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.
“All glory, laud and honor to thee, Redeemer, King,
To whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring!”
-Refrain from All Glory, Laud, and Honor
The hymn, All Glory, Laud, and Honor, is a well-known Palm Sunday hymn, and one that we’ll be singing together this coming Sunday online and at the Drive-in service. We sing it on Palm Sunday as we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry in Jerusalem. The text to this hymn and the music go back farther than you might think.
The melody is originally a Lutheran hymn, composed in 1613, and was originally a hymn for the dying. The melody had nothing to do with Palm Sunday or the text we now associate with this melody, but Bach used the melody in some of his religious works, including the St John Passion. The text for this hymn was written in 820! It’s old as dirt! The text was composed in Latin specifically for Palm Sunday and it had no less than 39 verses. Can you even imagine a hymn with 39 verses? We’d need a much bigger hymnal if all of our hymns had so many verses!
Palm Sunday is also called Passion Sunday, which leads us to Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. We Presbyterians celebrate both Jesus’ entry in Jerusalem and the start of Holy Week. Without dwelling on the Passion, we go from Hosanna to Hallelujah, but we miss the really important stuff in the middle. We may almost rationalize the crucifixion as something that bad people did – we wouldn’t have been with the crowd. But, I wonder if we act in ways that are more like those shouting for crucifixion than we’d like to admit.
Ghandi is often quoted with saying, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ,” and this is something to ponder as we head into Holy Week. None of us is perfect, but if we’re honest with ourselves, there are parts of our lives where we don’t act very Christ-like. Do we welcome Jesus into our lives with joy only to then turn around and act in a way that is contrary to God’s love? As we approach Passiontide, ponder on what sets you apart from the crowd, and what makes you an accomplice with them.
Prayer for Today
God of Peace, we want to worship you with honor, yet we unknowingly cast you aside. We want to skip over the uncomfortable parts of our existence, and rush to the happy sounds of Easter. But we’re not there yet. Silence our hearts and center our minds on you in the challenging week ahead. Amen.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
I recently had the opportunity to get a vaccination and was so thankful. Many of my colleagues who work as hospital and hospice chaplains got theirs as a part of their job. While my job often takes me to hospitals and I work with first responders, those activities are not every day for me. However, as I recently got asked to do volunteer chaplaincy with the fire department, they wanted all of us to get vaccinated for our work with other first responders.
My only physical side effect was a sore arm and some fatigue. The side effect I had not anticipated was a new sense of freedom. Freedom from the fear of contracting the virus and playing my part to eradicate the virus and reduce the likelihood it would be contracted by my family and friends. And I began thinking about the many verses in the Epistles that frame Christian freedom as the freedom to serve. Even with a mask and careful practices, could I do more now? Could I begin to volunteer with folks in need? Schedule some future youth events indoor in anticipation of their vaccinations too? Plan summer trips? Mission trips?
Perhaps you’ve recently gotten vaccinated or you’re scheduled. Are you feeling a new sense of freedom? How will you use that freedom? We all miss restaurants and family gatherings, small groups and worship, and those are slowly returning. But, as you begin to fill your schedule, how will you fill it?
I’m reminded of the professor who placed a large glass vase on his desk. He filled it first with large rocks, which he said were the most important things in life - family, friends, work, worship, volunteering. Is it full? Yes, they said. Then marbles - sleep and exercise and good food. Now, is it full? Yes! It’s full now. Then he poured in sand - movies and tv, hobbies, entertainment, etc. Now it’s full. Then he poured in a cup of coffee... there’s always room for coffee with a friend in need. We’ve had a year where we couldn’t do everything. Now we can do more. We have the freedom to choose. Will we fill the time with sand or place our rocks in first? Let’s place a few rocks together and use our new freedom to serve.
Prayer for Today
Lord, as I gain freedom, help me use it to serve those most in need. Amen.
Then he [Jesus] said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
-- Luke 9:23, NIV
In the church or liturgical year, we call this coming Sunday “Palm” or “Passion” Sunday. It marks the beginning of Holy Week. While Holy Week begins on a positive note, with the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey and people waving palm branches, we need to remember that later on that week things will not go well for Jesus. His approval rating will drop dramatically. As one person put it, “The cheers will turn to jeers.” In a few short days Jesus will find himself standing before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate with the crowds no longer shouting, “Hosanna!” but, “Crucify him!” Perhaps if we were a part of that crowd shouting, “Crucify him!” we might be doing the same thing because “Everybody’s doing it.” But does that really make it okay – to do something because “Everybody’s doing it”?
