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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, September 17 2021

 

This Sunday we are singing I Need Thee Every Hour as our closing hymn. The text was written in 1872 by Annie Sherwood Hawks (with a little help on the refrain and the music by her pastor, Robert Lowry, who is known better for writing Shall We Gather at the River and How Can I Keep From Singing). Annie Hawks, a young wife and mother at the time she wrote this hymn, composed over 400 hymn texts throughout her life, but this is the only one of hers that is still sung today.

 

Retelling the story of how she wrote it, Hawks writes, "One day I was busy with my regular household tasks during a bright June morning. Suddenly, I became so filled with the sense of nearness to the Master that, wondering how one could live without Him, either in joy or pain, these words were ushered into my mind, the thought at once taking full possession of me -- 'I Need Thee Every Hour. . . .'"

 

I need thee every hour, most gracious Lord;

No tender voice like thine can peace afford.

I need thee, O I need thee, every hour I need thee!

O bless me now, my Savior-- I come to thee!

 

When have you felt the need for God? We've all had times when we feel like life is good and everything is under control... maybe we don't feel we need God so much then... and other times when we fear the worst is going to happen... "God, please fix this, and I promise I'll _________" and we find ourselves bargaining with the Almighty for our desired outcome.

 

I need thee every hour; stay thou near by;

Temptations lose their power when thou art nigh.

I need thee, O I need thee, every hour I need thee!

O bless me now, my Savior-- I come to thee!

 

I believe the author of this text is talking about having a connection to God, a closeness that you never want to... or have to be without, for even one hour, once you've experienced it. How does one find this connection?

 

I need thee every hour; teach me thy will,

And thy rich promises in me fulfill.

I need thee, O I need thee, every hour I need thee!

O bless me now, my Savior-- I come to thee!

 

Do you make time for prayer? Do you get quiet and listen? How do you know God's voice? Do you make time to read the Bible?

 

I need thee every hour, Most Holy One;

O make me thine indeed, thou blessed Son.

I need thee, O I need thee, every hour I need thee!

O bless me now, my Savior-- I come to thee!

 

After worshiping with us this Sunday, after singing four stanzas of this classic hymn, I hope you will think of your need for God, and how the Creator of heaven and earth has drawn near to us, so that we may draw near to him, and share that love with others.

Prayer for Today

Holy God, I need thee, O I need thee, every hour I need thee! O bless me now, my Savior-- I come to thee! Amen.

Posted by: AT 07:22 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, September 16 2021

 

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of God’s calling, what are the riches of the glory of God’s inheritance in the saints.

-Ephesians 1:18

 

My youngest son is at an age where he has begun to put words into phrases and copy those phrases from others around him. His favorite? “Oh Look!” It’s useful in so many circumstances. Things in the house, things on our walks, in his room, out the window, or on the TV. And now we use it to show him things too. His world is about discovery and anticipation, and so ours is too. By drawing our attention to things that are new to him, and us drawing his attention to things we want him to add to his experience, we see things with new eyes, new perspective.

 

Scripture tells us how important eyes are. What they look at, what we choose to see or not see, and even that our heart has eyes. Paul reminds the Ephesians that the eyes of our heart, our seat of emotion and compassion, must be set on God’s calling, God’s instruction. Enlightenment comes from God’s wisdom, and Paul is praying for their hearts to have eyes for the things of God. Paul is praying they focus on what God points them to see. God is saying, “oh, look!” And Paul doesn’t want them to miss it.

 

When we read scripture, study it together in Christian community, and ask the spirit to give us enlightened eyes of the heart, we are seeking God’s call. We are stunning ourselves to a way of seeing what’s important when God calls. When we learn and grow in God’s word, we see where God is pointing in this world, to people who need compassion, acceptance, living wages, affordable and accessible housing, justice, equitable education, affordable healthcare, and faith family. When we get serious about internalizing God’s wisdom and God’s call on our lives, we can hear in our daily lives, God saying, “oh, look!”

Prayer for Today

Lord, make the eyes of my heart open wide. Help me be enlightened by your word and bold by your spirit to love by meeting the needs of those I see. Amen.

Posted by: AT 07:21 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, September 15 2021

 

Last Sunday morning we presented our second graders with Bibles. It is something we do every year here at Johns Creek Presbyterian Church. After we presented the Bibles, I invited the kids who had received the Bibles to have a seat for the children's sermon. And while I was asking them about what a newspaper and the Bible they had just received had in common, I noticed that both of the young men who received a Bible were very focused on their Bibles and not that interested in what I was saying. They seem to be fascinated as they flipped through the pages. Normally I might be a little hurt because they weren't fascinated with what I was saying, but actually I was thrilled because they found this new Bible in their laps to be so interesting. My hope is that their Bibles would remain just as interesting in their coming years.

