God’s Grace Connects with Our Groping Faith

Today is Sunday, the twenty-ninth of May, 2022, the seventh Sunday of Easter.

May the peace of Christ be with you today!

Day 23,453

I had a really great day at work, yesterday. It was fairly busy, which is nice, because it makes the day go by faster. As is usually the case (not always, though), it got a little busier, closer to closing time, and we wound up having a family checking out books right at 6:00 PM. We don’t mind, though . . . that’s why we are there, right?

C finished her bowling and arrived safely in Indianapolis, at R’s house, yesterday evening. Today, they are planning to visit the cat cafe that we went to last year. Good times. C is aware that we don’t need any more cats. I hope.

The Texas Rangers won big, yesterday, behind a grand salami by Marcus Simien, which happened to be his first home run as a Ranger! Finally! Final score was 11-4, over the struggling Athletics. Taylor Hearn, the starter, gained his third win of the season. The Rangers remain in third place in the AL West, but gained another game on the Astros, who have lost two in a row. They are still 3.5 out in the Wild Card race, though. They play the Athletics again today, to close out the series, at 3:05 CDT. They are 22-23, only one game below .500.

The Boston Red Sox split a double header with the Orioles, winning the first game 5-3 and losing the second 4-2. The Red Sox are now 22-25, still in fourth place in the AL East, 11 games out of first, and 4.5 out of the Wild Card race. They will play Baltimore again today.

The Yankees (33-14) lost a game, but continue to have the best MLB record. The Reds (16-30) and Nationals (17-31) are in a virtual tie for the worst record, with only .006 percentage points between them. The Blue Jays, Rangers, and Reds all have four-game winning streaks. The Rangers are on the verge of a sweep, if they can win today. The LA Angels have a four-game losing streak, the current longest. I am not unhappy about that at all. The Dodgers continue to be way ahead of everyone in run differential at +117. The Pirates continue to be way below everyone, at -82. The Rangers are green!! They have a +7 run differential. The Red Sox, after splitting that double header by the exact same number of runs, remain at +17.

The PWBA Twin Cities Open tournament has finished all qualifying rounds, and the finals will be at 4:00 PM, this afternoon, on CBS Sports Network. The top five bowlers are 1. Missy Parkin (San Clemente, CA) 2. Danielle McEwan (Stony Point, NY) 3. Bryanna Cote (Tucson, AZ) 4. Shannon O’Keefe (Belleville, IL) 5. Dasha Kovalova (Ukraine) Dasha is the reigning champion for this tournament, so I’m glad she made the finals. Kelly Kulick bowled the only 300, so far, but just missed the cut for qualifying round 4. She still made cash, though, as did Diana Zavjalova, from Latvia, and Daria Payak, from Poland. Stefanie Johnson, from McKinney, TX, was in the top 12, but didn’t make the finals. Clara Guerrero, from Columbia, who was last week’s top seed, placed sixth. Jen Higgins and Verity Crawley, two of my other favorites, did not cash in this tournament.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
(Collect for Seventh Sunday of Easter, The Book of Common Prayer)
Lord our God, we thank you for allowing us to experience your power. We thank you that we need not be occupied with material things only. We thank you that your Spirit comes to our aid again and again. Grant that we may continue to have your help, and let many hearts find what a grace it is that in spirit we may walk in heaven even during this transitory life with all its foolish ways. We may say with complete assurance that everything tormenting and burdening will pass by. It passes by, and we go joyfully and confidently toward your kingdom, which continually gains in power. Amen.
(Daily Prayer from Plough.com)

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.
(Ephesians 2:4-6 NLT)

Today I am grateful:

1. for the abundant riches of God's mercy and grace
2. for the constant help and power of God that enables me to not be concerned about material things
3. that God, through my practice of spiritual disciplines, prepares me for whatever may come in my life
4. for my journey of faith, and the fact that, at 64 years old, my faith in God is stronger than ever
5. for "eternal intersections" where God's grace connects with our groping faith
Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, 
whose sin is put out of sight! 
Yes, what joy for those whose record the LORD has cleared of guilt, 
whose lives are lived in complete honesty!
(Psalms 32:1-2 NLT)

Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God. He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises.
(Romans 4:20-21 NLT)

Today’s word for prayer is “prepare.”

“Preparation time is never wasted time.” ~ Anonymous

That “Anonymous” person sure said a lot of wise things.

