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Reflections

Welcome to the JCPC Daily Reflections Blog. Reflections are daily devotionals authored by JCPC pastors, staff and members and provide insight, guidance and comfort to help you make it through each day. If you’d like to receive Reflections each day via email,  provide your email address.

Friday, February 26 2021

Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'Return to me,' declares the Lord Almighty, 'and I will return to you,' says the Lord Almighty.
-Zechariah 1:3

 

Repentance is one of those things we specifically associate with Lent. We recently had a short discussion about what repentance meant during one of our weekly staff meetings over Zoom, and it got me thinking about what it really means. My normal Sunday routine now that I'm back in Japan involves watching online services from two or more churches, one of them being JCPC. Since our discussion, I've started picking up on little tidbits about repentance through watching these services, and a new way to look at repentance has emerged.

We often think of repentance in a negative way, associating it with the sinful parts of our lives. We have to recognize what in our life needs changing, and that can be uncomfortable. I've often thought of repentance as being an emotional act, recognizing flaws and humbly bringing them before God. But what if we also thought of repentance from a different approach. God calls us to constantly work towards becoming better versions of ourselves. The purpose of repenting is to discover areas that we need to improve in order to become a more ideal version of ourselves. In other words, we repent so that we can become who God meant for us to be.

Repentance is an opportunity to return to God. It's a chance to work on that which is lacking. Lent is a time of preparation and waiting, and it ends with Easter morning. On that first Easter, everything changed. The bonds of sin were broken by Christ's resurrection and new life began. We often associate Easter with new life: budding flowers and freshly hatched baby chicks. Can we then think of Lent as an annual chance to work towards living into a "new" life and returning to God? Instead of dwelling on the negative, how can you look at those parts of your life that need changing in a positive way? Through repentance and a return to God, we not only become more like who God wants us to be, but we also find that God returns to us.

 

Prayer for Today

God of Life, we are broken and incomplete, full of unfulfilled dreams and forgotten promises. Help us to envision a new life with you again, one where we live according to your will. Bring us through this Lenten season so that we may arrive on Easter morning renewed and closer to you. Amen.

Posted by: AT 03:43 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, February 25 2021

And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds,

not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

-Hebrews 10:24 & 25

 

Lent is a season of penitence. Often, people give things up to express repenting of things or habits that might allow them to focus more on God and their faith. Some people take on new spiritual practices. In the last 12 months many of us have given up or lost a lot. This may be your year to reclaim some of them. The Barna group, one of the biggest organizations that tracks church statistics reports that as many as one in three Christians have stopped attending church in any way. If that's you, this Lent is your call to pick back up worship for you and your family.

In past years, many Christians have as their primary reason for missing weekly worship that they were too busy or had competing Sunday morning activities. And yet, many churches, including JCPC, and most of our neighbors moved online for the first time or had already been providing that. It's time to make the time and buckle in for worship. Scripture tells us it's essential. Research tells us it's essential to being anchored in lifelong spiritual practices, family bonding, and health. And it's literally never been easier. While I do hope you'll come to drive-in worship with us, if you cannot, I hope you'll tune in online. It's shorter than a regular service. In fact, if you used to come for two hours to also do Sunday school or socialize, you can check out other worship services from our neighbors, other Presbyterian churches, our previous services you missed, or watch this week's service again. There's also an online children's message. And you can join a number of small groups on Zoom.

This Lent, reclaim your faith, or check it out for the first time in a while. Do not let Covid keep you from the pew. It can be your couch. We can all get there and be together in spirit. Don't let anything else fill the void. What fills our moments we ought to or used to spend with God become our idols. When we choose to carve that time back out and reclaim it, we destroy our idols and reclaim our faith and families. This Lent, reclaim worship, live or online. Make a plan, be disciplined, find accountability in friends and pastors and with your own family. I'll see you in the lot, on Zoom, and God willing, on the other side of this pandemic in our pews and classrooms and over a dinner table.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, help me reclaim my faith. Help me and my household carve out time for worship, study, and fellowship, in safe ways live and online to grow in you and deepen our relationship. Amen.