 

Karl Barth was probably the most influential theologian of the 20th century. He wrote four volumes of books, 500 to 700 pages each called Church Dogmatics. There is a story about a time Karl Barth was once teaching. Someone asked him how he would summarize all that was in his books. He paused and said this, “Jesus loves me, this I know, because the Bible tells me so.”

 

How did one of the deepest Christian thinkers and most effective teachers know about the love of Jesus? Because the Bible told him so! Friends, how do we encounter the risen Christ who loves us? One of the best ways is through the scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments. Through scripture we can find spiritual nourishment for our lives, as well as the strength and guidance us to do whatever it is God calls each of us to do.

Prayer for Today

Loving God, fill us with your words of grace and truth. Help us to find time to read from the scriptures you give us. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ, the Word made flesh who lived among us. Amen.

Posted by: AT 07:17 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, September 14 2021

 

One recent morning on our drive to school, Will was reading a Highlights Magazine. He was very interested in a section talking about the deepest parts of the earth. He asked me what I knew and then shared about several different places around the earth. It was so nice to have our busy morning rhythm interrupted to consider the deepest places and the tallest places on our planet. Our mornings are not always so calm and peaceful, but this morning’s reminded me of what a gift we have in the place we live and all of the surprising details in God’s creation.

It’s funny to me how sometimes interruptions in our day can bring moments of calmness and appreciation. While others we avoid like the plague. The same situation would have likely brought about a different reaction from any number of people.

 

I realize that these two encounters are not earth shattering in comparison to some of the challenging experiences that we face in life. They just reminded me that when we face situations that are unexpected, our response to them often shapes our faith in a significant way. So then, how do your reactions to life’s interruptions or unexpected circumstances, shape your faith?  Sometimes I find when life is a little bit unpredictable, I realize my need to live by faith and depend upon God’s guidance.

 

Take some time to you consider the ways that life’s interruptions shape your faith.

 

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, Help me to be more aware of your presence with me each day. Guide me as I seek to walk in faith, even when I cannot see the outcome. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 07:16 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, September 13 2021

 

Every day as we go about our usual chores and tasks, we also speak with family members, friends, and perhaps strangers.

 

In doing so, we sometimes get into conversations that we just bare all. Does the conversation get so deep that you completely trust the listener with all your personal thoughts, actions, and behaviors?

 

The dangerous side effect is what the listener may do with the information obtained. Do they use it against you in some manner? Do they exasperate it and spin it into an untruthful story to make themselves look good?

 

In the Gospel of Luke 6:39-42 Jesus asks, "Can a blind person lead a blind person?" Will not both fall into a pit? You must be careful who you talk to as not everyone is utterly dedicated to Christ.

 

Someone who sees you properly acknowledges our need for a Savior. Jesus uses a rather funny image to make this point. "Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?"

 

Stephen Ministers have been trained to walk beside you in confidentiality. To help absorb the hurt, sadness, difficulties, loss, or whatever difficult experience you are going through, so neither of you will fall into the pit. They are trustworthy. When you're not sure whom you want to talk to or who may be most trustworthy to share information with you don't have to take a chance. If you just need a friend to listen, please remember we are here for you.

Prayer for Today

Lord, please hear our prayer today as we ask you to guide us to speak to the people that will help us - not try to harm us. When I need a helping hand, may it not be a hand that pushes me into the pit, but guides me down the straight and narrow path. Thank you for all you have given me here on earth and eternal life with You. Amen.

Posted by: AT 07:14 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, September 10 2021

 

He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken.

-Isaiah 25:8

 

The closing hymn for this Sunday’s services is Be Still, My Soul, a favorite hymn of mine. The hymn tune, FINLANDIA, was composed by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius as part of an orchestral work. This composition was actually a political statement by the composer in protest against censorship by the Russian Empire. Finland had been controlled or influenced by foreign powers since the Middle Ages and in the 1800s, anti-Russian sentiments steadily grew.

 

In the orchestral work, this music is without words, but words were added in 1940 and it became a national of Finland. These words speak of daylight dawning on Finland and paint an image of a free and independent country away from the imperial influence of their neighbors.

