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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.

Thursday, December 23 2021

 

And behold, I am with y’all always, to the end of the age.

-Matthew 28:20b

 

Language is a beautiful thing. It can be used both poetically and descriptively to convey important ideas and information. Observing and explaining requires translation from what is observed to what can be said. And many times, those original observations must be translated again. Sometimes, they can be made clearer, and other times something is lost. Some languages have words others don’t. Pastor Gray reminded us this week that Greek carries four words for love, while we need adjectives to do the same job. Even within languages, dialects can lend flavor or clarification.

 

One of my favorite words as a southerner is “y’all” because it conveys a second person plural distinguishing you singular and you plural. While other regions of the US have terms like “you guys” and “youz guyz” and so forth, y’all is uniquely gender neutral and beautifully useful. We even have the emphatic (emphasis added) ALL Y’ALL for clarifying we mean absolutely everyone in a group and not just some or most. And it comes in handy. My Hebrew professor in seminary encouraged us to use it for our translations from Hebrew and Greek to lend specificity and deepen our meaning.

 

I love to translate the passage above as Jesus’ parting words to be that he will be with “y’all” till the end of the age. It reminds us he meant all of them… all of us. So when we gather at Christmas and remember the savior’s birth, we are reminded that Emmanuel is God with us. ALL of us. A love for everyone. And he will be with all of us till the end of the age. Y’all better believe it.

Prayer for Today

Lord, help me to celebrate the big y’all family we have in your son come to earth to dwell with us. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:23 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, December 22 2021

 

As some of you know, I really enjoy poetry. As an English major, I studied a lot of poetry. Over the years I have written poetry, and even been fortunate enough to have some of them published. I think I like poetry because of the conciseness of the language. Trying to say something well using very few words is a challenge.

 

One of our church members, Jamie Traylor, gave me a book a few years ago of Advent readings based on a poem for each day. It is called Haphazard by Starlight by Janet Morley. So, for today's “Reflections” blog, I want to share with you this poem that I found meaningful for Advent. It is by archbishop Rowan Williams:

 

Advent Calendar

 

He will come like last leaf's fall.

One night when the November wind

has flayed the trees to bone, and earth

wakes choking on the mould,

the soft shroud's folding.

 

He will come like frost.

One morning when the shrinking earth

opens on mist, to find itself

arrested in the net

of alien, sword-set beauty.

 

He will come like dark.

One evening when the bursting red

December sun draws up the sheet

and penny-masks its eye to yield

the star-snowed fields of sky.

 

He will come, will come,

will come like crying in the night,

like blood, like breaking,

as the earth writhes to toss him free.

He will come like a child.

Prayer for Today

Thank you, God, for coming to us like a child. Thank you for coming nearly two thousand years ago. Thank you for coming in our lives each day. Thank you for coming again. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:21 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, December 21 2021

 

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the rulers of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

-Micah 5:2-5

 

Our four week-long journey through Advent is almost at a close, and the long-anticipated Light is almost with us. It sure doesn’t feel that way in our modern world, though, does it? Thanksgiving is a distinctly American holiday, and as we don’t celebrate it in Japan, the commercial “Christmas” season begins on November 1, just as the Halloween merchandise is packed away. “Christmas” songs are played in every shopping center, café, and train station, complete with “Christmas” trees and “Christmas” decorations.

 

Why did I put quotes around every mention of Christmas? Well, for us, Christmas does not begin until sundown on December 24. We are still in the season of Advent, a time of quiet longing and anticipation as we once again await the birth of the Logos, the Word made flesh. But to the secular world, “Christmas” is just a time of hearing Mariah Carey’s famous holiday tune, shopping like crazy, and enjoying the spectacle of the decorations. Come December 26, the world is done, and ready for the next commercial push. But we are called to be different from this secular cash-grab.

 

We are called to step back from all that is around us today and put ourselves in the shoes of the Jewish people who waited millennia for the promised Messiah. We pause and orient ourselves with a contemplative longing for the Prince of Peace. Everyone is familiar with longing and desire, and calling on those emotions throughout Advent is key to experiencing this liturgical season as it was meant to be.

