Welcome to the JCPC Daily Reflections Blog. Reflections are daily devotionals authored by JCPC pastors, staff and members and provide insight, guidance and comfort to help you make it through each day. If you’d like to receive Reflections each day via email, provide your email address.
In 2018, twelve Thai boys and their soccer coach descended into a mazelike cave, intending to enjoy an afternoon adventure.
Due to unexpected rising water that forced them deeper and deeper into the cavern, it was two-and-a-half weeks before rescuers led them out. Dive teams, thwarted by rising water, attempted the rescue as the boys sat on a small rock shelf with only six flickering flashlights. They spent hours in darkness, hoping that somehow light—and help—would break through.
The prophet Isaiah described a world of brooding darkness, one overrun by violence and greed, shattered by rebellion and anguish (Isaiah 8:22). Nothing but ruin; hope’s candle flickering and fading, sputtering before succumbing to dark nothingness. And yet, Isaiah insisted, this dim despair was not the end. Because of God’s mercy, soon “there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress” (9:1). God would never abandon His people in shadowy ruin. The prophet announced hope for his people then and pointed to the time when Jesus would come to dispel the darkness sin has caused.
Jesus has come. And now we hear Isaiah’s words with renewed meaning: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light,” Isaiah says. “On those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (v. 2).
No matter how dark the night, no matter how despairing our circumstances, we’re never forsaken in the dark. Jesus is here. A great Light shines.
Prayer for Today
God, there’s so much darkness. I fear sometimes that the darkness will overwhelm me. Be my great light. Shine on me with radiant love. Amen.
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and perform good works. Not neglecting to meet as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and even more as you see the day drawing near. -- Hebrews 10:24-25
Have you ever thought that the pandemic could bring some new and positive changes to our lives? It is great to be able to live stream church services, right? We know church attendance is lower now in the U.S. than it was before the pandemic.
What is so important about worship? To worship is to order the whole of one’s life toward the living God, and in doing so, to become interiorly and exteriorly rightly ordered. To worship is to signal to oneself what one’s life is finally about. Worship is not something that God needs but is very much something that we need. God wants our hearts to expand. We hear it in Jesus’ extraordinary teaching, “Ask and it will be given to you; Seek and you will find; Knock and the door will be opened to you.” The very act of asking persistently is, “accomplishing something spiritually important.”
Virtual services are good, but there are also other important ways to enhance our spiritual well-being. Our spiritual health is as important as our physical health and our mental health. In addition to worshipping online, think about joining a Bible Study group, a prayer group, or other Small Group. Perhaps you are interested in mission work, Choir, Bell Choir, helping with worship, caring for others, caring for our facilities, or teaching. There are many options to join with others in group settings within the church. Ask God to show you what may be your best option today to serve God and connect with others in person.
Prayer for Today
Lord, we pray that you would fill our hearts, minds, and souls. Transform us, Lord, and make us more like you. Help us to remember that you are always there for us -- listening with love and compassion. Eternal God, you are our Rock. You give gifts to your people for the good of the church. We ask that you continue to provide wisdom, guidance, and direction. Help us to better focus on you through your church, as everything we need is found in you. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” - Isaiah 40:1-5 NIV
This Sunday is our annual Hanging of the Greens Service. This is the first year we are having the service in our Great Hall. The message is still the same: Prepare the way for the Lord! This is about more than making the church pretty so it feels like Christmas. The paraments that were green for the last several weeks are changing to purple, the color of royalty (Christ the King), penitence, and reflection. The Advent wreath and purple and pink candles appear as we light a new candle each week and reflect on the hope we have in our Savior. Holly, ivy, poinsettias, and other greenery will adorn our Great Hall. Yes, there's a tree. It's a Chrismon tree, covered with white and gold symbols of Christ, our Savior, Lord, and King (hence the crown on the top of the tree). A nativity scene (creche) will also be placed near the tree, to help us remember that holy night.
And there will be music... music to be heard, anthems on which we can meditate, hymns to sing together in praise to our Almighty God, the author of this amazing true story. We would love to hear your voice join ours this Sunday! There will be a Hanging of the Greens Service at drive-in as well, with all the symbolic elements of the Great Hall service. And of course, we will be livestreaming the service in the Great Hall at 11:00 a.m. Join us this Sunday!!
