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.
In January of this year, Jamie Traylor and I traveled to Charlotte to participate in a Labyrinth facilitator training with Veriditas. We were paired with Catherine Anderson as our guide and instructor. We both found the experience, community, and time to reflect deeply meaningful. At that time, we were just hearing more information about COVID-19 and the possible implications. I never imagined we would continue to be in the midst of this pandemic exactly 6 months later.
Catherine like many of us has been reflecting and re-evaluating our place in this world and in our own community especially during this unusual season. She recently shared some very meaningful words and actions that she can bring to our world in this time.
Some of the words she shared,
"It is not the easy or convenient life for which I search - but rather life lived to the edge of all my possibility."
"We don't have to agree on anything to be kind to one another."
"Be the kindness you wish to see in the world."
Her words reminded me of Paul's in his letter to the church in Ephesus, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."
I would invite you this week to consider these words and how they might guide your reflections, actions, and conversations. I find that when I walk a familiar path in my neighborhood or on a labyrinth, my mind can come to a place of calm and clarity through prayer and movement. This prayer time brings more depth and meaning to my day.
Each day as we navigate this pandemic, messages from the news and challenges we face in our personal relationships, I invite you to find time for prayer and movement. Perhaps write one of these quotes or scripture on a card and carry it with you.
Prayer for Today
Creator God, open our hearts, minds, and bodies to your kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. Guide us as we continue to navigate new paths and new challenges. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
Her doctor said her detached retinas couldn't be repaired. But after living without sight for fifteen years-learning Braille, and using a cane and service dog-a Montana woman's life changed when her husband asked another eye doctor a simple question: could she be helped? The answer was yes. As the doctor discovered, the woman had a common eye condition, cataracts, which the doctor removed from her right eye. When the eye patch came off the next day, her vision was 20/20. A second surgery for her left eye met with equal success.
A simple question also changed the life of Naaman, a powerful military man with leprosy. But Naaman raged arrogantly at the prophet Elisha's instructions to "wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored" (2 Kings 5:10). Naaman's servants, however, asked the military leader a simple question: "If the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it?" (v. 13). Persuaded, Naaman washed "and his flesh was restored and became clean" (v. 14).
In our lives, sometimes we struggle with a problem because we won't ask God. Will You help? Should I go? Will You lead? He doesn't require complicated questions from us to help. "Before they call I will answer," God promised His people (Isaiah 65:24). So today, simply ask Him.
Prayer for Today
Dear heavenly Father, when life feels complicated and difficult, thank You for Your promise to hear even my simple prayers. Amen.
No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that Rock I'm clinging. Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?
- Refrain from My Life Flows On by Robert Lowry
I think it can be hard to really feel what the opening of this refrain is talking about. In good times, I like to think that I am strong and nothing can disrupt my inmost calm, but right now, I feel like the storms swirling around all of us are seriously rattling the shutters on this calm! I don't know about you, but I find myself seeking ways to cling on to some rock - any rock! - every day. But this hymn, which we will sing together during worship online this Sunday, helps to at least shift my focus away from the storm itself and more towards the Solid Rock we should all be clinging to.
But simply knowing that the peace of Christ should bring me a sense of calm doesn't always bring the comfort that I need. I'm sure it's different for everyone, but I find that two things that can help me relax and be able to feel the peace of Christ amidst the tumult are nature and walking. Walking along a path deep in a forest somewhere, I am able to stop the noise and get closer to really feeling the peace of Christ. But through my Saturday trips to hiking trails, I've realized something else: this peace I so desperately need is also often found during worship, which the pandemic has disrupted.
We say that "worship is the most important thing we do," and part of that worship is singing hymns together. We've managed to do some virtual singing together, but there's nothing else quite like singing together as a group in worship, voices joined in praising God. It also just so happens that singing may be one of the best ways to spread diseases. It seems so unfair the way this virus has disrupted our ways of worshiping together, but no matter how rough the storm gets, it will pass and Christ will still be the Lord of heaven and earth. I hope that we can all rally together in this unprecedented time and support one another, letting songs of peace echo through our hearts and finding new ways to act as the body of Christ.
