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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.

Monday, August 31 2020

When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them. 

- Acts 15:4, NIV

 

Last week I shared that we are resuming Session updates by passing along important decisions and information from the meetings. The August 24 meeting was a continuation of the previous August 17 meeting's agenda. Because of the length of the last meeting and the Session's desire to give its full attention to what is a very difficult decision that involves our staff, the Session wanted a separate meeting to discern God's will for Johns Creek Presbyterian Church in these important matters.

 

Your Session met for this Called Meeting via "Zoom" teleconferencing. The purpose was to continue a review of the proposed Contingency and Long-range Personnel plans recommended by the Personal Committee and the Stewardship Ministry Team. Due to the nature of the material which affected personnel, the Session voted to go into executive session. Guests who were pertinent to the discussion were then invited to attend the closed session.

 

The first item discussed was a proposed Contingency Plan which involved: 1) the temporary furlough of some of our support staff; 2) a 10% percent reduction on salary applied to our non-ordained staff not affected by the furlough, and 3) a 10% requested "give back" of salary from our ordained pastors. This plan would be implemented in the event of unforeseen, extreme circumstances affecting the church finances. The Contingency Plan was moved, presented and discussed. The motion to approve the plan passed.

 

The Session then considered a proposed Long-range Plan. The plan recommended a change in the Director of Christian Education (DCE) position to be reclassified as a part-time position. The DCE position would also be re-titled and updated with a new job description which better addresses our church's present mission and needs.

 

The plan also proposed the dissolution of the Associate Pastor for Congregational Care position. This would result in the ending of the pastoral relationship with the Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst, presently serving in the position. (Rev. Kuhlhorst will still serve as the Director of JCPC Counseling Center.) This change will require congregational approval prior to a proposed January 1, 2021 implementation date. The plan was moved, discussed and approved. Again, if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at (pat@apearson.com)

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, as we face difficult times and hard decisions, we pray your comfort for all of those who may be affected by these changes. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:55 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, August 26 2020

How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in unity!

- Psalm 133:1, NIV

 

For my daily devotionals , I am rereading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's brief classic, Life Together. The words above are how he begins the book. In times as uncertain as these, I find myself drawn to the classics of our faith. In addition to reading scripture, I sense a need to return to the foundations in order to stay grounded in these turbulent times.

 

For those of you who may not be familiar with Bonhoeffer, he was a German pastor and a brilliant theologian who was imprisoned under Hitler during World War II. A few weeks before Hitler took his own life, orders came down from Himmler for Bonhoeffer to be executed. After conducting a worship service in prison on April 8, 1945, the prison guards came to take him away for his execution. His last words to a fellow prisoner were these: "This is the end, but for me it is the beginning of life."

 

As I reread Bonhoeffer's words slowly, deeply, a few pages at a time -- I find them speaking to me during these troubling times. The following is a prayer Bonhoeffer created and prayed, which I am praying each day. May it enrich you in your prayer life!

 

 

Prayer for Today

 

In me there is darkness,

but with you there is light,

I am lonely, but you do not leave me.

I am feeble in heart, but you do not leave me.

I am restless, but with you there is peace.

In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience;

Your ways are past understanding, but

You know the way for me.

Lord Jesus Christ

You were poor

and in misery, a captive and forsaken as I am.

You know all our distress;

You abide with me

when all others have deserted me;

You do not forget me, but seek me.

You will that I should know you and turn to you.

Lord, I hear your call and follow you;

Help me.

Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:51 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, August 25 2020

As we continue to navigate uncertainty, hard questions, new routines, and big decisions I wanted to share a familiar passage in Matthew 5. Eugene Peterson in his translation of this passage reminded me of my calling in the midst of the difficult circumstances happening around me.

 

Jesus said, "Let me tell you why you are here. You're here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth... Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand - shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:13-16, The Message)

 

This passage in the Message version of the Bible always brings Jesus' words to me in a new way. I hope that you heard something new in this passage too. As you go through your day, find ways that you can be generous with your life. Open up to others. I know that when I do this, others are more willing to open up to me and deeper relationships happen.

