A Message from the Rector

Good afternoon (or whenever you are viewing this). As you know, these are very challenging times right now. It feels like we are all in an episode of The Twilight Zone-I keep waiting for the camera to pan to Rod Serling with his skinny tie and cigarette and witty episode introduction, but alas, this is all for real. Beginning today (March 17th) and continuing until things “return to normal” (whenever that may be and whatever that may look like) I’ll be writing a “Daily Word of Grace” (Monday – Friday) that will be posted here, emailed and posted on our Facebook page. Here we go…

Daily Word of Grace # 79 (July 3, 2020)

One of the deepest needs we have is the need to belong.  Our entire lives we need to know we belong—not only where we belong and also more importantly, to whom we belong.  This goes from the infants’ need to belong to their parents, to a child’s need to belong to a group of friends, to a teenager’s need to belong to a team or group (even if that group consists of those who don’t think they belong to any group), to a college student’s need to belong (a need so strong they will subject themselves to insane hazing in order to “belong” to a sorority or fraternity), to an adults’ need to belong to the right significant other or in the right job, all the way to elderly people who still need to know where and to whom they belong.  In her hauntingly gorgeous 1988 song ”Fast Car”, from her self-titled debut album, Tracy Chapman put it this way, “I remember we were driving, driving in your car, the speed so fast I felt like I was drunk.  City lights lay out before us and your arm felt nice wrapped ‘round my shoulder, and I had a feeling that I belonged, I had a feeling I could be someone.”  Along these lines the Beatles’ ask in their gem “Eleanor Rigby” (from their 1966 masterpiece Revolver), “All the lonely people, where do they all belong?”  The good news of the gospel is that you belong to God, who bought you with the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross (1 Peter 1:18-19), and who beckons you to be part of God’s family, the church (1 Peter 1:9-10).  The gospel shows all of us, regardless of our stage in life, both where and to whom we belong…and that through the grace of God each of us is indeed someone.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 78 (July 2, 2020)

In Herman Melville’s 1851 magnum opus, Moby Dick, he describes the deranged Captain Ahab’s myopic focus on killing the famed white whale this way: “All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick.  He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it (Bantam classics edition, 200).  In the same way Captain Ahab sought to take out “all the general rage and hate felt by his race from Adam down” upon Moby Dick, people often do the very same thing with one another, whether it be a different race or gender or ethnicity or nationality or sexual orientation.  There is so much “general rage and hate” today—all you have to do is look at your newsfeed for about ten seconds to glimpse it.  And yet in the same way (spoiler alert) Moby Dick ends with Captain Ahab’s demise and Moby Dick’s survival, for the result of all such “general rage and hate” is always self-destruction.  On Good Friday Jesus absorbed “all the general rage and hate felt by his race from Adam down” on behalf of all of us “from Adam down”—regardless of race or gender or ethnicity or nationality or sexual orientation or anything else.  And Jesus’ resurrection is good news for all of us “from Adam down” as well: “for as all die in Adam, so all we be made alive in Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:22).

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 77 (July 1, 2020)

In a particularly hilarious episode of the classic television comedy The Office the neurotic Dwight K. Shrute finally has his dream come true and is named Acting Manager of the Scranton, Pennsylvania branch of the fictitious Dunder Mifflin Paper Company (season 7, episode 24).  He basks in throwing his weight around with the staff, and proclaims to them, “You guys are my best friends, and I mean that.  Managing you for this last week has been the greatest honor of my life.  And if you ruin this, I will burn this office to the ground.  And I mean that figuratively not literally, because you guys are so, so important to me.  I love you guys, but don’t cross me, but you’re the best.”  As you can imagine, this leaves the rest of the staff on constant alert, walking on eggshells from uncertainty about where they stand with their new acting manager.  Who are the Dwight K. Shrute’s in your life?  Who are those whose duplicitous and capricious behavior always leave you similarly on constant alert, walking on eggshells?  While such dynamics will always be present with certain people in our lives, it is the exact opposite with God, who is neither duplicitous nor capricious, but rather genuine and constant.  With God “there is not variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17), for God is both faithful (1 Corinthians 10:12) and compassionate (Matthew 9:36).  Although the staff of Dunder Mifflin was too afraid to cross Dwight K. Schrute the world was not afraid to cross God, even to the point of nailing Jesus to a literal cross.  And yet even then God’s genuine and constant love, even then God’s faithful and compassionate love remained unchanged…and still is.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 76 (June 30, 2020)

One of Jesus’s teachings about the Holy Spirit is darkly funny at the outset: “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish?  Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion?” (Luke 11:11-12).  Giving a hungry child a snake instead of a fish or a scorpion instead of an egg is about as dark as it gets, and yet sometimes we are tempted to think that when we ask God for good things God will give us harmful things instead.  But the exact opposite is true, as Jesus continues, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13).  I love Jesus’ candor here—“If you then, who are evil”—for indeed we are all evil sinners in need of God’s grace.  And yet if we ask, God will give us the grace of the Holy Spirit, the very presence of the living God to assure us in our hearts that we are God’s beloved children who can cry out to our Heavenly Father, “Abba!  Father!” (Romans 8:15).  “Abba” is the Aramaic word for “Daddy” (as well as the name of the best band Sweden ever produced) an intimate term of affection and trust that was often one of the first words spoken by a toddler.  Along these lines, a short helpful prayer that I have prayed countless times is “Lord, please cleanse me from my sins and fill me with your Spirit”—a prayer of intimate affection and trust that is a direct response to Jesus’ word to ask our Heavenly Abba, for the Holy Spirit.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 75 (June 29, 2020)

Although Led Zeppelin is not known for their love songs as much as their iconic rock classics, one of my favorite of their songs is “Thank You” from Led Zeppelin II (1969), a beautiful song about the steadfastness of love.  Robert Plant sings: “If the sun refused to shine I would still be loving you.  When mountains crumble to the sea there will still be you and me.  Kind woman, I give you my all.”  The love of God for you is just like that, which means as the psalmist wrote, “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the seas; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble, with its tumult” (Psalm 46:2-3).  Sometimes the trembling of the mountains actually is a sign of the presence of the God, as when Moses and the Israelites met with God “the mountain shook violently” (Exodus 19:18)—and as the prophet Isaiah put it, “When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence” (Isaiah 64:3).  All of this points to Good Friday when God did something else “we did not expect” in giving his Son Jesus to die on the cross to atone for our sins on a different mountain, Calvary, where he gave us his all.  And after Jesus died “the sun refused to shine” and that mountain shook too (Matthew 27:51).  And at Jesus’ Second Coming when the comic shaking of the mountains is over, God will still be loving you.  In the meantime, God’s words to you remain “There will still be you and me.”

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace #74 (June 26, 2020)

One of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history is the legendary Joe Montana, who led the San Francisco 49’ers to four Super Bowl titles.  In addition to his prolific statistics and his ability to come through in the clutch again and again, Joe also had the respect of his teammates because of something else, his humility.  In his 2015 biography, Montana, Keith Dunnavant describes what Joe Montana would do: “Whenever some defensive player charged through the line and slammed him to the ground, Montana was not the sort of quarterback who returned to the huddle breathing fire, demanding accountability.  Usually, in such situations, he would say, ‘My fault.  I held the ball too long.’  Even when it wasn’t, and he hadn’t.  In these moments, his teammates found the sort of strength that built confidence and the kind of humility that promoted loyalty” (206).  Sometimes when we make mistakes in our lives, when we metaphorically miss a block, we expect God to return to the huddle “breathing fire, demanding accountability.”  But the good news of the gospel is that Jesus humbled himself to the point of being a servant, humbled himself in being “slammed to the ground” and nailed to a cross, and humbled himself in dying an ignominious death (Philippians 2:6-8).  Even though scripture is clear that he never sinned, Jesus still took the blame upon himself “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).  And by the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus’ humility can promote loyalty within us toward God.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace #73 (June 25, 2020)

On his final album, Double Fantasy (1980), John Lennon has a lullaby entitled “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)” that he wrote for his son Sean: “Close your eyes, have no fear.  The monster’s gone, he’s on the run and your daddy’s here.  Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful boy.  Before you go to sleep, say a little prayer.  Every day in every way it’s getting better and better.  Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful boy…Before you cross the street, take my hand.  Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.  Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful boy.”  Little did John Lennon know when he wrote this that he would be shot outside his apartment building in New York City on December 8, 1980—and that his son Sean would spend the rest of his earthly life without his earthly father.  In a rooftop conversation one night Jesus told a Pharisee named Nicodemus, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).  In other words, God loves you so much he gave his “beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful boy” in order to save you from your sin and give you eternal life.  This means John’s words to Sean are God’s words to you, “Close your eyes, have no fear.  The monster’s gone, he’s on the run and your daddy’s here”—and regardless of what you encounter in your life that happens to you “while you’re busy making other plans” God’s plan for your salvation will indeed be accomplished.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace #72 (June 24, 2020)

In his riveting 1997 book The Perfect Storm Sebastian Junger recounts the tragic story of the Andrea Gail a commercial fishing vessel lost during “the perfect storm” in the North Atlantic during the fall of 1991.  Near the end of the book he observes, “Anyone who has been through a severe storm at sea has, to one degree of another, almost died, and that fact will continue to alter them long after the winds have stopped blowing and the waves have died down.  Like a war or a great fire, the effects of a storm go rippling outward through webs of people for years, even generations.  It breaches lives like coastlines and nothing is ever again the same” (219-220).  You can probably recount some kind of “severe storm” you have endured in your life (or are enduring right now).  The good news of the gospel is that Jesus is with you even in the most severe storms.  When the disciples were caught in a severe storm in the middle of the night Jesus walked on the water all the way to them and after saving Peter, personally “got into the boat” and when he did so, “the wind ceased” (Matthew 14:22-32).  On Good Friday Jesus endured the “perfect storm” of his passion and death, and did not almost die, actually did die.  And the Risen Jesus still bears the scars of that perfect storm, because following a severe storm or perfect storm indeed “nothing is ever again the same.”  And because of Jesus’ death for you, in an eternally positive way, nothing will ever again be the same for you, for the Lord will bring you safely through every perfect storm in your life, and your death, until you find yourself in God’s presence in heaven, “the wind ceased” forever.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace #71 (June 23, 2020)

One of the often overlooked attributes of Jesus is his gentleness.  Perhaps this is because we live in a world in which gentleness is often absent, in which gentleness is deemed less important than being assertive.  And yet gentleness mattered a lot to Jesus, as he preached, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle” (Matthew 11:29).  The Old Testament prophet Isaiah described the coming Messiah as being a gentle shepherd: “He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep” (Isaiah 40:11).  Gentleness marks the life of one who is led by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:23).  During his earthly ministry Jesus treated with gentleness those who were not used to be treated gently—lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, criminals.  In his passion and death Jesus was even gentle with those who false accused him of blasphemy, as he kept his silence; Jesus was even gentle with the soldiers who struck him on the face as he turned the other cheek; Jesus was even gentle to those who nailed him to the cross and prayed on their behalf, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).  Moreover, the Risen Jesus treated his disciples with gentleness, proclaiming to them repeatedly, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19, 21, 26).  And the Risen Jesus treats all of us with gentleness, and in response as we read in scripture, “Let your gentleness be known to everyone” (Philippians 4:5).

