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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, July 24 2020

"Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand; Ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in his hand

Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to demand."

- Verse 1 from Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence  (4th cent. text)

This familiar tune, which you'll hear this Sunday both online and at our Drive-In Worship service during the anthem, always makes me feel funny. I don't mean in a bad way, but rather, it leads my mind to ponder the more abstract, mysterious qualities of God. Especially now during the pandemic with so much uncertainty, I tend to seek logical answers to all the difficult questions I face. Perhaps it's because we simply don't yet know when all of this will be over, and that kind of constant stress makes everything difficult!

 

But I think there is real value in pondering on the mysteries of our God. Do we take enough time to keep silent and stand in fear, trembling before God? Do we ponder things beyond the earth, even as fear and doubt surround us? Do we realize that the Word Made Flesh demands our full homage, our loving God lowering Himself to our level, yet coming full of blessings? Do we stop the painful and tumultuous paths our minds lead us down during these dark days to realize that there is more going on here than we can ever see, feel, or know?

 

God is here. He has always been here. Even now, the Holy Spirit twists and turns through my life and yours, taking our actions and circumstances and interweaving our very lives with other people to eventually bring about the plans that God has for us, but instead of sitting back and pondering in this way, we so often jump to action, responding with heated and sometimes hurtful words, not realizing what we are doing or where God is leading us. We so often stand firm in our own "truths", spouting judgement and anger at others who don't agree.

 

But if you just take a moment to step back from everything, and let your mind wander into the deep mysteries of God, you might find a kind of paradoxical and profound peace. Despite pondering on something that we can never understand, there is a sense of comfort in the strange, illogical wonder of God. Give your mind a chance to slip into the abstract yet all-encompassing love of God and find rest for your soul.

 

Prayer for Today

God of wonder, let us give in to your mysteries and abide within your infinite love. Let us keep silent as we come before you and draw us nearer to your limitless blessings. Open our eyes to your glory. Amen.

Posted by: AT 01:37 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, July 23 2020

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

 

In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.

 

Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.

-John 2:13-15

 

"I like to remember that when someone asks, 'What Would Jesus Do?' that a perfectly acceptable answer is yell and throw things," a friend of mine once remarked. They were right. I've tried to remember this in my walk with Christ and my ministry. You probably remember Gray referencing Aslan, the lion of Narnia who represents Jesus in those C.S. Lewis stories. When the girl asks if he's a safe lion, she's told he's not safe at all, but he is good. The Jesus of most of our artwork, our movies and TV programs, our imaginations, that Jesus is tame. Safe. But that's not the Jesus of scripture. The Jesus of scripture is gentle and compassionate when it is called for and a lion of strength and ferocity when that is called for instead.

 

My friend, singer-songwriter and activist, David Lamotte has a song about this more whole, more complete person of Jesus. The refrain is meant to be sarcastic, "Sing me a song about Jesus, but please don't sing about the poor. It's already been a long day now. I really don't wanna hear any more. Sing me a song about Jesus that'll make me feel happy inside. Sing me a song about Jesus that'll make this lifestyle feel justified." He's even had people come up after his shows to thank him for that song and say how weary they are of being challenged by Jesus and they just wanna be happy. They miss the whole point. Jesus was a troublemaker when necessary. Trouble that was intended to speak up for the oppressed loudly enough to disrupt the lives of those in comfort and power.

 

I've been reflecting all week on the life of Georgia's own John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and all the other unnamed men and women who marched and spoke out and endured the scorn of the people of the law, the lashes of the soldier, the mockery of crowds of angry people, and all for the hope of God's Word that they could be free and have life abundantly. I haven't had the words to express my gratitude for their work, their words, their lives, their example, and their inspiration and transformation. My nation is better for their lives. But I don't need new words. God's words led them and inspired theirs. John Lewis studied them in seminary and from a young age. And he found the Jesus who was killed for being a dissenter. He captured the essence of Jesus and told us, "Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble." And so I aim to misbehave, for Jesus.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, help me not to despair, but to find those in need and get into necessary trouble, good trouble. Amen.

Posted by: AT 05:09 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, July 22 2020

Speak the truth in love. . .

-Ephesians 4:15

Last Sunday, I talked about lament as a response to suffering. Recently, one of our church members was lamenting about how we seem to be losing the ability to disagree respectfully with one another. I agreed with him and shared my perspective that while this is true in our larger world, it can also have a negative effect on our discourse within the church. So, how do we "speak the truth in love" as scripture commands us to do?

