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.
Sarah has a rare condition that causes her joints to dislocate, making her reliant on an electric wheelchair to get around. On her way to a meeting recently, Sarah rode her wheelchair to the train station but found the elevator broken. Again. With no way of getting to the platform, she was told to take a taxi to another station forty minutes away. The taxi was called but never arrived. Sarah gave up and went home.
Unfortunately, this is a regular occurrence for Sarah. Broken elevators stop her from boarding trains, forgotten ramps leave her unable to get off them. Sometimes Sarah is treated as a nuisance by railway staff for needing assistance. She's often close to tears.
Out of the many biblical laws governing human relationships, "love your neighbor as yourself" is key (Leviticus 19:18; Romans 13:8-10). And while this love stops us from lying, stealing, and abusing others (Leviticus 19:11, 14), it also changes how we work. Employees must be treated fairly (v. 13), and we should all be generous to the poor (vv. 9-10). In Sarah's case, those who fix elevators and drag out ramps aren't doing inconsequential tasks but offering important service to others.
If we treat work as just a means to a wage or other personal benefit, we will soon treat others as annoyances. But if we treat our jobs as opportunities to love, then the most everyday task becomes a holy enterprise.
Prayer for Today
Father, a job is never just a job to You but an opportunity to love You and serve others. Help me to see my work as an opportunity to benefit others today. Amen.
Speak to the people of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of complete rest, a holy convocation commemorated with trumpet blasts.
You shall not work at your occupations; and you shall present the Lord's offering by fire.
If you still own a paper calendar, it probably has tomorrow marked as Rosh Hashanah. It may even indicate, as mine does, that it begins at sundown. Jewish holidays begin at sundown and end at sundown the next day. Rosh Hashanah, our youth learned in Bible study this week, means "Head of the Year," the Jewish new year. The next ten days are a celebration of this, ending in Yom Kippur, which is the "day of atonement," which begins on Sunday at sundown and ends on Monday at sundown. This is a period of reflection and righting wrongs. People often call folks to mend fences and attempt to reconcile. Yom Kippur is also a day to remember those who have passed away that year.
Like Christians with Christmas and Easter, these are high holy days, days that regular attendees are joined by those who come very rarely. It's a huge gathering for worship. Rosh Hashanah begins with a blowing of the rams horn, known as the Shofar. Yom Kippur ends with the same. This is the same instrument that would announce a new month or a call to battle in ancient tradition. So why should we be familiar with these wonderful traditions?
Christianity is not just an offshoot sect of Judaism, but the living faith of our Lord and Savior. His traditions shaped him and his ministry. To study these traditions and know them better is to know our own history better, and our Lord. And understanding the importance of these traditions makes us better followers of the Way as better hosts. This Sunday, we will host our brothers and sisters of Dor Tamid, a local synagogue. After our worship service at 9:30, this Sunday, they will hold a Rosh Hashanah service in the parking lot at 11. Their Rabbi, Jordan Ottenstein, a close friend of myself and Pastor Gray will blow the shofar and gather his people to worship the God we love and serve. We are happy to be their hosts and friends. And if you have Jewish friends and neighbors, be sure to wish them a happy new year, "Shanah Tova!"
Prayer for Today
Lord, make me a good host and a good neighbor to my Jewish brothers and sisters. Help me to bless them and better understand my own history. Amen.
So many of the psalms begin with the words above. Recently, I have shared that I am rereading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's classic Life Together. I am using it as a part of my morning devotions, but this time I am reading it very slowly -- a few pages at a time.
Bonhoeffer encourages us to begin each day praying the psalms, reading the scriptures, and then singing together a hymn of praise and thanksgiving. He envisions us gathering with other Christians or family members to do this. This may prove difficult for many of us -- not only because others may not be up and around that time of day, but singing together a hymn of praise with others may also prove challenging. What do we do if there are no others around with whom to sing? And what if we are not great singers or do not play an instrument?
