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.
So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias.Then they prayed, "Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which of these two you have chosento take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs." Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.
In one of the most intriguing passages in the Bible, we see how the original disciples chose someone to fill the vacancy left by Judas' departure. It says in Acts, "Then they cast lots . . ." After having two nominations, Joseph and Matthias, they pray for guidance and then they roll the dice! That is not exactly how we do it in the Presbyterian Church when it comes to choosing elders. We are guided by our Presbyterian
Book of Order and the bylaws of Johns Creek Presbyterian Church. It is a process that reflects the Presbyterian adage to do things "decently and in order."
This Sunday at noon, we are holding a Congregational Meeting using the zoom platform. This is our first time to try this. I hope you received an email reminder last week with the link for you to register for this meeting. Another will go out this week. We do need you to register beforehand. When you do that, you will then receive an invitation to the meeting itself. You need to the do this prior to the meeting this Sunday. Also, we need a quorum of 10% of our active membership or at least 67 members to attend in order to do what we need to do. There is a link below that you can click to sign up.
In keeping with the Book of Order and our bylaws, we will be electing the Elder Nominating Committee which consists of representatives from each of our Ministry Teams, two elders from our Session, and a youth. As clerk of session, Pat Pearson is designated the chair of the committee, and I am an ex-officio member. The names of those who will be voted on are listed below. The other business we will vote on is a recommendation to change our bylaws to allow a congregational meeting using video conferencing in unusual circumstances, such as this pandemic.
Voting will take place electronically and will appear on the screen for you to vote. In order to vote electronically, each church member will need to register and vote individually and have access to a screen. However, we will have a way to count the votes of others who may also be watching the screen, should that be needed. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Pat Pearson (email@example.com). See you Sunday!
Caring: David Lee
Connecting: Johnny Melin
Education: Lisa Elliott
Youth: Elena Araoz
Mission: Honey Cunningham
Stewardship: Mac Jordan
Worship: Sharon Shuler
Session: Rick Zahnow
Clerk of Session and Committee Chair: Pat Pearson
Ex-officio: Gray Norsworthy
Prayer for Today
"Lord, you know everyone's heart." Show our Elder Nominating Committee which individuals you have chosen to serve as elders in the coming years. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
As we move into October this week, I am transitioning to consider another spiritual practice, gratitude. This quote from author and educator, Diana Butler Bass, was a good reminder to me. "We know that gratitude is good and we want to be grateful, or feel gratitude, or be seen as thankful people. We might experience gratitude in a given moment. But inwardly, we know how difficult it is to practice and sustain thanksgiving-to live a truly grateful life."
Do you relate to this struggle? Or does gratitude come easily to you? I would invite you to notice two things today. What made you feel grateful? Did you say "thank-you" to someone?
Read these words from familiar Psalm 100, A psalm of thanksgiving.
Shout triumphantly to the Lord, all the earth.
Serve the Lord with gladness;
come before Him with joyful songs.
Acknowledge that Yahweh is God.
He made us, and we are His -
His people, the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving
and His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him and praise His name.
For Yahweh is good, and His love is eternal;
His faithfulness endures through all generations.
Our God is good and His love is eternal. Let's follow David's lead in Psalm 100 by humbling ourselves in gratitude before the Lord. Complete the song of praise below with your own words of thanks.
Shout triumphantly to the Lord, all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs.
_______________________________________ (Go ahead!)
Shout out or write down a triumphant praise!)
Acknowledge that Yahweh is God. He made us, and we are His - His people, the sheep of His pasture.
_______________________________________ (Celebrate who God is and who we are to Him.)
Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him and praise His name.
_______________________________________ (Give thanks to God and praise His name.)
For Yahweh is good, and His love is eternal; His faithfulness endures through all generations.
Prayer for Today
(Prayer prompt from She Reads Truth resource)
Open my eyes, God, that I may become alert to gratitude throughout the day. Help me bridge the gap between knowing about gratitude and living in thankfulness. Free me from guilt about the gap, replacing it with the joy of discovery and an eagerness for change. Amen.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have any questions.