Over the ten years I have been serving as JCPC's pastor, I have shared on a number of times some guidelines our PCUSA created for how we Presbyterians can have positive, productive interactions, even during times of disagreement. Here is the link to those guidelines. (click here) So, think of these guidelines as a reminder of something we all need to work on daily. I would invite you to download and print them. Put them in a place where you can see them, like your refrigerator or dressing mirror. My hope is that instead of being influenced by our world to be less respectful of one another when we disagree, we might be the "salt and light" that Jesus talks about -- seasoning and enlightening our world with a better way of living. When I was serving a previous church, I shared these guidelines when they first came out. One of our elders liked them so much that he later shared them at his work, after editing out the religious references.

 

As I mentioned in my sermon on Sunday, our Session met this past Monday evening to talk about some very difficult topics related to possible plans for both the short term and the long term. I was impressed with our Session and how they were able to speak the truth in love, listening to one another first, while maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. I think the way our Session handled these things was an answer to prayer and I appreciate many of you for praying for us!

 

Prayer for Today

God of love and grace, help us to be your salt and light in our world that needs to be seasoned with your grace and enlightened by your love. May we be the peacemakers you have called each one of us to be. In the strong name of Jesus the Christ we pray. Amen.

Posted by: AT 05:07 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, July 21 2020

Water is found in many places in scripture, including in tears. John 11:32-36 reminds us that Jesus experienced weeping, "When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!"
 

In the past few days, weeks and months we have experienced hopeful and exciting news as well as difficult and sad news, sometimes all in the same day. I have heard people reference our current times as a corona-coaster.
 

This week we are enjoying Backyard VBS in our cul-de- sac along with almost 40 families from our church and community doing the same in their driveways, backyards, porches and kitchen tables. The joy of VBS and sharing these messages with children is unlike any other gift in ministry, but this year there is grief and change as we are not able to gather with the whole group in one place and experience that energy of over 100 children dancing and singing together.
 

When I hear both types of news I am often overcome with emotion and questions. Are there places in your life of hurt or sadness? Are their places of joy and gratitude? What are the tearful places? Change? Transition?
 

I would invite you to take a moment to identify some of the parts of your life where there are tears. Listen to them and then place them before God.
 

"In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express." Romans 8:26
 

If you'd like to share Backyard VBS with your family or neighbors, there's plenty of time. We have kits and resources available for pick up inside the first set of glass doors at the main entrance to the church. Pick up 1 large Ziploc bag for each family, enjoy the experience and then share pictures with me of your highlights. All other info. can be accessed here. (https://jcpcusa.org/vacation_bible_school)

 

Prayer for Today

Holy Spirit, thank you for praying for us when we can't. Thank you for praying for us deeply and meaningfully. Hear our prayer... In Jesus' name. Amen.

Posted by: AT 05:06 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, July 20 2020

In our Solace Zoom meeting we looked at this picture and described how it fit our lives in this Covid 19 disrupted life. We then read this beautiful prayer.

 

We pray to God who some call Mystery, beyond all definition, that

When in the midst of uncertainty - may we know faith.

When in the midst of anxiety - may we know serenity...

 

We continue our weekly series of intercessions for our one human family at this time of crisis adopting the words of sisters and brothers from different parts of the world. Today we invite you to pray with Rev. John Wesley Oldham from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

 

Look at the picture again. Rebecca Eldridge shared the lyrics to Martina McBride's song Anyway with our group. Read these lyrics as you swing out over the abyss.

 

You can spend your whole life building, 

Something from nothin' 

One storm can come and blow it all away; 

Build it anyway

You can chase a dream, 

That seems so out of reach 

And you know it might not never come your way, Dream it anyway 

God is great 

But sometimes life ain't good 

And when I pray
It doesn't always turn out like I think it should 

But I do it anyway I do it anyway

This world's gone crazy 

It's hard to believe 

That tomorrow will be better than today
Believe it anyway

You can love someone with all your heart 

For all the right reasons 

In a moment they can choose to walk away 

Love 'em anyway

God is great 

But sometimes life ain't good 

And when I pray 

It doesn't always turn out like I think it should 

But I do it anyway 

I do it anyway

You can pour your soul out singing 

A song you believe in 

That tomorrow they'll forget you ever sang 

Sing it anyway 

Yeah, sing it anyway 

I sing I dream I love Anyway

 

In these crazy days of Covid 19 summer, live the life of faith;

Anyway!

