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Reflections

Welcome to the JCPC Daily Reflections Blog. Reflections are daily devotionals authored by JCPC pastors, staff and members and provide insight, guidance and comfort to help you make it through each day. If you’d like to receive Reflections each day via email,  provide your email address.

Tuesday, May 19 2020

From an early age I enjoyed listening to stories, then reading them, and later telling them. My elementary school had a special storytelling program where a few students from each grade worked with our media specialist to memorize a children's book. We then had to be able to tell the story in an engaging way to an audience of students in our school. Once we learned our story for that year, we had many opportunities to share it.

 

The one place in life where I was shy and reserved was at school. Being a part of the storytelling club was a powerful tool to help me gain confidence to speak in front of groups of my peers and teachers. One of the main reasons that I continued to participate in this club each year, was the media specialist who led us. She was a very engaging story teller as well as gifted encourager. She had the ability to inspire me and helped me find the courage to be myself.

I recently read this quote shared by a colleague, author Philip Pullman said, "After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world." It reminded me what a powerful thing it is to share stories with one another.

 

During this time many are longing for companionship and finding places to share their stories, I am inviting you to connect with a JCPC child, youth or adult through our summer Pen Pals. You can write letters, share artwork, connect by phone or email and begin sharing stories and prayers with a new JCPC friend. If you're interested, contact me allisons@jcpcusa.org and I can help you get paired up with someone.

 

In Matthew 5, we are reminded of how the disciples were called away from their everyday life and the comforts of the familiar to join Jesus in sharing the Gospel. As followers of Christ we are still responding to the same call. How can you share your story and God's story today?

 

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.  

Posted by: AT 12:14 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, May 18 2020

Everybody loves a parade or at least that's how the ole saying goes. Some of my best childhood memories were of parades I attended and some of my favorite adult memories are of taking my kids to watch a parade. Any size would do!

On Thursday of this past week I was reminded of how much I miss the parades at JCPC. Now you might ask yourself, "What parades could Neal possibly be talking about? I don't remember parades at JCPC."

The parades I'm talking about are the daily parades of teachers walking their preschoolers to the playground. You see, during the school year, I get to not only watch these daily parades but I enjoy talking with the little children and the teachers that love them so.

We haven't had teachers, parents, and preschoolers on campus for two months until Thursday when a caravan of cars and minivans snaked around our campus carrying our preschoolers with the teachers lining the parade route with signs, bags, well wishes, and a lot of love.

Praise God for this preschool which has served our community for over a quarter of a century!

 

Prayer for Today

Thank you Lord for the inspired love and care devoted to raising children. Continue to bless our preschool in the days, weeks, and years ahead. Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:57 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, May 15 2020

"Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." - Galatians 6:2

 

I have just finished an excellent book by pastor Jay Y. Kim called Analog Church: Why we need real people, places and things in the Digital Age. I like it so much that I have bought copies for our program staff and some of our elders to read. If you are looking for a good book, I encourage you to buy it.

 

Since we have had to create an online worship service, we are now looking down the road trying to decide our online needs in the long run. Kim's book has challenged me to think about this in new and somewhat counter-intuitive ways. Kim writes this:

 

In his book Tribe, Sebastian Junger writes about instances throughout history when people surprisingly rallied together in the midst of unspeakable tragedy. Earthquakes, tsunamis, and wars that led to the loss of countless lives resulted in the shocking rise of embolden communities that began to care and provide for one another, friends and strangers alike, in ways never seen before. He [Junger] writes, "What catastrophes seemed to do, sometimes in the span of a few minutes, is turned back the clock on ten thousand years of social evolution. Self-interest gets subsumed into group interest because there is no survival outside group survival, that creates a social bond that many people sorely miss." When we create spaces in our churches for people to be present with one another in the midst of their pain, we too create opportunities for these social bonds. But what they sorely miss is so much more than social. It's spiritual. It's the way God designed us to be human with one another, bringing all of ourselves, all our pain, the weak and the strong, gathering as one. (2020:119)

 

In these difficult times, I think we have a real opportunity to carry each other's burdens. No one can do it alone. But through God's grace, we can and will make it together - so hang in there!

