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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.

Monday, May 25 2020

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.

-John 15:13

 

On Memorial Day, I think of many military veterans but especially my dad and uncles, who served in the military during World War II. They made it home, but in that war hundreds of thousands of families tragically lost loved ones in service to their country. Yet, when asked, my dad and most soldiers from that era would say they were willing to give up their lives to protect their loved ones and stand for what they believed to be right.

When someone dies in defense of their country, John 15:13-"Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends"-is often recited during the funeral service to honor their sacrifice. But what were the circumstances behind this verse?

When Jesus spoke those words to His disciples during the Last Supper, He was about to die. And, in fact, one of His small group of disciples, Judas, had already left to betray Him (13:18-30). Yet Christ knew all of this and still chose to sacrifice His life for His friends and enemies.

Jesus was willing and ready to die for those who'd one day believe in Him, even for those who were still His enemies (Romans 5:10). In return, He asks His disciples (then and now) to "love each other" as He has loved them (John 15:12). His great love compels us to sacrificially love others-friend and foe alike.

 

Prayer for Today

Jesus, we're so thankful that You were willing to die for us!  Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:36 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, May 22 2020

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.

- John 15:12-14, NIV

This Sunday we will be talking about how the word of God can help us to stand firm in the storms of life. It is important not only to try to hear and study God's word -- but to do what it says. The words above from Jesus remind us of that.

This coming Monday we will celebrate Memorial Day and remember those who have literally laid down their lives for others in service to our country. What an amazing sacrifice that is! I believe each one of us has the opportunity every day as Christians, to consciously "lay down our lives" for those around us by doing the very things Jesus commanded us to do. Showing the love of Christ - what is best for the other person -- every moment of every day of our lives is something we can all do. However, we do this not to try to earn God's favor -- because we already have that through God's grace. We do it in response to what has been given to each one of us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ - the same Jesus who laid down his life giving the ultimate sacrifice for each one of us.

Enjoy Memorial Day and remember those who gave their lives and made the ultimate sacrifice. But then live every day, "laying your life down for a friend" - following the example of Jesus who did that for each one of us!

 

Prayer for Today

Loving God, we thank you that Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice by laying down his life for all of us - whom he called his "friends." We thank you for those men and women who have given their lives to protect others in service to this nation. May this coming Memorial Day be a time of remembrance, thanksgiving for their sacrifice, and comfort for those who mourn the loss of loved ones. Help us to lay down our lives for one another this and every day. In the strong name of Jesus, who gave his life for the whole world, we pray. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:33 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, May 21 2020

For the Lord grants wisdom!

From his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

He grants a treasure of common sense to the honest.

He is a shield to those who walk with integrity.

He guards the paths of the just

and protects those who are faithful to him. 

-Proverbs 2:6-8

 

My grandfather was the greatest fan of baseball I ever knew. To be honest, I don't know if he even had a favorite team. He loved the game itself. He once told me that at a baseball game, a runner slid into third base and the umpire called him, rightly so, "Safe!" However, with equal enthusiasm, signaled "out." The fans couldn't hear the call, but they saw the sign. He told the runner to go sit on the bench because he was out. Under protest, the runner said, "but you said I was safe!" The umpire replied, "Sure I did. But all those fans saw me call you out."

 

Perception can be everything. The opinion of the crowd can often matter more to us than the opinion of one person or our very integrity. We can be tempted to ignore what is good or right or true in favor of what keeps us from looking silly, foolish, or wrong in the eyes of others, even if they are strangers. For some of us, this means speaking up when people say things that are cruel, fowl, racist, or false. For some of us, it's remaining silent when people call our faith into question. Or we may stay silent when we benefit from an error, a mistake, or a system that ignores oppressed people we don't know or actively dislike. My teenagers will sometimes wear or not wear clothing appropriate to the weather or a specific event to gain the approval of their peers. And even adults may skip wearing masks or gloves to protect the health of others, if we fear we will be inconvenienced or ridiculed.

 

In Proverbs, we are called to show our love for neighbor and faithfulness to God by living with integrity. This is a call to honesty, to humility, admitting fault, speaking up for what is right, and enduring shame or ridicule to live with compassion and obedience to the guidance and authority of God and wise leaders. The runner my grandfather spoke of acted with integrity and obeyed the bad call, but also spoke up for what is right. But the umpire was more concerned with his reputation and looking foolish than acting with integrity. We must always be careful to seek to do what is right for others and not convenient for ourselves only.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, help me to be a person of integrity, living for what is right, true, compassionate, and holy. Help me to err on the side of loving others more than self. Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:32 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, May 20 2020

Those of us who feel called to preach, may do so for a variety of reasons - some better than others. But my sense is that most of us who preach regularly do so because of this: we want to share the good news of God's love in some way that connects with listeners and calls them into a deeper relationship with God and others. Sometimes it is hard to know if we are doing that effectively.

