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.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters
This week, I got to be a part of one of the best projects yet at JCPC. It was intergenerational, it was fun, it was quick, and it served those in need. It started with someone we don't know posting a video on social media - how to make no-sew face masks for healthcare workers. Previously, the youth and I had no way to help make masks - no sewing machines or materials. But I knew the Knit Wits had material and love our youth. In less than a day, they gathered materials, pre-cut squares, and dropped it all off at church for me. My household assembled kits with the material, glue, bags, instructions, and patterns. And between myself, a college student, and youth parent, we delivered them.
On Sunday night, we gathered on Zoom. Both the MS and HS youth logged on, made masks together, and sent them back via church. Start to finish, almost every age group was represented in our project. It was then I heard from another college student that he's returned home to turn his 3D printer into a one-man operation, churning out hundreds of PPE face masks for local use and NY. I told the kids and our college students that they really are my heroes. They all shrugged and had a similar reaction. They were happy to help. Who else was gonna do it?
In one of my favorite action movies, the fourth installment of the Die Hard series, the cop hero of the movie is driving his sidekick to put a stop to the bad guys' plot. This kid calls him a hero and he says he's not one. He says there's just no one else there to do the work, so he's doing it. And the kid, whose life he's saved a dozen times says, "that's what makes you that guy, huh?" Each of our youth and college students is that guy or that gal this week. They saw the need and put their shoulder to the task, no questions asked, all enthusiasm. Grateful to our Knit Wits, parents, and youth. This week, they supported the heroes on our front lines - medical workers. Thanks for your hard work. You are loved.
Prayer for Today
Lord, when there's no one else to do the work, send me. I'm ready. Help me to see the work and to say yes. Amen.
Yesterday I attended my first "Zoom" funeral. The service was for Rena Richardson, a member of another church I had served. Rena was a sweetheart and she exemplified all that was good about being "a southern lady." As a part of the service, friends had been asked to share memories which the pastor presiding over the service read. The pastor then shared some comforting words -- honoring Rena's life and proclaiming the hope we have in Jesus Christ. Now, I know Rena was not perfect, none of us are, but it was not hard for her pastor to say good things about Rena's life.
A few years ago, I was asked by Rob Lawrence, one of our church members, to preside over the funeral service for his mother. She had lived in a town in the mountains of north Georgia, right next to the Tennessee state line. It was to be a graveside service at a beautiful cemetery outside of town where many members of her family had been buried. I arrived about an hour before the service and stopped in town. Across from where I parked my car was a gift shop. It had a wide range of items, but what caught my eye was a display of small signs - the kind you might hang from a doorknob or place on a bookshelf. One sign which had a green and tan background with black stenciled letters said this: "Live your life so that the preacher won't have to lie at your funeral."
Now as far I can remember I have never had to lie at a funeral about the life of the person who has died. On a few rare occasions I chose to leave out some things that were true, but I have not had to lie. Actually, one of the blessings of being a pastor and walking with a family who has lost a loved one is hearing stories about the life of the person who has died. It is a real privilege to listen and share those remembrances with others later at the service. So, may we all "practice righteousness" and live our lives in ways that honor God!
Prayer for Today
Thank you, God, for the gift of life. Thank you for those whose lives have meant so much to each one of us. Bless those of us who mourn when we lose a loved one. Help us to remember the hope we have in Christ and, as Paul reminds us, that nothing can separate us from your love in Christ Jesus - not even death! Amen.
In any other year, this time of year from spring break to the end of May tends to be filled with special events each week. Maybe it's tests at school, school celebrations, preparing gifts for Moms, wrapping up a sports season, or preparing for graduation. That is not this year and for that I experience both sorrow and peace.
For me change is hard to acclimate to, but I am taking time to acknowledge all of the emotions and hardships these changes bring to my family and so many of you. Two years ago around this time, we were celebrating the arrival of my nephew, Mark. New life brings a sense of peace and gratitude to many.
I remember this familiar passage from Psalm 139: You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother's womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! -Psalm 139:13-14
As we move a little slower into a different season, we may be overwhelmed by all the changes that we are acclimating to and need a moment to stop and appreciate the intricate work that happens when God creates a human being. Each finger and toe, mouth and nose are so small and precious when we are born. All of our organs that work together to help us to take each breath, are a real gift. I would invite you to look around at those people that are most precious to you and thank God for the blessing of their life. What a wonderfully complex gift it is for us to experience life here on earth!
God knit you together in your mother's womb, each and every intricate detail. Take a moment to find a way to express your gratitude for this amazing gift of life.