Monday morning, when I read these words from Bonhoeffer's book about singing, it occurred to me that one of the good things that come out of this pandemic is the wealth of online worship resources that we have created at Johns Creek Presbyterian Church. Heidi and Christian offer us wonderful worship music each week. Many of you have told me how much you appreciate their music as a part of our online worship services. Most of those services are still posted on the Internet. You just have to go to our home page and click "online services" where you will see not only the most recent service, but many others from previous weeks. Early Monday morning, I found myself listening to the beautiful prelude, then singing along the first hymn of praise with Heidi and Christian on my screen porch. It was nice to be singing along led by two professional musicians!
I want to encourage you to use the resources of our worship services posted online to enrich your time of daily devotions. You can do this alone or with others -- fulfilling what the psalm says: "Sing a new song to the Lord!"
Prayer for Today
Thank you, God, for singing your creation into being. Thank you for singing your love into our lives. May we sing of love back to our world today in all that we do. Amen.
As we enter into a new school year, I am journeying through faith practices. Each month I am taking the time to consider one practice and how I can continue to integrate it in my family life. The Christian Reformed Church has partnered with the PCUSA to choose a monthly faith practice for the entire school year. September's practice is Sabbath.
Here are some questions that we can consider together.
What does it mean to me to "keep the sabbath holy"?
How might my sabbath practice help me grow to be more like Jesus?
What might a life-giving sabbath look like for me?
How could my sabbath practices be life-giving for my neighbors also?
What scriptures help you consider the sabbath and how it can be integrated into your daily life? I am taking some time this week to read some of the Psalms and consider rest.
For our family many of our most meaningful sabbath experiences during this pandemic have been found outdoors. We have spent them in our backyard, traveled to nearby nature trails and hiked, touched the water in creeks, swam in pools, oceans or lakes and climbed mountains. Since school has started, we are taking Sabbath Saturday adventures. When we take in our surroundings, I notice a calmness, peace, joy and connection among our family and those we encounter. Last Saturday was spent sliding through water and down rocks at Poole's Mill Park. The previous week we took some Sabbath time on Labor Day to hike to the top of Brasstown Bald.
Where do you go to experience rest and connection with God during your week? We are called to worship on the sabbath and then continue to live that out all week long. How could sabbath practices be integrated into your week between Sunday and Sunday?
Consider these words from Psalm 91:14-16, ""If you'll hold on to me for dear life," says God, "I'll get you out of any trouble. I'll give you the best of care if you'll only get to know and trust me. Call me and I'll answer, be at your side in bad times; I'll rescue you, then throw you a party. I'll give you a long life, give you a long drink of salvation!"
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, you are our way in the wilderness. In our times of testing be our spiritual nourishment. You are the manna, our source of life. Help us to come to you and receive all the good things you offer us, by worshiping and serving you alone; through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
When my brother David suddenly died of cardiac failure, my perspectives on life changed dramatically. Dave was the fourth of seven children, but he was the first of us to pass-and the unexpected nature of that passing gave me much to ponder. It became apparent that as age began to catch up with us, our family's future was going to be marked more by loss than by gain. It was going to be characterized as much by goodbyes as hellos.
None of this was a surprise intellectually-that is just how life works. But this realization was an emotional lightning bolt to the brain. It gave a fresh, new significance to every moment life gives us and every opportunity time allows. And it placed a huge new value on the reality of a future reunion, where no goodbyes will ever be needed.
This ultimate reality is at the heart of what we find in Revelation 21:3-4: "God himself will be with them and be their God. 'He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
Though today we may find ourselves experiencing seasons of long goodbyes, our trust in Christ's death and resurrection promises an eternity of hellos.
Prayer for Today
Father, I thank You that You're the living God who gives everlasting life. I pray that You would use our eternal hope to comfort us in our seasons of loss and grief. Amen.
Peter came to Jesus and asked him if he should forgive his brother or sister up to seven times. Jesus answered,"I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. Then he told a parable describing the kingdom of heaven:
...the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. "At this the servant fell on his knees before him.'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
"But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. "His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.' "But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. "Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart." (Matthew 18:23-35)
Yikes! It looks like we'd better get busy and show mercy to our brothers and sisters or else we're in real trouble!! But I think we need to look a little deeper than that. I know I need to look deeper.