 

Take a moment to think about those you are called to love... shine a light... share in leadership this week. Be God's salt-seasoning and light-bearers, it's both a gift and a calling.

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, Thank you for the gifts of salt and light in our lives. Help us to be open to the ways you will use us today to share your love with the world. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 12:29 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, August 24 2020

When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them. 

- Acts 15:4, NIV

 

In order to keep our JCPC church family better informed about the decisions of your Session, we are returning to the practice of sharing monthly highlights from our Session meetings. Feel free to contact me (pat@apearson.com) if you have any questions. Here is the August 20th Session Meeting Update:

           

  • A motion was passed to allow Session meetings and congregational meetings to be conducted by Zoom teleconferencing during this pandemic.
  • There will be a Drive-Thru Breakfast on the next Fifth Sunday (August 30) in which those attending the Drive-In service will receive a pre-packaged bagel and juice breakfast.
  • There will be a churchwide Zoom Wednesday Night Dinner on September 9.
  • A motion was passed to allow the youth to meet outside for fellowship using social-distancing and masks on the first and third Sunday of each month.
  • A motion passed to allow the Congregation Dor Tamid Synagogue to celebrate Rosh Hashanah in our West Parking lot using the JCPC sound and FM broadcast equipment for a special Drive-In service.
  • An in-depth discussion of COVID19 safety protocols for the Preschool led to a motion to delay the opening of the Preschool from September 3 to September 17. The motion did not pass, so the Preschool will plan to open September 3 using the safety protocols presented to the Session.
  • The revised budgeting process for 2021 was presented which included target goals for each Ministry Team. Feedback from each team will be accepted at the Session meeting in September.
  • Because of the extended length of the meeting, the contingency and long-term Personnel budgeting items on the agenda will be decided at a called Session meeting on August 24th.
 

Prayer for Today

O Lord, we give thanks for those called to serve your church by leading. Give them the wisdom to know what to do and the strength to do it. We pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Posted by: AT 12:26 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, August 21 2020

"Jesus calls us; o'er the tumult of our life's wild, restless sea,

Day by day his voice is sounding, saying 'Christian, follow me.'"

- Cecil Frances Alexander (and the text to a familiar hymn)

 

I always thought the first bit was, "Jesus calls us over the tumult...", but if you look at the punctuation, it's actually just, "Jesus calls us." Then it goes on to say his voice is calling our every day, amidst our crazy lives, asking us to follow him.

 

Jesus calls us. It's a pretty simple statement, but really quite deep when you think about it. I've been reading a couple of books about the Apostles' Creed that Gray lent me, and one of them talks about how, when we say, "he descended into hell," we are talking about the fact that Jesus died and was without even the presence of God. The author then talks about how he himself also has felt the absence of God at times in his life. Have you ever felt a time in your life where despite praying and coming to church, you still felt like God was somehow absent? Have you tried to "self-medicate" by reading your Bible more or signing up for as many small groups and mission projects as you can?

 

I don't know about you but my life is littered with these periods of "absence". It's not that God gave up on me, or that I turned away from God. They are just periods of time where I felt disconnected from God in one way or another. I suspect many of us have been through this. Even in this apparent absence or silence from God, the words to this familiar hymn are loud and resounding: "Jesus calls us." Even when we feel disconnected, even when we feel that maybe we aren't doing enough and so that's why we feel the absence of God, Jesus is still calling us. And I like to think it's not a generic, form letter-like call. Rather, I think Jesus calls each one of us, individually, by name, and in a tone that we responded to well. How is Jesus calling you? How will you respond?

 

Prayer for Today

God amidst the tumult, thank you for calling me, across time and space, to follow you. Open my ears to your voice every day, and give me the wisdom to love you more than I love my own life and luxuries. Enlighten me to the path of service you have set before me and give me the courage to take the next step. Amen.

Posted by: AT 12:24 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, August 20 2020

We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. 

