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.
Water is found in many places in scripture, including in tears. John 11:32-36 reminds us that Jesus experienced weeping, "When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!"
In the past few days, weeks and months we have experienced hopeful and exciting news as well as difficult and sad news, sometimes all in the same day. I have heard people reference our current times as a corona-coaster.
This week we are enjoying Backyard VBS in our cul-de- sac along with almost 40 families from our church and community doing the same in their driveways, backyards, porches and kitchen tables. The joy of VBS and sharing these messages with children is unlike any other gift in ministry, but this year there is grief and change as we are not able to gather with the whole group in one place and experience that energy of over 100 children dancing and singing together.
When I hear both types of news I am often overcome with emotion and questions. Are there places in your life of hurt or sadness? Are their places of joy and gratitude? What are the tearful places? Change? Transition?
I would invite you to take a moment to identify some of the parts of your life where there are tears. Listen to them and then place them before God.
"In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express." Romans 8:26
If you'd like to share Backyard VBS with your family or neighbors, there's plenty of time. We have kits and resources available for pick up inside the first set of glass doors at the main entrance to the church. Pick up 1 large Ziploc bag for each family, enjoy the experience and then share pictures with me of your highlights. All other info. can be accessed here. (https://jcpcusa.org/vacation_bible_school)
Prayer for Today
Holy Spirit, thank you for praying for us when we can't. Thank you for praying for us deeply and meaningfully. Hear our prayer... In Jesus' name. Amen.
In our Solace Zoom meeting we looked at this picture and described how it fit our lives in this Covid 19 disrupted life. We then read this beautiful prayer.
We pray to God who some call Mystery, beyond all definition, that
When in the midst of uncertainty - may we know faith.
When in the midst of anxiety - may we know serenity...
We continue our weekly series of intercessions for our one human family at this time of crisis adopting the words of sisters and brothers from different parts of the world. Today we invite you to pray with Rev. John Wesley Oldham from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
Look at the picture again. Rebecca Eldridge shared the lyrics to Martina McBride's song Anyway with our group. Read these lyrics as you swing out over the abyss.
You can spend your whole life building,
Something from nothin'
One storm can come and blow it all away;
Build it anyway
You can chase a dream,
That seems so out of reach
And you know it might not never come your way, Dream it anyway
God is great
But sometimes life ain't good
And when I pray
It doesn't always turn out like I think it should
But I do it anyway I do it anyway
This world's gone crazy
It's hard to believe
That tomorrow will be better than today
Believe it anyway
You can love someone with all your heart
For all the right reasons
In a moment they can choose to walk away
Love 'em anyway
God is great
But sometimes life ain't good
And when I pray
It doesn't always turn out like I think it should
But I do it anyway
I do it anyway
You can pour your soul out singing
A song you believe in
That tomorrow they'll forget you ever sang
Sing it anyway
Yeah, sing it anyway
I sing I dream I love Anyway
In these crazy days of Covid 19 summer, live the life of faith;
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, free us from the grip of anxiety and open our minds to the hope you provide through the teachings of Christ and the presence of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
At JCPC, one of the many tasks we have in our music ministries involves studying the upcoming sermon texts and choosing appropriate music to enhance the message. When Christian and I were looking at this week's text some time ago, I remember saying, "Whoa!! This text is loaded!!" What I meant was there is so much "meat" in this scripture, one hardly knows where to begin. Check it out:
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God's people in accordance with the will of God. 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. ----Romans 8:18-28
Did you get all that? (It's okay... you can read it again!! I'll wait...) There's a lot of good stuff in there!! What words or phrases jump out at you? The first sentence and (often misquoted) last sentence of the text seem to resonate with me the most. To realize that our present sufferings, no matter how great, are not even worth comparing with our future glory, assures us that there are better times ahead, perhaps in our lives on this earth, but certainly in eternity. And to know that "in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose," gives us even more assurance that God loves us and is an active participant in our lives, even if God is the only one who knows the good that will come from our circumstances.
At this Sunday's Drive-in Worship service, our closing hymn is Be Still, My Soul. I especially like the hymn text because of the hope it expresses, hope which we so desperately need:
Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide,
Who through all changes faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
We hope to see you at Drive-in Worship this Sunday at 9:30 a.m. to worship together! (Come at 9:10 a.m. to hear the extended prelude and claim the best parking spaces...) If you are unable to join us in person, we hope you will join us to worship together online!
