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.
I want to say thank you for the wonderful recognition of my retirement that took place yesterday after worship. To everyone involved in planning and leading such a wonderful event, I want to express my appreciation and let you know how much it meant to me and to my family. Each speaker said something meaningful and heartfelt. The many gifts were unexpected and much appreciated. I will treasure them. The monetary gifts that I know so many of you shared were so generous. Thank you! And the honor of having the church library named after me was truly inspiring.
I will continue to pray for Johns Creek Presbyterian Church, giving thanks for our time together and praying for God’s guidance as you select your next pastor. May God bless you all!
Finally, you may have already heard that the Rev. Dr. Larry Wood -- founding pastor of this church, died on Sunday afternoon. Larry did an excellent job getting this church started. He will be greatly missed by those who loved him. Please keep his wife Helen and all of his family in your thoughts and your prayers.
The baby wasn’t due for another six weeks, but the doctor had just diagnosed Whitney with cholestasis, a liver condition common in pregnancy. In a whirlwind of emotions, Whitney was taken to the hospital where she received treatment and was told her baby would be induced in twenty-four hours! In another part of the hospital, ventilators and other equipment needed for the onslaught of COVID-19 cases were being put into place. As a result, Whitney was sent home. She made the decision to trust God and His plans, and she delivered a healthy baby a few days later.
When Scripture takes root in us, it transforms the way we react in trying situations. Jeremiah lived in a time when most of society trusted in human alliances, and the worship of idols was prevalent. The prophet contrasts the person who “draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord” (Jeremiah 17:5) with the one who trusts in God. “Blessed is the one . . . whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that . . . does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green” (vv. 7–8).
As believers in Jesus, we’re called to live by faith as we look to Him for solutions. As He provides the strength, we can choose to fear or to trust Him. God says we’re blessed—fully satisfied—when we choose to place our trust in Him.
Prayer for Today
Dear God, thank You that I can trust You in all situations and come to You in prayer. You’re right there in the midst of my struggles, and You give me strength. Amen.
Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you.
“I’m stuck.” It’s the new phrase from the toddler. He will race around the living room pushing his car or wagon and when he encounters an obstacle, he calls out that he’s stuck. We usually let him pause and try to solve it himself and then ask if he wants help. He’s learning. Last week was tough for our brothers and sisters of the Jewish community after the hostage standoff in Texas. My rabbi friend from nearby Dor Tamid (who held their Rosh Hashanah service in our parking lot just two years ago) had lived and worked just ten minutes away and is dear friends with the rabbi who was held captive. When we asked at our clergy meeting what we could do to support them, his invitation was simple, “join us for worship this Shabbat.”
On Friday night, I attended the service with seven other clergy from our group, the Johns Creek PD chief and captain, the mayor, and other civic leaders. Rabbi Jordan shared the prayer from Rabbi Charlie that they’d prayed that week, and his own message about how we respond to continued tragedies, violence, and bigotry. He asked us if we feel stuck in fear or helpless, to move forward, and encouraged us to do our part. He asked us to speak up when we hear and see bigotry, hate, and antisemitism. He reminded us we can be targets for our faith and that we are together when any person of faith is attacked, ridiculed, or demeaned. In other words, when we feel stuck, ask for help or offer it.
We are God’s children, and we face challenges each day, and so does everyone around us. We have a God who hears us when we call out, and who calls us to reach out when others need our help getting unstuck. We cannot take a day off. When our neighbor says they can’t imagine a way forward after a tough week, we can offer to pray with them, listen, go with them to their house of prayer, and pledge to speak up for them. And do it. This week, it would be easy to let this story pass by with a simple, “it could have been worse,” or, “it happens too much.” But we are called to denounce such evil and work to build a better world.
Prayer for Today
Lord make me courageous to speak up, step up, and build up a better world with other people of faith and empowered by your spirit. Amen.
Since this is my last “Reflections,” I found myself remembering how it all started. Soon after I arrived, a church member emailed me and suggested that it would be good to hear from the pastor more often than just on Sunday morning. So, we decided to start a daily “Reflections” blog and I invited some of the staff members to join me in writing one per week. We set a 350-word limit, thinking that would be about the right length that people would read. I have enjoyed the different voices of staff members and church members over the years. No one wrote “Reflections” the same way as anybody else, and that was good! From time to time, someone will comment in an email or a text, how a particular “Reflections” spoke to them that day.