There was an article in The New York Times about moral choices some persons have made -- choices that seem to go against their ethical framework. In the article, Stanford professor Dr. Albert Bandura identified eight mechanisms that people use to rationalize immoral behavior. For example, sometimes we say things like, “We were just carrying out orders.” We may even dehumanize the person we are mistreating, or we might “blame the victim by saying, “they were asking for it.”
However, one of the eight mechanisms is what he calls “diffusion of responsibility.” He describes it as “shifting the responsibility for a transgression with others who took part, or who played indirect roles.” In other words, saying, “Everyone was doing it.” It is sometimes how we rationalize being part of a crowd, but does it make it okay simply because everyone is doing it?
Probably one of the hardest things we will ever have to do is to go against the crowd and take a stand for what is right – even if the crowd around us does not. Maybe that is one of the ways we take up our cross daily as followers of Christ. Join us this Sunday as we hear about someone who literally carried the cross of Christ.
Prayer for Today
Thank you, God, for Jesus, who took a stand for us all on the cross in order that we might find new life. Help us to take up the daily crosses and do the right thing, even if it is hard. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
“I call this my Practice of Presence, and I do it every morning for ten minutes,” I responded. “It's helped me live as my true, authentic self – instead of who the world wants or expects me to be.”
-Rachel Macy Stafford
When you consider places where you can be your true, authentic self, where are you? Who are you surrounded by?
What does it look like for you to get to a place where you can tune out expectations or pressures from the world around you?
There were times when Jesus needed to truly be himself and be present. Sometimes that meant separating himself from the crowds. Sometimes that meant going to God in prayer. Sometimes that meant being with just the small group of his closest followers.
As we prepare to move into Holy Week this Sunday and travel the difficult road with Jesus, what can you do to be open to the spaces where you need to disconnect or where can you be your real and best self?
Reach out to those who help you be present in that abs journey together. Take time for connecting with God in ways that bring life to you.
Prayer for Today
Gracious and Loving God, Help us to be open to your guiding hand in these challenging days. May we walk in a way that is pleasing to you. In Christ’s Name, Amen.
On Chicago Day in October 1893, the city’s theaters shut down because the owners figured everyone would be attending the World’s Fair. Over seven hundred thousand people went, but Dwight Moody (1837–1899) wanted to fill a music hall at the other end of Chicago with preaching and teaching. His friend R. A. Torrey (1856–1928) was skeptical that Moody could draw a crowd on the same day as the fair. But by God’s grace, he did. As Torrey later concluded, the crowds came because Moody knew “the one Book that this old world most longs to know—the Bible.” Torrey longed for others to love the Bible as Moody did, reading it regularly with dedication and passion.
God through His Spirit brought people back to Himself at the end of the nineteenth century in Chicago, and He continues to speak today. We can echo the psalmist’s love for God and His Scriptures as he exclaims, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103). For the psalmist, God’s messages of grace and truth acted as a light for his path, a lamp for his feet (v. 105).
How can you grow more in love with the Savior and His message? As we immerse ourselves in Scripture, God will increase our devotion to Him and guide us, shining His light along the paths we walk.
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, You’ve given me the gift of Scripture. Help me to read it and digest it, that I might serve You faithfully. Amen.
"The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted."
-Matthew 28:16-17 (New American Bible (Revised Edition))
Take note of the scripture above. Does anything look peculiar? Eleven instead of twelve disciples? If there were eleven disciples, this means that Judas Iscariot was out of the picture by this time... they worshiped, but doubted... the DISCIPLES doubted??? Jesus' closest friends?? Doubted Jesus? So this was after the resurrection, after they had seen and spoke with and touched and ate meals with Jesus?
You would think that after all of the miracles and everything else they had witnessed, their faith would be sight by now, and HOW could the disciples (of all people) doubt Jesus? What does this mean for you and me, who have not been first-hand witnesses of the Son of God? Why do we expect ourselves to have no doubt?