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, Thank you for making us so wonderfully complex. Guide us as we seek to appreciate the gift of life you have blessed us with here on earth. May we glorify you each step on our journey. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
The movie The Free State of Jones tells the US Civil War story of Newton Knight and some Confederate deserters and slaves who aided the Union Army and then resisted slaveholders after the war. Many herald Knight as the hero, but two slaves first saved his life after his desertion. They carried him deep into a secluded swampland and tended a leg wound he suffered while fleeing Confederate forces. If they'd abandoned him, he would have died.
The people of Judah were wounded and desperate, facing enemies and feeling helpless. Israel had been overtaken by Assyria, and Isaiah prophesied that one day they (Judah) would also be overcome by an enemy-Babylonia. Judah needed a God who would help, who would rescue and not forsake them. Imagine, then, the surging hope when the people heard God's assurance: "Do not be afraid, for I am with you" (Isaiah 43:5). Whatever calamity they faced or trouble they would endure, He would be with them. He would "pass through the waters" with them, leading them to safety (v. 2). He would "walk through the fire" with them, helping them through the scorching flames (v. 2).
Throughout Scripture, God promises to be with His people, to care for us, guide us, and never abandon us-whether in life or death. Even when you find yourself in difficult places, God is with you. He'll help you pass through the waters.
Prayer for Today
God, the water is deep, and I don't see how I'm going to make it through. Thank You for promising to be with me and to carry me through! Amen.
A few years ago, Readers Digest published an article entitled, What Good Is a Tree? The article explained that when the roots of trees touch, there is a substance present which reduces competition. In fact, the unknown fungus helps link roots of different trees, even of dissimilar species. A whole forest may be linked together. If one tree has access to water, another to nutrients, and a third to sunlight, the trees have the means to share with one another.
Today we live in a world in which genuine unity seems to be fading fast. It seems like we are being torn apart. In William Butler Yeats' poem, The Second Coming, we find his description of the world which almost seems prophetic: "Things fall apart; The center cannot hold." Like pieces of a flywheel which is spinning too fast, the centrifugal forces of our world seem to be ripping apart whatever fragile unity there is.
A Gallup poll reported that some 70% of Americans believe that most churches and synagogues today are not effective in helping people find meaning in life. Gallup goes on to list six "needs" of Americans:
The need to believe that life is meaningful and has a purpose.
The need for a sense of community and deeper relationships.
The need to be appreciated and respected.
The need to be listened to and heard.
The need to feel that one was growing in the faith.
The need for practical help in developing mature faith.
The second item on that list grabbed my attention: The need for a sense of community and deeper relationships. My sense is that people want and need a sense of community. While "sheltering in place" is very much needed, it also puts limits on our ability to connect with each other. But one day soon, I hope we will not only gather with each other - but that we will appreciate what a gift that connection is. Until then, may we be connected and held together by the Spirit of the Risen Christ!
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, we find our unity as believers in Jesus the Christ. Help us to bring unity and community to our world - especially in these times when we are physically apart. We pray this in the strong name of the Risen Christ. Amen.
Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He answered, "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away."
He said, "Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by." Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mask and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"
-1 Kings 19:9.5-13
"The world is quieter now. You just have to listen. You can hear God speaking." These are the words of a nurse named Anna in a Will Smith film from several years ago after a virus ravaged the world. Smith's character, Dr. Neville cannot hear God's voice. He's experienced too much loss and pain. The tragedy claims his family, his city, his career. And while he's worked hard to find himself a new normal, he's lost his ability to see beauty, to find hope, to hear God speaking.
In the passage above, Elijah is seeking the Lord, enthusiastically, zealously, in fear of his life, as Dr. Neville was seeking a cure, as well as a sense of normalcy, fearing for his life and the survivors. Elijah is so intent on his search he almost misses the Lord. God was not speaking in the big calamities, but I'm the stillness that followed. Some people were quick to assume God was speaking in the pandemic or that God was speaking in the quarantine. Perhaps God was punishing us or testing us. I think it's more likely that God is there in the stillness as we shelter in place. God is appearing in quiet hospital rooms with the sick and dying. God is in the family gatherings for online worship. God is in the backyards that have been empty for the busyness of schedules before now. God is in the kitchens and dens where teachers prepare lessons. God is speaking to us about our hectic and poorly prioritized former lives.
Like Elijah, we don our masks and follow God into the stillness, and we each seem to be learning lessons about ourselves, our families, our society. We are learning that we have the time to pursue better things when we slow down. We are learning school is better left to the creativity of our teachers than the pressure of our testing. Learning that many jobs are better done from homes than offices. Learning that the closeness of worship was the bread of life for our week. Learning that the health and healthcare of our neighbor is deeply entangled in our own health and care and our responsibility that all might share that access. We are learning that because the world is quieter now, God is speaking and we just have to listen. What have you heard in the stillness? How will it change your life and priorities and commitments going forward?
