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.
“I call this my Practice of Presence, and I do it every morning for ten minutes,” I responded. “It's helped me live as my true, authentic self – instead of who the world wants or expects me to be.”
-Rachel Macy Stafford
When you consider places where you can be your true, authentic self, where are you? Who are you surrounded by?
What does it look like for you to get to a place where you can tune out expectations or pressures from the world around you?
There were times when Jesus needed to truly be himself and be present. Sometimes that meant separating himself from the crowds. Sometimes that meant going to God in prayer. Sometimes that meant being with just the small group of his closest followers.
As we prepare to move into Holy Week this Sunday and travel the difficult road with Jesus, what can you do to be open to the spaces where you need to disconnect or where can you be your real and best self?
Reach out to those who help you be present in that abs journey together. Take time for connecting with God in ways that bring life to you.
Prayer for Today
Gracious and Loving God, Help us to be open to your guiding hand in these challenging days. May we walk in a way that is pleasing to you. In Christ’s Name, Amen.
On Chicago Day in October 1893, the city’s theaters shut down because the owners figured everyone would be attending the World’s Fair. Over seven hundred thousand people went, but Dwight Moody (1837–1899) wanted to fill a music hall at the other end of Chicago with preaching and teaching. His friend R. A. Torrey (1856–1928) was skeptical that Moody could draw a crowd on the same day as the fair. But by God’s grace, he did. As Torrey later concluded, the crowds came because Moody knew “the one Book that this old world most longs to know—the Bible.” Torrey longed for others to love the Bible as Moody did, reading it regularly with dedication and passion.
God through His Spirit brought people back to Himself at the end of the nineteenth century in Chicago, and He continues to speak today. We can echo the psalmist’s love for God and His Scriptures as he exclaims, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103). For the psalmist, God’s messages of grace and truth acted as a light for his path, a lamp for his feet (v. 105).
How can you grow more in love with the Savior and His message? As we immerse ourselves in Scripture, God will increase our devotion to Him and guide us, shining His light along the paths we walk.
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, You’ve given me the gift of Scripture. Help me to read it and digest it, that I might serve You faithfully. Amen.
"The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted."
-Matthew 28:16-17 (New American Bible (Revised Edition))
Take note of the scripture above. Does anything look peculiar? Eleven instead of twelve disciples? If there were eleven disciples, this means that Judas Iscariot was out of the picture by this time... they worshiped, but doubted... the DISCIPLES doubted??? Jesus' closest friends?? Doubted Jesus? So this was after the resurrection, after they had seen and spoke with and touched and ate meals with Jesus?
You would think that after all of the miracles and everything else they had witnessed, their faith would be sight by now, and HOW could the disciples (of all people) doubt Jesus? What does this mean for you and me, who have not been first-hand witnesses of the Son of God? Why do we expect ourselves to have no doubt?
I don't remember my infant baptism, but I remember my Lutheran confirmation. I had completed 3 years of weekly classes (think doubIe Sunday School with homework!!). I was fourteen, having a really bad hair day, the stark white robe did nothing for my complexion, and I once had all the pictures to prove it. I publicly renounced the devil, and all his works, and all his ways, and to use non-Lutheran terms, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, even though I'd been saying the words in church ever since I could talk. I also vividly remember later that afternoon when I was alone, after all of the festivities in church and the big family dinner (confirmation was a HUGE deal in my family), I sat in my room looking over all of the gifts, prayer books, crosses, and cards I had received, and I remember thinking... I just got all of this stuff, and people have said all of these things to me... but do I really REALLY believe? And THAT was really weird, because so far, it is the only time in my life I can remember feeling that way.
Well now I feel better, now that I know Jesus' very own disciples doubted too!! And confirmation is just the beginning of a closer walk with God. We can rest knowing that God understands every doubt that we face and gives us grace to talk through those doubts. And when we do, God draws us closer, and we are reminded that we are never alone on this journey.