Posted by: AT 03:41 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, February 24 2021

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. - Exodus 20:8-10a, NIV

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. 

- Genesis 2:2-3, NIV

 

At last Saturday's Zoom Presbytery meeting, our guest speaker, the former Moderator of the PCUSA, reminded us that it has been almost a year since this pandemic started. He also reminded us that we began this time in "sprint mode" -- believing this would all be over pretty soon. Now, almost a year later, he reminded us that this is really a marathon and not a sprint. He also said that no one can keep up a sprinter's pace for very long without facing inevitable consequences.

Last year when the pandemic hit hard in the first week of March, Pam and I were heading down to Florida for the Braves' training camp. We were hoping for a much-needed break. Our vacation was cut short when we had to come home early as everything began to shut down. That was the last vacation I had. The needs of 2020 led me to choose to focus on getting JCPC through this crisis. Creating an Online Weekly Worship Service and then adding an In-Person Drive-In Worship Service restructured much of my time. Financial challenges, staffing concerns and pastoral care needs dominated the rest of my time. So, when I heard the words of our Moderator at our Presbytery meeting, I realized it was probably time to take some Sabbath for renewal in this marathon that we are all experiencing. This week, I am taking off Thursday through Sunday.

The Bible verse above from Exodus reminds us of the commandments (not suggestions) from God, which include the need for a day of Sabbath rest and renewal every week. Genesis also reminds us that even God rested one day in seven after creation, and so should we. This Sunday is Youth Sunday (which I always love and will watch online) -- so the service will be in good hands. I strongly encourage you to plan to attend or watch it online, too!

May God help each one of us to find the Sabbath rest we need -- in order to live life the way God intends it to be lived.

 

Prayer for Today

God of grace, help us to experience the gift of your Sabbath rest as we set aside time for renewal and worship you. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: AT 03:39 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, February 23 2021

In the past week with my study and prayer, I had a chance to consider John's account of the Wedding at Cana and the miracle of Jesus there. This verse stuck with me at the end of it.

This act in Cana of Galilee was the first sign Jesus gave, the first glimpse of his glory. And his disciples believed in him. -John 2:11

John's gospel shares 7 miraculous signs of who Jesus is and what Jesus can do. This is the first of the miracles that Jesus does in the lives of the disciples and the people at Cana get to witness it.

We are continuing to travel through a season that has put us through more challenges, hurdles, crisis, and experiences in one year than we may have experienced in any other season. The miracles of Jesus are signs that remind us that Jesus does extraordinary with ordinary. Jesus is with us in the midst of our crisis and challenges.

So what kinds of miracles are you praying for in your life today? Are they Emotional? Relational? Health? Family?

Can you be open to the miracles and signs that point us to Jesus? Do you sometimes try to find a rationale reason for something happening even though if you think about it further you may realize this was a miracle in your life and a gift from God?

These lyrics from this song came to mind as I considered this scripture and the miracles of Jesus.

You are here, moving in our midst
I worship You, I worship You
You are here, working in this place
I worship You, I worship You

You are Way maker, miracle worker, promise keeper
Light in the darkness
My God, that is who You are

You are here, touching every heart
You are here, healing every heart

You're turning lives around
You are here, oh, turning lives around
You mended every heart
(Way Maker- Leeland)

You can listen to the song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29IxnsqOkmQ

 

Prayer for Today

Creator God, Thank you for the miraculous signs and ways that you care for us. Open our eyes to see you are at work in our daily lives. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 03:36 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, February 19 2021

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 

-1 John 5:14

 

Every morning when I feed my VERY vocal cats, Boris and Oscar, we go through the same routine.  The second I emerge from the bedroom, they meow nonstop, following (or leading) me into the kitchen, and as I replenish their food and water, they urgently crescendo their meows, and I start to wonder... don't they realize I'm feeding them?... am I not going fast enough?... They meow incessantly for what they want, as if their being fed depends upon their efforts to meow louder and never let up... we do this every day, twice a day, but it's like they don't believe I'm really going to feed them.  Of course I'm going to feed them!   One day as they were howling, I thought, is this what our prayers sound like to God???  