I don't remember my infant baptism, but I remember my Lutheran confirmation. I had completed 3 years of weekly classes (think doubIe Sunday School with homework!!). I was fourteen, having a really bad hair day, the stark white robe did nothing for my complexion, and I once had all the pictures to prove it. I publicly renounced the devil, and all his works, and all his ways, and to use non-Lutheran terms, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, even though I'd been saying the words in church ever since I could talk. I also vividly remember later that afternoon when I was alone, after all of the festivities in church and the big family dinner (confirmation was a HUGE deal in my family), I sat in my room looking over all of the gifts, prayer books, crosses, and cards I had received, and I remember thinking... I just got all of this stuff, and people have said all of these things to me... but do I really REALLY believe? And THAT was really weird, because so far, it is the only time in my life I can remember feeling that way.
Well now I feel better, now that I know Jesus' very own disciples doubted too!! And confirmation is just the beginning of a closer walk with God. We can rest knowing that God understands every doubt that we face and gives us grace to talk through those doubts. And when we do, God draws us closer, and we are reminded that we are never alone on this journey.
So join us online or in the parking lot this Confirmation Sunday, reaffirm your faith with the confirmands, bring your doubts with you, and let's worship together!
Prayer for Today
Holy God, we believe!! Help our unbelief!! In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
One of my practices is to look at the “Memories” on Facebook each morning. This is a list of what you shared on that day each year you’ve had your account. I’ve had mine almost two decades now, so there’s a long list each day. Recently, I found one from about a year ago. I posted that our oldest son mused the following on the way home from our group guitar practice... “Being a musician is making lots of mistakes and then learning from them later and doing better next time... Actually, being a human is the same thing basically.”
I shared it and saved it because there was some real wisdom in his observation. Our passage reminds us that we are always striving to do better. And in groups, like a band, we help one another improve in skill and become more harmonious. The more we play together, the better we get, and the more beautiful our music. What a model for Christian life together and friendship. At our best, friction doesn’t result primarily in damage but in becoming sharper, becoming better, mutual benefit.
In Christian community, we must then ask if we are using the time and opportunity we have together to benefit one another and become sharper, wiser, better, or... if we are simply causing friction... or damage. In Lent, we do well to assess ourselves and our relationships and to perhaps adjust our practices, to do better, and to make a more joyful noise as members of the same band. Let’s be good iron. Let’s make mistakes, learn from them, and do better next time.
Prayer for Today
Lord, as iron sharpens iron, help me to sharpen and be sharpened, and to always do better next time. Amen.
Today is Saint Patrick’s Day. Patrick was born sometime in the late fourth century on the coast of England or Scotland. Patrick was captured by Irish pirates at age sixteen and kept as a slave for six years. He spent most of that time out tending his master’s herds. It was outside in the woods and mountains that he learned to pray -- often beginning before dawn. Some days he would pray as many as a hundred prayers when “the spirit was fervent within.” Eventually he escaped, found his family again, and felt a call to the priesthood. When he finished his training, the pope sent him back to Ireland as a missionary. He travelled all over the country founding churches and monasteries. He was perhaps the major influence in sharing the good news of God’s love with the people of Ireland.
Today I want to share some more good news! Our Session voted to add an 11:00 a.m. worship service on Easter Sunday outdoors on our ballfield under a large tent. There will also be the Drive-In service and an Online service that day. Our Session decided that masks and social distancing would be required, as well as reservations through Sign-up Genius so we can have enough chairs set up. We will be sending out this information to everyone later this week, so please reserve your seats as soon as you can so we can accommodate as many as possible.
In addition, our Session decided to add Indoor Worship services at 11:00 a.m. in The Great Hall beginning Sunday, May 2. This, too, will be a socially distanced service with masks. Folks will also need to sign-up for that service to make sure we have enough seating, which will be limited because of the social distancing. The link for those Indoor services will be shared in the coming weeks. We will still have our Drive-In and Online worship services when that begins.
As long as the downward trends being monitored by our Health Task continue, we will have these events. With the outdoor Easter service, bad weather could also affect it. So, keep praying for the present trends to continue and do your part to keep them going down!