 

Are you anxiously awaiting our Christmas Eve services? Is it because it’s the goalpost and we’ll finally be through this Christmas madness then? Or is it because you are longing for the Christ Child who was, and is, and forever will be? What steps can you take in these final few days before His arrival to prepare your hearts to experience the birth of He who cannot be overcome by the darkness of times past and present?

Prayer for Today

God of Promises, help us to center our minds on the anticipation of the coming of our Savior. Calm our busyness, quiet our hearts, and instill in us a sense of hope and excitement for the birth that is fast approaching. And as we welcome this tiny child into our lives and hearts once again, transform us with your Light to finally become the people you want us to be. Break our habits and prejudices and foster our kindness and humility as we come to worship the great Amen. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:18 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, December 20 2021

 

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.  Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. -Matthew 1:18-25

 

An angel tells Joseph in a dream to name his son Jesus "because he will save his people from their sins."

 

The rightful king has returned to reclaim what's his and to let the prisoners go free. The God announced by all the prophets and patriarchs is a God of justice, and this means that he yearns to set things right. God hates the sin and violence and injustice that have rendered gloomy his beautiful world, and therefore he comes into that world as a warrior, ready to fight. But he arrives stealthily, clandestinely, sneaking as it were unnoticed behind enemy lines. The king comes as a helpless infant, born of insignificant parents in a small town of a distant outpost of the Roman Empire. He will conquer through the finally irresistible power of love, the same power with which he made the universe.

 

God created us in his image so I must ask you, "in what ways can you "conquer through the irresistible power of love" in the battles of your life?" How many people can you touch in a positive way each day?

Prayer for Today

Lord, as the birth of your son nears, help me to spread your love and peace. In doing so, may I help spread faith in those who doubt. Help me to spread joy each day, especially to those in despair. Beloved Christ, clothe me with yourself, identify my soul with the movements of yours. Possess me that my life may be but a radiance of yours. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:16 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, December 17 2021

 

Our bus finally arrived at our much-anticipated destination—an archaeological dig in Israel where we would actually do some excavation work of our own. The site’s director explained that anything we might unearth had been untouched for thousands of years. Digging up broken shards of pottery, we felt as though we were touching history. After an extended time, we were led to a workstation where those broken pieces—from huge vases shattered long, long ago—were being put back together.   

 

The picture was crystal clear. Those artisans reconstructing centuries-old broken pottery were a beautiful representation of the God who loves to fix broken things. In Psalm 31:12, David wrote, “I am forgotten as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery.” Though no occasion is given for the writing of this psalm, David’s life difficulties often found voice in his laments—just like this one. The song describes him as being broken down by danger, enemies, and despair.

 

So, where did he turn for help? In verse 16, David cries out to God, “Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love.”



The God who was the object of David’s trust is the same One who still fixes broken things today. All He asks is that we call out to Him and trust in His unfailing love.

Prayer for Today

God of my help, I thank You for all the times I’ve fallen and been broken—times when You’ve put me back together. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:14 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, December 16 2021

 

He said, “Listen to my words: “When there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, reveal myself to them in visions, I speak to them in dreams.”

-Numbers 12:6

 

Many cultures place significant importance on dreaming. Our own scriptures are full of communication from God in dreams, like Joseph’s dreams about his brothers and the future of his people, the dreams of Joseph and the Magi, and even Peter’s dreams about kosher food. There are promises to us about God gifting our prophets with dreams. It’s possible the revelations to Ezekiel and John of Patmos are dreams as well. Many ancient cultures value dreams and their language reflects it. The Ojibwe verb for, “go to sleep,” also conveys the idea of, “go travel.”