Luckily, the answer is no!  God loves to hear our prayers, and God loves when we approach with our requests, whether they be for ourselves, or for others.  In Paul's letter to the Ephesians, he instructs them to "pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.  With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord's people." (Ephesians 6:18)

This Saturday, we will have a unique opportunity to pray for all the Lord's people.  Our annual Prayer Vigil will take place from 12:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m. in the East parking lot. While we are not able to do this indoors, you may remain in your car, walk the campus, or find a quiet place to sit. Prayer guides and prayer concerns will be provided. The prayer labyrinth will also be available under the portico until 5:00pm.  

Also this Saturday at 6:00 p.m., there will be a drive-in Service of Prayers for Peace (also online), following the Prayer Vigil.

We began this week with the account of Jesus transfigured in glory on the mountain.  We entered the season of Lent on Ash Wednesday, remembering that we came from dust, and to dust we shall return.  Join us Saturday as we draw nearer to God in prayer.

 

Prayer for Today

God of the universe, we cannot fathom how holy and powerful you are, and yet you call us your own children and draw near to hear us.  Help us to trust in your faithfulness, and move us to love one another.  In your son's holy name we pray.  Amen.

Posted by: AT 03:29 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, February 18 2021

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

II Corinthians 9:8

 

I have a tradition of blessing the boys when they hop out of the car for school. I make the sign of the cross on their foreheads. Much like many of you will do at the drive-thru for ashes or at home with the online service. I remind our boys to do their best, be kind, and we love them. Last week, for the first time, I made the cross on my one year old's forehead as he stood in front of me, and he said his one and only phrase he knows apart from a half dozen words. As I asked God to bless him and crossed him with my thumb, eyes wide, he looked at me and said, "Oh Wow."

When I mark our oldest, he smiles. He often requests it. He fully understands it and loves it. When I mark our middle son, he grins. He gets that it's special. And then there's our toddler. He knows he's loved. He erupts into smiles and giggles when me or his mother enter the room. He doesn't understand it on any deeper level. But he is wowed. At times in my life, I've been like my teenager. I've craved and needed God's blessing. At other times, I'm like my middle son, grateful, and beginning to comprehend. And at other times, like my youngest... God loves little old me? Oh wow.

Where are you in your faith walk or faith life? Are you in or at a church or watching online every week? Invested in a small group or Bible study? Or have you wandered away in quarantine or for longer? God's words and faith family are a real blessing, whether we are seeking it or not. Maybe you are seeking it. I hope you'll join me at church or online each week. Or maybe, you've needed to feel that love, to be inspired, encouraged, challenged, connected. And I hope you'll join us and just maybe, you'll have a moment of childlike wonder, and won't be able to help saying, "Oh, wow."

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, bless me and keep me. Call me, lead me, guide me, and give me purpose. Amen.

Posted by: AT 03:27 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, February 17 2021

Today is Ash Wednesday. One tradition in Christian churches is called "the imposition of ashes." It refers to the act of placing ashes upon the foreheads of Christians to remind them of their mortality and their dependence upon God's grace. But the word "imposition" is not one we use often. I thought about someone saying, "I don't want to be an imposition" or " I hope I am not imposing." I looked in the dictionary to find these definitions:

-          the laying on of something as a burden or obligation

-          the act of imposing by or as if by authority

-          the act of imposing fraudulently or deceptively on others

-          the ceremonial laying on of hands, as in confirmation or ordination

-          the act of putting, placing, or laying on

Only the final definition in the above list seems to touch on what we do on Ash Wednesday. But I never thought of the imposition of ashes as a "burden" or an "obligation" -- and certainly not something involving "deception." In fact, there is something very honest about saying to someone the words we speak as we place the ashes on someone's forehead: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." It doesn't get much more honest than that.

Wearing those ashes around in public may be something of a "burden" -- reflecting our "obligations" as followers of Christ to love one another. Jesus tells us that in following him, we will all take up our cross in life daily - whatever that cross may be.

