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Reflections

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

Friday, May 29 2020

In spite of not being able to gather yet for worship, we have some pretty exciting things happening in the near future. This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday and we will once again be celebrating communion in the service. I hope everyone will have bread and grape juice or wine ready at home to celebrate The Lord's Supper along with us. We will also be watching a special Zoom video Brian has created, along with many others, to offer one way to hear the Pentecost passage from Acts 2. You won't want to miss it!

 

On the next Sunday, June 7th, we're trying something new. At the suggestion of one of our church members, Angela Harvey, we are inviting members of the church to drive through and bring their offerings between 10:00 a.m. and Noon. Angela thought this might be a good way for church members to connect, even though we will stay in our cars. Pastors (wearing masks) and some elders will be there to receive the offering and to offer a blessing -- if folks would like one. We will also be collecting for our mission partner, Hands of Christ. Food, clothing, and monetary donations will be accepted. We will be doing all of this taking safety precautions into account.

 

On June 14, the Rev. Ben Mathes will be our guest Online Worship preacher. Ben is finally retiring completely and asked if he could preach one last time this year at JCPC. June 14 was the only date he had available, so we took it. Ben founded Rivers of the World (ROW) which later became Mission: Hope. Those who know Ben know what to expect . . . or not! Ben always shares some exciting stories from the mission field. You will not want to miss the online sermon that day!

 

God continues to work through the members, ministry, and mission of Johns Creek Presbyterian Church - even when we cannot gather for worship. As Pentecost reminds us, God's Holy Spirit is never confined to one place!

 

Prayer for Today

Thank you, God, for your Holy Spirit, which is the Spirit of the risen Christ alive everywhere. May your Spirit inspire us to live life fully, whatever challenges we face in life. In the strong name of Jesus the Christ we pray. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:43 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, May 28 2020

For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.

-Matthew 18:20

 

 

This morning, I was preparing to come to church and record the worship service for Pentecost. Pentecost and the Holy Spirit have been on my mind all week with the video project we worked on, and as I lifted our three-month old from his bed, I whispered, "The Holy Spirit is in you too. Did you know that?" And he grinned the biggest grin I've ever seen. I was overwhelmed by a feeling of joy and sense that my words were more true than I could imagine.

 

The Spirit is indeed within each of us, from the quietest to the most prophetic. From the introvert to extrovert. I'm alone in my family as being an extrovert, unless that little baby is, and I suspect as much. Even in my extended family. My mom knows every lifeguard at her pool and I can introduce you to half the staff at my Kroger. It's how we are wired. Being apart from society, especially my church family, is painful. I long to be with everyone again, as much or more than anyone. But, like the youth I serve and admire, I understand why this is a time to refrain from gathering and embracing. I'm protecting the wise elder members and the nursery kids, as well as my smiling, Spirit-filled baby.

 

He reminded me that that Spirit came to people in their houses on Pentecost. It connected people, and it still does. He's never been to our church, the one I serve and love and worship with. He's never been to a church at all. But he's been a part of the Church from his birth. The Spirit filled his lungs, the lungs that caused a nurse to say, "wow, he's the loudest baby I've ever heard," and the lungs that were monitored in the NICU for three days while hundreds of people from OUR church and churches of my friends, the greater Church prayed for his return home, and the lungs I seek to protect at home, grateful that others wear masks.

 

And those lungs, God-willing, will one day sing out as he is baptized in that Spirit, as he confirms his faith, and as he sings in our chapel. That Spirit connects us as we serve in Mexico and the DR, downtown at the shelters and in Duluth at Hands of Christ. That Spirit connects us in our homes to the homes of foster children and the house of the Lord. It makes us one people, so long as we trust God to unite us and we never let ourselves be divided, even when we are separated. And if we forget that, we need only hold a baby to remember.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, hold me as your child, and whisper to me that your Spirit lives in me too, wherever I am and wherever I go. There is the Church. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:41 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, May 27 2020

One "new" tradition that has emerged in our household over the Memorial Day Weekend is watching the video series, Band of Brothers. It is based on the true story of the World War II soldiers in Easy Company. The actual soldiers on which this story is based are interviewed at the beginning of each episode. Without exception, they each talk about the fear they all felt and how they each found a way to complete their mission -- in spite of their fears. I am inspired by the courage of these whom some have called "The Greatest Generation."

 

Recently, I heard a Pulitzer Prize winning historian compare our generation facing of this pandemic to that earlier generation facing World War II. While there are certainly differences between a World War and a pandemic, her point was that these were events that affected the whole world and required a response from everyone. When I watch Band of Brothers, I remember soldiers like my wife Pam's father who was a B-17 pilot in World War II. He was shot down over Germany and finished out the war in a prisoner of war camp. Pam's father was one of the "older" soldiers in his mid-20s -- a Captain and a Wing Commander called upon to lead others who were even younger than he was.

