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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, November 16 2020

In the chaos of fleeing his home during the California wildfires of 2018, Gabe, a high school senior, missed the state-qualifying cross-country race for which he'd been training. Missing this meet meant he wouldn't have the chance to compete at the state meet-the culminating event of his four-year running career. In light of the circumstances, the state athletics board gave Gabe another chance: he'd have to run a qualifying time by himself, on a rival high school's track, in "street shoes" because his running shoes were in the charred rubble of his home. When he showed up to "race," Gabe was surprised by his competitors who'd come to supply him with proper shoes and to run alongside him to ensure he kept the pace necessary to be entered in the state meet.

 

 

Gabe's opponents had no obligation to help him. They could have given into their natural desires to look out for themselves (Galatians 5:13); doing so might have improved their own odds of winning. But Paul urges us to display the fruit of the Spirit in our lives-to "serve one another humbly in love" and to demonstrate "kindness" and "goodness" (vv. 13, 22). When we lean on the Spirit to help us not act on our natural instincts, we're better able to love those around us.

 

Prayer for Today

Dear God, my natural desire is to look out for myself. Help me to serve others out of love for You. Amen.

Posted by: AT 09:22 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, November 13 2020

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.  

-1 Thessalonians 5:11 NIV

 

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. -Matthew 5:8 NIV

 

This Sunday's text focuses on encouraging one another in the faith.  Paul's letter to the church in Thessalonica includes words that admonish the church members to build one another up.  We should all be doing the same for one another, especially during these crazy times!  Some people are really (and I mean REALLY) good at this... it's like they have a gift... but maybe it's more of a focused mindset on giving encouragement to others.

 

I don't know about you, but I often find myself so concerned about my own problems and to-do lists, that I fail to send an encouraging word to someone who might need it.  (Here's a secret:  Everyone needs it!)  Perhaps if we were more intentional about sharing encouragement, we would all be less consumed by our own worries.

 

And we all need to take our own inventory of how we treat others.  Maybe we've been unkind to other brothers and sisters in Christ (or family members) with opposing political views (or pandemic theories).  Maybe we've been unkind to others unintentionally while trying to effect change or champion a cause.  Maybe we can stop and think before we speak...  maybe this could all be turned around with a word and a spirit of encouragement.  Yes, sometimes the pot needs to be stirred.  But when it's already boiling over, maybe we need to change our minds, turn down the source of heat, and decide how to be peacemakers, for we are all children of God.

 

The words of this Sunday's anthem are from the very famous prayer of St. Francis of Assisi (better known as the patron saint of Italy, animals, and the natural environment).

 

Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring your love.
Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord,
And where there's doubt, true faith in you.


Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there's despair in life, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, only light,
And where there's sadness, ever joy.

O, Master, grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love with all my soul.


Make me a channel of your peace.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
In giving of ourselves that we receive,
And in dying that we're born to eternal life.

 

Come worship with us this Sunday, either online or in the parking lot, and be encouraged!!  (And bring your pets for the Blessing of the Animals this Sunday night at 6 p.m. in the East parking lot!)

 

Prayer for Today

Jesus, Prince of Peace, calm my heart, and open my eyes and hands to someone who needs encouragement today.  Give me the words that will build them up and strengthen them.  In Your holy name, I pray.  Amen.

Posted by: AT 09:11 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, November 12 2020

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
    the leopard shall lie down with the kid,

the calf and the lion and the fatling together,

    and a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall graze,

    their young shall lie down together;

    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den.

 

They will not hurt or destroy

    on all my holy mountain;

for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord

    as the waters cover the sea.

-Isaiah 11:6-9

 

Our scriptures are an amazing gift because they resemble a library more than a single book. Some books are letters, some are history, some are poetry, some prophecy, and others are legal statutes. But one thing present in many, if not most, of these books is animals. Animals are sometimes sustenance and sacrifice, sometimes a metaphorical reference for the appearance of humans, and sometimes an example of how we are to behave. Jesus is quite fond of animal references. He says we are to be good sheep who follow his voice, and not to be goats. He says we must be as wise as serpents and gentle as doves, but not a brood of vipers.

