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.
Now a large crowd spread their clothes on the road. Others cut palm branches off the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds in front of him and behind him shouted, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" And when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up. "Who is this?" they asked. The crowds answered, "It's the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee."
On Sunday, we will remember this familiar story of Palm Sunday and joined with those in the story who came from far away to see Jesus. Those who may have experienced Jesus' healing power or those who merely heard of his miracles. Jesus' ministry so captured people's hearts and minds that they traveled far to see him.
When we remember Palm Sunday, we break the practice of examining our lives during Lent and instead we join the gathered community to welcome Jesus into the Holy City.
We are reminded as we shout "Hosanna!" and wave our palm branches, that thousands of years ago, there were common people with uncommon courage who stood together to join "the one who comes in the name of the Lord" [v. 9].
Since we will not be together in person in the Chapel on Sunday, I would like to invite you to join in our Palm Sunday celebration by taking a picture of your family with palm branches. You can gather some from your yard or you can use one of these files (color in or print) to wave in your picture. Email your photo to me (email@example.com) and you'll receive a slideshow Palm Sunday parade video this weekend.
We are seeing story after story of how ordinary people have come together to accomplish something great. The small group that shows up to volunteer at the food bank week after week. Volunteers who serve as first responders in times of disaster.
Remember these stories and countless others that you have seen or heard so that you might find the courage to march with Jesus to proclaim a word of peace, reconciliation, and hope.
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, Open our hearts and minds to the messages of this Lent season. Prepare us for Palm Sunday. Help us to see both the joy and the sacrifice that took place. In Christ's Name, Amen.
Yesterday I facilitated Solace, a new type of on-line support we are offering to you so that we can stay connected during this time of social distancing. Each week, I will be leading our on-line support meeting on Wednesdays at noon and Sunday mornings at 10:00 a.m. Please join us!
We talked about what it means to shelter in place and how our lives have been affected. One phenomenon that I found most interesting is how time disoriented many of us have become because we are out of our routines. A television station in Indianapolis posted this picture to help their viewers with their confusion.
Relax! Today is Monday and not Thursday. Has time confusion happened to you?
Amidst the chaos and confusion there is a clarity that our faith can provide. Psalm 46 brings the clarity of God being in our midst during times such as these.
"God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble...Psalm 46:1 A Bible scholar I read says that the root word for refuge here comes from the verb to flee or to take shelter. I can't think of a more appropriate verse for our call to shelter in place. The call with which the Psalmist beckons us in faith is to lessen our fear because we have been called to shelter in place with our God. As Psalm 46 proceeds there are scary moments; the earth gives way, the mountains fall into the heart of the sea with the waters roaring and foaming. How can you not experience fear? In this fear the psalmist offers comfort.
There is a river running through the city; a city where God has taken up residency! The psalmist states: "God is with her, she shall not fall; God will help her at break of day." The Bible scholar notes that the break of day literally means the turning of the face of morning to us; God's face turned to us in our struggles.
Have you noticed how much more you enjoy looking at faces in these days of sheltering in place? Perhaps in them you see the face of God reflected through the ones in who were made in his image.
Our next Solace is Wednesday at noon. Login information is posted on the JCPC Facebook page.
Prayer for Today
As we shelter in place, Most High, help us see you reflected in the faces of others. May our acts of loving kindness bring light into our world's darkness and may the fellowship of the Holy Spirit hold us close; one to another. Amen.
Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice.
-Psalm 130: 1-2, NIV
Recently, Jeff Arnold, one of our members, shared this quote with me from Richard Rohr:
Intelligently responding to the Coronavirus demands that we access resources of physical, emotional and spiritual resilience. One practice Christianity has developed to nurture resilience is lamentation. Prayers of lamentation arise in us when we sit and speak out to God and one another-stunned, sad, and silenced by the tragedy and absurdity of human events. . . Without this we do not suffer the necessary pain of this world, the necessary sadness of being human.
Walter Brueggemann, my favorite Scripture teacher, points out that even though about one third of the Psalms are psalms of "lament," these have been the least used by Catholic and Protestant liturgies. We think they make us appear weak, helpless, and vulnerable, or show a lack of faith. So we quickly resort to praise and thanksgiving. We forget that Jesus called weeping a "blessed" state (Matthew 5:5) and that only one book of the Bible is named after an emotion: Jeremiah's book of "Lamentation."
I quoted from Psalm 130 above because it is considered a "lament Psalm." Simply praying the words of a Psalm like this one gives voice to what we may be feeling at times like these. Crying out to God for help is a type of worship, not weakness. I want to encourage you to use this time to pray for those who are hurting - to cry out for God to help us all. And while we as Christians believe the last words are hope and resurrection, our first words may need to be lament - that things are not yet the way they are supposed to be.