Prayer for Today
God of endless song, help us to cling to you and hear your songs in the dark of night. Be our hope and stay in this and every storm, and guide us toward the profound, life-changing peace that you offer with open arms. Amen.
Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
There's no doubt that this is a tough time to be in the world. A pandemic, race tensions, murder hornets, Saharan sand, politics, elections, and more. Every single person I talk to is carrying heavy burdens for their personal and professional lives, stress and anxiety, fear and frustration, anger and disappointment. Zoom meetings, small gatherings, and chance encounters in the store feel heavy with the emotional strain of everyday life.
So yesterday, the softly spoken words of my Irish friend, author and storyteller, Gareth, resonates within my soul. When he leads gatherings and retreats for folks, he almost whispers, in his gentle Irish brogue, the invitation, "Bring what ya have and ask for what ya need." It's simple and profound. When we come to one another as Christians, in small moments of chance encounters and the structured time of small groups, classes, and worship, we bring what we have. Our burdens and our blessings. And we ask for what we need. Forgiveness and fellowship. We are honest, we are vulnerable, we are generous, and we are healed.
For many of us, we have missed all of that from our distance in quarantine. We yearn to gather in small and large groups, to transcend our difficult reality for the peace of those moments where we bring what we have and ask for what we need. As a pastor, as a leader, as a father, and as personality type focused on the needs of others, I often forget I have needs myself. Perhaps you do too. Or perhaps, you forget that we all are carrying heavy burdens just now. We will gather once more on July 5 for drive-in worship, a first phase of a new normal. I hope you'll be there. I miss you. And I hope you'll bring what ya have and ask for what ya need.
Prayer for Today
God, help me be mindful of all I have, the burdens and the blessings, to ask for what I need, and to love those near me. Amen.
Last weekend's Wall Street Journal featured an article on the comeback of the Drive-in Theater. When the pandemic hit this past spring, Drive-in Theater owners lobbied to keep their doors open because it was a social distancing way of watching a movie, while getting out of the house. The article even mentioned Atlanta's Plaza Theater, the oldest and the only independent cinema, that has pivoted to offer drive-in movies in its parking lot. Our session has voted to begin on-campus worship Sunday, July 5th at 9:30 AM with JCPC's own version of Drive-in Worship. Who knew we would be such trendsetters?
Earlier this week, our Worship Ministry Team held a Zoom meeting to prepare for all of this. Our preparation discussion included how we would park, how we would collect the offering, what happens if we filled up the West parking lot next to the ballfield, and many other details. It was a spirited discussion and my sense is that we're all excited to gather again for worship on our campus. All of us want to be prepared so that we can worship together in person (or in cars) because, as we say around here, "Worship is the most important thing we do!"
Preparation is an important part of life. The Scouts have their motto, "Be prepared." This Sunday, our next message in our Living Through the Storm series is called "Preparing for the Storm." When we get word a storm is on its way, most of us make appropriate preparations. What about the storms of life? What can we do to be prepared?
I hope you will join us online this Sunday as we wrestle with those questions. We will be looking at the end of the Sermon on the Mount -- Matthew 7:24-29. Jesus' words remind us that how we prepare prior to a storm makes a difference how we live through the storm. And as we said in last week's message, Jesus promises to be with us in the center of our storms -- never leaving us alone. And that's good news!
Prayer for Today
Loving God, thank you for being with us in the center of the storms of life. Help us to prepare, as your disciples, so that we might weather the storms of life. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Think for a moment about some of the major milestones in your life. Do you ever reflect on what happened the day before this significant day in your life? In many cases you knew the day was coming and you were preparing. The day before your graduation, the day before your wedding, the day before a milestone birthday or anniversary.
In many instances, if it's the day before your child is going to be born, you don't know it in advance. You likely start preparing for their arrival months ahead and in the last weeks, you're mostly ready. You are often just waiting to be surprised by the day when your child will be born. Chap and I are planners in life and in most cases, over prepared and in my case overpacked with any possible item we might need.