-Victoria Melin Robinson presented herself to the Session to request that she be approved to enroll as an "Inquirer." The Inquirer process supports and guides individuals who feel a call to the ordained ministry in the Presbyterian Church (USA) through a time of vocational and spiritual discernment. Victoria shared her "Faith Journey" and her sense of being called to the ministry. A motion was passed that Victoria be endorsed to become an "Inquirer" with the overwhelming support of the Session.
-Session chose elder representatives to the Elder Nominating Committee.
-A Called Congregational Meeting will be held Sunday, October 4,2020, at 12 Noon by Zoom video conferencing. The purposes of the meeting will be to elect the Elder Nominating Committee and to vote on a recommended change to the JCPC By-laws permitting Congregational Meetings via video conferencing in unusual circumstances.
-The Session approved funding of $5,500 for the Missions Ministry Team to distribute at their discretion in JCPC's support of 2020 budgeted charitable ministries and mission partners.
-The Session adopted $956,144 as the amount of the "Proposed Operating Budget" for the upcoming Stewardship Campaign goal for 2021.
-The Worship Ministry Team informed the Session of their difficult decision to postpone until next year the "Pumpkin Patch" because of safety concerns related to the COVID 19 pandemic.
At its conclusion, the meeting was adjourned with prayer by Rev. Dr. Gray Norsworthy.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.
- Matthew 23:23
The verse above comes after the Parable of the Two Sons (the scripture for this Sunday), where a father asks his two sons to work in his vineyard. You'll hear it Sunday, but in Matthew 23, Jesus really lays in to the Pharisees and scribes, and I encourage you to read the whole chapter if you get a chance. He gives example after example of how the Pharisees and scribes are failing. But isn't the choice of words in verse 23 here interesting?
Mint, dill, and cumin? Sounds like a meal of mint juleps, dill pickles, and tacos to me! It seems that different translations use different spices, but the idea is that, according to Rabbinic laws, herbs such as mint and cumin had to be tithed, whereas dill did not. So this symbolizes two things: first, that the religious leaders in Jesus' time made a great show of giving what was required of them (mint and cumin) as well as that which was not required of them (dill), and second, that "what was required of them" was something that they themselves had determined! So they made up rules, followed them, and used that to appear "holy" and "righteous" be the people, yet Jesus shuts them down with example after example in this chapter.
I think we all do this in one way or another. We come up with little rules and laws for ourselves (and perhaps our family and friends) that we attribute to being holy and good, but sometimes they can be quite the opposite! I think this is more prevalent than we might realize. "We can't have guitars and drums in a worship service," or how about, "No true Christian could vote for a Democrat/Republican!" These kinds of rules we make and follow make us look and feel like good people, but they do not address justice, mercy, or faithfulness, and they are not based on God, but rather on our own opinions. What things do you do in your life to make yourself feel good and "holy" but that may actually be unjust, merciless, and faithless?
Prayer for Today
God of forgiveness, we are consumed with appearing holy, yet we lack what truly matters inside. Help us to look introspectively at our failings and seek your way. Be our gentle shepherd, and guide us so that we may seek true justice, mercy, and faithfulness. Amen.
If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Last year, I was able to represent JCPC as a neighbor and attend the Rosh Hashanah Friday evening service at Congregation Dor Tamid. They recognized and welcomed me, the firefighters, and police officers, and the Holocaust survivor in attendance. For many in attendance, they had been at a Rosh Hashanah service every single year of their life. It was my first. I felt compelled to go. I was newly a member of our fledgling Interfaith Clergy group that we formed after the synagogue shooting in Mr. Roger's neighborhood in Pennsylvania. My Lord and Savior was Jewish. I'd grown up curious about and connected to that tradition. But in the days following the shooting, it felt like there was an obvious kinship between us.
This year, because of our group and the friendships formed, the Rabbi, our friend Jordan, reached out to us about borrowing our sound equipment for their annual high holy day. Then it occurred to us that they could just come and use it and our space here at JCPC. What an honor to host them in return. During the service, I listened to familiar words and prayers, danced to the songs and music, and took pictures for them. In one moment, a cool breeze was blowing and I snapped a picture of our flag. It occurred to me in seeing the photo later that I was able to take that picture at our Presbyterian Church, during a Jewish service, and that the cross of the steeple from our friends at the Methodist church was visible too. That flag, for me, in that moment represented a real hope and my own gratitude that our two faiths and many denominations can worship near one another and not just not fight, but belong to the same groups of friendship and peace that made that service possible. I was exhilarated and deeply thankful.