Prayer for Today
Thank you, God, for all the factors working together at this time to help us get through this pandemic. May we each do all we can to keep our world safe, not only for us, but for all of those around us. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Jesus, grilled by the Pharisees on when the kingdom of God would come, answered, “The kingdom of God doesn’t come by counting the days on the calendar. Nor when someone says, ‘Look here!’ or, ‘There it is!’ And why? Because God’s kingdom is already among you.” -Luke 17:20-21
This passage was shared with me during our Women’s Retreat a few years ago. Since that time it’s been a reminder to me to be aware of how God’s kingdom is already among us. How do we live each day knowing God is with us and among us? How does that impact how we treat others and ourselves? As a part of that retreat experience, we were invited to write a letter from God to ourselves. I was surprised during the course of this prayer practice by what God had to say to me. It wasn’t a letter of judgement, but rather a letter filled with grace. God invited me to show more grace to myself, and to those around me.
Anytime I try a different type of prayer practice, God has used it to help me grow in my understanding.
We have a unique opportunity to walk a labyrinth this Sunday, March 21, from 4:30-6:30 p.m. outdoors in the West Parking Lot. This prayer experience is an ancient way to connect with God. A walking prayer practice has been a meaningful way for me to set aside all that is running through my mind and pause to really pray without distraction.
I would invite you to come Sunday sometime between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. to see what God might be saying to you during this Lenten season and in this prayer time. As with many things in this season, please plan to wear your mask and be physically distanced from others.
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, as we enter into this day, may our lives be sustained through the love of you Our Heavenly Father. May we feel the presence of our Savior walking beside us, and know the power of the Spirit in both our actions and our words. In Christ’s Name, Amen.
Decades ago, Dr. Jerry Motto discovered the power of a “caring letter.” His research found that simply sending a letter expressing care to discharged patients who had previously attempted suicide reduced the rate of recurrence by half. Recently, health care providers have rediscovered this power when sending “caring” texts, postcards, and even social media memes as follow-up treatment for the severely depressed.
Twenty-one “books” in the Bible are actually letters—epistles—caringly written to first-century believers who struggled for a variety of reasons. Paul, James, and John wrote letters to explain the basics of faith and worship, and how to resolve conflict and build unity.
The apostle Peter, however, specifically wrote to believers who were being persecuted by the Roman emperor, Nero. Peter reminded them of their intrinsic value to God, describing them this way in 1 Peter 2:9, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession.” This lifted their gaze to God’s great purpose for them in their world: “that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
Our great God Himself wrote a book filled with caring letters to us—inspired Scripture—that we might always have a record of the value He assigns us as His own. May we read His letters daily and share them with others who need the hope Jesus offers.
Prayer for Today
Loving God, thank You for the caring letters in the Bible! Amen.
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”
Part of this passage may be familiar to many of you, but what about the part about the serpents? Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus, a Pharisee, and makes a reference to himself as being like the serpent that Moses lifted up. If we go back to Numbers, we see that, because Moses had led everyone on a long detour through the wilderness, “the people grew impatient and spoke against God and against Moses” (Numbers 21:5). God then sends deadly snakes, which end up killing many of the Israelites. The people realize they probably shouldn’t have spoken against God, so they ask Moses for help, and after praying for the people, Moses is instructed by God to build a snake and put it up on a pole. The people who have been bitten by these snakes are then told to look at the bronze snake on the pole and this will then save them from dying.
What is interesting is this same bronze snake appears in 2 Kings 18:4, where King Hezekiah smashes the snake into pieces because the Israelites had come to worship it as an idol. When Jesus draws a connection between himself and this bronze snake, it’s interesting that the snake enabled those who saw it to live… and then later on, the snake itself was broken into pieces. The parallels with Jesus are pretty clear, don’t you think?
I think it’s interesting how this bronze snake came to be idolized. The snake itself probably wasn’t anything special, but following God’s commands was what mattered. I think we humans have a tendency to “idolize” things and put greater emphasis on what feels important, but is actually not. After Jesus was resurrected, there was no body left behind to be venerated, even though many have claimed to have sacred relics. A small part of me wishes I could physically touch one of Jesus’ sandals and feel a connection to God, but it just doesn’t work that way. God is already here in the wilderness with us, and we need nothing more than to look to the cross to find him.
Prayer for Today
God of Grace, we often suffer because of our own actions, yet you hear our cries and save us from distress. We give thanks to you for your unfailing love. As we continue our Lenten journey, call us back to you now more than ever, and open our hearts to your wonderful deeds. Amen.