Prepare the way, O Zion, your Christ is drawing near!
Let every hill and valley a level way appear.
Greet One who comes in glory, foretold in sacred story.
O blest is Christ who came in God's most holy name.
Fling wide your gates, O Zion; your Savior's rule embrace,
And tidings of salvation proclaim in every place.
All lands will bow rejoicing, their adoration voicing.
O blest is Christ who came in God's most holy name.
Prayer for Today
Help us to prepare our hearts to receive you, Lord. Help us to get ready for your coming. Come once again into our hearts and be Lord of our lives, as we can only begin to understand your great love for us. In our savior's holy name we pray. Amen.
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
This is my favorite day of the year. There’s something magic about Christmas too. And Thanksgiving feels like it begins the Advent season leading to it. It’s a meal day, which I love. It’s a day to gather with family and invite friends and to be thankful for our blessings and mindful of those who are absent. It feels like a very holy activity. And I’d say it really should be.
Our scripture reminds us that whatever we do, do it in the Lord’s name AND giving thanks as we do. Even when God’s people were in exile, in the desert, in the Promised Land, under Roman rule, awaiting a Messiah, awaiting his return, in trial and tribulation, or even triumphant, in pandemics or in plenty, we are called to do and say it all in the name of the Lord and giving thanks. And so we shall. Last year, many of us couldn’t gather. Gatherings are still a little different this year. But in all things, we will share meals, serve those in need, and praise the Lord.
I hope you will find yourself at a table with those you love this day. And I hope you’ll invite others to join you. But wherever you are, I hope you’ll find time to say and do good things as God calls us to do, in the name of the Lord. I hope in the new year, we will find ourselves saying and doing many things for those in need, side by side, and that we will sit at tables together again as a family of faith.
Prayer for Today
Lord, help me to say and do the things you call me to do and in your name. Amen.
I have shared with some of you that I grew up in a church where we were encouraged to memorize scripture. We would get some equivalent of “a gold star” whenever we did. The Bible verses we memorized ranged from the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept” -- to complete psalms. In addition to memorizing the 23rd Psalm, which many people know by heart, I can also remember memorizing Psalm 100:
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are 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 the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.
Later this week, we will celebrate Thanksgiving. I remembered that Psalm 100 is often called “A song of Thanksgiving.” I wondered if there were any other Psalms that were called “A song of Thanksgiving” -- so I looked through the Psalms and found that this was the only one that has this inscription at the beginning. I think it is a wonderful song for us to remember, maybe even memorize, as we look forward to celebrating Thanksgiving later this week.
Psalm 100 reminds us to be thankful to God, to worship God, and to come before God with joyful songs. We are to remember that the Lord made us, and we belong to God. We are like sheep, and as another Psalm reminds us, God is the Good Shepherd. So, we can enter into God's presence with Thanksgiving and praise. We can remember that God is good, and that God's love endures forever. That love does not stop with us. It began in the generations before us, it continues through our generation today, and it will continue for generations to come!
Prayer for Today
We thank you, God, for your enduring love for us that extends across the ages. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
As Emma shared how God helped her embrace her identity as His beloved child, she weaved Scripture into our conversation. I could barely figure out where the high school student stopped speaking her words and began quoting the words of God. When I commended her for being like a walking Bible, her brow furrowed. She hadn’t been intentionally reciting Scripture verses. Through daily reading of the Bible, the wisdom found in it had become a part of Emma’s everyday vocabulary. She rejoiced in God’s constant presence and enjoyed every opportunity He provided to share His truth with others. But Emma isn’t the first young person God has used to inspire others to prayerfully read, memorize, and apply Scripture.
When the apostle Paul encouraged Timothy to step into leadership, he demonstrated confidence in this young man (1 Timothy 4:11–16). Paul acknowledged that Timothy was rooted in Scripture from infancy
(2 Timothy 3:15). Like Paul, Timothy faced doubters. Still, both men lived as if they believed all Scripture was “God-breathed.” They recognized Scripture was “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (vv. 16–17).