Prayer for Today
Holy God, may our voices join together now and forever to praise you, saying: Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee. Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty! God in three persons, blessed Trinity! Amen!
Therefore, as you go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
This past Sunday, we had our grad recognition lunch in the grove where we typically host the pumpkin patch. This was a special group for me. For JCPC, they are one of the largest graduating classes in memory and for the next few years to come. But more than that, they've been involved. Involved serving JCPC as leaders, involved in the community, and involved supporting each other. I asked them a few questions, raising their hands in the affirmative. How many had attended Great Escape? Montreat? Mission Trip? Lock-ins? Nearly all. How many had me or another youth come support them at an extracurricular? Fencing? Plays? Color guard? Band? Soccer? Robotics? Concerts? Graduations? All. How many had attended someone else's events to support them? All. How many have served on the nominating committee? Two. Session? One. This class has been taught to serve their church and one another.
I think they were proud to look around and see those hands, to raise theirs. I certainly was. I know their parents are. And I hope you are too. This is the group that was starting high school when I started my call here in August four years ago. This was the group born the year Jessica and I graduated high school, the year two airplanes in NY and one in Pennsylvania changed the world forever. It changed the course of our senior year and our lives and all we imagined. And these young people have had their senior years and their lives changed too. But because their first steps, their first answered calls have been to serve our church and faith family, to serve one another, as the Disciples did, I know their next steps will change the world.
Like those disciples, their calling will be more challenging than they first imagined for their lives. Their course is redirected, their purposes more full of meaning. Their lives will be harder for being trained to seek to serve those in need first, rather than themselves. The world will tell them what to want, what to pursue, what to be, what to learn, how to spend their time and and money and resources, who to love and who to leave out. But you and I have taught them the Way. This means they'll need to find new communities of faith, new friends and mentors, and call upon us for support in the years ahead, but it means they're more likely to change this world for the better and make us very proud. So when they come home from college and work and their new callings, don't ask them about grades and courses and internships and employment. Ask them what they are doing to nurture their faith and serve God's people. I hope and imagine it'll inspire you.
Note: If you'd like to see the Class of 2020 Senior Video of JCPC Youth with their baby photos, senior photos, and more, click here... https://youtu.be/F3ponRaJuJ0
Prayer for Today
Lord, call forth our young disciples into this new and changing world with courage, imagination, love, and determination. Make us a good home to come back and visit, and help us prepare the next group of young people to walk in their footsteps. Amen.
The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.- Psalm 9:9, NIV
Last week our Director of Christian Education, Allison Shearouse, shared with us on staff a very insightful article entitled "Living in An Ice Age." (You can click the link here to read it.) What the author suggests is that when the pandemic first hit, most of us thought it would be like a blizzard. It would be something we all "hunkered down" to get through which would not last that long, and then things would return to normal. But as it dragged on, most of us realized this is not a blizzard-like event which will be over shortly and everything will return to normal.
Some have suggested it is more like a winter storm which is longer in duration. It may start with a blizzard, but like the season of winter, it requires making plans to adapt to the longer time-frame. For those of us in churches and schools, we are having to make plans based on what new things we are going to do in the fall -- between now and the end of the year.
However, there is also the thought that this may last even longer, like an ice age -- until the virus is tamed and vaccines are widely distributed and become effective. Like an ice age, this will be a very disruptive and life-changing event with things never really going back exactly to how they were before. Some suggest 12 to 18 months as a more realistic time-frame.
Churches and non-profits are encouraged to make plans given this new post-storm norm -- even though no one knows exactly what that is going to look like because of the ever-changing, fluid conditions. Next Monday night, our session will be looking at plans which consider these longer time frames. I would ask you to be in prayer for our session and our staff as we seek to discern God's will for the mission of our church in the coming months and years.
This week's message is called "The Post-Storm Norm." We will be looking at Paul's words of comfort and hope found in Romans 8:18-28. Come join us on campus for the Drive-In Worship at 9:30 a.m. or On-Line on our JCPC website!
Prayer for Today
Loving God, you are Lord over all of time and creation. Help us to remember that in spite of all of the challenges of life, you love us and care for us. Bring healing and wholeness to our lives and our world. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don't try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God's voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; God is the one who will keep you on track. -Proverbs 3:5-6
What places do you expect to experience God? Maybe it's church, or nature, or in our very selves. As we are over halfway through the summer, what if we looked for God in our summer experiences, our home, or our work?
