names were already claimed.

 

 

Each year I gain a renewed perspective as we begin the holiday season by Christmas shopping for this child first. When I consider this ritual, I am reminded of this passage from Paul's letter to the Corinthians. Even though we will not have a chance to see this little boy open his gifts on Christmas, we have sent a Gospel message to him through our actions.

 

You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
(2 Corinthians 3:2-3)

 

God speaks through us to others. God is still speaking if we are open to listen. There are messages to be heard, comfort to be received, strength to be gained, and hope to be given. There are mysteries that God wants to reveal to us. God speaks with a quiet and simple word. God who reigns is still speaking. Be still today, and listen.

 

May you find ways to be still and listen, so that you can share the message of Christ written on your heart.

 

Prayer for Today

Speak, O Lord. Create a stillness in me, that I may hear and understand your voice. Amen.

Posted by: AT 09:26 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, November 16 2020

In the chaos of fleeing his home during the California wildfires of 2018, Gabe, a high school senior, missed the state-qualifying cross-country race for which he'd been training. Missing this meet meant he wouldn't have the chance to compete at the state meet-the culminating event of his four-year running career. In light of the circumstances, the state athletics board gave Gabe another chance: he'd have to run a qualifying time by himself, on a rival high school's track, in "street shoes" because his running shoes were in the charred rubble of his home. When he showed up to "race," Gabe was surprised by his competitors who'd come to supply him with proper shoes and to run alongside him to ensure he kept the pace necessary to be entered in the state meet.

 

 

Gabe's opponents had no obligation to help him. They could have given into their natural desires to look out for themselves (Galatians 5:13); doing so might have improved their own odds of winning. But Paul urges us to display the fruit of the Spirit in our lives-to "serve one another humbly in love" and to demonstrate "kindness" and "goodness" (vv. 13, 22). When we lean on the Spirit to help us not act on our natural instincts, we're better able to love those around us.

 

Prayer for Today

Dear God, my natural desire is to look out for myself. Help me to serve others out of love for You. Amen.

Posted by: AT 09:22 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, November 13 2020

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.  

-1 Thessalonians 5:11 NIV

 

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. -Matthew 5:8 NIV

 

This Sunday's text focuses on encouraging one another in the faith.  Paul's letter to the church in Thessalonica includes words that admonish the church members to build one another up.  We should all be doing the same for one another, especially during these crazy times!  Some people are really (and I mean REALLY) good at this... it's like they have a gift... but maybe it's more of a focused mindset on giving encouragement to others.

 

I don't know about you, but I often find myself so concerned about my own problems and to-do lists, that I fail to send an encouraging word to someone who might need it.  (Here's a secret:  Everyone needs it!)  Perhaps if we were more intentional about sharing encouragement, we would all be less consumed by our own worries.

 

And we all need to take our own inventory of how we treat others.  Maybe we've been unkind to other brothers and sisters in Christ (or family members) with opposing political views (or pandemic theories).  Maybe we've been unkind to others unintentionally while trying to effect change or champion a cause.  Maybe we can stop and think before we speak...  maybe this could all be turned around with a word and a spirit of encouragement.  Yes, sometimes the pot needs to be stirred.  But when it's already boiling over, maybe we need to change our minds, turn down the source of heat, and decide how to be peacemakers, for we are all children of God.

 

The words of this Sunday's anthem are from the very famous prayer of St. Francis of Assisi (better known as the patron saint of Italy, animals, and the natural environment).

 

Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring your love.
Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord,
And where there's doubt, true faith in you.


Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there's despair in life, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, only light,
And where there's sadness, ever joy.

O, Master, grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love with all my soul.


Make me a channel of your peace.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
In giving of ourselves that we receive,
And in dying that we're born to eternal life.

 

Come worship with us this Sunday, either online or in the parking lot, and be encouraged!!  (And bring your pets for the Blessing of the Animals this Sunday night at 6 p.m. in the East parking lot!)

 

Prayer for Today

Jesus, Prince of Peace, calm my heart, and open my eyes and hands to someone who needs encouragement today.  Give me the words that will build them up and strengthen them.  In Your holy name, I pray.  Amen.

Posted by: AT 09:11 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, November 12 2020

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
    the leopard shall lie down with the kid,

the calf and the lion and the fatling together,

    and a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall graze,

    their young shall lie down together;

    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den.

 

They will not hurt or destroy

    on all my holy mountain;

for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord

    as the waters cover the sea.

-Isaiah 11:6-9

 

Our scriptures are an amazing gift because they resemble a library more than a single book. Some books are letters, some are history, some are poetry, some prophecy, and others are legal statutes. But one thing present in many, if not most, of these books is animals. Animals are sometimes sustenance and sacrifice, sometimes a metaphorical reference for the appearance of humans, and sometimes an example of how we are to behave. Jesus is quite fond of animal references. He says we are to be good sheep who follow his voice, and not to be goats. He says we must be as wise as serpents and gentle as doves, but not a brood of vipers.