Prayer for Today
Out of the depth, Lord, we cry to you. There is too much sickness and death in our world, and it is only increasing. Bring healing. Comfort those who mourn -- and do it soon! We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Also, join us for online worship this Sunday when we look at Psalm 34:1-18. The sermon is about fear and whether God is far away or near.
Also, we plan to celebrate communion together online on Easter Sunday, so remember to buy some bread and grape juice or wine for the celebration!
Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.
My morning routine on quarantine is a little bit of a juggling act. Jessica spends much of her night up and down caring for our new baby, Marshall. So I typically have the morning shift of baby holding and making breakfast for the teenager and getting him started on his online schoolwork. Sometimes, I'm holding Marshall, sometimes he's in a carrier, and now and then he will let me set him down in the mechanical swing. Mostly, he just doesn't want to be on his back. It upsets his tummy. But we think also that after nearly a week in the NICU and almost never being held, he never wants us to put him down. And we don't want to.
This morning was one such morning. I needed to get a breakfast made, so I set him down in the swing. He'd been cuddled against me for an hour already and my shirt was warm. As I laid him in the cold swing, it occurred to me that he would wake soon at the discomfort. So I slipped off my t-shirt and tucked him in with it as a blanket. I've read that both infants and pets do better with separation when they have an article of your clothing that smells like you. I hoped the warmth and smell would calm him. It did.
What he needed was to know I was near. The nearness of God is a comfort to us. It is well and good to know God loves us and sees us. But our greatest comfort comes in God's nearness, in the reminders of God's existence and love and support. As parents and grandparents, as family and friends, we can be that nearness for one another. We train Stephen Ministers and pastors and elders and deacons and teachers and coaches for this too. Remember when you visit or call someone, you are the nearness of God in the flesh.
We have received meals and visits, calls and messages, gifts and cards and even a prayer shawl. We have known God's nearness. We can't wait to share it and pass it on. Be comforted by those who love you and be near to those in need.
Prayer for Today
Lord, let me feel your nearness in the love of those you send to me. And let me be that nearness for all those in need. Amen.
"Worship is the most important thing we do." That saying predates my almost 10 years at JCPC. Last Sunday we began offering Sunday worship online. Worshiping online is different from worshipping on Sundays with the JCPC congregation. I miss all of you! It is not the same without you. I am already looking forward to the time when we can gather again in the same space to worship God. But until then, we will worship together in this virtual space online.
As we all know, these are challenging times. It would do no good to pretend otherwise. When people are facing death, severe illness, the loss of jobs, and an overall disruption of the normal patterns of life -- things are not the way they should be. I pray for all of those who are working hard to bring healing, wholeness, and a return to normalcy. We mourn with those who mourn. We grieve with those who suffer loss.
However, I wonder if there might be something good that emerges in these not-so-good times. As we practice social distancing, and as some in our nation are experiencing lockdown, how might we use this time well? For those of us who were too busy, can we now find time to do some new things that are important?
Psalm 46 begins with these words: "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, . . . He [the Lord] says, 'Be still, and know that I am God.'" (Psalm 46:1-2a, 10a, NIV) Many of us now have the time to "Be still" -- whether we like it or not. I want to invite you to make the best of this "Be still" time. Set aside some of this time to pray, to read scripture, and to listen for the still, small voice of God. Resist filling up your time staring at screens every waking minute. Record your thoughts in a journal. And reach out to your neighbor with some caring act -- though you may have to use and learn about some technology to do this.
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, we pray for all of those who are hurting. Bring healing and wholeness to their lives. Bring a swift end to this pandemic. Give strength and wisdom to all who are fighting it. And in this time of real loss, help us to find and do what is good. We pray this in the strong name of the Christ. Amen.
I have often heard the phrase, "God is as near as your every breath." What does that mean for you? How often do you notice your breathing throughout the day? When it's so quiet, that it's the only sound you hear... or when it's more pronounced like when you are exercising (on purpose or when you are trying to hurry). I would invite you today to be more aware of your every breath, and when you do remember that God is near to you. Use the familiar scripture with maybe some unfamiliar phrasing from Psalm 23 in The Message to help you breathe and pray today.
As we continue to navigate being away from each other and still wanting to stay connected, we are continuing to look for ways to help you connect with your church family. Would you like to connect with a small group? Many are meeting online through Zoom video chat and others are connecting through phone and email. Would you like to find someone to pray with and for during this time? Are you looking for a way to do Bible study or have a daily devotion to read? Look to the left side bar of this message under Quick Links, you will find several easy to access devotionals to use during this time. Please contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) to connect, pray and travel this journey together.
Prayer for Today
This is a reminder that God's spirit abides in each of us.