So join us online or in the parking lot this Confirmation Sunday, reaffirm your faith with the confirmands, bring your doubts with you, and let's worship together!
Prayer for Today
Holy God, we believe!! Help our unbelief!! In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
One of my practices is to look at the “Memories” on Facebook each morning. This is a list of what you shared on that day each year you’ve had your account. I’ve had mine almost two decades now, so there’s a long list each day. Recently, I found one from about a year ago. I posted that our oldest son mused the following on the way home from our group guitar practice... “Being a musician is making lots of mistakes and then learning from them later and doing better next time... Actually, being a human is the same thing basically.”
I shared it and saved it because there was some real wisdom in his observation. Our passage reminds us that we are always striving to do better. And in groups, like a band, we help one another improve in skill and become more harmonious. The more we play together, the better we get, and the more beautiful our music. What a model for Christian life together and friendship. At our best, friction doesn’t result primarily in damage but in becoming sharper, becoming better, mutual benefit.
In Christian community, we must then ask if we are using the time and opportunity we have together to benefit one another and become sharper, wiser, better, or... if we are simply causing friction... or damage. In Lent, we do well to assess ourselves and our relationships and to perhaps adjust our practices, to do better, and to make a more joyful noise as members of the same band. Let’s be good iron. Let’s make mistakes, learn from them, and do better next time.
Prayer for Today
Lord, as iron sharpens iron, help me to sharpen and be sharpened, and to always do better next time. Amen.
Today is Saint Patrick’s Day. Patrick was born sometime in the late fourth century on the coast of England or Scotland. Patrick was captured by Irish pirates at age sixteen and kept as a slave for six years. He spent most of that time out tending his master’s herds. It was outside in the woods and mountains that he learned to pray -- often beginning before dawn. Some days he would pray as many as a hundred prayers when “the spirit was fervent within.” Eventually he escaped, found his family again, and felt a call to the priesthood. When he finished his training, the pope sent him back to Ireland as a missionary. He travelled all over the country founding churches and monasteries. He was perhaps the major influence in sharing the good news of God’s love with the people of Ireland.
Today I want to share some more good news! Our Session voted to add an 11:00 a.m. worship service on Easter Sunday outdoors on our ballfield under a large tent. There will also be the Drive-In service and an Online service that day. Our Session decided that masks and social distancing would be required, as well as reservations through Sign-up Genius so we can have enough chairs set up. We will be sending out this information to everyone later this week, so please reserve your seats as soon as you can so we can accommodate as many as possible.
In addition, our Session decided to add Indoor Worship services at 11:00 a.m. in The Great Hall beginning Sunday, May 2. This, too, will be a socially distanced service with masks. Folks will also need to sign-up for that service to make sure we have enough seating, which will be limited because of the social distancing. The link for those Indoor services will be shared in the coming weeks. We will still have our Drive-In and Online worship services when that begins.
As long as the downward trends being monitored by our Health Task continue, we will have these events. With the outdoor Easter service, bad weather could also affect it. So, keep praying for the present trends to continue and do your part to keep them going down!
Prayer for Today
Thank you, God, for all the factors working together at this time to help us get through this pandemic. May we each do all we can to keep our world safe, not only for us, but for all of those around us. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Jesus, grilled by the Pharisees on when the kingdom of God would come, answered, “The kingdom of God doesn’t come by counting the days on the calendar. Nor when someone says, ‘Look here!’ or, ‘There it is!’ And why? Because God’s kingdom is already among you.” -Luke 17:20-21
This passage was shared with me during our Women’s Retreat a few years ago. Since that time it’s been a reminder to me to be aware of how God’s kingdom is already among us. How do we live each day knowing God is with us and among us? How does that impact how we treat others and ourselves? As a part of that retreat experience, we were invited to write a letter from God to ourselves. I was surprised during the course of this prayer practice by what God had to say to me. It wasn’t a letter of judgement, but rather a letter filled with grace. God invited me to show more grace to myself, and to those around me.