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace #70 (June 22, 2020)

In the Old Testament the Lord commanded Moses to instruct the priests to proclaim the following blessing over Israel: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).  This blessing is beautiful and full of high octane gospel.  To be blessed by the Lord means to receive God’s favor, God’s grace—grace that keeps you and grace that means God’s face shines on you—or in other words, that God smiles on you.  To be blessed by the Lord means that the Lord is indeed gracious towards you, not angry or wrathful or judgmental.  To be blessed by the Lord means the Lord lifts up his countenance upon you, that the Lord is for you, not against you.  To be blessed by the Lord means peace, that when it comes to your relationship with God you have peace, not confusion or turmoil or anxiety.  This blessing foreshadows Jesus’ death on Good Friday.  In his death on the cross to atone for the sins of the world Jesus blessed you, kept you, made his face shine upon you, and was gracious to you.  In being lifted upon the cross Jesus lifted his countenance upon you and drew the whole world to himself (John 12:32), and gave you peace with God (Romans 5:1).  And Jesus remains your “Great High Priest” to whom you can go anytime to receive “grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16), to receive yet again the blessing of God.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 69 (June 19, 2020)

In her moving 2018 song “You Say” contemporary Christian singer Lauren Daigle describes something with which all of us struggle: “I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I’m not enough, every single lie that tells me I will never measure up.  Am I more than the sum of every high and low?”  Then she prays, “Remind me once again just who I am, because I need to know” and continues in the chorus, “You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing.  You say I am strong when I think I am weak.  And You say I am held when I am falling short, and when I don’t belong, You say I am Yours.  And I believe, oh I believe, what You say of me, I believe.”  Years of pastoral ministry, and just plain years of life, have shown me Lauren Daigle is not alone, not at all.  Many people feel like they are not enough, or feel like they will never measure up (or both)—perhaps even you.  And yet the song does not stop there (thankfully), but continues with a prayer for a reminder of who we actually are in Jesus Christ.  And that prayer is answered in the most beautiful (and biblical way) because in Jesus Christ you are indeed loved even when you can’t feel a thing (John 3:16), you are indeed strong when you think you are weak (2 Corinthians 12:9-10), you are indeed held in God’s victorious hands even when you are falling short (Isaiah 41:10), and when you don’t belong you are indeed God’s (1 Peter 2:9) because you were bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ on Good Friday (1 Peter 1:18-19).  It is not the voices in your mind—what you say about yourself and what others say about you—that carry the day, but rather what God says about you that carries the day, today and every day.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 68 (June 18, 2020)

One of my favorite writers is the acclaimed Southern Gothic master Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964) from Milledgeville, Georgia, where she lived at Andalusia Farm the last twelve years of her life.  Several years ago I visited Andalusia Farm, and you can still see much of her furniture and belongings, including the desk at which she wrote and the crutches she needed her final years as her battle with lupus (a battle that ultimately proved too strong for her) intensified.  Her stories are often dark, and on the surface can seem fatalistic or nihilistic, but beneath the surface is the theme of grace for her many characters who were seriously flawed in one way or another, like all of us.  In a letter dated April 4, 1958 she wrote, “Part of the difficulty of all this is that you write for an audience who doesn’t know what grace is and don’t recognize it when they see it.  All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless, brutal, etc.” (O’Connor: Collected Works 1067).  Sometimes each of us, like O’Connor’s audience, “doesn’t know what grace is and don’t recognize it when they see it.”  Scripture tells us that in Jesus Christ the Son of God “we have all received grace upon grace” (John 1:16), grace that we may not understand or recognize, but grace nonetheless.  God’s grace, God’s one-way unconditional love, remains true and steadfast regardless of our ability to understand or recognize it, regardless of the serious flaws in our lives, regardless of the ailments in our lives for which we too in one way or another need crutches.  God’s grace softens our heart when it is hard, gives us hope when we are hopeless, and is gentle in a world that is often brutal—and when it comes to our salvation, God’s grace will eventually prove to be the central theme in our lives.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace: June 17, 2020
The opening of the late David Foster Wallace’s short story “Good Old Neon” (from his 2004 book Oblivion) reads: “My whole life I’ve been a fraud.  I’m not exaggerating.  Pretty much all I’ve ever done all the time is try to create a certain impression of me in other people.  Mostly to be liked or admired.  It’s a little more complicated than that, maybe.  But when you come right down to it it’s to be liked, loved.  Admired, approved of, applauded, whatever.  You get the idea” (141).  There it is…about as honest and candid an admission of what often motivates us as you’ll ever read.  In this age of prolific social media there are more avenues than ever before available to help us “create a certain impression of (ourselves) in other people.”  But it’s a black hole, because our egos are also black holes-black holes of ego and pride with an endless desire to be “admired, approved of, applauded, whatever.”  But when it comes to our relationship with God, we need do absolutely none of this whatsoever, because scripture is clear that God is love personified, that “God is love” (1 John 4:8).  The proof of this unconditional love of God for all of us is Jesus’ death on Good Friday-“God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  This is a refreshing word of comfort for everyone, especially those worn down by the vain (and exhausting) efforts to create a certain image of themselves in other people.  The work to make us “a new creation” in Christ is God’s work, not ours (2 Corinthians 5:17) -and dependent entirely on God’s grace, not our effort (Ephesians 2:8).
Love and Prayers,
Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 66 (June 16, 2020)

As a kid I loved the 1970’s CBS classic TV show The Incredible Hulk, starring Bill Bixby as Dr. David Banner, who under extreme stress would be transformed into the Incredible Hulk, played by Lou Ferrigno.  My friends and I had the opening narration memorized, “Dr. David Banner—physician, scientist—searching for a way to tap into the hidden strengths that all humans have.  Then an accidental overdose of gamma radiation alters his body chemistry.  And now, when David Banner grows angry or outraged, a startling metamorphosis occurs.  The creature is driven by rage…‘Don’t make me angry—you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.’”  Unfortunately in these times of extreme stress we have been reminded that like David Banner, many of us also have a “raging sprit that dwells within”—and also like David Banner, many of us become absolutely unlikable when we are angry.  The same dynamic can be seen in the Apostle Paul, who described himself as prior to his conversion being “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence”…and yet something happened that changed him: “But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:13-14).  Moreover, God offers you this same mercy and grace given the apostle, as Paul continues, “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15).  This is what happened on Good Friday when Jesus, under extreme stress we could never imagine, responded not in rage or anger, but in love.  And through the power of the Holy Spirit God’s love can bring about “a startling metamorphosis” of a different kind, a good kind, in all of us.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 65 (June 15, 2020)

One of the many amazing songs on Carole King’s 1971 masterpiece album Tapestry (which won the Grammy for Album of the Year) is a high octane gospel song for those in need of a friend, a song that won the Grammy for Song of the Year): “When you’re down and troubled, and you need some love and care, and nothing, nothing is going right, close your eyes and think of me and soon I will be there to brighten up even your darkest night.  You just call out my name and you know wherever I am I’ll come running, to see you again.  Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call, and I’ll be there.  You’ve got a friend.”  Who among us cannot relate to that?  All of us have times when we are “down and troubled,” times when we “need some love and care,” times when it seems “nothing is going right.”  And yet, that is exactly when Jesus, the Light of the World (John 8:12) is there “to brighten up even your darkest night.”  Scripture assures us that “everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21).  This is true all year round, no matter the external season of “winter, spring, summer, or fall”, no matter the internal seasons in our hearts and minds.  No matter what, Jesus will be there “to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).  No matter what, in Jesus “you’ve got a friend” (Matthew 12:19).

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace #64 (June 12, 2020)

In his moving 1997 memoir Tuesdays with Morrie Mitch Albom recounts the conversations he had with Morrie Schwartz, his beloved sociology professor from Brandeis University.  As Morrie was dying of ALS, every Tuesday morning Mitch would fly from Michigan to Massachusetts, spend the afternoon with Morrie at the nursing home, then fly back to Michigan that night.  In one conversation Morrie spoke with Mitch about an often overlooked aspect of forgiveness: “It’s not just other people we need to forgive, Mitch,” he finally whispered.  “We also need to forgive ourselves.”  “Ourselves?”  “Yes.  For all things we didn’t do.  All the things we should have done.  You can’t get stuck on the regrets of what should have happened.  That doesn’t help you when you get to where I am… Forgive yourself.  Forgive others.  Don’t wait, Mitch.  Not everyone gets the time I’m getting.  Not everyone is as lucky” (166-167).  In many years of pastoral ministry, and yes my own life too, I have encountered countless instances of people withholding forgiveness from themselves, beating themselves up repeatedly for mistakes of the past.  On Good Friday Jesus died for the forgiveness of all our sins (Ephesians 1:7)—all of them, every single one of them—even those for which we have not forgiven ourselves.  Scripture is crystal clear that in response God calls us to forgive others just as we have already been forgiven by God (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13)—and it is okay to include ourselves in that.  This is of the utmost importance, because not forgiving ourselves often hinders our ability to forgive others, so Morrie was exactly right when he told Mitch, “Don’t wait.”

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 63 (June 11, 2020)

One of the Old Testament prophecies of Zechariah includes this gem, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).  There are areas or circumstances or challenges in each of our lives that defy any “might” or “power” we may try to use to fix them.  Even the Apostle Paul was not immune to this, as he revealed in his Second Letter to the Corinthians: “A thorn was given me in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7).    Paul did not identify exactly what this “thorn in the flesh” was, but it obviously defied any efforts of his own might or power to fix it, and yet when he asked God to take away that “thorn in the flesh” he received a reply from God that he did not anticipate: “Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9).  What is the “thorn in the flesh” in your life?  What is your weakness that has defied every effort of might or power on your part to fix it?  That is exactly where the God’s grace is sufficient for you, exactly where God’s words to Zechariah are God’s words to you, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit.”  Paul then shows us the relief found in this truth: “So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell with me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 62 (June 10, 2020)

In the 2017 film Star Wars: Episode VIII—The Last Jedi, Yoda reminds Luke Skywalker of something he already knew but had forgotten (something all of us know but tend to forget), “Failure is the greatest teacher”—or in Yoda-speak, “The greatest teacher failure is.”  I wish this were not true, I really do, but I can look back on my life and see again and again that many of the greatest lessons I have learned have been from my failures (and trust me, there have been plenty of those).  Many years ago when I was a candidate for ordination, the Commission on Ministry asked me a question I never anticipated (and the only question I remember their asking me), “What is one of the greatest failures in your life and how did you experience God’s grace in that?”  What an unnerving yet profound question, because when it comes to the actual grace of God connecting with our actual lives, Yoda is exactly right, “The greatest teacher failure is.”  This is because the greatest Teacher in the midst of our failures is the One whose death atones for all our failures, the One who continues to love us unconditionally in spite of and in the midst of our failures, the One whose “surpassing grace” is always more than enough (2 Corinthians 9:14).  It is through God’s grace experienced in our failures that we learn the true nature of God’s love and compassion, and are reminded of the opportunity God gives us to share that love and compassion with those around us.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 61 (June 9, 2020)

In John Steinbeck’s brilliant 1952 novel East of Eden, he poignantly describes the ongoing effects of the deep wound of childhood rejection: “The greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved, and rejection is the hell he fears.  I think everyone in the world to a large or small extent has felt rejection.  And with rejection comes anger, and with anger some kind of crime in revenge for the rejection, and with the crime guilt—and there is the story of mankind” (Penguin Classics edition 270).  Every one of us has experienced rejection in our life—perhaps right now someone who rejected you comes to your mind—and unfortunately, if we’re honest, each one of us has also rejected someone else.  This rejection is deeply wounding, and as Steinbeck observed, is often directly connected with acting out in anger.  The good news of the gospel is that although you have been rejected by others, and have rejected others yourself, God has never rejected you.  In fact, scripture tells us Jesus was rejected in our place, that in his incarnation and earthly ministry and ultimately his passion and death, “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him” (John 1:11), that Jesus the Messiah was indeed “despised and rejected by others” (Isaiah 53:3).  In his death and resurrection has atoned for all the rejection in the world, and in your life, and even now, especially in the areas of anger in your heart due to rejection, offers you healing acceptance and grace, offers you perfect love that casts out fear (1 John 4:18), even the fear of rejection.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace #60 (June 8, 2020)