 

There are those who argue about whether or not animals have souls, and some who argue if pets are really family members. I think both arguments happen when we forget how important animals seem to be God and to God's son. Even in creation, God spends several days creating animals and only part of a day on humans. We are created on the same day as cattle and creatures that crawl on the earth, not even something cool like a stingray or snow leopard. And God calls all those creations good. And when God describes the new and perfect kingdom, we see in this text, it's not as one with people living peacefully as an example to all creatures, but as God's animals abandoning their role as predator and prey to simply live in harmony. It's a reminder that God has put God's law and love into creation all around us. We can learn from the loyalty of our dogs, the playfulness of our cats, the joy of our birds, the beauty of our fish, the obedience of our horses, and the generosity and affection of all our pets.

 

This Sunday, we will recognize the special gift that our animals are to us. Whether you have a service animal, a therapy companion, a comfort creature, or good old family pet, they are a part of your family, and therefore our extended family of faith. We will take a moment to remember faithful friends we've lost this year, give gratitude for our amazing animals who make our days brighter, and bless those animals and their families for the year ahead. I hope to see you there this Sunday evening for our annual Blessing of the Animals.

 

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, make me a noticer of the special gift and example you give us in the creatures you put in our lives, both great and small. Amen.

Posted by: AT 09:08 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, November 11 2020

Today is Veterans Day. I came across these five prayers for veterans by Bob Hostetler. I invite you to pray them for our veterans today:

 

1) To Feel Honored
"God, please let every veteran of our nation's armed forces feel truly and appropriately honored by the attention and appreciation of their fellow citizens. Let no one feel forgotten or neglected. Let every man and woman, young or old, feel the deep and enduring gratitude of our nation and its inhabitants."

2) To Be Understood
"Father God, You know that it can be difficult for a person who has returned from battle or stressful military service to reintegrate into 'normal' everyday life. You know that veterans can feel isolated and alone even in the midst of their  friends and  families because there are few around who understand their experience. So I ask You to place in the path of our veterans those who do understand (or strive to), that they may feel less alone. Remind them often that while their fellow human beings may never fully comprehend, You see, You know and You identify with them in everything."

3) To Be Healed
"Lord, You know how deep a warrior's wounds go. You know the loss that many of our veterans in body and soul. You know the memories that haunt them and the scars that many of them continue to carry.  Please bring healing to those veterans who still hurt. Please grant patience and wisdom to those around them who cannot understand but can sometimes help the healing process. Please apply both natural and supernatural medicine to their wounds."

4) To Be Rewarded
"Father, please turn your gaze to those men and women who in their military service have sacrificed time, comfort, strength, ambition, health and prosperity for the peace and safety of family and friends and others they've never even known. Please reward them a hundredfold for all their sacrifice and service. Bless them far beyond all their expectations. Reward them richly for all they have given."

5) To Know You
"Almighty God, You know every veteran by name. You know their deeds, their hard work, and their perseverance. You know their needs, both material and spiritual. Please draw each one closer to you and grant them all the peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7), the peace of Christ to rule in their hearts (Colossians 3:15), and 'joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand' forevermore (Psalm 16:11)."

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, Open our eyes to the ways you are guiding us, lighting our path and caring for us each day. Help us to put our trust in you. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:58 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, November 10 2020

What does control mean for you? If you were to tell someone, "I have things under control", what would that look like? I often find myself trying to have a plan for everything. By planning ahead, things go more smoothly, right? Sometimes I can get so wrapped up in this mindset that I forget to leave some space to look and listen for the ways that God is at work.

 

Take a moment to consider these words from the gospel of Matthew, "Look at the birds in the air. They don't plant or harvest or store food in barns, but your heavenly Father feeds them." (Matthew 6:26)

 

When you take a look around at God's creation and notice the ways that God takes care of things, it's amazing to see each and every detail. God has been reminding me of how we are cared for in many ways this fall. We have been enjoying Saturday adventures to explore God's creation. In the midst of a recent local move, we have seen God take care of us through our community opening up their basements, laundry rooms and dinner tables as we were transitioning.

 

This view of Brasstown Bald was one of those reminders on a hike about a month ago.