Anytime I try a different type of prayer practice, God has used it to help me grow in my understanding.
We have a unique opportunity to walk a labyrinth this Sunday, March 21, from 4:30-6:30 p.m. outdoors in the West Parking Lot. This prayer experience is an ancient way to connect with God. A walking prayer practice has been a meaningful way for me to set aside all that is running through my mind and pause to really pray without distraction.
I would invite you to come Sunday sometime between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. to see what God might be saying to you during this Lenten season and in this prayer time. As with many things in this season, please plan to wear your mask and be physically distanced from others.
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, as we enter into this day, may our lives be sustained through the love of you Our Heavenly Father. May we feel the presence of our Savior walking beside us, and know the power of the Spirit in both our actions and our words. In Christ’s Name, Amen.
Decades ago, Dr. Jerry Motto discovered the power of a “caring letter.” His research found that simply sending a letter expressing care to discharged patients who had previously attempted suicide reduced the rate of recurrence by half. Recently, health care providers have rediscovered this power when sending “caring” texts, postcards, and even social media memes as follow-up treatment for the severely depressed.
Twenty-one “books” in the Bible are actually letters—epistles—caringly written to first-century believers who struggled for a variety of reasons. Paul, James, and John wrote letters to explain the basics of faith and worship, and how to resolve conflict and build unity.
The apostle Peter, however, specifically wrote to believers who were being persecuted by the Roman emperor, Nero. Peter reminded them of their intrinsic value to God, describing them this way in 1 Peter 2:9, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession.” This lifted their gaze to God’s great purpose for them in their world: “that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
Our great God Himself wrote a book filled with caring letters to us—inspired Scripture—that we might always have a record of the value He assigns us as His own. May we read His letters daily and share them with others who need the hope Jesus offers.
Prayer for Today
Loving God, thank You for the caring letters in the Bible! Amen.
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”
Part of this passage may be familiar to many of you, but what about the part about the serpents? Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus, a Pharisee, and makes a reference to himself as being like the serpent that Moses lifted up. If we go back to Numbers, we see that, because Moses had led everyone on a long detour through the wilderness, “the people grew impatient and spoke against God and against Moses” (Numbers 21:5). God then sends deadly snakes, which end up killing many of the Israelites. The people realize they probably shouldn’t have spoken against God, so they ask Moses for help, and after praying for the people, Moses is instructed by God to build a snake and put it up on a pole. The people who have been bitten by these snakes are then told to look at the bronze snake on the pole and this will then save them from dying.
What is interesting is this same bronze snake appears in 2 Kings 18:4, where King Hezekiah smashes the snake into pieces because the Israelites had come to worship it as an idol. When Jesus draws a connection between himself and this bronze snake, it’s interesting that the snake enabled those who saw it to live… and then later on, the snake itself was broken into pieces. The parallels with Jesus are pretty clear, don’t you think?
I think it’s interesting how this bronze snake came to be idolized. The snake itself probably wasn’t anything special, but following God’s commands was what mattered. I think we humans have a tendency to “idolize” things and put greater emphasis on what feels important, but is actually not. After Jesus was resurrected, there was no body left behind to be venerated, even though many have claimed to have sacred relics. A small part of me wishes I could physically touch one of Jesus’ sandals and feel a connection to God, but it just doesn’t work that way. God is already here in the wilderness with us, and we need nothing more than to look to the cross to find him.
Prayer for Today
God of Grace, we often suffer because of our own actions, yet you hear our cries and save us from distress. We give thanks to you for your unfailing love. As we continue our Lenten journey, call us back to you now more than ever, and open our hearts to your wonderful deeds. Amen.
Just then some men came, carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus;but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus. When he saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.”