On June 20 six years ago, the day before Will was born, we were not prepared. We had moved into a new house the week before. We were finishing up projects, starting to unpack, and enjoying our new surroundings with a month before his due date.
We went to a wedding for two dear friends on the Chattahoochee in Roswell. It was a very meaningful service outdoors overlooking the river followed by a reception inside. We were excited about the delicious food and time to fellowship with friends. Before I could sit down to enjoy our dinner, everything changed. My water broke and we suddenly realized that we were not prepared for a trip to the hospital. There was not a single item set up or in most cases even unpacked for Will, and no hospital bag or car seat installed.
You can imagine our anxiousness that day realizing we were not prepared. God's timing was different from ours and a major milestone in our lives was approaching much quicker than anyone had anticipated. In this moment, we both realized that God was in control and we cannot do this on our own. A whole village of family and friends stepped up in the days and weeks to come to help us prepare for Will to join our us. From his first day on earth, we have felt the prayers, love and support from a great cloud of witnesses that have helped us to raise Will in the faith.
Now each year the day before Will's birthday, I think about this experience and it reminds me that God has a plan and God provides. I would invite you today to be open to God's plan for your life. Listen for ways that God is teaching you through unexpected or unplanned experiences.
And he will prepare the way for the Lord. He will have the same spirit and power that Elijah had. He will bring peace between parents and their children. He will teach people who don't obey to be wise and do what is right. In this way, he will prepare a people who are ready for the Lord.
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, Help us to be open to your guidance and planning. Prepare our hearts to receive unexpected news and situations. In Christ's Name, Amen.
Eternal eyes, that's what my friend Madeline prays her children and grandchildren would have. Her family has gone through a tumultuous season that ended with the death of her daughter. As the family grieves from this horrific loss, Madeline longs for them to be less and less nearsighted-consumed by the pain of this world. And to be more and more farsighted-filled with hope in our loving God.
The apostle Paul and his co-workers experienced great suffering at the hands of persecutors and even from believers who tried to discredit them. Yet, they had their eyes fixed on eternity. Paul boldly acknowledged that "we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:18).
Although they were doing God's work, they lived with the reality of being "hard pressed on every side," "perplexed," "persecuted," and "struck down" (vv. 8-9). Shouldn't God have delivered them from these troubles? But instead of being disappointed, Paul built his hope on the "eternal glory" that supersedes momentary troubles (v. 17). He knew God's power was at work in him and had complete assurance that "the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus" (v. 14).
When our world around us feels shaky, may we turn our eyes to God-the eternal Rock that will never be destroyed.
Prayer for Today
I lift my eyes to You today, O God. Give me a glimpse of the security I have in You.Amen.
"The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang: 'He is good; his love endures forever.' Then the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud." - 2 Chronicles 5:13, NIV
The Bible often talks about music with trumpets, cymbals, and other instruments, offering fervent praises to God, though at JCPC, we often use piano, organ, and other somewhat less boisterous instruments. True to the many references in the Bible, this week, we'll be praising God together online with the sound of a trumpet, played by our very own Victoria Melin. Despite the uncertain storms we face, may the sounds of the trumpet open our eyes to the rays of light shining through the clouds.
It's fitting that Gray's new sermon series is titled, "Living Through the Storm." We are certainly living through today what seems like a prolonged series of storms. The scripture for this week's service is the familiar account of Noah's ark - certainly the flood to end all floods! Do you remember how it ends? God sets his rainbow in the clouds as a sign of the covenant between God and the earth. It's a symbol of his promise to never again send a flood to destroy all life. It's helpful to us as this time to remember that we can trust in God's promises. One of the ways to remember God's promises is through music.
