Glimpses of Grace Daily Devotion for October 28, 2017

Do you “journal”? 

I do. I’ve kept a journal, on and off, since 1981, the year our oldest daughter was born. I decided to start journaling so my daughter and her sister would know “the real me.” 

Over the years my journal has taken on different formats. For a short time I tried the “Doogie Howser” approach and journal electronically. It wasn’t satisfying. 

Before my trip to Scotland one of my sons-in-law gave me an orange journal. He said that it was so that I could easily find it during my travels. There is a subtext; I lose things!

Tonight I am sitting down and reading about my adventures over the past few weeks. Søren Kierkegaard once wrote that we can only discern the Hand of God in our lives as we examine our Past. 

Reading my journals reminds me of the times God’s finger touched me. Each touch is a glimpse of grace. 

Lord God, thank you for Your hand that had never left me, Your Love that sustains me, and Your Grace that envelopes me. Amen. 


Glimpses of Grace Daily Devotion for October 27, 2017

Palm Trees in Scotland

Palm trees in Scotland! Yes, palm trees. The ticket agent at the window laughed when I said that I wanted a ticket to the place in Scotland where there are palm trees. He didn’t believe me. 

But there really are palm trees in Scotland! 

On Scotland’s Isle of Bute a species of palm tree grows due to the warm currents of the Gulf Streams. I think that it’s an example of God’s sense of humor, a practical joke to keep us on our toes and to expect the unexpected. 

God’s grace is unexpected. One of my favorite writers, Frederick Buechner, wrote most insightfully about “Grace” in his book, Wishful Thinking. “A crucial eccentricity of the Christian faith is the assertion that people are saved by graceThere’s nothing you have to do. There’s nothing you have to do. There’s nothing you have to do

“The grace of God means something like: ‘Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are, because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you.’”

The palm trees of Scotland are God’s little reminders to expect the unexpected in life. Live for the surprises and in them catch a glimpse of grace. 

Lord, thank you palm trees in Scotland and for all of the surprises that remind us of Your amazing grace. Amen. 


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


Glimpses of Grace Daily Devotion for October 11, 2017

The Lost has been found!

I doubt that there was rejoicing in heaven, but there was rejoicing in my heart! All that being said, those who know me best may think that I seem to only think 5 minutes ahead but in reality I always have a Plan B, C, D and, at times, even an E in the back of my head. I don’t know why my brain works this way. Maybe this hardwiring was set when I was a toddler. A “family systems” approach would seem to say this. Maybe it occurred when I tried to learn how to master chess–I never did, by the way. Maybe it was reading a lot of biographies of military generals and Presidents in my youth–I read few of them nowadays. Maybe it was because I admired football quarterbacks who didn’t stay in “the pocket” and who could “scramble” toward a successful play or basketball point guards who made things happen. I could do neither. Maybe it’s “just because.”

President Eisenhower once said that plans are worthless but planning is essential. Some are puzzled by his seemingly contradictory statement, but I understood it immediately. Charles Darwin would have, too. He didn’t say that it is the strongest who survive, but the most adaptable. 

Life is unpredictable. There will always be detours, missteps and “unforeseen” things along the way. Consider the Old Testament figure Joseph; Joseph as in “Joseph and the Amazing Technocolor Dreamcoat” fame (see Genesis, chapters 37-50).  His life path was full of twists and turns but ultimately he ended up right where he needed to be. I suspect that the same will be true of you and me. It may not be where we wanted to be but it will be where we need to be for whatever Eternal reason.

The Apostle Paul once wrote that he has learned the secret of being content. The secret is relying on the strength, power, wisdom and love witnessed in Jesus.  Not my will, but Thy will be done. (Luke 22:42) Jesus was at one with God. Those who wish to take Him seriously are invited to seek that same fellowship. 

So here are three little glimpses of grace: 1. Take Proverbs 19:21 to heart–Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. 2. Be adaptable. (Things never go as planned, so deal with it!) 3. Remember, Tomorrow, Today will be a memory. Make it a good one. 


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 Church Garth (edited)

For the last four years a mallard nested in our church garth—a walled outdoor garden courtyard located in the middle of the church building. She first showed up when the garth was being excavated so that new drainage tile could be laid. While it was under construction we had an unusually wet spring which resulted in a six foot deep hole filling with runoff water. This “pond” surrounded by high brick walls must have been just too inviting to resist. She saw not a garth with a water-filled mud hole, but a safe small pond. Over the years she has been dubbed, “Garth Duck.”
    These last years we watched her nest, give birth and even mourn. Last year all of her little ones died, one by one. I hated going into the garth each day knowing that I would find another little body. We wondered what killed them. We knew that it wasn’t a predator. Had they been poisoned? Was there an unknown toxin? Maybe the fertilizer?  It wasn’t until after the last duckling died that someone mentioned that our Associate Minister, who left the previous year, put feed out each morning the previous two years! All this time I thought they forged(this should be foraged) off the land! But no, they had been fed! 
    After the last duckling died it was heartbreaking to see the mother walk around the garth mournfully calling to her brood which was no more.  Each evening she would utter what can only be described as a mournful cry to the setting sun. I felt terrible about what had happened and vowed that if she returned, there would not be a repeat.
    Well, as I said, she came back this year in all of her glory. It was almost as if she wanted to make up for lost time as she  laid fourteen eggs! Patiently she sat on her next(this should be nest) under an evergreen shrub. And then, a couple of weeks ago while the Benediction was being said at the outdoor worship service, she decided to take her brood on their first morning walk, around the perimeter of the garth to the excitement of all the worshipers! Needless to say, God gave a greater Benediction that day!
    As I sit in the minister’s study watching Garth Duck and her little ones on an early morning run-about, I see a glimpse of grace. What drew her back to this spot over the past four years, especially after a year of great sadness? Watching her silhouette against the high brick walls of the garth, I think that I know what it was. In the words of the Psalm, “The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer…in whom I take refuge.” (18:2) Surrounded by the sanctuary of a worship space, she found true sanctuary, even in the shadow of sadness.