 

One thing I miss during this pandemic, our time of sheltering-in-place, and online worship services is standing at the back at the end of the service and seeing people. It is not only a time to connect, but to hear from others, as well. Some share concerns or celebrations. Some ask me to pray for them or someone they are concerned about. Some share information they think I should know. But most Sundays, some people will not simply thank me for the sermon, (which I appreciate), but they will tell me how God spoke to them through the sermon. These are often very sacred moments for me - not only because someone took the time to share this - but because I know what I have tried to do may have worked.

 

One of our members, Mary Todaro, emailed me this song she wrote in response to last week's sermon. What a creative way to internalize and express God's Word to her! She said I could share it with you. Enjoy!

 

STAND FIRM

by Mary Todaro

 

Stand firm. Stand firm.

Stand firm in the armor of God.

Buckle on the belt of truth.

Trust God to show the way.

Put on the breastplate of righteousness.

Wrestle through the pain.

Stand firm. Stand firm.

Stand firm in the armor of God.

Fit your feet with the gospel of peace.

Find support step by step.

Use your shield of protection from flaming arrows.

Stand firm. Stand firm.

Stand firm in the armor of God.

Wear the helmet of salvation.

Break free from the chains of fear.

Take the sword of the Spirit.

Stay strong in love.

Stand firm. Stand firm.

Stand firm in the armor of God.

Stand firm in the armor of God.

 

Prayer for Today

Thank you, God, for speaking to us in ways we can each hear. Help us to stand firm as we seek to live our lives in response to your Word to us. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus - the "Word made flesh." Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:30 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, May 19 2020

From an early age I enjoyed listening to stories, then reading them, and later telling them. My elementary school had a special storytelling program where a few students from each grade worked with our media specialist to memorize a children's book. We then had to be able to tell the story in an engaging way to an audience of students in our school. Once we learned our story for that year, we had many opportunities to share it.

 

The one place in life where I was shy and reserved was at school. Being a part of the storytelling club was a powerful tool to help me gain confidence to speak in front of groups of my peers and teachers. One of the main reasons that I continued to participate in this club each year, was the media specialist who led us. She was a very engaging story teller as well as gifted encourager. She had the ability to inspire me and helped me find the courage to be myself.

I recently read this quote shared by a colleague, author Philip Pullman said, "After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world." It reminded me what a powerful thing it is to share stories with one another.

 

During this time many are longing for companionship and finding places to share their stories, I am inviting you to connect with a JCPC child, youth or adult through our summer Pen Pals. You can write letters, share artwork, connect by phone or email and begin sharing stories and prayers with a new JCPC friend. If you're interested, contact me allisons@jcpcusa.org and I can help you get paired up with someone.

 

In Matthew 5, we are reminded of how the disciples were called away from their everyday life and the comforts of the familiar to join Jesus in sharing the Gospel. As followers of Christ we are still responding to the same call. How can you share your story and God's story today?

 

Prayer for Today

I give thanks, Gracious God, for all of those people over two thousand years who have inspired others and played their part in passing on to generation after generation the living heritage of their faith. Especially I give thanks for those who lived their faith through difficulties and blessings. I pray that I may continue to grow in my faith and love through good times and bad. In Jesus' Name, Amen.  

Posted by: AT 12:14 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, May 18 2020

Everybody loves a parade or at least that's how the ole saying goes. Some of my best childhood memories were of parades I attended and some of my favorite adult memories are of taking my kids to watch a parade. Any size would do!

On Thursday of this past week I was reminded of how much I miss the parades at JCPC. Now you might ask yourself, "What parades could Neal possibly be talking about? I don't remember parades at JCPC."

The parades I'm talking about are the daily parades of teachers walking their preschoolers to the playground. You see, during the school year, I get to not only watch these daily parades but I enjoy talking with the little children and the teachers that love them so.

We haven't had teachers, parents, and preschoolers on campus for two months until Thursday when a caravan of cars and minivans snaked around our campus carrying our preschoolers with the teachers lining the parade route with signs, bags, well wishes, and a lot of love.

Praise God for this preschool which has served our community for over a quarter of a century!

 

Prayer for Today

Thank you Lord for the inspired love and care devoted to raising children. Continue to bless our preschool in the days, weeks, and years ahead. Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:57 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, May 15 2020

"Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." - Galatians 6:2

 

I have just finished an excellent book by pastor Jay Y. Kim called Analog Church: Why we need real people, places and things in the Digital Age. I like it so much that I have bought copies for our program staff and some of our elders to read. If you are looking for a good book, I encourage you to buy it.

 

Since we have had to create an online worship service, we are now looking down the road trying to decide our online needs in the long run. Kim's book has challenged me to think about this in new and somewhat counter-intuitive ways. Kim writes this:

 

In his book Tribe, Sebastian Junger writes about instances throughout history when people surprisingly rallied together in the midst of unspeakable tragedy. Earthquakes, tsunamis, and wars that led to the loss of countless lives resulted in the shocking rise of embolden communities that began to care and provide for one another, friends and strangers alike, in ways never seen before. He [Junger] writes, "What catastrophes seemed to do, sometimes in the span of a few minutes, is turned back the clock on ten thousand years of social evolution. Self-interest gets subsumed into group interest because there is no survival outside group survival, that creates a social bond that many people sorely miss." When we create spaces in our churches for people to be present with one another in the midst of their pain, we too create opportunities for these social bonds. But what they sorely miss is so much more than social. It's spiritual. It's the way God designed us to be human with one another, bringing all of ourselves, all our pain, the weak and the strong, gathering as one. (2020:119)

 

In these difficult times, I think we have a real opportunity to carry each other's burdens. No one can do it alone. But through God's grace, we can and will make it together - so hang in there!

