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Glimpses of Grace—Father’s Day: A Few Thoughts

My father circa 1950

Father’s Day. As I reflect upon what the day means to me I also am reminded of a teenage girl who was in a senior high Sunday School class that I taught in 1976.  I had not yet gone to seminary. I no longer remember the girl’s name. Her face is now clouded in the passage of time. But her story remains hauntingly etched upon my mind.

We were studying the Lord’s Prayer. She became unusually quiet as we talked about “Our Father, who are in heaven…” After class she haltingly approached me. I learned her story of abuse and neglect. The first years of her young life was a series of abusive live-in-proxy-fathers and foster homes. By accident or Providence she made her way to the Sunday School class I taught. As I learned her story of never experiencing a positive caring male figure my heart ached for her. There are too many children like her.

Every now and then I think of that now faceless child of God. And I realize that she is not “faceless” at all. She wears a millionIn a few weeks we will mark Father’s Day. As I reflect upon what the day means to me I also am reminded of a teenage girl who was in a senior high Sunday School class that I taught in 1976.  I had not yet gone to seminary. I no longer remember the girl’s name. Her face is now shrouded in the passage of time. But her story remains hauntingly etched upon my mind.

We were studying the Lord’s Prayer. She became unusually quiet as we talked about “Our Father, who are in heaven…” After class she haltingly approached me. I learned her story of abuse and neglect. She walked to Sunday School from a nearby group home. The first years of her young life was a series of abusive live-in-proxy-fathers and foster homes. By accident or Providence (the latter being more in line with our theology) she made her way to the Sunday School class that I taught. As I learned her story of never experiencing a positive caring male figure my heartache was tempered by her pain and confusion.

Every now and then I think of that now faceless child of God. And I know that she is not “faceless” at all. She wears a million faces and goes by a thousand different names. She is the child without a father, the child whose father was abusive or who walked away from responsibility.

The late pediatrician and lecturer T. Berry Brazelton once told Bill Moyers that an absent or uninvolved father makes life very difficult for a child. He has had fatherless 3 and 4 year old children climb upon his lap, fawn and feel his face “as if they just couldn’t get enough of what a man is like.” He quoted studies indicating that if a father is absent in the first year of a child’s life by the time that child turns 7 his or her IQ will be lower, less successful in school and have a poorer sense of humor.

Years ago my daughters gave me a little wooden plaque that read, “Any man can be a father; it takes someone special to be a daddy.”  Father’s Day is not about biology. It is about something far greater. It is about love, showing up and caring. Father’s Day isn’t just for “fathers”. It is about any man who takes the time to invest in others.

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Glimpses of Grace: Memorial Day, 2018

In a South Pacific cemetery chiseled on a marker outside the grounds are the words: When you go home/ Tell them for us and say/ For your tomorrow/ We gave our today. 

In James Bradley’s book Flags of Our Fathers the author notes that the United States Marine corp fought for 43 months in World War II. In one month of fighting on Iwo Jima, though, a third of all of the Marines killed in that war died. My uncle was one of them. The picture above is of his platoon. He is in the second row from the bottom, 4th from the right.

On Memorial Day we remember those who gave their today for our tomorrow. On this day, of all days, the words of the Psalmist seems appropriate:  Blessed in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints. (Psalm 116:15)

Lord God, we offer prayers of thanksgiving for those who died on the field of battle. We long for the day foreseen by the prophet of old: “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not life up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2:4)

 

 

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Glimpses of Grace: Pentecost—Wind and Fire

Acts 2: 1-21

The manse in our first call was a roomy ranch-style home that sat on 3 acres, 3 miles outside of a town of 350 people in Warren County, Illinois. We had a vegetable garden on the west side of the yard. Under two large acorn trees wild asparagus grew in the spring. It was the first time I had ever eaten asparagus.

Wanting to fully embrace the rural America lifestyle we noticed that many people “burned off” their gardens in the fall. One afternoon we decided to burn off our garden. We pulled out our 250 feet of garden hose and set fire to the garden. Before long we heard the crackling of dried plants as ghostly smoke rose into the air.

After a few minutes the fire took an unexpected turn as a north wind suddenly swept in. The fire grew in intensity. Sparks began to float toward a dry cornfield waiting to be harvested. My wife manned the garden hose while I ran from spark to spark stomping out little fires. All the while I couldn’t help but to think of what people would say if the cornfield went ablaze. I’m sure it wouldn’t have been kind.

