Glimpses of Grace: “Don’t Judge By Appearances”

What do you see in the picture on the left? As young woman looking over her right shoulder, or an old woman wearing a scarf? Both are correct.

When things began to “heat up” in John’s gospel (chapter 7) , Jesus told His listeners, “Do not judge by appearances; but judge by right judgment.” (v. 24) As I read that my mind quickly went to the Old Testament story of young king David. You may recall the story (I Samuel 16).

The prophet Samuel was sent to the “house” of “Jesse the Bethlehemite”. From his sons, God had already “selected” the nation’s next king.  In preparation, Samuel offered the obligatory sacrifice. Jesse and his sons came to the sacrifice. When Samuel saw Jesse’s son Eliab, he thought, “Surely this is the Lord’s anointed.” But the Lord  said “no”. “Do not look on his appearance or the height of his stature, because I have not chosen him. The Lord sees not as humans see. They look at the outward appearance, but I look at the heart.'” (I Samuel 16: 6&7)

And so it went through seven of Jesse’s sons.  Finally the prophet Samuel asked it Jesse had any more sons?  “Well,” Jesse stammered, “there is one more, the youngest; but he is watching the sheep.” The word for “the youngest son” implies” insignificant” or “unimportant”. Some may say that the youngest son, David, was “the runt of the litter”.  Yet, as we soon learn that the runt is God’s chosen.

Like Samuel, and like the crowd Jesus spoke to, we have a tendency to judge by outward appearances. “He looks ‘presidential’.” “He’s so tall he must have played basketball.” “She’s too pretty to be smart.” You know the stereotypes. And they are usually wrong. The person who looks like a leader, isn’t. The tall person never played basketball. The pretty one was valedictorian of her class. Appearances are deceiving. Character, “the heart”, is not. It takes time to know the character of a person. When we jump to snap judgments, we are too often wrong.

In a different gospel, at a different time and place, Jesus told His disciples that they could judge a tree by the fruit it produces. He wasn’t really talking about fruit trees. He was talking about “character”. We would be wise to suspend judgment.

Lord, remind me not to jump to quick conclusions or snap judgments. Help me to listen to not only my instinct but Your still small voice. Let me be patient enough to see the fruit of ones character. Amen.






Glimpses of Grace: “A New Day Is Dawning”

“Praise the Lord,” the psalmist sang, “Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!” (opening lines of Psalm 148)

A older gentleman that I frequently see, when I ask him how he is today, replies with a mischievous grin, “Well, I above ground and still sucking in air!” He is grateful for every day. To him, any day–even the worst of days–is better than no day at all. He should know because he has seen the best and worst of life; he buried two wives and a child. He knows that it feels like to be promoted as well as to be fired. Like the Old Testament figure Job, he’s seen all sides of life. Still he is grateful.

So how does he do it? He’s in constant conversation with God. He keeps asking, “What are you up to now, Lord? What should I do next?” Long ago he quit trying to understand what God is doing. Now he simply looks for God in the midst of the Present moment. He doesn’t ask why something happened to him. Instead, he asks himself why something shouldn’t happen to him.

There is no better way to begin your day than with a simply “thank you”. Listen in the momentary silence of the morning. Reflect upon the marvel of your life, of your mind, and of your blessings–be they great or small.

Let the psalmist’s song be your song. Praise the Lord!

Lord, let me look for you in the Present moment of my life. Teach the things that I need to learn. Make me into the person You created me to be. Amen.

Christian, Congregationalist, devotion, faith, Iona, Presbyterian, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed theology, The Gospel of John, Uncategorized, United Church of Christ (UCC)

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.

Christian, Congregationalist, devotion, Forgiveness, Presbyterian, Presbyterian Church (USA), Snow, Uncategorized, United Church of Christ (UCC)

Glimpses of Grace for a Winter’s Day

On a gray winter morning large dry flakes of snow fell from the sky. This was not the “Good for packing” kind of snow that is good for the building of snowmen and snowball fights. This was light fluffy stuff that swirls like ghostly figures whenever the wind stirs.

Watching the snow give the land a white covering, I recalled the words of the prophet Isaiah. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow…” (1:18)

Those are God’s words of promise spoken though the prophet to a repentant and penitent nation. They are God’s words to you and to me, too. They are words that I use most weeks in worship.

May snows of winter become a reminder of God’s forgiving love. May they become a glimpse of grace.

Lord God, thank you for Your forgiving love that covers my sin. Give me a change of heart, one that is penitent, one that is not only forgiven, but forgiving. Amen.

Christian, Congregationalist, devotion, Matthew, Presbyterian, Presbyterian Church (USA), Uncategorized, United Church of Christ (UCC)

Glimpses of Grace–“Is It I, Lord?”