It's important to expect God to show up in all kinds of places. What are some unexpected places where you can look for God this week?
This week we are preparing for Vacation Bible School and it's unlike anything we have ever done before. We are hosting it in a new way with an invitation for families to create VBS in their own backyards. As we navigated this pandemic and considered how Vacation Bible School would fit in, we used the collective wisdom of our Education team and ministry colleagues to try something new. This week volunteers are preparing take home kits with resources for 50 families. On Sunday, from 2-4 p.m. families are invited to come to our VBS drive thru where they will pick up their supplies and bring canned food to help Hands of Christ.
Jacob had an experience where he recognized God's presence, "then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, "Surely the Lord is in this place-and I did not know it!" And he was afraid, and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." -Genesis 28:16-17
Jacob woke up with an awe that hit him deeply. God is there in all of these places. So let's not be nearly as surprised as Jacob. I would invite you to "listen for God's voice in everything you do, everywhere you go."
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, I'm going to look for you every day that's left in my summer. I expect I'll see you around. Give me a heart that's open to your mysteries so that I can see and hear your work happening right before me. In Christ's Name, Amen.
Sometimes I wonder if we live in a culture war of differences. Some people say wear your mask while others say mask wearing isn't for them. Some people trumpet that Black Lives Matter, while other emphasize that All Lives Matter. It's as if we live in an age of polar extremes; are you like me or different.
Human beings are built in the image of God in order to share what we have in common and what is uniquely different. Here are two examples.
My mother, the teacher, told the story of a downtrodden student she found wandering the playground of her elementary school. She asked the little boy why he was sad and he said that his friend was home sick. She empathized with him saying that must be difficult and he rocked her world with his answer. "Yes, I miss him, the boy exclaimed, we laugh the same language!" I think most of us would admit that humor is one of the keys to well-being, yet this kid took the similarity to the depth; "we laugh the same language." We humans are drawn to the familiar; our similarities and what we hold in common.
Yet, truth be told, opposites attract. I watched a human interest story featured on the news last week. Two four-year olds in Florida believed they were twins. They wanted to dress alike and do all their activities together. They wanted to hold everything in common; however one difference stands out. One girl is black while the other girl is white. Opposites attract; that's for sure! When an older kid stated that they couldn't possibly be twins because of their skin color one of the twins fought back the tears and fought back. "You don't know anything, she protested, we share the same soul!" Out of the mouth of babes! Opposites do attract and in our differences we share much in common.
St. Paul told the church at Galatia that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female because we are all one in Christ. Another way to say that is that we laugh the same language and share the same soul.
Prayer for Today
Gracious and loving God; mold us into the new life in Christ where we share much in common yet are completed by bringing us together in our differences so that we become one through your grace and your mercy. Amen.
"Not in the dark of buildings confining, Not in some heaven, light years away:
Here in this place the new light is shining; Now is the kingdom, and now is the day."
" - Verse 4 from Gather Us In
(composed by Marty Haugen)
For those of you that joined us this past Sunday for our first Drive-In Worship Service, you might remember hearing these words sung as part of our extended Prelude. You also might have been too busy chatting to fellow church members while keeping social distance and wearing your masks! But Heidi and I chose this hymn to be a part of the Prelude because of how it speaks to the current state of our worship services.
We heard and talked about "the church being closed" and have asked, "when will the church open?", but these words speak to the fact that, we never have been closed, and the Church is not confined by dark, artificially-lit buildings (no matter how wonderful our Chapel and Great Hall may be!) nor is it off in heaven on a different plane of existence. We are the Church and we are here, right now, like we've always been! Donating to Hands of Christ, sewing and donating handmade masks, worshiping together virtually. It has been different than what we once knew as normal, but it was so wonderful to be singing and worshiping God and being able to connect with people instead of a camera.
So I hope you will join us again this Sunday for another Drive-In Worship Service. Heidi and I have prepared 20 minutes of music for the Prelude - a kind of mini-musical worship service before the main service - , and we hope you'll come early to prepare your hearts for worship as the new light of the day shines on all of our faces in the West Parking Lot. This pandemic has been tough. We can't do so many of the things we once took for granted and now miss so dearly. I can't even get back home to Japan! But I hope that God will gather us all together now as we move forward, acting in love and working together, one step at a time.
