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.
This past week my life has been eventful, filled with challenges and celebrations. As I take some time to reflect this morning, I am reminded of the importance of friendships in the body of Christ. In our friendships, we find comfort in times of grief, we share joy in moments of celebration and we provide support in the challenges of each day.
"I've told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I'm no longer calling you servants because servants don't understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I've named you friends because I've let you in on everything I've heard from the Father." John 15:12-15
Jesus Christ sought out friendships on his journey here on earth. He reminds us of the importance of these bonds in times of joy and sorrow. Take some time to lift up in prayer those that have been your support through challenges, shared in your joy, and provided comfort in your grief.
As you go through your day, be challenged by Christ's command to love one another as He loved us.
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, Open our eyes to the friendships we have in lives. Help us to turn to you as our example for how we can care for one another. In Christ's Name, Amen.
We are in the middle of a sermon series entitled Get Up that Gray is preaching. Joseph is instructed by an angel to get up and go to Egypt in order to escape the violence of Herod and when the threat had passed to get up and return home. Jesus commands an invalid at the pools of Bethesda to get up and enter into a strange new ambulatory world.
Both of these stores have me thinking of the dynamic of out of the box thinking. You have probably heard or used this phrase, out of the box thinking on numerous occasions. Typically, it is referring to doing something different, radical and entering into a paradigm shift. The gospels are a prime example of out of the box thinking and living!
I came upon the illustration below that illustrates what out of the box thinking and doing might look like when following Jesus.
I especially like following Jesus includes taking naps in boats. At our JCPC 25th anniversary our Presbytery Executive, Rev. Aisha Brooks-Lytle and I were talking about a theology of rest and now I have the perfect excuse to get a boat...or maybe I'll work at taking a nap. Following Jesus should have its perks!
Prayer for Today
Loving God, help us have the mind of Christ so that we will think outside of the box and experience your grace on the road less traveled. Amen.
Sometimes when my Labrador retriever wants attention, he'll take something of mine and parade it in front of me. One morning as I was writing at the desk with my back turned, Max snatched my wallet and ran off. But realizing I hadn't seen him do it, he returned and nudged me with his nose-wallet in mouth, eyes dancing, tail wagging, taunting me to play.
Max's antics made me laugh, but they also reminded me of my limitations when it comes to being attentive to others. So often I've intended to spend time with family or friends, but other things occupy my time and awareness; and before I know it the day slips away and love is left undone.
How comforting to know that our heavenly Father is so great that He's able to attend to each of us in the most intimate ways-even sustaining every breath in our lungs for as long as we live. He promises His people, Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you. -Isaiah 46:4
God always has time for us. He understands every detail of our circumstances-no matter how complex or difficult-and is there whenever we call on Him in prayer. We never have to wait in line for our Savior's unlimited love.
Prayer for Today
You always have time for me, Jesus. Please help me to live every moment for You! Amen.
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
"Let not your heart be troubled," His tender word I hear,
And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears;
Though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
His Eye is on the Sparrow
(Civilla Durfee Martin)
Recently, I shared coffee with a church member who told me about a visit with one of our aging church members in a care facility. This woman had told her how much she loves when her husband tells her he loves her. She said, "he closes one eye, and I know he's just looking at me." It reminded me of those words from the hymn, based on Matthew 6:26 or any of the scriptures about God keeping an eye on us (such as Psalm 32:8). I had always wondered why God would be characterized as keeping only one eye on me and not more. Not that I presume God has two eyes, but there are other scriptures about God's eyes. I think I finally get it. There's something about being singled out by a wink or a parent or family member volunteering to keep an eye on us. There's a focus, there's a reassurance, there's love.
As a lifeguard, I spent years in a chair or on pool decks, scanning back and forth, both eyes wide open, watching everyone. Although I watched all the kids and parents, I never felt as attuned as some mothers and fathers who almost seemed to be paying no attention at all as they chatted with a friend or focused on another kid. And yet, time and time again, a kid I thought only I was watching would be caught mid-air or yelled at in the middle of breaking the rules by a parent I didn't think was even watching. They didn't have both eyes on their kid. They had a watchful, loving eye on all they did. They were safer with one parental eye than my trained pair of lifeguard peepers. And I think the difference was that relationship. The difference was their parent knew them well enough to know what they would do next. The difference was love.