God, my shepherd! (breathe in)
I don't need a thing (breathe out)
You have bedded me down in lush meadows, (breathe in)
you find me quiet pools to drink from. (breathe out)
True to your word, (breathe in)
you let me catch my breath (breathe out)
and send me in the right direction. (breathe in)
Even when the way goes through
Death Valley, (breathe out)
I'm not afraid (breathe in)
when you walk at my side. (breathe out)
Your trusty shepherd's crook (breathe in)
makes me feel secure. (breathe out)
You serve me a six-course dinner (breathe in)
right in front of my enemies. (breathe out)
You revive my drooping head; (breathe in)
my cup brims with blessing. (breathe out)
Your beauty and love chase after me (breathe in)
every day of my life. (breathe out)
I'm back home in the house of God (breathe in)
for the rest of my life. (breathe out)
Life doesn't feel normal. I want life as I've known it to be normal, but I can't deny the fact that it isn't normal and might not be for some time. Each day seems to rob us a little bit more of our normal lives because of the coronavirus pandemic. What can help as our lives are influx?
A minster I highly respect, Dr. Charles Poole, wrote that in the face of our loss of normalcy we need the beauty of constancy; the type of constancy that flowers such as the azaleas awaken us to through the beauty of Spring.
The constancy of Spring is needed in this time of loss. Here is what Dr. Poole said:
"Constancy which seems so much more beautiful and important in the absence of normalcy; which is what most of us have lost. Some, sadly have lost health, loved ones, and life. Many others have lost income and work. What all of us have lost is normalcy; the privileged normalcy of going to gyms and restaurants, parties and dinners; the basic normalcy of grocery shopping with confidence; the needed normalcy of gathering for worship, fellowship, school, and recreation. And, even, the intimate normalcy of visiting, and embracing, loved ones beyond our immediate family.
If, as one wise soul once said, "Grief is the aftermath of any deeply felt loss", this present moment of social isolation and distancing is a season of global, national, local, congregational, and personal grief; grieving the loss of so much of the normalcy most of us have always taken for granted."
I've been drawn to the beauty of constancy as I've posted floral pictures on-line the past several days. How about you? Here's the beauty of spring witness through our Daffodils 4 Hope.
The psalmist speaks to the constancy of God this way: "God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in trouble." Psalm 46: 1
How can we bring some beautiful constancy to our church lives during times of trouble and social distancing?
I will be offering a virtual meeting entitled Solace several times a week on the Zoom platform. Solace will be a time to check in, hear about some self-care suggestions and share faith together as well as fellowship.
Keep us safe In your constant and ever-present love, O Lord, our rock and our strength and in our loss of normalcy, grant us peace, assurance of your care, and the solace that restores our souls. Amen.
Most Fridays, I will plan to use "Reflections" to update you on upcoming events, worship, and other important information you may need to know. This Sunday, we will begin our online worship service. You can watch it anytime beginning early Sunday morning from our website at jcpcusa.org. In addition to sermon and scripture, Heidi and Christian, our Co-Directors of Music, have planned some outstanding worship music. My message is entitled "Social Distancing" and it will be based on Matthew 22:35-40. When you watch the service, it would be good to find a Bible to have with you so you can read along.
On our church website we will also have "Church at Home" resources. This will include prayers, Bible studies, videos, and other links for your spiritual enrichment at home. We also want to encourage everyone to continue with their generous giving, even though we're not meeting at the church for worship and other activities. Your staff and your church leadership are working hard every day to make a difference in the lives of our community and our members. From creating a brand new worship service online, to providing resources that anyone can use at home, to caring for the most vulnerable of our church members, to creating times for online fellowship - your giving is what makes this happen. So, please use whatever way works for you -- whether it's mailing a check, dropping it by the church mailbox or office, or giving online through the church website or our JCPC app. Thank you for your generous and faithful giving!
Please keep our session and our staff in your prayers as we have our first online virtual meeting this Saturday morning. Pray that God would guide our decisions so that we can fulfill the mission of our church in these unprecedented times.
Finally, I have included a link to a wonderful prayer I found online at Christianity Today. It can serve as a guide for us to know how we should pray during this pandemic. I am choosing to use one of the petitions each day during my devotions to guide my prayers. I am also praying for you, the members of our congregation, every day.
. . . This list isn't comprehensive, of course, but it's a good place to start. My hope is that it can provide words for us as we pray collectively (if also virtually!) as a church body. We believe there is a God who bends his ear to listen, and so we pray:
1. For the sick and infected: God, heal and help. Sustain bodies and spirits. Contain the spread of infection.
2. For our vulnerable populations: God, protect our elderly and those suffering from chronic disease. Provide for the poor, especially the uninsured.
3. For the young and the strong: God, give them the necessary caution to keep them from unwittingly spreading this disease. Inspire them to help.
4. For our local, state, and federal governments: God, help our elected officials as they allocate the necessary resources for combatting this pandemic. Help them to provide more tests.