I know and believe our country has a long way to go in working toward peace, love, and reconciliation, a departure from violence as polarization. But standing there in that moment, I felt that if our group of clergy can make that moment possible for our people through our friendships, then one day, our intentionality, our hard work, and God's Spirit among us can build even great bridges and we can have more moments of kinship, compassion, and love. I hope you are inspired too. And I pray you'll join us in building those relationships, setting aside differences, finding common ground, and refusing to quickly react or attack people we are called to love and live with peaceably.
Prayer for Today
Lord, make me a vessel of your peace. Slow down my actions and reactions to rhetoric, news, articles, posts, and memes. Make me a peacemaker and disciple known by your love. Amen.
As you may have heard, we hosted Congregation Dor Tamid, the synagogue here in Johns Creek, this past Sunday for a Drive-In Rosh Hashanah service. Jordan, their Rabbi, is a part of our interfaith clergy group. He reached out to us, inquiring how we did our Drive-In service. So, we invited them to use our equipment and campus for their service. Following our 9:30 a.m. service this past Sunday, they arrived a little before 11:00 a.m. to begin their service.
Our team of parking lot ushers stayed around to help our guests find their way in. I am grateful to Rob Lawrence and his crew for doing that. A few of us stayed around to attend the Rosh Hashanah service. I had never been to one before and was not sure exactly what to expect, but it was a wonderful worship service.
Many of the readings from the Hebrew Bible, what we often refer to as the Old Testament, were familiar passages from the Psalms. My ears perked up particularly when I heard Psalm 121, one of my favorites that begins, "I lift my eyes to the mountains - where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth." (NIV)
Two things made the greatest impression on me that day. The first was how deeply rooted our Christian faith is in the Jewish faith and the Old Testament. I felt like I was hearing from the foundational words of our faith. The second was how much I enjoyed sitting in a chair in the parking lot, enjoying a worship service from a different vantage point. It was a beautiful fall day with blue skies and the wind blowing the green leaves of the trees. What a way to worship God!
The culmination and high point of the service for me was when Jordan blew the shofar at the end of the service a number of times. Each time it was blown, it signified something very important. I was also aware that our neighbors probably wondered what that sound was. So, for those of you who were not able to be there, I wanted to share one picture. I am grateful for the worship of God that takes place on our campus in its many forms!
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, to whom we lift our eyes and from whom our help comes -- we thank you for making heaven and earth. We thank you for watching over us day and night, and for watching over our coming and going now and forevermore. Amen.
This weekend, I enjoyed a walk at the park with Chap, Will and our dog, Belle. I breathed in the fall air and started to notice early signs of the leaves changing. It seems like all of the sudden, the seasons have changed. This year I have been more intentional about sabbath and outdoor time, but still fall weather snuck up on me.
I was reminded this morning that God is working, even when I'm not paying attention. Fall is a season filled with changes. In some homes your first child starts school, in others someone starts college, while still others of you face an empty nest. The fall seems to bring more changes than any other season. Fall also begins the season of dormancy and hibernation in nature, I think we too welcome it as it brings us relief from the pace of summer.
Life often seems to move so quickly and many times we are the ones that can be rushing it along. I would invite you to take a few moments today to consider this scripture:
After looking at the way things are on this earth, here's what I've decided is the best way to live: Take care of yourself, have a good time, and make the most of whatever job you have for as long as God gives you life. And that's about it. That's the human lot. Yes, we should make the most of what God gives, both the bounty and the capacity to enjoy it, accepting what's given and delighting in the work. It's God's gift! God deals out joy in the present, the now. It's useless to brood over how long we might live.
-Ecclesiastes 5:18-20, from the Message
We can embrace change not because we know what is coming, but because we know that we can trust our future to God. Just as we look forward from one season to the next, anticipating and longing for change, we can also embrace the changes we face anticipating God to work. We can place our hope in God.
Take a moment to stop and look around you. What are some ways that God has been working in your life recently, while you have been focused in a different direction? As we enter this season filled with changes, consider this scripture and then an image that connects with you. Take a picture and save as a reminder of this message.