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, free us from the grip of anxiety and open our minds to the hope you provide through the teachings of Christ and the presence of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Posted by: AT 05:04 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, July 17 2020

At JCPC, one of the many tasks we have in our music ministries involves studying the upcoming sermon texts and choosing appropriate music to enhance the message.  When Christian and I were looking at this week's text some time ago, I remember saying, "Whoa!!  This text is loaded!!"  What I meant was there is so much "meat" in this scripture, one hardly knows where to begin.  Check it out:

 

 

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God's people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  ----Romans 8:18-28

 

Did you get all that?  (It's okay... you can read it again!!  I'll wait...)  There's a lot of good stuff in there!!  What words or phrases jump out at you?  The first sentence and (often misquoted) last sentence of the text seem to resonate with me the most.  To realize that our present sufferings, no matter how great, are not even worth comparing with our future glory, assures us that there are better times ahead, perhaps in our lives on this earth, but certainly in eternity.  And to know that "in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose," gives us even more assurance that God loves us and is an active participant in our lives, even if God is the only one who knows the good that will come from our circumstances.

 

At this Sunday's Drive-in Worship service, our closing hymn is Be Still, My Soul.  I especially like the hymn text because of the hope it expresses, hope which we so desperately need:

 

Be still, my soul:  the Lord is on thy side.

Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.

Leave to thy God to order and provide,

Who through all changes faithful will remain.

Be still, my soul:  thy best, thy heavenly Friend

Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

 

We hope to see you at Drive-in Worship this Sunday at 9:30 a.m. to worship together!  (Come at 9:10 a.m. to hear the extended prelude and claim the best parking spaces...)  If you are unable to join us in person, we hope you will join us to worship together online!

 

Prayer for Today

 

Holy God, may our voices join together now and forever to praise you, saying:  Holy, holy, holy!  Lord God Almighty!  Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.  Holy, holy, holy!  Merciful and mighty!  God in three persons, blessed Trinity!  Amen!

Posted by: AT 08:40 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, July 16 2020

Therefore, as you go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

-Matthew 28:19-20

 

This past Sunday, we had our grad recognition lunch in the grove where we typically host the pumpkin patch. This was a special group for me. For JCPC, they are one of the largest graduating classes in memory and for the next few years to come. But more than that, they've been involved. Involved serving JCPC as leaders, involved in the community, and involved supporting each other. I asked them a few questions, raising their hands in the affirmative. How many had attended Great Escape? Montreat? Mission Trip? Lock-ins? Nearly all. How many had me or another youth come support them at an extracurricular? Fencing? Plays? Color guard? Band? Soccer? Robotics? Concerts? Graduations? All. How many had attended someone else's events to support them? All. How many have served on the nominating committee? Two. Session? One. This class has been taught to serve their church and one another.

 

I think they were proud to look around and see those hands, to raise theirs. I certainly was. I know their parents are. And I hope you are too. This is the group that was starting high school when I started my call here in August four years ago. This was the group born the year Jessica and I graduated high school, the year two airplanes in NY and one in Pennsylvania changed the world forever. It changed the course of our senior year and our lives and all we imagined. And these young people have had their senior years and their lives changed too. But because their first steps, their first answered calls have been to serve our church and faith family, to serve one another, as the Disciples did, I know their next steps will change the world.

 

Like those disciples, their calling will be more challenging than they first imagined for their lives. Their course is redirected, their purposes more full of meaning. Their lives will be harder for being trained to seek to serve those in need first, rather than themselves. The world will tell them what to want, what to pursue, what to be, what to learn, how to spend their time and and money and resources, who to love and who to leave out. But you and I have taught them the Way. This means they'll need to find new communities of faith, new friends and mentors, and call upon us for support in the years ahead, but it means they're more likely to change this world for the better and make us very proud. So when they come home from college and work and their new callings, don't ask them about grades and courses and internships and employment. Ask them what they are doing to nurture their faith and serve God's people. I hope and imagine it'll inspire you.


