Glimpses of Grace DailynDevotion for October 25, 2017

And God said, I will set my bow in the sky and it will remind me that I have made a promise to you and your descendants. (Genesis 9:13, 14)

I awoke to a rainbow this morning. After making a cup of coffee I stepped out onto the balcony and looked over at “the squinty” bridge in Glasgow, Scotland. And there it was, a rainbow! A “promise remembered”! A great start to a new day, one that was mixed with exhilaration and small disappointments. 

Throughout the day I remembered the rainbow as well as what it meant; God’s promise First given Noah and to all of his descendants until the end of time. What was a weapon of war became a symbol of reconciliation and hope and peace and Love. 

God is not angry with us; disappointed at times, but not angry. God does never writes us off, even if others do. Rather, God calls us to a new way of life, a way of life that sets aside selfish ambition and seeks to “enjoy and glorify God forever”, for that is why we were created. 

Lord God, thank you for the promise that You will neither forget or forsake us. Teach me to live in such a way You will be glorified. Amen


My Heart Grieves

My heart is grieving. Given the events that have captured the headlines in the news, my heart is grieving.

I am grieving for those homes that will forever have an empty place at the table.

I am grieving for parents who don’t know what to teach their sons and for officers who leave their homes wondering if they will return home when their shift is over.

I am grieving for the children who will grow up without a mommy or daddy, for spouses who receive death benefits that in no way compensate for the loss that they must endure, for men to think that their manhood is proven by the number of the progeny instead of the amount of time they invest in their children, for the abused who become abusers and for those who need to strength to end whatever destructive cycle they were raised in.

I grieve for the neighborhoods in Chicago that in one weekend alone experience more shootings and death than New York City and Los Angeles combined, for those who worry when their loved one goes out the door, for those who do not feel safe behind their doors, for mothers who tuck their children in at night in bathtubs because they fear the stray bullet from outside their home, for politicians and citizens who appeal to not to our better angels but to our darkest fears and desires.

I grieve for those who are so insecure that they propagate hate and I grieve for those who are victims of hate.

I grieve for those who are skilled at the destructive half-truth and innuendo as well as for those who succumb to these variations of falsehood.

I grieve for the fact that we often look for the worst in people rather than look for their better virtues.

I grieve for the fact that we do not seem to take the words of Jesus seriously—we too often do not seek to be Peacemakers—the very children of God.

I grieve for the refugees who are welcomed nowhere, for the unemployed and underemployed.

I grieve for those who have too much and are never satisfied as well as for those who don’t have enough and are in hunger.

I grieve that there are too few who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

I grieve.

But grief can never have the last word. Tears may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning, the Old Testament book of Lamentations tells us. Grief alone leaves us powerless. But we are not powerless. We have God and God always has the last word. As Christians, called to be ambassadors of God’s Kingdom, the Light to the dark world, the Church—you and I—are called to be engaged and involved. Like Jesus we need to touch the broken places, not just with a bandaid but to get to the root causes and address them in ways both great and small. There are no small acts when done for the glory of God. Remember the parable of the mustard seed; the Kingdom of God starts small, with one person, one group, one congregation, and takes on a life of its own.

I remember attending a worship service in Addis Abba, Ethiopia in which the minister apologized that he and the elders would not be able to greet the worshipers and guests after the service—as was their custom. Instead, they needed to spend the rest of the day in prayer and fasting in order to hear God more clearly. Prayer and fasting is an ancient custom found in all faiths and recommended by our Lord Jesus Christ and affirmed in the writings of the apostle Paul. It is the first step that I am going to take to defeat my sense of helpless grief. I have decided to follow the ancient tradition and set aside time for prayer and fasting from sun up to sun down, as I go about my work. I invite you to join me wherever you may be.