Prayer for Today
Creator God, Just when we settle into a pattern, things change far too quickly. One door opens; another closes. We rise, we eat, we sleep. We smile, we laugh, we cry. Change itself is ever changing. Guide us through this season and may we be open to the ways you bring blessings and challenges through changes in our lives. In Christ's Name, Amen.
We were almost home when I noticed it: the needle of our car's temperature gauge was rocketing up. As we pulled in, I killed the engine and hopped out. Smoke wafted from the hood. The engine sizzled like bacon. I backed the car up a few feet and found a puddle beneath: oil. Instantly, I knew what had happened: The head gasket had blown.
I groaned. We'd just sunk money into other expensive repairs. Why can't things just work? I grumbled bitterly. Why can't things just stop breaking?
Can you relate? Sometimes we avert one crisis, solve one problem, pay off one big bill, only to face another. Sometimes those troubles are much bigger than an engine self-destructing: an unexpected diagnosis, an untimely death, a terrible loss.
In those moments, we yearn for a world less broken, less full of trouble. That world, Jesus promised, is coming. But not yet: "In this world you will have trouble," He reminded His disciples in John 16. "But take heart! I have overcome the world" (v. 33). Jesus spoke in that chapter about grave troubles, such as persecution for your faith. But such trouble, He taught, would never have the last word for those who hope in Him.
Troubles small and large may dog our days. But Jesus' promise of a better tomorrow with Him encourages us not to let our troubles define our lives today.
Prayer for Today
Father, troubles never seem far away. But when they're close, You're even closer. Please help me to cling to You in trust today. Amen.
Sarah has a rare condition that causes her joints to dislocate, making her reliant on an electric wheelchair to get around. On her way to a meeting recently, Sarah rode her wheelchair to the train station but found the elevator broken. Again. With no way of getting to the platform, she was told to take a taxi to another station forty minutes away. The taxi was called but never arrived. Sarah gave up and went home.
Unfortunately, this is a regular occurrence for Sarah. Broken elevators stop her from boarding trains, forgotten ramps leave her unable to get off them. Sometimes Sarah is treated as a nuisance by railway staff for needing assistance. She's often close to tears.
Out of the many biblical laws governing human relationships, "love your neighbor as yourself" is key (Leviticus 19:18; Romans 13:8-10). And while this love stops us from lying, stealing, and abusing others (Leviticus 19:11, 14), it also changes how we work. Employees must be treated fairly (v. 13), and we should all be generous to the poor (vv. 9-10). In Sarah's case, those who fix elevators and drag out ramps aren't doing inconsequential tasks but offering important service to others.
If we treat work as just a means to a wage or other personal benefit, we will soon treat others as annoyances. But if we treat our jobs as opportunities to love, then the most everyday task becomes a holy enterprise.
Prayer for Today
Father, a job is never just a job to You but an opportunity to love You and serve others. Help me to see my work as an opportunity to benefit others today. Amen.
Speak to the people of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of complete rest, a holy convocation commemorated with trumpet blasts.
You shall not work at your occupations; and you shall present the Lord's offering by fire.
If you still own a paper calendar, it probably has tomorrow marked as Rosh Hashanah. It may even indicate, as mine does, that it begins at sundown. Jewish holidays begin at sundown and end at sundown the next day. Rosh Hashanah, our youth learned in Bible study this week, means "Head of the Year," the Jewish new year. The next ten days are a celebration of this, ending in Yom Kippur, which is the "day of atonement," which begins on Sunday at sundown and ends on Monday at sundown. This is a period of reflection and righting wrongs. People often call folks to mend fences and attempt to reconcile. Yom Kippur is also a day to remember those who have passed away that year.
Like Christians with Christmas and Easter, these are high holy days, days that regular attendees are joined by those who come very rarely. It's a huge gathering for worship. Rosh Hashanah begins with a blowing of the rams horn, known as the Shofar. Yom Kippur ends with the same. This is the same instrument that would announce a new month or a call to battle in ancient tradition. So why should we be familiar with these wonderful traditions?