Fortunately the corn field field didn’t go up in smoke. We put the fire out. I learned, though, that wind and fire are a dangerous combination. They are dangerous because you cannot control them. They have a mind of their own. They can destroy, but they can also bring about new beginnings.

Pentecost is a sign of new beginnings. On the day of Pentecost, our lesson says, when the faithful were gathered together in one place, a sound like a mighty wind swept through the place and tongues like fire danced above the disciples heads. Each were able to speak in new tongues, new ways that they never had before. And all the people from the corners of the known world heard about God’s amazing love in their own native tongue.

Pentecost destroyed the barriers that divided one from another. Our challenge as followers of Jesus is to embrace the wind and the fire of Pentecost as it carries us to continue to break through the barriers that separate.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. May the flames of Pentecost set my heart on fire to do Your will. May the winds of Pentecost carry me to work in Your Kingdom. Amen.

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Glimpses of Grace: “Life’s Two Estate Sales”

I had a birthday this past month. I am at that stage in life when asked, “What do you want for your birthday?”, my reply is that I really have no “wants”. If I want something, I buy it or at least learn to do without it. Both my wants and needs are getting simpler with each passing year. However, when pressed about a present, I tell my family to give me something that I can eat or drink or that will sell well at my estate sale. For many, if not most of us, when our time here on earth comes to a close there will be two estate sales; one of our worldly good and another of our soul.

When my folks died, my wife and I were left with the responsibility of sorting through over 50 years of accumulated “stuff”. We did the best we could but I am sure that in the end some of their most precious “heirlooms” were not recognized by me and undervalued.

That is one kind of estate sale, but there is another kind of estate sale: an estate sale of the soul.  In I Chronicles 29 King David set the stage for this latter estate sale. He told the 12 clans of Israel to remember that God is the source of all wealth and power. No one truly pulls themselves up by their own bootstraps because no one can choose the family into which they are born, their time in history, or their nation. For much of their most formative years they are powerless.

In his parables Jesus noted that we begin life with certain opportunities (talents) based on the color of our skin, family of origin, time and place of our birth–all things totally beyond our control. In these parables Jesus said that there is a day of reckoning, or accounting whereby we are judged on how well we used God’s “gifts” in making this world a richer or poorer place. Have we built others up and made them small in order to make us look large. Have we been selfish or generous? Did we see the naked and the hungry and walk by? Did we care not only for ourselves, our kin, our kind, or our generation or did we remember our responsibility to the generations that will come after us? Did we give more than we took, or did we live in such a way that those around us and this world are the poorer by our passing by here? These are the eternal questions that each of us will be asked when the number of our days draw to a close. These are the elements of our spiritual estate, the estate sale of the soul.

Lord, make he conscious that You created me for the purpose of glorifying You not enriching myself in any number of ways. Thank you for your blessings. Make me a good steward in the brief time that I am here on earth. Amen.

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Glimpses of Grace—A Fool’s Easter

Devotional Reading: Mark 24:1-12

For the first time since 1956 April Fool’s Day and Easter falls on the same day. Someone unfamiliar with Christianity might think that Easter is the biggest April Fool’s hoax ever.

The disciples didn’t believe the women when they came back from the Tomb saying that Jesus was alive that first Easter morning. The apostle Paul, reflecting upon the story of Easter, wrote that it is a stumbling block to some and sheer foolishness to others. (I Corinthians 1:23) But “Who is the biggest fool?”

Maybe the biggest fool was Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. He could have stopped the crucifixion. By all indications he wanted to, but didn’t. After interrogating Jesus he said, “I find no crime in this man”. Compounding his doubts was a troubling dream his wife had about Jesus. She warned her husband to stay out of it (Matthew 27:19). But did he listen? No. He was too weak to resist public opinion. He ceremonially washed his hands and declared that Jesus’ blood was not on his hands. But history judged differently. The stain of Jesus’ blood is on Pilate’s hands and our hands when we value the opinion of the crowd above God . ” What does it profit a person,” Jesus said, “to gain the whole world and lose their soul”?

Maybe the biggest fool was Caiaphas who valued political expediency over justice when he declared that it was better for one man to die for the many than for the many to die for one man. What difference does innocence make in the greater scheme of things? .

Maybe the disciples were the biggest fools. They scattered like sheep, just as Jesus said that they would. None of them, save possibly one, was at the Cross.