Any time we have an important undertaking ahead of us, whether it be a vacation trip, or some kind of work project, we prepare. We bring suitcases into the house the night before and start packing (our cats promptly position themselves on the suitcases, thereby making packing much more challenging). My wife makes lists of things to make sure we don’t forget. If I’m cooking a recipe, I like to make sure I have all the ingredients measured out before I start.

We prepare. And, as the quote above says, that is not wasted time. It ensures that there are no hitches as the event gets under way. Or at least increases that probability. I suppose there is no way to completely ensure that nothing will interrupt the process.

But there is another thought around the word “prepare.” Consider Psalm 23:5.

You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.
(Psalms 23:5 NLT)

The word “prepare” generally means “make ready.” That can mean a number of things depending on the context. We’ve covered the idea of preparing things ahead of time, but it can also mean the act of, say, cooking. When we prepare a meal, we are actually cooking it, making it ready for consumption.

God prepares a banquet for us, right in front of our enemies. But guess what . . . I love Dallas Willard’s perspective on this. We do not hoard this banquet. We share it. Yes, with our enemies! We invite them to share in our blessings.

God also prepares me for whatever is coming next. As I practice disciplines (and I’m still not very good at that, mind you), He prepares me for the events of the day, of the week. If I am walking in His kingdom, I am prepared for anything that might happen, and nothing takes me by surprise. It is certain that nothing takes Him by surprised, because He is all-knowing, and already knows what is coming.

God prepares me, defends me, and will make straight paths for me.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
(Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV)

One other thought I just had. Jesus is clear that I’m not supposed to worry over what may happen tomorrow. If I am to succeed in that (and I frequently do not), I have to trust in His preparations for me. I have to not lean on my own understanding (or lack thereof, more likely) and trust that He is making my paths straight.

I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.
(2 Timothy 1:5 NIV)

I really like today’s reading from Daily Guideposts 2022. Penney Schwab is the writer. She speaks of her heritage of faith, but makes the statement that she cannot point to the exact day or hour when she first began trusting in Christ. I can identify with this statement.

It is popular to be able to declare the exact hour that one “became a Christian.” For many people it is the repetition of a quite unbiblical phenomenon known as “the sinner’s prayer.” Believe me when I say that no such thing exists in God’s Word.

I can’t say when my journey of faith began, because I have loved Jesus for longer than I can remember. I do know that, at the age of nine, I walked down the aisle of Calvary Baptist Church, in Mineral Wells, Texas, and professed to be a believer in Christ (that was how one “joined the church,” also). But was that when I was “saved?” I don’t know. I had been going to Sunday School and memorizing Scripture and singing hymns and songs of praise for years before that event.

Later in my life, some well-meaning “evangelist” convinced me that, because I couldn’t remember saying the “right words” (again, I am confident that Scripture knows of no such “right words”), that I wasn’t really saved. So I got baptized again. I told people that I had really gotten “saved” that time.

I look back on those days with a small amount of embarrassment, but “it is what it is,” as “they” say. When we are in college, we tend to be somewhat gullible. Some folks never stop being gullible.

But I can share the kind of heritage that Ms. Schwab shares in this reading. I come from a long line of Christian people. I don’t know much about my great-grandparents, but I know that my grandparents were followers of Christ. Every time we went to visit them (both sides of the family) we went to church on Sunday mornings. On my mother’s side, it was always Crim’s Chapel Baptist Church, out in the country, near Henderson, TX. I always felt loved when I was there.

I remember on those Sunday mornings, after the service was over, it seemed like people gathered outside and talked for at least an hour, before finally dispersing to their homes and Sunday lunches. It probably wasn’t as long as it seemed to a young boy.

On my father’s side, it was either Pirtle Methodist Church, in Pirtle, TX (look it up), or whatever small Texas town that my step-grandfather happened to be ministering in at the time. Buffalo, Lovelady, Grapeland, Clute (that one was tough . . . down on the Gulf of Mexico, a looooong way from Minerals Wells), Edgewood, and maybe some I’ve forgotten.

I always loved going to church with my grandparents.

There has never (and I say that in all seriousity) NEVER been a time in my life when I questioned my faith in God. There have been a few times when I questioned my salvation, but God always came through with a resounding “yes!” at those times.