 

Prayer for Today

God of grace, help us to bear each other's burdens, so that together we can make it through whatever difficult times we are facing. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ, who carried the burden of our sin on the cross. Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:54 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, May 14 2020

The golden rule is so important that not only does Jesus say it, but dozens of other religious icons and cultures say something similar. It's good righteous living. Kennedy reminded us that such sentiments were good citizenship too. Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. Good discipleship and patriotic duty are both grounded in selflessly putting neighbor before yourself, doing for them what you'd hope others would do for you. This drives us to create meal trains, visit the sick and elderly, look out for one another's kids, pay our taxes that support school, even if we don't have kids, and support the military, even if we do not serve.

If you've seen infographics about wearing masks, you know it's not primarily about keeping ourselves safe. Wearing a mask can reduce your chances of infection, but only by about 20-30%. However, your neighbor wearing a mask (keeping their germs to themselves) can reduce your risk of infection by up to 95%. But the real magic is when we both wear masks, which reduces our chances of getting the virus to about 1.5%. Brothers and sisters, even scientifically, we do the most good when we put others first. It's why hospitals have adopted the above phrase. It's a reminder that you wear a mask not to protect yourself first and foremost, but as a loving act of compassion for others.

 

Some people have rightly likened this to our laws about driving under the influence. Those laws exist primarily not to save the lives of people who might take a drink or use recreational drugs. They exist to protect the hundreds of other innocent people they will pass as they drive. One person's decision to take a risk is contrary to our laws, our health recommendations, and our faith. When we are tempted to go places and risk our own health, we should remember the words of Christ and our greatest leaders. What can you do for your neighbor? Your country? Would you drive under the influence? Make decisions from compassion over comfort, personal responsibility over personal preference, civic duty over complaints about your civil liberties. We are called to show mercy. We can be a witness to our faith and show ourselves good citizens and good neighbors just by the simple acts of masks and distance. It's so rare we can do so much by doing something so simple.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, make me slow to act as I prefer and quick to think of others first. Help me to see compassion as an opportunity to share my faith without saying a single word. Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:52 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, May 13 2020

Last Saturday, I had another new experience for me. That seems to be becoming the norm during this pandemic. The word "unprecedented" is now used often, so much so that one person suggested that we ban it for now. That may be going a little bit overboard. But last Saturday morning we had our first Zoom Presbytery meeting. Overall, it went pretty well. More than 300 of us gathered online and conducted the necessary business of our Presbytery. This included a few routine items, but mainly we received new pastors and candidates for ministry into our Presbytery. We Presbyterians spend a lot of time not only educating our pastors-to-be, but making sure they really sense a calling to serve the church as a pastor.

 

In receiving the new ministers and candidates, I recognized the last name of a younger clergy couple -- Wilmesherr I realized that Drew, the husband, was the grandson of JCPC members Dottie and Jack Shea. Jack died a few years ago, but Dottie is still a member of our church family. When Drew was talking about his call to ministry, he mentioned the influence of his parents who are both Presbyterian ministers. I have had the privilege of knowing both of them over the years. But he also mentioned the influence of his grandparents, and I knew he was talking about Dottie and Jack Shea. Now Dottie and Jack were not Presbyterian ministers, but they were and are devoted Christians who served faithfully as members of Presbyterian churches over the years. That kind of positive influence can make a big difference in the lives of others, even to the next generation.

 

Sometimes I wonder what kind of influence we are having on the next generation. I pray that the good we do has a greater influence than our shortcomings. Every now and then, I see something or someone that gives me hope for the future, long after my generation is gone and left this earth.

 

I like the way Psalm 78:4 encourages us to pass it on:

We will not hide them from their descendants;

we will tell the next generation

the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,

his power, and the wonders he has done.

 

Prayer for Today

God of the generations, help us to teach the next generation with our words and deeds - proclaiming the wondrous things you have done -- so they might choose to show your love to all the world. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: AT 10:51 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, May 12 2020

How do you prepare for the day? When you wake up in the morning, what are some regular practices that are a part of your routine?

 

Each day often brings its own set of blessings and challenges. Some mornings you may be filled with energy, in need of courage, wake up with anxiety, in need of self-control or in need of peace and calm.

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

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

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

God's loyal love couldn't have run out, his merciful love couldn't have dried up. They're created new every morning. How great your faithfulness. 

-Lamentations 3:22-23

 

Prayer for Today

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

Posted by: AT 10:49 am   |  Permalink   |  Email

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