We are not battling flesh and blood enemies—though some would have us believe that we are. No, we are battling evil forces in a dark unseen world that slither among us.  The face of Evil is dark and daunting and there are no easy solutions or quick fixes. But, we shall overcome for ultimately, Thy will, will be done, on earth as well as in heaven.  Frosty


Gimpse of Grace…forgiveness

    “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’” (Matthew 18:21)

    There was time, when I was a young boy, that my father and my aunt—his sister—didn’t speak for a long number of years. I vaguely remember the origin of the rift. It was something about a car and Christmas and I am sure other things that my young mind could not wrap understand at the time. The bottom line, though, was that it was about something quite silly. I’m sure words were said or written, feelings were hurt, and it took on a life of its own. The dark dogs of Pride were unleashed.
    I don’t recall if they ever exchanged “courtesy Christmas cards” or not. I don’t know who they thought they were hurting. I do know that I was collateral damage because I was very fond of this aunt. She was the fun one. And, no doubt, they hurt each other. Now, in all fairness, their family of origin (F.O.O.) was quite dysfunctional. Their mother died rather unexpectedly at a young age and shortly thereafter, their older brother was killed in World War Two. Over the years I am sure that everyone learned to live with this “new normal.”
    Then, in the very early years of my ministry, as I led Bible studies, taught classes and read theology I came to the conclusion that for a follower of Jesus, forgiveness is not optional equipment. It lies at the very heart of discipleship. In response to Peter’s question about how many times he had to forgive a brother or sister, Jesus replied, “not seven times, but seventy times seven.” And then a little later, at the Cross, Jesus reenforced this teaching by looking down upon those who betrayed, denied and crucified Him and prayed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)  These things fermented in my soul.
    One day, while visiting my folks, Dad and I were alone doing something or other. We were outside and I remember saying to him, “You know, Dad. I’ve been thinking. I think that if Jesus meant what He said then forgiveness so central to His teaching. And if that is true, then I don’t believe that when we die God will ever send us or anyone else to hell. Instead, I think that when we die we will find the person whom we haven’t forgiven here on earth standing at the “pearly gates” as a gatekeeper. We will have to shake their hand as we enter heaven.  And if we don’t want to, or can’t then God won’t have to send us to hell. We’ll send ourselves to hell because of our unwillingness to forgive.”
    He didn’t say anything but at the time he was an elder in his church. I don’t know what he thought then or later. I don’t know if he ever thought of it again or not. But I do know this, some time later there was a reconciliation. I don’t know how it came about, but it did. I also know that all of his estranged siblings were reconciled with each other and that they had several small intimate “family reunions” in his final years. Occasionally I would hear stories rich with laughter, stories and memories. The night before he died, three days after my mother died, Dad was on a conference call with his sisters. One had come for Mom’s funeral. A second nursed her husband after surgery in a distant city. The third also had a husband with health problems and could not attend the funeral. But they had one last reunion, one last telephone call. When I found Dad on the morning after he died I looked at the caller I.D. On it, I saw my last phone call to him, the one that he didn’t answer at 9:02 p.m.  And immediately preceding that call was the conference call placed at 8:45 pm. That ten minute conference call ended with Dad saying to each of his sisters, “I love you.” As far as I know, those were the last words he ever uttered. Those are not bad last words to have.
    I think that that reconciliation, any reconciliation, is a  glimpse of grace.


Glimpse of Grace…in a Ruler

When I was a kid the local Coca Cola Bottling Company gave a six pack of Coke to any student who presented a report card with 5 A’s during a grading period. Back then, at least in my household, soda was a special treat. My family simply didn’t buy soft drinks, even on birthdays! Coke also gave us a wooden ruler with Coca Cola Bottling Company stamped on the back side and the Golden Rule imprinted upon the front. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It wasn’t until years later that I appreciated the marketing genius—The Golden Rule stamped on a ruler!
      Jesus was not the first to teach this principle. It is found in most major religions of the world. The difference, though, is that Jesus, rather than formatting it in the negative, as in, “Do not do to others what you would not want them do to you,” framed it in the positive! Rather than not doing harm, Jesus told his followers not only to do no harm, but to actively do good! This is a very big difference. The former allows us to withdraw from the world while The Golden Rule pushes us into the brokenness of the world. The first allows us to believe that because we haven’t done anything “bad”, we are sin free. Before I took Jesus seriously, this was my thought.  I considered myself to be a pretty good guy. But pretty good isn’t good enough. Life isn’t graded on a curve. I was being passive and letting myself off of the hook, not an active disciple of Jesus. 