God knows us better than anyone. God loves us. God keeps a watchful eye on us, even when the rest of the world has both eyes on us, seemingly all the time. And when we are doing what we shouldn't, we hear God call out to us. And when we think no one is watching or cares, God closed one eye, looks right over with a little smile, and says, "I love you." And we know that's just for us.
Prayer for Today
Lord, when I close my eyes, help me to see you with your wink and smile, and know I am loved. Amen.
Last Monday evening we had our monthly Called Session Meeting. This meeting included our elders-elect who will be ordained and installed this coming Sunday. The elders-elect brought a new energy to our meeting. This is the time of year when we are seeking to finalize our ministry and mission budget for the new year. 2019 was a good year for JCPC when it comes to giving. You may remember that our giving income was ahead of our mission and ministry expenses throughout most of the year. This was due, in part, to generous gifts of about $80,000 by some of our members, who gave above and beyond their normal pledge to make the 2019 mission and ministry budget a reality.
However, our 2020 ministry and mission needs are greater than the pledges we have received. So, our session is wrestling with how to address those needs. Our Ministry Teams are in the process of looking at their requested budgets for 2020 to see where reductions can be made. Our session is also exploring ways to increase our income to close the gap. In the coming weeks, the congregation will be hearing more about this need through both a church-wide letter and an announcement in a worship service by some of our elders.
When our Session met this past Monday, what impressed me most in the meeting was not only the energy, but the interest and the ideas shared by our elders, both old and new, about how we might move forward and make this work. Over the years my experience in churches has been that budget discussions can be very difficult. And while the challenge is there for us this year, I am grateful for the way our elders have struggled well and come together to address this challenge.
Please keep our elders and our staff in your prayers in the coming days. Please be praying that God would open our minds, our hearts, and maybe even our checkbooks, so that we might come together and do everything that God wants us to do in 2020. If we are open to the leading of God's Spirit, I believe we can discern the way forward that God wants us to follow.
Prayer for Today
Generous and loving God, thank you for being with us, especially in the challenging times of life. We are grateful for all that you have done in the life of Johns Creek Presbyterian Church for the last 25 years. Guide us as we move forward in the coming days so that we might press on and do what you want us to do. Help us to be good and generous stewards of all that you have given to us. In the strong name of Jesus the Christ, we pray. Amen.
Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, This is the way; walk in it.
In life we certainly encounter crossroads or challenges and might be unsure about what path to choose. There have been times in my life where things were settled and comfortable then I started noticing God's nudging me to move in a direction. It often takes me a while to catch on to the change. I am a creature of habit and routine.
Over the past two decades, I have experienced three big moves. I moved to college, over six hours from home. Then after college moved to Aiken, SC for my first job and then moved to the Johns Creek area over eight years ago. Each time, I have moved to the new place only knowing a handful of people at the start. With each move, I have grown in my knowledge, understanding of myself, and found a community to grow with me. For an introvert, this has not always been easy and has taken lots of time to establish deep relationships.
I have been considering this passage from Isaiah as a part of my devotional time today and reflecting on how and where I heard God's voice each time. When you have been discerning God's direction for your life, in what ways has God communicated with you?
Did you feel brave when traveling in a new direction?
Annie F. Downs shared this and it resonated with me, "I never felt brave. But day after day, I just did the next thing, took the next step, said the next yes. And God built a life for me... that I could not have dreamed up... I may not have felt brave, but I was taking brave steps in obedience to God."
How can you take a brave step in obedience to God today? As I study the Old Testament prophets with our Senior Adult Bible Study, I am gaining a greater understanding of the prophets calling to take brave steps in obedience to God and share God's message with those they were encountering.
Prayer for Today
Guide us as we seek obedience and open us up to be brave in our words and actions. Thank you for the gift you provide in the prophets old and new to challenge us. In Christ's Name, Amen.
One of my favorite books related to prayer is Theodore Jennings insightful read,
Life as Worship: Prayer and Praise in Jesus' Name. His message is embedded in the title namely that how we live our lives through faith is worship. How we pray comes in many forms. I came across this description of faith the other day and it echoed what I learned from Jennings.
Today is Martin Luther King's birthday. As I watched Dr. King and listened to his messages as I was growing up in the 60's he seemed to me to be a living prayer.
May your prayer come to fullness as you live faithfully and may your worship be pleasing to our Lord.
Prayer for Today
Fill us with your Spirit, Eternal God, so that in all we say and do, we will be living prayers striving to fulfill your will. Amen.
He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed.
