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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, July 30 2021

This Sunday, we begin worship with a hymn that is probably familiar to you, "The Church's One Foundation." It was written by Samuel Stone in 1866, as one of twelve hymns on the twelve articles of the Apostles' Creed. This hymn is included under the ninth article, "The holy catholic church, the communion of saints." Stone wrote this as a direct response to the schism within the Church of South Africa caused by John William Colenso, first Bishop of Natal, who denounced part of the Bible as fictitious, caused a major uproar, and was therefore deposed for his teachings.

Stone alludes to this schism in the following verse:

Though with a scornful wonder this world sees her oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed,
Yet saints their watch are keeping; their cry goes up: "How long?"
And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.

One dictionary defines schism as "a split or division between strongly opposed sections or parties, caused by differences in opinion or belief."

If we are honest with ourselves, we are "rent asunder" by all kinds of schisms daily, don't you agree? It didn't start with the pandemic... or any particular presidential election... and we find ourselves divided from friends, family, and even the strangers we should be welcoming. If we are always angry about something, how well are we loving our neighbor? And who do we define as our neighbor? You know the answer. It's not only the person who believes all the same things you do.

Are we compelled to reach out to our neighbor next door, or do we avoid them because of the campaign sign in their yard? Have we stopped talking to a family member because of their opposite beliefs about the pandemic?  I cannot believe that God wants us to live with these divisions.  Brothers and sisters, we don't have to live this way. We are told to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."  

Instead of avoiding our neighbor, what if we let go of the things that divide us and focus on what we share in common? This Sunday, we celebrate communion, a symbolic gathering at the table. You never know who's going to come to this table... thanks be to God, it's there to feed all of us!

Elect from every nation, yet one o'er all the earth,
Her charter of salvation: one Lord, one faith, one birth.
One holy name she blesses, partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses, with every grace endued.

Prayer for Today

Holy God, open our eyes to see who you would have us bless today. Forgive us where we have failed to do this, and help us to love others as you love us. In Jesus' name, amen.

Posted by: AT 06:21 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, July 29 2021

I am the God who was worshiped by your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses was afraid to look at God, and so he hid his face.

-Exodus 3:6

As I left the church on Sunday, I opened the glass doors to the welcome center. Trapped in the storm door breezeway was a small bird. I used a table to prop open the exterior pair of doors. But the poor bird was so panicked, he continued flying into windows. I knew that part of what was so scary was my presence. I tried to guide him to freedom, but that only caused him to panic more. I became very still and waited for him to find his own way to the open doors. Eventually, he flew right for the opening. And into one of the doors. He lay dazed and motionless. I was afraid he was greatly injured or dead. I poked him gently with a pen and he stirred and flew away.

I thought about what it must be like for the bird,what it would be like for anyone to have such an experience of wonder and fear. I thought about Moses trembling in the presence of God and what that must truly be like. I thought about how God showed Moses the path to freedom for him and his people and how he was too frightened at first. Like the bird, it took some assurance, it took some prodding. And so it is for us sometimes. An opportunity presents itself, a door opens, a person in need or a purpose we can lend our work and gifts to fulfilling stands before us. In such moments, the door stands open, the way is clear, and we may even know God has opened the door wide. Where we are is safe, but where God is calling us to be is wider, freer, and with much greater possibility and purpose.

There’s a lot of uncertainty in our world at the moment. Some opportunities to serve have reopened. New needs have emerged. And we are struggling to find safe and wise ways to help or engage. Is there a way you used to serve but have put on pause? It may be time to return. Is there something you’ve hesitated to try? Now may be the time. Have you tried something before and it was a struggle or you were dazed and deterred? Maybe it’s time to try again. Is there a new opportunity to step up, spread your wings, and trust that the God of open doors, new freedom, and your very wings is calling you to serve? As the new school year starts, I encourage you to be in touch with your JCPC elders and staff and mission team. We are eager to show you all the open doors, and go with you through them. We are a family of faith. Let’s go serve together.

Prayer for Today

Lord, when you fling wide the doors, make me eager to fly, patient to fly true, and send me to be where I am needed. Amen.

Posted by: AT 06:18 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, July 28 2021

I thank my God every time I remember you.