If you came to the Drive-Through Offering a few weeks ago, you received a CD from us and hopefully had a chance to pass it on to someone in need. Even when we're physically apart, our belief is that the power of music to offer hope and comfort can be one of many ways for us to both connect and reach out to those in need. Surely the author of Chronicles did not know about SoundCloud when they wrote, "the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud", but it's fitting that we are sharing music that reaffirms God's promises on this platform. As we add more songs, please take some time to find someone who needs to be reminded of God's promises and send them the link so we can join, "in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord" - even as we are physically distanced for the common good.
Prayer for Today
God of the Ages, we believe that you are good, that your love endures forever, and that we can trust in your promises. Help us to sing your praises, even during the storms of life. Amen.
Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.
There seems to be a cultural tradition which ties Mother's Day to church attendance. Sadly, not so with Father's Day. It's as if the stereotype is that mothers want their children all dressed up and at church, while fathers want to be left alone to sleep in. My home church even played into this growing up. But scripture tells us that parents, and perhaps especially fathers, should lead the way to worship and serving others. I've been especially inspired in recent years by dads who choose to spend this second Sunday in June getting up to take their kids with us to the shelter to serve breakfast to the homeless. What a lesson in faith and service.
Typically, our 8 year old rises with the sun, and them wakes me for breakfast. His 13 year old brother sleeps much later. So I was stunned to be awakened this Sunday morning by the teenager. His only request wasn't food or video games or his phone. It was a request to make breakfast for his little brother. He wanted to serve him and bring him joy. Two things occurred to me in that moment of pride. One, was that he found greater joy in serving someone else than a few more minutes sleep. And the second was that he found joy in it because he had a relationship with his brother and loves him.
I know that not all of you reading this are fathers or have kids at home, but neither does my teenager. What we can all learn from that example is that there is more joy in serving than sleeping, and that to find the real joy in serving others is about forming relationships. I encourage you to be in worship regularly (online with your family) or in person when we can again, and to join us in service. The relationships you will form with those you serve and those who serve with you will become your greatest joy. The kids and moms and dads who go with us every month have discovered that joy. And I'll tell you a secret... we'd love to share it with you.
Prayer for Today
Lord, make me an eager servant, leaping from the mattress to mission. Amen.
"I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the LORD."
- Psalm 122:1, KJV
Truer words have never been spoken! For many weeks we have been worshiping online. I'm grateful for those of you who have watched the service, and for our team that has worked so hard each week creating this way to worship God. Heidi and Christian, our Co-Directors of Music, have accompanied, sung, composed, arranged, and recruited other musicians to inspire us all. I am not sure how we would have done this without them. Brian and Neal have both preached and helped in leading worship. Our behind the scenes team members include Jeff Arnold and Greg Frangipane, who have posted the sermons each week on social media. And my son, Mason, has edited together all of the video clips every Saturday and loaded them up on YouTube for us all to enjoy. I want to express my deepest thanks to each one of them!
On Monday night, our Session voted to begin worshiping on campus July 5th at 9:30 a.m. Our "Drive-through Offering" experiences have felt a little like worship. So, on July 5th we will begin with what we are calling "Drive-in Worship." A number of churches are already doing this. Our Session is concerned about both the safety of our members of all ages, and our need to gather together in worship. "Drive-in Worship" will allow us to watch safely from our cars while hearing the service, either through PA speakers or on our FM radios. We plan to do this in our West parking lot next to the ballfield.
Our next step will be outdoor worship on the front lawn. We've had online worship services, so now we will have "On-lawn" worship services! Our plan when we do this is to practice social distancing using large circles drawn in the grass where people can sit in chairs or on blankets, wearing masks, as we worship together outdoors in God's beautiful creation. If it rains, then we would use "Drive-in Worship" as our backup. We chose 9:30 a.m. to avoid the heat. Our plans are to do this until our Session thinks we can safely return to worshipping indoors. More details will be shared as we get closer to July 5th. Also, we will continue a weekly online worship service for those who need to worship that way.
Prayer for Today
Loving God, it is good to gather with sisters and brothers in Christ to worship you. We need to do this, and we have missed each other. Bless our plans to honor you through worship in the coming days. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ . Amen.