Mark’s Easter story has been called the unsatisfactory gospel. It originally ended with women telling no one what they saw or heard. Subsequent writers added two different endings. But I think that Mark meant to keep us in suspense for the story of Easter didn’t really end 2000 years ago. The story is continued by us. The story of Easter calls upon us to be foolish enough to take Jesus seriously. We may not know what the Future holds but we do know this, the Resurrected One waits for us in “Galilee”. No matter what the Future holds, we cannot escape either His claim upon our lives.

Lord, make us an Easter people. Amen.

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Glimpses of Grace: It’s Not About You

Have your ever wondered if you’re “good enough”? Good enough to go to heaven? Have you ever woken up in the early morning hours and wondered? If so, maybe you can take comfort in  knowing that the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther had the same worry. As a German monk he prayed to St. Anne to make him “righteous enough”. He fasted, confessed, did pentitance, and practiced all of the spiritual disciplines of the Church but he flet that he was “good enough” or that he had “done enough”. And then one night, as he read Romans 1: 17, Paul’s words jumped out at him, “We are made righteous through faith”. Being good enough, being righteous enough, is not about what we do; it is about about something called “Faith”. And Faith is a gift from God.

In Ephesians 2 we read,  for by faith you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God–not the result of works, lest anyone should boast. (vss. 8&9)

Faith is a gift not a work. You don’t have to earn enough points to hit the magic “heavenly score.” As a matter of fact, even if you did, you couldn’t no matter how hard your tried. Why? Because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)  Nor can you go to a spiritual gymnasium and lift “faith weights” because such a gym does not exist.

Faith is like the manna God provided the Israelites during their 40 year wilderness journey. They were told that they could not be saved for a rainy day. God would provide, and they would have to learn to trust God to provide their “daily bread.”  

When Corrie ten Boom was a young girl she frequently worried about whether or not she had enough faith to die as a martyr for Jesus. One night she shared this concern with her father, a wise man. Kneeling beside her bed he asked her, “When you are going to visit family when do I give you your train ticket? A week before? A day before your journey?” “No”. she replied, “you give it to me as I get on the train.” “That’s how it is with Faith,” her father continued. “God gives you the faith you need when you need it and not a moment before.” That night stuck with her as she and her family entered a concentration camp. It stayed with her as she saw her sister die. It carried her throughout throughout the rest of her life as she “tramped for the Lord”.

Not too long ago I saw a billboard that simply said, “He first loved us”. That billboard says it all. When I teach confirmation classes I tell them we are not good to earn “brownie points” or get “stars in the crown”. Nor do are we trying to earn our way into “heaven” or “win”  “God’s love”. Our baptism reminds us of the truth contained in I John 4, namely, “we love God because God first loved us.” We do not baptize the worthy or the loveable but the loved. Our salvation is a done deal. It was signed, sealed and delivered 2000 years ago “on a hill far away”.  It is not about us but about God.

The good works we do and the lives that we live are our “thank you notes” to God for what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.  Our lives–the decisions that we make, the things that we do and do not do–are not for our edification but God’s glorification. God created us in Christ Jesus, the writer of Ephesians said, so that we can do the good works that God prepared for us to do before we were even born.

Lord God, let my life be my thank you to You for your Saving Love. Amen,

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Glimpses of Grace

Daily Lenten Devotion for 11th Day of Lent

Reading: Mark 2:23-36

Text: the sabbath was made for people, not people for the sabbath. (v. 27)

This has always been one of my favorite teachings of Jesus. It is foundational in helping us avoid legalism.

Jesus was criticized by the “legalisms” for plucking and eating grain from a field on the sabbath. Immediately following this He asked his critics if it was allowed to heal a man on the sabbath. They didn’t respond thus showing their hardness of heart. He healed the man right there in the Temple “in front of God and everyone”! There is never a wrong time to do the right thing.

I am not one who believes in precedence because there are never two situations that are exactly alike. I’ve often thought that “precedence” was the work of lazy minds that did not want to make hard decisions. Circumstances change by the minute and the hour. Some needs have to be met now. Others do not. It takes work to distinguish between the two. Opportunities are fleeting. And discipleship is hard. That is why we need to pray constantly and think deeply.

Lord God, give a sound mind that that think critically and act quickly when it Cannes to sowing the mustard seeds of Your Kingdom in my daily life.

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