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Glimpses of Grace—You Can’t Take It with You

Years ago my wife and I were invited to a “Monopoly” party. When I was a kid, I loved the game. I loved playing with the money. It made me feel rich! Besides, where else can you get $1500 for doing absolutely nothing?! I loved buying and selling. It’s fun to have hotels on Broadway and have someone land on it toward the end of the game. You can be a “robber baron” buying railroads and utilities. But up until that invitation to a Monopoly party, I had never played the game to the bitter end.

    Our host was a self-proclaimed “World Monopoly Champion”. His wife dutifully endured his annual Monopoly parties for a number of years. He decorated extravagantly. Little colored Monopoly lights with each individual bulb in the shape of a little dog, or shoe or race car were strung across the room. There were Monopoly paper plates and napkins. I was impressed.

That evening I played Monopoly like I play Bridge. I don’t really take Bridge seriously. I never really understood adding up the number of “points” in my hand.  I don’t like the pressure of playing a hand while my partner watches, no judges me. I don’t know what makes up a “rubber”. If I’m on the winning team, fine. If not,  fine, too. I play for the social aspects.

As this game of Monopoly progressed one player after another dropped out, having run out of money. By the time there were only two of us–the host and myself–I was bored, ready to be done, and do more serious socializing.  I asked the host if he just wanted to call it quits. 

“Do you concede?!” he said a little too excitedly. Now he awakened the dorment primal beast within me.

“No”, I replied. We played on…and on and on for this was a battle to the Monopoly death, mano y mano. A half an hour or an hour later Eventually he was mortgaged to the hilt and out of money. I won. I strutted into the kitchen like a banty rooster and crowed, “Guess who won?” Meeeee! Bam!” 

His wife was surprised, as was everyone else who knew my competitor well. He had never lost at Monopoly. And here’s the ultimate kicker, we moved out of the community before the next annual Monopoly Championship of the World event was held.  Like Rocky Marcinio, I retired as the undefeated Monopoly champion of the world! 

I’ve pondered over the years about sending him a belt buckle with Monopoly pieces glued into it.

In the book, When the Game Is Over: It All Goes Back in the Box minister and author John Ortberg wrote about the life lessons that he learned playing Monopoly with his grandmother. The most important lesson was this: Remember, when the game is over, everything goes back into the box.

I do not know if God has a Plan for our lives or not. But I do believe that God has a Purpose for each of us. The Westminster Divines said it best: our Purpose is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Life is like a game of Monopoly. The question each one of us must ask is this: “How am I going to play the game? I decided to play the game to the glory of God. How about you?

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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 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.

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Glimpses of Grace–“Is It I, Lord?”

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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.

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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 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.

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