 

There are those who argue about whether or not animals have souls, and some who argue if pets are really family members. I think both arguments happen when we forget how important animals seem to be God and to God's son. Even in creation, God spends several days creating animals and only part of a day on humans. We are created on the same day as cattle and creatures that crawl on the earth, not even something cool like a stingray or snow leopard. And God calls all those creations good. And when God describes the new and perfect kingdom, we see in this text, it's not as one with people living peacefully as an example to all creatures, but as God's animals abandoning their role as predator and prey to simply live in harmony. It's a reminder that God has put God's law and love into creation all around us. We can learn from the loyalty of our dogs, the playfulness of our cats, the joy of our birds, the beauty of our fish, the obedience of our horses, and the generosity and affection of all our pets.

 

This Sunday, we will recognize the special gift that our animals are to us. Whether you have a service animal, a therapy companion, a comfort creature, or good old family pet, they are a part of your family, and therefore our extended family of faith. We will take a moment to remember faithful friends we've lost this year, give gratitude for our amazing animals who make our days brighter, and bless those animals and their families for the year ahead. I hope to see you there this Sunday evening for our annual Blessing of the Animals.

 

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, make me a noticer of the special gift and example you give us in the creatures you put in our lives, both great and small. Amen.

Posted by: AT 09:08 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, November 11 2020

Today is Veterans Day. I came across these five prayers for veterans by Bob Hostetler. I invite you to pray them for our veterans today:

 

1) To Feel Honored
"God, please let every veteran of our nation's armed forces feel truly and appropriately honored by the attention and appreciation of their fellow citizens. Let no one feel forgotten or neglected. Let every man and woman, young or old, feel the deep and enduring gratitude of our nation and its inhabitants."

2) To Be Understood
"Father God, You know that it can be difficult for a person who has returned from battle or stressful military service to reintegrate into 'normal' everyday life. You know that veterans can feel isolated and alone even in the midst of their  friends and  families because there are few around who understand their experience. So I ask You to place in the path of our veterans those who do understand (or strive to), that they may feel less alone. Remind them often that while their fellow human beings may never fully comprehend, You see, You know and You identify with them in everything."

3) To Be Healed
"Lord, You know how deep a warrior's wounds go. You know the loss that many of our veterans in body and soul. You know the memories that haunt them and the scars that many of them continue to carry.  Please bring healing to those veterans who still hurt. Please grant patience and wisdom to those around them who cannot understand but can sometimes help the healing process. Please apply both natural and supernatural medicine to their wounds."

4) To Be Rewarded
"Father, please turn your gaze to those men and women who in their military service have sacrificed time, comfort, strength, ambition, health and prosperity for the peace and safety of family and friends and others they've never even known. Please reward them a hundredfold for all their sacrifice and service. Bless them far beyond all their expectations. Reward them richly for all they have given."

5) To Know You
"Almighty God, You know every veteran by name. You know their deeds, their hard work, and their perseverance. You know their needs, both material and spiritual. Please draw each one closer to you and grant them all the peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7), the peace of Christ to rule in their hearts (Colossians 3:15), and 'joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand' forevermore (Psalm 16:11)."

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, Open our eyes to the ways you are guiding us, lighting our path and caring for us each day. Help us to put our trust in you. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:58 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, November 10 2020

What does control mean for you? If you were to tell someone, "I have things under control", what would that look like? I often find myself trying to have a plan for everything. By planning ahead, things go more smoothly, right? Sometimes I can get so wrapped up in this mindset that I forget to leave some space to look and listen for the ways that God is at work.

 

Take a moment to consider these words from the gospel of Matthew, "Look at the birds in the air. They don't plant or harvest or store food in barns, but your heavenly Father feeds them." (Matthew 6:26)

 

When you take a look around at God's creation and notice the ways that God takes care of things, it's amazing to see each and every detail. God has been reminding me of how we are cared for in many ways this fall. We have been enjoying Saturday adventures to explore God's creation. In the midst of a recent local move, we have seen God take care of us through our community opening up their basements, laundry rooms and dinner tables as we were transitioning.

 

This view of Brasstown Bald was one of those reminders on a hike about a month ago.

Max Lucado challenged me with some questions as I was taking some time to consider this passage of scripture.
"If God is able to place the stars in their sockets and suspend the sky like a curtain, do you think it is remotely possible that God is able to guide your life? If God is mighty enough to ignite the sun, could it be that he is mighty enough to light your path? If God cares enough about the planet Saturn to give it rings or Venus to make it sparkle, is there an outside chance that God cares enough about you to meet your needs?" 