When we hide God’s wisdom in our hearts, His truth and love can pour into our conversations naturally. We can be like walking Bibles sharing God’s eternal hope wherever we go.
Prayer for Today
Father, saturate my heart with Your wisdom so I can share You with others naturally and courageously. Amen.
Pastor Norsworthy informed Session members that after much prayer and discernment he will retire February 1st of 2022.
Atlanta Presbytery representatives – Cassandra Morrow and Steve Cashwell were on hand to explain the recommended search process toward identifying and calling a new pastor. Utilization of an Interim PastorProcess was explained as the method that has the most success. Important in the process is allowing enough time for the congregation to mourn the departure of their pastor which develops a clean slate for the incoming pastor. Such a process lessens the tendency to compare the new pastor to the last pastor which facilitates the congregation’s acceptance of the new pastor. There will be an upcoming Q&A called session meeting where current elders and our new elders elect will have an opportunity to have their questions answered. Steve Cashwell will be JCPC’s liaison during the next year as we appoint an interim pastor nominating committee and elect a pastor nominating committee. The session will keep the congregation apprised as the process unfolds.
Please keep our members, church families, and friends in your prayers. Many are dealing with end-of-life, memory, and care issues. Others are undergoing medical evaluations. And still others are in the process of healing after injury or surgery.
There will be a called Congregational meeting on December 12th following the 11:00 AM Lessons and Carols service. This will be a combined in-person and online event. The purpose of the meeting is to elect the new slate of elders. A quorum of membership is required. Please attend this important part of our church governance.
There will be a called Session meeting on January 8th at 12:30 PM for the purpose of examining members of the new elder class. Installation of the new elders will occur at the 11:00 AM January 9th worship service.
Caring- The Safe Harbor luncheon event was well received by the fifteen attendees.
Connecting- Will distribute education team prepared Advent materials with our Giving Thanks Meals.
Education- JCPC welcomes Colleen Moore as the Interim Coordinator of Christian Education. Search for a permanent director continues with planned feedback sessions. Please offer your opinions. Youth group prepared meals for men’s shelter and had a great retreat to Fort Yargo State Park.
Missions- Pumpkin Patch was a resounding success. Thanks to all who supported and participated. Almost $4,000 was raised for mission expenses. JCPC members donated 63 frozen turkey breasts to Hands for Christ.
Stewardship- The Give, GO, Live, Again campaign continues. If you have not done so, please make your 2022 pledge soon as next year’s budget is pending based on the campaign results.
Worship- Hanging of the Greens prep on Tuesday November 23rd. Poinsettias arrive December 3rd. Volunteers needed for both dates. New worship banners purchased with funds given in memory of Barbara Snelling have been received and display options are being evaluated.
Prayer for Today
And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.
-3 John 1:5-8
Folks who know me well know that I do my best writing at the coffee shop. I often go there for sermons and reflections, as well as preparing Bible studies. This morning was no different. I headed there to get some writing done after dropping the oldest off for a test help session at school. I parked and saw the “closed” sign. Although I was the first customer, I’m here enough to know the hours and ignored the sign. I walked in, and all the baristas greeted me by name and we started catching up. That’s when a non-regular walked in and mentioned the sign. They flipped it and assured her they were open. Whoops.
It occurred to me that it’s easy for us as people to have our signs flipped. From the outside, especially to a stranger, we are unapproachable, closed off. A good friend can see past this, but someone new might miss what we have to offer or go away still in need. So what do we do? I think there are two lessons to draw from our scripture. Strangers may be siblings we have simply not met and welcoming them requires the habits of looking and being approachable (our open sign). This may look like a smile (or at least not a scowl), speaking with kindness and civility and respect, opening a door or offering a hand. And it requires humility - an openness to a stranger telling us when our sign is flipped.
I had two teachers who taught me each of those lessons. The first was a chaplain at the hospital where I worked as a chaplain intern in seminary. She told me that half our job was to walk slowly through the wards so staff and patients would be able to approach and make requests. For a speed walker with purpose, it was an adjustment. The second was a professor I had during that same time. He walked even faster than I did. However, when I shared this wisdom I had learned, I noticed he slowed down as he approached students and other faculty. He had heard a student and been humble enough to change his habit of many decades. We should all be so nimble.
