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.
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
-I Thessalonians 5:11
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor.
I keep my finger on the pulse of what’s trending and consequently follow a variety of folks across various social media platforms. One of my favorites is active on Instagram and TikTok as a storyteller, comedian, and professional encourager. This week, she told a story of her college days. She was, in her words, “volun-told” to work at a women’s conference and assigned the duty of being the “atmosphere” committee. Her job? She was to be a plant in each talk that would shout affirmative things about the speaker, nudge people around her to take notes and be in general agreement. This inauthenticity offended her sensibilities. But the mission to be positive and encouraging felt important. In a world in need of both authenticity AND encouragement, what is one to do?
Well, this young woman started by finding bright green caution vests. Then she recruited others. When asked their job, she said that they’d been asked to join the Awareness team. Their function? They would walk up to people and make them aware of things… “are you aware your dress is fabulous? I am aware your dress has pockets! Are you aware your entire vibe is incredible and your haircut is trendsetting?” In other words, they made everyone aware what a special and wonderful quality they brought to the conference. Was the atmosphere enhanced? Guaranteed.
The world can be discouraging. And the world can be full of lies. We are called to be encouraging and truthful. And we can be both. Even at the same time. That calling is not just “feel good” propaganda, but the life and light and goodness of our calling as followers of the Way. Scripture is full of this message, and it’s especially prevalent in Paul’s letters to the early Church. We shine a bright light in a dark world when we choose to be bearers of encouragement in discouraging times. This week, compliment a stranger, encourage a coworker, be extra kind to a friend or family member going through a rough patch. Make someone aware that they matter and you notice.
Prayer for Today
Lord, help me make others aware that they are a gift from you, and we love them for it. Amen.
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
-Matthew 7:1-9 NRSV
This Sunday is the day of the church year where we hear about the Transfiguration of the Lord. It is always the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. The transfiguration account is one scripture reading most of us don't claim to understand. We know there is a lot of bright light, confused disciples, the appearance of Moses and Elijah, and the voice of God. I have always had some questions about this. First, how did they know Jesus was talking with Moses and Elijah? Peter at least must have had a clue since he referred to them by name. I feel like we have received the truncated version of this story and are missing some details.
Or maybe that's not the point at all. Poor Peter. This must have been a very confusing time for the disciples. If you read the previous chapter, first the Pharisees and Sadducees tried to test Jesus, but he wouldn't be tricked by them. He then warns the disciples to beware of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Peter then declares Jesus to be the Messiah, and in the very next paragraph tries to correct Jesus and say he won't suffer and die, to which Jesus famously replies, "Get behind me, Satan!" to the same disciple who had just declared him to be the Son of the living God.
Six days later, Jesus and his inner circle of friends are going up on a high mountain, and WOW what's going on??? Peter assesses the situation and approaches Jesus, trying to be hospitable to their special guests, it suddenly gets a lot brighter, the voice of God comes from the cloud, and the disciples fall to the ground, scared to death. Then the scripture says, "Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Get up and do not be afraid."
I think we're a lot like the disciples. We mean well. We try to follow. Sometimes we get it right. Sometimes we are given a glimpse of God's glory and are not sure how to respond. Sometimes we babble on until the voice of God tells us to stop and listen. And when we are finally face down flat on the ground, we feel the touch of Jesus and hear the words, "Get up and do not be afraid." He is there with us. Do you remember the end of Jesus' Great Commission? "And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20b NRSV) Always!
Whom can you touch today? Whom can you encourage? Whom can you console? Whom can you strengthen? Jesus said, "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
Prayer for Today
Holy God, open our eyes to the needs of those around us. Help us to take the love we have received and give it away to others. Help us to follow the example of your son, in whose name we pray. Amen.
If ever there was a picture that illustrates being born again, this would be it! Casting off the old, revealing the new life within. We each have the opportunity to start each day new. Let yesterday go, there is nothing you can change about it! Call on the Holy Spirit to guide us through the new day, our thoughts, our words, our intentions, our actions; place ALL in His Holy capable hands, seeking His wisdom…not the world’s wisdom.