The most memorable came in 1984. I had recently become divorced (several days before Christmas in 1983), and was taking some time in the summer to get away from things. I spent a week (maybe two, I can’t remember) at my grandmother’s house, outside of Henderson, and my grandmama’s house in Pirtle. One day, I was walking around in front of my grandmother’s house, where there used to be a swing set. Me and my cousins spent a lot of time out there. I was struggling, dealing with the emotions of what had been happening in my life.

In desperation, I cried out, “God, am I really Your child?”

Almost forty years later, and I’m getting chill bumps just remembering what happened next.

I swear to you, God reached down and HUGGED ME! I have never felt anything quite like it. It was the most incredible experience I have ever had in my entire life.

For anyone who foolishly declares that God does not exist . . . I can’t prove it. But I know you are wrong.

Today, I am 64 years old, just like in that Beatles song. My faith is stronger than ever. There are always questions, and, these days, I’m questioning more things than ever. But my salvation and faith in God are not part of those questions. I know that God loves me, and I know that there is absolutely nothing I can do to either decrease OR increase that love.

Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.
(Proverbs 22:6 NIV)

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
(Ephesians 1:11-14 NIV)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
(Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV)

“God comes to us; we come to God; the meeting is salvation.”

It’s because of statements like this that I believe that salvation, rather than something that has a definitive moment, is more of a lifelong process. One popular writer (I can’t remember who, so this isn’t exactly a quote) said that we are saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved.

This “meeting” of which Eugene Peterson speaks is not a single event. “We celebrate this meeting in our acts of worship.” In these times of worship, we find that “God’s coming and our coming result in real meeting, not simply an appearance of it.”

I’m quoting more because I simply cannot adequately paraphrase Peterson’s exquisite wordsmithing.

“Worship heightens our awareness so that we can become conscious of the eternal intersections that take place in our hearts when God’s grace connects with our groping faith.

“Worship intensifies joy as the Word of God is spoken clearly and the voices of praise are harmonized in being and coordinated in affirmation.”

I had a meeting with God, that day in 1984. God came, I came, and we met together. And make no mistake. Even though I’m the one who asked the question, I in no way believe that I initiated that meeting. That was one of many “eternal intersections” where God’s grace connected with my groping faith in a powerful way.

(From On Living Well, by Eugene H. Peterson)

Where do I even begin, Father? I am moved, this morning, beyond words. Yet I have somehow managed to type a plethora of them. I am still grateful for that “meeting” we had, back in 1984. It was truly a life-altering event, that I still remember quite vividly. In fact, I still have the Blue Jay feather that I found on the ground immediately following that meeting. It is a marker, a reminder of that time, as if I needed one.

These “eternal intersections” of which Peterson speaks are incredible, Father. If we were to truly examine our lives, we would find that there have been countless numbers of those intersections where Your grace connected with our groping faith. And if anyone says that their faith is never groping, I’m calling them liars. Or maybe their faith is in the wrong place. My faith, while strong in You, is week in me. I have little faith in my ability to stay connected. But that’s why it is faith, in the first place, right? My faith isn’t supposed to be in me, it is in You. The questions come from within me, and are about me and my place, not about You.

I mean, there will always be questions about You, because, until I get to meet You “in person,” there will be things that I do not comprehend about You.

I am grateful for the heritage of faith that I share in my family. I pray that I have done an adequate job of passing it along. I fear, at times, that I have failed, but that is not in my hands, is it? I do know that I am fully convinced, as Abraham was, that You are completely and utterly faithful to do that which You have promised. You will do what You say You will do. I praise You for that.

I also praise You for preparing me, daily, for life. I don’t always walk in that preparation, I confess. You make my paths straight, but it’s I who walk crookedly. Sometimes I must appear spiritually “drunk,” I must stumble around so badly. But praise to You for always bringing me back to that straight path. You show me the way, Father, and I know that in Your presence there is joy forevermore, and pleasures everlasting. Thank You, Lord.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Faith cannot be acquired by a decision of the will: it is a gift from God. Yet it can be given to everyone who seeks it. As Jesus says, “Seek, and ye shall find.” What counts here is trust. Faith is not dependent on reason – on theories, theological systems, or other intellectual explanations. It is belief, precisely in the absence of these things. Mary had reason enough to doubt the angel who came to her from God, but instead she believed – “Here am I, a handmaiden of the Lord” – and received the Word in her heart. It can be that simple!
(J. Heinrich Arnold, Daily Dig from Plough.com)

Grace and peace, friends.

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