 

The Ojibwe of our modern day Midwest and Canada believe that you travel when you dream. What a beautiful notion. The Magi shared a dream. We don’t know how many Magi there were that visited Jesus. We know only that they had three gifts among them and that there was more than one Magi. In those days, groups or caravans were safer for long journeys. Imagine three or perhaps dozens of Magi camped out and awakening to discover they had the same dream in which God reveals King Herod’s evil intentions for the Christ child. The Magi were Zoroastrians and not Jews. A message from the God of the Jews in their collective dream must have been a powerful sign. And they believed it. And their dream told them to take a new journey.

 

As we lay down to sleep, this Christmas season, we perhaps will be thinking of the dreams and visions of Christmas stories from The Nutcracker to The Night Before Christmas to Scrooge’s nighttime visitor spirits. But I encourage you to read the Christmas story with a mind’s eye to the dreams of Joseph and the Magi. Consider those stories in new ways. Take the journey with them and imagine it more vividly. And perhaps, your own dreams will take you places you’ve not been yet. Go to sleep. Go travel. Niban.

Prayer for Today

Lord, help me to see new things in the dreams of scripture and to journey with you and to new places when I dream this advent season. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:13 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, December 15 2021

 

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace — Isaiah 9:6-7a, NRSV

 

Last week I gathered with our Johns Creek Interfaith Clergy Group to meet the new police chief of Johns Creek. I was impressed with the initiatives he has planned for 2022. I think they reflect the challenges of his job in the midst of our changing world. At the end of our time meeting with him, we all promised to pray for him and his officers, which seemed to mean a great deal to him.

 

But after he and his staff had left, we took a few moments to introduce some of the new clergy who had joined our group. We also took a few moments to share with them how our group was formed a few years ago. It actually came out of a tragedy -- the Pittsburgh shootings in the synagogue. That event caused Shaun King, the pastor of Johns Creek Baptist Church, to reach out to the rabbi of the local synagogue, Jordan Ottenstein. Unfortunately, that was not the last tragic event that would continue to draw us together across faith backgrounds. But in sharing how we got started, I think we were trying to pass along to our newer clergy members what brought us together.

 

I did share with them that I would be retiring soon. Maybe I felt the I need a pass along how important this Interfaith Clergy Group had become not only to me personally, but to our community of Johns Creek. I believe it is one of the most important things we have done during my almost 12 years of ministry here. I hope that when I am no longer a part of this group, others will take up the mantle and continue to build community in and among us. Maybe that’s one way we can be peacemakers and make peace in our world.

Prayer for Today

Thank you, God, for sending Jesus as the Prince of Peace. Thank you for those who make peace and who keep the peace in our world. Help us to make peace and to support our peacemakers. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:06 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, December 14 2021

 

When I stopped to browse through a box of books marked “C. S. Lewis” at a used bookshop, the store owner appeared. As we chatted about the available titles, I wondered if he might be interested in the faith that inspired much of Lewis’ writing. I prayed silently for guidance. Information from a biography came to mind, and we began to discuss how C. S. Lewis’ character pointed to God. In the end, I was thankful that a quick prayer had reoriented our conversation to spiritual matters.  

 

Nehemiah paused to pray before a pivotal moment in a conversation with King Artaxerxes in Persia. The king had asked how he could help Nehemiah, who was distraught over Jerusalem’s destruction.

 

Nehemiah was the king’s servant and therefore in no position to ask for favors, but he needed one—a big one. He wanted to restore Jerusalem. So, he “prayed to the God of heaven” before asking to leave his job so he could reestablish the city (Nehemiah 2:4–5). The king consented and even agreed to help Nehemiah make travel arrangements and procure timber for the project.

 

The Bible encourages us to pray “on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Ephesians 6:18). This includes moments when we need courage, self-control, or sensitivity. Praying before we speak helps us give God control of our attitude and our words.



How might He want to direct your words today? Ask Him and find out!

Prayer for Today

Dear God, I surrender my words to You. Use them for Your glory. Help them to inspire and encourage others. Amen.

Posted by: AT 01:58 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, December 13 2021

 

Stuck in a stressful job with long hours and an unreasonable boss, James wished he could quit. But he had a mortgage, a wife, and a young child to take care of. He was tempted to resign anyway, but his wife reminded him: “Let’s hang on and see what God will give us.”

