Glimpses of Grace: Ash Wednesday, the journey of Lent begins

In her book “When I Was a Child I Read Books” Pulitzer Prize winning author Marylynne Robinson wrote about how unaware we are of our own short-comings. We see another person’s short-comings just fine but are completely oblivious to our own . “We all know about hubris,” she wrote, “We know that pride goeth before the fall. The problem is that we don’t recognize pride or hubris in ourselves.”

Jesus once told a story about two men who went on the Temple. One was a pious Pharisee, the other a “sinner.” The sinner fell to his knees in the back of the Temple, beat his breast and lamented that he was a sinner. The Pharisee, looked at the sinner and prayed that he sure was glad that he was not like that man. He was quite proud of himself, actually. (Luke 28: 9-14) only one of the two walked away justified, Jesus said. And do you know who it was? The sinner.

Lent is a time to get “off our high horse” and do some serious soul searching, for penitence, for taking a spiritual inventory. It is a time to “clean up our act.” It is a time to remember that we are dust, and we shall return to dust. Ultimately it is a time to remember not only who we are but more importantly, Whose we are.

Lord, walk with me in this season of Lent as I journey toward the Cross and the promise of Easter. Amen.


Glimpses of Grace: “Be Careful on Judging”

Image result for free pic woman caught in adultery

I was surprised when the assigned lectionary reading for today happened to be John 8: 1-11. I was surprised because in many Bible translations, it is relegated to a “footnote”. It’s authenticity is questioned by many biblical scholars.

BUT, it is one of my favorite stories of Jesus. 

A woman caught adultery was brought to Jesus by the scribes and Pharisees. Their tone of self-righteous and treacherous spoke through the words they chose.

“Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. The law of Moses commanded us to stone such women! Do you agree?” 

Their intent was clear. They wanted to “trick” Jesus. Their resentment and fear of him was palpable. He threaten not only their status but their very identity.

Jesus responded by bending down and writing in the dust. What it was that He wrote has been lost in the winds of time. “Jealousy”, “Envy”, “Deceit” …  They continued their accusations. He was unmoved. Finally Jesus stood up and said, “Let anyone who is without sin cast the first stone.” (v. 7b) Then He bent down and resumed writing. “Anger”, “Hatred”, “Cheating”, “Stealing”, …

This time they noticed. One by one they dropped their stones and faded away.

Jesus asked, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir.”

“Neither do i condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” (vss. 9-11) 

The church has been called judgmental and hypocritical by those outside its walls. Too often, they are right. But when we take Jesus seriously, when we are true to His teaching of the gospel that the disciples spread throughout the known world, we become living glimpses of grace.

Lord, make me into a better reflection of Jesus, my Lord. Amen.




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.