-Romans 12:6-8 

 

Presbyterians have jokingly been called God's Frozen Chosen for years. We sort of laugh, sort of shrug, and sort of take pride in it. We aren't rowdy or rambunctious. We love everything to be "decent and in order." We are more afraid to dance and clap than most Baptists even. I still remember my pastor from my home church growing up delivering a sermon entitled, "enthusiastically Presbyterian." And he grew up Baptist, here in Georgia. But we can and should be just that! If you've ever heard me lead the Call to Worship and there's an exclamation point, you've heard me call for your enthusiasm.

 

This week, I was truly inspired. Our Christian Educator, Allison, charged our teachers and educators and administrators for the year and prayed for them. When she left the pulpit at the raised platform, we heard loudly from her car, "YAY, MOM!" Her 7 year old son was shouting his unbridled support. He was exhorting. When we read that list of the gifts of the Spirit, we Presbyterians sometimes celebrate teaching and preaching while glossing over the less decent and orderly ones like speaking in tongues, prophesying, and exhorting. But without them, we don't have a Dr King or a sister Mother Theresa or Dr. Billy Graham preaching justice or encouraging the people. And we don't have, "Yay, Mom!" shouted from Subarus.

 

When we celebrate God's gifts of teachers each year, we do well to celebrate the exhorters and prophets. They're changing our world too. And we cannot forget that marchers and munchkins, protesters and peanut galleries have a place in God's Kingdom and receive that same gifting of the Spirit. We are called to give thanks for them and to join them. And as we enthusiastically disciple as Presbyterians, we should exhort and prophesy as the Spirit calls and gifts us to do so. And, "Yay, moms!" too.

 

Prayer for Today

Yay, God! Yay, Spirit! Thank you for the many gifts. Amen

Posted by: AT 12:19 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, August 19 2020

How good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity!  -Psalm 133:1, NIV

 

How wonderful, how beautiful, when brothers and sisters get along! 

- Psalm 133:1, The Message

 

As I've shared in recent sermons, I am rereading Eugene Peterson's classic book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. In yesterday's devotional reading, Peterson focused on Psalm 133, which contains the words above. Using the same poignant language, he employed in writing The Message translation of the Bible, he wrote these insights about being a part of a community of faith:

 

  • No Christian is an only child.
  • The question is not "Am I going to be a part of a community of faith?" but "How am I going to live in this community of faith?"
  • Community is essential. Scripture knows nothing of the solitary Christian.
  • As we come to declare our love for God, we must face the unlovely and lovely fellow sinners whom God loves and commands us to love.
  • Living together in a way that evokes the glad song of Psalm 133 is one of the greatest and arduous tasks before Christ's people. Nothing requires more attention and energy. It is easier to do almost anything else.
  • Somewhere between there is community -- a place where each person is taken seriously, learns to trust others, depend on others, be compassionate with others, rejoice with others.
  • Our community with one another consist solely in what Christ has done to both of us. (quoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Monday night I witnessed this pleasant beauty of sisters and brothers "getting along" when our Session met. It seems like every meeting we have now requires us to deal with the very complex issues of how to faithfully be the church in this time of pandemic. I believe our Session got along, not because we always agree on everything, (we don't) -- but because of our connection in Christ and our desire to be the community and body of Christ in this place. It was wonderful to behold!

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, you have called us together to be your community of faith. Help us this day to love each other as sisters and brothers in Christ - even when that is hard. We pray this in the strong name of Christ. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:18 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, August 18 2020

The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.

-Psalm 138:8

 

Have you ever considered that God only made you once? Most of you are familiar with artists and when they create something the first one is original, then when they see that their work is meaningful or connects with people, they are often asked to recreate it. You were created by God as an original with a purpose.

 

"Holy" is a word we may hear a lot in church, but what does it mean?

 

One simple definition is "set apart." This doesn't necessarily mean being physically separate. It can mean to be different in your deepest self, in your way of being. To be holy is to be designated for a sacred purpose, set apart to live a life that does not look like others.

 

Perhaps it means that we are to live lives that look different, that are set apart from what is ordinary or standard, to serve a sacred purpose.

 

What might it look like for you to live as a reflection of a holy God today?