I will never forget the first time I heard U2’s hit “New Year’s Day” (from their album War) on the radio in early 1983 when I was in 8th grade.  I was mesmerized, and little did I know I would be a U2 fan for the next several decades (and counting).  In the chorus Bono ominously sings, “Nothing changes on New Year’s Day.”  The recent outbreak of rioting throughout our country is a stark reminder of the unchanging nature of racism and anger—and the centuries-long deep seeded hurt and injustice beneath it.  It hearkens back to the 1960’s and demonstrates that indeed “Nothing changes on New Year’s Day.”  And yet, on this same album U2 also has a song of hope entitled “Drowning Man” for those overwhelmed by our troubled world in which Bono cries out, “Take my hand, you know I’ll be there, if you can.  I’ll cross the sky for your love, for I have promised, oh, to be with you tonight and for the time that will come.  And I understand these winds and tides, this change of times won’t drag you away.  Hold on, and hold on tightly.  Hold on, and don’t let go of my love.  The storms will pass, it won’t be long now.  His love will last, His love will last forever.”  God assures us through the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you” (Isaiah 43:1-2).  And in his incarnation Jesus literally did “cross the sky your love”, and on Good Friday suffered a violent death at the hands of an angry world.  While our angry and broken human condition does not change on New Year’s Day, neither does God’s unconditional love in Jesus Christ.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 59 (June 5, 2020)

One of my favorite sections in The Book of Common Prayer is “Prayers and Thanksgivings”, a veritable treasure trove.  Among these beautiful prayers is this one “For the Mission of the Church”: “Everliving God, whose will it is that all should come to you through your Son Jesus Christ: Inspire our witness to him, that all may know the power of his forgiveness and the hope of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen” (816-817).  This brief but theologically loaded prayer reminds us that God’s heart is for “all” (not just some) to come to God through Jesus Christ—that “God our Savior…desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).  And the heart of this salvation, the heart of this truth is indeed the power of God’s forgiveness and the hope of Christ’s resurrection—which together ensure that yes, you are forgiven and yes, you do have eternal life—both solely through the grace of God in Jesus Christ.  Jesus’ shed blood atones for your sin and means you are forgiven—“in him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses according the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7).  Jesus’ resurrection means death is not the end of your story, for you too will be raised from the dead—“he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also” (Romans 8:11).  Now, and especially at the end of your life, you need to be reminded that you are forgiven and that you are going to heaven—and that powerful prayer does just that.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 58 (June 4, 2020)

I love riding trains.  As a boy I took my first train ride from Washington, D.C. to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia and loved watching the scenery change outside the window, and that has never changed.  In 1965, in the midst of the Civil Rights movement, the late Curtis Mayfield wrote his most famous song, “People Get Ready” for The Impressions.  This song resonated during the Civil Rights era and continues to resonate even now: “People get ready, there’s a train a comin’.  You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board.  All you need is faith, to hear the diesels hummin’.  Don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord.”  That train can represent so many different things—love, hope, a second chance, a better tomorrow—and connects with the desire within all of us for all those things, and more.  This train also describes the gospel of God’s unconditional love in Jesus Christ, a train for which you indeed need no baggage because God offers to carry your baggage for you (Matthew 11:28), a train for which you indeed need no ticket because you have been bought by “the precious blood of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:19), a train for which indeed “all you need is faith” (Ephesians 2:8), a train for which the only response is indeed to “thank the Lord.”  As the song continues we learn that this train is for all of us, no exceptions:  “So people get ready for the train to Jordan, picking up passengers coast to coast.  Faith is the key, open the doors and board ‘em.  There’s hope for all among those loved the most”…and of course, “among those loved the most” includes you.  Yes, as you ride this train the scenery outside the window is always changing, but God’s love never does.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 57 (June 3, 2020)

In what is believed to be Shakespeare’s first published work, his narrative poem Venus and Adonis (1593) he incisively describes the troubled nature of human love.  After Venus discovers the dead body of her beloved Adonis, she pronounces her curse on human love: “Since thou art dead, lo! here I prophesy, sorrow on love hereafter shall attend: it shall be waited on with jealousy, find sweet beginning, but unsavory end; ne’er settled equally, but high or low, that all love’s pleasure shall not match his woe.  It shall be fickle, false, and full of fraud.”  The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah similarly describes the human heart, “The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse—who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).—and Jesus follows suit but turns the heat up even further, “Out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19).  No wonder scripture urges us to pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10).  While each of us have been burned at one time or another by human hearts “fickle, false, and full of fraud” (even if that describes our own heart) God’s love remains unchanging, true, genuine, and unending.  At the Last Supper Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13) and did exactly that for you the very next day.  And in spite of the troubled nature of human love, as we read  repeatedly (twenty-six times in fact) in Psalm 136, God’s “steadfast love endures forever.”

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 56 (June 2, 2020)

Several summers ago I had the privilege of visiting Tuscumbia, Alabama and touring the childhood home of one of my heroes, Helen Keller (1880-1968), the brilliant lady who through the untiring work of her teacher Anne Sullivan overcame being stricken with blindness and deafness as a nineteen-month old toddler.  Helen went on to graduate from college, author several books, and be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  She inspired millions of people as she addressed issues of human rights and peace.  At her childhood home is the actual well where Anne Sullivan taught Helen her first word, “water” which she learned as Anne gently held her hands under the running water from the well.  In order to help compensate for her loss of sight and hearing, Helen’s sense of touch was extremely acute, and as she recounts in her 1903 autobiography The Story of My Life, “The hands of those I meet are dumbly eloquent to me.  The touch of some hands is an impertinence.  I have met people so empty of joy, that when I clasped their frosty finger tips, it seemed as if I were shaking hands with a northeast storm.  Others there are whose hands have sunbeams in them, so that their grasp warms my heart” (100).  In Jesus Christ God became Anne Sullivan to a world of Helen Keller’s, and touched a blind and deaf world with hands teeming with sunbeams of grace, hands that hold ours under the running water of life (John 4:14)—hands that warm our heart and remind us in our darkness and silence that we are still loved unconditionally by the Creator and Redeemer of the world.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 55 (June 1, 2020)
The Old Testament Book of Psalms includes a section called “Psalms of Assent” (120 through 134). These psalms were recited and sung by the Israelites as they ascended the road to Jerusalem for annual feasts such as Passover. These brief and theologically loaded psalms include these perspective adjusting words: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives sleep to his beloved” (Psalm 127:1-2). The builder of the house is the Lord, not you. After Peter correctly identified Jesus as “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” Jesus assured him, “On this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:16, 18). The builder of the church is the Lord, not you. In these times of continued anxiety and stress, when the foundations of houses and churches are being shaken, it is a relief to remember who the Builder actually is. Jesus and his disciples likely recited and sung Psalm 127 during their final ascent to Jerusalem before Jesus’ passion and death as the Passover “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). In his passion, death, and resurrection Jesus indeed built the house, built the church “with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20). This is a relief for those losing sleep over the building of the house and church, and replaces “the bread of anxious toil” with the Bread of Life (John 6:35).

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 54 (May 29, 2020)

Following his conversion to Christianity in 1979 recent Nobel laureate Bob Dylan released three overtly Christian albums: Slow Train Coming (1979), Saved (1980) and Shot of Love (1981).  There are some often overlooked gems on these albums, including the final track on Slow Train Coming, a gorgeous ballad called “When He Returns” that puts things in perspective in light of the future Second Coming of Christ.  The final verse is a call to surrender to the grace of God without pretension: “Surrender your crown on this blood stained ground, take off your mask.  He sees your deeds, He knows your needs even before you ask.  How long can you falsify and deny what is real?  How long can you hate yourself for the weakness you conceal?  Of every earthly plan that be known to man, He is unconcerned.  He’s got plans of His own to set up His throne when He returns.”  That verse kills me (in a good way).  How often do we leave our masks on, even with God?  How often do deny what we know is real?  How often do we hate ourselves for the weaknesses we conceal (though we cannot conceal anything from God).  In response to the love of God expressed in Jesus’ death on the cross (John 3:16) we can indeed surrender our crown on that “blood stained ground” beneath that cross, and we can take off our mask.  And in spite of what may or may not happen with all our earthly plans, God’s plans to establish the Kingdom of God, an eternal kingdom of unconditional love, remain fixed, and will come to full fruition “when He returns.”

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 53 (May 28, 2020)

In Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice Portia pleads for mercy for Antonio in one of the most beautiful descriptions of mercy ever written: “The quality of mercy is not strained.  It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath.  It is twice blessed: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.  ‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest.  It becomes the throned monarch better than his crown.  His scepter shows the force of temporal power, the attribute to awe and majesty wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings, but mercy is above the sceptered sway.  It is enthroned in the hearts of kings.  It is an attribute of God himself” (IV.i.173-184).  Mercy is indeed “mightiest in the mightiest” and “an attribute of God himself.”  Every year in the collect for Ash Wednesday from The Book of Common Prayer we pray to “the God of all mercy” who out of mercy freely grants us “perfect remission and forgiveness” (264).  We may keep a record of the wrongs we have done, along with a record of the wrongs others have done to us, but God covers every record of wrongs with mercy that continually “droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven” because on Good Friday Jesus’ blood gently dropped from the cross, and God’s “mercies never come to an end” (Lamentations 3:22).  In response Jesus calls us to follow his example, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36)—for truly mercy “blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 52 (May 27, 2020)

A particularly moving poem by the great nineteenth century poet Emily Dickinson is about something we all need, especially in hard times, hope: “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches on the soul, and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all.”  This song of hope from this bird is particularly powerful during a storm: “And sweetest in the gale is heard; and sore must be the storm that could abash the little bird that kept so many warm.”  Scripture also assures us of the reality of hope in God even in the midst of storms: “We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (Hebrews 6:19).  When the disciples were in the midst of a terrible storm Jesus appeared unconcerned as he slept, but when they called out to him, Jesus stilled the storm because of course he was actually concerned for them, as always (Matthew 8:23-26).  In the final stanza Dickinson emphasizes that this song of hope is a ubiquitous, free gift: “I’ve heard it in the chillest land, and on the strangest sea; yet, never, in Extremity, it asked a crumb of me.”  No matter how bad the storm gets, no matter what kind of “chillest land” or “strangest sea” you find yourself, God’s gift of hope, God’s song of hope remains ever present even in every “Extremity” you face.  Today may a different bird, the Dove—the Holy Spirit—perch anew on yours soul and encourage you with a song of hope that indeed “never stops at all.”