 

Many months later, their prayers were answered. James found a new job that he enjoyed and gave him more time with the family. “Those months were long,” he told me, “but I’m glad I waited for God’s plan to unfold in His time.”

 

Waiting for God’s help in the midst of trouble is hard; it can be tempting to try to find our own solution first. The Israelites did just that: under threat from their enemies, they sought help from Egypt instead of turning to God (Isaiah 30:2). But God told them that if they would repent and put their trust in Him, they would find strength and salvation (v. 15). In fact, He added, “the Lord longs to be gracious to you” (v. 18).

Waiting for God takes faith and patience. But when we see His answer at the end of it all, we’ll realize it was worth it: “Blessed are all who wait for him!” (v. 18). And what’s even more amazing, God is waiting for us to come to Him!

Prayer for Today

Father, give me the patience to wait for Your answer. I know You’re a good and loving God whose timing and will are always perfect. Amen.

Posted by: AT 01:54 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, December 10 2021

 

Once in royal David's city stood a lowly cattle shed,

Where a mother laid her baby in a manger for his bed.

Mary was that mother mild, Jesus Christ, her little child. 

 

It's that time of year again... time for our annual Lessons and Carols service! Lessons and Carols is a service of Christian worship where the story of the fall of humanity, the promise of the Messiah, and the birth of Jesus is told in nine short Bible readings or lessons from Genesis, the prophetic books and the Gospels, interspersed with the singing of Christmas carols, hymns and choir anthems.

 

Before this service became popularly associated with King's College, Cambridge, it began in Truro Cathedral in Cornwall. Up to the late 19th century, Christmas carols were usually performed by singers visiting people's homes, singing mostly secular music, which had been excluded from Christian worship. In the Victorian era, hymns became more popular, and church musicians were encouraged to introduce carols into worship. The first formal service of nine lessons and carols was held on Christmas Eve of 1880, conducted by Edward White Benson, who became Archbishop of Canterbury three years later. While the popularity of the service has spread to mostly Anglican churches, numerous Christian denominations have adopted the service as part of their Christmas celebrations. At JCPC, we have celebrated this service during Advent for several years.

 

This year, we are at least indoors for one service! The prelude will begin 15-20 minutes before the hour and will be a mix of anthems and carols which will begin to tell the familiar story. Later in the service, our virtual Chancel Choir is back for one of the anthems, and three soloists will sing live!

 

You may ask why we do this year after year... I could say all sorts of things about tradition and ritual and "just because it's Christmas..." but it's so much more than that... we NEED to stop regularly and ponder about the idea of God coming to us in the flesh. We NEED to reaffirm that we believe in a God who loves the world so much that he made a way for us to be able to approach him, to bring all we are and all we have, to be in relationship with the creator of the universe.

 

Now if you can wrap your brain around all of that and comprehend all that it means, that's pretty spectacular. The rest of us need to repeat the story and discover this miracle anew, year after year.

 

So please join us this Sunday and open your hearts to what God is saying to you, how God is drawing you into his presence. O come, let us adore him!!

 

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace! Hail the sun of righteousness! 

Light and life to all he brings, risen with healing in his wings. 

Mild he lays his glory by, born that man no more may die,

Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth. 

Hark! The herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn king!"

Prayer for Today

Holy God, as we journey through Advent, open our minds and hearts, preparing us to receive your son again. Move us to share your love with those around us. In your son's holy name, we pray. Amen!

Posted by: AT 01:52 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, December 09 2021

 

Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

-James 3:18

 

This week, we lit the candle of peace. We talk often about how peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice. As we anticipate the birth of the Christ child, we don’t anticipate one who advocated merely a cessation of all conflict, but one who taught the necessary work of justice to make peace on earth. For those of us in this country and our community of privilege and power, we should be asking ourselves what we can do to use our gifts like the Magi, to give to a young family in need and not like Herod, hopelessly and violently clinging to the status quo and his own power over the powerless. So what does that look like for us in the modern world?