 

Prayer for Today

God of grace, help us to bear each other's burdens, so that together we can make it through whatever difficult times we are facing. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ, who carried the burden of our sin on the cross. Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:54 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, May 14 2020

The golden rule is so important that not only does Jesus say it, but dozens of other religious icons and cultures say something similar. It's good righteous living. Kennedy reminded us that such sentiments were good citizenship too. Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. Good discipleship and patriotic duty are both grounded in selflessly putting neighbor before yourself, doing for them what you'd hope others would do for you. This drives us to create meal trains, visit the sick and elderly, look out for one another's kids, pay our taxes that support school, even if we don't have kids, and support the military, even if we do not serve.

If you've seen infographics about wearing masks, you know it's not primarily about keeping ourselves safe. Wearing a mask can reduce your chances of infection, but only by about 20-30%. However, your neighbor wearing a mask (keeping their germs to themselves) can reduce your risk of infection by up to 95%. But the real magic is when we both wear masks, which reduces our chances of getting the virus to about 1.5%. Brothers and sisters, even scientifically, we do the most good when we put others first. It's why hospitals have adopted the above phrase. It's a reminder that you wear a mask not to protect yourself first and foremost, but as a loving act of compassion for others.

 

Some people have rightly likened this to our laws about driving under the influence. Those laws exist primarily not to save the lives of people who might take a drink or use recreational drugs. They exist to protect the hundreds of other innocent people they will pass as they drive. One person's decision to take a risk is contrary to our laws, our health recommendations, and our faith. When we are tempted to go places and risk our own health, we should remember the words of Christ and our greatest leaders. What can you do for your neighbor? Your country? Would you drive under the influence? Make decisions from compassion over comfort, personal responsibility over personal preference, civic duty over complaints about your civil liberties. We are called to show mercy. We can be a witness to our faith and show ourselves good citizens and good neighbors just by the simple acts of masks and distance. It's so rare we can do so much by doing something so simple.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, make me slow to act as I prefer and quick to think of others first. Help me to see compassion as an opportunity to share my faith without saying a single word. Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:52 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, May 13 2020

Last Saturday, I had another new experience for me. That seems to be becoming the norm during this pandemic. The word "unprecedented" is now used often, so much so that one person suggested that we ban it for now. That may be going a little bit overboard. But last Saturday morning we had our first Zoom Presbytery meeting. Overall, it went pretty well. More than 300 of us gathered online and conducted the necessary business of our Presbytery. This included a few routine items, but mainly we received new pastors and candidates for ministry into our Presbytery. We Presbyterians spend a lot of time not only educating our pastors-to-be, but making sure they really sense a calling to serve the church as a pastor.

 

In receiving the new ministers and candidates, I recognized the last name of a younger clergy couple -- Wilmesherr I realized that Drew, the husband, was the grandson of JCPC members Dottie and Jack Shea. Jack died a few years ago, but Dottie is still a member of our church family. When Drew was talking about his call to ministry, he mentioned the influence of his parents who are both Presbyterian ministers. I have had the privilege of knowing both of them over the years. But he also mentioned the influence of his grandparents, and I knew he was talking about Dottie and Jack Shea. Now Dottie and Jack were not Presbyterian ministers, but they were and are devoted Christians who served faithfully as members of Presbyterian churches over the years. That kind of positive influence can make a big difference in the lives of others, even to the next generation.

 

Sometimes I wonder what kind of influence we are having on the next generation. I pray that the good we do has a greater influence than our shortcomings. Every now and then, I see something or someone that gives me hope for the future, long after my generation is gone and left this earth.

 

I like the way Psalm 78:4 encourages us to pass it on:

We will not hide them from their descendants;

we will tell the next generation

the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,

his power, and the wonders he has done.

 

Prayer for Today

God of the generations, help us to teach the next generation with our words and deeds - proclaiming the wondrous things you have done -- so they might choose to show your love to all the world. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:51 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, May 12 2020

How do you prepare for the day? When you wake up in the morning, what are some regular practices that are a part of your routine?

 

Each day often brings its own set of blessings and challenges. Some mornings you may be filled with energy, in need of courage, wake up with anxiety, in need of self-control or in need of peace and calm.

I would invite you this week to take some time each morning to reflect and ask yourself: What significant things are happening in the day ahead? What do I need?