Just then some men came, carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus;but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus. When he saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.”
“All of us, if we live long enough will experience disability.” These were the opening words from the lecturer in Upper Anderson, Montreat a few years ago. I was there for a conference. The speaker had a disabled son and worked with disabled folks. He was a former athlete, tall, and fit for age, but especially for a man in his fifties. He was aware that those words might sound strange coming from someone who looked likely to run marathons into his 90s. But he assured us, a career of working with disabled people had taught him that the broad range of impairments we develop with age or unexpected injury or illness meant we could all experience temporary or permanent disability over a lifetime. And we should live our lives with that awareness and empathy, making our buildings and gatherings accessible for everyone.
How right he was. And haven’t we all been disabled in some way by this pandemic? Our independence has been limited by our choice or imposed on us. Suddenly, our freedoms are dependent on others or by circumstances. We can suddenly identify with the paralytic man in new ways. And that’s when we should ask ourselves some hard questions. In Jesus’ day, every town, aside from Jerusalem, was a small town. Every town he visited was full of people who knew one another intimately. We can bet the paralytic man knew and was known by the owner of the house, everyone in it, and the ones making a hole in the roof.
We know or should know, the members of our small church communities who are limited in access to our spaces and worship by disability or circumstance. This leads us to ask ourselves... are we the friends in the crowded house or the friends making a hole in the roof?
According to the story, his friends didn’t go to the house and then notice he was missing. They brought him. When the house wasn’t accessible, they made a way. They determined his need to participate was greater than theirs, a priority. They probably missed the intro! They probably missed out on the best seats. The story didn’t mention them repelling in after him to get a good seat too. Their priority was inclusion for their friend. Their own participation didn’t matter if he wasn’t included too. So how do we make worship accessible to those who need it most? Is it live streaming? Is it drive-in and outdoor options? Is it ramps, special seating, distance, appointments, assistance, large print bibles, Bluetooth hearing assistance, special parking, personal helpers, buddies, or something we haven’t learned to offer yet? Let’s ask. Let’s find out. Let’s make our friends and their participation our priority. That way, when Jesus is there among us, he will look at our included loved ones and smile at the faith of their friends.
Prayer for Today
Lord, make my eyes open to those among us who most need a place in the inner circle. Make us so eager to include them that we make holes in the barriers between them and full inclusion. Help us all to set the needs of others before our own eagerness to be seated at your feet and willing to be a little late to get them in the door first. Amen.
Back when the telegraph was the fastest means of long-distance communication, there was a story, perhaps apocryphal, about a young man who applied for a job as a Morse code operator. Answering an ad in the newspaper, he went to the address that was listed. When he arrived, he entered a large, noisy office. In the background a telegraph clacked away. A sign on the receptionist's counter instructed job applicants to fill out a form and wait until they were summoned to enter the inner office.
The young man completed his form and sat down with seven other waiting applicants. After a few minutes, the young man stood up, crossed the room to the door of the inner office, and walked right in. Naturally, the other applicants perked up, wondering what was going on. Why had this man been so bold? They muttered among themselves that they hadn't heard any summons yet. They took more than a little satisfaction in assuming the young man who went into the office would be reprimanded for his presumption and summarily disqualified for the job.
Within a few minutes the young man emerged from the inner office escorted by the interviewer, who announced to the other applicants, “Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming, but the job has been filled by this young man.” The other applicants began grumbling to each other, and then one spoke up, “Wait a minute -- I don't understand. He was the last one to come in, and we never even got a chance to be interviewed. Yet he got the job. That's not fair.”
The employer responded, “All the time you've been sitting here, the telegraph has been ticking out the following message in Morse code: ‘If you understand this message, then come right in. The job is yours.’ None of you heard it or understood it. This young man did. So, the job is his.” (As told in Leadership)
This Sunday’s message is simple but profound: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” My hope is that we will listen for that good news and share it with the world!
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, help us to pay attention to what is truly important. May we hear the good news of your love for all and share it with the world. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ, the Savior of the world. Amen.
I have often heard the phrase, “God is as near as your every breath.” What does that mean for you? How often do you notice your breathing throughout the day? When it’s so quiet, that it’s the only sound you hear… or when it’s more pronounced like when you are exercising (on purpose or when you are trying to hurry). I would invite you today to be more aware of your every breath, and when you do remember that God is near to you. Below are some breath prayers.
