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Glimpses of Grace—“The way is hard”

For devotional reading:John 6:60-71.

Text: “Many of Jesus’ disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching; who can accept it?’ …Because of this teaching, many of Jesus’ disciples left him.” (vss. 60 & 66)

When I was in eighth grade I fell in love with the poetry of Robert Frost. Back then, “graduating” eighth graders selected a “class poem”. Ours was Frost’s The Road Not Taken. It’s closing lines are:

I shall be telling this with a sigh/ Somewhere ages and ages hence:/ Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–/ I took the one less traveled by,/ And that has made all the difference.

When Jesus’ disciples began to take Jesus seriously, they came to one of Life’s forks in the road of life. They had to decide if they were “all in” or not. Earlier in John’s gospel Jesus said that He was “the Way, the Truth and the Life”; to walk in His Way (to take Him seriously) was the means to discovering both eternal Truth and Life. As long as the road was easy, many of his disciples were “in”, but as soon as taking Jesus seriously became hard, well, that was a different story.

I once led a bible study for a group of men who were new disciples of Jesus. We were studying Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount”. One night, when we talked about “God and mammon” and the impossibility of serving “two masters”, one of the participants grew quiet. A few days later he sent a text message to the group saying that he could not continue. Nor would he be in church any more because the “Way” was too hard. Like many of the disciples in today reading, he decided to take a different road.

Taking Jesus seriously is not easy. Jesus didn’t promise the riches of the “prosperity gospel”. He promised a Cross. He also promised that taking up His Cross was the road that led to a contentment that the world could never take away.  And, He promised to help bear the “yoke” of the Cross with us.

Lord, in our lives we find two roads that diverge. Give us the courage to walk the road that You walked and promised to walk with us. Amen.

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Glimpses of Grace … A Baptism Story Continued

“Go and make disciples of all people, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them all that I have told you…”(Jesus, Matthew 28, “The Great Commission”)

While on a mini-sabbatical in Scotland this fall I wrote in this blog about an Asian woman who was my “host” at an AirB&b who could not find a church to baptize her. Having a Ph.D. and doing post graduate work, she failed her membership test, according to one church. Another church told her to wait as they only baptize at Easter. Still a third church said that they would tell her when they were going to do baptisms and be sure to let her know. They didn’t.  After she told me of her faith journey and her understanding of what it means to be a serious follower of Jesus, I couldn’t understand the thinking of the leadership in those congregations. Had they gone all Gnostic or Pelagian or something ? Several people expressed disappointment that did not baptize her that night. Maybe I should have but something held me back.

When I sent e-Christmas cards to my “friends” in far-away lands, I sent one to her. Imagine my surprise and excitement when I received this message from her in response to my Christmas greeting.

“Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Btw, I got baptized about 3 weeks ago! My church actually arranged a special one at morning service like a baby shower with a golden basin for me instead of the poor which is available for evening service because my bf usually has to catch her train at evening service time. I really appreciate(d) that.”

As the old hymn said, “God is working out His purposes.” I thoroughly believe that God works through us or in spite of us.  God’s will, will be done. To me, that baptism was a glimpse of grace.

Lord God, thank you for this baptism and for working Your will in spite of us when You cannot do it through us. Amen.

 

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Glimpses of Grace Daily Advent Devotion for December 24, 2017–Christmas Eve

Daily Devotional Reading from the Daily Common Lectionary: Matthew 1: 18-25

Text: Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her (Mary) to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had decided to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream… (vss. 19-20a)

And the story took a different turn than Joseph ever imagined.

That’s the way it is with God–you decide to do the “righteous thing”, the right thing, and then God steps into the picture. It seems that God always steps in to do God’s thing. Over the years I’ve grown to accept this fact about God. Paul was right when he wrote that “in everything God works for good” (Romans 8: 28).

You don’t get accepted to your “dream” school. You don’t marry the person you thought you’d marry. An planned pregnancy interrupts your plans. An MRI doesn’t turn out “good.” Life is full of “setbacks” but the setbacks are never the end of the story. The “dream” school really wasn’t right for you. You meet someone else who is a better match. The MRI forces you to reassess your priorities. The unplanned child turns out to be God’s greatest blessing.

I don’t know how God does it or even what God is doing. I don’t know oi God simply sweeps up my life’s broken glass or if something else is going on. But then, I don’t really need to know. All I need to know is that God is brings new life from ashes and triumph out of tragedy.

We are on an amazing ride in Life. And even though we like to think that we are in the “control”, we really aren’t. When we finally grasp this reality, we are amazed at how God works in our lives. I call this glimpses of grace. May you see at least one every day.

Lord, thank you for picking up the pieces of my life and creating new possibilities. Thank you, simply thank you. Amen. 

 

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Glimpses of Grace Daily Advent Devotion for December 21, 2017

Devotional Reading from the Daily Common Lectionary: Luke 1: 39-56

Text; My soul magnifies the Lord… (v. 46b)

“The Magnificat”is Mary’s response to her kinswoman Elizabeth’s “blessing”.  When Bach set them to music the piece was so beautiful that listeners seldom listen carefully to the words or their. Why does Mary’s soul magnify the Lord? The answer may surprise you.