 

When I watch how the series depicts those young soldiers rising to the leadership challenge in spite of their fears, I'm also reminded of the excellent leadership book I have just finished by Peter Steinke called, Uproar: Calm Leadership in Anxious Times. I have shared with our session and our staff some of his key insights such as this one: in anxious times such as these, the most effective leadership comes from leaders who are able to calm their own anxiety, and then lead with a calming, non-anxious presence. This allows those of us who are experiencing the normal anxiety and fear that we all feel, to first take time to calm our own anxiety. Doing that first, then allows us to lead and make decisions based on our principles and our mission. I am grateful to be serving with leaders on our session and staff who are trying to lead in this way. Please keep our church's leaders in your thoughts and in your prayers, as we are praying for all of you -- the members of our JCPC church family.

 

Prayer for Today

God of peace, in these anxious and challenging times, fills us with your peace - a peace that passes all understanding and a peace like only you can give. Help us to calm our anxiety and face our fears in a way that allows us to fulfill the mission of this church you love - Johns Creek Presbyterian Church. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus, who faced his fear when giving his life on a cross in order to fulfill his death-defeating, life-saving mission. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:39 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, May 26 2020

God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

-John 4:24


Lord, you have been our home since the beginning.

-Psalm 90:1

 

I was recently reminded that God is not far away or up there, but rather as close to us as our home. This Sunday, we will celebrate Pentecost and as I can recall from previous years, I shared a book in Children's Worship as a part of our scripture reading, The Day When God Made Church. Throughout the reading the children looked intently at the images and followed the story. They enjoyed creating sound effects to accompany parts of it. This part sticks with me, "Then the room grows brighter. Something hot and blazing shines on us. Darkness is gone. FIRE fills the cold space. Now we feel WARM inside our bodies. Smiles paint our faces. We all know something new is happening. We feel our hearts change inside". The disciples gathered in a home together on that day and their lives were forever changed by experiencing the presence of the Holy Spirit in a powerful way.

 

Remember that God is with us in the presence of the Holy Spirit anytime and anywhere. God can be equally familiar to us, like our homes. Max Lucado says it well, "with time you can learn where to go for nourishment, where to hide for protection, where to turn for guidance. Just as your earthly house is a place of refuge, so God's house is a place of peace."

 

As you spend time in your home this week, think about the ways that you can invite God into every aspect of your life. Put your trust in God knowing that he goes before you, stands beside you and walks behind you.
If you would like to see this children's book read by the author, click here.

 

Prayer for Today

Loving God, Thank you for the comfort and security that you bring into our lives. Help us to see you in every part of our day. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:38 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, May 25 2020

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.

-John 15:13

 

On Memorial Day, I think of many military veterans but especially my dad and uncles, who served in the military during World War II. They made it home, but in that war hundreds of thousands of families tragically lost loved ones in service to their country. Yet, when asked, my dad and most soldiers from that era would say they were willing to give up their lives to protect their loved ones and stand for what they believed to be right.

When someone dies in defense of their country, John 15:13-"Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends"-is often recited during the funeral service to honor their sacrifice. But what were the circumstances behind this verse?

When Jesus spoke those words to His disciples during the Last Supper, He was about to die. And, in fact, one of His small group of disciples, Judas, had already left to betray Him (13:18-30). Yet Christ knew all of this and still chose to sacrifice His life for His friends and enemies.

Jesus was willing and ready to die for those who'd one day believe in Him, even for those who were still His enemies (Romans 5:10). In return, He asks His disciples (then and now) to "love each other" as He has loved them (John 15:12). His great love compels us to sacrificially love others-friend and foe alike.

 

Prayer for Today

Jesus, we're so thankful that You were willing to die for us!  Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:36 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, May 22 2020

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.

- John 15:12-14, NIV

This Sunday we will be talking about how the word of God can help us to stand firm in the storms of life. It is important not only to try to hear and study God's word -- but to do what it says. The words above from Jesus remind us of that.

This coming Monday we will celebrate Memorial Day and remember those who have literally laid down their lives for others in service to our country. What an amazing sacrifice that is! I believe each one of us has the opportunity every day as Christians, to consciously "lay down our lives" for those around us by doing the very things Jesus commanded us to do. Showing the love of Christ - what is best for the other person -- every moment of every day of our lives is something we can all do. However, we do this not to try to earn God's favor -- because we already have that through God's grace. We do it in response to what has been given to each one of us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ - the same Jesus who laid down his life giving the ultimate sacrifice for each one of us.