So my challenge today is to ask yourself if your sign is typically flipped to open or closed. Then to ask what habits you can form to be open more often. And lastly, to find ways to let strangers and friends tell you when it’s flipped and you didn’t mean for it to be.
Prayer for Today
Lord, help me to be open and humble and eager to help those most in need. Amen.
As I assume most of you know by now, I shared with our Session Monday evening that I will be retiring on February 1, 2022. If you have yet to hear that news, either through the email that went out or the letters that are in the mail, you can click here to read about it.
Now we are in the midst of the transition -- and by “we” I mean all of you who are part of the JCPC family and me -- though our next “destinations” are different. As a congregation, you are preparing to say goodbye and start the process of looking for the next pastor. While I, too, am preparing to say goodbye, my transition is to another calling in life. And while I do not have another church that has called me to serve them, I believe the next season in my life is a new calling.
Barbara Brown Taylor wrote in her book, Leaving Church, about what it was like when she decided to leave parish ministry. She said that some people assumed she was going to stop serving God, which she was not. While she did not know it at the time, she would soon be called to teach undergraduate students Religion at Piedmont College. She also continued to write wonderful books. One of them which I recommend called Holy Envy, talks about all she learned while teaching undergraduates about the world faiths.
You have heard me talk about the word “vocation” coming from the Latin word vocare, which means “to call.” I believe that we often have different callings in life at different times -- each of which is part of God's timing. So, I am looking forward to God's calling in my life which will be different from what I've done for almost 40 years, including my study and preparation. So, wherever we are in our lives, whatever age we may be, I want to invite us all to listen for God's calling, which I believe continues as long as we have breath on this earth.
Prayer for Today
Thank you, God, for calling us with your voice of love. Enable us to hear your call throughout the seasons of our lives – and not only to hear, but to follow. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
First, the man selected a tackle box. Standing in his town’s small bait shop, he then filled a shopping cart with hooks, lures, bobbers, line, and weights. Finally, he added live bait and selected a new rod and reel. “Ever fished before?” the shop owner asked. The man said no. “Better add this,” said the owner. It was a first-aid kit. The man agreed and paid, then headed off to a day of not catching a thing—except snags on his fingers from his hooks and gear.
That wasn’t Simon Peter’s problem. An experienced fisherman, he was surprised one dawn when Jesus told him to push his boat into deep water and “let down the nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4). Despite a long night of catching nothing, Simon and his crew let down their nets and “caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.” In fact, his two boats started to sink from the haul (v. 6).
Seeing this, Simon Peter “fell at Jesus’ knees,” urging Him to “go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (v. 8). Jesus, however, knew Simon’s true identity. He told His disciple, “From now on you will fish for people.” Hearing that, Simon “left everything and followed” Christ (vv. 10–11). When we follow Him, He helps us learn who we are and what we’re called to do as His own.
Prayer for Today
Father, when I struggle to know my true identity, remind me to follow You to discover in You my true self. Amen.
He who overcomes, and he who keeps my deeds to the end, to him I will give authority over the nations.
As I am sure I share with many of you the thrill of the Atlanta Braves winning the World Championship of Baseball. Personally, I think I watched some or all of every game of the playoffs, from the beginning Milwaukee series, to the final out of the World Series. When I missed a portion of a game, I would go back and watch the part I missed (and probably the highlights fully) on YouTube.
What made this so special? Besides the fact that it had been 26 years since the last World Championship, to me, and I think most of us, it was the team’s incredible WILL to overcome the many obstacles that they faced during the season, from losing their ace pitcher before the season started, to losing one of the great stars in the game in the middle of the season. Nothing seemed to detract the team, from front office management to the players, in reaching their goal. Truly and inspiration to those that watched.
The Bible talks in many verses about overcoming obstacles, especially when it is about keeping your faith. As far back as Revelations, as I shared above, God knows that challenges and obstacles are a part of life. It is those that can overcome those obstacles and remain committed to your faith, that are those that he will reward.
Our great year with the Braves is a perfect example of “staying the course” regardless of the obstacles we face.