We hear less and less about being “born again” in today’s world! But Scripture clearly states the importance of this intentional action. In the words of Jesus…John 3:6-7 “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, you must be born again.” And in 1Peter1:23, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living Word of God. And then again in 1John 4:7, Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”
All believers belong to God, who loves us more than we can ever comprehend! What JOY in knowing that fact. What PEACE in living in that fact. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the pressures, and worries of the day, but we have an Advocate in the Holy Spirit, who gave us new life when we first believed. Hold on to that truth, no matter what mountain you face….He is with you and will never forsake you. Isaiah 41:13…For I Am the Lord your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”
Prayer for Today
Heavenly Father, we praise and thank you for the new birth we were given in Jesus Christ. We thank You for the forgiveness of sin in our lives. We thank You for the love You shower on us. Show us how to love others as You do and strengthen each of us to live a life that reflects Jesus. In His Holy name, Amen.
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
This Sunday was Youth Sunday. There were a lot of moments that were great examples of how our youth have learned to walk in what ancient people called “followers of the Way,” being disciples of Jesus of Nazareth. They took special care in their preparations, wrote beautiful prayers and liturgy, practiced music, and studied scripture to give sermons that led us to think and learn and grow. The creativity and camaraderie of the young women who prepared our children's message was evident. But one moment caught my eye. Even with the years I’ve spent in leading worship and preaching, I’m always nervous to do it and bring God’s word and not just my own thoughts. It can be daunting.
Our first youth preacher, a senior, finished his superb message and turned to sit back down. Our second preacher, a junior, stood and touched him on the arm and smiled. He whispered what a good job he’d just done. It was a small gesture, but deeply genuine. I was so proud to see my youth encouraging each other. We hope they will each do their own best and not discourage each other, the model they see too often in school and this world. But actively encouraging one another is truly walking in the Way.
Courage comes from the word for heart. To discourage someone is literally to take the heart out of them. And to encourage them is to give them some of your own. It is life-giving. Taking a moment to set aside your own worries and struggles and prioritize the life of someone else and honor their struggles, their work, their joys, is laying down one’s life for another. And we are told that is an act of love and that there is no greater love. This week, find moments, hours, or days to lay down your life for others in moments where you can give them a piece of your heart. As someone wise once said, “This is the Way."
Prayer for Today
Lord, help me walk in your way, laying down my life for others, in small ways and large. Amen.
I have a book entitled “So I’m Not Perfect, A Psychology of Humility” by Robert J. Furey. I found the title intriguing and bought the book... only $1.79 at a used bookstore. The first chapter is “Why Humility?” Remember now, I’ve got $1.79 invested in this book so I want some insight into humility. So three pages into the first chapter is a quote by Rabbi and theologian Samuel Dresner:
“The sin of which modern man is most frequently found guilty of is ‘self-sufficiency.’ It is the belief that man is sufficient unto himself and needs no divine authority and guide. It is a certainty that man is capable of fathoming all secrets, of controlling all events, mastering all situations, even achieving a utopian society of peace and prosperity which would endure until the end of time.”
After reading that quote, I began to think about humility as mental and spiritual reckoning with reality. Just because you stand in a garage doesn’t make you a car. There is a place for pride in its proper form... that is acknowledging our self and our accomplishments as blessings. God created YOU and gifted you with abilities and talents, and opportunities to be a blessing to others.
Humility is one trait that can easily be faked... I looked up “false humility” and found out that there is indeed an English word; Humblebrag - an ostensibly modest or self-deprecating statement whose actual purpose is to draw attention to something of which one is proud. Think the Wizard of Oz smoke and mirrors to garner a sense of importance. All of us have been guilty of wanting some excessively unmerited attention for one thing or another. Or being upset we received not even a smidgen of attention.
Further, you can’t really say pride is the opposite of humility - in my view that is too simplistic. The belief that any person is completely self-sufficient exceeds any measure of pride. That is a delusion whether overt or covert of the degree of one’s superiority.
Ernest Hemmingway said “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”
To believe you are totally self-sufficient is to equate your mortal self with the immortal God who is omniscient (all knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful) and omnipresence (everywhere at the same time). We are none of these... we have limited knowledge, power, and we are limited by time and space. It was comforting to be relieved of the pressure to be perfect, to all things to self and others. Humility in its pure form gives the gift of connection. I connect to God in a position of dependence said perfectly in the hymn. “Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.” I allow the fruit of love, kindness, and compassion to flow into my life. Really all this comes down to being attentive to the presence of God and attending to opportunities to serve. Knowing your limitation opens you to know the joy of belonging to a church that cares for you.