Enjoy Memorial Day and remember those who gave their lives and made the ultimate sacrifice. But then live every day, "laying your life down for a friend" - following the example of Jesus who did that for each one of us!

 

Prayer for Today

Loving God, we thank you that Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice by laying down his life for all of us - whom he called his "friends." We thank you for those men and women who have given their lives to protect others in service to this nation. May this coming Memorial Day be a time of remembrance, thanksgiving for their sacrifice, and comfort for those who mourn the loss of loved ones. Help us to lay down our lives for one another this and every day. In the strong name of Jesus, who gave his life for the whole world, we pray. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:33 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, May 21 2020

For the Lord grants wisdom!

From his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

He grants a treasure of common sense to the honest.

He is a shield to those who walk with integrity.

He guards the paths of the just

and protects those who are faithful to him. 

-Proverbs 2:6-8

 

My grandfather was the greatest fan of baseball I ever knew. To be honest, I don't know if he even had a favorite team. He loved the game itself. He once told me that at a baseball game, a runner slid into third base and the umpire called him, rightly so, "Safe!" However, with equal enthusiasm, signaled "out." The fans couldn't hear the call, but they saw the sign. He told the runner to go sit on the bench because he was out. Under protest, the runner said, "but you said I was safe!" The umpire replied, "Sure I did. But all those fans saw me call you out."

 

Perception can be everything. The opinion of the crowd can often matter more to us than the opinion of one person or our very integrity. We can be tempted to ignore what is good or right or true in favor of what keeps us from looking silly, foolish, or wrong in the eyes of others, even if they are strangers. For some of us, this means speaking up when people say things that are cruel, fowl, racist, or false. For some of us, it's remaining silent when people call our faith into question. Or we may stay silent when we benefit from an error, a mistake, or a system that ignores oppressed people we don't know or actively dislike. My teenagers will sometimes wear or not wear clothing appropriate to the weather or a specific event to gain the approval of their peers. And even adults may skip wearing masks or gloves to protect the health of others, if we fear we will be inconvenienced or ridiculed.

 

In Proverbs, we are called to show our love for neighbor and faithfulness to God by living with integrity. This is a call to honesty, to humility, admitting fault, speaking up for what is right, and enduring shame or ridicule to live with compassion and obedience to the guidance and authority of God and wise leaders. The runner my grandfather spoke of acted with integrity and obeyed the bad call, but also spoke up for what is right. But the umpire was more concerned with his reputation and looking foolish than acting with integrity. We must always be careful to seek to do what is right for others and not convenient for ourselves only.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, help me to be a person of integrity, living for what is right, true, compassionate, and holy. Help me to err on the side of loving others more than self. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:32 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, May 20 2020

Those of us who feel called to preach, may do so for a variety of reasons - some better than others. But my sense is that most of us who preach regularly do so because of this: we want to share the good news of God's love in some way that connects with listeners and calls them into a deeper relationship with God and others. Sometimes it is hard to know if we are doing that effectively.

 

One thing I miss during this pandemic, our time of sheltering-in-place, and online worship services is standing at the back at the end of the service and seeing people. It is not only a time to connect, but to hear from others, as well. Some share concerns or celebrations. Some ask me to pray for them or someone they are concerned about. Some share information they think I should know. But most Sundays, some people will not simply thank me for the sermon, (which I appreciate), but they will tell me how God spoke to them through the sermon. These are often very sacred moments for me - not only because someone took the time to share this - but because I know what I have tried to do may have worked.

 

One of our members, Mary Todaro, emailed me this song she wrote in response to last week's sermon. What a creative way to internalize and express God's Word to her! She said I could share it with you. Enjoy!

 

STAND FIRM

by Mary Todaro

 

Stand firm. Stand firm.

Stand firm in the armor of God.

Buckle on the belt of truth.

Trust God to show the way.

Put on the breastplate of righteousness.

Wrestle through the pain.

Stand firm. Stand firm.

Stand firm in the armor of God.

Fit your feet with the gospel of peace.

Find support step by step.

Use your shield of protection from flaming arrows.

Stand firm. Stand firm.

Stand firm in the armor of God.

Wear the helmet of salvation.

Break free from the chains of fear.

Take the sword of the Spirit.

Stay strong in love.

Stand firm. Stand firm.

Stand firm in the armor of God.

Stand firm in the armor of God.

 

Prayer for Today

Thank you, God, for speaking to us in ways we can each hear. Help us to stand firm as we seek to live our lives in response to your Word to us. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus - the "Word made flesh." Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:30 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
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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