They are prayers that help you focus on your breathing while you pray. Take these prayers with you as you continue your day, remembering God’s spirit abides in each of us.
The Spirit of God made me what I am, the breath of God Almighty gave me life!
Prayer for Today
Speak Lord, for your servant hears…
-1 Samuel 3:9 & 10
Try it this way:
Ask God a question. Then breathe in your longing for God’s guidance… Breathe out stress and hurry.
The Lord is my Shepherd… I shall not want
Try it this way: Breathe in to entrust yourself to Jesus… Breathe out to let go of wanting _______.
“The Lord is my high tower . . . . We left the camp singing.”
On September 7, 1943, Etty Hillesum wrote those words on a postcard and threw it from a train. Those were the final recorded words we would hear from her. On November 30, 1943, she was murdered at Auschwitz. Later, Hillesum’s diaries of her experiences in a concentration camp were translated and published. They chronicled her perspectives on the horrors of Nazi occupation along with the beauty of God’s world. Her diaries have been translated into sixty-seven languages—a gift to all who would read and believe the good as well as the bad.
The apostle John didn’t sidestep the harsh realities of Jesus’ life on earth; he wrote of both the good Jesus did and the challenges He faced. The final words from his gospel give insight into the purpose behind the book that bears his name. Jesus performed “many other signs . . . which are not recorded” (20:30) by John. But these, he says, were “written that you may believe” (v. 31). John’s “diary” ends on the note of triumph: “Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.” The gift of those gospel words allows us the opportunity to believe and “have life in his name.”
The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) are diary accounts of God’s love for us. They’re words to read and believe and share, for they lead us to life. They lead us to Christ.
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, thank You for the gift of the Scriptures, written down by faithful hands so that I might believe and have life. Amen.
Many of you probably recognize these words as the opening text of the hymn How Great Thou Art. Did you know that this hymn was originally written in Swedish, then translated into German, and then translated into Russian before it was finally translated into English, with many different versions evolving all along the way?
It all began with Carl Boberg, a Swedish poet who gave the following account of what inspired him to write it. He explained what happened as he and some friends were returning home from an afternoon church service.
It was that time of year when everything seemed to be in its richest colouring; the birds were singing in trees and everywhere. It was very warm; a thunderstorm appeared on the horizon and soon there was thunder and lightning. We had to hurry to shelter. But the storm was soon over and the clear sky appeared. When I came home I opened my window toward the sea. There evidently had been a funeral and the bells were playing the tune of “When eternity’s clock calls my saved soul to its Sabbath rest”. That evening, I write the song, “O Store Gud”. [O Great God]
The poem was originally written with nine verses. (Nine!! Could you imagine if we asked you all to sing NINE verses of anything??) It was later described as a paraphrase of Psalm 8 and was used in the underground church in Sweden in the late 1800s when the Baptists and Mission Friends were persecuted. After many translations and revisions by several different people, British Methodist missionary Stuart Hine was moved to write new verses (first in Russian) that became part of the 1949 version that we are more familiar with today. This Sunday, we’ll be singing one of those verses:
And when I think that God, His Son not sparing,
Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.
Then there was George Beverly Shea and the Billy Graham crusades... then there was Elvis! Mahalia Jackson... Carrie Underwood? Who hasn’t sung a version of this song? There have been over 1700 documented recordings of How Great Thou Art. We are putting together an undocumented recording for online worship this Sunday. We would love for you to join together with us this Sunday (online or in the parking lot!) to sing praises to our great God!
Prayer for Today
Mighty God, we are unable to completely understand how great you are, but we can look upon the worlds your hands have made, and we can read and hear about the death and resurrection of your only son, and through your word, we can catch a tiny glimpse of your unmeasurable love for us and for the world. Help us to share that love with everyone we meet. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
This past Sunday was Youth Sunday. After all my years in ministry, it remains for me the most inspiring event each year. This year was no exception. In fact, this year was exceptional. I was struck by the fact that in the entire process of preparing for this Sunday, adding recording days, no dress rehearsal practices, and leading it live outside in a parking lot, the youth never blinked. They never complained, never wavered, never indicated they’d rather be indoors or not be recorded for online. They simply stepped up and said yes and led with confidence and joy.