 

 

Note: If you'd like to see the Class of 2020 Senior Video of JCPC Youth with their baby photos, senior photos, and more, click here... https://youtu.be/F3ponRaJuJ0

 

Prayer for Today

 

Lord, call forth our young disciples into this new and changing world with courage, imagination, love, and determination. Make us a good home to come back and visit, and help us prepare the next group of young people to walk in their footsteps. Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:36 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, July 15 2020

The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.- Psalm 9:9, NIV

 Last week our Director of Christian Education, Allison Shearouse, shared with us on staff a very insightful article entitled "Living in An Ice Age." (You can click the link here to read it.) What the author suggests is that when the pandemic first hit, most of us thought it would be like a blizzard. It would be something we all "hunkered down" to get through which would not last that long, and then things would return to normal. But as it dragged on, most of us realized this is not a blizzard-like event which will be over shortly and everything will return to normal.

 

Some have suggested it is more like a winter storm which is longer in duration. It may start with a blizzard, but like the season of winter, it requires making plans to adapt to the longer time-frame. For those of us in churches and schools, we are having to make plans based on what new things we are going to do in the fall -- between now and the end of the year.

 

However, there is also the thought that this may last even longer, like an ice age -- until the virus is tamed and vaccines are widely distributed and become effective. Like an ice age, this will be a very disruptive and life-changing event with things never really going back exactly to how they were before. Some suggest 12 to 18 months as a more realistic time-frame.

 

Churches and non-profits are encouraged to make plans given this new post-storm norm -- even though no one knows exactly what that is going to look like because of the ever-changing, fluid conditions. Next Monday night, our session will be looking at plans which consider these longer time frames. I would ask you to be in prayer for our session and our staff as we seek to discern God's will for the mission of our church in the coming months and years.

 

This week's message is called "The Post-Storm Norm." We will be looking at Paul's words of comfort and hope found in Romans 8:18-28. Come join us on campus for the Drive-In Worship at 9:30 a.m. or On-Line on our JCPC website!

 

Prayer for Today

 

Loving God, you are Lord over all of time and creation. Help us to remember that in spite of all of the challenges of life, you love us and care for us. Bring healing and wholeness to our lives and our world. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:34 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, July 14 2020

Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don't try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God's voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; God is the one who will keep you on track.  -Proverbs 3:5-6

What places do you expect to experience God? Maybe it's church, or nature, or in our very selves. As we are over halfway through the summer, what if we looked for God in our summer experiences, our home, or our work?

 

It's important to expect God to show up in all kinds of places. What are some unexpected places where you can look for God this week?

 

This week we are preparing for Vacation Bible School and it's unlike anything we have ever done before. We are hosting it in a new way with an invitation for families to create VBS in their own backyards. As we navigated this pandemic and considered how Vacation Bible School would fit in, we used the collective wisdom of our Education team and ministry colleagues to try something new. This week volunteers are preparing take home kits with resources for 50 families. On Sunday, from 2-4 p.m. families are invited to come to our VBS drive thru where they will pick up their supplies and bring canned food to help Hands of Christ.

 

We have encouraged families to invite a neighbor or reserve a kit for someone nearby to help bring the message of VBS to those close to their home. Would you like to pick up a kit to share with your family or a neighbor nearby? Reserve one here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfPZ6h5f4S9kTtE2RspZyRfwOcZxtyVn054kI2xUj79B05blg/viewform

 

Jacob had an experience where he recognized God's presence, "then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, "Surely the Lord is in this place-and I did not know it!" And he was afraid, and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." -Genesis 28:16-17

 

Jacob woke up with an awe that hit him deeply. God is there in all of these places. So let's not be nearly as surprised as Jacob. I would invite you to "listen for God's voice in everything you do, everywhere you go."

 

Prayer for Today

 

Gracious God, I'm going to look for you every day that's left in my summer. I expect I'll see you around. Give me a heart that's open to your mysteries so that I can see and hear your work happening right before me. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:33 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, July 13 2020

Sometimes I wonder if we live in a culture war of differences. Some people say wear your mask while others say mask wearing isn't for them. Some people trumpet that Black Lives Matter, while other emphasize that All Lives Matter. It's as if we live in an age of polar extremes; are you like me or different.

Human beings are built in the image of God in order to share what we have in common and what is uniquely different. Here are two examples.

