Grace Notes


For the Wise Men, who were more than likely astronomers or astrologers, men who studied the skies, the star was a sign, an indication that a new king had been born somewhere in the world.
We know the significance of the star. Some of us put them on top of our Christmas trees. “Star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright…guide us to thy perfect light.”
These Wise Men wanted to meet this new king and pay him homage. They never took their eyes off of that star. When they got hungry, they ate. When they got tired, they slept. When it was cloudy, they took a break. But, they hitched their wagon to the star and it led them to the Christ child.
Why were they the only ones to notice the star? Was it just for them alone? I believe the same star was there for all to see. These wise men just paid attention.
I have never been one to ask God for a sign. Maybe once or twice, begrudgingly at that. On the other hand, my wife Kim continually asks God for signs.
What we have learned is that God provides signs all the time, whether we ask for them or not. We just don’t always have eyes to see them. It’s so easy to get distracted on our journeys, is it not? I mean, there is so much going on around us that commands our attention.
But, there are signs of God’s presence and God’s activity all around if we will only pay attention. Like the Wise Men, we will be blessed for “paying attention.”


“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” Isaiah 11:1 NRSV

Imagine going out to your favorite forest spot and finding that all the trees have been cut down and nothing is left but a cemetery of tree stumps. All you see is destruction and lifelessness.

The people to whom the Prophet of Isaiah 11 spoke had seen their lives devastated by Assyrian conquest. They wondered if there was any future for them.

Isaiah takes them on a visual field trip through the barrenness. Nothing but stump after stump remained. But, then his eye catches this one stump. And out of the stump there is a branch, a shoot, coming up from it. Is it possible that this one stump can bring forth new life? Can something new and fresh and hopeful arise out of such desolation?
This past January 2nd, we started cutting trees on our lot to prepare for our new home. There was this one tree, a poplar, that sat about 25 feet from the upper corner of the parking area, that had to come down.
Around July 4th, I saw this green shoot protruding out of the top of the stump. By the end of October is was a small tree, a couple feet tall with about 35 or 40 big green leaves. It’s the only stump that revived itself out of all of those that we cut down. One stump, one tree, one voice, crying out in the midst of desolation that new life is possible, even when everything looks to the contrary.
Isaiah is daring to imagine a world of hope and promise, brought into existence by one chosen by God, one upon whom God’s Spirit will rest and remain. A chosen one who will reign and rule through wisdom and discernment, and with counsel and strength. One who will take pleasure in honoring the eternal God.
A King who will determine fairness and equity among all peoples, who will with a single word abolish oppression and end wickedness, One whose very impulse will be to right wrong and destroy evil.
This new King will usher in the day of perfect peace and harmony among all of God’s creatures and all the nations will be filled with the knowledge of God. Rather than trusting in their own knowledge and desires, they will come to this One for guidance and direction. And glory will be restored throughout the land and sea and air and all God’s creation will praise Him!

This envisioned King is the one we know as Jesus. He is the promise of hope!!

God = Love

If I were a good writer, (which I’m not) and if I had the time, (which I don’t) I would write a book. It would be autobiographical in nature and in particular it would chronicle how my understanding of God has changed over the years, most especially in the 25 years I have been involved in local church ministry.
I can put my change in a nutshell here, we don’t have time to go through every detail. You can read the book that’s never going to be written, or we can talk about it sometime, I love to talk about it.
I once thought that God was a loving God until you ticked him off, then you better “watch out.” I now believe, with every fiber of my being, that God is not just a “loving God,” rather God IS LOVE!! God can be nothing else.
The word is “agape.” It means self-giving to the point of not expecting anything in return. It is the love that loves, no matter what. It does not change. There is no “less agape here” and “more agape” there. God’s very nature, God’s character, God’s love, is not based on merit. God loves all us sinners the same. You couldn’t be loved more by God than you are right now, but you can experience it more, if you will let go of the idea that God is a monster.
A big part of my transformation, a big part of the change in my thinking (repentance), came in a study of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. 1:15 jumped out at me like a jack in the box, and I haven’t been able to stop winding it up. Paul writes, “He is the image (eikon, “bust, exact replication) of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation…” (NRSV)
The Contemporary English Version reads, “Christ is exactly like God…”
If Christ is like God, then God is like Christ. If we want to know what God is like, it’s very simple, we look at Jesus!

More to come…

“For Those Who Have Waited”

Isaiah 25:6-10a

Florence Martus was a young lady who lived in Savannah, Georgia, in the late 1800’s. She was in love with a sailor. The two were planning to wed. But, the sailor’s ship left Savannah harbor before they could get married.
He promised that he would be back, and that they would become husband and wife as soon as he returned. She, in turn, promised to wait for him.
And wait she did.
Her waiting was not a passive activity. Her house was near the harbor, and every day she would go out to the harbor and greet each ship. By day she would wave a cloth, and by night she would wave a lantern, all in the hopes that her sailor was on one of the ships and he might see her and know that she had waited for him.
The years went by. Every day and night, Florence continued to wait…waving her cloth by day and her lantern by night.
But, her sailor never returned.
Of course, her presence at the harbor was a welcome sight for sailors who spent much time on the sea, and wondered if anyone ever cared about them. They would go out on the decks of the ships and wave back, happy to see her as she enthusiastically greeted them.
But none of those sailors was her sailor. Her ship never came in. The marriage never happened.
Today, there is a statue in Savannah harbor of a woman waving a piece of cloth, with a dog waiting beside of her. It is dedicated to Florence’s memory. Tourists in Savannah come to see “the waving girl.” Couples even get married in front of the statue. And ships, entering the harbor, still sound a salute to the statue with a blast of their horn.