Christianity is not just an offshoot sect of Judaism, but the living faith of our Lord and Savior. His traditions shaped him and his ministry. To study these traditions and know them better is to know our own history better, and our Lord. And understanding the importance of these traditions makes us better followers of the Way as better hosts. This Sunday, we will host our brothers and sisters of Dor Tamid, a local synagogue. After our worship service at 9:30, this Sunday, they will hold a Rosh Hashanah service in the parking lot at 11. Their Rabbi, Jordan Ottenstein, a close friend of myself and Pastor Gray will blow the shofar and gather his people to worship the God we love and serve. We are happy to be their hosts and friends. And if you have Jewish friends and neighbors, be sure to wish them a happy new year, "Shanah Tova!"
Prayer for Today
Lord, make me a good host and a good neighbor to my Jewish brothers and sisters. Help me to bless them and better understand my own history. Amen.
So many of the psalms begin with the words above. Recently, I have shared that I am rereading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's classic Life Together. I am using it as a part of my morning devotions, but this time I am reading it very slowly -- a few pages at a time.
Bonhoeffer encourages us to begin each day praying the psalms, reading the scriptures, and then singing together a hymn of praise and thanksgiving. He envisions us gathering with other Christians or family members to do this. This may prove difficult for many of us -- not only because others may not be up and around that time of day, but singing together a hymn of praise with others may also prove challenging. What do we do if there are no others around with whom to sing? And what if we are not great singers or do not play an instrument?
Monday morning, when I read these words from Bonhoeffer's book about singing, it occurred to me that one of the good things that come out of this pandemic is the wealth of online worship resources that we have created at Johns Creek Presbyterian Church. Heidi and Christian offer us wonderful worship music each week. Many of you have told me how much you appreciate their music as a part of our online worship services. Most of those services are still posted on the Internet. You just have to go to our home page and click "online services" where you will see not only the most recent service, but many others from previous weeks. Early Monday morning, I found myself listening to the beautiful prelude, then singing along the first hymn of praise with Heidi and Christian on my screen porch. It was nice to be singing along led by two professional musicians!
I want to encourage you to use the resources of our worship services posted online to enrich your time of daily devotions. You can do this alone or with others -- fulfilling what the psalm says: "Sing a new song to the Lord!"
Prayer for Today
Thank you, God, for singing your creation into being. Thank you for singing your love into our lives. May we sing of love back to our world today in all that we do. Amen.
As we enter into a new school year, I am journeying through faith practices. Each month I am taking the time to consider one practice and how I can continue to integrate it in my family life. The Christian Reformed Church has partnered with the PCUSA to choose a monthly faith practice for the entire school year. September's practice is Sabbath.
Here are some questions that we can consider together.
What does it mean to me to "keep the sabbath holy"?
How might my sabbath practice help me grow to be more like Jesus?
What might a life-giving sabbath look like for me?
How could my sabbath practices be life-giving for my neighbors also?
What scriptures help you consider the sabbath and how it can be integrated into your daily life? I am taking some time this week to read some of the Psalms and consider rest.
For our family many of our most meaningful sabbath experiences during this pandemic have been found outdoors. We have spent them in our backyard, traveled to nearby nature trails and hiked, touched the water in creeks, swam in pools, oceans or lakes and climbed mountains. Since school has started, we are taking Sabbath Saturday adventures. When we take in our surroundings, I notice a calmness, peace, joy and connection among our family and those we encounter. Last Saturday was spent sliding through water and down rocks at Poole's Mill Park. The previous week we took some Sabbath time on Labor Day to hike to the top of Brasstown Bald.
Where do you go to experience rest and connection with God during your week? We are called to worship on the sabbath and then continue to live that out all week long. How could sabbath practices be integrated into your week between Sunday and Sunday?
Consider these words from Psalm 91:14-16, ""If you'll hold on to me for dear life," says God, "I'll get you out of any trouble. I'll give you the best of care if you'll only get to know and trust me. Call me and I'll answer, be at your side in bad times; I'll rescue you, then throw you a party. I'll give you a long life, give you a long drink of salvation!"