Take a moment to decide which one of these things might represent something that you need today from God and from others: Love, Grace, Peace, Joy, Kindness, Friendship, Patience, Mercy, Self-Control, Courage, Compassion, Honesty, Calmness, Energy.

Let this word sit with you for a moment, lift up your concerns to God in prayer and then take the word with you throughout the day. Then as you begin your day, consider these words from Lamentations:

God's loyal love couldn't have run out, his merciful love couldn't have dried up. They're created new every morning. How great your faithfulness. 

-Lamentations 3:22-23

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, Help us to remember that every day is a new day. Guide us as we seek to glorify you with our words and actions. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:49 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, May 11 2020

On Friday I stumbled upon an unexpected gift. There was a post on our JCPC website which contained a YouTube clip from the movie

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. If you haven't viewed it either stop reading now and go to JCPC on Facebook or go there upon completion of reading this post. The unexpected gift was an exercise that Mr. Rogers invited a friend to do with him. Here it is:

Sit quietly for a minute and think of all the people who loved you into being.

 

Loved into being! Think about all who have loved you into being. Certainly you think of your mother who was celebrated yesterday on Mother's Day. Who else comes to mind? When I practice this exercise I notice people I think often about and I am pleasantly surprised to think of those who reside on the edges of my memory but who spring to life when I invoke their loving kindness and acknowledge they are baked into the cake of the recipe of my being. Oh the gift of love and its power to shape our sense of being.

Reading scripture is another exercise in focusing on who loved us into being. The Hebrew word for steadfast love, hesed, is a primary attribute of God.

 

Psalm 136 begins this way; Oh give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his steadfast love (hesed) endures forever. From the beginning God is good and as the psalm proceeds it is proclaimed that we are loved into being. Who by his understanding made the heavens, his steadfast love (hesed) endures forever. God's steadfast love, hesed, also saves us.

 

Read Psalm 136 in its entirety.

 

Loved into being is both the frame and the picture of the psalmist's painting of God. Hesed is used 250 times in the Old Testament so if somebody says we don't need the God of the Old Testament you can reply "Need Him; I'm here because of Him?!!" God is the one who has loved me into being!"

 

 

Prayer for Today

Remind us, O Lord, of the one's who have loved us into being and by remembering them bring us to life through your hesed. Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:47 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, May 08 2020

Sitting in his wheelchair at a senior citizens home in Belize, a man joyfully listened as a group of American high school teenagers sang about Jesus. Later, as some of the teens tried to communicate with him, they discovered he couldn't talk. A stroke had robbed him of his ability to speak.

 

Since they couldn't carry on a conversation with the man, the teens decided to sing to him. As they began to sing, something amazing happened. The man who couldn't talk began to sing. With enthusiasm, he belted out "How Great Thou Art" right along with his new friends.

 

It was a remarkable moment for everyone. This man's love for God broke through the barriers and poured out in audible worship-heartfelt, joyous worship.

We all have worship barriers from time to time. Maybe it's a relationship conflict or a money problem. Or it could be a heart that's grown a bit cold in its relationship to God.

 

Our non-talking friend reminds us that the greatness and majesty of our almighty God can overcome any barrier. "O Lord, my God-when I in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds Thy hands have made!"

Struggling in your worship? Reflect on how great our God is by reading a passage such as Psalm 96, and you too may find your obstacles and objections replaced by praise.

 

Prayer for Today

Our great God, I do hold You in awesome wonder. How great Thou art!

To learn more about who God is, visit christianuniversity.org/CA310.

Posted by: AT 04:55 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, May 07 2020

Teach children in the right way,

and when old, they will not stray.

-Proverbs 22:6

 

It's teacher appreciation week, an important week any year we celebrate. But this year, deep into quarantine, I believe teachers are more greatly appreciated and missed than ever before. Whether or not you have kids, you've probably imagined the increased load of time and energy spent on reworking lesson plans, curriculum, and years of refinement to create a new way of delivering vital information that will sustain their students in the following year's instruction. They do this under the same stress as the rest of us and many of them with kids of their own to teach and help at home. Those of us who have become amateur teachers of our kids, grand-kids, nieces, nephews, and neighbors for a time have found new levels of appreciation for their talents, patience, pay, and service, as well as a reminder of how grateful we are for our own former teachers.