I think the "why" questions are at the heart of our searching as human beings. We are constantly searching for the meaning and purpose in the experiences of our life. These last few months, I have been asking a lot more "why" questions.
Our pace of life may have changed since March, but it still may be difficult to find the rhythm that helps you be open and connected to God throughout your day. I would invite you to take a moment today to listen for God.
Be still. Feel your heart beat. Sense the life that is running through you. Take a deep breathe. Then listen to the words of Psalm 46.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Be still and know that I am God.
May the words of Psalm 46 travel with you today and in the coming days as you listen for God's comfort and respond to God's call.
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, you are our comfort and strength in times of sudden disaster, crisis, or chaos. Surround us now with your grace and peace through storm or earthquake, fire or flood. By your Spirit, lift up those who have fallen, sustain those who work to rescue or rebuild, and fill us with the hope of your new creation; through Jesus Christ, our rock and redeemer. Amen.
We have been venturing out of our homes as of late and I must say that the past few evenings have almost felt Fall-like. It is good to be outside in nature and experience the blessings of God's creation. On Friday night my cul-de-sac neighbors shared an evening cook-out with the appropriate spacing between us. As the sun was setting God blessed us with a spectacular sunset!
I must say that there is nothing like a beautiful sunset to heighten the senses to the blessings of God.
Jesus' teachings have an extraordinary knack for awaking our senses to the blessings of God; however, often through experiences other than sunsets. Read through the section of The Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5: 1-12 which we call The Beatitudes. These blessings beckon us to look in places we might not look to see God at work. Here are a few examples:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, they will be filled.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.
Do these examples of blessings sound like they have a place in our world with all its strife, injustices, and death? I sure think it does especially because Jesus is speaking of the Kingdom of Heaven and how it breaks into our lives. It is in the broken places that God's light shines the brightest. Jesus call this/us blessed.
Prayer for Today
Shine your light, Gracious God, through our brokenness. When our lives crack, shine within us your mercy, your forgiveness, your comfort and your peace. Amen.
"All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:"
- 2 Corinthians 5:18, NIV
This past Tuesday, the weekly Bible study I lead did something different. Instead of looking at the Bible passage for the upcoming Sunday sermon, we looked at last week's adult Sunday School lesson from "The Wired Word." This excellent resource looks at a very current event in light of scripture. Last week's lesson was about racism. Our Tuesday Bible Study looked at four passages from scripture that guide us in thinking about the challenges of racism. Talking about such issues is difficult, but our Bible Study struggled well with these four texts. Given all that is going on in our world and our community related to issues of race and racism, as Christians we need to lead the way in talking about this and providing guidance for our world.
I want to invite each of our Bible Study/Small Groups to break from what you're doing presently and find a time in the near future to look at this lesson from June 7th. You can find it on our "Church@Home" web page and in the sidebar here under "Quick Links". It provides an excellent resource to consider what the Bible says, to ask insightful questions, and to discover what we as Christians need to do. It also provides many other links and resources for anyone who wants to continue going deeper into this issue.
Many of you know that I am part of an interfaith group of religious leaders here in Johns Creek. We have been meeting for a little over a year and have come to know, respect, and trust each other. Last week, we created a joint statement focusing on racism. It was published last Friday in the Johns Creek Herald Newspaper. I have included the link here if you would like to read it. My prayer is that each one of us would take the next step as followers of Christ and enter into God's "ministry of reconciliation." Through God's grace, I believe we can make a difference in our world!
Prayer for Today
Thank you, God, for reconciling us to you through Jesus. Help us to be agents of reconciliation in our world by bringing your just peace to all. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.
"I was on a bus. Big kids put food in the back of the bus from people who brought cans and boxes for people who don't have food. Everyone wore masks and mommy and baby brother sat in the front and waved to thank people for feeding the hungry people." That's how our eight year old described his first mission service project this week. He understood why we gathered in masks and gloves to pack the church bus full of food.