Prayer for Today
Lord, speak. I am listening in the stillness. Help me to see my loved ones and neighbors with new eyes, to live with new direction and purpose and compassion. Amen.
"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:"
-Ecclesiastes 3:1, NIV
In last Sunday's sermon on "truth" - I talked about the importance of telling the truth at the right time. I mentioned the adage, "Timing is Everything." Monday evening, your Session spent a long time discussing when was the right time to reopen our church for worship, given the recent guidelines and decisions on both a national and a state level.
There are two Greek words in our Bible for "time" -- chronos and kairos. Chronos is about minutes and seconds - the things we measure with a watch. Kairos is about timing - as in when is the right time to do something. It is the word we find in scripture when it says something took place "in the fullness of time." It indicates that God's plans were being fulfilled by the timing of the event.
It is not hard to figure out the time (chronos) by looking at our watch or cell phone. But discerning the right timing to do something can be much more complex. Some folks try to "time the market" - hoping to buy and sell stocks for the greatest profit. Trapeze artists must learn the right timing to let go while flying through the air, in order for another person to catch them.
Your Session used its best wisdom, knowledge, and discernment this past Monday evening, in trying to figure out the right time to reopen our church campus for worship and other events. They considered many factors, but their primary concern was for our church members and how to keep them safe in the midst of this pandemic. While everyone is really, really ready for this to be over - your elders were not willing to rush something that was not right - especially for those in our church family of all ages who might be at risk. With that in mind, your Session has decided to wait until May 18, which is the date of our next called Session meeting, to gather more information before making our next decision about when to reopen. So, please continue to bear with us and watch our Online Worship, practice "Church@Home" and fellowship via Zoom until then. Thank you for your prayers and patience!
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, we believe that you are not confined by the limits of time, as we are. You know the right timing for everything. Guide us as we seek your will. In the meantime, bring healing to those who are struggling and strengthen those who care for them. We pray this in the strong name Jesus the Christ. Amen.
What does self-care mean for you? In the midst of our current circumstances, we are still managing some everyday responsibilities as well as facing new challenges each day. Most of us may have found new routines or each day has its own rhythm. As we continue to navigate this unusual time, I would invite you to consider the question, how can I find rest in the Lord? Mentally? Physically? Emotionally? Spiritually?
For me I am connecting with an old rhythm from my childhood years of dance and taking barre classes virtually. I am taking walks with my dog through our neighborhood. I am talking to friends by phone or video chat. I am finding space (even if it's brief) for quiet time and prayer. I am joining with a group of JCPC women for six weeks in an online Bible study about women who encountered Jesus. I'm not sure what works well for you, but I wanted to share a few resources that are available and may be meaningful for you.
Great Shepherd, help me to let go of the lead for a bit and to actively follow where you lead me. I trust you, God, to care for me and lead me to the right place, down the right path, in the right time. Amen.
During our weekly Solace Zoom meetings we have been exploring what is called the 6th stage of grief. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross popularized the 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance in her groundbreaking work. Of course, anyone of us knows through our own personal grief the stages don't proceed smoothly or seamlessly. Recently grief counselor David Kessler suggested a sixth stage of grief; meaning to help us develop hopefulness within the grieving process.
One of the quandaries we face with Covid 19 is what to make of it all. We live in a peculiar dimension where we experience that everything has changed while each day seems like Groundhog days so that each day seems to resemble the other. What a strange paradox; everything has changed and nothing seems to change!
In order to cope with our current new normal of sheltering in place our Solace groups have explored how to make meaning in our daily activities. Not everything is terrible, the Solace participants are finding. More family time, parent and children less rushed and looking forward to phone calls, Zooming or Facetiming are spawning a sense of hopefulness. Sharon Shuler mentioned that on Easter she and Rich Zoomed with their family members who live in a different state and country. Without the pandemic this Easter reunion wouldn't have taken place. New meaning arose within our crisis.
How we think about life's challenges makes all the difference. Victor Frankl who was a Holocaust survivor and one of the great minds of the 20th century teaches us "everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."
When we make hopeful meaning in our circumstances, we often discover our why in our daily living. Frankl says, "those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how'."
For Christians the resurrection brings meaning to our grief. For the disciples, their sense of awe brought new meaning to lives. Yesterday, I shared this picture to bring awe to life. Enjoy!
Prayer for Today
In the light of resurrection bring new meaning into the darkness of our days, O God of new life, so that as we sense the awe and wonder of the good news that Christ is risen, our days will be filled with joy, peace, and the assurance of faith that stands firm in the belief that you work for the good for all who love you. Amen.