     Active discipleship lies at the heart of Jesus’ parable of The Good Samaritan. In the parable, the priest and the Pharisee didn’t do anything wrong, per se. But they didn’t they didn’t do anything right, either. They did not help the beaten, bloodied, left for dead traveler. That was their bad.
      Disciples of Jesus must not settle for “doing no harm.” We are called to do good, even when it doesn’t directly involve us. When we do,  That’s when we become a glimpse of grace.


Glimpse of Grace in the Present Moment

A few months ago I decided to “walk through” the gospel of Mark as a part of my morning devotions. By “walk through”, I mean that I do not read in order to finish the gospel, per se. Rather, I kind of “stroll”, stopping at whatever catches my imagination, reading only until a phrase or a word gives me pause, makes me think for a moment or two.  Some days I may read a whole chapter. of the gospel. Those days are quite rare. Most days, indeed almost every day, I only read a phrase or two, maybe a few verses.  Recently I was stopped by a phrase at the beginning of chapter five; “the man (a demoniac) lived among the tombs.” (5:3)

     It struck me that no matter what the cultural setting may have been, to live among the tombs is live among the dead, the lifeless. In other words, to live in the past. It is to be limited by the memory of what once was but is no more. It is spending time, energy and money in an attempt to re-capture or replicate whatever glory we believe the past held.

     I know that the story is essentially about an exorcism, but it is also more than a simple exorcism. Is it possible that the story is also told to remind us that God can and does free us from the various “tombs” of our own past. Often we think that we are bound or limited by our yesterdays. The story, though, may be telling us that by grace we can be freed from the “chains and shackles” that weight us down.

     Some of us live too much in the past and hallow it to our own detriment. Others are wooed too much by the future and comfort themselves saying, “I’ll be happy when…I’m older, I get out of school, get my first job, get married, become a mother or father, receive an  inheritance, get a promotion, become CEO, get my dream job, etc. The list is endless.

     Look too much at the past or too much toward the future and you miss the present. It is in the present where life is lived, one day at a time. That it is where the living God is found, too. Right here, right now. Today, my friends, is a glimpse of grace.



Glimpse of Grace in a Fourth Grade Teacher

I knew that my oldest daughter was going to be an educator when she came home from school one afternoon and announced that she wanted a pair of red canvas tennis shoes “like Mrs. Hall’s.” Mrs. Hall was her fourth grade teacher. She idolized Mrs. Hall. When we asked her how her day at school went she would begin by telling us something that Mrs. Hall said or did. Often we would hear “teaching” her dolls when she thought no one was listening or noticing. If imitation is the highest form of flattery, Mrs. Hall should have been quite flattered.

     Imitation is defined as copying the actions, mannerisms, appearance or speech of another, to mimic. At some point in our lives, we all imitate someone or even several “someones.” Often this is done unconsciously. Sometimes it is done consciously.  It is through imitation that we “try on” different personas. We learn how to act and even think. Boys often imitate their father, older brother or uncle in the early years and perhaps a coach as they grow older. Girls mimic their mother or sister or aunt, teacher or coach.  If the person being imitated realizes what is going on, they may become an intentional mentor, showing their young protege “the ropes.”

     We learn through imitation. Imitation is how we figure out who we are or who we are not. Slowly we find ourselves being changed, transformed, shaped into the individual we are today. This is true of each and every one of us. Charles Barkley’s protests aside, Johnathan Vilma hit the nail on the head when he said that whether we like it or not, “we are role models.” Someone is always watching us, studying us, judging how we measure up. It may be that we do not measure up. In that case, let’s hope that if we can’t be a good example then we’ll be a good warning!

     In his first letter to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul encouraged the community to “imitate me as I imitate Christ.” 11:1) Paul was not being arrogant, though many read his comment as such. He simply knew that following Jesus was not easy. Jesus cut a “new path”, a difficult path.Jesus said things like, “Whoever would be my disciple must pick up the cross and follow me” and “Whoever wishes to save their life, will lose it, but whoever loses their life for my sake and the Gospel’s will find it.” The Corinthian community had to learn how to follow Christ and to see the world differently. They had to learn not only what Godly love was but to live that love with each other as well as their enemies. 