When it comes to “Reflections,” these words that we write are usually our reflections on something in our journeys of faith that we have discovered and want to share. Today, I was thinking about how we are like reflecting mirrors. We are to reflect God's love, grace, and light out into the dark places of the world in need of such things. We are also called as Christ followers to reflect the praises of the world back to God in worship – which, as we say, is “the most important thing we do.”
I am reminded of the passage from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in chapter 13, often called “the love chapter,” in which Paul writes these words: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part: then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. These three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” So, keep reflecting the faith, hope, and love of Christ into your world!
Prayer for Today
Thank you, God, for your love and grace. Enable us to reflect that love and grace into our world today and as long as we live. In the strong name of Jesus the Christ we pray. Amen.
The professor ended his online class in one of two ways each time. He’d say, “See you next time” or “Have a good weekend.” Some students would respond with “Thank you. You too!” But one day a student responded, “I love you.” Surprised, he replied, “I love you too!” That evening the classmates agreed to create an “I love you chain” for the next class time in appreciation for their professor who had to teach to a screen on his computer, not in-person teaching as he preferred. A few days later when he finished teaching, the professor said, “See you next time,” and one by one the students replied, “I love you.” They continued this practice for months. The teacher said this created a strong bond with his students, and he now feels they’re “family.”
In 1 John 4:10–21, we, as part of God’s family, find several reasons to say “I love you” to Him: He sent His Son as a sacrifice for our sin (v. 10). He gave us His Spirit to live in us (vv. 13, 15). His love is always reliable (v. 16), and we never need to fear judgment (v. 17). He enables us to love Him and others “because he first loved us” (v. 19).
The next time you gather with God’s people, take time to share your reasons for loving Him. Making an “I love you” chain for God will bring Him praise and bring you closer together.
Prayer for Today
I’m grateful to know Your love and to be a part of Your family, Father. Show me ways to creatively express that love. Amen.
Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him. - Psalm 37:3-7a
As we start the new year, our church is faced with major changes! Change is unsettling. It doesn't matter who we are—old or young, rich or poor, married or single. Change can be exciting, but it also brings with it the unknown. Sometimes it's scary to look out into the great unknown. As we begin a new year, we don't know what to expect. That can be a little unnerving.
We don't have the ability to see the future. But we do know one thing for certain. As long as we remain close to our Father, His goodness and love will stay close to us. No matter where our circumstances may direct us, His love and goodness will follow us.
The hymn Be Thou My Vision speaks to us:
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
naught be all else to me, save that Thou art--
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.
Be Thou my Wisdom and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son,
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.
When we face changes, we don't always know what lies on the road ahead. But we don't always need to see into the distance. We only need to see the step ahead of us...then another step...then another step. When the path ahead is obscure, we can go to God's Word for guidance. His Word will light our way. It may not tell us exactly what's coming a month from now, a year from now, five years from now, but God's Word will act as a road map for the journey ahead. It will be the pathway at our feet.
When we rely on His Word and follow it consistently, we can trust His goodness. Even when the future is unclear, we can move ahead with confidence, knowing He will lead us to the best place for us, and His goodness and love will stay with us every step of the journey. Full speed ahead!
Prayer for Today
Lord, thank you for leading us in the right direction. Help us to follow You today and trust You for our future. The knowledge of your love and support gives us confidence to move into the future. Amen.
These words are familiar to many of us. We sing this wonderful hymn frequently here at Johns Creek Presbyterian Church. The text is from an 8th century anonymous Irish poem, translated into prose by Mary Byrne, and put into verse by Eleanor Hull in the early part of the 20th century. The tune, "Slane," a traditional Irish air, originally used with a secular text, was first paired with these sacred verses in the Irish Church Hymnal of 1919. In 101 More Hymn Stories, Kenneth Osbeck explains, "The tune is named for a hill, ten miles from Tara, in County Meath, where St. Patrick is said to have challenged King Loegaire and the Druid priests by lighting the Paschal fire on Easter eve."