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 51 (May 26, 2020)

In his final book entitled All is Grace the late Christian preacher and writer Brennan Manning got right to the point: “My message, unchanged for more than fifty years, is this: God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be.  It is the message of grace” (192).  The first time I heard Brennan Manning preach I was a nineteen year old college student at an outdoor summer Christian music and preaching festival in rural Pennsylvania.  I was riveted as the actual gospel of God’s actual unconditional love for all of us as we actually are pierced my hard and guarded heart and brought me to tears.  The loving presence of the Holy Spirit was palpable.  A gospel centered on anything other than the grace of God is not the gospel.  It may be well intentioned, it may have practical wisdom for your life, it may sound witty or clever, it may even sound theologically deep and ecclesiastically elegant—but it is not the gospel.  In scripture the Apostle Paul also got right to the point: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Even now, God’s grace—God’s unconditional love for you as you are and not as you should be—remains the heart of the comforting, relieving, and actual gospel.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 50 (May 25, 2020)

In the soundtrack of the funny and insightful 1995 coming of age film Clueless is my favorite song by Radiohead, a song about the longing for the real thing in a plastic world, a song entitled “Fake Plastic Trees.”  Thom Yorke sings, “A green plastic watering can for a fake Chinese rubber plant in the fake plastic earth, that she bought from a rubber man in a town full of rubber plans to get rid of itself….It wears her out, it wears her out, it wears her out, it wears her out.”  The last verse really hits home for me, “She looks like the real thing, she tastes like the real thing, my fake plastic love.  But I can’t help the feeling I could blow through the ceiling if I just turn and run…and it wears me out, it wears me out, it wears me out, it wears me out.”  “Fake plastic love” indeed wears us out.  In our world full of plastic goods, plastic smiles, and yes, plastic expressions of Christianity, we all still have a longing for real love from a real Person, the “real thing” as opposed to “fake plastic love.”  In Jesus Christ God offers exactly that—real love for real people like you and me.  There is nothing plastic or fake about the love of God, a love so real that it cost Jesus his life, which scripture assures us is the proof of God’s very real love for all of us (Romans 5:8).  This real love of God remains rejuvenating good news for clueless people worn out in a plastic world.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 49 (May 22, 2020)

One beautiful May morning while walking through the streets of Paris, my daughter Becky and I came across a portion of ruins from the Bastille, the once notorious centuries old prison that held such famous prisoners as Voltaire.  It later became a symbol of royal despotism that as you may remember was stormed on July 14, 1789—a date which has since become known as Bastille Day, a national holiday in France commemorating a key event in the French Revolution.  All that remains of the Bastille today are a few places where you can see some ruins, like the one Becky and I came across.  In spite of all the captivity and violence associated with the long history of the Bastille, guess what is now atop those ruins today?  A playground.  Literally on top of these Bastille ruins little children were running around as they laughed and played.  That is an image of what God will do with this world, which like the Bastille, has been the scene of many people captive in a myriad of ways, as well as the scene of incalculable violence.  And yet, as the great Old Testament prophet Isaiah foretold, part of God’s work of salvation looks like this: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn way anymore” (Isaiah 2:4).  In other words, places with histories of imprisonment and violence like the Bastille, like the world itself, will be turned into playgrounds—the captivity and violence replaced with freedom and laughter.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 48 (May 21, 2020)

A couple years ago I had the privilege of spending an afternoon at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, one of the best afternoons of my life.  Among the many landmark works of art housed there is Jackson Pollock’s 1947 “Full Fathom Five”, one of his famous “drip paintings.”  From a distance it a beautiful collage of color, but as you look more closely it becomes even more fascinating because you notice that there is much more than paint on the canvas—things you would never expect to see, not just depicted in but literally part of, a painting: buttons, coins, cigarette butts, thumbtacks, nails, and other pieces of detritus.  I was completely blown away that someone could make something so beautiful out of things the vast majority of us would simply throw away.  The title of this painting, “Full Fathom Five” is from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest in which the spirit Ariel describes a shipwreck, “Full fathom five thy father lies, of his bones are coral made, those were pearls that were his eyes” (I.ii.396-398).  God is not a throwaway God, but a restoring God who can use every bit of detritus in your life—all the experiences and parts of your life you may dismiss or mentally throw away, and yes, the shipwrecks too—to create something beautiful: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).  In fact, God has reconciled, and will continue to reconcile, everything in your life through Jesus’ death on Good Friday: “Through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20).  May a different spirit, the Holy Spirit, remind you anew of that today.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 47 (May 20, 2020)

One of the hardest sermons I have ever had to preach was at the funeral of a seventeen year old boy many years ago.  He was funny, athletic, smart, and had lots of friends—but the cancer with which he was repeatedly stricken ultimately proved too much for him.  During his final few months we spent a lot of time together—talking, watching funny movies, and eating (way too much) ice cream.  The afternoon when his family and I gathered around his death bed a few days before he passed is one I will never forget, not only because it was so heartbreaking but also because what he did in that moment was thank us for all we meant to him, thank us for our love for him and presence with him.  After his funeral his mother came to my office and tearfully hand delivered a note he had written me.  Guess what kind of note it was?  Yes, a thank-you note.  Even as this boy was dying of cancer he was telling those he loved how thankful he was for them.  Even as he was dying of cancer he was writing thank-you notes, with squiggly erratic cursive because he could no longer hold his hand still as he wrote.  I have never forgotten that.  Scripture exhorts us, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).  This goes way past having a positive attitude or maintaining an optimistic outlook because giving thanks “in all circumstances” reminds us that at the end of the day every positive thing we experience is ultimately a gift.  This is why one of the key parts of the service for Holy Communion is literally called “The Great Thanksgiving” (The Book of Common Prayer 361).  No matter what, even in the face of death, we still have much for which to be thankful to God—especially the unconditional love given us in Jesus Christ, a love that is stronger than cancer, stronger than death.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 46 (May 19, 2020)

In Cormac McCarthy’s award winning 1992 novel All the Pretty Horses John Grady Cole has a moving conversation with Duena Alfonsa, the grandaunt and godmother of Alejandra, the girl with whom he has fallen in love.  Duena notices the scar on John Grady Cole’s cheek, “I’m going to guess that the scar on your cheek was put there by a horse.”  “Yes mam.  It was my own fault.”  She watched him, not unkindly.  She smiled, “Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real.  The events that cause them can never be forgotten, can they?”  “No mam” (135).  All of you have scars—whether internal or external, whether scars you show others and perhaps brag about, or scars you show no one and refuse to discuss with anyone.  Those scars remind you that your “past is real” and that the events that caused them “can never be forgotten.”  The gospel is good news for scar bearers, because God knows you better than you know yourself, including your scars and the events that caused them.  Moreover, even now the Risen Jesus still bears the scars that remind all of us that God’s love for us is indeed very real, that the events that caused them in his passion and death for the world, including you, on Good Friday, “can never be forgotten.”  This is true for the whole world corporately, and for all of us individually, as Jesus made crystal clear to “doubting” Thomas when he showed him these very scars (John 20:24-28).

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 45 (May 18, 2020)

In “An Order for Compline”, a beautiful brief liturgy for prayer found in The Book of Common Prayer and intended for use at the end of the day, there is powerful prayer for grace in times of uncertainty: “Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen” (133).  All of us have certainly been dealing lately with many unforeseen and challenging “changes and chances of this life”, and yet by God’s grace we can still rest in God’s “eternal changelessness.”  Scripture assures us that through what we may call the “changes and chances of this life” God remains unchanging in love, grace, and presence.  We worship a God “with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17), a God who “is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), a God who with us everywhere and always—“Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).  Finally, even when stressful external and internal circumstances connected with the “changes and chances of this life” cause deep internal and external unrest, God’s invitation to all of us still remains, “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 44 (May 15, 2020)

Of the many spaceships in the epic Star Wars movies my favorite has always been the Millennium Falcon, the ancient ship flown by Han Solo with his friend Chewbacca in the earlier films and by Rey and Finn in the later films.  The Millennium Falcon not only has an awesome name, it just keeps going.  On the surface it always seems that it is falling apart, that it has seen its best days, that it is obsolete.  And yet again and again the old Millennium Falcon comes through, especially in peril and crisis.  The coolest aspect of the Millennium Falcon is its ability to “jump into hyperspace.”  I have no idea how this works but it means those traveling in it can cover vast differences in just moments (and it looks so awesome on the big screen).  The Millennium Falcon reminds me of the gospel, which through the centuries has often been dismissed as something that is falling apart, or has seen its best days, or is obsolete.  And yet the gospel just keeps going all around the world.  In spite of all the wars and natural disasters and pandemics, in spite of the ebb and flow of secularism and atheism, the hope of the gospel of God’s unconditional love in Jesus Christ just keeps going.  Perhaps this is because in one way or another many of us have personally experienced the reality of the gospel in some “jump into hyperspace” way—we have no idea how it works, but it is awesome and it is true.  Scripture assures us that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39), a love that always comes through in peril and crisis.  Like the Millennium Falcon, the gospel just keeps going, and always will.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 43 (May 14, 2020)

As you know, your sense of smell, olfactory sense, is especially powerful in triggering memories.  A smell can instantly transport you back to specific moment in your life.  These memories may be good—perhaps the smell of chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven transports you back to your grandmother’s kitchen, or the smell of fresh cut grass on a fall afternoon transports you to a high school athletic practice, or the smell of cotton candy transports you back to a county fair your parents took you to as a child.  However these memories may not be so good—perhaps the smell of a hospital room transports you back to a loved one’s deathbed, or the smell of a certain perform as you walk through a shopping mall transports you back to the moment the girl you loved (who wore that exact perfume) broke your heart, or the smell of a certain kind of flower that transports you back to a funeral where you wept.  Just days before his passion and death, Jesus was at a dinner party and in a moment of extravagant generosity a woman broke a jar of expensive perfume and poured it on Jesus’ feet, foreshadowing his impending death and burial (John 12:1-8).  That perfume was so strong it is likely that even on the cross Jesus could still smell that evidence that he was loved.  Scripture compares those who share the gospel of the unconditional love of God with others to a good smell, “the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved” (2 Corinthians 2:15).  The fragrance of God’s extravagant grace will always transport you to a place where you are reminded you are fully known, fully forgiven, fully loved.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

 

Daily Word of Grace # 42 (May 13, 2020)

In the spring of 1989 some college friends and I went to see the classic baseball movie Field of Dreams.  It stars Kevin Costner as Ray Kinsella, an Iowan farmer who in response to a voice that tells him, “If you build it, he will come” builds a beautiful baseball field in the middle of his cornfield.  Over the course of the film you learn that Ray’s relationship with his father was always strained—they just never seemed to connect, and John had intentionally done and said things to spite him.  Ray’s father is dead and he is overcome with regret and wishes he could apologize to and reconnect with his father.  Near the end of the film many members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox team, players dead for decades, magically walk out of the cornfield and onto the field John had built, and play a baseball game.  And at the end of the film the identity of the “he” of “If you build it, he will come” is revealed—it is none other than Ray Kinsella’s father, John, the young man playing catcher.  Ray introduces his father to his wife and daughter, and later asks him a question all of us ask at one time or another, “Is there a heaven?”  His father responds, “Oh yeah, it’s the place dreams come true.”  A few moments later Ray is playing catch with his father, their relationship finally healed.  Scripture assures us not only of the reality of heaven itself (John 14:1-3; Revelation 4:1ff) but the reality that it will surpass all our dreams: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).  And because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, in heaven the broken relationships in your life, like that between Ray and John, will also finally be healed (Colossians 1:19-20).