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, you are our way in the wilderness. In our times of testing be our spiritual nourishment. You are the manna, our source of life. Help us to come to you and receive all the good things you offer us, by worshiping and serving you alone; through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
When my brother David suddenly died of cardiac failure, my perspectives on life changed dramatically. Dave was the fourth of seven children, but he was the first of us to pass-and the unexpected nature of that passing gave me much to ponder. It became apparent that as age began to catch up with us, our family's future was going to be marked more by loss than by gain. It was going to be characterized as much by goodbyes as hellos.
None of this was a surprise intellectually-that is just how life works. But this realization was an emotional lightning bolt to the brain. It gave a fresh, new significance to every moment life gives us and every opportunity time allows. And it placed a huge new value on the reality of a future reunion, where no goodbyes will ever be needed.
This ultimate reality is at the heart of what we find in Revelation 21:3-4: "God himself will be with them and be their God. 'He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
Though today we may find ourselves experiencing seasons of long goodbyes, our trust in Christ's death and resurrection promises an eternity of hellos.
Prayer for Today
Father, I thank You that You're the living God who gives everlasting life. I pray that You would use our eternal hope to comfort us in our seasons of loss and grief. Amen.
Peter came to Jesus and asked him if he should forgive his brother or sister up to seven times. Jesus answered,"I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. Then he told a parable describing the kingdom of heaven:
...the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. "At this the servant fell on his knees before him.'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
"But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. "His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.' "But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. "Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart." (Matthew 18:23-35)
Yikes! It looks like we'd better get busy and show mercy to our brothers and sisters or else we're in real trouble!! But I think we need to look a little deeper than that. I know I need to look deeper.
The king in the parable asked the servant, "Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?" Hey, that sounds like the Golden Rule: "Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you." How are we doing with that? Sometimes it's hardest to extend grace to those who are closest to us, even within our own homes, maybe especially if we're confined to our homes during the pandemic (and during an election year). But more than likely, our loved ones are extending grace to us too, even if we're not aware.
This Sunday's anthem is titled "The Wideness of God's Mercy" by Frederick William Faber. Here is the first verse:
There's a wideness in God's mercy like the wideness of the sea;
There's a kindness in His justice, which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner and more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Savior; there is healing in His blood.
If we are aware of how we have sinned against God (deserving his judgment) and the price that God paid to reconcile us with him, we might maybe begin to grasp the unfathomable mercy and love and grace that he extends to us, at every moment. So it stands to reason that we should accept that grace and extend it to our brothers and sisters who have committed far lesser crimes against us.
Prayer for Today
Holy God, thank you for your mercy toward us. Help us to be merciful to all of our neighbors and to treat everyone with kindness. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
The following are insights to ponder from an article by Susan Beaumont that I want to share with you relating to the changing role of the church in light of the pandemic:
During the pandemic, people are finding meaningful new ways to connect with us online in worship, programs, and service. These connections do not look anything like what we previously recognized as engagement. What happens to our newly-formed online communities as we return to our buildings? Five long-standing assumptions about belonging, engagement and membership that are crumbling now:
Geography dictates belonging.
The pandemic has shifted our reality. In the time we have been out of our buildings many of us have discovered new constituent relationships that have nothing to do with geography. Who are we now? What, if anything does membership mean to someone who does not interact in our physical space?
Discipleship begins with membership.
Now the journey often works in reverse. People connect with us in order to serve, and service helps them to belong. People need to feel that they belong before they join. Some people are not interested in membership at all. They may or may not attend worship. What will it mean to belong for those who have no relationship to our physical space or our physical gatherings?
Worship participation is the best indicator of member engagement.
This assumption has not been true for a while . . . Engaged people are worshiping with less frequency and many people who belong to the congregation do not become members. What does authentic engagement look like in a virtual world?
In-person engagement is more authentic than online engagement.
"When will we be able to get back to real worship?" This is a common question posed by those who find sacred space in physical sanctuaries. . . . However, new people finding their way to us online probably do not share this assumption. As we re-enter our buildings, it behooves us to remember that there are people who want to worship, learn, and serve with us, but they are not interested in our buildings.
Belonging requires owning the "whole" church.
Historically, choosing to become a member of a congregation included a commitment to support the full ministry of the congregation. The pandemic is drawing this assumption, also, into question. Many people who have found their way to us through online worship, service projects, or online classes may have little interest in the full ministry of our congregation.