However, the Psalms reminds us of this: "Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death." Even as we allow ashes to be imposed upon our foreheads as a reminder that we are all mortal, we also remember that we have a Savior who bears our burdens daily - one who saves us and offers us "escape from death." While we all face physical death, that is not the final word. God's final word is resurrection and the end of death!

 

Prayer for Today

Loving God, as we remember this day that we are mortal, help us also to remember that we are loved by you, forgiven of our sin, and will one day be restored to a new, resurrected life with you. Amen.

Posted by: AT 03:25 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, February 16 2021

When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man's eyes, saying to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, "Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?" Some were saying, "It is he." Others were saying, "No, but it is someone like him." He kept saying, "I am the man." But they kept asking him, "Then how were your eyes opened?" He answered, "The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, 'Go to Siloam and wash.' Then I went and washed and received my sight." They said to him, "Where is he?" He said, "I do not know." John 9:6-12

Have you had an experience where God has sent you into a place unknown? When it's a mission experience, often before we go, we are commissioned. In some traditions, this sending includes a laying on of hands, a simple, but powerful ritual of the body of Christ. In that moment, those being sent may have little idea of the journey ahead. Who will we meet? What new adventures will we have? How will we see God at work?

I have been journeying with many who have been traveling into the unknown, but not in the sense of a mission trip experience. We have been on a journey over the past year into some very new and unexpected experiences in our own community, country and throughout the world.

Where have you encountered a new mission in your own community?

Often on these journeys we experience transformation and healing. There is a good chance that those who didn't share the experience with you will notice a change in us when we return. We may not be able to articulate clearly why we have changed, but it is important to share our stories. Sharing our own experiences of being sent by Christ may indeed be an eye opener for others.

Take a moment today to think about an experience where God has sent you. What did you learn? How have you been changed? I would invite you to share this experience with someone else this week.

 

Prayer for Today

God, help us to share our experiences with others in such a way that they too may see you. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 03:17 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, February 15 2021

During an outing, we met a woman who had known my husband's family since he was a child. She looked from Alan to our son, Xavier. "He's the spitting image of his daddy," she said. "Those eyes. That smile. Yep. Looks just like him." As the woman delighted in acknowledging such a strong resemblance between father and son, she even noted similarities in their personalities. Still, though they are alike in many ways, my son doesn't reflect his father perfectly.

There's only one Son-Jesus-who reflects His Father completely. Christ is the "image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation" (Colossians 1:15). In Him and through Him and for Him all things were created (v. 16). "He is before all things, and in him all things hold together" (v. 17).

We can spend time in prayer and Bible study, discovering the Father's character by looking at Jesus-God in the flesh. He invites us to witness His love in action by examining how He interacts with others in Scripture and in our day-to-day living. After surrendering our lives to Christ and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, we can grow in knowing and trusting our loving Father. He transforms us to reflect His character, so we can live for Him.

What a joy it would be if others could say we look just like Jesus!

 

Prayer for Today

Jesus, please help me know You more as You make me more like You!  Amen.

Posted by: AT 03:14 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, February 12 2021

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
-Mark 9:2-4

 

This passage starts Mark's accounts of the Transfiguration, an incredible miracle that is mentioned in three of the four Gospels. We celebrate the Transfiguration of Jesus this Sunday, and you may notice our stoles will be white. We use the liturgical color of white on major Holy Days and Sundays where we celebrate pivotal events in the life of Jesus. The white symbolizes purity, holiness, and glory. Some churches alternatively use gold or use both white and gold together. Based on Mark's account, you can see one reason why we use the color white for Jesus.

I'm especially intrigued just by how white Jesus' clothes are said to have become. Whiter than anyone could bleach them? Bleach does a pretty good job of, well, bleaching cloth. The other descriptions are interesting, as well. Luke says the clothes were as bright as a flash of lightning. Matthew says they were bright as light, and he also tells us that the disciples that went up the mountain with Jesus were very sleepy. Can you imagine being half awake on a mountain, and then suddenly, something so white and so bright appears in front of you. How would you react if something so indescribable as the glory of Jesus shone before your eyes? And what about if then, both Moses and Elijah appeared, too? And then! What if you heard the rumbling voice of God call out?