5. For our scientific community, leading the charge to understand the disease and communicate its gravity: God, give them knowledge, wisdom, and a persuasive voice.
6. For the media, committed to providing up-to-date information: God, help them to communicate with appropriate seriousness without causing panic.
7. For consumers of media, looking to be well-informed: God, help us find the most helpful local information to equip us to be good neighbors. Keep us from anxiety and panic, and enable us to implement the recommended strategies, even at a cost to ourselves.
8. For those with mental health challenges who feel isolated, anxious, and helpless: God, provide them every necessary support.
9. For the homeless, unable to practice the protocols of social distancing in the shelter system: Protect them from disease, and provide isolation shelters in every city.
10. For international travelers stuck in foreign countries: God, help them return home safely and quickly.
11. For Christian missionaries throughout the world, especially in areas with high rates of infection: God, provide them with words of hope, and equip them to love and serve those around them.
12. For workers in a variety of industries facing layoffs and financial hardship: God, keep them from panic, and inspire your church to generously support them.
13. For families with young children at home for the foreseeable future: God, help mothers and fathers to partner together creatively for the care and flourishing of their children. For single mothers and fathers, grow their networks of support.
14. For parents who cannot stay home from work but must find care for their children: God, present them with creative solutions.
15. For those in need of regular therapies and treatments that must now be postponed: God, help them to stay patient and positive.
16. For business leaders making difficult decisions that affect the lives of their employees: God, give these women and men wisdom, and help them to lead self-sacrificially.
17. For pastors and church leaders faced with the challenges of social distancing: God, help them to creatively imagine how to pastor their congregants and love their cities well.
18. For college and university students, whose courses of study are changing, whose placements are cancelled, whose graduation is uncertain: God, show them that while life is uncertain, their trust is in you.
19. For Christians in every neighborhood, community, and city: May your Holy Spirit inspire us to pray, to give, to love, to serve, and to proclaim the gospel, that the name of Jesus Christ might be glorified around the world.
20. For frontline health care workers, we thank you for their vocational call to serve us. We also pray:
God, keep them safe and healthy. Keep their families safe and healthy.
God, help them to be knowledgeable about the diagnosis and treatment of this disease, as well as the changing protocols.
God, help them to stay clear-minded in the midst of the surrounding panic.
God, deliver them from anxiety for their own loved ones (aging parents, children, spouses, roommates).
God, give them compassion for every patient in their care.
God, provide for them financially, especially if they fall ill and are unable to work.
God, help Christians in health care to exhibit extraordinary peace, so that that many would ask about the reason for their hope. Give them opportunities to proclaim the gospel.
God, we trust that you are good and do good. Teach us to be your faithful people in this time of global crisis. Help us to follow in the footsteps of our faithful shepherd, Jesus, who laid down his life for the sake of love. Glorify his name as you equip us with everything needed for doing your will. Amen.
Prayer for Today
Prayer included in Reflections. The link to this will also be on the sidebar under "Quick Links" so you may access it daily.
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, "Go over and join this chariot." So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" And he said, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
Just a few weeks ago, shortly before Marshall was born, I took Vincent out for burgers and shakes. The waiter paused a moment and said, "this may be a weird question, but did you come in here in a Jedi robe once?" It was the same day I'd worn it to preach the message about Obi Wan and Gandalf calling Luke and Bilbo to their respective quests and Jesus calling the disciples, including Phillip.
Folks, that was 3 years ago. He didn't remember me and my face from wearing a funny outfit but because that day, an outfit I wore opened a conversation and we talked at length about church and faith and reaching people in meaningful ways.
The Spirit provides us daily opportunities to engage people in authentic and meaningful and memorable ways. Are we open? Do we respond like Phillip and ask for the stories of others and tell them our most important ones too?
Some of you must go to work and stores in the coming weeks. I hope your interactions will be brief and less close. Others of us will mostly interact by phone and conference calls. Those are still opportunities to reach people with love. They may be even greater opportunities because people are so starved for them. Look for a chance to listen and share. And then do that. Listen. Share. The Spirit is among us.
Prayer for Today
Lord, make me aware of people who want to share their story and hear mine. Make me observant to see, compassionate to listen, and brave to speak in love. Amen.
"The Lord is my light and my salvation -- whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life -- of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1, NIV)
Peter Steinke writes these words about anxiety: "When we are flooded with anxiety, we can neither hear what is said without distortion nor respond without clarity." My sense is that now is a time in which anxiety levels are high. It certainly feels like we are "flooded with anxiety." So, how do we respond? It is not easy in times like these. And yet, we may be able to hear words that can bring some clarity to how we respond. The words above from the Psalms are some of my favorite -- providing comfort in the midst of the storms of life.
Last week, in response to "storm" of the coronavirus pandemic, we chose not to meet for worship and canceled all church sponsored activities for now. We did this out of concern for the health of our church members and in response to the request by Governor Kemp for faith communities to consider not meeting for worship.