 

We are living in a challenging time. The messages around us go against everything we know to be true and how we are called to fulfill our purpose in this world as God's creation and followers of Christ. At different seasons in my life, I have wrestled with my calling and purpose in this world. Situations that I encountered along the way have caused me to question and discern where I am needed to fulfill God's purpose for me. Once I became a parent, it was no longer just what is God's purpose and calling for me, but how do I fulfill that and take my responsibility to raise my son in this world seriously.

 

Finding the courage to do that can be difficult. What brave thing is God calling you to do today? As a unique creation of God, how can you fulfill your purpose in this world one step at a time, one choice at a time?

 

Prayer for Today

Creator God, Thank you for the gift of life and all the uniqueness it includes. Help us to find our purpose in this day and the courage to act in the way you have called us to live. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:17 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, August 17 2020

Twenty-four-karat gold is nearly 100 percent gold with few impurities. But that percentage is difficult to achieve. Refiners most commonly use one of two methods for the purification process. The Miller process is the quickest and least expensive, but the resulting gold is only about 99.95 percent pure. The Wohlwill process takes a little more time and costs more, but the gold produced is 99.99 percent pure.

In Bible times, refiners used fire as a gold purifier. Fire caused impurities to rise to the surface for easier removal. In his first letter to believers in Jesus throughout Asia Minor (northern Turkey), the apostle Peter used the gold-refining process as a metaphor for the way trials work in the life of a believer. At that time, many believers were being persecuted by the Romans for their faith in Christ. Peter knew what that was like firsthand. But persecution, Peter explained, brings out the "genuineness of [our] faith" (1 Peter 1:7).

Perhaps you feel like you're in a refiner's fire-feeling the heat of setbacks, illness, or other challenges. But hardship is often the process by which God purifies the gold of our faith. In our pain we might beg God to quickly end the process, but He knows what's best for us, even when life hurts. Keep connected to the Savior, seeking His comfort and peace.

 

Prayer for Today

Father God, help me see how the trials of my life bring out the gold in me. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:15 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, August 14 2020

Kyrie eleison. Lord, have mercy.

Christe eleison. Christ, have mercy.

Kyrie eleison. Lord, have mercy.


These Greek words from this Sunday's anthem (and their English translation) may be familiar to you. Perhaps you recognize them from sung or spoken liturgy in worship, or maybe you have sung choral works including masses and requiems that contain these words. Or maybe I just sent you in a time warp back to 1986, where that song by Mister Mister topped the charts for two weeks. Any way you have heard them, they are ancient words, appearing in the bible many times, especially in the psalms, and also in this week's text about the Canaanite woman.

Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly." Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." The woman came and knelt before him. "Lord, help me!" she said. He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to the dogs." "Yes it is, Lord," she said. "Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table." Then Jesus said to her, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted." And her daughter was healed at that moment. (Matthew 15:21-28 NIV)

Wait a minute!! Look at that again. What did Jesus say? First, nothing. Then he was sent only to Israel, implying that he wasn't sent there for her people. Then something about dogs?? What??? This is out of character for Jesus!! Or is it??

We overlook the seemingly odd things that Jesus says in the Matthew passage because we already know the rest of the story... "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted." But before she heard his final words to her, she wrestled with his silence, and his statements, but he granted her an audience, and then finally her request to heal her daughter.

Do you always get straight answers from God? I don't. I think if we did, we'd never learn anything. Just as Jacob wrestled with God in the Old Testament scripture, we wrestle with God's answers, or silence, when we approach him with our requests and questions. Through this wrestling, sometimes we even come to a different understanding of what God wants for us and from us, maybe a clearer meaning or a clearer mission.

God is good, all the time. We can always approach the throne of heaven, keeping this in mind.

 

Prayer for Today

Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:14 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, August 13 2020

But as you excel in everything-in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you-see that you excel in this act of grace also.
-II Corinthians 8:7

Seminary, the churchy word for grad school, was every bit as grueling and competitive as you'd expect any other grad school might be. Some of my classmates had been lawyers and doctors and it was ever encouraging and discouraging to know they found our three to four years of divinity school training just as difficult. While many of the students and professors I encountered were compassionate and encouraging folks, colleagues and mentors to this day, a great many more helped make it the theological boot camp it was. Therefore, the times I experienced grace were all the more poignant.