 

My mother, the teacher, told the story of a downtrodden student she found wandering the playground of her elementary school. She asked the little boy why he was sad and he said that his friend was home sick. She empathized with him saying that must be difficult and he rocked her world with his answer. "Yes, I miss him, the boy exclaimed, we laugh the same language!" I think most of us would admit that humor is one of the keys to well-being, yet this kid took the similarity to the depth; "we laugh the same language." We humans are drawn to the familiar; our similarities and what we hold in common.

 

Yet, truth be told, opposites attract. I watched a human interest story featured on the news last week. Two four-year olds in Florida believed they were twins. They wanted to dress alike and do all their activities together. They wanted to hold everything in common; however one difference stands out. One girl is black while the other girl is white. Opposites attract; that's for sure! When an older kid stated that they couldn't possibly be twins because of their skin color one of the twins fought back the tears and fought back. "You don't know anything, she protested, we share the same soul!" Out of the mouth of babes! Opposites do attract and in our differences we share much in common.

 

St. Paul told the church at Galatia that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female because we are all one in Christ. Another way to say that is that we laugh the same language and share the same soul.

 

Prayer for Today

 

Gracious and loving God; mold us into the new life in Christ where we share much in common yet are completed by bringing us together in our differences so that we become one through your grace and your mercy. Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:31 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, July 10 2020

"Not in the dark of buildings confining, Not in some heaven, light years away:

Here in this place the new light is shining; Now is the kingdom, and now is the day."

" - Verse 4 from Gather Us In 

(composed by Marty Haugen)

 

For those of you that joined us this past Sunday for our first Drive-In Worship Service, you might remember hearing these words sung as part of our extended Prelude. You also might have been too busy chatting to fellow church members while keeping social distance and wearing your masks! But Heidi and I chose this hymn to be a part of the Prelude because of how it speaks to the current state of our worship services.

 

We heard and talked about "the church being closed" and have asked, "when will the church open?", but these words speak to the fact that, we never have been closed, and the Church is not confined by dark, artificially-lit buildings (no matter how wonderful our Chapel and Great Hall may be!) nor is it off in heaven on a different plane of existence. We are the Church and we are here, right now, like we've always been! Donating to Hands of Christ, sewing and donating handmade masks, worshiping together virtually. It has been different than what we once knew as normal, but it was so wonderful to be singing and worshiping God and being able to connect with people instead of a camera.

 

So I hope you will join us again this Sunday for another Drive-In Worship Service. Heidi and I have prepared 20 minutes of music for the Prelude - a kind of mini-musical worship service before the main service - , and we hope you'll come early to prepare your hearts for worship as the new light of the day shines on all of our faces in the West Parking Lot. This pandemic has been tough. We can't do so many of the things we once took for granted and now miss so dearly. I can't even get back home to Japan! But I hope that God will gather us all together now as we move forward, acting in love and working together, one step at a time.

 

 

 

Prayer for Today

 

God of hope and life, gather us in and hold us forever. Take our fears, anxieties, and doubts and give us the strength to look beyond today and move towards a better tomorrow, together. Be with us here and now, on this and every day. Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:28 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, July 09 2020

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." 
 

(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)

 

Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water."

 

The woman said to him, "Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?

 

Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?"

 

Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,

 

but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life."

 

The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water." [...]

The woman said to him, "Sir, I see that you are a prophet.

 

Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem."

 

Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.

-John 4: 7-15; 19-21

 

Growing up, my sister and I watched Boy Meets World. There was a great Christmas episode where the main character and his family host his high school sweetheart and begin to explore and collide over one another's deeply cherished Christmas traditions... eggnog versus mulled cider, real/fake tree, etc. Just when the young man thinks their differences may be too much, he gets a Christmas Carol future peek and sees his sad life without her. He begins to see that compromise is a beautiful part of tradition, that love and relationships depend on meeting on common ground, accepting new ideas, letting go of others, and finding a blend that helps form a new unity called family.

 

If prompted for an example of the difficult divide of Jews and Samaritans, most of us would point to the story of the Good Samaritan. However, it's easy to forget the story above about the woman Jesus meets. There were significant divides in those two parts of a family that worshiped the same God. The Samaritans, for instance, had 12 commandments instead of 10, different practices, holy sites. Part of their conversation highlights one of those differences. Her people worshiped on Mount Horeb, while the Jews worshiped in Jerusalem. She clearly sees those as her contemporaries did, insurmountable obstacles of tradition. Jesus saw a future where common ground of love and grace would bring them back together, and united with the world through himself.