Prayer for Today
God reveal to me my pride and empower me to honor you with true humility. Amen.
God wasn’t afraid to start over and begin again. We must follow his example. Do not fear, as there are no wrong turns, only paths we didn’t know we were meant to walk. As the end of 2021 drew near, I encountered several life changing experiences. I had a choice to make, a path to walk in which I had no idea where it would take me. I could stop and dwell on the new ending. However, I decided after much prayer and guidance from the Holy Spirit to take a path towards new beginnings. This path that I never expected to walk or had known I was meant to walk has taken me to a place that I have never experienced. God promises us that he will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5.) His word also says that he will go with us (Deuteronomy 31:6.) We do not have to face tomorrow, or our fears alone. As I walked this path, I found out how much I was loved, how many people cared, the numerous friends I had, and the friendships that developed, the relationships, the pure untainted love. This was impossible to just happen. God had helped me walk through the door to my new beginning. To an ending of or a new beginning to a life that I had never experienced. To a life much like what may be “Heavenly.” The best I could ever recall. (Romans 8:28) And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. God has given me the gifts of my wonderful church family and a very special friend. So much more than I could even imagine. Psalm 37:4-6 (4) Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (5) Commit your way to the Lord; Trust in Him and He will do this (6) He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindications like the noonday sun.
Many miracles have happened in the last several months in my life. Some of you that are reading this have been a part of them. I have prayed endlessly for many years for a certain level of happiness; a relationship unlike most or above average. An ending that may not have been advantageous to my well-being came suddenly without much warning. No, this was not an ending. This was God answering my prayers. It was the beginning of all I had prayed for. Everything was so perfect it was difficult to believe.
Look for the endings or new beginnings in your life. Find that happiness that God wants you to have. If you need help walking that path, the Stephen Ministers are here to walk it with you.
Prayer for Today
Lord God of Mercy,
May your love shine upon us like the noon sun. Please hold our hands as we walk the paths we were meant to take. You know our heart’s desire better than ourselves. Please bring endings to any darkness, bitterness, or unhealthy addictions, so that we may have a new beginning. So that we can live the life you want us to live, with much love and happiness. We pray this through your son’s name, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Y’all know by now that when I tackle scripture, the first question I’ll have us ask is, “what is the context?” That keeps us honest. We don’t go cherry-picking verses or misunderstand what God is telling us, finding proof texts for supporting our own views. This is true for quotes as well. One such quote took me on a journey last week in preparing for the sermon. I’d heard the now-popular quote, “Fail better.” It’s a favorite among entrepreneurs, tech startups, and athletes. Folks seem to assume it was meant as a positive self-affirmation to well trying, learning from mistakes and improving. The problem is that rips it out of its context.
Several good articles and papers have put the quote back into its proper context from the Irish poet who was not at all speaking about optimistic tenacity. He was actually advocating a pessimistic final state of being - wallowing in tragedy and suffering. That was when the far more encouraging quote came to mind - “I never lose. I win or I learn.” Although I didn’t know it’s source for sure, I was certain it had to be more resolute and positive. When I confirmed it was from Nelson Mandela and that it was born of a tradition of Methodism and deep faith and justice, I knew that was a proper illustration for us to be encouraged in the words of the prophet Joel and writer of Luke (who recorded the Acts of the Apostles).
The work we do to proceed carefully in studying both scripture and history is not easy and it requires patience and intentionality. We live in a cut and paste age. It’s much easier to post, share, retweet, and forward than to put in the leg work. Perhaps one of the best spiritual practices we can master is to slow down, evaluate, ponder, discuss, and become disciples who study the word and our world carefully. Walking humbly with our God demands it. I hope you’ll join us Sunday as the youth lead worship at 11:00. Their message is on the importance of reading and studying and knowing scripture. And I hope you’ll come ready to reflect on their important words.
Prayer for Today
Lord, help me slow down. Send your spirit to make me intentional in how I absorb, study, and share what I learn. Amen.
But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
One of the times I was here from Japan, I was complaining about something in my life to my parents and grandmother. I was clearly upset and went back to the guest room where I stay, and a few minutes later, I heard this light knocking on my door. I was still groveling about whatever it was, and so responded with a short, “What do you want?”. A few moments later, the door slowly opened, and there was my grandmother. She looked at me and said, “Take it to your heavenly Father,” and then closed the door and walked away without saying anything else.