Prayer for Today
Dear Lord, help us to be strong in the face of the many obstacles that are put in front of us. Let us remain committed and faithful to you, so that we might enjoy your love and the rewards that go with that love. Amen.
Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
-Psalm 111:1 NIV
Now that it's November, I'm sure we're all aware that the holiday of Thanksgiving is almost upon us!! And (besides all the grocery shopping we have to do) THAT means... you know what's coming right around the corner... but first, we give thanks. And shouldn't we always... first, give thanks?? Shouldn't we make giving thanks to God the first thing we do every day? I know I often wake up and pray, "help!" instead of "thank you!" We are tempted to name our needs before we realize God already knows them and has provided for them. And for that reason alone, we can say "thank you!!"
When I wake up in the morning and take a moment to pray, if I begin with thanksgiving, I suddenly realize how much I've been given, and how generous the hand of God is toward his children! It's a much better way to start the day!
This Sunday, we are singing two hymns that list a litany of things for which we can be thankful...
For the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth over and around us lies:
Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
For the fruit of all creation, thanks be to God.
For the gifts to every nation, thanks be to God.
For the plowing, sowing, reaping,
Silent growth while we are sleeping,
Future needs in earth's safe-keeping, thanks be to God.
When you sing these words, think of how you have been blessed with all of these gifts, and give thanks to the amazingly generous God who created heaven and earth... and YOU!
In the just reward of labor, God's will be done.
In the help we give our neighbor, God's will be done.
In our worldwide task of caring
For the hungry and despairing,
In the harvests we are sharing, God's will be done.
Prayer for Today
Thank you, generous God, for every gift you bring into our lives. Use our hands to do your will on earth, to love our neighbor, to encourage one another, to share whatever we've been given with those around us. Open our eyes to see what we have, and open our hearts to the needs of your people. In Jesus' holy name we pray. Amen.
Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray.
When I was in high school, there was a film released called Gattaca. It predicted the ability of scientists to pick and choose DNA traits parents would pass on to their children, weeding out imperfections for those who could afford it. They could eliminate the dangers of inheritable disease and mental illness or defect. The story follows a family whose first son does not benefit from this science and the second one who does. Their nurture matches their natures. The father names his younger son after himself and gives him all the love and accolades for his intelligence and prowess. The superior son becomes a detective and the eldest becomes a janitor. I won’t ruin the movie for you, but it’s the eldest son who is the protagonist and beats the odds, striving for the stars.
I was thinking about that film this week. The tagline of the movie was: There is no gene for the human spirit. We have spiritual DNA as well, you see. And like our physical attributes, it is a mix of nature and nurture - what God gives us and what our family of origin and family of faith nurture us in. And there is so much potential there! Part of the spiritual DNA of our youth group (and JCPC by extension) has been to go and serve breakfast monthly to the homeless at the shelter in Atlanta, just as many adults have gone to serve dinner or stay overnight at the shelter there. That’s been on pause during this Covid crisis, but the creativity of God’s spirit is at work. God is leading us to new ways to serve. This Friday, folks will drive food to Central Night Shelter and yesterday, I drove lunches, packed by our youth, to First Presbyterian.
Who our youth and children become has everything to do with who and whose they are now. We get to choose their spiritual DNA, what toxic traits to leave out, like bullying, bigotry, and selfishness. And we get to choose what we instill, like love, generosity, mercy, resiliency, and service. We can choose by our nurture to pass on the love and light we share with them. This week, I challenge you to find ways to support our youth or join our adults in serving with our local mission partners to change lives and pass on a spiritual DNA that looks like Discipleship. And I encourage you to choose generous Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions that will prioritize helping others, including the needy and lonely, and show our children who we are and want them to be.
Prayer for Today
Lord, help me to choose carefully the things I choose to pass on and instill in the next generation by my teaching, my priorities, and my example. Amen.
I am reading a book called Saving Grace by Kirsten Powers. Powers is a New York Times bestselling author and a political commentator who writes about her own struggles with grace - especially as it relates to those with whom she disagrees strongly. She writes:
Grace is amazing. It's the sweet sound that cracks open a hardened heart. It smooths the edges of rough regret about the things we did and the things we failed to do. It gives us permission to accept that we were doing the best we could with the information we had -- or as Maya Angelou said, “You did. . . what you knew how to do, and when you knew better, you did better.” Grace tills the ground so that peace, wholeness, and completeness can take root in our burdened bodies, relationships, and the world.