This Sunday, we broke from our normal routine. Typically, we get up as a family and watch the worship service together and then share a meal. This week, we got up and prepared for the tithe-by. Jessica manned the driver's seat of the bus with Marshall, while Gabriel supervised the loading of the back. Vincent and the dozen youth and parents gathered the food from JCPC folks dropping it off and separated it by category before loading it in the bus. Over 20 boxes were filled and 50 cars stopped by with food and donations.
The most important thing we do as a family is join our faith family to worship with and serve others. The most important thing we do as a faith family after worshipping together, where we praise God, read God's word, and learn how to serve, is to do that work together. It is my greatest joy to bring the boys to JCPC and teach them how to spend their time and gifts and resources to help God's people in need. And I really love when they have learned how and why we do it. We will do this again on Father's Day Sunday. If you're a father or want to honor yours, there's no better way than to show your family and others your commitment to helping those in need. I hope we will see you there!
Prayer for Today
Lord, make me your hard working servant, eager to help those in need. Amen.
You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. . . . In the same way, let your light shine before others . . . -Matthew 5:14,16a, NIV
This past Sunday, the light was shining at JCPC. According to what I've been told, our church was first named "Church of the Hills" because we are literally on a hill. But this past Sunday, I think we lived up to our original namesake by letting our light shine from the hill of our campus. Many came by for our first Drive-by Offering, which was more than simply handing in our gifts as we waved. Neal and I greeted each car, checked in briefly, asked for prayer concerns, and offered to pray for those needs or to give a blessing. Many folks shared some deep hurts they, or someone they cared about, were experiencing. Hearing Neal pray for our folks may have been the highlight of the day for me.
Then we invited folks to share their offering, if they had one, with our elders who were holding the offering plates while wearing masks and gloves. I watched as many of those encounters turned into conversations and a time to catch up.
Heidi and Christian then shared the CD of music they had created from our recent online services. They told folks the CD was not only a gift to comfort them, but something they could pass along to someone who needed it. They could also download the music from our website on the Church@Home page link and enjoy it that way.
Then most of the folks who came brought canned goods, pasta, and/or monetary gifts over to the church bus where Brian and the youth received them. They filled the back of the bus with food to support "Hands of Christ" and help those who are really struggling at this time.
More than one person asked if we could do it again soon. Our Stewardship Ministry Team decided last night the answer was a resounding "Yes!" So, if you missed out on this or want to do it again, come Sunday, June 21, from 10:00 a.m. until Noon and join in the joy! I know you will be glad you came.
Prayer for Today
Thank you, Lord, for times when we can be with each in safe ways to connect and give back to your work in the world. Help us to remember that you use your gifts to make a difference in the lives of others. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
"From where, then, does wisdom come? And where is the place of understanding? It is hidden from the eyes of all living and concealed from the birds of the air. Abaddon and Death say, 'We have heard a rumor of it with our ears.' "God understands the way to it, and he knows its place. For he looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens. When he gave to the wind its weight and apportioned the waters by measure, when he made a decree for the rain and a way for the lightning of the thunder, then he saw it and declared it; he established it, and searched it out. And he said to man, 'Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.'"
I was reading a reflection and considering this artwork entitled, "The Way to Wonder" connected with this passage from Job 28.
Job was trying to seek out wisdom and understanding in the midst of his situation. These past few months have brought many questions, uncertainty, comfort and hope. These words from the artist Lisle Gwynn Garrity in the devotion bring new meaning to our current situation for me. "The Hebrew word for "fear", yirah, literally translates to 'awesome'. True wisdom lies in breathless reverence for God's mystery and expansiveness-for God's presence that is beyond what we can control, or reason, or make far too small."
As I continue to navigate the uncertainty of the coming days, I stand in awe of all that God has created and those that seek to build bridges, bring hope and create peace. What situations have brought you to lament? What has God done that brings you awe? We take time during VBS each summer to consider God sightings where we look for evidence of "God in action everywhere around us, every day of our lives! It's the small things like a smile or a sunset, and it's the BIG things like being healed from sickness, or being rescued from a storm".