The king in the parable asked the servant, "Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?" Hey, that sounds like the Golden Rule: "Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you." How are we doing with that? Sometimes it's hardest to extend grace to those who are closest to us, even within our own homes, maybe especially if we're confined to our homes during the pandemic (and during an election year). But more than likely, our loved ones are extending grace to us too, even if we're not aware.
This Sunday's anthem is titled "The Wideness of God's Mercy" by Frederick William Faber. Here is the first verse:
There's a wideness in God's mercy like the wideness of the sea;
There's a kindness in His justice, which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner and more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Savior; there is healing in His blood.
If we are aware of how we have sinned against God (deserving his judgment) and the price that God paid to reconcile us with him, we might maybe begin to grasp the unfathomable mercy and love and grace that he extends to us, at every moment. So it stands to reason that we should accept that grace and extend it to our brothers and sisters who have committed far lesser crimes against us.
Prayer for Today
Holy God, thank you for your mercy toward us. Help us to be merciful to all of our neighbors and to treat everyone with kindness. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
The following are insights to ponder from an article by Susan Beaumont that I want to share with you relating to the changing role of the church in light of the pandemic:
During the pandemic, people are finding meaningful new ways to connect with us online in worship, programs, and service. These connections do not look anything like what we previously recognized as engagement. What happens to our newly-formed online communities as we return to our buildings? Five long-standing assumptions about belonging, engagement and membership that are crumbling now:
Geography dictates belonging.
The pandemic has shifted our reality. In the time we have been out of our buildings many of us have discovered new constituent relationships that have nothing to do with geography. Who are we now? What, if anything does membership mean to someone who does not interact in our physical space?
Discipleship begins with membership.
Now the journey often works in reverse. People connect with us in order to serve, and service helps them to belong. People need to feel that they belong before they join. Some people are not interested in membership at all. They may or may not attend worship. What will it mean to belong for those who have no relationship to our physical space or our physical gatherings?
Worship participation is the best indicator of member engagement.
This assumption has not been true for a while . . . Engaged people are worshiping with less frequency and many people who belong to the congregation do not become members. What does authentic engagement look like in a virtual world?
In-person engagement is more authentic than online engagement.
"When will we be able to get back to real worship?" This is a common question posed by those who find sacred space in physical sanctuaries. . . . However, new people finding their way to us online probably do not share this assumption. As we re-enter our buildings, it behooves us to remember that there are people who want to worship, learn, and serve with us, but they are not interested in our buildings.
Belonging requires owning the "whole" church.
Historically, choosing to become a member of a congregation included a commitment to support the full ministry of the congregation. The pandemic is drawing this assumption, also, into question. Many people who have found their way to us through online worship, service projects, or online classes may have little interest in the full ministry of our congregation.
While these ideas are not the final word, I invite all of us to be in prayer so we can discern how to serve faithfully as followers of Christ in our changing world!
Prayer for Today
Loving God, you created the world as well as your church. In these uncertain times, help us to find our certainty in you, so that we might discern and "lean into" the new things you are doing. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
God is good to one and all; everything he does is suffused with grace. Creation and creatures applaud you, God; your holy people bless you. They talk about the glories of your rule, they exclaim over your splendor, Letting the world know of your power for good, the lavish splendor of your kingdom. Your kingdom is a kingdom eternal; you never get voted out of office. God always does what he says, and is gracious in everything he does. God gives a hand to those down on their luck, gives a fresh start to those ready to quit. All eyes are on you, expectant; you give them their meals on time. Generous to a fault, you lavish your favor on all creatures. Everything God does is right-the trademark on all his works is love. (Psalm 145:9-17, The Message)
When I read Psalm 145, many of the words or phrases seem to be familiar to me from other Psalms or prayers. Then I read this passage in the Message version and saw this prayer in a new light. Some of the things that struck me in this reading...