 

One of the most inspiring stories of 2021 was about the coming Lacrosse World Games in 2022. Many countries were invited. But the Iroquois National team was conspicuously absent. They ruled that the Iroquois were not a sovereign nation. The real kicker? The Iroquois invented lacrosse. Under public pressure and a petition with over 50,000 signatures, the organizers admitted their massive mistake. However, the matches were set and there was no room in the inn… I mean… the tournament. Enter the Irish, underdogs of the world, perpetually oppressed, and now, in a position of privilege. What did they do? They stepped aside and gave up their space for the Iroquois, who they rightly gave thanks for the game they invented and which brings joy to athletes and fans around the world.

 

So what can we do? Maybe you own an inn. Maybe you’re a world-renowned lacrosse player. Maybe you’re a king. But probably not. But if you’re reading this, you live in the wealthiest and most powerful country in history and probably in our Johns Creek community. And you have access to a computer or smart phone. This means you have access to choose some of the most influential leaders in the world through our elections, the companies we support, the movies and journalism we consume. We have access to knowledge and power greater than ancient royalty. So we can choose to use it for ourselves and perpetuate and protect our power and privilege or we can use it like the Magi, wisely, to lift the poor and needy, to honor the lowly, to serve.

 

Reflect this year on who you can help with your gifts or when you may be able to step aside and put someone else first. We have countless opportunities in our church and community and we’d love to connect you so you can change the world too.

Prayer for Today

Lord, help me to see my good gifts, to recognize the needs of those around me, and to humble myself to let others go first. Amen.

Posted by: AT 01:50 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, December 08 2021

 

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. . .

– Ecclesiastes 3:1, NIV

 

As the time comes for my retirement, it's also time for our Session to begin this upcoming transition. Last Monday, our Session met with Cassandra Morrow from Presbytery for Q&A about the transition process. After many good questions by our elders, the Session made two decisions: First, that JCPC will pursue an Interim Pastor to help us through this transition. Second, that the Interim Pastor Nominating Committee (IPNC) would consist of Rick Zellmer, Tom Traylor, and Joanna Pope. The primary job of the Interim Pastor is to prepare the church to be ready to receive the new Senior Pastor. The Interim Pastor will do this while fulfilling most of the duties that I am presently doing.

 

The process of choosing the next installed Senior Pastor will be up to a Pastor Nominating Committee (PNC) which will be elected by the congregation. They will be charged with finding the person to recommend to the congregation to be JCPC's next Senior Pastor. Cassandra shared with us that based on her experience, this whole process would probably last about a year. The good news is that our Presbyterian way of doing this provides great guidance every step along the way. Over the course of this search process, the congregation will be kept informed of where the Pastor Nominating Committee is in the process. Finally, it will be up to the congregation to vote and choose the next Senior Pastor. Please be in prayer for everyone who will be a part of this process, so that together this church can discern God's will for JCPC.

 

I also want to remind you of our Congregational Meeting this Sunday at noon in the Great Hall and online to elect elders. We need a quorum of 10% of our members in order to do what we need to do, so please plan to attend in person, or sign up online beforehand in order to get the zoom link. Click here to sign up for Zoom registration.

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, you have told us there is a time and a season for everything. Give us patience when time seems to pass slowly. And give us the discernment to find and follow your will for Johns Creek Presbyterian Church in seeking its next Senior Pastor. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: AT 01:48 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, December 07 2021

 

On a hot and humid day one August, my wife gave birth to our second son. But he remained nameless as we struggled to settle on a given name. After spending many hours in ice cream shops and taking long car rides, we still couldn’t decide. He was simply “Baby Williams” for three days before finally being named Micah.