 

I was reminded of that this week in our inaugural drive-in worship. I stood on the scaffold and looked out at the people I love and serve. Beyond those cars was the steeple of our church, where we once worshiped and will again one day, and across the street, the steeple of our Methodist brothers and sisters. I never imagined leading worship in a parking lot, for all the places I have been and worshiped. But that's just when Christ appears to offer living water to drink and open our eyes and imagination. What will our future as the Church be? What will the future of JCPC be? It will depend on us to find our way forward together as God calls us to a future we cannot yet imagine, common ground, blended ideas, compromise, and creativity. It will either be exactly as we hope and imagine now, or it will surprise us as we become Christ's family of new traditions blended together. If you catch me up there on the scaffold grinning just a little, I'm curious about where God will lead us next, together.

 

Prayer for Today

 

Lord, keep surprising us. Help us be a family by sharing what we love and blending it in your love as we follow your call to serve your world. Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:25 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, July 08 2020
"I rejoiced with those who said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the Lord.' Our feet are standing in your gates, Jerusalem."

 - Psalm 122:1-2, NIV

 

I was rejoicing last Sunday after our first Drive-In Worship service. While we did not actually get to go into "the house of the Lord" to worship, we were close. Gathering in our West parking lot gave us the opportunity to be on our campus with other members of our church family. Most of us did not get a chance to "stand" -- but we could sit in our cars and worship God together. Thankfully, it was a beautiful July morning!

 

Heidi and Christian, our Co-directors of Music Ministries (CD ROMs), began playing and singing a few minutes before the start of the service. Their inspiring music helped us to focus as worshipers were guided to parking places by our usher team. Each person was given a worship bulletin, as well as a red, white and blue fan -- which came in handy later on. Richard had constructed our makeshift pulpit and stairs, so we could be seen by all. And while the FM broadcast of the service was available, most of those in attendance could hear the service fine from our PA speakers. I want to thank our Worship Ministry Team and everyone who volunteered to help out. It was truly a worship "team effort!"


 

 

For the first time in many months, I had the privilege of leading worship and preaching to an actual congregation -- even though it was a little difficult to see through the windshields. But by the time we were finished, I felt like we had truly worshiped God -- even in this new and unusual way. If you were unable to attend last Sunday, perhaps because of the holiday weekend and you were out of town, I hope you will plan to be there this Sunday at 9:30 a.m. The message is called "Thriving in the Storm" and is based on Paul's storm experience in Acts 27:13-26. If you cannot attend in person, there is still an online version of the service on our website.

 

Prayer for Today

 

Gracious God, we are grateful that we can gather to worship you. We need you and we need to worship you. Thank you for helping us to survive and even thrive in the storms of life. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ, whose love for us never ends. Amen.

Posted by: AT 08:23 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, July 07 2020

This past Sunday, our family woke up and prepared to travel to Drive In Worship. As it has been the case for many of you, leaving the house for an outing to some of our regular weekly activities has changed. We have new routines in place when we leave and fewer places to go each week. Navigating the pandemic life with a 5 and now 6 year old has brought new questions, blessings and challenges. 

We shared with Will about what to expect with church on Sunday and when he realized we would stay in the car, he asked if he could bring a pillow, blanket and wear comfy clothes. We said Yes to all of it. 

 

Chap and Will dropped me off near the entry so that I could greet folks and share a Kids Drive In Worship bag with any children who attended. The bag includes a kids bulletin with activities as well as hands on supplies to help children connect with and retell the story. 

 

While Chap and Will settled into their parking spot and listened to the prelude music, Will said, "Dad, I didn't know COVID 19 could be so relaxing." Will was sitting in the reclined front seat, enjoying the music, with his comfy pillow and blanket.

 

I'll admit finding places of comfort and relaxation has been challenging at times during this season. Drive In Worship was a welcome time to see our community of faith that has traveled with us on this journey in life, marriage and parenting. 

 

Will's observation reminded me of these words in Psalm 46, "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging... Be still and know that I am God."

 

As we are navigating new ways to do things in our daily lives, we found Drive In Worship to be a meaningful experience for our family to connect, worship, find comfort and hope. I hope you will join us this Sunday in your car with your comforts to find rest in the Lord.