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist . . .
- Ephesians 6:13-14a, NIV
Have you ever tried to stand firm in the ocean when the current is strong and the waves are high? As a kid I can remember vacationing at the beach. Every now and then, there would be a storm at sea and the waves would be unusually large. We created a game where we would dig our toes deep into the sand on the ocean floor, so we could try to stand in the same place when the waves tried to knock us over. Sometimes it feels that way now as we are knocked around by the storms of this pandemic.
So, how do we try to stand firm in the storms of life? The words above are from one of Paul's letters to the early church. As we can see, trying to stand firm in life is not a new challenge -- nor is it easy. But Paul's words from scripture may give us some practical wisdom and encouragement to do just that. This Sunday we are starting a new series of messages called "Stand Firm" which are based on these words of Paul. Each week we will look at one pillar of the Christian life that helps us to stand firm. This week we will be looking at truth. What is truth? And what is the best way to speak the truth?So, plan to join us this Sunday online as we go deeper into these questions and discover God's word of grace and love for us all!
P.S. - This past week someone told me they liked everything about the online service except the small picture. While you cannot go full screen from the JCPC website, you can click to the top of the picture where it says "Johns Creek Presbyterian Worship 4/19/20" and it will send you to the YouTube page where you can go full screen by clicking the lower right corner. Also, by connecting an HDMI cable from your TV to your laptop -- you can make it even bigger!
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, help us to stand firm as we face the storms of life. Thank you for Jesus - the solid rock on which we can build the foundation for our lives. In the strong name of Jesus the Christ we pray. Amen.
For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
Identity is important. Psychologists tell us that our identity influences everything from our mental and emotional health to our physical health, our decision making, and our actions in the world. But people identify themselves in interesting ways. When asked to do so, many people reach for their wallet to show their driver's license. We identify by our ability to drive and what we drive. When asked at a party who we are, the first question is almost always, what do you do? Meaning - what is your profession or occupation? For younger people, where do you go to school? If we delve deeper, there are questions of group affiliations... who do you cheer for in sports? What's your political persuasion? Where are you from? Your family?
I often do an exercise with young people, having them write the words "I AM" in the center of a page and listing all their personal identifiers around it, whatever comes to mind first. I ask them to write as big as possible to start, going smaller and smaller as they have to squeeze more in. It's fascinating to see how many start with the obvious and how often they all write the same things... boy/girl, American, Falcons fan, teenager, athlete, thespian, singer, funny, smart, tall, fast, left-handed. Then, like any good youth pastor, I tease them... What about American? Southerner? Presbyterian? Christian? Son/daughter? Brother/sister? Friend? Child of God? Loved? Why didn't these jump out first? Are they less important? Less obvious? What does your list look like? I often have them use the back of the paper to do it again, making the most important ones the biggest. Those papers usually look quite different. Hung on a clothesline, it's a glaring difference between what first came to mind and what they believe really identifies them.
I've been thinking about this question of identity all week. As you probably know, the census is now out and much of it and its most controversial aspects revolve around how people identify themselves, including questions of race and religion. An article today in the New York Times suggests the disappearance of milestone events like Prom and Graduation may not just be disappointing for seniors this year, but damaging to their very identities and their formation. I'd like to think that's less true for our young people. I'd like to believe that young people who are nurtured in the Christian faith all come to stake their identity in being children of God, brother and sister to anyone in need, neighbor to those who suffer, and a part of nuclear and faith families, primarily. Such young people grow to be adults who identify that way first and foremost, rather than by profession, lack of profession, success in a profession, by what they have or own, or by their social status, health, or group.
It's worth asking as parents, grandparents, adults, teachers, mentors, leaders, elders, and those who have promised to raise our young people in the faith... where do we claim our identity? Is it in Christ, right off the bat? Is that how we relate to and introduce ourselves to others? And if not, how will we teach that to young people? I'm challenged this week to think foremost of who I am and not just what I do or have. In quarantine, how well am I doing as husband, father, and neighbor and not just as pastor? How are we all? When you speak with a senior or college student this year, this summer, stop before you ask how the year went or their grades or what they're studying. Ask them how they are doing as a child of God and remind them that you love them and miss them and care for them. Ask them instead what you can do to support them as a beloved part of our faith family. We are in this together, in the Body of Christ.
Prayer for Today
Lord, remind me powerfully that I am yours and in you, I have purpose and value, and that I find my identity in you and serving you. Amen.