In this hymn, many descriptive titles are ascribed to God: Vision, Lord, Best Thought, Wisdom, Word, Great Father, High King, Inheritance, Treasure, Sun, Ruler, and Heart. When we sing these verses, we are asking God from the very beginning to be our main focus, our leader, our strength, our protector, our sustainer. We are acknowledging God to be of highest importance in our lives, worthy of all of our praise, our strength, our efforts, our love. Does this sound familiar?
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40 NIV)
Be thou my wisdom, and thou my true Word;
I ever with thee and thou with me, Lord;
Thou my soul's shelter, and thou my high tower;
Raise thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.
So when we sing these words together this Sunday, think about your relationship with God, and consider how much God loves you. Then consider how God wants you to love your neighbor. Then go and do it!
He said, “Listen to my words: “When there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, reveal myself to them in visions, I speak to them in dreams.”
“I can’t.” It’s the first phrase our toddler figured out and all too common among kids and adults alike. We try to encourage him to either solve a small problem himself or ask if he needs help. We want him to be creative and either find his own solution or learn to ask for help. We don’t want him to become a child or adult who can’t imagine solutions or creative ways to do things. It’s been said that worry is a misuse of imagination. Our scriptures remind us not to worry or get frustrated and even our ordination vows encourage us to use our imaginations. In the midst of the pandemic, I’ve seen incredible creativity for things “we can’t” or shouldn’t do right now. And there’s beauty in that.
Today, as I was scrolling through Instagram, I found an inspirational video. A man could not attend his aunt’s funeral and instead sent a message of love in a way he imagined would convey his message. He scattered seeds in a shape on his field, and as his sheep ran to them, it revealed a heart when seen from above. How might we use our imaginations in a new year? Many of us are stuck only imagining doing things the way we always have. We are not allowing God to give us new visions of what can be and new versions of what could be possible. What could our gatherings, celebrations, memorials, milestones, and worship look like if we allowed the Spirit to move us like this sheep farmer?
This week, think about your favorite things on the horizon in 2022. Maybe it’s a vacation, a mission trip, a family event, or weekly worship. What variety and creativity have you seen in your lifetime? What new ways can you gather, celebrate, mourn, or praise God? Not once before had I seen a man scatter seeds for his flock to mourn the loss of a loved one. But I’ll never forget it, and rarely have I been so moved or inspired. What can we do this year together? Where will God lead us… if we allow ourselves to be so moved?
Prayer for Today
Lord, lead my heart by your spirit through my imagination and give me dreams of what may be. Amen.
Yesterday was another milestone event for me -- I turned sixty-five. I found myself thinking back over my almost 40 years preparing for and serving in ministry. While a student at Columbia Theological Seminary, I began as a part-time Youth Director at Calvary Presbyterian Church in Smyrna. After seminary, I served churches with names like Westminster, Covenant, Shallowford, Big Canoe, and now Johns Creek. There are a number of stories in the Bible that make reference to 40 years, which one pastor has said is Bible code for “a very long time.” Beginning in 1982 and finishing up in 2022 sometimes seems like a very long time, while other times it seems to have flown by. So, I have found myself reflecting on the places God has called me to serve and I am honored to have been used by God in that way.
I have also tried to be in the present and pay attention to what this transition is like as I am going through it, and not try to hurry past it. Roy Oswald said the ministers sometimes try to hurry through their last days, probably as a way to avoid the pain and the discomfort. He compares it to his childhood experience of having to run through thistles barefoot with his younger brother at the beach and their plan to simply go as fast as they could. So, I have intentionally tried to reflect on what I'm going through so that I can learn from it. Oswald even suggests that when we go through these kinds of transitions and endings, it is practice for how we will one day face death and dying. Maybe.
But I find myself also looking forward to the next season in my life. In one of her books, Barbara Brown Taylor says that when people are concerned about how they will be used by God, trying to discern what God may want them to do next in life, she says that we shouldn't worry about it because God will know what to do with us next. I am trusting that the same God who has walked beside me for 40 years will know what to do with me next. Psalm 121:8 reminds us that the Lord will guard our coming and our going now and forevermore. May God guard your comings and goings -- whatever they may be.
Prayer for Today
We are grateful, God, that you walk with us all the days of our lives. Help us to look back over where you have brought us with gratitude and grace. Help us to be present to what you are doing in our lives here and now. And help us to trust you with our future, whatever that may be. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
My son Geoff was leaving a store when he saw an abandoned walking frame (a mobility aid) on the ground. I hope there isn’t a person back there who needs help, he thought. He glanced behind the building and found a homeless man unconscious on the pavement.