 

Prayer for Today

God of Comfort, Thank you for the ways you hold us in the stillness and silence. Open us to see you in the new experiences of this season and make space for connecting with you. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 01:44 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, July 06 2020

I didn't know what to expect but I really wanted to know so I went. Have you ever had that experience in your life? You were invited to an event, party or gathering and you weren't sure if you'd like it or not. You decided to go and then wow you were glad you went. Uncertainty can either keep you from experiencing something new or it can hook your curiosity. 

Well during these uncertain times we all need more experiences of "wow; I'm glad I went!" I know I had that experience yesterday in what I believe is the first ever Drive In Worship at JCPC. At 9:30 a.m. many of you were parked in your cars listening to Heidi play the Prelude to worship. I'll be honest with you. Never before has sitting in a parking lot felt so sacred. 

A team of greeters made our striped asphalt appear to be like holy grounds. Certainly good news was going to be shared and it had a little of the feel of a summer camp meeting without the tent. A pulpit had been constructed in a fashion that old John Calvin would have been proud. When Gray climbed up into that outdoor pulpit it all shifted away from not knowing what to expect, uncertainty, to the certainty of Presbyterian worship.

I sure am glad I was there! It's now 4:00 p.m. on Sunday afternoon and I'm still excited when I think back on our Drive In Worship. Our Solace gathering time shifted to 11:00 a.m. this morning and we discussed our impressions of the worship. Rich Shuler touched our hearts when he said "I felt like I was back home!"

I know many of you miss that feeling of being back home in Sunday worship. Well I'm here to tell you that there's no time like now to come back home and experience the joy of worship and the uplifting fellowship. I hope to see you this coming Sunday, rain or shine, for Drive In Worship at 9:30 a.m. If you catch me on a good day, who knows, I might even reserve you a prime parking spot!

 

Prayer for Today

Share your good news of grace and faith with us, O God, for we need your words and we need each other. Lead us home to worship you in ways that even in our parking lot we will glorify you and enjoy you forever. Amen. 

Posted by: AT 01:41 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, July 03 2020

We've been talking a lot about storms lately.  This Sunday, we'll be looking at the account of Jesus calming the storm at sea.  You may remember that Jesus and his disciples got into a boat...

 

"And while they were sailing, he fell asleep.  A squall blew over the lake, and they were taking in water and were in danger.  They came and woke him saying, "Master, master, we are perishing!"  He awakened, rebuked the wind and the waves, and they subsided and there was a calm."  (Luke 8:23-24 NABRE)

 

The storm analogies make sense to many of us.  To others who feel the storm is a little too close, they may ask, "If Jesus can speak to the wind and waves to calm them, when is he going to come and calm the storm that is threatening me?"

 

Last week in online worship, we sang the hymn "How Can I Keep From Singing?"  Some of you may have sung along, and some may have wondered how to find the strength to sing at all.  Maybe you or someone you know is in a dark place right now for any number of reasons... illness, death of a loved one, isolation, job loss, financial trouble, end of relationship... the list can be long... One is tempted to ask, "Where is God in all of this?!  Does he even care??"

 

As a church musician, I have often been drawn to read the book of Psalms, and was always intrigued to notice that many of them start in despair, but end in hope.  Psalm 139 has always been one of my favorite psalms, precisely because it assures me of God's constant abiding presence:

 

"You have enclosed me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is too high, I cannot attain to it.  Where can I go from Your Spirit?  Or where can I flee from Your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.  If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me.  If I say, "Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, And the light around me will be night," Even the darkness is not dark to You.  And the night is as bright as the day.  Darkness and light are alike to You." (Psalm 139:5-12 NABRE)

 

That's where God is in all of this.  Right there with you, wherever you are.  Always.  And we are never forsaken.  When your storm has passed, may you be able to sing with the psalmist, "I waited patiently for the Lord; And He inclined to me and heard my cry.  He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm.  He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God." (Psalm 40:1-3a NABRE)

 

Prayer for Today

God who calms the wind and waves, help us to cling closely to you through our storms, and move us to reach out to someone today who needs your calming presence.  Amen.