- Philippians 1: 3, NIV

I want to begin by thanking everyone who reached out to me following my recent back surgery. I'm grateful for your prayers, cards, emails, texts, voicemails, meals, and gifts. Your words of encouragement and gestures of generosity meant a great deal to me. I believe my surgery was successful thanks to some excellent medical care, your faithful prayers, and the grace of God.

This Sunday we are beginning a new series of messages I'm calling “Seven Letters of Revelation.” Each letter gives insight into how we can live our lives fully as Christians, as the body of Christ, and as a part of the worldwide church. We begin this Sunday looking at the letter to the church in Ephesus.

(Revelation 2:1-7) If you want to go deeper in your personal devotions, or perhaps with your small group -- I would strongly encourage reading Eugene Peterson's book The Hallelujah Banquet based on these same seven letters.

We also have our upcoming concert on Sunday, August 29th at 10:00 a.m. in our Chapel. Guest soloist Timothy Miller will be giving a free concert that morning. Timothy has an amazing tenor voice. Those of us who are Braves fans know him because during the seventh inning stretch on every Sunday game, Timothy sings an amazing rendition of “God Bless America.” We're calling it our “Welcome Back Concert” to symbolize our transition back into our church buildings.

If you have yet to return to worship indoors – this would be a great time to “come back home.” Timothy will also be singing in worship at 11:00 that day before he heads to the Braves game that afternoon to sing, but you don't want to miss the wide range of excellent music he will be sharing. I'm sure there will be something for everyone. This would also be a great time to invite someone who does not yet attend our church to come!

Finally, please make plans to attend our Annual Congregational Meeting at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday August 8 in the Great Hall. We will be electing our Elder Nominating Committee and hearing a few updates about the life of the church, but we need you there to have a quorum so that we can complete what we need to do at this time.

Prayer for Today

Thank you, God, for the gift of gathering together to worship you. During this pandemic we have missed each other. Enable us to reconnect and find renewal in our relationships with you and with one another. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.

Posted by: AT 06:15 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, July 27 2021

How do you prepare for the day? When you wake up in the morning, what are some regular practices that are a part of your routine? Each day often brings its own set of blessings and challenges. Some mornings you may be filled with energy, in need of courage, wake up with anxiety, in need of self-control or in need of peace and calm.

We are embarking on the start of a new school year and that includes all that the “First Day of School” brings to children, youth, teachers, administrators, school staff, parents and so many others.

I would invite you this week to take some time each morning to reflect and ask yourself: What significant things are happening in the day ahead? What do I need?

Take a moment to decide which one of these things might represent something that you need today from God and from others: Love, Grace, Peace, Joy, Kindness, Friendship, Patience, Mercy, Self-Control, Courage, Compassion, Honesty, Calmness, Energy

Let this word sit with you for a moment, lift up your concerns to God in prayer and then take the word with you throughout the day. Then as you begin your day, consider these words from Lamentations:

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

-Lamentations 3:22-23

This Sunday we will take some time as a congregation in both worship services to pray a blessing over all of those in our church family that are starting a new school year. I would invite all of our students (preschool through graduate school), teachers, administrators, and school staff to join us in worship with your backpacks, briefcases or tote bags. During the children’s sermon, you will be invited to stand and participate in a blessing.

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, Help us to remember that every day is a new day. Guide us as we seek to glorify you with our words and actions. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 06:13 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, July 26 2021

When is the Master Coming?

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the preset age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

-Titus 2:11-13

Jesus’ parable of “The Talents” (Matthew 25:14-30) tells of the three servants who were each given a portion of their rich master’s wealth. They were to manage their share while their master was gone on a long journey. Do you know that a talent is a unit of weight, approximately 70 pounds? Wealth was probably measured in gold or silver so the servant who received just one talent may have been given the equivalent of 2 million dollars in gold to manage. The other servants were told to manage even much more! After a long-time, seasons or years, we are not told, the rich master returns for an accounting. And he is not at all pleased with the servant who did nothing with his one talent except to bury it in the ground for safety.

John Macarthur’s book on Jesus’ parables, reminds us to look at all the different levels of this parable. On the surface it tells us to keep diligently working with the assets (gifts) given to us to manage. Burying all our assets in the ground or in our savings accounts may be in our best interests at the moment, but God, our Master, may intend a better use for it.