Max Lucado challenged me with some questions as I was taking some time to consider this passage of scripture.
"If God is able to place the stars in their sockets and suspend the sky like a curtain, do you think it is remotely possible that God is able to guide your life? If God is mighty enough to ignite the sun, could it be that he is mighty enough to light your path? If God cares enough about the planet Saturn to give it rings or Venus to make it sparkle, is there an outside chance that God cares enough about you to meet your needs?" 


Enter into this day, trying to let God be in control. Notice the ways that God is taking care of you in each moment. I am grateful for the family, friends and community that share in this journey with us. Who will you invite to join you?

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, Open our eyes to the ways you are guiding us, lighting our path and caring for us each day. Help us to put our trust in you. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:56 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, November 09 2020

When two of my grandchildren tried out for the musical Alice in Wonderland Jr., their hearts were set on getting leading roles. Maggie wanted to be young Alice, and Katie thought Mathilda would be a good role. But they were chosen to be flowers. Not exactly a ticket to Broadway.

 

Yet my daughter said the girls were "excited for their friends who got the [leading roles]. Their joy seemed greater cheering for their friends and sharing in their excitement."

 

What a picture of how our interactions with each other in the body of Christ should look! Every local church has what might be considered key roles. But it also needs the flowers-the ones who do vital but not-so-high-profile work. If others get roles we desire, may we choose to encourage them even as we passionately fulfill the roles God has given us.

 

In fact, helping and encouraging others is a way to show love for Him. Hebrews 6:10 says, "[God] will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people." And no gift from His hand is unimportant: "Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace" (1 Peter 4:10).

Imagine a church of encouragers diligently using their God-given gifts to His honor (Hebrews 6:10). That makes for joy!

 

Prayer for Today

Sovereign God, help me not to focus on the roles of other, but to serve You in the sacred calling You've given me. Enable me to help others by a word of encouragement for what they do for You. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:52 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, November 06 2020

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.

-Genesis 1:1

 

When you think about it, the pandemic has changed so much. We went from normal worship, to online only, and then to in-person worship in the parking lot. With our Drive-in services, we've celebrated communion together, have worshiped twice in the rain, and celebrated World Communion Sunday. We even celebrated Kirkin' O' the Tartans together!

 

As the pandemic lingers on, I know many of us are ready to go back to the way it was. I myself would love to worship in person in our beautiful chapel with all of you. But, of course, we cannot ignore the present reality just because we want to do something.

 

Look at what happened in the very beginning. "The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep." (Genesis 1:1)

 

Then over the course of a week, God innovated and created all that we know today. Look at how the coming of the Christ child radically changed humanity, and the centuries of innovations in our Christian tradition that have brought us to where we are now. And consider how God continues to work in all of our lives today, constantly taking the old and innovating to create positive change through us. God is the Great Innovator in so many ways!

 

In this pandemic, JCPC has also innovated. Our online and Drive-in services are not just a band aid to "get us through" - they are carefully and prayerfully-prepared innovations that have allowed us to worship safely together in this historical, once-in-a-century pandemic. We will be back together indoors someday, but before we rush into an unsafe situation, I hope you will recognize that we are worshipping together each Sunday in a way that is truly authentic, engaging, and faith-driven. Other churches may have gone back to indoor worship, but in these challenging times, I believe that God is calling us to be radically innovative as the body of Christ - without putting lives at risk. We'll be keeping the faith together again this Sunday at 9:30 a.m. in the parking lot. Won't you join us?

 

Prayer for Today

God of Creation, inspire our minds to find new ways to worship and serve you. Guide us and create in us a desire for meaningful change to take our faith deeper. Give us the wisdom and courage to forge new ways forward in these uncertain times. Make us innovators for your will and beacons of hope among the darkness of despair and longing. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:50 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, November 05 2020

peak out on behalf of the voiceless,

    and for the rights of all who are vulnerable

Speak out in order to judge with righteousness and to defend the needy and the poor.

-Proverbs 31:8-9

 

When I worked my first summer of college for the District Attorney in my home town, her office brought a case against a teacher who had hurt students. As a part of her office, my duties as intern included caring for the students and parents until it was their turn to testify. I heard and overheard their stories and pain. I also watched the process from jury selection to when the judge threw it out. I knew the truth. I suspect the jury did. The defense attorney mostly proved his case by the testimony of students who had NOT been hurt. It seemed obvious to me that the teacher prayed on the most vulnerable kids who found it hardest to speak up and testify. This passage, like the parable of sheep and goats reminds us that our highest calling as believers is to see the downtrodden and hear the oppressed. And even in a good system with fair laws and righteous lawyers and judges, justice can be elusive.