Well, that's exactly what happened to Peter, John, and James. I think I'd be terrified and speechless, but Peter offers to set up three tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. I really don't think I would have said the same thing, but I think there is something to Peter's reaction. There's nothing of value Peter could've given to Jesus in his full glory, but he offers whatever he has anyway. I don't know what it is that God has given you, but whatever it is, offer it back to God anyway. The paradox is that no matter how humble or insignificant our gift may be, the Ancient of Days will always gladly accept and cherish it.

 

Prayer for Today

God of All Time, our presence is exceedingly insignificant when compared to your glory, and yet, you call to each one of us by name. Open our ears to hear you calling, and give us the courage to humbly offer you our broken hearts and weary minds. Transfigure our lives to reflect your glory and to lighten the darkness in the world. Amen.

Posted by: AT 03:10 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, February 11 2021

Then he said to his servants, 'The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy.

Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.' Those servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

-Matthew 22:8-10

 

Amidst the pandemic, there was news out of the UK this week. Although there are long waiting lists for folks from many walks of life to get the vaccine, not everyone has been able to sign up or gain access. And though there are many who do not want to be vaccinated, there's at least one largely-overlooked population that needs to be treated - the homeless. Physicians in the UK recognize that in order to gain a society-wide protective immunity, and serve all in need, they needed to head out and seek out the homeless, those who would not otherwise have received an invitation.

So what then can we do? Jesus seems to be telling us that the master is not interested in bribing people to show up for the feast or begging or sending tons of follow-up messages. Instead, he turns to those who most need the feast. Who needs the feast most in our lives? Is it folks who we keep hoping will show up, or do we need to start inviting our neighbors, families from Preschool or Promise 686? Maybe it's our local first responders who keep us safe.

If Jesus is the master and life in the Kingdom is the feast and we are the servants, who then do we need to invite in from the wider community? Who are we called to love in the world and in this pandemic? Who have we yet to invite? And who will we invite this week?

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, make me your inviting servant, seeking out all those who need to be at your table. Amen.

Posted by: AT 03:05 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, February 10 2021

As I've shared with some of you before, growing up Baptist I had no experience with Ash Wednesday or Lent. Those were things that only Catholics did, or so I thought. It wasn't until I became a Presbyterian that I realized Christians besides Catholics also practiced these things. However, as we move toward a year of pandemic life, we are once again challenged with finding new ways to worship God safely.

A week from today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent. Normally, we would meet in the Chapel on Wednesday evening for a worship service, culminating in the imposition of ashes on our foreheads as a reminder that we are human and that we have come "from dust and to dust we shall return" - as scripture reminds us. As a pastor, I am reminded every year what a privilege it is to say these words while placing ashes upon the foreheads of our church family. But like a number of things, we can't do that this year the way we normally do it. So, here is what we have planned to do for Ash Wednesday.

Next Wednesday, February 17, we will have an online Ash Wednesday service that will be available all day. For those who would like the Imposition of Ashes, we will be offering the opportunity to drive through the portico at the church from 12:00 to 12:30 PM, and again from 6:00 to 6:30 PM. Brian and I will be there to share a few words, offer a blessing or a prayer, and impose ashes using Q-tips. We will also be wearing gloves and masks. Heidi and Christian will prepare music that will be playing during this time, and there will be a table set up with the cross and the Bible to create a sacred space. I know it's not the same, but our Worship Ministry Team and our staff believe it's the best we can do it for now. We hope you will find the best way for you to join in worship that day!

The first Sunday of Lent is February 21st, and our theme will be "Lent - a Time to Repent." Also, remember our Prayer Vigil on Saturday, February 20, from Noon until 6:00 PM -- followed by a "Service of Prayers for Peace" beginning at 6:00 PM as a Drive-In service in our East parking lot.

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, as we enter the season of Lent, may we once again understand your love and grace which allow us to repent and to turn our lives back to you. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:58 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, February 09 2021

Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 'This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself. 