Geoff roused him and asked if he was okay. “I’m trying to drink myself to death,” he responded. “My tent broke in a storm, and I lost everything. I don’t want to live.”
Geoff called a Christian rehabilitation ministry, and while they waited for help, he ran home briefly and brought the man his own camping tent. “What’s your name?” Geoff asked. “Geoffrey,” the homeless man answered, “with a G.” Geoff hadn’t mentioned his own name or its uncommon spelling. “Dad,” he told me later, “that could have been me.”
Geoff once struggled with substance abuse himself, and he helped the man because of the kindness he’d received from God. Isaiah the prophet used these words to anticipate God’s mercy to us in Jesus: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).
Christ, our Savior, didn’t leave us lost, alone, and hopeless in despair. He chose to identify with us and lift us in love, so that we may be set free to live anew in Him. There’s no greater gift.
Prayer for Today
Thank You, Jesus, for coming to rescue me. Help me to join in Your search-and-rescue mission and to share Your love with someone who needs You today. Amen.
For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. -Jeremiah 29:11
Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God-truly righteous and holy. -Ephesians 4:23-24
This scripture from Jeremiah is often used on graduation cards, but I think it is also very appropriate for the beginning of a new year. As we make our new year’s resolutions maybe we need to think about God’s plans for us. I have made the same two resolutions for many years – and have been only minimally successful at either.
This January is the beginning of a year full of significant changes for our church. The Interim Pastor Nominating Committee is beginning the process of finding an interim pastor. The Education team is putting together data to find the right person(s) to lead our Christian education. And we’re all trying to deal with how best to recover from a pandemic that has/is changing our lives and the way we “do” church. Perhaps we all need to consider Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:23-24 to let the Spirit renew our thoughts and attitudes and to look for God’s plan in our personal and church life.
Prayer for Today
Loving Father, please be with us and guide us as we move forward in the new year. Help us to discern your plans for us as we move forward. Amen.
Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your justice like the great deep. You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.
This passage, taken from the lectionary reading for this week, is fitting as we approach Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, he references a passage from the book of Amos:
But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream. (Amos 5:24)
How wonderful it is to know that we are surrounded by God’s love! But we are called to not only accept God’s love but to also outwardly show love to others as we act as “reflections” of God’s all-encompassing love. That means showing love even to those people who make our blood boil and to those who we don’t want to have anything to do with.
God is also faithful and we are surrounded by God’s faithfulness from birth. How has God been faithful to you? How has God seen you through hard times? We must always be aware that people of different races are likely going through struggles that we cannot see and have never experienced. As Christians, we need to be “reflections” of God’s faithfulness by helping others in their struggles, even if we do not understand or have not experienced this struggle ourselves.
God’s righteousness is the standard for our morality. In Romans 8:31, Paul explains that, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”. And we know that Christ came not to condemn the world, but to save the world (John 3:17). So if God is “for” the whole world, how can we be “against” anyone? As Christians, we are called to “reflect” this righteousness back on earth, working to heal racial divisions and create new pathways for reconciliation. There is still work to be done and we as Christians should be leading the charge for unity.
And finally justice. God is just and fair, but the society we live in is fundamentally neither just nor fair, though we strive for that. How can you “reflect” God’s deep justice in your life? Our world has treated minorities with injustice for far too long. How can you stand up for God’s justice today in your life?
Prayer for Today
God of Love, Faithfulness, Righteousness, and Justice, open my eyes to the real struggles of those from different races and instill in me a desire to stand up for justice, even if the outcome doesn’t affect me. Shine your love, faithfulness, righteousness, and justice upon me and craft me into a “reflection” that helps to shine light on the great darkness in this world. Amen.
I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
“[We believe] that this unity must become visible so that the world may believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people in groups is sin which Christ has already conquered, and accordingly that anything which threatens this unity may have no place in the church and must be resisted…”
Belhar Confession (from 10.3)
What a profound statement. As we prepare to install our new elders each January, we review the Presbyterian Book of Confessions, our guiding theological principlesand tradition. The newest one was adopted quite recently, though written in South Africa during apartheid. Not only was it the first to be adopted that was written outside of Europe, it said something new and very important. It went one step farther than previous confessions that named the sin of racism. It reminded us that the very separation we choose in being apart from those who are different is a sin. Even our own secular courts of law had long ago determined we couldn’t allow “separate but equal” because human nature never allowed for equal experiences of those separated and put apart. This was a theological affirmation that people cannot choose to divide themselves without sinning. That chosen separation of comfort was the sin of excluding part of the image of God. God said so in Scripture.