Posted by: AT 01:39 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, July 02 2020

Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a servant to sin. The servant does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

-John 8:34-36

 

It's a holiday weekend, chiefly Independence Day. Many folks will be talking about freedom, particularly in light of the restrictions during the pandemic, the racial justice protests, and of course, this being an election year. Freedom is a concept important to believers. However, it is understood differently by us as believers. Freedom is typically understood by one's relationship to rules and restrictions. So for a believer, we have both the rules of society, as understood through the legal system, as well as God's laws.

 

Freedom is typically defined as the power to act or speak as one wants without hindrance or restraint. And that's why we understand it differently as Christians. We know that we are either a servant to God or to our wants and desires. There are only those two options. We can either serve God and love our lives according to the rules and expectations of our loving creator or serve only our own wants and desires. To live our lives by the love and grace Christ shows us as an example looks like servitude to the world. And it is. But as Christians, we understand it is ultimate freedom from our own wants and desires that consume so many people. To serve the needs of our neighbors and the least of these frees us from greed, lust, laziness, consumerism, racism, bigotry, busyness, cruelty, selfishness, pettiness, divisiveness, ego, tyranny, ignorance, and apathy.

 

Why does this matter? This matters because as we approach the middle of one of the most difficult and disastrous years in memory, and among the worst in history, a year marked by restrictions in and fights for freedom, we must understand what freedom is and be a witness to the world of what true freedom is. To be free in Christ is not freedom from the rules and restrictions of government and medical professionals. It is the freedom to care for our neighbors and vulnerable people through social distancing practices. It's not freedom from protestors or police. It's the freedom to examine systems that allow and perpetuate unfair treatment of our brothers and sisters of color, and to love and pray for the officers who dedicate their lives to keeping us safe. It's not freedom to choose leaders who will protect the interests of ourselves and people like us, but to consider the needs of the most vulnerable, the least of these, and to choose people who will represent those needs and lead us all to be our best selves.

 

As believers, we approach Independence Day with solemnity and joy. We must give thanks for the great freedoms we have as Americans, but also the understanding that true freedom in Christ holds us to be very responsible citizens who love our neighbors through our actions and words, living into the expectations and hopes of our loving creator rather than just enjoying the removal of tyrannical laws.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, thank you for my freedom. Help me to live a life worthy of that freedom. Help me to overcome being a servant to myself by serving others. Amen.

P.S. - Don't forget to come this Sunday, July 5, for our first Drive-In Worship at 9:30 a.m. - rain or shine. We will also have an On-Line version of the service on our website.

Posted by: AT 01:35 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, July 01 2020

"Cast your cares on the Lord  and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken."

- Psalm 55:22

 

When I went by the church yesterday to lead my Zoom Pastors' Bible Study, I checked the church office for mail. I found a piece of paper in my mailbox with a handwritten note from one of our church members containing the Bible verse above. The person ended the note with "Have a good day" and signed her name. It was nice to get such words of encouragement unexpectedly. My sense is that many of us continue to feel shaken by the daily changing events in our lives. I know I have. So, the reminder from the book of Psalms, to cast our cares on the Lord with the promise that God will sustain us when we feel shaken by the events of life, was both appreciated and needed.

 

You may remember that the word "encourage" comes from two French words: en- which means "make" or "put in" and corage which comes from the word for "heart" - coeur. One could say that enragement is really en-heartment, or giving someone heart. Some of us are really good at encouraging, while others of us have to work at it. Whether encouragement come to us naturally or because we are gifted in that way (Paul lists it as one of the spiritual gifts in Romans 12:8), or it something we have to make a deliberate effort at doing-we can all chose to try and encourage each other more often.

 

In this pandemic storm, we especially need to lean into offering words of encouragement because all of us feel "shaken" at the present time. Yet I believe that one of the main ways God sustains us during these times is through the encouragement we can offer one another as sisters and brothers in Christ. Maybe it will come in a personal note and a Bible verse, like the one I mentioned above. Find your own way to be an encourager today!

 

Prayer for Today

God of encouragement, fill our hearts with your love this day. Help us to cast our cares on you, knowing that you promise to sustain us even when we feel shaken. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

P.S. - Don't forget to come this Sunday, July 5, for our first Drive-In Worship at 9:30 a.m. - rain or shine. We will also have an On-Line version of the service on our website.

Posted by: AT 01:29 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
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10950 Bell Rd, Johns Creek, GA 30097 get directions
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