 

I think of that case often, how those students weren't heard. Not really. Not in any way that brought them meaningful justice or change. I think of it every close election, and every landslide. No matter who wins, some group of people do not feel heard, don't receive attention or justice. It is why I admire leaders who acknowledge first and foremost not that they won, but that many people didn't vote for them, and they still have a voice and should be encouraged to participate. And as believers, we are all called to hear the voices that might be silenced or ignored.

 

Whether this election is decided this week or the weeks to come, we are citizens of the kingdom of God first and America second. We must be able to hear our brother or sister of another stripe. Christ tells us the peacemakers are blessed. Those who seek to hear the voice of the voiceless are God's children. So no matter what leaders are now in charge, our calling is to serve, to listen, and to help those who feel ignored to make their voices heard. If it's farmers and rural laborers or factory workers, teachers or frontline healthcare workers, first responders or refugees, let's listen and hear. Let's do that work together, recommitted to peace and hope and justice for all.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, make me a good citizen of your kingdom, extending love and justice to all. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:48 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, November 04 2020

"Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord." 

-Psalm 27:14, NIV

 

So, it is the morning after the elections and I am waiting. It is not easy to wait for the final results of something that seems so important and which will have great implications for our world. No one really likes waiting, at least no one I know of -- certainly not me. However, the words above are not a proverb on the benefits of waiting in general. No, they remind us to "wait for the Lord." Two times we are reminded to "wait for the Lord."

 

What is it exactly we're waiting for? We know for whom it is we are waiting, but what is it we are waiting for God to do? My sense is that it depends. It depends on what's going on in our lives. It depends on what God is trying to do in our world. Much of the time we don't know exactly what we are waiting for, but we are still told to wait -- which in itself is an act of faith and trust. If we do not have faith in God and trust in God's ability to complete God's plans in the world, then we tend to go ahead with our own plans. Maybe we think we can't wait. Or perhaps we think that somebody needs to do something, and if God isn't doing it on our schedule, then we choose not to wait and we barge ahead on our own.

 

The Psalm doesn't promise a particular outcome resulting from our waiting. But it does encourage us to be strong and to take heart. The word "encourage" literally means "to take heart." The French word coeur means "heart." Being strong and taking heart require something from us. And yet the more we do it, the better we become at being strong and taking heart. Like physical exercise, it builds up the muscles of encouragement. So, however these elections turn out, I want to encourage us all to be strong and take heart -- trusting in God who is faithful, loving, and at work in our world.

 

Prayer for Today

Loving and faithful God, help us to be strong and to take heart as we wait. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:47 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, November 03 2020

"If you wake me each morning with the sound of your loving voice, I'll go to sleep each night trusting in you. Point out the road I must travel; I'm all ears, all eyes before you. Save me from my enemies, God- you're my only hope! Teach me how to live to please you, because you're my God. Lead me by your blessed Spirit into cleared and level pastureland." 

-Psalm 143, selected verses (The Message)

 

David's prayer was shared with me this morning and I'm grateful for these words on Election Day. Asking God for guidance and listening to God's loving voice go with me today. I have always heard that I can only control my own actions and cannot control the actions of others. What I was also reminded when studying Ephesians is that God has the power and God is in control. I am called to accept God's grace, be open to God's love and guidance and then live each day demonstrating that with my actions.

 

In Ephesians, Paul reminds us that we are God's workmanship. N.T. Wright reflects on this language, "This word sometimes has an artistic ring to it. It maybe hinting that what God has done to us in King Jesus is a work of art, like a poem or sculpture... We are like a musical score and the music which we now have to play, is the genuine way of being human, laid out before us in God's gracious design, so that we can follow it."

 

How will you go into your day responding to these promises and prayers from two of God's followers?

 

Prayer for Today

Gracious Creator God, Open our hearts to your guidance and our hands to your work in this world. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: AT 02:45 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email

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