Text; “Is it I, Lord?” (Matthew 26:22)

At Jesus last earthly meal with His disciples he told them that one of the twelve would betray Him that very night. Matthew’s gospel says that they were “deeply troubled” and began to ask, “Is it I, Lord”  I’m constantly amazed that none of the disciples knew if they were the betrayer! That means that each of them had it in them to betray Jesus. At one time or another, each of them consider doing just that!

I’ve often wondered why Matthew told the story this way. It’s not the way John told it. I think that Matthew wanted to make a point. All of us–the disciples then and us today–are are capable of betraying Jesus. In fact, we do!

We betray Jesus when we judge someone by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character.

We betray Jesus when we judge others by their place of birth or native language.

We betray Jesus when we ignore the plight of the refugee, the homeless or the poor.

We betray Jesus any number of ways, often every day!

Like the disciples, we are more capable of betraying Jesus than we wish to admit. Unlike the twelve we don’t have to ask, “Is it I, Lord?” for deep in our hearts, we already know the answer.

Being brave enough to face the answer, though, is a glimpses of grace.

Lord, here my confession as I confront the times that I betrayed you this day. Forgive me and show me how to be stronger in my faith journey. Amen.

Advent devotion, Christian, Congregationalist, devotion, Matthew, Presbyterian, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed theology, Uncategorized, United Church of Christ (UCC)

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.



Glimpses of Grace Daily Advent Devotion for December 25,2017–Christmas Day

Devotional Reading from the Daily Common Lectionary: I John 4: 7-16

Text: God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. (v. 16a)

Kari Jobe once sang, Love came down and rescued me; Love came down and set me free. That is what the Incarnation is all about. The Love of God came to earth to show us a new Way of Life, one built upon Forgiveness, Grace and Second Chances…even a Third Chance, by the grace of God.

When we live in response to this Love we become living glimpses of grace.

Lord, on this Christmas Day may I live in such a way that when others see me, they give You the glory. Amen.

Advent devotion, Christian, Christmas Eve, Congregationalist, devotion, Matthew, Presbyterian, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed theology, Uncategorized, United Church of Christ (UCC)

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. 


Advent devotion, Christian, Congregationalist, devotion, Matthew, Presbyterian, Presbyterian Church (USA), Romans, Uncategorized, United Church of Christ (UCC)

Glimpses of Grace Daily Advent Devotion for December 23, 2017

Devotional Reading from Daily Common Lectionary: Matthew 1:1-17

Text: An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, Son of David, Son of Abraham. (v. 1)

Ancestry has become quite a fascination in recent years. A couple of popular television shows helps celebrities trace their ancestry and uncover family secrets. There is always a surprise or two, as well as tears–sometimes tears of joy and at other times tears of sorrow. I’ve taken a couple of DNA tests and discovered some interesting things. For example, my surname is German but my DNA indicates that I am more Irish and British than German.

Matthew begins the gospel that bears his name with the genealogy of Jesus, tracing Him through David and Abraham. His genealogy doesn’t match Luke’s but that’s not the point. Neither was meant to be “biographical”. They are “theological” documents that wanted to make a point. In Jesus, God did something new and transforming. God revealed the Eternal Divine Self to us lowly, broken and sinful human beings. God reached out (and down?) to save us from ourselves.

Advent leads us to the story of Christmas which leads us to the story of the Cross and ultimately the Resurrection. In each story we are only secondary players. The main player is the Almighty. God is at the Beginning and the End.

Over the years I have become increasingly fond of Romans 14:8: “If we live, we live unto the Lord; if we die, we die unto the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord.”

Lord God, I am Yours. You created me in Your Image. You know the number of my days. In this season of Advent use my spiritual inventory to draw me closer and closer to Your divine Image. Amen.

Advent devotion, Congregationalist, Luke, Gospel of, Presbyterian, Presbyterian Church (USA), Uncategorized, United Church of Christ (UCC)

Glimpses of Grace Daily Advent Devotion for December 22, 2017

Devotional Reading from the Daily Common Lectionary: Luke 1: 57-66

Text: They said to her, “But none of your relatives has this name.” (v.61)

A colleague once told me that when Tradition conflicts with Truth, it needs to be dismantled. Traditions for traditions’ sake is hallow.

I thought of my friend’s wise words when I read that  Elizabeth and Zechariah named their son “John”. They were breaking with Tradition in order to live toward Truth.

Just because something hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be done. The birth of John was the beginning of something new. And when John’s kinsman, Jesus, was born a few months later, God did something totally new, something that theologians call the incarnation. God became one of us as well as with us in an entirely new way.

As Advent rapidly draws to a close, take time to reflect upon the Traditions in your life that conflict with Truth. What are you going to do about it?

O Lord, do not let me allow Tradition to make me small. Let me honor the Past while living the in Present and moving toward the Future. May in my Past, Present, and Future may You be glorified. Amen.