A blind boy sat on the steps of a building with a hat by his feet. He held up a sign which said: "I am blind, please help." There were only a few coins in the hat. A man was walking by. He took a few coins from his pocket and dropped them into the hat. He then took the sign, turned it around, and wrote some words. He put the sign back so that everyone who walked by would see the new words. Soon the hat began to fill up. A lot more people were giving money to the blind boy. That afternoon the man who had changed the sign came to see how things were. The boy recognized his footsteps and asked, "Were you the one who changed my sign this morning? What did you write?" The man said, "I only wrote the truth. I said what you said but in a different way. I wrote: 'Today is a beautiful day, but I cannot see it.'"
How we tell the truth can make a difference in life. As I watch the news, I am moved by true stories told by reporters that enable us to see beauty in life - even in the midst of this pandemic. Now, the beauty does not take away the reality of the suffering -- but often, the acts of beauty are in response to the suffering.
The story above is one I thought about for a while. The man certainly helped the blind boy by reworking the wording of his sign, so others might have more compassion and share some of what they had with him. Maybe the words brought home what it would be like not to have our sight - we could be surrounded by beauty, but never be able to perceive it.
This Sunday we are beginning a new series of sermons called "Stand Firm." The title comes from the words of Scripture Paul writes to help us stand firm in challenging times. This Sunday we will be talking about truth - what it is and how it can help us stand firm, even in the storms of life. Join us online and invite someone who may be facing challenging times to join us, as well!
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, you are the foundation and the rock upon which are our lives are built. Help us to stand firm as we share the good news of Jesus - who is the way, the truth, and the life. Amen.
As I take some time to reflect this morning, I am reminded of the importance of friendships in the body of Christ. In our friendships, we find comfort in times of grief, we share joy in moments of celebration and we provide support in the challenges of each day. In this unusual time, we are separated physically from many of these friendships. It's challenging when you can't see a friend or loved one face to face to give a hug or share words of encouragement. In the midst of that we still have these words from Jesus.
"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." - John 15:12-15
Jesus Christ sought out friendships on his journey here on earth. He reminds us of the importance of these bonds in times of joy and sorrow. Take some time to lift up in prayer those that have been your support through challenges, shared in your joy, and provided comfort in your grief.
Throughout my life, I have found connection and comfort in times of deep joy and great sadness through music. I grew up with a Dad who loved to play music for all kinds of occasions. He would write songs for special milestones. I grew up playing music and dancing to music. Movement and music have been two things I can go back to find connection with God and with others.
Many people are sharing some beautiful music to provide us a place of comfort and connection during these challenging days. Last week Heidi and Christian provided some very meaningful music to invite us to reflect on Holy Week. One of the things I missed most about Easter was the full church and the sounds of voices and instruments proclaiming this Good News together.
I received an email from the Director of Spiritual Health at Emory Johns Creek Hospital, Tim Park, on Monday of Holy week. The hospital is facing an uphill battle with Covid-19 and they need masks, hundreds of them, to fight the good fight. Tim asked if our Knit Wits would consider making masks for EJCH. I reached out to Brenda Thompson, a member of the Knit Wits and an elder on our Session with the request. Within minutes Brenda responded. By Thursday a group from JCPC made and delivered 25 masks and promised more were on the way. I delivered them to EJCH.
During our Solace Zoom meeting on Easter morning we examined two of the resurrection stories; one from Matthew and the other from John. Working together as a group we discovered the dynamics of fear, grief, and the hope of starting over. In times like these where fear and grief seem to be ever-present, the gospel speaks of hope, the hope of starting over through the resurrection of Christ Jesus our Lord.
As a group we discussed what we were missing this Easter and we spoke of what we hope for going forward in our starting over resurrection faith. Sharon Shuler mentioned that she hoped that we would be more kind and helpful to each other. I mentioned how JCPC Knit-Wits and others were already doing just that by making the masks. In fact, groups from Johns Creek United Methodist Church and Johns Creek Baptist Church are making masks. Also, I posted Tim's request on the Montvale Ladies Facebook page, my neighborhood, and immediately women were volunteering to make masks.
Could it be that the hope shared through the making of masks is spreading faster than the virus?!!
In light of the empty tomb, I wouldn't look past this possibility. God is working to make all things new.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Prayer for Today
God of hope and new beginnings, we praise you for the gift of the Risen Lord, and ask that you bring his hope in our lives, our community and our world. Amen.
Recently, I came across a sermon I preached 20 years ago on Easter Sunday. Part of it went this way:
Last week, one of our church members sent me an email and an article from The Silicon Valley news, an informal newsletter. The article appeared last Monday morning right after the major stock market drop of last Friday. The subtitle of the article read, "Battered by market plunge, valley shareholders find solace in church, [and] core values." The article began by saying, "With today's market opening many hours away, Silicon Valley residents, over Sunday scones and cappuccino, were taking stock of their portfolios -- and their lives." The article went on to describe those who were considering their net worth beyond their financial gains. According to one source, there was a remarkable increase in church attendance last week. One person commented, "It's a reminder that I shouldn't get caught up in material things. . . . It's a good reminder to me of where to keep my heart." To sum it, the article said, "In this go-go-go valley, some are beginning to conclude the sum of their lives is not equal to the sum of their portfolio. Another person said, "It's just money. On our deathbeds, we're not going to think about how much money we have in the bank."