My first summer before seminary, I took an intensive summer Hebrew class. We attended class for three hours a day, five days a week, and studied for another 6-8 hours each afternoon and evening, covering a year's worth of ancient Hebrew in 6 weeks. So then I took Old Testament, then Greek, followed by New Testament. I'll be honest. While I found Hebrew beautiful and life-giving, Old Testament was a bear. Think of the she-bears from the book of II Kings that came out of the woods and devoured the children. Greek was daunting as well, and so by my third year, I was braced for New Testament and the gauntlet it would be. We were assigned our first paper and I worked arduously to complete it and slide it through the mailbox slot on the professor's door at the appointed hour. That's when I began chatting with classmates and realized I'd done this 15-page paper on the wrong scripture. I'd misread the the syllabus!

I raced to the professor's office, ready to throw myself on her mercy. She was well-within her rights to give me a failing grade for the paper, and with it, the semester. She could show me some mercy and let me re-write it that day, which I begged to have the chance to do. And yet, she heard my story and apology and plea and smiled softly and said, "I always liked that scripture. I'll put your paper in the middle of the stack and it'll be a nice break to read as I grade them." That undeserved gift was the greatest grace I received in my three years of grad school. It was totally unexpected, as grace always is. This week, our scripture and Pastor Gray's message are about the unexpected nature of grace. I invite you to think about when you've experienced it and how you can offer it now to others.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, help me be unexpected in the grace I offer others. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:14 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, August 12 2020

Your word is a lamp unto my feet, a light to my path.

- Psalm 119:105, NIV

 

"Lectionary" is a word we may have heard before. I would call it a "church word." It comes from two Latin words for "a reading" and "a collection." So, a lectionary is a collection of readings. In the Christian church, we have what is called a "common lectionary." These are suggested readings from the Bible, not only for every Sunday, but for every day of the week. There are four suggested readings for each day: one from the Old Testament, a Psalm, one from the gospels, and one from the New Testament letters and epistles. These suggested readings repeat every three years. They follow the liturgical or church year, beginning with Advent.

 

In worship, churches may read anywhere from one to all four of the suggested readings each Sunday. One of the reasons we have lectionary is to encourage not only the reading of scripture but reading from a wide range of passages -- so that we will hear the word of God from different Biblical perspectives. It also keeps us from only focusing on our favorite passages, challenging us to hear God's word from books we might not normally choose.

 

We have just finished up our-eight-week sermon series called Living Through the Storm. Over those eight weeks we actually covered a pretty wide range of passages from the Bible, beginning with Genesis and ending with Revelation. This Sunday, I'm not starting a new sermon series. (Surprise!) Instead, I decided to focus on a lectionary reading from the gospels to speak to us each week. Over the years, I've been surprised at how timely the words of scripture from the weekly lectionary reading speak God's word of grace and hope we need to hear. So, join us this Sunday for Drive-In or On-Line worship for our message, "When God Does the Unexpected" from Matthew 15:21-28.

 

Prayer for Today

Loving God, may your word be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path as we walk our journey of faith this day. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ, who is the Word made flesh. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:12 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, August 11 2020

As we begin a new school year, these days are often filled with making new commitments and promises. How many commitments do you think you make in the course of one day? How many people have you promised your time, effort, gifts or service?

 

The scriptural meaning of covenant is to make a lasting agreement with God. Covenants are always centered in God. Covenants are never broken by God. Covenants are always permanent. They cannot be adjusted or amended, only broken.

 

Throughout scripture we see the story of God's faithfulness in covenanting with us. God remained faithful to the covenants made with Noah (Genesis 9:1-17), Abraham (Genesis 12:1-9) and Moses (Deuteronomy 5:1-21). Even when God's people were disobedient, God offered a lasting and saving covenant through Jesus Christ.

 

What does it mean to you that God loves you so much that God would make a covenant with you to provide both salvation from sin and peace in life?

 

One way that we continue to grow into our covenant with God is through our study of God's Word. Each year we take time to share about the many opportunities where you can connect and grow in this relationship at JCPC.