However, this Sunday we will be worshiping online. Your staff has been working together to create a new worship experience specifically for this occasion. You should be able to view the worship service beginning this Sunday morning through a link on our church website at jcpcusa.org. I'm asking all of us in the church family to gather "in spirit" Sunday morning as we worship God together in our homes.
Sunday's online worship service will include music, prayer, scripture, a sermon, and the opportunity to give. Throughout the season of Lent, we have been focusing on Bible passages from our Old Testament. This Sunday I have decided to break with that pattern and share a message I'm calling "Social Distancing." It will be based on Matthew 22:35-40. My hope is that it will give us some clear guidance for how to live in times such as these. Please make plans to join us and pass the word along to those who might need some grace and hope.
Prayer for Today
Gracious God -- our light, our salvation, and the stronghold of our lives -- help us when we seem to be overwhelmed by fear and anxiety. You made us. You know our strengths and our weaknesses. Enable us to live into our strengths. And lift us up in our weaknesses, that we might live the lives you give us without being overcome by fear. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ, our Lord and our Savior. Amen.
We are in the season of Lent and the past few days have been a mix of emotions and change. There are many messages we see and hear and some of it may be tremendous. It is sometimes hard to tune out all of the excess. You may be already overwhelmed by all that will take place in the coming days. I would invite you into a new space, or maybe you have already found it.
What story do you have to tell? From your life so far, the lessons you have learned. The traditions or special moments that you spent with family members during the Lent and Easter season. In our culture, lots of people are sharing stories on social media, through television, and other technology. I am going to invite you to share our story, the life of Jesus Christ and its impact on your life and our world.
So how do we help children, youth and adults in our community find themselves within the Lent & Easter story? Find some time where you can look into the eyes of another person and invite them to share some of their story. Then share part of your story and how Jesus Christ has made an impact on it.
I believe we have the best story in the world to share. You may be overwhelmed with resources to us during this time at home or you may be looking for how to continue being the church.
On that site, I will be updating with resources on the home page that myself or other staff members recommend.
Prayer for Today
I give thanks, Gracious God, for all of those people over two thousand years who have inspired others and played their part in passing on to generation after generation the living heritage of their faith. Especially I give thanks for those who lived their faith through difficulties and blessings. I pray that I may continue to grow in my faith and love through good times and bad. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
Fear is in the air. I can't remember in my lifetime a series of events like the ones that have unfolded in the past week. Sporting events shuttered, air travel grounded, school systems closing their doors and Sunday worship services migrating on-line. The primary catalysis is the fear of the corona virus.
While I don't like my life being dictated by fear I found myself reflecting on other times when fear permeated our souls. I thought of 9/11. I thought of the great recession. I was talking with Heidi as we were planning worship and I remember visiting a patient in the hospital back in 1987 who was suffering from a strange, unknown illness. Later, it was named AIDS. Through each of these "outbreaks" of fear, we persevered and rose above our fears. I don't want fear to win. I want faith and the belief we will rise above to win the day.
Yesterday if we would have worshiped together we would have prayed the following confession. I chose this prayer several weeks ago yet before the corona virus fear took hold. While fear and worry are wrong in and of themselves, both can take us to dark places. Remember God's light shines in the darkness so have faith.
Eternal God, you call us to seek first your kingdom and you promise to provide for all our needs. We confess; however, that we fall short in our faith. So often our anxieties lead us down paths that are non-productive. Our worries can consume our thoughts and we fret about things that never seem to happen. Rather than experiencing delight in the gift of today, we wallow apprehensively about the concerns for tomorrow. O God of grace, free us from our anxiety and grant us peace of mind so that in the gift of this hour and the blessings of this day, we might come to know you more deeply and rest in the assurance of your promise that nothing can separate us from your great love. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
May God lessen our fears, heal the sick, comfort the grieving and create a vaccine to stop Covid 19. In the days and weeks ahead let's call upon our better angels and together we shall rise above!
Prayer for Today
God of Grace; we lift our burdens to you and ask for deliverance. Free us from irrational fear, equip us with the knowledge of how to remain healthy and touch those who are ill with your healing touch. Amen.
You might know what it's like. The bills keep arriving after a medical procedure-from the anesthesiologist, the surgeon, the lab, the facility. Jason experienced this after an emergency surgery. He complained, "We owe thousands of dollars after insurance. If only we can get these bills paid, then life will be good and I'll be content! I feel like I'm playing the arcade game Whack-a-Mole"-where plastic moles pop up from their holes, and the player hits them wildly with a mallet.
Life comes at us like that at times. The apostle Paul certainly could relate. He said, "I know what it is to be in need," yet he'd "learned the secret of being content in any and every situation" (Philippians 4:12). His secret? "I can do all this through him who gives me strength" (v. 13).