“All of us, if we live long enough will experience disability.” These were the opening words from the lecturer in Upper Anderson, Montreat a few years ago. I was there for a conference. The speaker had a disabled son and worked with disabled folks. He was a former athlete, tall, and fit for age, but especially for a man in his fifties. He was aware that those words might sound strange coming from someone who looked likely to run marathons into his 90s. But he assured us, a career of working with disabled people had taught him that the broad range of impairments we develop with age or unexpected injury or illness meant we could all experience temporary or permanent disability over a lifetime. And we should live our lives with that awareness and empathy, making our buildings and gatherings accessible for everyone.
How right he was. And haven’t we all been disabled in some way by this pandemic? Our independence has been limited by our choice or imposed on us. Suddenly, our freedoms are dependent on others or by circumstances. We can suddenly identify with the paralytic man in new ways. And that’s when we should ask ourselves some hard questions. In Jesus’ day, every town, aside from Jerusalem, was a small town. Every town he visited was full of people who knew one another intimately. We can bet the paralytic man knew and was known by the owner of the house, everyone in it, and the ones making a hole in the roof.
We know or should know, the members of our small church communities who are limited in access to our spaces and worship by disability or circumstance. This leads us to ask ourselves... are we the friends in the crowded house or the friends making a hole in the roof?
According to the story, his friends didn’t go to the house and then notice he was missing. They brought him. When the house wasn’t accessible, they made a way. They determined his need to participate was greater than theirs, a priority. They probably missed the intro! They probably missed out on the best seats. The story didn’t mention them repelling in after him to get a good seat too. Their priority was inclusion for their friend. Their own participation didn’t matter if he wasn’t included too. So how do we make worship accessible to those who need it most? Is it live streaming? Is it drive-in and outdoor options? Is it ramps, special seating, distance, appointments, assistance, large print bibles, Bluetooth hearing assistance, special parking, personal helpers, buddies, or something we haven’t learned to offer yet? Let’s ask. Let’s find out. Let’s make our friends and their participation our priority. That way, when Jesus is there among us, he will look at our included loved ones and smile at the faith of their friends.
Prayer for Today
Lord, make my eyes open to those among us who most need a place in the inner circle. Make us so eager to include them that we make holes in the barriers between them and full inclusion. Help us all to set the needs of others before our own eagerness to be seated at your feet and willing to be a little late to get them in the door first. Amen.
Back when the telegraph was the fastest means of long-distance communication, there was a story, perhaps apocryphal, about a young man who applied for a job as a Morse code operator. Answering an ad in the newspaper, he went to the address that was listed. When he arrived, he entered a large, noisy office. In the background a telegraph clacked away. A sign on the receptionist's counter instructed job applicants to fill out a form and wait until they were summoned to enter the inner office.
The young man completed his form and sat down with seven other waiting applicants. After a few minutes, the young man stood up, crossed the room to the door of the inner office, and walked right in. Naturally, the other applicants perked up, wondering what was going on. Why had this man been so bold? They muttered among themselves that they hadn't heard any summons yet. They took more than a little satisfaction in assuming the young man who went into the office would be reprimanded for his presumption and summarily disqualified for the job.
Within a few minutes the young man emerged from the inner office escorted by the interviewer, who announced to the other applicants, “Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming, but the job has been filled by this young man.” The other applicants began grumbling to each other, and then one spoke up, “Wait a minute -- I don't understand. He was the last one to come in, and we never even got a chance to be interviewed. Yet he got the job. That's not fair.”
The employer responded, “All the time you've been sitting here, the telegraph has been ticking out the following message in Morse code: ‘If you understand this message, then come right in. The job is yours.’ None of you heard it or understood it. This young man did. So, the job is his.” (As told in Leadership)
This Sunday’s message is simple but profound: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” My hope is that we will listen for that good news and share it with the world!
Prayer for Today
Gracious God, help us to pay attention to what is truly important. May we hear the good news of your love for all and share it with the world. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ, the Savior of the world. Amen.