This Easter Sunday, some twenty years later, some things have changed, but some remain the same. Because we must shelter in place, there will not be "a remarkable increase in church attendance" - at least not in person, but I wonder how many will be looking for some kind of online worship service to give meaning to life in the face of this pandemic and the wild stock market fluctuations?
This Sunday's message is called "How Will This Change Us?" "This" refers both the pandemic and Easter. I hope you will plan to worship with us online -- and have some bread and grape juice or wine on hand as we will celebrate communion. My hope is that you will be changed - in a good way!
Prayer for Today
Loving God, we remember that on Good Friday, Jesus gave his life on a cross for the whole world. Thank you for the depth of your love for each one of us. May we live this day as faithful followers of the Risen Christ, whom we will worship this Easter Sunday. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus, the Risen Christ. Amen.
Don't worry about this Philistine," David told Saul. "I'll go fight him!"
"Don't be ridiculous!" Saul replied. "There's no way you can fight this Philistine and possibly win! You're only a boy, and he's been a man of war since his youth."
I Samuel 17:32-33
When David showed up and offered to take on Goliath, he didn't look like the hero they were hoping for or expecting. It didn't matter that he'd tended his flock and kept them safe. It didn't matter that he was the hero they needed. He didn't have the look. He looked even sillier when they put the armor on him. They mocked him and called him foolish. He went out to face certain death, even as they discouraged him. He was just from a little town called Bethlehem. But he was a direct descendant of Abraham - 14 generations removed. And as we know, God had plans for David.
So when we read the story of Holy Week, we shouldn't then be surprised. A man of the house and lineage of David, 14 generations after him, in the city now known as the City of David, the Great King, the Giant slayer, the once shepherd, comes to the Holy city of Jerusalem to face certain death, riding a donkey. And the praises of Palm Sunday turned quickly to mockery. He wasn't the King they expected or wanted. They couldn't see that the Great Shepherd calling to his sheep was the hero and King they needed. But God had plans for his son and for us.
So we shouldn't be surprised that while we hail heroes of the sports arenas and political stage, of silver screen and fame, we often fail to recognize the real heroes among us, the ones we need. We take little notice of our first responders and healthcare workers, our grocery clerks and drive-thru cashiers, our truckers and other essential workers. At least until they face the giant pandemic that we face in fear, until they are willing to walk toward death for us to be servant leaders who risk it all. Heroes rarely look like we expect. We often don't recognize them till after the fact. Ours are serving us each day in this crisis. They are the hands and feet of Christ. They head to work each day like David did, saying, "If no one else will face the giant, I will. God is with me." Let us pray for them, support them by staying home, and following the recommended precautions they give us, and let us thank them.
Prayer for Today
Lord, thank you for the essential workers, the heroes we need. Help us to see them and support them fully each day. Amen.
Yesterday, I was reading a column by sportswriter Jason Gay about the spring baseball ritual for little leaguers -- Opening Day -- that's been cancelled. He also talked about his new ritual with his two children - a 7-year-old and a five-year-old. They found a place for batting practice on a little concrete strip behind their building. He's got a bucket of foam balls that he hopes won't break any of the neighbors' windows. He describes it this way:
We look like lunatics, a father and two small children back in this alleyway, foam baseballs bouncing all over the place, but it's my favorite part of the day. It's our ritual. Everyone has rituals now. . . . The thing about these rituals is, they're comforting. . . . For now, we make do with rituals, along with strange new habits. . . . I have a feeling it's going to be a good long while for us to return to normal. I wonder what the normal will be -- if life will forever change after this. (The Wall Street Journal, April 7, 2020, A16)
Jason Gay touches on two things I'm thinking about in preparation for Easter Sunday. The first has to do with wondering "if life will forever change after this." The title of this Sunday's message is "How Will This Change Us?" It is a question I find many of us are asking. I hope we can find some guidance, and maybe even some answers, from scripture this Sunday.
Jason Gay also talks about rituals -- that everyone has them now, in part because they are "comforting." One person talked about the importance of ritual in worship, saying that ritual is what we rely on when we run out of words to say.