While these ideas are not the final word, I invite all of us to be in prayer so we can discern how to serve faithfully as followers of Christ in our changing world!
Prayer for Today
Loving God, you created the world as well as your church. In these uncertain times, help us to find our certainty in you, so that we might discern and "lean into" the new things you are doing. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
God is good to one and all; everything he does is suffused with grace. Creation and creatures applaud you, God; your holy people bless you. They talk about the glories of your rule, they exclaim over your splendor, Letting the world know of your power for good, the lavish splendor of your kingdom. Your kingdom is a kingdom eternal; you never get voted out of office. God always does what he says, and is gracious in everything he does. God gives a hand to those down on their luck, gives a fresh start to those ready to quit. All eyes are on you, expectant; you give them their meals on time. Generous to a fault, you lavish your favor on all creatures. Everything God does is right-the trademark on all his works is love. (Psalm 145:9-17, The Message)
When I read Psalm 145, many of the words or phrases seem to be familiar to me from other Psalms or prayers. Then I read this passage in the Message version and saw this prayer in a new light. Some of the things that struck me in this reading...
"Everything God does is suffused with grace." Suffused means to gradually spread through. What would it look like for you to experience God's grace as being gradually spread through your life, rather than just at times when we needed it the most in large doses? I had to sit with that thought for a moment. God's grace in our lives is spread throughout each aspect of our being, day by day, moment by moment. What a gift!
"God always does what he says, and is gracious in everything he does." What would it look like for us to live in such a way that we are gracious in everything that we do? What a way to share God's love in the world through our daily choices and actions.
"The trademark on all his works is love." How can we share God with others leaving this trademark of love with them?
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, open our eyes, ears, hearts and minds to experience your grace and love this day. In Christ's Name, Amen.
Draw us in the Spirit's tether, for when humbly in your name
two or three are met together, you are in the midst of them.
- Percy Dearmer (from a communion hymn)
I've always been fascinated with space, but lately, I've been thinking more about it as I've taken evening walks. It is really something to recognize how much the appearance of the Moon changes each night, if you really pay attention. If we were to go up to space right now and go out on a space walk from the International Space Station, we'd be reliant on a "tether" to ensure we didn't accidentally drift off into the void, lost forever.
This text from this hymn (and also the tune for the final piece of the Prelude this week) makes me ponder this imagery. What is the Spirit's tether? I like to think of it as being something that keeps us safe from floating off into the void of darkness that seems to linger all around us. It's something that supports us and is connected to us. It's something that may be hanging loose when we are not in danger of "floating away" but is there to catch us. Something that is sort of a first line of defense against danger.
So what is the Spirit's tether then? To me, it's the church. Not the buildings, not the steeples, and not even the West Parking Lot! No, it's the people! Remember, "I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together"? I think this is that tether that keeps us from drifting away into darkness. The Holy Spirit works through all of us to do many things, and one of those is to reach out and connect with others in fellowship. We as Christians have done that for thousands of years, and we continue to do it, even during this pandemic. There is of course more to the church than just fellowship but I think it really starts with fellowship in worship together. How does it change us to know that we are all "tethered" together, even now? What can we accomplish together?
Prayer for Today
Ever present God, draw us in to you as we worship you together. Bind our Christian friendships as we serve you by caring, helping, and giving. Make our lives as sacraments of you, so that we may learn to follow you more. Amen.
God's huge outstretched arms protect you - under them you're perfectly safe; Gods arms fend off all harm.
"How dare. Where have you been?" said my son when I got home on Wednesday. Or at least he would have, if he could talk yet. He's 6 months old, but he has an incredibly expressive face. No one has to guess what he's thinking. And his face said it all on Wednesday. Like me, he's a creature of habit and routine. Unlike me, he doesn't yet see a change in routine as a welcome adventure. For him, it's an unwelcome disruption. I had to spend all day writing my sermon. So I wasn't home to get him ready for the day or available for lunchtime cuddles. And his brother was busy with school. And sadly, although he favors his mother the most, he is accustomed to a change of pace.