He scattered the proud in the thoughts of their (own) hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he had filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (vss. 51-53)

God has always had a bias for those who have nowhere else to turn. From the blood of Abel crying from the earth for justice through the prophets of the Old Testament who called for Justice to roll down down water and Righteousness like an everflowing stream to Mary’s song, to Jesus’ parable of the Sheep and the Goats, God reveals a bias for the Least, the Last and the Lost.

I believe that one of the spiritual disciplines of Advent is for us to learn how to be Generous. To paraphrase minister and author John Ortberg, when the game of life is over, all of the pieces go back into the box.

Lord God, in the closing days of Advent, plant within my heart the seed of Generosity so that I may sing with Mary, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” Amen.

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Glimpses of Grace Daily Advent Devotion for December 20, 2017

Devotional Reading from The Daily Common Lectionary: Luke 1: 26-38

Text: then Mary said (to the angel), “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” And then the angel left. (v. 38)

Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word. Such faith. Such submission. Such servanthood. This is the heart of what it means to take Jesus seriously.

When we say that “Jesus is Lord”, do we mean it? Is He our “all in all” or is that just a lyric in a song’s refrain? Are some places in our lives off limits to God? How about some of decisions?

Advent calls us to take a spiritual inventory. It is an invitation to recommit ourselves and to rededicate our lives to the One in Whose Image we have been created. It is to walk a new path or return to an old one; a path that is the Way to Truth and Life, real Life. It is to be a living glimpse of grace.

Lord God, let Mary’s response to the angel he my response to You. Use me as You will so that in the end You May be glorified. Amen.

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Glimpses of Grace Daily Advent Devotion for December 15, 2017

Devotional Reading from the Daily Common Lectionary: Matthew 23:27-39

Text: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, …oh, how I would have gathered you as a hen gathers her chicks under her wing, but you would not. (v. 37)

At times I wonder if God doesn’t get awfully frustrated with us. I imagine God looking upon the world that He created good and sees accelerating it being desecrated. I wonder if the Almighty doesn’t look at how we treat one another and just shake his head. The selfishness, the cruelty, the destruction.

Maybe God became one of us to show us a better way; a Way that leads to Life, real Life, Eternal Life That begins Now and flows int Eternity. In the person of Jesus of Nazareth, born of Mary and Joseph God became one of us and one with us. As the letter to the Colossians says, Jesus Christ is the visible manifestation of the invisible God. I tell both the young and the questioning, if you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. If you want to know who God is, look at Jesus. If you’ve tried your way and it’s not working, why not try taking Jesus seriously.

You can start by reading what is commonly called The Sermon on the Mount or The Beatitudes (Matthew 5: 3-12) Practice, consciously and intentionally, the teachings. My favorite has also been the one about being a peacemaker (There is a difference between being a peacemaker and a peacekeeper, but that’s a different glimpse.) Which one is yours? I’d really like to know.

Lord, move my heart to take Jesus seriously. Give me the grace to live into the Beatitudes. Amen.

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Glimpses of Grace Daily Advent Devotion for December 14, 2017

img_1631-8Devotional Reading from the Daily Common Lectionary: Matthew 23: 13-26

Text: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. (v. 23)

Several years ago I noticed that the tile in our bathroom shower seemed to be bubbling on the surface. I never saw anything like this before. Over the next several weeks the bubbles began to break and paint began to peel away from the tile, exposing 1950’s coral colored tile! The previous owner, in getting the house ready to sell, decided to paint the bathroom tile white in order to make it look more modern! They presented a false reality in order to sell a house!

I thought of this as I read today’s reading, especially verse 23. For as long as I can remember I have been attracted to that verse. Jesus criticized those who “play” or “pretend” to being faithful to God rather than doing the hard work of being a faithful. They are being “hypocritical”.

It is this hypocrisy that causes a lot of people to say that they are “spiritual” but not “religious”. It is people who say that they take Jesus seriously and tell you that you should take Jesus seriously but there seems to be little evidence that they take Jesus seriously in their own lives Monday through Saturday. They are the ones who gossip and “tsk-tsk” about others or never find a “church” that “feeds them spiritually”. They are the ones who are quick to criticize and condemn but the least likely to forgive.  They are the ones of who U 2’s Bono once said in an interview, “I love Jesus; it’s Christians I can’t stand.” My wife is fond of saying that someone should not be surprised to learn that you go to church!

Religion is simply the discipline that helps us practice the teachings of Jesus and do the work of God’s Kingdom. When religion or the maintenance of an institution becomes an end in and of itself, it ceases to be Holy.  If our religion does not challenge us to work for Justice and Mercy than it has, as Jesus said in another place, become nothing better than a white-washed tomb. Dead.

Lord, let my “religion” be alive and push me to do the work of Your Kingdom. Amen.

 

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