At another level, the parable reminds us that we have been given a different one of God’s gifts to manage, the gift of our salvation. How should we manage our gift of salvation? Titus tells us, “to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives” while we await the return of our Savior.

My Friday morning men’s group is studying the origins and operations of the Salvation Army as an example of the successful foundational use of Christian principles for a business model. The Salvation Army has existed for over 140 years, whereas only one of the original Dow 20 companies still operates. The Salvation Army has been working diligently with the “talent” they were given. JCPC Sessions members are working diligently to manage JCPC’s worldly talents. JCPC’s physical plant has almost returned to the pre-Covid level of community service. Your gifts and service to JCPC and the community are working toward building the Kingdom of God. As for our gift of salvation, we are told to always keep diligently working that talent. And we are told to patiently and expectantly wait for our Savior’s return. It is no time to bury our spiritual or worldly talents. There is much work to be done.

Highlights of last week’s Session meeting include:

  • Approval of a return to 9:00 and 11:00 a.m. worship in the chapel beginning in September.
  • Ending the drive-in worship service with the last service being August 22
  • Continuing the on-line streaming of the 11:00 a.m. worship service.
  • Approval of a sprinter campaign to partially fund the retaining wall rebuild.
  • Review of monthly finances and projected expenses.
  • Encouraging staff and team leaders as they guide our church in doing God’s will.

Prayer for Today

Heavenly Father,
Please guide our thoughts, actions, and prayers that they may be centered on Jesus and his example of service to others. Help us make his words become our actions. “The king will reply, I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”  -Mathew 25:40
Amen.

Posted by: AT 06:04 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, July 23 2021

Destruction and unhappiness is in their ways and the way of peace have they not known.

-from Psalm 14

 

Psalm 14 starts off like this: “The fool hath said in his heart: there is no God.” It then continues on, describing these “fools”. This Psalm is really interesting because there are 3 verses that are absent from most modern translations, yet those missing 3 verses are quoted in their entirety in Romans 3:13-18. It turns out that the full version of Psalm 14 is present in the Septuagint, which is the earliest surviving Greek translation of the Old Testament from about 300 years or so before the birth of Christ. You probably won’t find these three in your own Bible but they come right after verse 3:

Their throat is an open sepulcher, with their tongues have they deceived,

The poison of asps is under their lips.

Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness,

Their feet are swift to shed blood.

Destruction and unhappiness is in their ways and the way of peace have they not known: there is no fear of God before their eyes.

This is followed by verse 4, which you will find in your Bible:

Have they no knowledge that they are all such workers of mischief,

Eating up my people as it were bread and call not upon the Lord?

My first reaction to these verses was to think about people who fit these descriptions. I’m sure all of us know one or more people who seem to know nothing but unhappiness and leave destruction in their wake, be it physical or emotional.

But then I realize, if I’m honest, there are times in my life that I have fit all of these descriptions. I have been full of bitterness before, and, as verse 5 says, I have been brought into great fear, even in places where there is no fear. When I really ponder the words of the Psalm, I realize that it is talking about me. And you. We like to think we have it all figured out by “being” Christians, but God calls us to rise above the many forms that darkness takes in our lives and reach out for the light. The good news is that this light shines brightly in our darkness, and that darkness has not and cannot ever overcome it.

Prayer for Today

Brilliant Light of the Universe, keep us from filling our lives with bitterness, destruction, and unhappiness. Help us to share your light with others so that they too may fill their lives instead with peace and understanding. Help us to build instead of destroy and love instead of hate. Amen.

Posted by: AT 06:01 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, July 22 2021

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

-Luke 24:36

This past week during VBS, I opened the doors to the front of the church to let in a youth helper and a little boy in need of a bathroom break. He told me he was this many (three fingers) and his name. I followed them down the hall toward the restrooms as the music emanated from the Great Hall and he began to dance to it, singing the words he’d learned... Shalom, Chavarim. It means, “peace, friends.” What better phrase could there be for a child to learn in as many languages as possible?

For many people around the world, Shalom is the one Hebrew word they know. It’s both a common greeting and farewell. Except for a brief period in the 1960s and 70s, the same cannot be said of English. But it’s how Christ greeted people and what he offered. What would it be like for us to start there too? To greet our friends and strangers with peace? What would it be like to orient ourselves to creating, offering, building peace? Quick to offer grace and forgiveness, to release grudges and ask to be released from hate in turn? Jesus told us peace-makers are blessed.