Love and Prayers,

Dave

 

Daily Word of Grace # 41 (May 12, 2020)

One of my favorite songs by the Beatles is “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”, penned by John Lennon and on their 1965 album Help!  It describes something all of us have experienced at one time or another, a broken heart: “Here I stand head in hand, turn my face to the wall.  If she’s gone I can’t go on, feeling two-foot small.  Everywhere people stare, each and every day.  I can see them laugh at me, and I hear them say, ‘Hey, you’ve got to hide your love away.’”  Having your heart broken leaves you vulnerable, “feeling two foot small”, and indeed wanting to hide your love away—because who wants to have your heart broken yet again?  The good news of the gospel is that Jesus chose not to hide God’s love away, not from you, not from anyone.  Even though Jesus’ heart was broken again and again throughout his earthly life and ministry—from being labeled “illegitimate” as a child (Mark 6:3), to being labeled a “friend of sinners” (Matthew 11:19), to being accused of healing people through demonic means (Mark 3:22), to being forsaken by his disciples (Matthew 26:56), to being falsely accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death (Matthew 26:55-56), all the way to being nailed to a cross and left to die(Mark 15:25)—Jesus never hid his love away.  Even on Good Friday as everywhere people stared and Jesus could see people laugh at him, he still refused to hide his love away—“Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).  And even now, the Risen Jesus refuses to hide his love away, an ever-present love for everyone, especially those with a broken heart.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 40 (May 11, 2020)

Living many years of my life in Virginia, I often visited the magnificent Shenandoah National Park.  As a kid every time we would drive there the excitement of seeing the mountains emerge from the horizon the closer we came always moved me.  On an even grander scale the same thing happens out west if you‘re driving westward across Eastern Colorado and see the immense Rocky Mountains emerge from the Great Plains, or if you’re driving westward across the desert of southwestern California and see the Sierra Nevada Mountains come into view.  What is it about mountains that beckons us, fills us with hope, and calls to our hearts?  The psalmist wrote about this: “I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come?  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2) and “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people, from this time on and forevermore” (Psalm 125:2).  The immensity of the mountains, mountains which have been there eons before us and will be there eons after us, is a silent, constant reminder from the One who “made heaven and earth” and “surrounds his people” of God’s love for us and presence with us.  On Good Friday Jesus, who “made heaven and earth” and whose grace surrounds us even now, died on a hill called Calvary—and his love and grace continue to beckon us, fill our hearts with hope, and call to our hearts.  “I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come?”  Jesus Christ.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 39 (May 8, 2020)

God is an ever-creative God, creating things ex nihilo (out of nothing).  This is a recurring theme throughout scripture.  The Old Testament begins with a beautiful poetic account of how God “created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).  This foreshadows what we read in the Prologue at the beginning of the Gospel According to John, in which Jesus is referred to as “the Word”: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being” (John 1:1-3).  This ever-creating ex nihilo work of God continues not only on a universal level, but also on a personal level, even in your life: “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).  In your life God can create joy, peace, faith, hope—on and on—and most of all, love.  You need bring nothing to the table, because God creates all those things ex nihilo.  Lest you think this creative work of God applies solely to your earthly life, scripture assures us that God’s creative work continues in heaven.  In his vision of heaven the same John whose gospel account bears his name recounts what he heard the One on the throne proclaim, “See, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5).  In other words, this ever-creative, ever-creating work of God continues throughout eternity.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 38 (May 7, 2020)

In the Gospel According to John there is a moving episode in which Jesus goes to a well in the middle of the day.  There is a woman there, which was unusual because normally women gathered at the well in the mornings and evenings, not only for water but also to socialize with one another—and yet there is this woman at the well all alone in the middle of the day.  In their conversation Jesus reveals to her his compassion for her personal life, which was not just broken but shattered.  Jesus did not judge her, or condemn her, or giver her unsolicited advice.  Rather, he accepted her and gave her grace, with no catch.  He also promised her a different kind of water: “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.  The water that I will give will become in you a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14).  Later this woman told her neighbors, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!  He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” (John 4:29).  She had indeed been given acceptance and grace by Jesus, who is indeed the Messiah.  On Good Friday Jesus died for this woman at the well and for all like her, alone in the middle of the day fully aware of their shattered personal lives, including you.  After his death Jesus’ body was speared by Roman soldier, and blood and water gushed up to eternal life for her, for the world, and for you (John 19:34).  Even now the Risen Jesus, who still bears that scar in his side, can tell you everything you have ever done, and offers you acceptance and grace, with no catch.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 37 (May 6, 2020)

Back in the summer of 1993 when I was a twenty-four year old youth minister I tried to rent a fifteen passenger van for our summer mission trip, but was too young to do so.  Our church decided to purchase a fifteen passenger van for our youth ministry (and other ministries too), and bought a beautiful new forest green van.  After our mission trip I took the van to clean it.  I vacuumed it out, cleaned up the interior, and then to top it off, took it through the automated car wash.  I will never forget the horror I felt as I was sitting in this new, and newly cleaned, van in this car wash and heard a long, loud scraping sound.  “That can’t be good” I thought.  After going through the car wash I stepped out and looked…two brand new scrapes from bumper to bumper on both sides of the van.  It was all I could do not to cry.  I felt so awful about it.  I drove it back to the church and showed our administrator, Frank (one of the truly nicest guys I have ever worked with).  He slowly walked around the van as I stood there staring at the parking lot pavement, muttering, “I’m so sorry.”  To my surprise and relief he started chuckling and said, “Well, now it has racing stripes, pretty cool!  Don’t worry about it, Dave, it’s okay.”  And he never brought it up to me again, ever (others in the church made up for that, but I digress).  Jesus taught that those who have been forgiven much tend to love much (Luke 7:47).  It’s true.  Frank’s generous and immediate forgiveness of my “redecorating” the new church van created more love in me for him.  It also reminded me of the generosity and immediacy of God’s forgiveness of all our sins (Psalm 103:3)—and still does.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 36 (May 5, 2020)

One of my favorite songs by the Talking Heads is their 1981 hit “Once in a Lifetime.”  In addition to its addictive groove (just try not to move while listening to it), it contains insightful lyrics about waking up one day wondering how you ended up where you are: “You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack.  And you may find yourself in another part of the world.  And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile.  And you may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife.  And you may ask yourself, ‘Well, how did I get here?’”  In the Old Testament book of Proverbs there is a succinct exhortation that reminds us what to do when we are not sure where to go or what to do: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).  Even though you may not know how you ended up where you are, the Lord does, always has.  And when relying on your insight falls short and doesn’t work out too well (something with which I have plenty of experience), the same Lord is worthy of your trust and will “make straight your paths” even through the landmines of life, even through pandemics, even through “the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4).  And there will be moments of grace and relief when you will realize the Lord has brought you through something you never though you would get through, all the way to your “desired haven” (Psalm 107:30)—and when it comes to the question, “Well, how did I get here?”, you will know.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 35 (May 4, 2020)

In arguably one of the best songs of the latter twentieth century, a song I cannot ever remember not knowing, James Taylor’s 1970 masterpiece “Fire and Rain” there is a vulnerable prayer: “Won’t you look down upon me, Jesus? You’ve got to help me make a stand. You’ve just got to see me through another day. My body’s aching and my time is at hand, and I won’t make it any other way.” Unless you are a straight-up liar, you can relate to this prayer, either today or in days past; if not, trust me, your time will come. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus answers that prayer, both individually and universally. In fact, at his incarnation Jesus did not just look down upon us, but left heaven to be born among us (Philippians 2:7). Throughout his ministry Jesus helped people make a stand, including healing the lame and paralyzed who could not stand at all. On Good Friday Jesus’ wounded and beaten body ached beyond anything we could imagine, and his time was at hand. From the cross Jesus looked down again upon the world he had created, the world for which he became incarnate, the world for which he died, and prayed, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Through his death and resurrection Jesus continues to answer our prayer for help, and will do so until the end of our earthly journey, when our body’s aching and our time is at hand. In that moment, although we will not make it any other way, Jesus will continue to be the Way, world without end.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 34 (May 1, 2020)

One of my favorite Shakespearean monologues is in his tragedy Macbeth, when Macbeth, having succumbed to his murderous ambition reflects:  “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time; and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.  Out, out, brief candle!  Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more.  It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” (The Tragedy of Macbeth, V.v.19-28).  Why would I like such a dark and nihilistic monologue?  Not only because it is one of the high water marks of Shakespeare’s genius, but also because it shows us our need for something that transcends our own (hopefully not murderous) ambition, and reveals our need for the gospel of God’s love in Jesus Christ.  Yes “all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death” but Jesus Christ, the Light of the World (John 8:12), walked the way to his own dusty death on Good Friday in the midst of the “sound and fury” of a murderously ambitious world.  In his death and resurrection Jesus transforms our “dusty death” to new life.  That is the heart of the gospel.  While some may dismiss the gospel as “a tale told by an idiot…signifying nothing” it is actually the good news of the never-ending love of God that will indeed last “to the last syllable of recorded time” and beyond.  When the “brief candle” of your life is over and the curtain has fallen upon your “hour upon the stage”, God’s love ensures you a place in heaven, where “they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light” (Revelation 22:5).

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 33 (April 30, 2020)

One of the many powerful prayers in The Book of Common Prayer is this: “Almighty God, to whom our needs are known before we ask: Help us ask only what accords with your will; and those good things which we dare not, or in our blindness cannot ask, grant us for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen” (394-395).  Before you are ever aware of what your needs are, God already knows what they are.  God is never caught off guard or surprised by your needs, although perhaps you often are (I know I am).  On his haunting song “The Whole Night Sky” on his equaling haunting 1996 album The Charity of the Night Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn puts it this way, “Derailed and desperate, how did I get here?  Hanging from this high wire by the tatters of my faith.  Sometimes a wind comes out of nowhere and knocks you off your feet.  And look, see my tears, they fill the whole night sky.”  That is exactly when and where this prayer hit home.  Even when we are aware of our needs we still may ask God for the exact wrong thing to help, and this prayer reminds us we are utterly dependent on God’s grace to meet our needs, known and unknown, in ways that accord with God’s will, and in ways that we could never see.  And God often answers that prayer in unpredictable—but always good—ways, to repair the tatters of your faith and set you on your feet again—because it is not only our tears that can “fill the whole night sky” but also the love of God, who made the whole night sky in the first place.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 32 (April 29, 2020)

One of the most tender acts of love there is, is when someone gently wipes away the tears from another’s face.  It is an act of love that overflows with care and compassion.  Perhaps right now you can think of a time when someone gently wiped the tears from your face—perhaps a parent, or a boyfriend or girlfriend, or a spouse.  As a culture I do not think we cry enough, and the repressed emotions bottled up behind the stern upper lips we so often maintain wreak unseen havoc in our hearts.  While we may not be vulnerable enough to cry in front of others, we can cry in front of God.  In fact, every time you have cried, and every time you have kept your tears bottled up, you did so in front of God.  Scripture assures us that God puts our tears in his bottle (Psalm 56:8), a tender expression of God’s care and compassion for us.  Jesus was vulnerable  enough to cry in front of others, as you may remember, when he arrived at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, “Jesus began to weep” (John 11:35).  Moreover, one of the many ways we can share that tender love with others is to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15)—and yes, that may involve gently wiping tears from one another’s faces.  All of this foreshadows the personal, tender, eternal love of God, as John describes in his vision of heaven: “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals.  He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes’” (Revelation 21:3-4).  That is how personal, how tender, how eternal God’s love is for you.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 31 (April 28, 2020)

The great English Romantic poet John Keats (1795–1821) concluded his famous poem “Ode on a Grecian Urn”: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,–that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”  When you see something truly beautiful and beautifully true you never forget it—whether it’s a breathtaking view from a mountaintop, or a new mom with her infant sleeping peacefully in her arms, or a sunrise over the ocean, or Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” (1889) at The Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, or the first smile you see on the face of the love of your life.  “Beauty is truth, truth beauty”—the combination of truth and beauty can cut through the hardness of our hearts and the protective walls of our minds and remind us that the beautiful truth is that we are loved by God, who is Beauty and Truth.  The psalmist wrote, “One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4).  At the Last Supper Jesus assured his disciples, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), and the next day he gave his life to atone for the ugliness and lies of the world, and of your life—and to reveal the beautiful truth of the never-ending grace of God.  One day in heaven all of us will see firsthand the Beauty and Truth of our Savior, who is actually “all ye need to know.”