So I came home to this face. Glad to see me, happy to have me hold him. Immensely disappointed in me. And he didn't hide it. And I sat there wondering about the other relationships in my life. Who is sadly missing me? Who is not? Who is maybe a little tickled they see me less here in quarantine? And what sort of face is God wearing for me? When is the last time we chatted at length? Caught up? Is God smiling? Are God's brows furrowed because our routine is off? Have I neglected our quality time? I tried explaining to my son that I was off doing the Lord's work. I told him that work is also what feeds and clothes him and gives him a home. His brow remained furrowed. I wondered if God was amused.
What is your routine like with God these days? Is it altered by quarantine and Covid? Are you busier or less so? Have you grown closer or apart? Has being gone from the church building disrupted your routine? Is God waiting for you in worship and eager for your return? If you need a little more time at home in the arms of that unconditional love, take it from a six month old, no explanation is necessary. Glad you're home.
Prayer for Today
Lord, help me make time in my busyness for time that's just for us. Help me worship, pray, and spend time with you alone. Amen.
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
- Micah 6:8, NRSV
Recently, I heard an excellent sermon on YouTube by Princeton seminary president Craig Barnes. (www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=DoLBnYqDNW4) He focused on the words above, particularly the phrase ". . . to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God." In the Bible, justice is always about setting things right - the way God meant them to be. According to Micah, from God's perspective justice must be done with kindness and humility. From my experience, talking about justice is hard and doing justice is even harder. However, doing these the most effective way (God's way) also includes how we do them -- with kindness and humility.
I realize that when we have experienced injustice ourselves or we see it done to others, it hurts and it can make us angry -- that is both understandable and very human. But if our ultimate goal is to actually bring about justice, then kindness and humility are required. Conversely, if we are seeking justice, but express that in ways that are unkind or even arrogant, we may prevent the very thing we're trying to accomplish. Again, I realize this is very hard to do. It takes a certain amount of maturity, restraint, and an awareness of the larger goal. I also believe it takes a certain amount of grace and strength that comes from God.
Jesus compares it to "turning the other cheek" after being struck in the face. After his arrest, Jesus even modeled this for us. Someone who modeled this for us in our day in time was the late John Lewis. He spent his whole life advocating for justice -- particularly for those who needed it most. Lewis learned this as a young man from Martin Luther King, Jr. King learned it from Jesus and Gandhi. After Lewis' recent death, there were many stories and videos of Lewis throughout his years of service in the Congress. He was not afraid to get into "good trouble" as he called it, in order to bring about needed change. But he always did this with kindness and humility. May we all learn from his example.
Prayer for Today
Thank you, God, for caring about justice in our world. Help us to work for your justice with kindness and humility. In the strong name of Christ we pray. Amen.
For many of us the words of Psalm 23 are a part of our life experiences. When do you recall learning this Psalm or hearing the words? Who read it to you? This translation from Eugene Peterson may bring this familiar Psalm into a new place with the words he uses to share the message and prayer.
Psalm 23 (The Message) God, my shepherd! I don't need a thing. You have bedded me down in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools to drink from. True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction. Even when the way goes through Death Valley, I'm not afraid when you walk at my side. Your trusty shepherd's crook makes me feel secure. You serve me a six-course dinner right in front of my enemies. You revive my drooping head; my cup brims with blessing. Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I'm back home in the house of God for the rest of my life.
As we move into the sixth month of experiencing a pandemic here, how do these words have new meaning for you? I know that many of us are navigating new territory, making difficult decisions and experiencing hard situations.
These words from David Burroughs, president of Passport, Inc., brought new insights for me about this Psalm. "When I speak this Psalm aloud, I feel protected and cared for. I breathe deeply, trusting God knows our needs and will literally keep us alive by leading us to safety, rest, and water. God knows our days and sustains us. But there is an important role that we play - we have to decide to follow the shepherd. This means that we won't always know where we are going, and probably won't always be happy with our current direction. But if we can let go of the lead and simply follow, God will guide us, helping us get to where we need to be."
As the challenges our church faces impact my role on our staff, I pray for God's leading for where I need to be. Hear these words and music from a Presbyterian Church in Maryland as we continue to reflect on the words of Psalm 23 and our current prayers. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70whGbrrj8k
Prayer for Today
Great Shepherd, help me to let go of the lead for a bit and to actively follow where you lead me. I trust you, God, to care of me and lead me to the right place, down the right path, in the right time. Amen.