Powers goes on to talk about how hard it is to actually practice grace: “It's something we love to receive, but often the last thing most of us want to offer. Instead, we incline ourselves toward what author Phillip Yancey calls ‘ungrace,’ withholding that which the world desperately needs.” Powers quotes Lisa Sharon Harper to sum it up this way: “Our lack and misunderstanding of grace and shrunken capacity to give grace is one of the things that makes the world such a brutal place.”
In the second letter of Paul in our Bible to the church at Corinth, Paul writes these words: “You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:11, NIV) These are often words we read during Stewardship season, or maybe Thanksgiving. Perhaps we think about them as focusing mainly on being generous with our financial gifts, and that could certainly be true. But what if Paul is also talking about how we have each been “enriched” so that we might be generous with God's grace? Since God has shown us God's amazing grace, can we then be generous in sharing grace with our world and those we encounter who so desperately need it? Where is God asking you to show grace today? And will you?
Prayer for Today
God of grace, thank you for showing us your unmerited favor, and for giving us the grace we so desperately need. Help us not only to receive grace, but to share it with others. In the strong name of Jesus the Christ we pray. Amen.
When Christian Mustad showed his Van Gogh landscape to art collector Auguste Pellerin, Pellerin took one look and said it wasn’t authentic. Mustad hid the painting in his attic, where it remained for fifty years. Mustad died, and the painting was evaluated off and on over the next four decades. Each time it was determined to be a fake—until 2012, when an expert used a computer to count the thread separations in the painting’s canvas. He discovered it had been cut from the same canvas as another work of Van Gogh. Mustad had owned a real Van Gogh all along.
Do you feel like a fake? Do you fear that if people examined you, they’d see how little you pray, give, and serve? Are you tempted to hide in the attic, away from prying eyes?
Look deeper, beneath the colors and contours of your life. If you’ve turned from your own ways and put your faith in Jesus, then you and He belong to the same canvas. To use Jesus’ picture, “I am the vine; you are the branches” (John 15:5). Christ and you form a seamless whole.
Resting in Jesus makes you a true disciple of His. It’s also the only way to improve your picture. He said, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5).
Prayer for Today
Jesus, I rest in You like a branch clings to its vine. Amen.
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are 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 the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.
Thanksgiving day has become a tradition. It has developed, grown, and transitioned from being a simple spiritual act of acknowledging God's blessings, to a national event of unbridled proportions. Let us celebrate God's gifts to us during this Thanksgiving season.
Here is a part of the Thanksgiving story you may not know. While the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in October of 1621, it was not until October of 1777 that all 13 colonies celebrated Thanksgiving, for the first time. At one point, our first president, George Washington, proclaimed a National Day of Thanksgiving, but conflict and difficulties among the colonies put an end to its observance.
In 1863, after 40 years of letter writing and campaigning by magazine editor, Sarah Josepha Hale, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a National Day of Thanksgiving. Since then, every president has supported Thanksgiving.
This day is meant to be a time to stop, take notice of our blessings, and acknowledge God with a grateful heart:
Be thankful for the clothes that fit a little too snug, because it means you have enough to eat.
Be thankful for the mess you clean up after a party, because it means you have been surrounded by friends.
Be thankful for the taxes you pay, because it means you are employed.
Be thankful that your lawn needs mowing and your windows need fixing, because it means you have a home.
Be thankful for the laundry, because it means you have clothes to wear.
Be thankful for the space you find at the far end of the parking lot, because it means you can walk.
Be thankful for the lady who sings off-key behind you in church, because it means you can hear.
Be thankful if you wake up early in the morning, because it means you are alive.
Let us speak of the mighty and wondrous things that the Lord has done, and share our thankful hearts one with another.
Prayer for Today
Dear God, Thank you for your amazing power and work in our lives. Thank you for your goodness and for your blessings over us. Thank you for your great love and care. Renew our spirits, fill us with your peace and joy! Amen.
God is our hope and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will we not fear though the earth be moved, and though the hills be carried into the midst of the sea.