 

The words to Be Still, My Soul were written in 1752 and translated into English in 1855. Though the words to our hymn were probably not on Sibelius’ mind when he was composing the original orchestral music, perhaps he composed while imagining the sun setting for the first time on a Finland free of negative outside influences. I can’t help but see a parallel with this idea and our return to the Source when our time comes. The words to this hymn even evoke this same imagery in the third and final verse:

 

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on

When we shall be forever with the Lord;

When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,

Sorrow forgot, love's purest joys restored.

Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past

All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

 

Life can be very difficult, especially now as the pandemic drags on for longer than any of us expected. It is easy to feel discouraged and down, but singing this hymn helps me to re-orient myself with the grand scheme of things. We are but a blip in the history of the universe, a speck of sand in a vast desert, and yet our loving and unchanging God calls us and knows us. And God calls us to awake one day in his presence with the sun shining on that heavenly country where all pain and sorrow are no more. How does the knowledge of such amazing grace change the way we interact with people, especially with those who do not agree with us now in the midst of this frustrating pandemic?

Prayer for Today

Author of Peace, we often become overwhelmed and consumed by the circumstances at hand, failing to realize the transience of our situation. Help us to center ourselves and approach hardships with perspective as we work to live into hope and peace, bring love and understanding to all of life’s challenges. Glory to you, now and forever. Amen.

Posted by: AT 07:13 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, September 09 2021

 

The Dan Hotel in Jerusalem became known by a different name in 2020—“Hotel Corona.” The government dedicated the hotel to patients recovering from COVID-19, and the hotel became known as a rare site of joy and unity during a difficult time. Since the residents already had the virus, they were free to sing, dance, and laugh together. And they did! In a country where tensions between different political and religious groups run high, the shared crisis created a space where people could learn to see each other as human beings first—and even become friends.

 

It’s natural, normal even, for us to be drawn toward those we see as similar to us, people we suspect share similar experiences and values to our own. But as the apostle Paul often emphasized, the gospel is a challenge to any barriers between human beings that we see as “normal” (2 Corinthians 5:15). Through the lens of the gospel, we see a bigger picture than our differences—a shared brokenness and a shared longing and need to experience healing in God’s love.

If we believe that “one died for all,” then we can also no longer be content with surface-level assumptions about others. Instead, “Christ’s love compels us” (v. 14) to share His love and mission with those God loves more than we can imagine—all of us.

Prayer for Today

In hard times, Jesus, thank You for those moments when I see a glimmer of breathtaking beauty through the love and joy of others. Help me to live each day this way, regarding “no one from a worldly point of view.” Amen.

Posted by: AT 07:10 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, September 08 2021

 

Almost ten years ago, I entered the Welcome Center with my husband, Chap, for my first day serving on staff here at Johns Creek Presbyterian Church. It was a crisp Sunday morning and I was filled with excitement mixed with anxiety.

 

On anniversaries I often find myself stopping and reflecting on what I have learned and experienced during the time that has passed. As I look back over the past ten years, the word that comes to mind is thanksgiving. I am grateful for the warm welcome that we received upon moving here. I am thankful for the constant support that this church family provides each week. I am blessed to have the opportunity to grow in my faith with this community of believers.

 

In each decade of my life, I take time to discern God’s call for my life and where I am needed to serve. This past year and half has given us all an opportunity to consider what’s important. It is with deep joy and sadness that I share that God is needing my gifts and calling me to serve in a new community. After much prayer and discernment, I have accepted the call to serve as the Director of Christian Education at First Presbyterian Church in Savannah, GA. I will be with you this month and then our family will transition to Savannah in October.

 

These verses in Philemon have been on my heart since I first read them in middle school and they came to mind today as I thought of this church family.

 

Every time your name comes up in my prayers, I say, Oh, thank you, God! I keep hearing of the love and faith you have for the Master Jesus, which brims over to other believers. And I keep praying that this faith we hold in common keeps showing up in the good things we do, and that people recognize Christ in all of it. Friend, you have no idea how good your love makes me feel, doubly so when I see your hospitality to fellow believers.

-Philemon 1:4-7 The Message

 

I look forward to the ways that God will continue to connect us on this journey and seeing the ways that our faith shows up in all of the good things we do. I am excited to see God continue to be at work in this community and in the greater church.