 

Choosing the right name can be a little frustrating. Well, unless you’re God, who came up with the perfect name for the One who would change things forever. Through the prophet Isaiah, God directed King Ahaz to ask Him “for a sign” to strengthen his faith (Isaiah 7:10–11). Though the king refused to ask for a sign, God gave him one anyway: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (v. 14). God named the child, and He would be a sign of hope to people going through despair. The name stuck and Matthew breathed new meaning into it when he wrote the narrative of Jesus’ birth (Matthew 1:23). Jesus would be “Immanuel.” He wouldn’t just be a representative of God, but He would be God in the flesh, coming to rescue His people from the despair of sin.



God gave us a sign. The sign is a Son. The Son’s name is Immanuel—God with us. It’s a name that reflects His presence and love. Today, He invites us to embrace Immanuel and know that He’s with us.

Prayer for Today

Heavenly Father, thank You for Immanuel—Jesus, Your Son. May I rejoice in His presence and love today. Amen.

Posted by: AT 01:47 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, December 06 2021

 

“Be still and know that I am GOD; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exhaled in the earth.” The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” -Psalm 46:10-11

 

Familiar words to all believers. Yet how often are we still before God? Stillness is uncommon in our culture today. Many are uncomfortable will stillness…having so much to do, so many places to go…. must finish my to do list, must do this, must do that! Where is God in our daily “to do list?” We are now in the season of extreme business! Christmas is coming! I don’t believe God expects us to be SO busy, that we miss the true meaning of what Christmas is all about. The celebration of His Son’s birth. Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God with us, King of Kings.

 

Oswald Chambers, once wrote…” Five minutes with God in His Word is worth more than all the rest of the day.” Even a short time of prayer can yield powerful results. My Mother once wrote new words to the old hymn Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus…. here are her words sung to the same tune.                               

 

Sit down, be still with Jesus

 

Sit down, be still with Jesus,

and let His voice be heard!

Hold in your hands the Scriptures

and cherish every word.

Cast down your eyes before Him;

enthroned Him in your mind.

Let every worry vanish;

His peace you'll surely find.

 

He tends with loving kindness

to all who walk His way.

Take time to heed His leading;

He waits for us to pray.

His joy, His grace, His mercy

are gifts He freely gives

To all who will believe Him,

and love because He lives.

 

I know that He is with me

and guides my life each day...

He knows my every weakness

and keeps me in His way,

O Soul! Be still before Him

and wait upon His word!

Hear what He says to teach you;

be sure that you have heard!

 

-Sarah K. Mitchell - 1989

(Sing to the tune of Stand up, Stand up for Jesus!)

 

A Merry and Blessed Christmas to each and all. 

Prayer for Today

Holy Jesus, remind us daily to sit down, and be still in your Presence, even if for a short while, in all the days to come. Thank you for loving each of us so much. In Your Holy and Blessed name, we pray. Amen.

Posted by: AT 01:44 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, December 03 2021

 

As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

-Luke 3:4-6

 

As we continue our journey in Advent, we are reminded of John the Forerunner this Sunday. Also known as John the Baptist, he preached repentance and when asked about what to do specifically, he told a crowd to share. He told tax collectors to be honest in their jobs, and he told soldiers to not use threats to extol money from others and to be content with the money they received for their service. While he was only really telling people to do what was moral and right, it must’ve been an unexpected answer if they had to ask!

 

This past Tuesday was the deadline for gifts to be dropped off at the church for anyone who adopted an Angel for the Salvation Army Angel Tree. This wonderful ministry is a way to give children and seniors in need presents on Christmas when they might otherwise not get any gifts. Looking through some of the items that these children or seniors need, I can hardly imagine being in a situation where I couldn’t purchase sheets for my bed or socks and shoes for myself, and yet there are so many people in our communities, country, and world who cannot even afford the very basics of life that we take for granted.

 

John was preaching about this very thing:

 

And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” – Luke 1:10-11

 

The Angel Tree is just one way in which those of us with “two tunics” can share with those who have none. Are there other, less obvious ways to apply this to our lives? Have you ever felt called to help in some way, but then decided to wait until your finances were better or you had more time? I know I have. It’s easy to want to help others but a desire to help those in need doesn’t get the job done. As we worship this Sunday and spend another week waiting for the birth of our long-awaited Savior, take the Forerunner’s message to heart and find a way to share a “tunic” with someone in need.