"Chasing tornadoes," says Warren Faidley, "is often like a giant game of 3D-chess played out over thousands of square miles." The photojournalist and storm-chaser adds: "Being in the right place at the right time is a symphony of forecasting and navigation while dodging everything from softball-sized hailstones to dust storms and slow-moving farm equipment."
Faidley's words make my palms sweat and heart beat faster. While admiring the raw courage and scientific hunger storm chasers display, I balk at throwing myself into the middle of potentially fatal weather events.
In my experience, however, I don't have to chase storms in life-they seem to be chasing me. That experience is mirrored by Psalm 107 as it describes sailors trapped in a storm. They were being chased by the consequences of their wrong choices but the psalmist says, They cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm.
Whether the storms of life are of our own making or the result of living in a broken world, our Father is greater. When we are being chased by storms, He alone is able to calm them-or to calm the storm within us.
Prayer for Today
Thank You, Father, that You're with me in my struggles and Your power is greater than any storm on my horizon. Amen.
When [Jesus] had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets." When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.
But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people." When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
It's mid-January and time to check in. Have you made any resolutions? Are they going well? Are the same ones as always? Did you skip making any? I'm hoping, that like me, you're resolved in this new year to grow deeper in your faith. Maybe you took on resolutions about coming to church more, bringing your kids more, volunteering with the youth group, going on the Dominican Republic trip, or joining a small group. If you did, great, and if not, maybe start there. Either way, I'd like to make a suggestion.
Go deeper. Jesus suggested the disciples needed to go deeper. Deeper waters can be more work, but also more rewarding. It was a metaphor for the work ahead, to which Jesus was calling them. Back when I lived in Colorado, I joined a gym. It was walking distance from my house and shared a parking lot with the Chipotle, so I knew I could make myself go, and the membership fee was super low. In addition, they had advertised a free 30-minute session with a trainer for signing up. I knew that if I worked even once with a trainer, they could set me up with a good workout plan to target my goals and make my time in the gym more effective. Even a short time with an expert is valuable. Sure enough, Ivan put me through a killer workout. I could barely move for three days after, but what I learned made every following workout far more effective than anything I'd done for years before that.
So, go deeper. Are you in a small group? Choose a challenging book to tackle. Take notes. Do you come to worship regularly (or plan to)? Is it hard to focus on scripture and preaching because you're worried about the week? Take notes, maybe knit or doodle. Afterwards, go to lunch with the family or your friends and discuss the text, the sermon. Go deeper. Do you drop your kids off for Sunday school or Youth Group? Ask what we need you to do. Join a Sunday school. Stay and help with youth group. When you go home, ask your kids about the lesson. We need you. Go deeper. Do you give money to the mission trips or pray for the teams? Go on a mission trip or offer to be a baby or pet sitter for someone going; write prayer cards. Go deeper. This year, make goals of your attendance and participation in your faith, but go deeper. And if you need a little encouragement from one of us trainers, our time is yours, a lot more than 30 minutes. Let's grab coffee or a bite, and let's go deeper.
Prayer for Today
Lord, make me a person of depth. Make my faith deep with questions and commitment. Amen.
This past weekend was a wonderful celebration of what God has done in and through this church over the last 25 years!
I have heard some wonderful comments. One person said that this is what heaven will be like. Another former member said it was even better than they imagined it might be. Rev. Aisha Brooks-Lytle preached a great message challenging us to "Press on!" At one point in the worship service, she turned to me and commented on what a positive spirit there was in our church. It reminded her of her home church.
So many people worked hard behind the scenes to make this happen. The plans began almost a year ago. Dawn Melin soon assembled a great team to plan and facilitate many of the events. So many of our members worked hard throughout the weekend, including our Connecting Ministry Team members who were here for both of our church-wide events. Bill McLeish did a masterful job as our chef -- cooking as well as organizing his helpers. And I am grateful for all the members of our church staff who worked so hard in so many ways.
Hearing founding pastor Dr. Larry Wood and wife Helen tell the stories of how this church got started and how God was at work here was amazing. It links us with our past. It reminds us of how faithful God has been. It also encourages us to trust God with our future. I know there have been many outstanding events in the life of this church, but I must believe this last weekend was at or near the top of those highlights.
If you were not able to attend the big events, they are posted on the Johns Creek Presbyterian Church Facebook account for you to enjoy again and again. I look forward to seeing what great things God will do in the next 25 years!
Prayer for Today
Thank you, God, for all you have done to bring this church into being. Help us to continue the great heritage we have been given as we live into your future. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.