This Easter Sunday we will be celebrating Communion or the Lord's Supper. In the church we call it a sacrament, but it is also a ritual. And yet it is a ritual that is not simply "made up." As Christians, we believe this ritual is connected to something very real that took place in history. We believe Jesus not only celebrated a Last Supper with his disciples the night before his arrest, but that he died on a Roman cross for the sins of the world. This was God's way of entering into the suffering of the world in order to save it from the sin and brokenness. It was God's way of making things right -- the way they're supposed to be.
Our sacrament of Communion or the Lord's Supper is not a ritual that ends with the death of Jesus from crucifixion. No, it also looks forward to a time when we as believers will come "from East and West and North and South" and gather at the table in the Kingdom of God. It looks forward to the time when God will set everything right, in the new heaven and the new earth, where there will be no more tears, or death, or pandemics. So, plan to have some bread and grape juice or wine on hand as we celebrate Communion together online this Easter Sunday.
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, we thank you for the sacrifice Jesus made for us all up on the cross, and for the resurrection hope we have in Christ. May we live into that resurrection hope. In the strong name have God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Close your eyes and picture a family dinner. What do you remember from these meals? Is it what you ate, a favorite dish that your mother used to make? A funny mishap on a holiday with one of your siblings or children? Words of wisdom from your dad?
Each of us probably has a memory that we could recount from a family meal together. What an important ritual family meals and table fellowship have on the growth and development of each one of us. For many of you, family meals may have transitioned to as many as three times a day now that we are at home together. For others, this may be a time when you long for the big family meals for holidays and special occasions.
I believe that it's a practice that God calls us to take part in as a church family as well. The disciples and other believers that gathered together in the early church knew the importance of fellowship together around a meal. "Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people." (Acts 2:46-47a)
As we grow in our faith together, spending time in fellowship and conversation around a meal is a valuable experience for each of us to learn from one another. This week on Thursday, we remember the special meal that Jesus had with the disciples in his last days. I would invite you to join me in a Maundy Thursday at home experience with prayers, baking bread (or other baked good) and connecting with God and one another. If you are not with your family or close friends during this time, I would invite you to call them, video chat, or connect in some way even if not in person. Click here for the guide.
I believe that our souls are longing for some time to slow down for a few moments, enjoy some nourishment for our body, and engage in some meaningful conversations.
Prayer for Today
Creator God and Giver to all things, as we gather for this meal, we give thanks that we are again able to gather in this fellowship. May our friendships be strengthened and our lives be broadened. We give thanks for this food. Please bless it to our use and guide us so that we may help others be the best they can be. Amen.
During this time of sheltering in place it is important to keep daily routines. I've been diligent in making sure I practice as many of my old routines such as walking Cowboy and Walker. It brings me great joy to see them happy; especially when they meet up with friends. Here Walker is saying hello to his buddy Winston. It looks like they are dancing with joy! No canine social distancing.
Early Sunday morning I combined my routine of walking with the ritual of worship by watching our JCPC worship on my phone. If you are like me you feel worshipful hearing the uplifting music, inspired by the preaching and moved by the prayers. As I was listening to worship one of my neighbors walked down his driveway so I took out my ear buds to greet him. "Same ole, same ole!" he quipped. Normally I would have responded in a similar fashion but this time was different. "Not for me, I said with a smile, I'm worshipping with my church on-line!" He tilted his head with surprise and then he said something he hadn't said in the 20 years that I've known him. "Okay, will you say a prayer for me?" he asked. "I sure will," I responded and then I prayed for him and his wife. The ritual of worship opened up a new reality in my daily dog walking routine.
This is Holy Week and our worship rituals have been affected by shelter in place. Our Good Friday ritual at JCPC has been to open the sanctuary for prayer. As we shelter in place we will still be observing the sanctity of Good Friday but in a different space because of safety concerns. We will be meeting virtually, on-line, for a Good Friday prayer service beginning at noon. The prayer service will last one hour and you can attend by using Zoom. We will be using the last seven words of Christ with which to structure our prayer time. Relax! You won't be ask to pray out loud and you will be moved! Please join us to pray!
During this our Holy Week, Loving God, may we feel the presence of your Spirit, ask for your merciful forgiveness of our sin and receive the gift of hope that we will persevere through these challenging times through the knowledge that in all things you are working for good. Amen.
"Necessity is the mother of invention." While that may sound like it should be in the Bible, it's not! It's Plato and it comes from his Republic. It is a proverb, and like the book of Proverbs found in our Bible, it conveys some wisdom. With the recent pandemic, the resulting social distancing, and shelter-at-home orders -- I have seen many examples of creative invention simply because it was needed.