The youth and I recently watched the film Best of Enemies, based on the true story of a KKK clan leader and a civil rights activist first squaring off over school integration and then becoming lifelong friends. It was not organic. It required they both be people of faith with common ground, both parents, and a peacemaker to forge a bridge between them. Imagine what we could do if we greeted people with peace, chose peace, releases our malice, and worked each day to be at peace with one another. This week, find a way to greet a stranger in peace or make a small peace with a family or friend and make your former of the world on of Shalom - deep peace - Christ’s peace.

Prayer for Today

Lord, make me a blessed peacemaker. Give me your peace. Help me, by your spirit, to extend it to others. Amen.

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Wednesday, July 21 2021

We often hear about how we at JCPC touch so many lives. Have you ever thought how we are able to do that? One way is through use of our buildings and grounds. From your generous support we accomplish what Peter wrote in his first letter (4:10). 

Based on the gift each one has received, use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God. Yes, we must keep our buildings operational and clean. During the pandemic we must also keep them safe and sanitized. At times, improvements must be prioritized, voted on, and acted upon. We do all this as we are trusted with God’s belongings. We must be faithful, generous stewards...you must be guided by your heart.

Remember this: The person who sows sparingly reaps sparingly and the person who sows generously reaps generously. Do so by love not reluctantly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver. 

-Corinthians 9:6-7

We can always use a helping hand with building and grounds projects. If you enjoy any of these activities. please let a stewardship member know. We certainly appreciate your support with any of our “special projects.” As in Matthew 25:21, His master said to him, well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your Master’s joy!

Prayer for Today

Heavenly Father, help us to be the best possible stewards of your church. Place love in our hearts helping us to know where our passion is and our ability to help. Gracious and loving God, your abundance continues to help us support many in need. May your church never forget this. Amen.

Posted by: AT 05:56 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, July 20 2021

One way that I grow deeper in my faith is when I take a section of scripture and consider how it may connect with a current season of life or situation I am encountering. I spent the past week with 40 children and over 30 youth and adult leaders at Vacation Bible School. This morning, as I reflected on the week and all that God had been doing, I read this passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. These are words I would share with all who joined us last week during VBS.

It was a week of planting seeds and seeing the fruit from many years of faith experiences. Many of the faces that joined us last week have been faithfully joining us for VBS for years. It was a joy to see faith in action during the week and listen to the ways that God has been at work in many over the last year. I was blessed to spend time with all of the children for the Bible Story station in our Outdoor Chapel each day. We took some time each day to interact and retell stories of Moses, the Israelites and their journey in the wilderness. One day, we walked the meditation trail/nature path crafted by Tom Strader as his Eagle Scout Project. Each group of children were excited to travel the path and explore God’s creation in prayer. Many of them asked to do that again a second time the next day.

I would also invite you to see how these words connect with your current season or situation.

Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God. Each exclamation is a trigger to prayer. I find myself praying for you with a glad heart. I am so pleased that you have continued on in this with us, believing and proclaiming God’s Message, from the day you heard it right up to the present. There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.

Philippians 1:3- The Message

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, May you open our hearts so that your love will flourish and that we will not only love much but well. Help us to learn to love appropriately. Guide us on the path to a life filled with fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God. In Christ’s Name, Amen.
(inspired by Philippians 1:9-11 The Message)

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Monday, July 19 2021

My Mother had a cat that chose her…she did not choose him, but he was drawn to her over and over. Fritz, belonged to a neighborhood family and they soon moved away, taking Fritz with them! A few weeks later, Fritz showed up on Mother’s back deck. She was delighted to see him, but knowing he didn’t belong to her, returned him to his family. This happened numerous times until the family decided Fritz was happier in their former neighborhood.

This reminds me of the times we as believers move away from our daily contact with God. We make attempts at drawing back, but sometimes “life” distracts, and gets in the way. We end up spending less and less time in thoughtful prayer and communion with our Maker. We forget that He chose us and drew us to himself, and does not “move away” from us! He does not forget about us…He is always waiting for our return. In Zechariah 1:3, God says to his people, “return to Me and I will return to you”. As believers, we are His people…He is always available to us when we seek Him with all our heart. In Joel 2:12, God says “turn to Me while there is time…give Me your hearts… how can we not! 