Our scripture and confessions affirm that ALL people are made in God’s image. To choose that separation is to say that part of God’s image, part of God’s people, the experiences, gifts, and contributions of God’s people are unworthy or unwanted. When we choose to always be separate in neighborhoods, celebrations, and worship, we choose distance, division, and sin. When we choose not to form relationships, to exclude people, and to ignore their history, experiences, and perspectives, we sin. Belhar named this. And so do we.
This Monday, we will as a nation and as a church, mark the day as Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Just as the marking of Christmas and Easter for believers, just as the marking of Memorial and Veterans Day for American citizens, we mark this day to remind us of the good done and the calling we have to honor the love and sacrifice of those who came before us. These days remind us of the saints God has given us to show the way. If you’ve not read the Belhar Confession, I would ask you to read it this weekend or on Monday. If you’ve not read his I have a Dream speech, I would ask you to read that. And if you’ve done both, or would like more, read something new from the Rev. Dr. King Jr. I recommend Letter from Birmingham Jail. And I recommend rereading the portions of Scripture referenced in Belhar. We are called as disciples to learn and grow. Let’s use the day in such a way.
Lord, we give thanks that you were and are a teacher and that you have always sent prophets, preachers, and teachers to lead the way and lend your light. Make me a good student and a better disciple in my learning and loving. Amen.
Be prepared. As anyone who has been a Boy Scout knows, that is the Boy Scout motto. I remember walking into the offices of CNN back when it was all housed in the Techwood buildings. Behind the receiving desk was a cartoon that said this: “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”
Today, we looked at the weather report for Sunday and it's predicting snow. For us on staff, particularly with worship services that are online and drive-in, this means we need to prepare. So, we are planning to record an online version of the worship service this week in case the snow and ice really do show up. We will keep you posted, but we will at least have an online worship service available this Sunday.
Being a Christian is consistent with being prepared. There are a number of Bible verses and parables that encourage preparation for things like the coming of Christ. Each day I begin my preparation with time to read from the Bible, reflect, meditate, and pray. I try to do that before I read the newspaper. It gives me a faith framework through which to view the events of the world. It is how I get prepared for the day. I don't know how you get prepared for the day, but I hope it includes some intentional time with God.
Finally, I want to remind you of our Congregational Meeting on Sunday, January 23, following the 11:00 a.m. worship service -- which should begin about noon. The purpose is for the congregation to vote on requesting our presbytery to dissolve the pastoral relationship with me so that I can retire. Again, we need a quorum of our members attending in order to do this, so please plan to attend, either in person or online. Here is the link you can use to register to attend online:
We thank you, God, for all the plans and preparations you have made to show your love by sending Jesus to save us and our world. Help us to be prepared each day to not only be open and aware of your love and grace in our lives, but to share it with those we encounter. In the strong name of Jesus the Christ we pray. Amen.
“ESCAPE.” The billboard shouts the benefits of having a hot tub installed. It gets my attention—and gets me thinking. My wife and I have talked about getting a hot tub . . . someday. It’d be like a vacation in our backyard! Except for the cleaning. And the electric bill. And . . . suddenly, the hoped-for escape starts to sound like something I might need escape from.
Still, that word entices so effectively because it promises something we want: Relief. Comfort. Security. Escape. It’s something our culture tempts and teases us with in many ways. Now, there’s nothing wrong with resting or a getaway to someplace beautiful. But there’s a difference between escaping life’s hardships and trusting God with them.
In John 16, Jesus tells His disciples that the next chapter of their lives will test their faith. “In this world you will have trouble,” He summarizes at the end. And then He adds this promise, “But take heart! I have overcome the world” (v. 33). Jesus didn’t want His disciples to cave in to despair. Instead, He invited them to trust Him, to know the rest He provides: “I have told you these things,” he said, “so that in me you may have peace” (v. 33).