What a terrible thing it is to wait for a promise that never comes true.
The people of God who had returned from Babylonian exile were in a state of waiting for God to be fully revealed to them. They had rebuilt homes and lives and had even rebuilt the Temple, but it somehow still seemed that God had forgotten about them, that God was far away from them.
We have all felt that way. The struggles of life invade us and tempt us to lose hope and faith, and sometimes, we do lose hope and faith.
But, God is always near.
The prophet Isaiah reminds the people that God had always loved them and been on their side, even when they chose not to trust and obey him. He says, “O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you, I will praise your name; for you have done wonderful things…you have been a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat…” (Isaiah 25:1,4, NRSV)
The people of God were looking for God’s redemption and salvation. They were looking for God to intervene in their circumstances. They were waiting.
We spend a lot of our lives waiting. It has been said that waiting causes one of two things: we either find ourselves becoming impatient, hopeless, joyless, even violent. Or it can create in us a hope and faith and anticipation that cannot be shaken.
What I have experienced is that for myself, and maybe for most of us, hope and faith didn’t come until after we had gone through the season of impatient and hopeless waiting!
Remember in the 1970s, when Heinz Ketchup tried to teach us that good things can come to those who wait? The child opens the bottle of ketchup, and the thick, rich combination of “tomato concentrate from red ripe tomatoes, distilled vinegar, corn syrup, salt and spices” seems to take forever to fall out of the opening. But, you know it’s going to be worth the wait.
God does not leave his people waiting on the shore, waving cloths and lanterns. The message of Easter is that God comes, God restores, and God saves! It is worth the wait!
Death, “the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all the nations, has been swallowed up forever.” (Isaiah 25:7)
Jesus, on the cross, bearing our sin, saying “Father, forgive them!” puts death to death. He puts sin and evil and violence to death. He puts anxiety and hopelessness to death.
And three days later, when Jesus arose, all those things stayed in the grave. They no longer have power over us.
If God can take the execution of Christ and turn it into Easter, think what he can do for you and your situation!
For those who have waited, for those who still wait, the compassionate God, who wipes away all tears from our eyes, is offering us an invitation to a feast…a celebration of rich food, and well aged wines, a celebration that began 2,000 years ago when Jesus rose from the dead. It is a celebration of life and abundance, a celebration for those who have waited.
Let’s picture ourselves, going up the mountain of the Lord, along with countless numbers of God’s redeemed, singing Easter’s song:
“Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (Isaiah 25:9, NRSV).
He is risen! Amen.

Why Didn’t Jesus Ride a Horse?

“The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord–the King of Israel!’

Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written: ‘Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.'” (John 12:12-15, NRSV)

On Palm Sunday over 2,000 years ago, Jesus arrived in Jerusalem to a king’s welcome.

It was Passover week and Jerusalem was alive with activity. It was believed that Jerusalem’s population was around 35,000 to 40,000 people, but during Passover there would be over 200,000 people in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem was under Roman occupation. Caesar was the boss, Rome was in charge, and everyone knew it.
With such a large crowd of Jewish pilgrims gathered in one place, it was possible that a revolt or rebellion against Rome could take place. It was a chance Rome couldn’t take.

Enter Pilate. Pilate was the Roman Governor of Judea. You might think his quarters would be in Jerusalem, but he actually lived and governed from a place called Caesarea Maritima, west of the city on the Mediterranean Sea.

Pilate, like Jesus, entered the city on Palm Sunday, and he would have ridden into the city on a horse. And along with him would be his chariots and horses and his weapons of war, and his army of Roman soldiers. They would have marched into the city through the West Gate and they would have travelled throughout the city.

It was a military parade. A show of force. It was Rome saying to the people in Jerusalem for the Passover festival that if they were thinking of revolting against Rome, they had better think again. Rome was ready to unleash it’s force against them and they would be squashed. Pilate, riding into town on a horse, would have struck fear into the people.

Lodging in Bethany, Jesus would have entered the city of Jerusalem from the East. But, he doesn’t ride into town on a war horse. Rather he finds a donkey, mounts it, and enters the city from the Mount of Olives.

Pilate and Jesus represent two very different entrances into the city. Pilate comes in power…Jesus comes in humility.

Which is the greater power? Power that comes through force? Or power that comes through humility?

The crowds waiting at the eastern entrance of the city, hearing that Jesus is coming, believing that he indeed may be the one to finally deliver them from oppression, start waving palm branches, a symbol of victory, and they start shouting, over and over again, “Hosanna! (Save us!) Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord—the King of Israel.”

Jesus comes from Bethany, tops the Mount of Olives overlooking the city, and as they crowds along the road from the Mount of Olives into the city cheer their King, Jesus goes and grabs a horse and mounts it, and waving his sword in the air…

No, he didn’t, did he? “Jesus found a young donkey, and sat on it.” (John 12:14, NRSV)

Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah. He is not a fierce, conquering hero. He is not an oppressive King. Jesus is coming to Jerusalem for a battle, but it will not be fought the traditional way with weapons and force.

Rather, Jesus will conquer by the way of peace, self-sacrifice, forgiveness and love.

Pilate is looking for a fight. Maybe even the people are looking for a fight.

Jesus is looking to show that there is a way other than violence to attain peace. Pilate rides a war horse to strike fear into the people; Jesus rides a young donkey to offer hope and peace to the world.

“He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion will be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” (Zechariah 9:10, NRSV)

In Jesus, a new Kingdom has come. A Kingdom characterized by humility, peace, and love.

So, while we continue to spend money to feed the military/industrial complex, while we see nations marching in Pilate’s parade, the church is called to a higher place. It will be risky, but the church must join Jesus’ parade, offering the poetic word of Isaiah:

“In the days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up the mountain of the Lord, to the house of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:1-4, NRSV)

“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”