-Psalm 46: 1-2
Psalm 46 was the inspiration behind the well-known hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, which we will sing this Sunday. Martin Luther, who unintentionally became the leader of the Reformation, wrote the words for this hymn in his native German, and it has been translated into English more than 70 times! The original melody, which is quite different from the version we have in our hymnals, was also likely written by Martin Luther, but there seems to be some debate about this.
Actually, there is debate about most of the stories behind this hymn. My grandmother always told me he wrote it after the death of one his children. In researching the hymn, I found countless stories behind the hymn, but the truth is, there isn’t any very much proof to back any of them up. Martin Luther did not intend to create such a division in the church with his Ninety-five Theses, but quickly found himself on the Pope’s bad side. This, among many other issues in his life, including lean finances and the death of two children, could have all led Luther to compose this hymn.
Sunday is All Saints’ Sunday, and we take the time to remember our friends and family members who have died in the past year. There is no one on earth who will be free from dealing with the death of a loved one – it is a pain we have to endure and there’s no avoiding it when it comes. But as Christians we believe and know that death is not the end. Death cannot rob us of our hope or strength, because Christ has already won the battle against death for us. God is our continuous, unchanging strength despite the physical and emotional pain of this life. As a bell rings out during the service Sunday for each person who has died, take a moment to be still. Remember that God is in control. It’s easy to say but hard to live into this truth. This earthly life is sure to take from us all that we have ever had but nothing can separate us from God’s love and truth. God’s kingdom is forever, and the kingdom is ours through Christ.
Prayer for Today
God of Hope and Strength, be a mighty fortress in our lives, a help to us as we struggle with all that this mortal life hurls at us. Help us to lean not on our own strength, but to accept that your strength will keep the evils of the world from unraveling our lives. Focus our lives on you, in every way, so that we may forget our own lives and offer ourselves as servants of your heavenly kingdom. Amen.
Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.
-I Timothy 4:12
You won’t be surprised to see me use this verse from time to time. It’s because I’m continually inspired by them and if you see what they’re up to, you will be too. What have they done now? You won’t believe it. A little background... Like most things in scripture, Jesus holds a higher standard. While the Old Testament demands a 10% tithe to God, Jesus is constantly saying it’s harder to be generous than meet the minimums. He tells the rich young ruler to sell EVERYthing and the widow gives her SINGLE solitary coin. Jesus does not advocate we scrape by. He insists we commit.
It’s easy for us as modern Christians to see everything outside of the 10 commandments as mere guidelines and suggestions instead of a way of life to grow closer to emulating. It’s SO hard for us adults to imagine a life that looks different than everything around us. You know who has great imagination? Kids. Teens. The youth who dream dreams. When we teach them that giving of their time, talents, and treasure is not an adult responsibility for their future selves but an essential part of their young discipleship, they respond with energy, imagination, and love.
Two weeks ago, our youth lesson was on the kind of generosity Jesus pointed to over and over and what it means to be stewards of our resources, time, and even our bodies, rather than owners. From there, we asked the youth to consider everything they have and are as God’s first and what they could offer as a part of their faith journey this year. They filled out pledge cards which were placed on the table this past Sunday. Some committed part of their salary from their part time jobs, some to mission and service, some to VBS volunteering, and some to talking with their parents about being organ donors when they get a license soon.
Although our stewardship season is over officially, we continue to accept pledge cards for several weeks. If you’ve never sat down and taken inventory of the life and resources God has placed on your stewardship, please do so prayerfully. If you’ve never submitted a pledge card or you have but didn’t consider your time and talents as well, consider Jesus is calling you. Be inspired by the example of our youth. And if you wanna sit down and talk about it, call me. I’d love to. Let’s set an example of faith and what together.
Prayer for Today
Lord, make me a generous steward of the time, talents, and treasure you have loaned to my care. Amen.
Paul begins his first letter to the church in Corinth with these words of salutation: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints . . .”(1 Corinthians 1:2) I find some of the words Paul uses very interesting. For example, he wrote to the “saints” in Corinth. If you have ever paid close attention to what was going on in the Corinthian church, you may remember that it was a congregation about to tear itself apart with divisions. Scholars suggest the group may not have been more than fifty people, but they seem to have more than their share of problems. And Paul calls them “saints?” What’s up with that? They don’t sound very saintly. The Greek root word for “saint” is connected to the word for “holy” and “sanctified.” But these “saintly” people sound more like a holy mess!