Go into your week looking for God sightings and share them with someone when you see them.
Prayer for Today
Creator God, Unravel our need for answers into awe for the wonders of your expansive mystery. In Christ's Name, Amen.
We had church yesterday! Well, sort of, kind of, maybe, well yes! Almost 50 cars of JCPC members and friends arrived on campus yesterday. Here's a picture of Steve Navarro welcoming folks back to JCPC as well as waving to cars passing by.
In conjunction with our online worship service we invited you to return to campus to receive prayers and blessings, receive a CD of songs of hope, to receive your offering and to bring food for Hands of Christ. Gray and I were talking midway through and we both exclaimed we were having church; an alternative worship service to fit the day.
As I reflected upon this church gathering and immediately Jesus' words came to mind:
"Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them."
This teaching of Jesus is found midway through Matthew 18. Since it comes midway through the chapter I wanted to refresh my memory regarding what preceded the teaching. Well I found that the parable of the shepherd who had 100 sheep comes before this teaching.
I thought how appropriate this text is to our day and time but in a different context. Rather than one sheep wandering off from the 100 we have been surviving in a shelter in place phenomena which causes the entire flock to be physically distanced from each other. On Sunday morning, the flock began to return to our church on the hill; JCPC, and it sure felt like church! With the heat building it sure felt like a good ole fashion southern prayer meeting.
Prayer for Today
Lord we look forward to the day when we can all come back to our sanctuary to worship you. Keep us strong in our faith and bolster our spirits as we wait for that wonderful day. In the meantime grant us Your Spirit as two and three gather in your name to do your work. Amen.
This Sunday, Neal is preaching a sermon called "A Dream Dreaming Us" based on the story of Jacob's dream from Genesis 28:10-17. Neal and I were talking about dreaming earlier this week. We talked about the dreams many have had for significant events like graduations or weddings that have been affected by the pandemic. I also thought about those who have had dreams for their businesses or work that have been impacted by this event, or those who dreamed of a certain kind of retirement, only to have those dreams fade. I am looking forward to how Neal will speak to us about all of this.
When the Bible speaks of dreams, it is often telling a story of God speaking to someone through a dream. In the Bible, dreams are not usually something created in the mind of the person - they are usually vehicles for receiving a message from God. That is the case with Jacob in Sunday's Bible story.
In our time, we have those who dream of a better world. Dr. King was one of those who spoke of his dream - a dream that continues to speak to us today:
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. . . . I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. . . .
Prayer for Today
Loving God, help us to hear your dreams for us and for your world. Strengthen us today, so that together we might make your dreams a reality. In the strong name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.
So that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.
In the summer of 2009, as I was finishing my seminary training, I landed a summer internship with a racial reconciliation ministry in the East End of Richmond, VA. At the time, it had just moved down the list of Most Dangerous Neighborhoods in America from three to eight. There was nonetheless a murder almost every day of our first week working there. We helped to run a summer day camp for the kids, lead worship in the intentionally black/white mixed church, and I taught summer school for English and Math to kids we were trying to catch up to grade level.
A part of our internship was having a mentor in the organization and being one to one of the older kids who were counselors in training. And we also met in a small group as staff for Bible study. A fellow counselor remarked one day of his experiences before this and now, "My eyes had been made small by my choices." Which I wrote in the margins of my Bible and read again this week. In other words, not going out of his way to find people of color, people in poverty, people who were oppressed or rejected, younger kids in need of mentors, his eyes saw less. Choosing to travel far outside his experiences and comfort opened his eyes. For many of us, we have been forced to live in new ways by the quarantine and to see new realities in the news. Our eyes are being made bigger, not by choice, but force.
For me, I could never have imagined online worship, drive-in worship, or virtual Bible study. My eyes were small. I did not imagine school from home, canceled sports and extracurriculars, canceled vacations, families home together on weekends and evenings. My eyes were small. But now I see possibilities. Empty schedules and a greater hunger for Christian fellowship and God's word, for worship. I couldn't imagine a summer without week-long trips, but now it's stirring creativity. I'm appreciating time at home and watching the milestones of my boys as I do this work. I'm observing hundreds of moments that are teaching me lessons for future sermons and reflections. My eyes are becoming larger by the decisions to observe and be joyful, thankful for what is good. My prayer is that you'll find what is good and choose to be embrace that good. And I hope you'll share it with me.