When I was going through a particularly discontented time, I read this on a greeting card: "If it isn't here, where is it?" That was a powerful reminder that if I'm not content here and now, what makes me think I'd be if only I were in another situation?
How do we learn to rest in Jesus? Maybe it's a matter of focus. Of enjoying and being thankful for the good. Of learning more about a faithful Father. Of growing in trust and patience. Of recognizing that life is about God and not me. Of asking Him to teach me contentment in Him.
Prayer for Today
God, You are good and all You do is good. Teach me contentment in You. I want to learn. Amen.
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.
Ever caught a dragon? I hadn't until my son convinced me to download a game on my phone. Producing a digital map mirroring the real world, the game allows you to catch colorful creatures near you.
Unlike most mobile games, this one requires movement. Anywhere you go is part of the game's playing field. The result? I'm doing a lot more walking! Anytime my son and I play, we strive to maximize every opportunity to nab the critters that pop up around us.
It's easy to focus on, even obsess over, a game that's crafted to captivate users. But as I played the game, I was convicted with this question: Am I this intentional about maximizing the spiritual opportunities around me?
Paul knew the need to be alert to God's work around us. In Colossians 4, he asked for prayer for an opportunity to share the gospel (v. 3). Then he challenged, "Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity" (v. 5). Paul didn't want the Colossians to miss any chance of influencing others toward Christ. But doing so would require truly seeing them and their needs, then engaging in ways "full of grace" (v. 6).
In our world, far more things vie for our time and attention than a game's imaginary dragons. But God invites us to navigate a real-world adventure, every day seeking opportunities to point to Him.
Prayer for Today
Jesus, thank You that You're constantly at work in the people around me. Help me to make the most of every opportunity I have to demonstrate Your love and grace. Amen.
Finn, a Siamese fighting fish, lived at our house for two years. My young daughter would often bend down to talk with him after dropping food into his tank. When the topic of pets came up in kindergarten, she proudly claimed him as her own. Eventually, Finn passed away, and my daughter was heartbroken.
My mother advised me to listen closely to my daughter's feelings and tell her, "God knows all about it." I agreed that God knows everything, yet wondered, How will that be comforting? Then it occurred to me that God isn't simply aware of the events in our lives-He compassionately sees into our souls and knows how they affect us. He understands that "little things" can feel like big things depending on our age, past wounds, or lack of resources.
Jesus saw the real size of a widow's gift-and heart-as she dropped two coins into a temple collection box. He described what it meant for her as He said, "This poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. . . . [She put in] all she had to live on" (Mark 12:43-44).
The widow kept quiet about her situation but Jesus recognized that what others considered a tiny donation was a sacrifice to her. He sees our lives in the same way. May we find comfort in His limitless understanding.
Prayer for Today
God, thank You for knowing me completely and loving me. Help me to feel Your comfort when I consider Your infinite knowledge of my life. Amen.
In recent weeks, I have been considering fear and bravery and what that looks like in my life. Today I was reminded of these words from Barbara Brown Taylor, "I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light. Things that have saved my life over and over again. So that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light."
What can we learn about the ways of God when we cannot see the way ahead, are lost, alone, frightened, not in control or when the world around us seems to have descended into darkness? What carries you through to the times in the light?
As you reflect today, I invite you to consider these words from Barbara Brown Taylor, Dr. King and the Apostle Paul.
"God is more present to our vulnerable, open night-time selves than to our pre-occupied daylight selves." Barbara Brown Taylor
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that." Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
2 Corinthians 4:6, "For God who said, 'Let there be light in the darkness' has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God is seen in the face of Jesus Christ."
Go into this day being aware of all of it and finding ways to be light for others in the midst of darkness.
Prayer for Today
Prayer from Thomas Merton:
"My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone." Amen.
Do you have a street named after you, a highway perhaps? Do you have a city or a town that bears your family name and to which you can trace your ancestry?
When I'm driving through North Georgia, I notice so many roads bearing family names and I wonder what those people are like and what they did to warrant the road be named in their honor.
My last name, Kuhlhorst, is a rather strange last name in that there aren't many Kuhlhorsts in the United States and therefore I don't believe there is a street, road or town named Kuhlhorst. Since the Kuhlhorst family hails from Germany I looked on a map of Germany and low and behold I found Kuhlhorst! Bravo, Kuhlhorst family, bravo!
The name of any place has meaning. In the Bible, the stories of faith are connected to the name of the place in which the story occurs. Take for example Exodus 17:1-7. Moses had led children of Israel out of Egypt into the wilderness as part of their liberation, freedom from Pharaoh's oppression.