     If we could all be a “Mrs. Hall” in our Christian discipleship the world would be more like the peaceable kingdom that the prophet Isaiah saw centuries ago. And each one of us would be a living glimpse of grace.


Glimpse of Grace on a Playground

Years ago, when my daughters were young, I spent many warm summer mornings playing in a park near our house with the youngest of the two while the older one was busy mastering First Grade.
One morning I knew it was time to go home for lunch and a nap when my daughter started staring off into space while swinging. As was often the case, whenever it came time to go home, her legs were just “too tired” to walk.  Rather than debate or cajole, I scooped her up in my arms and headed home. She was fading fast. I could tell because she started her “nap-time-settling-in” routine. She began to rub her sweaty brow into my shoulder. Not wanting her to fall asleep before lunch, I whispered in her ear those magic words that makes everyone’s ears perk up. “I’ve got a secret,” I said. Her head popped up off of my should as she asked, “What is it?” Busted! I didn’t really have a secret.  I was desperate. I took a shot in the dark. I said the first thing that popped into my mind. “I love you.”
That wasn’t really a secret but I hoped that it would suffice for the moment. But, no. Now alert, she pressed on. “Why?” she demanded.
“Why?” Boy, I should have seen that one coming since it is the favorite question of most three year olds.  But I didn’t. I didn’t see it coming. God is gracious, though.  Without missing a beat, without even thinking, I replied, “Because you’re mine!”
Later that day, and many times since then, I have thought of that little scenario played out so long ago. I’ve pondered her question and my response. I didn’t need to think about my answer. It came out naturally, spontaneously. And in that little exchange between a father and his sleepy little girl we are reminded of the heart of the Gospel embodied in Jesus of Nazareth. God loves us. Why? Because we are His.


A Glimpse of Grace in a Garbage Can

Each Tuesday evening I roll our large plastic garbage can out to the curb to be picked up early Wednesday morning by a sanitation crew.  It is something that I don’t look forward to doing and occasionally I forget to do it. This usually results in a problem by the time the next “garbage day” rolls around, especially if I forget the week before a major holiday like Thanksgiving or Christmas! Sometimes the can is so close to overflowing that I can barely close the lid. At other times there may be only a couple of tall kitchen bags of garbage in the bottom of the can. During the hot months of July and August I am careful when I open the lid to add more garbage. The putrid smell can literally take your breath away, especially if diapers are involved!
    One winter evening, as I struggled through three foot snow drifts to move the can from the back of the back door to the curb, I got to thinking about what my religious tradition calls “The Confession of Sin.” It is a time  set aside in our weekly worship service when we reflect upon the brokenness of our lives. and the world around us.  During a time of silent prayer I remember the promise that I had good intentions of keeping, but simply didn’t,  the unkind word spoken, the email that I wish I hadn’t sent, moments of callousness, “compassion fatigue”–the guilt of not being willing to give any more of myself. After the time of this silent reflection, I join my fellow worshipers in a more formal prayer of confession of sin. This time the prayer is for the brokenness of the world and the part that we play in that brokenness, no matter how small that part may be.  After the Confession, comes a word of grace, the Assurance of Pardon. It always ends with the words, “Believe the good news of the Gospel, in Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.”
    This confession of sin, when it comes from the heart, leads to a moment of grace. It allows us to unload all of the garbage of our lives, all of the stink and rot, and to place it on the “curb” for God to pick up and carry away. At these times, confession truly is “good for the soul.”
    Years ago I read a sermon entitled “My Heart, Christ’s Home”. Delivered by the Rev. Robert Boyd Munger at the First Presbyterian Church of Berkley a generation and a half ago, over the years it has been widely distributed around the world. The sermon is an allegorical story of how when one person invited Christ into his home of his heart a slow transformation that took place one day at a time.  In the closing scene of the allegory, the author tells of smelling a strong pungent rotten oder coming from a hidden closet conveniently tucked away in a forgotten part of the house. It was the one place that he did not want Christ to go for it contained all of his secrets, all of those things that the person was ashamed of. They may have been locked away but they were far from forgotten. Jesus looked at the man and understood.  He simply asked for the key to this final door of the man’s heart. He would clean this mess Himself. 
    We need to take out the garbage of our lives at least once a week, whether we want to or not. This is especially true in our spiritual lives. No doubt, we will produce more garbage before our time here is done but that doesn’t mean that we have to let it accumulate around us like a hoarder on some television show. There is Someone who will help us take our garbage to the curb,. All we have to do is give Him the key.