Prayer is a constant in my life….sometimes I walk through the day in a “state of prayer” knowing that God hears my prayers but doesn’t need my suggestions as to how to answer them. He knows the longings of our heart, we don’t have to keep “reminding” Him. What we need is patience to wait and see what He will do. Cry out to God in your longing, He is listening, He cares, all heaven goes to work when we pray. Trust In God…for He is trustworthy, and never moves away from those who seek him. Pray all the time…if necessary….use words. We will all be happier in God’s neighborhood…in His presence daily.

Prayer for Today

Holy Father, creator of all things, forgive us when we neglect your presence with us. Thank you for choosing us as Your own. How blessed we are in that knowledge. Give us gentle nudges that draw us back to You when the things of this world draw us away. Reveal Your loving kindness and faithfulness to us and our loved ones in ways that cannot be denied. In the precious name of Your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. 

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Friday, July 16 2021

On July 16, 1999, the small plane piloted by John F. Kennedy Jr. crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. Investigators determined the cause of the accident to be a common error known as spatial disorientation. This phenomenon occurs when, due to poor visibility, pilots become disoriented and forget to rely on their instruments to help them successfully reach their destination.

As we navigate life, there are often times when life gets so overwhelming we feel disoriented. A cancer diagnosis, the death of a loved one, a job loss, a betrayal by a friend—life’s unexpected tragedies can easily leave us feeling lost and confused.

When we find ourselves in these kinds of situations, we might try offering the prayer of Psalm 43. In this psalm, the psalmist is overwhelmed and feeling lost because he feels surrounded by evil and injustice. In despair, the psalmist pleads with God to provide His sure guidance to help him safely navigate through the situation to his desired destination, God’s presence (vv. 3–4). In God’s presence the psalmist knows he’ll find renewed hope and joy. 

What are the tools the psalmist requests for guidance? The light of truth and the assurance of God’s presence by His Holy Spirit.

When you’re feeling disoriented and lost, God’s faithful guidance through His Spirit and loving presence can comfort you and light your way.

Prayer for Today

Heavenly Father, thank You that You’ve not left me alone in the challenging and disorienting circumstances of life. Please help me to rely on You to guide my steps today. Amen.

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Thursday, July 15 2021

Let the fields and their crops burst out with joy! Let the trees of the forest sing for joy.

-Psalm 96:12

This past Sunday, we had the privilege of welcoming JCPC’s longtime friend, Dr. Weimer, to the pulpit. He preached a wonderful message about forgiveness, common ground, and reconciliation, and he reminded us to offer comfort and encouragement, as the pandemic ends, by hugs, fist bumps, and elbow nudges. It was a great reminder how much we all need to connect as brothers and sisters in Christ and offer mutual forbearance, compassion, empathy, and... laughter.

I went back to watch the recording of the worship service from the Live Stream on YouTube. YouTube provides something wonderful for the hearing impaired... live closed captions. At the end of the service, as folks left the Great Hall and Heidi played beautiful music, the closed captions were still interpreting the service and as you can see from the screen capture, it said... [laughter] [music]. I’ve never seen such a wonderfully succinct summary of the joy we experience in the final moments of worship as we begin to fellowship. Laughter and Music. This is the joy of weekly worship together, in-person and livestream.

This week, before worship, as you ready your heart for the worship hour, and after worship, as you prepare for your week, I hope you’ll revel in that joy. Remember that we are a body together to be of love, empathy, and encouragement, so we may worship, serve, and delight in this world. Plenty of people are contributing to the darkness of this world. God calls us to be the light. Carry that laughter and music with you, wherever God calls you to be.

Prayer for Today

Lord, make me a joyous servant who carries laughter and music from worship to your world. Amen.

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Monday, July 12 2021

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. -Isaiah 41:10

“Fear” is defined as “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.”

We have all experienced fear in our lifetimes. In overcoming fear, we rely on different comforting thoughts or people. When flying, we rely on the pilot’s skill and the aircraft’s ability to operate well and the mechanics who are in charge are well trained to do their jobs. When facing medical problems, we rely on the skill and training of our physicians. Young children rely on their trust in their parents to keep them safe. We have all whispered prayers to overcome life’s most fearful periods.