Prayer for Today

Oh Great Provider, thank you for the abundance in our lives. It is by your grace alone that we are able to live as richly as we do. Open our hands so that we may share our bounty with all those in need, without expectations or return. Guide us on our Advent journey as we await the coming of your Son into our lives once again and help us to further share the hope of Christ with the world. Amen.

Posted by: AT 01:42 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, December 02 2021

 

 

Suggested: Read Hebrews 11 first (the list of heroes in the faith). Then…

 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

-Hebrews 12:1-3

 

Most of my extended family is Catholic, 3 of my 4 grandparents, in fact. I don’t know the exact statistics, but many Presbyterians are formerly from other denominations, and in my own experience, largely Baptist and Catholic. I think there’s a lot we can learn from one another’s traditions. Like our scripture suggests, honoring heroes of the faith, whether the prophets, judges, the original 12 disciples, the men and women of the first house churches, or the “saints” of the intervening hundreds of years, we can find examples that are NOT perfect, but much like us have struggled and we can find relatable.

 

This can be especially important to remember at this time of year. At our most secular and pessimistic, this can be a season of greed and excess and consumerism, a season of naughty and nice and what we deserve. At our best, however, it’s a reminder of the undeserved gift of grace and light in the world and our shared humanity, a call to generosity, goodness, and compassion. The person of St. Nicholas is the embodiment of those traditions. We do better as believers to honor that person and tradition more nearly than we do when we get caught up in either the magic or myth-busting of Santa and elves and naughty and nice. When we worry about the ways we “do Santa” or elves on shelves or have “the talk” with questioning kids, rather than teaching our children about heroes of the faith like St. Nick, we miss an opportunity.

 

There are a lot of good movies, websites, and books about the real St. Nicholas worth reading this Christmas and Advent. It’s equally important to teach our kids about real people and the good they’ve done as it is to teach them the magic and wonder of believing in what they can’t see or prove. We have to do a good job of both to instill a faith of resilience, hope, and usefulness. I encourage you to do that this year. Find ways to take awe in and to take inspiration from our history and stories.

Prayer for Today

Lord, help me to learn from our heroes of the faith and walk more closely to you as I follow in our shared hope. Amen.

Posted by: AT 01:40 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, December 01 2021

 

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. From we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body. . .

– 1 Corinthians 12:12-13a, NIV

 

Paul writes about the church and its members together forming one body. It is the Spirit of Christ who brings us together and connects us. However, there are times when connections are strained. Some have shared with me that they feel like their connections to other members of the church family have been strained during this pandemic. When we have had to move away from our normal and familiar ways of gathering, it has made it more difficult to feel connected. It certainly requires effort on our parts to maintain and keep that connection.

 

One very practical way that we try to stay connected is by having an up-to-date church directory. Periodically, we try to update that information, particularly when someone shares with us that their information has changed. So, we need your help -- in fact we need everyone's help to update our information in our church directory so we can stay better connected.

 

During the month of December, we're asking everyone to update their information for the church directory. We will have an insert in the bulletin in worship every Sunday which you can fill out and place in the offering plate. We will have a way to update your information online. Just watch for the link in “Connections” and on our website. We will even provide someone to take your picture when you attend worship on Sundays, or you can send us in a digital picture that you provide. Thank you for helping us stay connected!

 

I also want to mention that we are having a Called Congregational Meeting to elect elders on Sunday, December 12, following the 11:00 a.m. worship service. This will be a combination in-person and zoom meeting. However, we need a quorum of church members (10%) in order to be able to elect our elders. So please click this link and sign up now.

Prayer for Today

Thank you, Lord, for connecting us through your Holy Spirit as the body of Christ. Help us to do the things that strengthen our connections with one another and with you. In the strong name of Jesus the Christ we pray. Amen.

Posted by: AT 01:39 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
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10950 Bell Rd, Johns Creek, GA 30097
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