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 30 (April 27, 2020)

Many years ago as a seminarian the homiletics (preaching) professor told us something I dutifully scribbled down in my notebook, “Good preaching comforts the afflicted, and afflicts the comfortable.”  I remember thinking how insightful that was.  For several years I tried to do just that every time I preached, only eventually to learn the hard way something you probably already know—no one is comfortable.  Are you?  You may live in a comfortable home, drive a comfortable car, have a favorite comfortable couch or chair—you may even have moments when you are comfortable, but those moments are often fleeting and ephemeral.  You may be physically comfortable but how about emotionally, or mentally, or relationally, or financially?  The gospel is always a word of comfort for the afflicted, always.  The first verse of one of my favorite chapters of the whole Bible, the fortieth chapter of Isaiah, states this beautifully: “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry unto her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:1).  In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus similarly proclaimed, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4)—Jesus did not preach, “Blessed are the comfortable, for they shall be afflicted.”  The reason the gospel is always a word of comfort for the afflicted is that on Good Friday Jesus was afflicted in your place, served your term in your place, paid your penalty in your place, and took upon his own pierced hands double for all your sins in your place.  And as if that were not enough, the Holy Spirit, your Holy Comforter, has also been sent to remind you again and again of just that (John 14:26, King James Version).

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 29: April 24, 2020

One thing many of us-okay, all of us-struggle with is anger.  This anger can have many sources, but is usually somehow connected with what we acknowledge on Ash Wednesday as “our anger at our own frustration” (The Book of Common Prayer 268).  While some of us have a harder time with anger than others, or a shorter fuse than others, all of us have a breaking point.  The anger comes pouring out in a fierce tirade, or passive aggressive behavior, or an expletive-ridden outburst, or the “silent treatment”, or many other equally “delightful” ways.  The problem with anger is that it always wounds; it never heals.  We may think in taking out our anger on someone that we have “fixed” a situation, or “straightened someone out”, or “put them in their place”, or “given them a piece of our mind”-and maybe on the surface we have-but what we have actually done is wounded them, and often in the process wounded ourselves as well.  In the wake of every angry person you will find the flotsam and jetsam of the wounded, every time.  No wonder scripture warns us, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26).  On the flipside scripture reminds us, “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness” (James 1:20).  In other words, the only one who can truly have “righteous indignation” is the only One who is truly righteous, Jesus Christ.  The good news of the gospel is that on Good Friday Jesus, rather than taking out God’s anger-God’s truly righteous indignation-out on the world, did the exact opposite.  Instead, Jesus took it upon himself, while also taking the anger of the world, including your anger, upon himself.  On Good Friday the sun did not go down on God’s anger…and it never will.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace: April 23, 2020

Many years ago I heard a bishop from Africa preach about the difference between grace and mercy: grace is getting what you do not deserve, while mercy is not getting what you do deserve.  Grace is what God gives us every day regardless of how aware or unaware we are of it-every heartbeat, every breath, every meal, every second chance (and third and fourth and so on…)-forgiveness, hope, faith, joy, peace, and above all else, love-God’s infinite, unconditional, limitless, abounding love.  Similarly mercy is also what God gives us every day regardless of how aware or unaware we are of it-by not punishing us for every foul thought word and deed, not punishing us for the myriad selfish “devices and desires of our own hearts” (The Book of Common Prayer 41), not punishing us for the many ways we hurt others and hurt ourselves, not punishing us for our conscious and unconscious taking God for granted and presuming on God’s grace.  Jesus’ death on Good Friday and resurrection on Easter Sunday remain the definitive expressions of God giving us both grace and mercy, giving us what we do not deserve and not giving all of us what we do deserve.  All of this is encompassed and expressed in Jesus’ prayer after being nailed to the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).  Even now God remains the one “who is able to make all grace abound to you” (2 Corinthians 9:8, NIV) and the God whose “mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23).

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace #27: April 22, 2020
One of my favorite saints is St. Francis of Assisi (died 1226), whose life of voluntary poverty and kindness to all, even animals, left an indelible mark for good on our world.  This beautifully and theologically loaded prayer is attributed to him: “Lord, make us instruments of your peace.  Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.  Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.  For it is in giving that we receive; it is pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life” (The Book of Common Prayer 833).  Near the beginning of his Sermon on the Mount, the greatest sermon in the history of the world, Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).  That prayer of St. Francis shows us what it looks like to be a peacemaker, to be an instrument of peace.  Throughout his earthly ministry Jesus was a peacemaker, and then on Good Friday he died as the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) to give us peace with God (Romans 5:1)-an instrument of peace on a cosmic scale.  You do not have to look long or far around you to see hatred, injury, discord, doubt, despair, darkness, and sadness (perhaps just in a mirror)-but by the power of the Holy Spirit, God may lead you to be a peacemaker like St. Francis, a peacemaker and like Our Savior-to sow love, pardon, union, faith, hope, light and joy where people need it most-to be children of God, instruments of peace.  Imagine a world full of peacemakers.
Love and Prayers,
Dave
Daily Word of Grace #26: April 21, 2020
As a young youth minister in my early twenties I was asked by the chaplain of the Fairfax County Detention Center to lead a Sunday afternoon service for the inmates.  I showed up in a shirt and tie, a neat outline of a brief message tucked in the Bible under my arm, and was escorted into a empty room with a large circle of brown folding metal chairs, each with a dilapidated Methodist hymnal on it.  With sweaty palms I waited.  One by one the inmates filed in and took their places around the circle.  When the room was filled, before I could even speak, one of the inmates looked at me, “Okay preacher boy (yes, he called me that), before you start talking we’ll sing some hymns.”  And we did just that as various inmates would shout out a hymn number and then lead us in singing.  They sang from their hearts and you could feel the joy and presence of the Holy Spirit in that room.  After several hymns the same inmate addressed me a second time, “Okay, preacher boy, you’re up.”  Everyone sat down and looked at me.  I stumbled through my teaching that frankly felt so tepid and lame compared to their singing.  We then prayed and sang one last hymn.  As they left the room, joy and laughter overflowed.  Then the same inmate spoke one last time to me, “Do you know why we’re so happy?”  I just smiled and shook my head.  “Because we’re forgiven,”  he chuckled and slapped me on the back, “Because we’re forgiven, preacher boy.”  Scripture tells us, “Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Psalm 32:1).  Knowing you are forgiven by God (are forgiven-right now, present tense) indeed leads to joy, and a new song as well.
Love and Prayers,
Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 25: April 20, 2020

When I was a preteen in Northern Virginia there was a World War II veteran at our church. He was affectionately known as Maj-none of us knew his actual name. Every Sunday after church there was an open invitation for any middle school and high school students to eat to at the all-you-can-eat buffet at Shakey’s Pizza in Annandale, and Maj paid for everything. You could eat as much pizza and pasta as you wanted, drink as many sodas as you wanted, eat as many desserts as you wanted-all while you cut up with your friends-and Maj paid for it all, every dime, including generous tips of the unfortunate staff working that day. While we ate and horsed around with our friends, Maj would circulate among the tables and ask us how we were doing, how school was going, how he could pray for us-and Maj always remembered our names. As if that were not enough, Maj would always thank us for coming to lunch and encourage us to return the following week, “Bring a friend,” he would laugh, “Bring all your friends.” In his Letter to Philemon the Apostle Paul pleaded for Philemon to take back his runaway servant Onesimus, whom Paul had led to Christ. But Paul did not stop there, he added, “If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it” (Philemon 18-19). On Good Friday Jesus, whom we have all wronged in every way and to whom we owe everything, charged all of it all to his account, written with the blood of his pierced hands on the cross. Jesus paid for everything, and even now invites us to return each week…and bring all our friends.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 24: April 17, 2020

When you walk with a young child across the street or along a treacherous section of a hiking trail, you take their hand into yours, and you don’t let go.  If they slip or stumble, they will be fine because you are still holding their hand.  The Lord does this very same thing for you, always-as the psalmist wrote, “As often as I said, ‘My foot has slipped,’ your love, O Lord, upheld me.  When many cares fills my mind, your consolations cheer my soul” (Psalm 94:18-19).  When you cannot hold yourself up, God’s love will hold you up.  When your foot slips, God’s love will steady you.  When many cares fill your mind, God will console you and cheer your soul, and remind you that no matter what God is with you and loves you.  On Good Friday as Jesus trudged down the road weighed down by his cross, he no doubt slipped and stumbled on his bloody feet, but there was no one there to uphold him.  And on the cross it was not the nails that upheld Jesus; it was his love for you.  It is not a matter of how deliberately or intentionally you hold your Savior’s hand; it is a matter of how deliberately and intentionally God holds your hand.  God’s love will uphold you the rest of your earthly journey, and even when you can no longer walk, even when your foot slips and you stumble into the grave, God’s love will still uphold you in that moment, and then throughout eternity.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 23 (April 16, 2020)

My favorite teacher from elementary school was my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Cole.  She was the best.  She taught us, laughed with us, and we could all tell she really loved us, really cared.  She introduced me to the novels of J. R. R. Tolkien, which she read aloud to us every day.  But the thing that I appreciated most about Mrs. Cole was how she personally welcomed each one of us every morning as we walked into the classroom.  Without exception, every morning, regardless of the weather or how she was feeling that day or what she may have been going through, she personally welcomed each one of us with a big hug and an even bigger smile, “Good morning, Dave, so glad you’re here!”  This reflects the welcome God gives all of us.  We worship a welcoming God.  We see this most clearly in Jesus Christ, “God incarnate, man divine.”  Jesus spent his entire earthly ministry welcoming people were used to not being welcomed anywhere, welcoming people who were often overlooked, bypassed or altogether ignored.  Although he was derided and dismissed for being “a friend of sinners” (Matthew 11:19), Jesus never stopped doing this, ever.  In response to the warm welcome, the gracious welcome Jesus has always offered us, we are called to do the same, to be a Mrs. Cole for the people God has placed in our lives, especially those not used to being welcomed anywhere—“Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7).

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 22 (April 15, 2020)

The beautiful final song on U2’s 2000 album All That You Can’t Leave Behind is called “Grace.”  Bono sings, “Grace—she takes the blame, she covers the shame, removes the stain, it could be her name…grace finds goodness in everything…grace finds beauty in everything.”  When we talk about God’s grace we talk about God’s unconditional one-way love toward you, a love that is truly unchanging even in the midst your ever-changing life.  The ultimate example of God’s grace, God’s unconditional, one-way love toward the whole world, and toward you, is found in Jesus, Grace Personified.  Throughout his earthly ministry Jesus showed people who were not used to being shown love—criminals, tax collectors, notorious sinners, adulterers, etc.—that they were indeed loved, more than they could imagine.   On the cross Jesus revealed himself as Grace Personified when he took the blame for the world and for you, when he covered the shame of the world and of you, when he removed the stain from the world and from you.  And today through the power of the Holy Spirit this same Jesus, Grace Personified, can find goodness in everything in your life, even the areas you cannot find any goodness at all—and can find beauty in everything, even the ugliest areas in your life.  In fact, in a way grace actually is God’s name—“the God of all grace” (1 Peter 5:10).