When my family and I moved to Atlanta from our hometown of New Orleans over 30 years ago, we were jumping from the comfort of the known to the future of many unknowns. As we crossed Lake Pontchartrain, I remember telling my husband we were taking a leap of faith. This was a reassuring thought that overcame any anxieties we had about our decision to leave the familiar.

Christians lean on their faith in times of uncertainty. This is not a new concept as many things we do in life require faith. We have faith in God to know what is right for us and to trust in his knowing to get us through times of uncertainty and fear. Sometimes, like children, we are afraid even though we know God is in control. It is our human nature.

This is a time of uncertainty in America in dealing with post-pandemic issues. There is a trust problem that has developed among citizens with organizations and concepts that before we would have not thought about twice. In making the right decisions about how to go forward, we must trust that God is in our decision making. Just like post-9/11, we have a new reality in our country. Going forward, it is not the organizations that we must trust, but in God we trust.

Prayer for Today

Dear Heavenly Father, Help us to lean on you in all things that trouble us. We know you are always present and willing to hear from us. Thank you for loving and caring for us in this way. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

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Friday, July 09 2021

This Sunday, we will sing “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” as our opening hymn. The text of this hymn was written by Robert Robinson, an English Dissenter or Separatist, one of many Protestant Christians who separated from the Church of England in the 17th and 18th centuries. An influential Baptist and scholar, he made a lifelong study of the antiquity and history of Christian Baptism. He was briefly converted to Evangelical Methodism upon hearing the Calvinist preacher George Whitefield. It was around this time when he wrote Sunday’s opening hymn!

Come, thou Fount of every blessing;
tune my heart to sing thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
sung by flaming tongues above;
Praise the mount! I'm fixed upon it,
mount of God's unchanging love!

Here I raise my Ebenezer;
hither by thy help I'm come;
And I hope, by thy good pleasure,
safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
interposed his precious blood.

Now I’m guessing every time you sing this hymn you’re wondering what an Ebenezer is… you probably write it off as an obscure reference from the Old Testament and hurry along to the Jesus sought me when a stranger part… let’s take a closer look at this obscure reference:

We are familiar with the Old Testament accounts of Israel, God’s chosen people, repeatedly falling away from God. One of the many, many times God came to their rescue (this time they were under attack from the Philistines), the great prophet Samuel set up a stone, a monument to remind Israel for years and generations to come how God had helped them that day. He called the stone Ebenezer. In Hebrew, Ebenezer means “stone of help.”

(eben = stone, ezer = help)

I hope you can think back and recall situations in your own life when God has come to your rescue. It could be a near-miss that was almost a car accident… it could be a healing from an addiction… the restoration of a broken relationship… or it could be the comfort of God’s presence when you needed it most… 

O to grace how great a debtor
daily I'm constrained to be!
Let that grace now, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
Here's my heart; O take and seal it;
seal it for thy courts above.

Prayer for Today

Holy God, open our eyes to your amazing grace, and may we respond by drawing closer to you and sharing your love with those around us. In the saving name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

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Thursday, July 08 2021

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

-Philippians 4:19

This morning, I took our middlest (our terms of endearment for the boys are oldest, youngest, and middlest) for a special father/son breakfast out. French Toast and beignets seem to taste better on a patio after a long holiday weekend. Powdered sugar and towers of table menus and shakers and giggles were far more the focus than caloric intake. But at one point, admiring his tower of chaos and a balanced stuff giraffe atop salt and pepper grinders, he got real thoughtful, as he often does. “You know,” he mused, “a lot of people think they can’t do something when they could, if they just had the right materials.”

How right he was. So many people hold off making healthy changes in their diet and exercise till they get a trainer or dietician, a meal plan, a weight-lifting set, or the right bike. So many of us won’t tackle a language or a subject of interest till we have the right book or teacher. And when it comes to our faith, we have questions, curiosities, or a desire to grow closer to God, to gain a deeper wisdom, or serve more faithfully, and we wait for the right book, the right small group, teach, preacher, or series.