I have had first-hand experience with our Online Worship Team and observed our Co-directors of Music Ministries, Christian and Heidi, creating some amazing music for worship. I hope you appreciate all the creativity and planning that goes into the selection of each piece of music. Heidi and Christian choose music not only because it sounds good, but also because it's appropriate for the season of Lent, as well as for the challenging times in which we find ourselves. In addition to music for this upcoming Palm/Passion Sunday, they have created five "Holy Week Musical Meditations" that you will be able to watch and listen to beginning next Monday. You will find them on our "Church at Home" page on the JCPC website.
On Easter Sunday, we will not only hear more excellent, uplifting music -- we will also be celebrating communion or the Lord's Supper as a part of the service. Please plan to have on hand some bread and grape juice or wine (your choice) that morning so that we can celebrate communion together in our homes. I believe that the Spirit of the risen Christ can transcend time and space, uniting us as the body of Christ even though we may be apart . . . at least for a while. I encourage you to pass the word about this and invite others to join us.
I also want to ask you to continue to give generously in support of these new and creative ways we are finding to do God's work in Johns Creek. You can do this online at our jcpcusa.org website or on the church app. Or, you can simply mail a check to the church. We have also just installed a dropbox outside the church front door if you feel better about sharing your gift that way. Thank you for your generous support!
Prayer for Today
We thank you, Creator God, for giving us the ability to be co-creators with you in your world. Show us how to creatively use the gifts we have been given by you to make a difference in the lives of others. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
(These words aren't carved into the communion table of a small chapel that overlooks Jerusalem - the site where tradition holds that Jesus spoke these words.)
A moment of serenity. If you've ever held an infant - which I'm doing as I write these thoughts - you know it's a struggle. Not for you, but for them. Their tiny bodies are adjusting to this world, one so different from the one which is familiar and safe. In one moment, they need a steady rhythm of burping, and in the next, rocking or bouncing, and then absolute stillness. They need to be fed and then challenged to expel the excess, and then comforted, without end.
And as I hold my own child in this pre-dawn hour in a moment of stillness, I read the news of the world, a world in such turmoil and distress. There's pandemic and paranoia and panic and prayer. The Body is in distress. And God holds us. We flail and cry out. And God holds us. We fight internally and resist care and comfort. And God holds us. We struggle to reach an internal peace. And God holds us.
In the past two weeks, I've held my kiddo and watched news reports. It's been far too easy to worry and fret - someone once told me that worry is a misuse of God's gift of imagination. But then I'd receive a text, an instagram message, a Facebook post, a call, a package, a visit, a meal - the Body at work. And God holding us. This week, meals and visitors arrived. Messages from friends across the country. FaceTime across time zones. A message from the UK, Japan, Afghanistan, Puerto Rico, Mexico, New Zealand. Former youth and friends of youth, pastor friends and distant relatives. And today, a hand knit prayer shawl from a pastor friend's church. And God holds us.
The country and world struggle. The governments flail. The people of media and social media cry out. The Body struggles. And God holds us. Know that. Struggle for peace. But do not forget who holds you. All through the long night.
Prayer for Today
God, hold me. Whisper to me that you are there. Give me strength to be a part of the body and hold others. Amen.
"We are fools for Christ . . ." - 1 Corinthians 4:10a, NIV
Today is April Fool's Day. I have heard that some have chosen to cancel whatever April Fool's Day celebrations were planned because of the pandemic. I can understand that. With the seriousness of all that's going on, it just doesn't seem appropriate for now. Last week a friend of mine emailed that he had watched our first online worship service. Because he doesn't go to our church, it gave him the opportunity to experience our worship service. He talked about how he liked the service. But then he added one suggestion, that perhaps the service needed some humor. I must admit his comment caught me a little off guard. Because of the seriousness of the pandemic -- the loss of life, the spreading sickness, and the loss of jobs -- humor just didn't feel right to me.
Now I certainly believe humor has its place, and sometimes it helps us get through difficult times. On the other hand, I can remember wanting to make a joke when things were very serious, probably because I was uncomfortable with what was going on. Also, I am not sure if humor is really my forte. I've always admired preachers who seemed to have the ability to entertain with the timing of a comedian. Humor can also open us up and laughter can break down barriers. I guess I will just leave that kind of humor to those who do it well.
When Paul says in his letter to the church at Corinth that "we are fools for Christ" -- he is not saying that we are court jesters or clowns. In Paul's day the dominant worldviews were Greek, Roman, and Jewish. Paul was fluent in all three. But from a Greek perspective, the idea of Jesus as the Son of God who comes in the flesh and dies on a cross seemed foolish. But for those of us who are "fools for Christ" -- it is God's true wisdom and the way of life!
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, help us to risk being "fools for Christ" -- even in the face of the world's laughter. And may the love and grace of Jesus the Christ shine through our "foolish" lives. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.