Enter into this day, trying to let God be in control. Notice the ways that God is taking care of you in each moment. I am grateful for the family, friends and community that share in this journey with us. Who will you invite to join you?

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, Open our eyes to the ways you are guiding us, lighting our path and caring for us each day. Help us to put our trust in you. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:56 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, November 09 2020

When two of my grandchildren tried out for the musical Alice in Wonderland Jr., their hearts were set on getting leading roles. Maggie wanted to be young Alice, and Katie thought Mathilda would be a good role. But they were chosen to be flowers. Not exactly a ticket to Broadway.

 

Yet my daughter said the girls were "excited for their friends who got the [leading roles]. Their joy seemed greater cheering for their friends and sharing in their excitement."

 

What a picture of how our interactions with each other in the body of Christ should look! Every local church has what might be considered key roles. But it also needs the flowers-the ones who do vital but not-so-high-profile work. If others get roles we desire, may we choose to encourage them even as we passionately fulfill the roles God has given us.

 

In fact, helping and encouraging others is a way to show love for Him. Hebrews 6:10 says, "[God] will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people." And no gift from His hand is unimportant: "Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace" (1 Peter 4:10).

Imagine a church of encouragers diligently using their God-given gifts to His honor (Hebrews 6:10). That makes for joy!

 

Prayer for Today

Sovereign God, help me not to focus on the roles of other, but to serve You in the sacred calling You've given me. Enable me to help others by a word of encouragement for what they do for You. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:52 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, November 06 2020

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.

-Genesis 1:1

 

When you think about it, the pandemic has changed so much. We went from normal worship, to online only, and then to in-person worship in the parking lot. With our Drive-in services, we've celebrated communion together, have worshiped twice in the rain, and celebrated World Communion Sunday. We even celebrated Kirkin' O' the Tartans together!

 

As the pandemic lingers on, I know many of us are ready to go back to the way it was. I myself would love to worship in person in our beautiful chapel with all of you. But, of course, we cannot ignore the present reality just because we want to do something.

 

Look at what happened in the very beginning. "The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep." (Genesis 1:1)

 

Then over the course of a week, God innovated and created all that we know today. Look at how the coming of the Christ child radically changed humanity, and the centuries of innovations in our Christian tradition that have brought us to where we are now. And consider how God continues to work in all of our lives today, constantly taking the old and innovating to create positive change through us. God is the Great Innovator in so many ways!

 

In this pandemic, JCPC has also innovated. Our online and Drive-in services are not just a band aid to "get us through" - they are carefully and prayerfully-prepared innovations that have allowed us to worship safely together in this historical, once-in-a-century pandemic. We will be back together indoors someday, but before we rush into an unsafe situation, I hope you will recognize that we are worshipping together each Sunday in a way that is truly authentic, engaging, and faith-driven. Other churches may have gone back to indoor worship, but in these challenging times, I believe that God is calling us to be radically innovative as the body of Christ - without putting lives at risk. We'll be keeping the faith together again this Sunday at 9:30 a.m. in the parking lot. Won't you join us?

 

Prayer for Today

God of Creation, inspire our minds to find new ways to worship and serve you. Guide us and create in us a desire for meaningful change to take our faith deeper. Give us the wisdom and courage to forge new ways forward in these uncertain times. Make us innovators for your will and beacons of hope among the darkness of despair and longing. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:50 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, November 05 2020

peak out on behalf of the voiceless,

    and for the rights of all who are vulnerable

Speak out in order to judge with righteousness and to defend the needy and the poor.

-Proverbs 31:8-9

 

When I worked my first summer of college for the District Attorney in my home town, her office brought a case against a teacher who had hurt students. As a part of her office, my duties as intern included caring for the students and parents until it was their turn to testify. I heard and overheard their stories and pain. I also watched the process from jury selection to when the judge threw it out. I knew the truth. I suspect the jury did. The defense attorney mostly proved his case by the testimony of students who had NOT been hurt. It seemed obvious to me that the teacher prayed on the most vulnerable kids who found it hardest to speak up and testify. This passage, like the parable of sheep and goats reminds us that our highest calling as believers is to see the downtrodden and hear the oppressed. And even in a good system with fair laws and righteous lawyers and judges, justice can be elusive.

 

I think of that case often, how those students weren't heard. Not really. Not in any way that brought them meaningful justice or change. I think of it every close election, and every landslide. No matter who wins, some group of people do not feel heard, don't receive attention or justice. It is why I admire leaders who acknowledge first and foremost not that they won, but that many people didn't vote for them, and they still have a voice and should be encouraged to participate. And as believers, we are all called to hear the voices that might be silenced or ignored.