This month we will be highlighting our groups and classes through a virtual open house. You'll see pictures and videos highlighting our offerings this month on our church website and through social media. This is a time of year when we make commitments to grow in our faith through the Education ministry at JCPC. At 9:30 a.m. drive in worship, we will commission all of those who have made the commitment to teach and lead this year in many of these Education ministry groups and classes.

 

Take some time to not only to make new commitments and promises, but to renew our covenant with God.

 

Prayer for Today

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew my spirit. Guide me into your presence and lead me each day to remain true to our covenant. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

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

he earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.

- Psalm 24:1, NIV

 

To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it.

- Deuteronomy 10:14, NIV

 

"Stewardship" often hear. Gray periodically mentions that our time, treasures, and talents are ways that we are giving back to our community. That is good stewardship. Stewardship is also a theological belief that as humans, we are responsible for our world and we should take care of it. A Biblical view of stewardship can be defined as "utilizing and managing all resources God provides for the glory of God and the betterment of His creation."   There is a strong link between Christian stewardship and caring for the environment. What does it mean for humans to take care of the world? Environmental stewardship is often described as reducing human impact on the natural world.

 

Here at JCPC, we have been working hard at being good stewards in many ways. Over the past several months, there has been a lot of work happening on our campus thanks to the generosity of members of our church. If you have been on campus, you may have noticed we now have solar panels on the south roof of the Education Building and Great Hall. While it is a little too soon to have statistical data on exact savings, we do have estimates.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord God, we thank you for your many blessings that you have bestowed upon our church. Please continue to guide us, so that we will continue to be good stewards of all your resources and of our time, our talents, and our treasures. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:10 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Saturday, August 08 2020

Praise the Lord upon the earth, ye dragons and all deeps,

fire and hail, snow and vapors, wind and storm fulfilling his word!

Mountains and all hills, fruitful trees and all cedars!

Beasts and all cattle, worms and feathered fowls!
Psalm 148: 7-10

 

This is such a great part of Psalm 148. There are dragons, vapors, worms, and even feathered fowls! This is just one translation, of course, and other translations are somewhat less fantastical, but I love this one. Heidi and I will be singing this translation of the psalm during the extended prelude for this week's Drive-in Service.

 

This particular psalm is all about the extent to which God should be praised. For most of its 14 verses, the psalmist is talking about praising God, taking a few brief moments to state why, and then concluding with a final, "Praise the Lord!". Today, we read the psalms as poetry, but they were probably used as a kind of hymn book for service music sung during temple worship in ancient times. It's anyone's guess as to how this was sung when it was originally composed, but I sure hope the original Hebrew brought to mind such things as "worms" and "dragons".

 

I think there is something profound in this psalm. We often think of "praising the Lord" to be something that only humans can do, but this psalm is very clearly calling all of creation, even parts that aren't alive, to praise God. I mean, how can snow and vapor praise the Lord? I get the feeling that there is more to creation than we realize. When told by some pharisees to rebuke the crowd for praising him as he entered into Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus himself said, "I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out." (see Luke 19: 36-40)

 

If the author of this ancient psalm called on all creation to praise God, and Jesus said that the stones on the ground would cry out in praise if the people were silent, then I think it's safe to say that praising God is not just something that we human should do, but something that we should feel compelled to do. Especially now, it is very easy to feel helpless and feel like we aren't doing enough, but making a point to worship and praise God is meaningful and right. God can handle what we cannot. Give in to God, and He will show us the way forward (even for the worms).