"Everything God does is suffused with grace." Suffused means to gradually spread through. What would it look like for you to experience God's grace as being gradually spread through your life, rather than just at times when we needed it the most in large doses? I had to sit with that thought for a moment. God's grace in our lives is spread throughout each aspect of our being, day by day, moment by moment. What a gift!
"God always does what he says, and is gracious in everything he does." What would it look like for us to live in such a way that we are gracious in everything that we do? What a way to share God's love in the world through our daily choices and actions.
"The trademark on all his works is love." How can we share God with others leaving this trademark of love with them?
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, open our eyes, ears, hearts and minds to experience your grace and love this day. In Christ's Name, Amen.
Draw us in the Spirit's tether, for when humbly in your name
two or three are met together, you are in the midst of them.
- Percy Dearmer (from a communion hymn)
I've always been fascinated with space, but lately, I've been thinking more about it as I've taken evening walks. It is really something to recognize how much the appearance of the Moon changes each night, if you really pay attention. If we were to go up to space right now and go out on a space walk from the International Space Station, we'd be reliant on a "tether" to ensure we didn't accidentally drift off into the void, lost forever.
This text from this hymn (and also the tune for the final piece of the Prelude this week) makes me ponder this imagery. What is the Spirit's tether? I like to think of it as being something that keeps us safe from floating off into the void of darkness that seems to linger all around us. It's something that supports us and is connected to us. It's something that may be hanging loose when we are not in danger of "floating away" but is there to catch us. Something that is sort of a first line of defense against danger.
So what is the Spirit's tether then? To me, it's the church. Not the buildings, not the steeples, and not even the West Parking Lot! No, it's the people! Remember, "I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together"? I think this is that tether that keeps us from drifting away into darkness. The Holy Spirit works through all of us to do many things, and one of those is to reach out and connect with others in fellowship. We as Christians have done that for thousands of years, and we continue to do it, even during this pandemic. There is of course more to the church than just fellowship but I think it really starts with fellowship in worship together. How does it change us to know that we are all "tethered" together, even now? What can we accomplish together?
Prayer for Today
Ever present God, draw us in to you as we worship you together. Bind our Christian friendships as we serve you by caring, helping, and giving. Make our lives as sacraments of you, so that we may learn to follow you more. Amen.
God's huge outstretched arms protect you - under them you're perfectly safe; Gods arms fend off all harm.
"How dare. Where have you been?" said my son when I got home on Wednesday. Or at least he would have, if he could talk yet. He's 6 months old, but he has an incredibly expressive face. No one has to guess what he's thinking. And his face said it all on Wednesday. Like me, he's a creature of habit and routine. Unlike me, he doesn't yet see a change in routine as a welcome adventure. For him, it's an unwelcome disruption. I had to spend all day writing my sermon. So I wasn't home to get him ready for the day or available for lunchtime cuddles. And his brother was busy with school. And sadly, although he favors his mother the most, he is accustomed to a change of pace.
So I came home to this face. Glad to see me, happy to have me hold him. Immensely disappointed in me. And he didn't hide it. And I sat there wondering about the other relationships in my life. Who is sadly missing me? Who is not? Who is maybe a little tickled they see me less here in quarantine? And what sort of face is God wearing for me? When is the last time we chatted at length? Caught up? Is God smiling? Are God's brows furrowed because our routine is off? Have I neglected our quality time? I tried explaining to my son that I was off doing the Lord's work. I told him that work is also what feeds and clothes him and gives him a home. His brow remained furrowed. I wondered if God was amused.
What is your routine like with God these days? Is it altered by quarantine and Covid? Are you busier or less so? Have you grown closer or apart? Has being gone from the church building disrupted your routine? Is God waiting for you in worship and eager for your return? If you need a little more time at home in the arms of that unconditional love, take it from a six month old, no explanation is necessary. Glad you're home.
Prayer for Today
Lord, help me make time in my busyness for time that's just for us. Help me worship, pray, and spend time with you alone. Amen.