 

Sheltering in place, most of us have time to revisit our streaming services and movies we missed this past year. If you haven't yet watched maybe the best one, go watch A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, and perhaps Won't You Be My Neighbor? too from the year before. They're worth the rental price, even if you cannot stream them. I own both and will happily loan them. First, they recount the life of one of America's finest educators and pastors, Mr. Rogers. And more importantly, they both contain one of the most important spiritual practices he taught us. If our greatest teacher, the Rabbi we find in Christ gives us our finest rubric for prayer in the Lord's Prayer, then one of the great quiet saints of our faith, St. Fred gives us the greatest practice of Gratitude.

 

Mr. Rogers, time and again, would begin by introducing his exercise, "We'll just take a minute and think about all the people who loved us into being." As he speaks the words in the bustles of a small diner, people slow, and as he looks at his watch, everyone in the room stops to reflect. He did this many times in his life and he was rarely surrounded by dry eyes. I'd encourage you to do that this week. Right now. Pause for a minute. But give yourselves an extra 30 seconds to call to mind the teachers of your kids and our kids at JCPC, from preschool to high school. Was their job harder this year? Did they get to say goodbye? Did your family thank them? Did you build bridges for closure. Many teachers are broken-hearted not to get final goodbyes from students they have labored to love into being. You have a few weeks. Seek out ways to give teachers a thanks for the hardest year yet. Mr. Rogers would be proud of you.

 

https://youtu.be/9AzXX_2BrVk

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, make me mindful of people who have loved me into being. I give thanks for their contributions to who I am becoming. Thank you for sending us not only your son, but a teacher. You knew that's exactly what we needed. Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:28 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, May 06 2020

How firm a foundation, 

ye saints of the Lord,

is laid for your faith in God's excellent word!

When through the deep waters I call thee to go, the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow; . . .

                      - How Firm a Foundation

                        lyrics by John Rippons

 

In the weeks we have been doing Online Worship, I have found great comfort in the lyrics of many of the hymns we have sung. I especially have been drawn to what some would call "the great old hymns of the church" -- the ones I grew up singing as a child. In these chaotic times, I know I am looking for places of comfort that transcend the transient confusion many of us are presently experiencing. When I watch our online service on Sunday morning and try to worship along with everyone else in their homes, it is often the music -- particularly the hymns, that speak to me deeply.

 

Maybe it's because they remind me of what I experienced in a more peaceful time growing up. It may not have actually been less chaotic, at least for me -- perhaps I was just unaware of it. However, I think it is more than just simple nostalgia that I am experiencing. When I pay attention to the lyrics of many of these "great old hymns of the church," the words speak what I need to hear. While I am aware there are certainly "older" hymns than these, and that there are some newer hymns that I would call "great" -- there is something about these hymns with lyrics that have stood the test of time. It is special to sing songs that previous pilgrims of faith -- both saints and sinners -- have sung for many years before I was ever born.

 

The book of Hebrews talks about how "we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses." (Hebrews 12:1, NIV) As Christians, we believe these are our sisters and brothers in the faith who have lived and died, and who now dwell in the very presence of God. In some way, I think they join us in worship every Sunday -- whether we are in the sanctuary or worshipping online. This Sunday, I invite you once again to join us online for worship, and when it comes to singing the hymns -- make a joyful noise to the Lord!

 

Prayer for Today

God of grace, we thank you for the gift of music and the words which give expression to our deepest thoughts and feelings. Thank you for your "firm foundation" upon which our faith rests. May our lives sing of your love and grace this day by how we live. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:26 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, May 05 2020

As we continue to experience new changes to our situation and look ahead to this summer, I am trying to figure out how to navigate this new territory. Since March 14, I had settled into the shelter in place and we had started to figure out what plan would work for us as a family. Each day brings new questions and not always new answers.

 

I took some time to reflect today using one of the Bible stories included in the Unraveled devotional resource from A Sanctified Art. Matthew 14:22-33 is a familiar story with Peter when he sinks into the water. Lisle Gwynn Garrity shares this reflection with her artwork.