Sounds good on paper but think about it with me. The wilderness doesn't have infrastructure; no plumbing or running water. It reminds me of traveling in the Nevada desert and seeing signs that say you'd better get gas here because there's nothing for over 100 miles. What were God and Moses thinking by bringing thousands of people out into nowhere without a well or an outhouse?!! Egad! You know what happens at the end of the day when folks are hangry (hungry, angry and tired); they quarrel and complain and that's what happens at the end of the day in this story. So, Moses named the place Massah, testing place, and Meribah, quarreling.
So, I wonder since the place is called Massah and Meribah do testing and quarreling have a place within our faith? Come listen to the sermon this Sunday and we will explore this question together.
Prayer for Today
As we grow in our relationships, Loving God, help us to see that growing pains are necessary and teach us how to repair our relationships when our quarreling results in hurt rather than understanding. Amen.
Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails.
Jane's plans to become a speech therapist ended when an internship revealed the job was too emotionally challenging for her. Then she was given the opportunity to write for a magazine. She'd never seen herself as an author, but years later she found herself advocating for needy families through her writing. "Looking back, I can see why God changed my plans," she says. "He had a bigger plan for me."
The Bible has many stories of disrupted plans. On his second missionary journey, Paul had sought to bring the gospel into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus stopped him (Acts 16:6-7). This must have seemed mystifying: Why was Jesus disrupting plans that were in line with a God-given mission? The answer came in a dream one night: Macedonia needed him even more. There, Paul would plant the first church in Europe. Solomon also observed, "Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails" (Proverbs 19:21).
It's sensible to make plans. A well-known adage goes, "Fail to plan, and you plan to fail." But God may disrupt our plans with His own. Our challenge is to listen and obey, knowing we can trust God. If we submit to His will, we'll find ourselves fitting into His purpose for our lives.
As we continue to make plans, we can add a new twist: Plan to listen. Listen to God's plan.
Prayer for Today
All-knowing God, give me the faith to listen to You when my plans are disrupted, knowing that You have a greater purpose for my life. Amen.
"For I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.
My Ash Wednesday this year was a little different. I've preached more often than not on Ash Wednesday in my first decade of ordained ministry. It's a meaningful service to me. I had not often attended an Ash Wednesday service as a kid, but came to understand them in college and seminary. And at my first service in Colorado, I dipped my thumb in a bowl of ash and oil and looked up to see a woman from the congregation I'd come to know and love. Her family had given me kitchen and living room furniture they were getting rid of when I moved there. I literally didn't have a place to sit in my new apartment that was from this kind older couple. She had just been diagnosed with a brain tumor, the same type that took the life of her daughter years before. I made the sign of the cross on her forehead, knowing it may be her last. Her eyes met mine, watery, and she seemed equally aware. I managed the words, "from dust you have come and to dust you'll return."
That and similar memories have established this as a day I look forward to each year. Circumstances this year meant that I'd be headed to the hospital for a scheduled delivery of our third son a few weeks early, and a day before Ash Wednesday. When Ash Wednesday arrived, our newborn son Marshall was in the NICU and my wife in a room in labor and delivery. I was splitting my time between those two rooms and becoming quite familiar with the staff and nurses. As I passed the nursing station at lunch, I noticed a chaplain giving ashes to the nurses there. I paused, told him I was a pastor and asked if he had time for me and my wife on his rounds. He did. I was deeply grateful not to have missed that humanizing and spiritual moment that marks me and the calendar each year.
A few hours later, I went back to the NICU to wait for my youth who has become an ordained elder this year to come visit Marshall. I looked down at him and the score of wires and tubes leading to his crib. I felt my forehead where the ashes still remained and pressed my thumb to them. Then I softly marked Marshall's forehead as he slept and spoke the words. I was well aware in that moment that hundreds of our friends from JCPC, my home church, folks connected to me as pastors and faith leaders here and abroad, and connected through social media were praying for his health. But in the moment, I was also aware of his life and mine, both in God's hands and both ready to serve a purpose. I remembered the encouragement of my youth from the Sunday before to trust God in those moments, no matter how brief or how long and to know those plans would be for good things, even if they were hard.
I doubt any Ash Wednesday will ever be so memorable as this one, but I'm grateful it comes each year. I hope you'll mark it with me next year and be marked by the reminder. And I hope it centers you in God's call on your life as it does me.
Prayer for Today
God, be with me this Lent. Mark me, claim me, remind me, and call me. In your son's name, I pray. Amen.
I was reading an editorial which brought up the importance of being "civil" in our public dialogue -- especially with those with whom we disagree. Senator Ben Sasse has written about this in his book called Them -- as in "us and them." Sasse suggests that we have entered into a new time in our country in which we not only view those who disagree with us as wrong, but as those who are evil and need to be destroyed. He says that in the past, while we may have disagreed passionately with others, we still tended to view them as fellow citizens who may be wrong, but who still had a right, not only to their opinions, but to simply exist. Sasse wants us to focus more on what we have in common than what divides us and "them."