 

Whether this election is decided this week or the weeks to come, we are citizens of the kingdom of God first and America second. We must be able to hear our brother or sister of another stripe. Christ tells us the peacemakers are blessed. Those who seek to hear the voice of the voiceless are God's children. So no matter what leaders are now in charge, our calling is to serve, to listen, and to help those who feel ignored to make their voices heard. If it's farmers and rural laborers or factory workers, teachers or frontline healthcare workers, first responders or refugees, let's listen and hear. Let's do that work together, recommitted to peace and hope and justice for all.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, make me a good citizen of your kingdom, extending love and justice to all. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:48 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, November 04 2020

"Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord." 

-Psalm 27:14, NIV

 

So, it is the morning after the elections and I am waiting. It is not easy to wait for the final results of something that seems so important and which will have great implications for our world. No one really likes waiting, at least no one I know of -- certainly not me. However, the words above are not a proverb on the benefits of waiting in general. No, they remind us to "wait for the Lord." Two times we are reminded to "wait for the Lord."

 

What is it exactly we're waiting for? We know for whom it is we are waiting, but what is it we are waiting for God to do? My sense is that it depends. It depends on what's going on in our lives. It depends on what God is trying to do in our world. Much of the time we don't know exactly what we are waiting for, but we are still told to wait -- which in itself is an act of faith and trust. If we do not have faith in God and trust in God's ability to complete God's plans in the world, then we tend to go ahead with our own plans. Maybe we think we can't wait. Or perhaps we think that somebody needs to do something, and if God isn't doing it on our schedule, then we choose not to wait and we barge ahead on our own.

 

The Psalm doesn't promise a particular outcome resulting from our waiting. But it does encourage us to be strong and to take heart. The word "encourage" literally means "to take heart." The French word coeur means "heart." Being strong and taking heart require something from us. And yet the more we do it, the better we become at being strong and taking heart. Like physical exercise, it builds up the muscles of encouragement. So, however these elections turn out, I want to encourage us all to be strong and take heart -- trusting in God who is faithful, loving, and at work in our world.

 

Prayer for Today

Loving and faithful God, help us to be strong and to take heart as we wait. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:47 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, November 03 2020

"If you wake me each morning with the sound of your loving voice, I'll go to sleep each night trusting in you. Point out the road I must travel; I'm all ears, all eyes before you. Save me from my enemies, God- you're my only hope! Teach me how to live to please you, because you're my God. Lead me by your blessed Spirit into cleared and level pastureland." 

-Psalm 143, selected verses (The Message)

 

David's prayer was shared with me this morning and I'm grateful for these words on Election Day. Asking God for guidance and listening to God's loving voice go with me today. I have always heard that I can only control my own actions and cannot control the actions of others. What I was also reminded when studying Ephesians is that God has the power and God is in control. I am called to accept God's grace, be open to God's love and guidance and then live each day demonstrating that with my actions.

 

In Ephesians, Paul reminds us that we are God's workmanship. N.T. Wright reflects on this language, "This word sometimes has an artistic ring to it. It maybe hinting that what God has done to us in King Jesus is a work of art, like a poem or sculpture... We are like a musical score and the music which we now have to play, is the genuine way of being human, laid out before us in God's gracious design, so that we can follow it."

 

How will you go into your day responding to these promises and prayers from two of God's followers?

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious Creator God, Open our hearts to your guidance and our hands to your work in this world. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:45 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, November 02 2020

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.  

Psalm 46:1-3 (NIV)

 

This past Thursday, I found myself with a lot of time on my hands.  Tropical Storm Zeta blew a tree down on the main street of our subdivision, blocking anyone from exiting or entering the neighborhood.  Of course, we were also without power.  I'm sure many of you who live in the Atlanta area have similar stories.  Our prayers are certainly with all who were affected by the storm, especially those that experienced loss of property or even loved ones.

 

I had to laugh at myself when I realized how basically disruptive the whole situation was for me and my husband.  We were stuck on our end of the street, staring at a downed tree all tangled up in power lines, all the food in the fridge passing its CDC-recommended 4-hour-without-power limit, and we can't even call for a pizza because there's no way they can get to us.  All we can do is call the power company and wait.  And wait.  And light the gas range with a match and make ramen noodles.  (I'm really not complaining... I like ramen noodles!)

 

My thoughts turned to 2020 and how the unfolding of the pandemic changed our lives.  Everyone had to learn to adapt, for much longer than we ever expected, and we're adapting still, as it doesn't seem to be coming to an end anytime soon.

 

So we weather another storm.  We learn to adapt to temporary limitations.  Most important of all, we remember the One who never changes.  The Mighty Fortress.  The One who calms the storm.  The Holy One. 

 

Prayer for Today

Triune God, turn our eyes always to you, the unchanging One.  Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:44 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
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