And yet, as Christians, we have the materials, and access to materials. Scripture tells us the Lord provides what we need. We have scripture itself, the Spirit of God that lends us understanding, the Church and our family of faith, and opportunities to serve people in need every day. Whatever our skills, our gifts, our struggles, or our flaws, we have been given both materials and a promise for all we will ever need to do the work before us. Trusting that you do have the right materials, what has the Lord called you to do today?

Prayer for Today

Lord, remind me of what materials I have, what you will provide, and what you have called me to do. Help me to trust in you, to do the work, and show your love in all I do. Amen.

Posted by: AT 05:18 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, July 07 2021

Ellen opened her mailbox and discovered a bulky envelope with her dear friend’s return address. Just a few days prior, she’d shared a relational struggle with that friend.

Curious, she unwrapped the package and found a colorful beaded necklace on a simple jute string. Attached was a card with a company’s slogan, “Say It in Morse Code,” and words translating the necklace’s hidden and wise message, “Seek God’s Ways.” Ellen smiled as she fastened it around her neck.

The book of Proverbs is a compilation of wise sayings—many penned by Solomon, who was acclaimed as the wisest man of his era (1 Kings 10:23). Its thirty-one chapters call the reader to listen to wisdom and avoid folly, starting with the core message of Proverbs 1:7: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Wisdom—knowing what to do when—comes from honoring God by seeking His ways. In the introductory verses, we read, “Listen when your father corrects you. Don’t neglect your mother’s instruction. What you learn from them will crown you with grace and be a chain of honor around your neck” (vv. 8–9 NLT).

Ellen’s friend had directed her to the Source of the wisdom she needed: Seek God’s ways. Her gift focused Ellen’s attention on where to discover the help she needed.

When we honor God and seek His ways, we’ll receive the wisdom we need for all the matters we face in life. Each and every one.

Prayer for Today

God, remind me that You’re the Source of the wisdom I need. Amen.

Posted by: AT 05:16 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, July 06 2021

John Sowers in his book Fatherless Generation writes that “No generation has seen as much voluntary father absence as this one with 25 million kids growing up in single-parent homes.” In my own experience, if I’d bumped into my father on the street, I wouldn’t have known him. My parents were divorced when I was very young, and all the photos of my dad were burned. So for years I felt fatherless. Then at age thirteen, I heard the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9–13) and said to myself, You may not have an earthly father, but now you have God as your heavenly Father.

In Matthew 6:9 we’re taught to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” Previously verse 7 says not to “keep on babbling” when praying, and we may wonder how these verses are connected. I realized that because God remembers, we don’t need to repeat. He truly understands, so we don’t need to explain. He has a compassionate heart, so we don’t need to be uncertain of His goodness. And because He knows the end from the beginning, we know His timing is perfect.

Because God is our Father, we don’t need to use “many words” (v. 7) to move Him. Through prayer, we’re talking with a Father who loves and cares for us and made us His children through Jesus.

Prayer for Today

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for making me Your child and for being a Father that welcomes me into Your presence through prayer. Amen.

Posted by: AT 05:14 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, July 05 2021

God is there in difficult times

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God, I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. 

-Isaiah 41:10

We have all had difficult moments in our lives. The Pandemic stressed the fiber of our society and our relationships with others. It is at these moments that we can be reassured that God is there for us.

On a recent family vacation to St. Simons Island with my family, I received a greater understanding of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church. Born in England and a student at Oxford, John was the son of an Anglican Minister and followed in his footsteps. In his 20’s he decided to go to America to evangelize and minister to others in the colonies. He landed in Savannah and began ministering to the “primitive Christianity”, challenging him with hardships. He attempted to mission to Indians, but he felt they “would recruit me”.

When his brother fell ill, he spent time in Frederica, a British colony on St. Simons, taking over duties of his brother while maintaining his responsibilities in Savannah. His stay was controversial, as he fell in love with a woman who rebuked him for another. He got embroiled in court proceedings for not serving her communion. A mess, he slipped out of Frederica one night and returned to England.

When he returned, a somewhat failure, he nevertheless felt a new “spirit” within him. His difficult recent past had invigorated him and would soon form the Methodist Societies, which became the Methodist Church. Wesley used those difficult times to feel the presence of God and steal him for his future.  

Prayer for Today

Dear Lord, thank you for being there, when we have difficult times, to support us. We know that you are there for us, answering our prayers and providing you guiding wisdom. Amen.