As Christians, we should hold two truths in tension. The first is that all human beings are made in the image of God. Last Sunday we looked at the book of Genesis and at the garden of Eden story soon after God had created the world and all that was within it -- including Adam and Eve. And God said that it was all "good."
The second thing we need to hold on to is that we are all sinners saved by grace. The season of Lent invites us to reflect on the meaning of our sin and how we have fallen short of the mark. We always reflect on our sinfulness in the context of grace, forgiveness, and the new life that began on the first Easter with the resurrection of Jesus. That gives us the courage and a framework to view our sin. However, the goal is not simply to feel bad about ourselves, but to be honest with ourselves, so that we might open ourselves up to God's amazing grace.
Today, I want to invite all of us to remember that while it may be easy to see the sinfulness in others, especially in those with whom we may disagree -- we also need to remember that all persons, even those with whom we may disagree passionately, are made in the image of God.
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, help us to remember that every human being is made in your image. Help us also to remember that all of us are sinners who need your amazing, saving grace. Help us to be civil with one another - especially with those with whom we disagree. Help us to be peacemakers this day. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Over the past couple of weeks, I have started to notice the longer days beginning to creep in, the cool mornings and warm afternoons. Spending time outdoors watching the signs of spring is one of my favorite parts of March. I am looking forward to enjoying this change over the next month or so. It's easy to fall in love with God's creation this time of year when the weather is mild and we begin to see lots of new life. I enjoy the changes that occur and the time to reflect on how God continues to work in us.
I try to be open and ready for things to change and embrace new challenges. I also get a little bit impatient with the time it takes for warmer weather and blooms to emerge. So how do I cope with these changes? How do I appreciate God's creation when I'm just ready for warmer weather to be here? This morning I put on my rain jacket and rain boots, and hiked the hills in my neighborhood in the rain with our dog. What do you do to cope with change? God has blessed us with the changes in seasons and the colors in creation.
As we begin to transition into spring, I want to invite you to take a moment to think about creation and its blessings. One of my favorite poems to read at the change of seasons is by James Weldon Johnson:
So God stepped over to the edge of the world
And He spat out the seven seas;
He batted His eyes, and the lightnings flashed;
He clapped His hands, and the thunders rolled;
And the waters above the earth came down,
The cooling waters came down.
Then the green grass sprouted,
And the little red flowers blossomed,
The pine tree pointed his finger to the sky,
And the oak spread out his arms,
The lakes cuddled down in the hollows of the ground,
And the rivers ran down to the sea;
And God smiled again,
And the rainbow appeared,
And curled itself around His shoulder.
Then God raised His arm and He waved His hand
Over the sea and over the land,
And He said, "Bring forth! Bring forth!"
And quicker than God could drop His hand.
Fishes and fowls
And beasts and birds
Swam the rivers and the seas,
Roamed the forests and the woods,
And split the air with their wings.
And God said, "That's good!"
Prayer for Today
God our Creator, you made the great lights in our sky: the sun to rule in the day, and the moon and the stars in the night all because your great love lasts forever. Our sun and moon and the stars that you call by name all give you praise, because they do what they were created to do. Lead me, to reflect the light of Christ your Son and so live fully as, in your love, you created me to do. Amen.
As the novel coronavirus has captured the headlines in recent weeks, misinformation, conspiracy theories, and fear of the unknown have raised anxiety and caused widespread apprehension. Financial markets have wobbled and people of Asian descent in this country and around the world have been unfairly targeted. This virus has exposed the vulnerability and fragility of the global community.
As we all struggle with the horrific impact of the deadly virus that has infected so many people in China and now in a number of other countries, we cannot but call upon our God for help and healing.
Please join me in crying out for relief from this plague.
We pray for healing for those who are infected, in China and in all the places where the virus has spread.
We pray for all who already have lost loved ones to the illness and those who will yet suffer such loss.
We pray for doctors, nurses and aides providing medical care, for insight in their caring, and for their health and well-being.
We pray for wisdom for the medical and scientific experts who are desperately seeking ways to control the spread of the virus.
We pray for public officials who must make the hard decisions about the quarantining of those who may have been exposed to the virus; and we pray for all those for whom those decisions feel like unjust imprisonment.
We lift up the Christian church in China and our partners throughout the region as they seek to bring Christ's healing presence and peace.
We pray for God to keep us alert to the threats posed by such a worldwide crisis, remembering the millions of God's children who live in places where the availability of medical care is meager or nonexistent.
May God open our hearts, our financial resources, and our political will, so that the vision of a better future can become a reality for all of God's children.
Prayer for Today
In the Providence of the God who created us, in the Passion of our Savior Jesus Christ who redeems us, and in the Power of the Holy Spirit through whom God's will is done. AMEN.