We may think of saints in terms of individuals who are perfect. Saints are often depicted in religious art with halos hovering above their heads. But at its most basic level, a saint is simply another word for a Christian – someone like you and me. To be a saint means that we are followers of Christ, seeking in our imperfect ways to grow in our faith. This Sunday we celebrate All Saints’ Sunday. During our services we will remember those brothers and sisters connected to our church family that have died this past year. We also remember that our hope and belief is that death is not the final word. Resurrection is the final word!
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, we thank you for all the saints who have made a difference in our lives. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ -- our hope and our resurrection. Amen.
A decade ago, they didn’t know the name of Jesus. Hidden in the mountains of Mindanao in the Philippines, the Banwaon people had little contact with the outside world. A trip for supplies could take two days, requiring an arduous hike over rugged terrain. The world took no notice of them.
Then a mission group reached out, shuttling people in and out of the region via helicopter. This gained the Banwaon access to needed supplies, crucial medical help, and an awareness of the larger world. It also introduced them to Jesus. Now, instead of singing to the spirits, they chant their traditional tribal songs with new words that praise the one true God. Mission aviation established the critical link.
When Jesus returned to His heavenly Father, He gave His disciples these instructions: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). That command still stands.
Unreached people groups aren’t limited to exotic locales we haven’t heard of. Often, they live among us. Reaching the Banwaon people took creativity and resourcefulness, and it inspires us to find creative ways to overcome the barriers in our communities. That might include an “inaccessible” group you haven’t even considered—someone right in your neighborhood. How might God use you to reach others for Jesus?
Prayer for Today
Father, please use me as You see fit in order that all might turn to You in faith. Amen.
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.
-1 Thessalonians 5:11-22
As Christ followers, we have been called to a higher mission and it is not just attending church on Sunday. As the sign says when we are leaving the church campus, “You are now entering the mission field.” We, as a group, are representatives of Christ as we go about our daily lives, so everything we do and say reflects the very nature of the Lord we follow.
When life’s struggles or small nuisances impact us, we are still to be faithful to Christ. We need to be especially mindful of the people who do not follow God and would be impacted by our words and behaviors. Some examples might be: people who cut in front of us in line at the grocery store, reckless drivers, those who have differing political views, people who are intentionally spreading misinformation, and people with differing lifestyles, backgrounds, cultures, and values. It is easy to let our ego take the lead, to prove our “rightness” and condemn the “other.” But God did not call us to this kind of righteousness. In fact, we know how Jesus felt about the Pharisees and Sadducees who thought their ways higher and better and more knowing: In Roman’s chapter 3, Jesus called them vipers.
How do we follow through with how Christ has directed us? I think this is especially meaningful in these days and times, because it seems that there is increasing dissonance and tragedy, as well as immense struggles throughout the globe. We must make sure we are growing in our relationship with the Lord by making time for worship, to study the Bible, and to pray and seek the Lord’s guidance. We must reach out to others to support our members and those in need, both locally and abroad. And we should be grateful for those people who our God has sent to us to help us when we are in need. And above all these, we must find ways to love our neighbors as ourselves. After all, it is not by argument or force of will or “rightness” that hearts are changed, it is through the work of the Holy Spirit, in line with God’s purpose. What a blessing for us, that in love and deed, in words, in action and in service, we can be a part of His work.
Prayer for Today
Dear God, Heavenly Father, Maker of Heaven and Earth, We pray for your world Lord, that is hurting and broken. We pray that you would direct us to opportunities to bring people closer to you. We pray for our members, family, friends, neighbors, and community, that you would bless our interactions that we might be glowing examples of your light in the world. We pray for our hearts Lord, that you would lead us towards reconciliation and peace, that we may act as guideposts to Jesus. Lord, may we seek out opportunities every day, in every encounter, to make pathways to you. May our thoughts, actions, and deeds be glorifying to you and may they work for your good during our time on your Earth. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.