Many of you knew my grandmother, Evamay. She was like a third parent to me, going to all my piano lessons, driving me to and from church every week, and picking me up from school all the time. We had a special bond, and she modeled to me what it means to be a committed, active member of a church. Comments from some of you in the past few weeks have reminded me of just how deep and abiding of a faith she had. Her response to most situations was rooted in her faith. Whenever I was mad or upset about something, she would tell me to pray about it. It was never what I wanted to hear at the time, but she was right, of course.
I often get lost in my emotional response and forget to ask God for help. I need to be reminded constantly of what Jesus, and his faithful disciple, Evamay, said. “Take it to your heavenly Father.” We live in difficult times, and on top of that, we are in a time of transition here at JCPC. Add to that our own personal grief, struggles, and injustices, and it can be hard to get through the day. God listens to us when we pray, and comforts us in our pain. I want to follow along the well-worn path my grandmother took before me and live a life of unshaking, firm faith and regular prayer. Let’s all come together as a church, sincerely take every issue and concern to God in prayer, and faithfully work to build a better, stronger, deeper community of faith.
Prayer for Today
Come, Lord Jesus, our guest to be, and bless these gifts bestowed by thee. Bless our loved ones everywhere, and keep them in thy loving care. Amen.
What does the Bible say about new beginnings? New beginnings can be from a range of contexts, entering a new year, starting a new job, moving to a new city, or beginning a new relationship. A new beginning could also be entering a new phase of life.
The Bible offers advice and encouragement for beginning a new chapter by providing strength and support in the Word of God! Embrace a fresh start in Jesus Christ with the words of Corinthians 5:17, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come."
Its February 2022. Many things have transpired for us. We are hopefully coming out of a pandemic; it was so great to see a full church for Gray’s retirement sendoff; and hopefully the start of new beginnings for our world; our country; Johns Creek; our church, Gray’s family!
We have endured the loss of many of our loved ones recently at the church. Ironically, the day Gray retires, Larry Wood passes. We all mourn these losses but hopefully treasure the time we had with those we now miss, as we move forward in our lives…. new beginnings.
Retirement; pandemics; medical challenges; losses of loved ones…all are a part of life. God offers us challenges, like pandemics, to remind us of who we must trust and obey, when perhaps our focus has deviated. I am thinking we are now offered a new beginning. One where we can look forward, remember our lives must be grounded on Christian values and look forward to what God will open for us going forward.
Prayer for Today
Lord, we have been thru so much; we know you have challenged us, reminding us that we must be grounded in our Christian values. Help us to be committed to those values, as we look forward to our NEW BEGINNINGS!
Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.
-Psalm 127:3 NIV
Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.
-Proverbs 22:6 NIV
These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you lie down and when you get up. -Deuteronomy 6:6-7 NIV
Today I want to talk about raising children. I know what you're thinking... Heidi doesn't have any children... what does she know??? You're absolutely right, I have no personal experience raising a child, and cats don't count. Many of you reading this have years of experience doing what I have not done. However, I vividly remember my own childhood and first stages of my faith journey, and those adults who influenced me during those years.
Mr. Schmidt taught me everything I know about Martin Luther. (Remember I was raised Lutheran!) One entire year of Sunday School curriculum was devoted to Martin Luther's life, and everyone in my class wanted to be somewhere else. But year after year, Mr. Schmidt gave his time and teaching skills to all of us kids, hoping something would stick! Mrs. Reid was another Sunday School teacher and my confirmation mentor. She told me in no uncertain terms that she prayed for me every day, and I could feel her prayers, and I had absolutely no doubt that God answered her prayers regularly! She was also the loudest singer in the congregation, and her faith could be heard by everyone!! Mrs. Kitzmann led the children's choir, and gave me my first big break accompanying the choir while still being of age to sing in it! And when the youth choir disbanded while I was in high school, Mrs. Zehnder (the organist and adult choir director) gave me the opportunity to attend rehearsals and sing in worship as a member of the adult choir. The support I received from these people forever changed my life and helped me become who I am today.
All of us in the church, whether we have children of our own or not, are part of this family of faith, and all of us have a part in sharing in the lives and formation of the children who walk through JCPC's doors. They may not always be visible in worship, but we have a LOT of children walking through JCPC... preschool children... AFA students... Scouts of all ages...