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, make me a dreamer. Awaken the artist in me and open me to new ways of being led in worship by those you gift with artistic gifts. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:07 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, August 05 2020

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

 

"Each one should carry his own load." - Galatians 6:5

 

Today I want to pass along to you what someone shared with me because it was so good. In these verses above, Paul may seem to be saying almost contradictory things. However, in the first verse, the Greek word for "burden" refers to something so heavy that it might sink a ship - like a boulder. However, in the second verse, the Greek word for "load" describes something smaller like a backpack. Glenn McDonald says this:

 

What Paul appears to be saying is that every one of us has to carry his fair share. If we're on a hike together, you need to carry your own bottle of water and your own extra pair of socks. Life is not a series of entitlements. Each of us needs to work. Each of us needs to serve. Each of us needs to take responsibility for solving problems, facing challenges, and deciding to grow up. But every now and then, each of us may feel crushed by a burden so heavy we cannot possibly lift it by ourselves. It's not a backpack. It's a boulder. You may feel flattened by grief - by a loss that came so suddenly and so dramatically that you can hardly breathe, let alone think about tomorrow. You may feel crushed by disappointment. Or trapped by the dead weight of shame. Or pinned down by a rage you cannot control. Or immobilized by a sense of failure so great that you've wondered if you can ever go on. Those are the moments, says Paul, that we desperately need each other. Even a ship-sinking burden is no match for a few people who are fueled by compassion. In doing this, we "fulfill the law of Christ" - which is really a way of saying that every time we help each other carry what one person could never carry alone, we become the strong hands and shoulders of Jesus. So put on your backpack. Another day's hike lies before us. But also ask God for one other thing: the grace to become a boulder-lifter along the way.

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, give us the strength to face the challenges of today and the grace to become a boulder-lifter along the way. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:06 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, August 04 2020

Remember that the Sabbath Day belongs to me. You have six days you can do your work, but the seventh day of each week belongs to me, your God. No one is to work on that day... Exodus 20:8

 

We live in a place where everyone wants you to work hard. Teachers, parents, bosses, coaches, and children all have expectations for what we should do with our time each day. This commandment is very familiar, but often challenging to follow through with in our day to day pace of life. Often, we think about Sabbath as rest and worship. What else do you do with your Sabbath? How do you find time to connect with God in a deeper way?

 

Finding time for rest and worship can be challenging during those first days and weeks of a new school year.

 

As we prepare to begin a new school year, I am realizing my need to be more aware of God at work in my life and the ways that I can slow down and appreciate the blessings of each day. I know that this passage and message may be challenging at this time of year. When we experience drastic life transitions like this, I find it renewing to be able to just start fresh and build in some new practices.

 

I would like to invite you to take one or two minutes this week to think about how you will find time to uphold this fourth commandment as we begin a new school year.

 

This Sunday we will take some time as a congregation in drive in and online worship services to pray a blessing over all of those in our church family that are starting a new school year. I would invite all of our students (preschool through graduate school), teachers, administrators, and school staff to join us for drive in worship with your backpacks, briefcases, tote bags or devices. During the service, you will be invited to stand next to your car wearing your mask and participate in a blessing.

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, Thank you for the blessings we experience when things change. Open our minds and hearts to the ways that we can experience rest and worship as begin a new school year. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:05 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, August 03 2020

We were . . . buried with him. Romans 6:4

 

For twenty-nine years after World War II ended, Hiroo Onoda hid in the jungle, refusing to believe his country had surrendered. Japanese military leaders had dispatched Onoda to a remote island in the Philippines (Lubang) with orders to spy on the Allied forces. Long after a peace treaty had been signed and hostilities ceased, Onoda remained in the wilderness. In 1974, Onoda's commanding officer traveled to the island to find him and convince him the war was over.

For three decades, Onoda lived a meager, isolated existence, because he refused to surrender-refused to believe the conflict was done. We can make a similar mistake. Paul proclaims the stunning truth that "all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death" (Romans 6:3). On the cross, in a powerful, mysterious way, Jesus put to death Satan's lies, death's terror, and sin's tenacious grip. Though we're "dead to sin" and "alive to God" (v. 11), we often live as though evil still holds the power. We yield to temptation, succumbing to sin's seduction. We listen to lies, failing to trust Jesus. But we don't have to yield. We don't have to live in a false narrative. By God's grace we can embrace the true story of Christ's victory.

While we'll still wrestle with sin, liberation comes as we recognize that Jesus has already won the battle. May we live out that truth in His power.

 

Prayer for Today

Jesus, I know You've won the battle over evil and darkness. Would You help me to live this out? Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:04 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
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