Prayer for Today
God of hope and life, gather us in and hold us forever. Take our fears, anxieties, and doubts and give us the strength to look beyond today and move towards a better tomorrow, together. Be with us here and now, on this and every day. Amen.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink."
(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)
Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water."
The woman said to him, "Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?
Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?"
Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,
but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life."
The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water." [...]
The woman said to him, "Sir, I see that you are a prophet.
Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem."
Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
-John 4: 7-15; 19-21
Growing up, my sister and I watched Boy Meets World. There was a great Christmas episode where the main character and his family host his high school sweetheart and begin to explore and collide over one another's deeply cherished Christmas traditions... eggnog versus mulled cider, real/fake tree, etc. Just when the young man thinks their differences may be too much, he gets a Christmas Carol future peek and sees his sad life without her. He begins to see that compromise is a beautiful part of tradition, that love and relationships depend on meeting on common ground, accepting new ideas, letting go of others, and finding a blend that helps form a new unity called family.
If prompted for an example of the difficult divide of Jews and Samaritans, most of us would point to the story of the Good Samaritan. However, it's easy to forget the story above about the woman Jesus meets. There were significant divides in those two parts of a family that worshiped the same God. The Samaritans, for instance, had 12 commandments instead of 10, different practices, holy sites. Part of their conversation highlights one of those differences. Her people worshiped on Mount Horeb, while the Jews worshiped in Jerusalem. She clearly sees those as her contemporaries did, insurmountable obstacles of tradition. Jesus saw a future where common ground of love and grace would bring them back together, and united with the world through himself.
I was reminded of that this week in our inaugural drive-in worship. I stood on the scaffold and looked out at the people I love and serve. Beyond those cars was the steeple of our church, where we once worshiped and will again one day, and across the street, the steeple of our Methodist brothers and sisters. I never imagined leading worship in a parking lot, for all the places I have been and worshiped. But that's just when Christ appears to offer living water to drink and open our eyes and imagination. What will our future as the Church be? What will the future of JCPC be? It will depend on us to find our way forward together as God calls us to a future we cannot yet imagine, common ground, blended ideas, compromise, and creativity. It will either be exactly as we hope and imagine now, or it will surprise us as we become Christ's family of new traditions blended together. If you catch me up there on the scaffold grinning just a little, I'm curious about where God will lead us next, together.
Prayer for Today
Lord, keep surprising us. Help us be a family by sharing what we love and blending it in your love as we follow your call to serve your world. Amen.
"I rejoiced with those who said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the Lord.' Our feet are standing in your gates, Jerusalem."
- Psalm 122:1-2, NIV
I was rejoicing last Sunday after our first Drive-In Worship service. While we did not actually get to go into "the house of the Lord" to worship, we were close. Gathering in our West parking lot gave us the opportunity to be on our campus with other members of our church family. Most of us did not get a chance to "stand" -- but we could sit in our cars and worship God together. Thankfully, it was a beautiful July morning!
Heidi and Christian, our Co-directors of Music Ministries (CD ROMs), began playing and singing a few minutes before the start of the service. Their inspiring music helped us to focus as worshipers were guided to parking places by our usher team. Each person was given a worship bulletin, as well as a red, white and blue fan -- which came in handy later on. Richard had constructed our makeshift pulpit and stairs, so we could be seen by all. And while the FM broadcast of the service was available, most of those in attendance could hear the service fine from our PA speakers. I want to thank our Worship Ministry Team and everyone who volunteered to help out. It was truly a worship "team effort!"
For the first time in many months, I had the privilege of leading worship and preaching to an actual congregation -- even though it was a little difficult to see through the windshields. But by the time we were finished, I felt like we had truly worshiped God -- even in this new and unusual way. If you were unable to attend last Sunday, perhaps because of the holiday weekend and you were out of town, I hope you will plan to be there this Sunday at 9:30 a.m. The message is called "Thriving in the Storm" and is based on Paul's storm experience in Acts 27:13-26. If you cannot attend in person, there is still an online version of the service on our website.
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, we are grateful that we can gather to worship you. We need you and we need to worship you. Thank you for helping us to survive and even thrive in the storms of life. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ, whose love for us never ends. Amen.