Jesus doesn’t promise us a pain-free life. But He does promise that as we trust and rest in Him, we can experience a peace that’s deeper and more satisfying than any escape the world tries to sell us.
Prayer for Today
Father, help me to trust You so that I may find peace and rest in You. Amen.
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
-Matthew 7:7-8, NIV
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
-Revelation 3:20, NIV
Happy New Year and have a blessed 2022! As a life long Presbyterian, I struggled for the first two thirds of my life to believe that our God could be relational. I just could not comprehend or understand how “you have a friend in Jesus”. I also struggled with the concept of the Trinity as one God in three persons. As I entered the last third of my life with a third child, new home, new job and the departure of my Father, I found myself for the first time in my life down on my knees regularly in prayer to God. I also found myself doing daily devotions, earnestly reading scripture, praying regularly as I started to “knock” at God’s door more frequently with life’s challenges. God even sent me a Trinity prayer that I have prayed daily ever since. I was and have always been a believer, but I still was not a Jesus follower and still did not have a personal relationship with God.
The origin of the word relation is from Latin, relationem “a bringing back, restoring; a report, proposition”. Over the last nine years, by being in small groups like The Shepherds, reading and studying scripture and praying, I was restored by the Holy Spirit into a personal relationship with Jesus. While most of us know that during Christmas time, that Jesus is also called Emmanuel or “God with us”, it was in a small group that I learned that Jesus who spoke in Aramaic is Yeshua with means “Yahweh Saves”. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep”. “Sheep" means to follow someone else, and to follow someone else means you don't have the capability to lead the party. Basically meaning you're copying someone else and taking their knowledge of something and doing it the same way. By acknowledging to myself that I was a sheep, it was the key to opening up that personal relationship with Jesus. I was able to begin to model Jesus and his relationships in my life. While I “knocked” at God’s door for along time, I now find Jesus “knocking” at my door and fulfilling the scriptures. In modeling Jesus, we too are Shepherds and called to go find the lost sheep and bring them home to God.
Prayer for Today
Good Morning Heavenly Father! Good Morning Lord Jesus! Good Morning Holy Spirit! Heavenly Father, I pray this day to please you more and more. Lord Jesus, I pray this day that I will pick up my cross and follow you, Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. God in three persons, blessed Trinity have mercy upon me. Amen.
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. -John 3:16-17
When Gray told me he wanted "Jesus Saves!" to be one of our hymns this Sunday, I had to admit I have never sung or played it before. Many of you know that I was Lutheran before I became a Presbyterian, and, well, that one just isn't in our hymnal. In fact, it's not in our Presbyterian hymnal either. Is it a Baptist hymn? Methodist? Time to do some research!! While digging through my hymnals, I found a copy of The Hymnbook (otherwise known as the 1955 Presbyterian "Red Hymnal"), with Larry Wood's name on the front, and there it is--#503!! (Larry, if you're looking for your hymnal, give me a call!)
This hymn text was written by Priscilla Owens in 1882. She lived in Baltimore all her life, taught public school for 49 years, and was a member of Union Square Methodist Episcopal Church with a special interest in Sunday School work. Every verse of this hymn is about spreading the good news:
We have heard the joyful sound-- Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Spread the tidings all around-- Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Bear the news to ev'ry land, climb the steeps and cross the waves;
Onward! 'Tis our Lord's command-- Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Give the winds a mighty voice-- Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Let the nations now rejoice-- Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Shout salvation full and free, highest hills and deepest caves;
This our song of victory-- Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
I think it's particularly fitting that we should sing about spreading the news to all nations, especially now that we are in the season of Epiphany, which began yesterday (after the twelfth day of Christmas). Israel had been waiting a long, long time for the promised Messiah, but imagine everyone's surprise when the three wise men from the East showed up... the first non-Israelites to bow down and worship the newborn king, representing the rest of the nations (including us!), the world that God so loved, that he would die to save.
Prayer for Today
God Almighty, you compelled the wise men to follow the star to find and worship the newborn king of heaven and earth. Compel us to share the news, the grace, the love with others, so that all may know you as Lord. We praise you, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Lord is near to all who call, to all who call on God in truth.