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 21 (April 14, 2020)

Several years ago I read an article (I forget where specifically) about which words come to mind when people think about the church.  You would think the words would perhaps include “kind”, “welcoming” or “encouraging” but instead three of the most common responses were “hypocritical”, “legalistic” and most of all, “judgmental.”  This made me take a look in the mirror, and while I hate to admit it, I have been all these things toward others over the years.  Again, the most oft cited negative perspective of the church was (and for many still is) “judgmental.”  Most people fear being judged—judged for their appearance or money (or lack thereof), judged for their race or sexual orientation, judged for their social/economic background or political convictions—you fill in the blank.  The problem with judging others is that we are often wrong.  We misjudge others because we see them through our own distorted perspective and have no idea what their actual backstory, their actual life is like.  Jesus preached, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged” (Matthew 7:1).  In fact, elsewhere Jesus clearly stated, “The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22).  On Good Friday, Jesus, to whom God the Father had given the power of all judgment, took the judgment of the world, including you, upon himself.  In other words, Jesus chose to love you, not judge you.  He still does.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 20 (April 13, 2020)

Christianity is a resurrection faith.  Christians are resurrection people.  We worship Jesus Christ, the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25) who, yes, was crucified, died and was buried—but who was also raised from the dead.  Jesus’ resurrection means death is not the end of the story for you or anyone else—“If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.  But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have died.  For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:19-22).  In other words, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead gives us hope for today and hope for tomorrow—as Bill Gaither sings in the classic gospel song he wrote, “Because he lives I can face tomorrow, because he lives all fear is gone.  Because I know he holds the future, life is worth the living just because he lives.”  And after you die, the same God the Father who through the power of the Holy Spirit raised God the Son from the dead will do the same with you—“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you” (Romans 8:11).  Alleluia, Christ is risen!  The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 19: April 10, 2020

In my favorite Denzel Washington film, the gritty Man on Fire (2004) he plays John Creasy, a former United States Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance operative (and severe alcoholic,) who accepts a job to be the bodyguard for nine-year old Pita, played by Dakota Fanning, the daughter of a very wealthy Mexican couple.  But during her piano lesson Pita is kidnapped and Creasy is wounded by multiple gunshots.  Later Creasy receives an offer from Pita’s kidnapper, “Alright, I will give you her life for your life.”  Creasy accepts the offer.  In the final scene he meets Pita’s mom at one end of a bridge, while the kidnappers arrive at the other end of the bridge.  Creasy, still bleeding from his wounds, slowly walks to the top of the bridge and Pita is released by the kidnappers, and sprints to Creasy.  After they embrace, Creasy reassures her, “Alright, your mother is waiting for you at the end of the bridge.  You go home.”  Pita softly asks, “Where are you going?”  “I’m going home too.”  Pita tears up, “I love you, Creasy, and you love me, don’t you?”  Creasy nods, “Yes I do.”  Then Pita runs down the bridge to her mother, and her freedom, and Creasy walks down to the other end of the bridge and surrenders himself to the kidnappers, literally giving his life for Pita’s.  This film is based on a true story, which directly connects with another True Story, the gospel, in which Jesus, because he loves you that much, surrendered himself into the hands of sinners and gave his life for your life on the cross.  This remains the definitive proof of God’s love for you-“God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  And the Risen Jesus still bears the scars that prove God’s love for you.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 18 (April 9, 2020)

The concept of being a “servant leader” is very popular, both in the corporate world and in the church.  Yet, while this has its upside, the downside is that Jesus never spoke about being a “servant leader”, he simply spoke about being a “servant”—period, full stop.  After John and James asked Jesus to grant that they would sit at his right and left hand in glory (nothing arrogant or entitled about that!) Jesus told them, and the other disciples, who were less than blessed with John and James in that moment, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them.  But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave to all.  For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45).  This is very different from being a “servant leader” because being simply a “servant” dispels any pretense of power or control over others.  Moreover, Jesus did exactly this at the Last Supper when he literally became the servant of his disciples and washed their feet, and then told them, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (John 13:14-15).  The next day Jesus humbled himself even further and took the form of a servant and died on the cross as the Suffering Servant not just for his disciples but also for the whole world, including you (Philippians 2:7-8).  And how does God call us to respond?  You already know.

 Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 17: April 8, 2020

The classic 1962 film To Kill a Mockingbird, which won the Oscar for Best Picture and is based of course on Harper Lee’s moving 1960 novel of the same name, recounts the struggle for justice in the midst of a small southern town steeped in prejudice.  In his Oscar winning performance Gregory Peck portrays Atticus Finch, a compassionate and savvy lawyer, as well as a widower and single father of Scout and Jem, who has the impossible task of defending a black man, Tom Robinson, who has been falsely accused of raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell.  Near the end of the film Mayella’s father, Bob Ewell, confronts Atticus, and as Jem looks on from inside the family car, Bob spits in Atticus’ face.  Atticus steps closer to Bob, who braces for retaliation.  But instead of retaliating, Atticus, without saying a word, pulls a handkerchief from his pocket and wipes off his face.  Then he gets into his car and drives off with Jem, as Bob Ewell continues to glare at him.  On Good Friday Jesus, who in the same way Atticus was Tom Robinson’s advocate is your advocate (Romans 8:34), was also spit on in his face (Matthew 27:30).  And yet, also like Atticus, without a word Jesus refused to retaliate, although he was unable to wipe that spit from his sacred face.  And on the cross Jesus died for all of us-the Atticus Finches and Tom Robinson’s and Scout’s and Jem’s and Mayella Ewell’s and yes, the Bob Ewell’s too-and the Risen Jesus remains your Advocate.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 16: April 7, 2020

 

Recently we lost another brilliant songwriter, the legendary Bill Withers, whose hits included “Ain’t No Sunshine”, “Lovely Day”, “Just the Two of Us,” and a song all of us know, “Lean on Me”, a high octane gospel song: “Sometimes in our lives we all have pain, we all have sorrow.  But if we are wise, we know that there’s always tomorrow.  Lean on me, when you’re not strong, and I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on.  For it won’t be long ’til I’m gonna need somebody to lean on.”  At the Last Supper Jesus told his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  Earlier Jesus gave this gracious invitation to all of us when “we all have pain, we all have sorrow”: “Come to me all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29).  In other words, Jesus’ words to you echo Bill Withers, “Lean on me, when you’re not strong, and I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on.”  Moreover, in the meantime, we can be at peace because just as he assured his disciples at the Last Supper, Jesus indeed overcame the world (and sin and death) through his death and resurrection, which gives us hope because indeed “there’s always tomorrow.”
Love and Prayers,
Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 15: April 6, 2020

When I was thirteen years old, with crooked teeth and acne and the other “joys” of adolescence I had an awesome soccer coach, Coach Lundberg, a large intimidating former football player.  One day at practice he told us that if any of us wanted to run with him on the evenings we did not have practice to just show up at his house at 6:30.  A few evenings later I road my bike to his house but was the only one there, so I thought I must have arrived at the wrong time.  Nevertheless I rang their doorbell and he came to the door, still dressed in his Navy uniform (he worked at the Pentagon).  He grinned and told me to wait a sec, and then emerged a moment later with his running gear on, and grinned again, “Let’s go!”  We ran for a couple miles through his neighborhood, and the whole time he spoke words of encouragement and grace to me, along with some off color jokes.  He literally went the extra mile for me and with me, and I never forgot that.  In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile” (Matthew 5:40).  Although I did not force Coach Lundberg to go a mile with me (no one could do that) he did so anyway.  On Good Friday Jesus was forced to go the mile with a cross on his back and he went the extra mile all the way to Calvary for the whole world, including you.  And even now the Risen Jesus is with you as you run, or walk, through the neighborhood of your life, grinning, “Let’s go!”

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 14: April 3, 2020

Every several years I reread J. R. R. Tolkien’s masterpiece fantasy trilogy The Lord of the Rings, and each time I enjoy it even more.  One of my favorite characters is Aragorn (also known as Strider), the ranger who is part of the “fellowship of the ring” on their quest to save Middle Earth from destruction by destroying the evil One Ring.  Aragorn is vigilant, compassionate, and present-always.  Late in the story it is revealed that Aragorn is actually much more than a ranger, he is the King of Gondor.  Moreover, it is neither his skill in battle nor his ability to lead others that is the key attribute that reveals his identity as a king; it is something else entirely, as Tolkien repeats multiple times, “The hands of the king are the hands of a healer.”  It is the same with Jesus.  Like Aragorn, Jesus too is vigilant, compassionate, present-always-and like Aragorn, Jesus’ identity as the King was revealed in his ministry of healing.  Throughout his earthly ministry Jesus healed many people-lepers, demoniacs, the blind and deaf and mute-“he cured all of them” (Matthew 12:15 and Luke 4:40).  And on Good Friday Jesus’ healing hands were nailed to a cross where he died not only as the King of the Jews but also as King of Mercy and the King of Grace to bring healing to a hurting world, and to you.  Scripture assures us in both the Old and New Testaments, “By his bruises we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5; 1 Peter 2:24).  Even now what was true of Aragorn is true of the Risen Jesus-“The hands of the king are the hands of a healer.”  Even now, the scarred hand of the King of Kings hold you, and in God’s time, you too will be healed.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace #13: April 2, 2020

In England during World War II, without doubt one of the most challenging and stressful times in the history of that nation, Nobel Laureate T. S. Eliot wrote four poems of hope called “Four Quartets.”  The last of these four poems, “Little Gidding”, is especially replete with hope:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time…
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well

As we all continue the ceaseless exploration of our lives, even the exploration of the challenging and stressful paths, we can be assured that because of the unconditional love of God in Jesus Christ, indeed “All shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”   As Jesus healed multitudes of sick people the crowds observed, “He has done everything well” (Mark 7:37).  And this “everything” includes the events and circumstances in our lives, and gives us hope because “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).  And “at the end of all our exploring” this same Jesus Christ, this same One who “has done everything well”, will be there to welcome you home, where “you will know the place for the first time” and where “all shall be well.”

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 12 (April 1, 2020)

As a kid I loved April Fools Day.  All day long my friends and I would trick and prank each other, each time followed by an annoyingly loud, “April Fools!”  The Beatles’ 1967 album Magical Mystery Tour has an often overlooked gem of a song called “Fool on the Hill” about a fool “alone on a hill…keeping perfectly still”, a fool who is dismissed—“nobody wants to know him” because “they can see that he’s just a fool.”  And yet the fool in this song is actually a savant who knows what’s up, whose eyes “see the world spinning round.”  Christianity is often dismissed as foolish, Christians dismissed as fools, and Jesus Christ on Calvary dismissed as the ultimate Fool on the Hill.  And yet, scripture tells us, “the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are bring saved it is the power of God…God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom…(and) God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise” (1 Corinthians 1:18, 25, and 27).  On Good Friday Jesus became your Fool on the Hill.  He was mocked and rejected, and nobody wanted to know him because they could see he was just a fool.  And yet Jesus still gave his life for every fool in this foolish world spinning round, including you.  Moreover, this foolish love of God means you are fully forgiven for all the foolish things you have done, and ensures you the gift of eternal life…no fooling.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 11: March 31, 2020

One of my favorite preachers is the brilliant and anointed T. D. Jakes.  Many years ago I was watching him preach and he said something I have never forgotten, “If you live long enough, at some point life will shut your mouth.”  It really hit home for me because I was in a very rough season in many ways, a season in which life had shut my mouth.  This is not always a bad thing.  Honestly I have much more often regretted saying something I should not have said (“If I were you..” or “In my opinion…” or “I know you’re not asking my advice, but…”)  than not saying something I should have said (like “Thank you” or “I’m sorry” or “I love you”).  This is the last day of what for many people has been a month when life has shut their mouth.  This is exactly what happened with King David, the greatest king in Israel’s history, after he was confronted by Nathan the prophet about his sins.  In the wake of this David wrote Psalm 51, which opens, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; in your great compassion blot out my offenses.”  God answered that prayer not only for David, but also for you, when out of loving kindness and great compassion God had mercy on the entire world on Good Friday.  Life even shut Jesus’ mouth as he remained silent before his accusers and yet still went on to blot out all our offenses by dying in our place.  Late in Psalm 51 we read how David would respond later, and how we can respond now, “Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.”