Prayer for Today
Lord, help me make choices that widen my eyes. Help me to see your goodness, my blessings, the needs of others, and how I can help. Amen.
Some of you may remember this children's song if you grew up in the church. It is a simple tune -- easy to sing and remember. The words are pretty simple, too - but they are not simplistic. As good songwriters often do, they speak deeper truths . . . if we are paying attention. Sometimes it takes a long time to figure this out - maybe even a lifetime.
This song addresses two of the more profound challenges we are facing today - how to be the church during a pandemic and how we address and heal issues of race and racism. Both are complex - if for different reasons. First of all, what does it mean to be the church when we cannot yet meet together in our buildings for worship? As the song reminds us -- the church is not the building - it is the people. So, we find different ways to worship when challenged. In a place like China, the underground church flourished while being forbidden to meet together. The church has not stopped being the church - we have just found a different way to worship, connect, and serve others during this time. Like you, I am looking forward to worshiping again with others on our campus as soon as we can.
The other challenge that has recently exploded in our nation is the challenge of race and racism. The song also reminds us that as the church, we are many kinds of people of all races, from all over the world. Christ calls us to come together in love and to work against whatever devalues or threatens anyone - especially those directly affected by racism. Racism is a sin which we must address now. As the church, we should help lead the way in working for a peaceful and just world for all.
Prayer for Today
Thank you, God, for calling us from all places and races to be your church. Sustain us until we can worship together physically. Empower us to be the church wherever we are - working so that your kingdom can come, and your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Amen.
For many of the times I have read Jonah's story, I focused on the lessons God teaches us related to repentance and forgiveness.
These words from a devotion for families, Sing! Play! Summer! put love at the center.
Jonah 2:1-2, "Then Jonah prayed to God from the belly of the fish, saying, 'I called to God out of my distress, and God answered me."
I saw this story of Jonah in a new way as I read the devotion. "Full of twists and turns, the story of Jonah is about at least two things: 1) God's pervasive and persistent love, and 2) stepping up to the challenges that change can bring. Jonah tries to avoid God's call at first, while the people of Nineveh embrace it, changing their lives for the better. The story ends with the idea that the God of love is at work in and through all the twists and turns of our lives, sometimes hidden, sometimes plain- and that God's mercy knows no bounds!" (Salt Project)
"God of love is at work in and through all the twists and turns of our lives". Over the past almost three months we have experiences lots of twists and turns that were not expected. How have you seen our God of love at work in your twists and turns recently? When has someone reminded you of God's mercy?
Aghast, stunned, angry, sad, confused; these are but a few emotions I have experienced watching the chaos in Atlanta this past weekend. Our Solace Sunday meeting was spent processing these emotions and more as we attempted to sort out what Christian responses need to be in the face of this chaos. The answers aren't simple; they never are, yet Christian faith was born into chaos and it is lived to bring reconciliation into the chaotic world. Listen to how St. Paul describes our ministry in the 5th chapter of 2 Corinthians:
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
What does reconciliation look like in action? I want to share three pictures which illustrate the power of reconciliation in the face of chaos. The first is a picture from Louisville, KY where a police officer had been separated from his unit and was protected by his citizens he is sworn to protect.
This second picture is one of police officers kneeling in prayer as protesters approached them.
Finally, through prayer reconciliation brings order to the chaos.
We have witnessed too many scenes of violence, chaos, and destruction. God is working to bring about reconciliation in our broken world. Let's share together in the ministry of reconciliation.
Prayer for Today
Breathe your Spirit upon your people, O Merciful God, and convict us to be ambassadors of Christ who heed your call to the ministry of reconciliation so that we will be people of healing, hope, and love. Amen.