Posted by: AT 05:12 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, July 02 2021

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?

Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

-Psalm 43:5 NIV

For those of you that have been coming to either the drive-in or the indoor service, you might have heard one of the Psalms sung during the Prelude. Heidi and I have been incorporating Psalms into the Prelude almost every week, usually following the lectionary. And we’ve found some really good, and also really crazy, stuff in the Psalms. The blood of goats (Psalm 50), lusty eagles (Psalm 103), and dead bodies given as meat to the birds (Psalm 79). Yikes!!

This Sunday, to go along with the scripture and Brian’s sermon, we chose Psalm 43 to sing, as it is one of many Psalms about hope. It’s quite short, at only 5 verses, but I think this last verse really captures a truly human emotion well. I’m sure you’ve found yourself with a heavy, downcast soul, or a pained and disturbed heart. It’s something we all have to deal with in life.

What’s so great about this Psalm is how the psalmist speaks not to the reader, but to his (or her) own soul directly. “Put your hope in God.” When I’ve been troubled with a heavy heart, I don’t think I’ve ever literally commanded my heart to trust God. Instead, I usually dwell on the pain for too long and mope about. Unfortunately, pain doesn’t just disappear, even if we have the right attitude and take healthy steps to work through the pain.

You may have heard the phrase “fake it til you make it”. I’ve heard it in reference to psychology, but I think the concept can actually work for us in our relationship with God, too. When our hearts are heavy or when we feel distant from God, perhaps we can “fake it” - that is, do just as the psalmist says and praise God, even if you don’t feel like it. When we reach out to God, even in our doubt and despair, God is there to save us. That’s why he’s our savior, after all! If we are to truly call ourselves Christians, then we have to believe that God can and will save us in our time of need.

Prayer for Today

Light of the World, thank you for your saving mercy. Help us to turn to you in times of despair, and fill our hearts and minds with joyful praise for all the many blessings of this life. Continue to shine in the darkness of our lives and our world. Amen.

Posted by: AT 05:03 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, July 01 2021

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.“

-I Samuel 16:7

In my experience, it’s easy for others to judge us quickly and for the things they most dislike. It’s easy for us to do the same. A person can exist in our mind as the sum of the things we observe them doing that upset, disappoint, or frustrate us. It’s been said that in our minds, strangers are a collection of their worst attributes and behaviors, while our loved ones and selves are a collection of the best we care to remember. This can be especially true of teenagers. They’re collectively written off, ignored, or avoided because of their mistakes and learning moments over their accomplishments and sacrifice.

At Montreat, a short time ago, another adult leader and I shared a small group of eleven new kids who’d never met one another. Each of us had one youth in the group from our own church. His was a young man he’d agreed to buddy up with for the week, a boy with special needs who struggled to interact with his peers. The other girl of note sort of frustrated us. She didn’t engage much. She didn’t appear to share interests with these other church kids and put on an air of haughtiness and popularity. It was just enough that I admittedly stopped trying very hard to engage her because it was exhausting and she wasn’t my own youth kid. I put my head down and focused on the kids who seemed to need attention more.

Only a day later, I was sitting with the young man with special needs. We were all making friendship bracelets from long colorful string. He was struggling to get a start and asked for help. This girl got up from her seat and walked straight to him. She knelt by him and gently explained the process, guided his hands, and didn’t take over for him. I figured she’d sit again. Instead, she stayed with him 10 more minutes, abandoning her own work and softly asking him which string would go next and praising his progress. The other leader and I watched her transform in front of us from the girl who seemed not to care about anything but beaches and tans into a teacher with gifts and a sincere presence. As we left, we told her what a special gift she had just given that boy, probably her most important 10 minutes at this conference. She smiled sheepishly and seemed to really understand that.

This week, I hope you’ll take a second look at someone who needs you to see their best. Maybe it’s even a teenager. Maybe your own. Maybe a spouse or a parent or a coworker. And maybe, if we are gentle and compassionate this week, others will see us with new eyes too.

Prayer for Today

Lord, make me slow enough and wide-eyes and willing to see your goodness in others. And make me kind and compassionate so others see your goodness in me too. Amen.

Posted by: AT 04:58 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
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