-Matthew 27:37-39

Love is not happy with evil. But it is full of joy when the truth is spoken. It always protects. It always trusts. It always hopes. It never gives up. 

-1 Corinthians 13: 6-7

 

Are you a noticer? Are you a keen observer of details? When do you do that best?

During a week when there are lots of expressions of love. I would invite you to share God's love by noticing others today. Rachel Macy Stafford, a writer and encourager, shared this invitation and it has stuck with me.


"Let us notice our endless efforts, rather than any less-than-desirable outcomes. Let us notice how hard people are working, not how quickly they are providing service. Let us notice where our love and kindness is needed, rather than spew criticism and scrutiny where it is not needed. Love others right where they are. Love others just as they are. Someone is just waiting for us to notice what's blooming (or wilting) inside that could use a little undivided attention. We are all just waiting for someone to notice - notice our pain, notice our scars, notice our fear, notice our joy, notice our triumphs, notice our courage. And the one who notices is a rare and beautiful gift."

I share this invitation with you as we go into this day and this week. How can you share God's love with someone in this way?

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious and Loving God, thank you for the gift of your unconditional love. Guide as we go through our day to be open to the ways you would have us share it today. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:56 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, February 08 2021

The weather forecast said 

bomb cyclone. That's what happens when a winter storm rapidly intensifies as the atmospheric pressure drops. By the time night fell, the blizzard conditions made the highway to the Denver airport almost impossible to see. Almost. But when it's your daughter who's flying home to visit, you do what you have to do. You pack extra clothes and water (just in case you get stranded on the highway), drive very slowly, pray without ceasing, and last but not least, trust your headlights. And sometimes you can achieve the almost impossible.

Jesus foretold of a storm on the horizon, one that would involve His death (John 12:31-33), and one that would challenge His followers to stay faithful and serve (v. 26). It was going to get dark and be almost impossible to see. Almost. So what did Jesus tell them to do? Believe, or trust, the Light (v. 36). That was the only way they could keep going forward and stay faithful.

Jesus would only be with them a little while longer. But believers have His Spirit as our constant guide to light the way. We too will face dark times when it's almost impossible to see the way ahead. 

Almost. But by believing, or trusting in the Light, we can press on. 

 

Prayer for Today

Jesus, thank You for being the light in my darkness. Help me to trust and keep going.  Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:54 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, February 05 2021

Do you not know?  Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.  He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

-Isaiah 40:28-31

 

This Sunday's closing hymn, "O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go" was written by Rev. Dr. George Matheson, a Scottish minister and hymn writer.  In his twentieth year he became totally blind, but he was determined to enter the ministry, and devoted himself to theological and historical study.  This hymn was written on the evening of his sister's marriage.  Years before, when his fiancée learned that he was going blind and there was nothing the doctors could do, she told him that she could not go through life with a blind man.  His sister had been the one to care for him through the years, but now she was getting married and would no longer be there for him.  Matheson was now 40, and his sister's marriage brought a fresh reminder of his own heartbreak.  In the midst of this circumstance and intense sadness, he wrote this hymn.  Matheson remarked: 

Something happened to me, which was known only to myself, and which caused me the most severe mental suffering.  The hymn was the fruit of that suffering.  It was the quickest bit of work I ever did in my life.  I had the impression rather of having it dictated to me by some inward voice than of working it out myself.  I am quite sure that the whole work was completed in five minutes, and equally sure that it never received at my hands any retouching or correction.  I have no natural gift of rhythm.  All the other verses I have ever written are manufactured articles; this came like a dayspring from on high.  I have never been able to gain once more the same fervor in verse. 

And this is the first verse many of us know: 

O Love that wilt not let me go, 
I rest my weary soul in thee; 
I give thee back the life I owe, 
That in thine ocean depths its flow 
May richer, fuller be. 

When we take another look at the scripture passage for this Sunday, we are reminded that God is our source, our sustenance.  We are told that those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  When we are burned out and feeling weak (like many are right now due to pandemic fatigue and other circumstances) the Love that will not let us go will give us rest and renew our strength!  This is very good news!  We hope you will join us in worshiping the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth this Sunday! 