I realized that like many others, I’ve been imagining and hoping for a return to normalcy more than adapting to life as it is and perhaps could be. I’ve spent more time thinking about how much I want to lead worship indoors, to stop setting up and taking down equipment every week, how I want to hug people and get coffee and lunch and sit around tables with youth for Bible study and go on retreats and mission trips and local service than I have spent imagining new ways to live in quarantine and post-pandemic. Tradition and memory are wonderful tools of our tradition, but imagination and dreams are also gifts in and of our faith that help us survive the present and thrive in the future. Our youth reminded me of that this Sunday. They didn’t speak only of the service they had done in the past. They charged us to do what we can to serve now, and gave us specific suggestions how and where.
Our former Moderator of the PC(USA) reminded us at a presbytery meeting recently that our ancestors wandered the desert for 40 years with their church as a tent on the move. And in this passage, Jesus reminds us that God and our worship of God is not a singular place. It’s on the move, wherever it needs to be, lest we become distracted from worship or distanced from one another in relationship because of our allegiance to one single place or space. I’m grateful for those Biblical reminders, and for our youth who keep teaching me new things. Whether we find ourselves in a building, a tent, a parking lot, or online, may we remember their lesson well and worship in spirit and in truth.
Prayer for Today
Lord, as Jesus wandered, make me a wanderer. As my ancestors carried the Temple with them, make me a tent-bearer. As the early Church worshipped on mountains and in houses, make me eager to worship wherever I am in spirit and in truth. Amen.
These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng.
– Psalm 42:4, NIV
In the past week, many of us have been remembering that the pandemic lockdown began about this time last year. A whole year! Sometimes it seems much longer, but other times it all feels like a blur. When it comes to remembering, one form it takes is nostalgia. I found out that the term “nostalgia” was coined din 1688 by a Swiss physician, Johannes Hofer, to describe what the Swiss mercenaries felt in their longing for home while they were away fighting. Symptoms included deep sadness, bouts of weeping, fainting, and stomach pain, among others.
Today, nostalgia is often portrayed in a negative light as longing for a time past that will never return. It is also seen as frivolous at best and a waste of time at worst. But a piece in The Wall Street Journal suggests that this may be wrong: “Reflecting nostalgically on the past is a common and healthy experience that helps people find the inspiration and confidence needed to move forward in life, particularly during difficult times.” The author adds, “Nostalgia isn’t a form of escapism. It is a source of inspiration. It pushes people forward, not backward.”
The passage above from the Psalms tells of remembering what is was like for the Psalmist to go to “the house of God” to worship with others. Like all of you, I look forward to when that will take place. Our Session has created a Health Task Force of members of our church with medical backgrounds to recommend to the Session when the trends indicate we can return to indoor worship with an appropriate degree of safety. As of this date, the overall trends have been looking better. I am praying that those trends will continue -- with all of us who can getting vaccines, wearing masks, and staying socially-distanced until we can gather together again for indoor worship at JCPC. Until then, thank you for your prayers, your patience, and for working together to get through this!
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, help us to remember your love for us and the times we were able to worship you in our Sanctuary. Let us never take that for granted, and may we join together soon to worship you again safely with others indoors. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
As I was reading the devotion for our Lent family resource this week, I was reminded of this passage where God speaks to a small group of disciples who witness the transfiguration.
“Just then a light-radiant cloud enveloped them, and from deep in the cloud, a voice: ‘This is my Son, marked by my love. Listen to him.’”
How often do you practice active listening... the kind of listening where you focus intently on what the other person is saying and you set aside your thoughts and just listen?
This is hard to do. I have been led through group brainstorming and collaboration in this method as well as through one on one relationship building. It is a deeply meaningful way to connect and process in a group. When I take the time to translate it to my day to day conversations, I don’t always get it right.
Jesus had actually taken many opportunities with the disciples to begin to share more about who he was and his mission in the world, but the disciples were still having trouble listening or understanding. On top of that mountain God spoke clearly about who Jesus was and what we should do in response... Listen to him.
I would invite you to take a moment to listen today. Breathe deep and listen. What is God sharing with you?
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, Thank you for all of the ways you speak to us through your Word, through others and in the stirrings of our hearts. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.