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, Deepen us all in the experience of your grace. Make us more aware of the tasks you have for us all, within your church, and especially within your world beyond this church. May we all be more aware of the gifts you have given to each. Strengthen our life together. May your peace be in our midst. Equip us to go and serve all. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 07:06 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, September 07 2021

 

So, what did you do on Labor Day? As folks were leaving worship on Sunday, I asked them if they had plans for Labor Day. Most folks shared that they really had nothing out of the ordinary planned. One person even shared that when his wife had told him that Labor Day was this past weekend, he assured her it was still weeks off -- until he realized it really was this past weekend! I know some folks took off Friday and turned it into a long, four-day weekend. Good for them. Our family low-keyed it -- taking it easy throughout the day and grilling out steaks for dinner.

 

Labor Day does give us a time to reflect on the gift of work. We all need work, or access to the rewards of work, in order to live. During the pandemic, there are many whose work was negatively affected and who longed for some way to support themselves. Now it seems like there's a shortage of workers in many areas. As Protestant Christians, we have a tradition of valuing work. We've all heard the phrase “the Protestant work ethic” which comes from valuing the goodness of human labor. So, I invite you to be grateful for whatever work has been given to you throughout your life.

 

But I also want to encourage you to take Sabbath rest on a regular basis. You need it, we all do. And we can trust that God can run the world without us for one day a week. As we are reminded from the creation story, God puts a limit to our work. This is not some arbitrary rule God imposes, but a way to add balance, wholeness, and health to our lives. Human beings were never created to work seven days a week. In one of the most interesting parts of the creation story, God chooses to limit God’s own activity so that God rests on the seventh day! So, if God rests on the Sabbath from God's labors, who are we to think that we can get away with anything less?

Prayer for Today

Thank you, God, for work and the ability to make a living and contribute to our world. Thank you for Sabbath rest when we need it. We pray this the name of Jesus the Christ, who also found time to withdraw and rest. Amen.

Posted by: AT 07:05 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, September 06 2021

 

Romans 12:6, 11 -13

 

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well; Never be lazy but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically; Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them.

 

Today is Labor Day. What does Labor Day mean to you? How do you observe it?

 

The first Labor Day was Sept. 5, 1882, when 10,000 workers marched the streets of Manhattan to recognize the many contributions of the people who worked an average of 6 days a week, 12 hours a day. President Cleveland signed it into law as a National Holiday to be celebrated on the first Monday of September.

 

I read a story about a woman who when asked what she did, smiled and said, “I bring hope to people who are hurting.” She was a grocery store clerk, but she didn’t see it as just a job. To her it was a way to use her gifts of hospitality and love God had given her to make the world a better place. She observed her clients and gave special attention to those who looked sad or forlorn and offered them a kind word. “I think it made a difference,” she said.

 

Labor Day celebrates the dignity and importance we each can take in the callings we’ve been given or the jobs we’re doing – whether as a professional or as volunteers. Our collective works contribute to the betterment of all.

 

Today ask your self – “What larger work has God called me to do?” Then look for it.

Prayer for Today

Father, may my work honor the gifts and talents you have given me and reflect your love for the world. Please guide me and give me the strength and courage to work every day for your glory.  Amen.

Posted by: AT 07:03 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, September 03 2021

 

This Sunday's anthem includes the text (though not the original tune) of a hymn written by Brian Wren for his congregation in 1968, as the summation of a sermon series on communion. Since the Second Vatican Council, many communion hymns, focused previously on the Lord's Supper as a memorial observance, now shifted their focus to how communion shapes the Christian community as the body of Christ.

 

I love the words of this hymn!

 

The first line speaks of a joyful attitude when coming to the table.

 

I come with joy to meet my Lord,

Forgiven, loved and free,

In awe and wonder to recall

His life laid down for me.

 

The second verse reminds us that we are not isolated in penitence, but part of a broader Christian community of love, empowered by Christ's shared communion bread.

 

I come with Christians far and near

To find, as all are fed,

The new community of love

In Christ's communion bread.

 

As part of that new community of love, we share the feast, and our eyes are opened to see in this sacrament what we have in common, as we lay aside our differences.

 

As Christ breaks bread and bids us share,

Each proud division ends.

The love that made us makes us one,

And strangers now are friends.

 

We are reminded that Christ's presence is better known in the friendship shared at the table.

 

And thus with joy we meet our Lord:

His presence, always near,

Is in such friendship better known;

We see and praise him here.

 

Finally, we depart from the table, changed by the experience, and go out to live as changed children of God!

 

Together met, together bound,

We'll go our different ways,

And as his people in the world,

We'll live and speak his praise.

 

One thing I have learned during this pandemic is we can celebrate communion together, even when we're apart. Whether you are attending in-person worship, are alone in your car at drive-in worship, or are worshiping at home while watching our livestream, when you are taking communion, remember that in this act you are not alone, but part of the whole body of Christ, the Christian church.