O Joy that seekest me through pain, 
I cannot close my heart to thee; 
I trace the rainbow through the rain, 
And feel the promise is not vain 
that morn shall tearless be. 

 

Prayer for Today

 

Holy God, you created every whirling planet in the universe and beyond, yet you care for even the smallest creature that you made.  As your beloved children, help us to put our trust in you and your unceasing love for us.  In Jesus' holy name we pray.  Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:28 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, February 04 2021

And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.'

-Matthew 25:20-21

 

Just a few years ago, I was serving a church in rural North Carolina. Each week, area churches would pack bags of food for kids who were food-insecure to take home to their families for the weekend. Our closest elementary school had over 90% free and reduced lunch-qualifying kids. The neediest of those kids signed up to receive a grocery bag each Friday. My youth and I would pack those bags full of the allotment of food... several pouches of instant oatmeal, cans of fruit and vegetables, soup, pasta, granola bars, snacks, and sometimes, fresh produce. I usually delivered them on Thursday to the school front office. However, one week, there was a snow storm on that Thursday.

When I arrived on Friday to make my drop off, kids who hadn't had a meal the day before and knew the weekend was even bleaker, poured out the front door to meet me as I carried in bags. You would have thought I was St. Nick. They screamed and giggled and jumped up and down. They hugged my legs and thanked me and showed their bags off to each other. Since then, I've had times where I felt it would be a tight budget month with car repairs and unexpected expenses, but I've never had to rely on a bag of food from strangers who loved me and my kids to make it through a snowy weekend.

During Covid, the need is greater than ever. Our partner, Hands of Christ, fills bags of food for families in need every weekday. And they need our help to do it. Groups sign up to provide volunteers for the food pantry. February is JCPC's month and there's a signup genius in the weekly connection email. I hope you'll click here or give Margy a call and volunteer. Somewhere, there's a family with kids who will sit around a table this weekend and smile because you took the time to be generous with your time. And when you sit around your table, you'll remember them, and see them in your mind's eye as you pray to bless your food. And if you listen, you'll hear, "well done, good and faithful servant."

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, you have trusted me with gifts of time, talent, and treasure. Make one who invests in those in need so you will be proud that I have been generous when you return. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:26 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, February 03 2021

"Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans." 

- Proverbs 16:3, NIV

"Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails." 

- Proverbs 19:21, NIV

"The Lord knows all human plans; he knows that they are futile." 

- Psalms 94:11, NIV

 

This week I was doing some planning. My guess is that many of us are making plans for the year, even though so many things are uncertain. I was planning sermons for the next few months. We try to plan at least a couple of months in advance so that we have an idea, not only of the theme for our sermons, but what the music and other parts of worship might look like. Now I am not a fanatic about planning, but I have found it useful and even necessary. And when I'm finished planning, it feels good to have a plan. Knowing what I am doing next reduces my anxiety and gives me a sense of the overall trajectory of whatever I'm doing.

I started thinking about what the Bible says about planning and discovered the Bible verses above. However, these three verses seem to be coming at the whole process of planning in different ways. Proverbs 16:3 says that if we commit to the Lord whatever we do, God will establish our plans, which sounds like a good thing. Proverbs 19:21 seems to be saying that as humans, we may have many plans, but the plans that prevail are those that fulfill God's purposes. Maybe that means we should evaluate our plans based on what we know about God's purpose for our lives and for the world God loves. When it comes to Psalm 94:11, it doesn't seem to have a very high view on human plans, calling them "futile."

So, maybe one way to put them together is like this: we should begin with God's big purposes for life, such as loving God and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. If we ignore these when making our own plans, in the long run they may prove futile. But if we are committed to planning in ways that honor God and are consistent with God's will for us in our world, then God will establish those plans. So, don't give up on planning, just do it God's way!

 

Prayer for Today

We thank you, God, for the purposes you have established for us and for your world. As we make plans for this new year, help us to be guided by your purposes, so that you might establish our plans. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:23 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
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