Glimpse of Grace in a Facebook Mesage

The invitation came as a complete surprise through a Facebook message. A few days earlier I let a mission-mentor-friend know that I was home after a visit to Wana Wa Mola in Mombasa, Kenya. My mentor-friend helped arrange my initial exploratory visit to East Africa some four years earlier. A few days later he responded and asked a very simple question. Did I want to attend the 62nd annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D. C.? The possibility, let alone the likelihood, had never crossed my mind, not even in my wildest dreams! “Yes.”
    First organized in Washington, D. C. in 1942 by the members of Congress, members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives gather weekly for a time of food, fellowship and prayer. Politics is left at the door. Members, regardless of party or voting record, or region of the country, encourage, support and pray for one another. And then, each February since 1952, they host the National Prayer Breakfast which brings 3000 representatives from around the world together at the International Ballroom of the Hilton Washington. Every President since Dwight D. Eisenhower has attended the breakfast, and every President has spoken about the importance of prayer in his life.
    This year’s hosts—Representatives Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and Janice Han (D-California) set the tone and the mood early. Positioned at opposite ends of the political spectrum with seemingly little if anything in common, they displayed the good natured banter and kidding that comes from deep friendship and mutual respect. The thing that united them–and everyone who sat on the platform, regardless of their spiritual background–was Jesus; the Christ to Christians, a major prophet to Muslims, and honored by people of all faiths. And indeed, all faiths were represented at this breakfast.
    Flying from Washington, I mulled over my experiences. I dined with people whose faith stories were far greater than mine. I shared a bagel with a man from Nepal, passed a pat of butter to a Native American social worker from Minnesota, joked with a diplomat from Great Britain, learned about how a major cookie manufacturer met his wife, marveled at the energy of an ER doctor who also provided foster care for difficult teenage boys, and listened to a college student from Kosovo talk about his homeland. I was waaay out of my league. But then, isn’t that a definition of “grace”? Being out of your league? Not being deserving?  Grace isn’t something that we’ve earned. Nor is it something that we can buy or make. Grace isn’t about us. It’s about the One who gives. It is a gift, a true gift with no strings attached.
    It didn’t take an invitation to a National Prayer Breakfast to make me aware of grace, but it did remind me how “grace-full” I am.  How truly “lucky” I am. Grace touches me every day; as I open my eyes in the morning of a new day, when a grandson runs to me as I pick him up from school, or another one calls to tell me that he got his first base hit. Grace hangs on my refrigerator door in the illegible handwritten notes and cards sent by my granddaughters. It sits on my desk in a calendar sprinkled with family pictures from the past year. I experience it on Sunday mornings when a child wanders into my office for a cookie or a neighbor invites me over for a Downton Abbey dinner party knowing that I’m not a fan but that I would be eating alone that evening. It touches me through the touch of a spouse who loves me even when I’m not the least bit lovable, and the friend who drove me home from an emergency room at 3 in the morning when no one else was around.
    Ol’ John Newton got it right. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”


Glimpse of Grace While Waiting for a Delayed Flight

As I write this I am sitting in an airport terminal waiting for my next flight. Our departure is delayed because of late arrivals due to weather conditions and, I am sure, other complications of which I am not aware. These delays can drive us crazy.
We are not a society that likes to wait. The Disney parks have “fast tracks” for we who are impatient. Grocery stores have “express lanes” for shoppers with a limited number of items. Expressways have “express lanes” for people with a certain number of passengers. Toll booths have “X-Press” booths for those of us with “I-Passes.
While I am as impatient as the best of them, I try to use these delays as a form of “spiritual discipline.” “Wait for the LORD,” the Psalmist advised (27:14). I remember reading a sermon by the Rev. Dr. Gardner Taylor in which that eloquent old preacher said that the good Lord may not show up when you expect, “but He’s never late.”
So, I try to relax as I wait, watching people rush to their various gates and reflecting upon what glimpse of grace God has in store for me next!