Prayer for Today

Christ, our savior, help us come to your feast, departing and living as your changed children. Amen

Posted by: AT 07:00 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, September 02 2021

 

Christ was faithful as a son over his house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.

-Hebrews 3:6

 

For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.

-Hebrews 3:14

 

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

-Hebrews 10:23

 

2020 was a hard year to be sure and a lot of tragedy struck. Among our losses was the late Chadwick Boseman. The South Carolina-native and Howard University grad played iconic heroes on the silver screen from Thurgood Marshall to Jackie Robinson. But he will be most remembered for bringing life to the King of Wakanda, Black Panther of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This character is the king of a fictional African nation and a superhero too. As King T’Challa, Boseman embodied courage, compassion, generosity, and forgiveness. Rather than seek revenge for the death of his father, he sought justice, mercy, and peace. Rather than keep his country’s vast resources for the benefit of his own people only, he advocated sharing. In his words, “In times of crisis, the wise build bridges, while the foolish build walls.”

 

The world lost Chadwick Boseman suddenly to cancer. Few knew he had it. No one would have suspected. He remained in otherwise good health and never let up on his acting career, but more importantly, his public appearances of good will and encouragement. Boseman was well-known for visiting children in hospitals, especially those battling cancer. Few knew his own battle. His candle burned briefly, but brightly.

 

In his Marvel movie role, he had a battle cry to rally his people to defend the nation and our world from those who threatened it. Yibambe. It’s derived from a word that is from a dialect spoken in South Africa and Zimbabwe. It means, “Stand Fast.” In a call and response fashion, he would shout it and the tribe would repeat it back, over and over. On the anniversary of his passing, we are still facing a deadly virus and many still suffer from the illness that took Boseman too soon. Folks have taken to social media to remember his passing, his life, and his inspiration, quoting his rallying cry... #Yibambe!

 

It would be easy to give up and natural to be discouraged right now. We could be forgiven for giving up in the face of rising Covid cases, the Delta variant, and a return to greater restrictions. But as believers, we have faced difficult times before and offered hope to one another and those in need. We know that the goal is not simply to survive, but to hold fast to the hope we have in Christ and make the best of the time we are given by offering that hope to others. Yibambe!

Prayer for Today

Lord, strengthen me in the days ahead to hold fast, to love greatly, and to be compassionate, even when those days are hard. Amen.

Posted by: AT 06:00 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, September 01 2021

 

In our Presbyterian Church, those of us who are ordained are actually described two ways in our Book of Order: Teaching Elders and Ministers of Word and Sacrament. A teaching elder is different from the ruling elders who are members of our congregation and elected to serve on our Session. I like the fact that our Presbyterian tradition holds high the role of teachers.

 

In the New Testament book of Romans, it lists “teaching” as one of the spiritual gifts bestowed upon the church to build it up. And throughout the New Testament, Jesus is called “Teacher.” One of my tasks as a Presbyterian pastor is to teach. Over the years, more than one person has described me as a “teaching preacher.” I think that makes sense because my preaching has always been tied into helping us understand scripture and what God is saying to us today through those words.

 

This Sunday I begin teaching our “Pastors’ Class” at 10:00 a.m. in Room 112/the Small Dining Room across from the Great Hall. We will be wearing masks as required by our Session indoors and we will be socially distanced. This fall I plan for us to revisit some of the topics I have covered in recent years by asking these questions: Have these topics and truths been affected by the pandemic? If so, how have these insights changed? What have we learned that can help us move forward with our lives? This Sunday’s topic is “12 Bad Habits to Stop Doing After the Pandemic.”

 

 

Here are some of the other topics:

  •  Is God a Democrat or Republican?
  • Intergenerational theory
  • More Polarized than Ever?
  • The Smaller Faster Stronger Church
  • The State of the Church
  • The Wisdom Pyramid
  • Crisis and/or Opportunity?
  • Spirituality Types and Personality
  • Polarity Theory
  • I think - I feel - I believe: What’s the Difference?
  • The Sixth Stage of Grief: Finding Meaning

 

So, come try us out this Sunday. See you then!

Prayer for Today

God of all truth and wisdom, we thank you that you sent Jesus to teach us. As we begin a new time of learning, fill us with your Spirit -- that we might be open to all you would have us learn at this point in our lives. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus, the preeminent Teacher, and our Lord and Savior. Ame

Posted by: AT 06:55 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
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