February 6th is Scout Sunday. February 13th is Youth Sunday. For the next two Sundays, we have a unique chance to worship with these specific groups of our children, show our support for them, and consider how we can help them on their journey. If you want to know how you can join in support of these groups of young people, come to worship and ask an adult wearing a scout uniform (this Sunday) or ask Brian how you can support the youth! There are many ways to do it!
Prayer for Today
Holy God, we thank you for all the people you have lovingly placed in our lives to help us grow and to teach us about you. Help us to continue to show your love to your children, and may our prayers strengthen them in their journey. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
Just a few weeks ago, I was invited to Shabbat services at our neighboring house of worship, Congregation Dor Tamid by my friend, the Rabbi Jordan Ottenstein. He had invited all of us from the Johns Creek Interfaith Clergy group. After the hostage situation that week. The message was a powerful reminder of our important call to stand for justice. But the highlight for me was the children.
On my row, there was a family I’d met before. They have three younger children. They attended the Rosh Hashanah service in our JCPC parking lot during Covid when they couldn’t meet inside. They had then peaked out of the sunroof of their car to worship and sing. And this night, they danced in our aisle as the music played and we sang. They were fully aware of the tragedies of the week and the way their community was targeted. They listened to the message and the prayers. But they trusted that it was still ok to be joyful and dance when we sang.
It was a powerful reminder to me then that even on the midst of the stress, the chaos, the transition, and the incredible challenges of this world, we are not called to live in fear, but in love. I was inspired by their joy and their courage. I was moved to be joyful too and to work hard to make their world safe enough to dance in. I hope that this week, you’ll find both the time and courage to dance. And I hope you’ll feel the call to help build the world a little better, to stand up to people who make the world scary and dark, and shine your light where it’s needed most.
Prayer for Today
Lord, help me to dance in your presence. And help me to bring your presence to places of hatred, violence, and darkness. Amen.
“Keep your hands behind your back. You’ll be fine.” That’s the loving admonition Jan’s husband always gave before she ventured off to speak to a group. When she found herself trying to impress people or seeking to control a situation, she’d adopt this posture because it put her in a teachable, listening frame of mind. She used it to remind herself to love those before her and to be humble and available to the Holy Spirit.
Jan’s understanding of humility is rooted in King David’s observation that everything comes from God. David said to God, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing” (Psalm 16:2). He learned to trust God and seek His counsel: “Even at night my heart instructs me” (v. 7). He knew that with God next to him, he’d not be shaken (v. 8). He didn’t need to puff himself up because he trusted in the mighty God who loved him.
As we look to God each day, asking Him to help us when we feel frustrated or to give us words to speak when we feel tongue-tied, we’ll see Him at work in our lives. We’ll “partner with God,” as Jan says; and we’ll realize that if we’ve done well, it’s because God has helped us flourish.
We can look at others with love, our hands clasped behind our backs in a posture of humility to remind us that everything we have comes from God.
Prayer for Today
Creator God, You’ve created the world and all that’s within it, and yet You love me and want to use me for Your glory. Help me to look to You for help and strength. Amen.
I sat on the pier during a vacation, reading my Bible and watching my husband fish. A young man approached us, suggesting we use different bait. He glanced at me as he fidgeted from one foot to another and said, “I’ve been in jail.” He pointed to my Bible and sighed, “Do you think God really cares about people like me?”
Opening to Matthew 25, I read aloud that Jesus talked about His followers visiting those in prison.
“It says that? About being in prison?” Tears brimmed his eyes when I shared how God considers kindness toward His children a personal act of love toward Himself (vv. 31–40).
“I wish my parents would forgive me too.” He lowered his head. “I’ll be right back.” He returned and handed me his tattered Bible. “Would you show me where to find those words?”
I nodded. My husband and I hugged him as we prayed for him and his parents. We exchanged contact information and have continued praying for him.
At one point or another, we’ll feel unloved, unwelcomed, in need, and even physically or emotionally imprisoned (vv. 35–36). We’ll need reminders of God’s loving compassion and forgiveness. We’ll also have opportunities to support others who struggle with these feelings. We can be a part of God’s redeeming plan as we spread His truth and love wherever we go.
Prayer for Today
Father, thank You for loving me, forgiving me, and giving me opportunities to share Your truth as I love You by loving others. Amen.