“Huggle!” Our boys love a good hug. Our toddler will say this when he wants affection. Even if he’s already sitting right next to us, he will whisper this and snuggle in extra close. Something in him bubbles up and he wants to be even more secure. Over and over scripture reminds us that while God is always with us, we can and should draw near to God. I often remind our youth they can do this in prayer, in studying scripture, and in worship. When we tell God we want to be close, God promises to draw nearer to us too.
Have you ever taken an extended pause from prayer or reading your Bible or worshipping by with other believers. Did you feel the deep need to draw close again? Did coming back give you a peace you’d forgotten you needed? Maybe it’s been a while now and you’ve needed that reminder.
In one of my favorite Christmas episodes of ER, a Jewish woman is injured in a car jacking. Her granddaughter was in the backseat and goes missing. She’s a survivor of the Holocaust and hasn’t prayed in years, so she asks her doctor to help her pray. He describes himself as the son of a lapsed Catholic and an agnostic Jew. But together, they draw near to God and pray for the first time in a long time. Spoiler (the show aired in the 90s), the granddaughter is returned safely. They decide her return, and theirs to faith, are miracles. And so it is for us. When we draw near to God, especially after an intermission or absence, God celebrates this miracle. I invite you to draw near to God this week. Maybe with a stranger in need. Maybe in worship at JCPC or online. Maybe in the prayer below.
Prayer for Today
Lord, draw near to me. Come close. Help me to know you are by my side in this new year. Amen.
If there is one Psalm that I would call “my” Psalm, in that it has spoken to me over the course of my life and seems to reflect so much of who I am, it is Psalm 27. I remember this Psalm first speaking to me in high school. I now think about how I have been given the privilege of “dwelling in the house of the Lord forever” as a pastor. However, that physical presence will soon change when I am no longer pastoring a church with easy access to a sanctuary or chapel. The final words of encouragement and challenge have comforted and guided me throughout my life: “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” What a great Psalm!
The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?
When the wicked advance against me
to devour me,
it is my enemies and my foes
who will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me,
my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
even then I will be confident.
One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock.
Then my head will be exalted
above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the Lord.
Hear my voice when I call, Lord;
be merciful to me and answer me.
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
Your face, Lord, I will seek.
Do not hide your face from me,
do not turn your servant away in anger;
you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
God my Savior.
Though my father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will receive me.
Teach me your way, Lord;
lead me in a straight path
because of my oppressors.
Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
for false witnesses rise up against me,
spouting malicious accusations.
I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.
Prayer for Today
Thank you, Lord, for words of scripture that comfort, encourage, and guide us throughout the days of our lives. In the strong name of Jesus the Christ we pray. Amen.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and petitions, with thanksgiving present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. --Philippians 4:4-7
Thinking about our church, there is a lot we could be worried about in 2022. But God tells us not to worry. He is near. His peace will guard us in 2022. Rejoice with his presence!
With God’s guidance JCPC is entering 2022 with firm transition plans. The Interim Pastor Nominating Committee (IPNC) has been trained, has commenced its work, and has scheduled meetings with the Atlanta Presbytery consultants. The IPNC looks forward to reviewing candidate resumes by late January or early February. We are told there is strong interest in our pending Interim Pastor opportunity by those trained to perform such work.
Your Session was busy in December and set the following dates for you to be aware of. New Elder training occurs during the first week of January with Elder ordination to occur during the 11AM worship on January 9th. A Congregational meeting will occur following the 11 AM worship on January 20th for the purpose of requesting the Atlanta Presbytery to dissolve our pastoral relationship with Rev. Norsworthy effective January 31st.
In other items, the Session approved Karen Jordan to replace Pat Pearson on the personnel team. Thank you to Pat for his many years of service on the personnel team.
Rev. George Wirth, and Rev. Scott Weimer were approved for pulpit support beginning in February and March. Dates for Communion services in the new year were approved including January 30th which will be Rev. Norsworthy’s last worship service with us.
The drive-in 9 AM worship service was discussed and will continue at least through the end of January. End of year disbursements to our mission partners were approved with only one on hold until year’s end. This month, the session’s task will be to set the budget for 2022 and to support the transition process.
Paul reminds us, “The Lord is near” and “not to be anxious”. So with such calming words and a clear path to follow we go forth into the New Year.
Prayer for Today
Jesus, please help us develop resilient faith. Empower us to demonstrate our trust through loving obedience to You. Amen.