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace #10: March 30, 2020

On a rainy October afternoon in 1977 my dad took me to see the first Star Wars film: Star Wars: Episode IV-A New Hope, and I’ll never forget that.  And yes, I can remember vividly seeing each of the subsequent eight films in this series-which theater and with what friends or family.  These films have resonated with so many people for so many years for many reasons, one of which is that a recurring theme is hope, from Episode IV: A New Hope all the way through.  In the 2017 film from this franchise, Star Wars: Episode VIII-The Last Jedi, Vice Admiral Holdo (played by Laura Dern) quotes one of Princess Leia’s favorite sayings, “Hope is like the sun-if you only believe in it when you see it, you’ll never make it through the night.”  (Yes, like most metaphors this one has holes in it, and it is pretty hokey too, but bear with me because Star Wars is awesome).  The gospel of God’s love is good news of hope during this collective “night”-“We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).  God freely gives us this hope-specifically, “the hope laid up for you in heaven”-in Jesus Christ; moreover, “you have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel, that has come to you” (Colossian 1:5).  Today may God stir up in your heart anew (and a new) hope in Jesus Christ.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace #9: March 27, 2020

Psalm 46 is a powerful psalm that connects exactly with where we are today as we all find ourselves coping with a situation none of us saw coming, as we all continue to navigate uncharted territory, because Psalm 46 is all about dependence upon God.  It opens, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea” (46:1-2).  Why not fear in this time of pandemic and its multileveled fallout?  A few verses later the psalmist answers, “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge” (46:7).  And then still later God speaks through the psalmist and shows us what it looks like to trust in God to be our “very present help in trouble,” what it looks like to become more aware of the reality that “the Lord of hosts is with us”-“Be still, and know that I am God” (46:10).  In other words, even if for just a few moments, turn off your phone, turn off your TV, turn off your other devices and be still in the presence of your Creator and Redeemer, be still in the presence of your Refuge and Strength, be still in the presence of the One who knows you better than you know yourself and loves you more than you could ever imagine, be still in the presence of the One who is indeed your “very present help in trouble.”  Sometimes dependence upon yourself falls short (let’s be honest, more than sometimes), but dependence upon God never falls short.  God will see you through-always has, always will.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace #8: March 26, 2020

The moving 2017 film Wonder portrays the true story of Auggie Pullman, a young boy suffering from Treacher Collins Syndrome, which means his facial bones never formed properly.  In spite of enduring many surgeries Auggie’s face remains disfigured, and out of embarrassment he wears his astronaut helmet as much as possible-having grown weary of the ridicule.  Auggie perseveres through a very long tough school year, and along the way “loses” his helmet.  At the end of the film as his Auggie’s loving father, Nate, confesses that he had hidden Auggie’s helmet-and then tells him why, “Please don’t be mad, you gotta understand, you were wearing it all the time.  I never got to see you anymore.  I missed your face.  I know you don’t always like it, but I love it.  It’s my son’s face, and I want to see it.”  After Nate hugs Auggie he gazes proudly into his beloved son’s face.

When it comes to your relationship with God, you can take the astronaut helmet off.  Your Heavenly Father, who loves you infinitely more than Nate loved Auggie, loves your face and wants to see it.  Scripture tells us that in Jesus Christ “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether in earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of the his cross” (Colossians 1:19-20).  This happened on Good Friday, when Jesus’ sacred face was punched and spit on and ridiculed, streams of blood and tears running down it-and yet it was in that hour that God revealed his glory in showing mercy to the world, including you.  And even now, God is the One “who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace # 7: March 25, 2020

One of my favorite rock artists ever is the late great Tom Petty, whom I had the privilege of once seeing live in an Atlanta concert with a few of my kids and my awesome friend Mike Tanner.  The second track on his 2006 album Highway Companion is a gem called “Square One”-a gentle, comforting song about starting over, about hitting the reset button in your life.  In the chorus Petty sings,

Square one, my slate is clear,
Rest your head on me, my dear
It took a world of trouble, took a world of tears
It took a long time to get back here

In this time of stress in our current “world of trouble” and “world of tears” the gospel of God’s forgiving love remains the same.  The great Old Testament prophet Isaiah connects this forgiving love of God directly with your life-“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:18).  This is possible because Jesus Christ is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  On Good Friday, as he took up his cross Jesus also took your world of trouble and world of tears upon himself, and then shed his scarlet blood to turn your sins white as snow, shed his crimson blood to turn your sins white as wool-“for our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).  This brings you back to square one and means your slate is clear.  This also means that today, right now, God’s words to you are, “rest your head on me, my dear.”

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace #6: March 24, 2020

Several years ago I had the privilege of visiting the home of William Shakespeare in England. As you know, in addition to writing classic plays he also wrote many sonnets, brief and beautiful love poems, including Sonnet 116:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments, love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come,
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom:

If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

This is what true love looks like. It is not fickle, but faithful; not but cowardly, but courageous; not ephemeral but everlasting. Above all, true love is unchanging-“love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.” All of this describes God’s true love for you. Scripture assures us, “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow doe to change” (James 1:17). While people’s love for you may fall short and prove fickle, cowardly and ephemeral, God’s love for you remains faithful, courageous, and everlasting. Jesus demonstrated this definitively on Good Friday when he walked “even to the edge of doom”, all the way to Calvary, where he gave his life for you-the most “generous act of giving” and “perfect gift” ever-on the cross, “the ever fixed mark” of God’s unchanging love for you. In these ever-changing times may God comfort you anew with his never-changing love.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace #5: March 23, 2020

Fifty years ago Simon and Garfunkel released their fifth and final studio album, Bridge over Troubled Water, one of my all-time favorites. The title (and opening) track is soaked with gospel, especially for those overwhelmed by challenging times-“I’m on your side when times get rough and friends just can’t be found…like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down.” God is on your side-always has been and always will be-“If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31). In this season when times have gotten rough on so many levels, and with social distancing it can feel like “friends just can’t be found”, Jesus remains the Friend of Sinners (Matthew 11:19), Jesus is still present, and Jesus is still on your side. At the Last Supper Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13), and the next day he did just that. When times could not have gotten any rougher for Jesus and his friends just could not be found, Jesus still laid down his life on the cross for you because he loves you that much. And even now Jesus remains on your side, and the cross remains your bridge over troubled water.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace: March 20, 2020

On his 1990 album The End of the Innocence Don Henley sings the following in the moving song called “The Heart of the Matter:” “I’ve been trying to get down to the heart of the matter, but everything changes and my friends seem to scatter, but I think it’s about forgiveness, forgiveness.” Not only is Don Henley the iconic drummer of the even more iconic band the Eagles, and an accomplished solo artist as well, he is also a brilliant theologian because when it comes to the Christian faith, forgiveness is indeed the heart of the matter. Paul put it this way, “I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3). Forgiveness was the heart of the matter in Jesus’ earthly ministry as he assured a paralytic who had not even asked for forgiveness, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5) because apparently the paralytic’s being assured God had forgiven him was even more important than being able to walk (although as you know, Jesus took care of that too). Moreover, after Jesus was nailed to the cross, his final prayer for you and me and all of us was, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). God the Father answered that prayer, and still does-not just corporately but individually, including you. This is especially good news when everything changes and your friends seem to scatter. And how does God call us to respond? “Forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you” (Colossians 3:13-please notice the verb tenses in this verse). What is true in our relationship with God is often true with our relationship with others (and with ourselves)-forgiveness is indeed the heart of the matter.

Love and Prayers,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace: March 19, 2020

In the gripping 2005 film Batman Begins, the first of the Dark Knight Trilogy, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is completing his training with the League of Shadows. All he has to do is execute a felon guilty of capital offenses in order to demonstrate his “commitment to justice.” But Bruce Wayne would not do it. When Bruce is warned, “Your compassion is a weakness your enemies will not share”, he replies, “That’s why it’s so important; it separates us from them.” Scripture assures us that compassion is one of the primary attributes of Jesus: “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). This compassion of Jesus for all of us sheep “harassed and helpless” by a myriad of challenges indeed separated him from his enemies, which unfortunately also included all of us (Romans 5:10). And yet this compassion motivated Jesus throughout his earthly ministry, and this compassion motivated his suffering and death on Good Friday when he demonstrated his “commitment to justice” by taking the judgment of all the harassed and helpless sheep of the world, taking the judgment of all his enemies who refused the “weakness” of his compassion-including you and me-upon himself. After his resurrection Jesus was still moved with compassion-just ask Peter. And even now his compassion remains unchanged. Jesus is still moved with compassion for you-all the time, no matter what.

Love and Prayers for you,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace: March 18, 2020

In the critically acclaimed (for real) television sitcom The Office Steve Carrell played Michael Scott, the hilarious and neurotic regional manager in the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. One of his best lines ever was this gem, “I want people to be afraid of how much they love me” (10 second link). In this time of fear we need to be reminded that scripture assures us, “God is love” (1 John 4:4)-not, “God is fear.” As we see every day right now, fear can and does lead to many things-blame, anger, selfishness, prejudice, etc.-but fear never leads to love. On the other hand, check out what love does to fear: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear”-and this kind of casting-out-fear love of God for a fearful world was expressed by Jesus for all of us on the cross: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:18-19). As you already know, at the Last Supper Jesus identified love as the sole litmus test of being a Christian-“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35)–and then the very next day showed us what that kind of love looks like. In response we are called to treat others with that kind of love-not blame or anger or selfishness or prejudice-but love.

Love and Prayers for you,

Dave

Daily Word of Grace: March 17, 2020

In the 1989 cinematic masterpiece Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, which for some reason received exactly zero Oscar nominations, Ted (Keanu Reeves) comments, “Strange things are afoot at the Circle K…” (see this 4-second link). That is certainly the case right now with the Coronavirus and its many ramifications. When unplanned and unexpected events like this occur, when “strange things are afoot at the Circle K”, we need extra grace from God. Scripture is clear that God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble-see Proverbs 3:34 and James 4:6-and also this gem from the First Letter of Peter:

All of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:5-7).

I wish it were not the case but I have learned the hard way in my own life that if we do not humble ourselves before God, God will do the favor for us because God is determined to give us grace. This was the case with the Israelites in the wilderness (see Deuteronomy 8:2), it was the case in Peter’s own life, and it is the case with us today. And yet both individually and corporately if we humble ourselves before God and ask for grace to navigate this challenging season, God will honor that. This points directly to the heart of the gospel, when on Good Friday Jesus humbled himself on our behalf (Philippians 2:5-8) and died on the cross in order to give grace to a world in desperate need of it, a world still desperately in need of it. Humility leads to grace, and as we have all sung many times, “’tis grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”

You remain in my heart and prayers.

Peace,

Dave