"What I find in Peter's response is not a challenge or a profession of doubt, but a willingness to step into the swell, like a trust fall into the unknown. Perhaps in seasons when our sense of certainty and security unravels, our desperation is more likely to convert into courage. Is there something about unraveling that makes us a bit less risk-averse, a bit more willing to try what we wouldn't have dared when everything felt predictable and sure?"

 

Then she offers some helpful questions for us to consider:
What has unraveled and/or is unraveling in this story? Why do you think Peter asks Jesus to order him to walk on water in Matthew 14:28? What is he hoping to accomplish? Do you find yourself acting similarly when you are filled with doubt? During seasons of uncertainty, how do you release anxiety and practice trust?

 

I am going to take time this week to look for ways that I can be more creative, open and step into the swell.

 

If you would like to take some time for deeper reflection on this story or others, you can access the devotional resource here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1XJKU16_8Q31wR5kkvL_i6ofH8kGEsDnA/view?usp=sharing

 

Prayer for Today

Creator God, when I need it most, unravel me with blessed newness and boundless joy. Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:25 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, May 04 2020

We have been focusing on prayer during our weekly Solace Zoom meetings this week. A common experience we shared about prayer is that many of us, me included, tend to find ourselves repeating what we pray for when we offer personal prayers. Examples of other well written prayers help to stretch our theological imaginations and see what is hidden right before our very eyes.

Recently, Allison Shearouse shared with us a marvelous prayer resource entitled Pandemic Prayerbook which is edited by Darcy Wiley. We prayed this first prayer in the Pandemic Prayerbook and our eyes were opened and our prayers deepened. Below is that prayer and I hope you will pray it today.

 

AS I WASH MY HANDS: A Prayer for Faith & Sanity

 

As I wash my hands, 20 seconds,

I think of the raw, over-sanitized skin

of hospital staff.

Circling soap over knuckles and palms,

I think of the gloved hands

of grocery clerks and restaurant workers.

Cleansing under fingernails and past the wrists,

I think of the aged hands of my grandmothers

in nursing homes that I hope are free of germs.

As I wash my hands, faucet flowing,

I think of the clear air above halted cities,

the clear waters of Venice canals,

how the world looks when we are quiet and grounded,

how sand and mud and toxins settle when we shelter in place.

As I wash my hands,

interlacing my fingers in a prayer,

I think of the work that is paused

or the work that is increased.

Lather, water, clarity,

now your work is more visible

in the world and in me.

You desire clean hearts,

right spirits.

Wash us with water

and your Word.

Present us to yourself a radiant Church,

A model of holy sanity,

as we wash our hands.

Written by Darcy Wiley

 

Prayer for Today

Join us this Wednesday at noon for our Solace Zoom meeting.

Posted by: AT 10:23 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, May 01 2020

This Sunday's message is called "Finding Peace in a Pandemic." In thinking about peace, I remembered an old preacher story in which a child was at the dinner table with his family. Mom and dad were talking about "peace on earth" when the child decided to dump the peas from his dinner plate on the floor and proudly announce to his parents, "peas on earth!" Now I know it's a pretty silly story, but in searching for it online I came across a children's pop-up book called Peas on Earth. Predictably, it is about two peas discussing what peace or peas on earth might look like. Dogs and cats get along. It even ends with the line, "give peas a chance!"

 

While that story is geared for children, it does touch on the Biblical word for peace which is shalom. When it comes to "peace" as shalom, it suggests that peace is more than just not bickering on a personal level or going to war on a much larger level. God's peace on earth is about humankind working to get along in the way that God intended in the first place. That's why we talk about "peace-making." It's not just something we feel on the inside, but something we do on the outside.

 

A while back someone suggested that every time we gather in worship, we should close the service holding hands and singing "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me." While I like the message expressed in that popular song, I have to admit that in our time of social distancing, envisioning us standing in worship and holding hands makes me pause. I wonder if we will all ever feel comfortable doing that again. Who knows? But I hope that happens again in the not-too-distant future.

 

Until the time that we can gather again and worship together, whether or not we hold hands, I hope you will join us online this Sunday as we hear about the good news of God's peace. We might even learn about how we can each make some peace. That's something that we need and our world needs more of now!

 

Prayer for Today

God of peace, let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me - today. In strong name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, we pray. Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:22 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
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