Glimpse of Grace Through a Poem

I was in eighth grade when Mrs. Miller introduced me to poetry. The truth of the matter is that I am not a “poetry kind of guy.” I’ve never really appreciated the giants of the art whether they be American or European. Whitman and Longfellow leave me cold, no matter how beautiful others say they are. Burns and Chaucer, ditto. I guess that I am more of a limerick kind of fellow. But Mrs. Miller did expose me to one poet who touched my soul, Robert Frost. His is the only set of collected works of poetry that I own.
    When I was young there was still a vestige of eighth grade being a “terminal degree”, if degree is the right word. And in this shadow, we had eight grade graduation complete with a class motto and poem. Our class poem was Frost’s “Two Roads.”
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth…
    In this season of graduation seniors are thinking about their futures. They have many decisions to make. Many “roads” from which to choose. H. Jackson Brown, Jr. once wrote that the most important decision a person makes is who they will marry. “90% of your happiness or misery will depend on that decision”, he said.  I think that there is a bigger decision. What will we do with Jesus?
    As Jesus concluded His “Sermon on the Mount” one can hear the echo of  Joshua. Standing on the edge of the Promised Land generations earlier Joshua gave the Israelites a very simply choice. “Choose this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15).  I don’t know if Jesus was thinking of Joshua when He told the crowd before Him,  “Strive to enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction. (Matthew 7:13)
    Prior to saying this, Jesus painted a picture of how God looks at the world, and what it means to walk “the Jesus-Way.” Jesus never sugar-coated. His Way, the Kingdom Way, is not easy. It requires discipline and commitment. It requires a new way of thinking and looking at the world around us. But, Jesus said, His Way will lead to “real” life, to a life that matters. His Way moves us from fleeting success to eternal significance.
    Frost ended his poem with these words.  
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller,long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, just as fair,
And having perhaps the better clim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,  …
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.
    Enter through the narrow gate, Jesus said.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction… But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it. Which road will you travel? Within that decision there lies 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…Do We Dare Take Easter Seriously?

Easter is about so much more than bunnies and eggs.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I like the traditional American trappings of Easter. When I was a boy I used to get a solid chocolate Easter bunny each  year. On Easter afternoon my dad and I would sit together in an easy chair and devour the little bunny–piece by piece!  I colored hard boiled eggs with my mother.  To this day, every time I smell hot water and vinegar I have a flashback. I hunted Easter eggs in my back yard. When I was a real little boy I sat with my mother and listened to an old 78 rpm record of Irving Berlin’s “Easter Parade”.  I can still hear the scratchy sound of Fred Astaire and Judy Garland singing,  “In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it, You’ll be the grandest lady in the Easter parade.”  And I miss the Easter bonnets. They’ve gone out of style in my culture, but while walking through a department store a few weeks ago I spied a display of big beautiful Spring hats—Easter bonnets! I tried to talk my wife into buying one, but alas.
    When I say that Easter is about more than bunnies and eggs I am not trying to be a curmudgeon or a grumpy old man. I am merely saying that we must be careful not to get so caught up in the trappings of Easter that we tame the both the radical-ness of the Easter message and the revolutionary teachings of Jesus. The story is familiar to many of us, maybe too familiar. We’ve heard it so many times that we’ve become inoculated to its transforming power.
    Jesus of Nazareth born in a little back water village in a remote corner of the great Roman Empire of very humble parents grew in wisdom and stature and favor. He healed the sick, and touched the untouchable. He seemed to go out of His way to find the marginalized. At the end He was betrayed, denied, crucified and buried. End of story. But no, not this story.
    On that first Easter morning Mary Magdalene was met by the wonder and mystery of the tomb. The great stone that sealed assured Death of final victory was rolled away. She ran to Peter and to the disciple simply identified as “the one whom Jesus loved.” They, in turn, raced to the tomb. Each person at the tomb looked and saw something different. One saw grave clothes neatly folded. Another saw faith. Mary saw angels. Then she mistook a Stranger for a gardener.  Like the disciples who walked to Emmaeus and only recognized the Risen Lord at the breaking of bread, Mary recognized the “gardener” as “the Lord” when He spoke her name!
    What are we to make of all of this? What does all of this mean?  If the One Who Was Crucified, Dead and Buried is alive, then everything is different, forever different! It means that we have to take Jesus seriously!  We need to seriously consider a new way of life—not just an after life but a here-and-now life!
    Do we dare to take Jesus seriously enough to believe that there is a better way?  If so, Forgiveness is not optional equipment in life but an a new Reality, no matter how difficult it may be for us to forgive. And Generosity is not just something that we do with “left overs” but with “first fruits”! And Peace? Well, peace is not just a state of mind or heart but the reconciliation of warring factions.
    If we take Jesus seriously, do we also dare to also believe that the Kingdom of God is right here, right now, in our very midst!  “Wherever two or three are gathered in My name, ” He said, “I’ll be in the midst of them!”  Do we dare to believe that the Kingdom of God touches the brokenness of this world through our touch, whenever we reach out to the least, the last and the lost?!
    And do we dare to believe that those things we hold on to so tightly because we are so insecure in our relationship with our Maker are not really ours—never were and never will be?  Can we come to terms with the reality that we are merely sojourners passing through this world on our way to a place we long for but can never find in our hearts, a place called Home?!
    Do we dare to believe these things? If we do, then Easter is about so much more than bunnies and eggs bonnets and parades. It is about daring to believe—and following the One who went to the Cross and the Grave and Beyond.