Listening Through Lent: Amazing Grace

I would like to give you two pen pictures. The date is 1735. An English sea captain takes his eleven-year-old boy with him to sea. Seven years of a sailor’s life, and then a vacation on shore, where he meets a girl of fourteen years, whose charms delay him till his ship sails leaving him behind.

Three years more of life on the sea, and he is home again, a deserter, in irons, degraded and flogged. He is now an infidel now, a profligate, profane, licentious wretch.

Off to the sea again, and as the ship passes a small palm-covered island off the African coast he leaves her, and enters the service of an English slave-dealer. Here he gives himself up to every form of wickedness with perfect abandon. He has scarcely clothes to cover him, and he is content to keep himself from starving with bits of food given him by the slaves.

“Had you seen me then,” he writes, “go pensive and solitary in the dead of the night, to wash my own shirt, upon the rocks, and afterward put it on wet, that it might dry upon my back while I slept: had you see me so poor a figure that, when a boat’s crew came to the island, shame often constrained me to hide myself in the woods, from the sight of strangers; especially had you known that my conduct, principles, and heart were still darker than my outward condition:” and so he writes on, of himself.

One day a ship goes sailing by, and he signals her, hoping to trade such things as he can offer for supplies. At first the captain declines to stop, but at last rounds to, and our vagabond goes aboard. Now leave this picture as it is, and let me tell you that in far away England, the father has heard of his boy’s whereabouts and condition and has commissioned the captain of a ship to try to find and bring him back. And the girl for whose sake he let his ship go away and leave him, sends messages of friendship.

The captain has searched faithfully but without success for the wanderer, and has started onward on his voyage, and this is the very ship, and the man he has sought in vain stands on her deck. The captain tells him that his father has sent for him to come home, but he declines to go; and then he lies to him and tells him he has fallen heir to a fortune, and he wavers, and then he tells him that Mary Catlett wants him to come back, and he consents to go. And this finishes the first of the pictures I am trying to draw.

And now for the second picture I must take you to a little English village called Olney, where a curate of the Church of England is endearing himself to the people of his flock by his faithful preaching, as he gathers them together on the Sabbath, and by the hearty sympathy with which he enters into all of the affairs of their lives. He writes for them to read the story of his life, and tells them of his wanderings from home, and country, and God, and how he was at last brought back to God, and country and home. And he writes hymns for them to sing in their church, and their prayer meetings, and their homes. And in his sermons, and his books, and his hymns, he never tires of telling how God has lifted him up out of the horrible pit and miry clay.

And these two pictures are of the same person. The first, as he was transformed by the spirit of evil until nearly all likeness of humanity was lost, and the second, as he was transformed again by the Spirit of God into some likeness to Christ.

~Harry Rodenberger and Retha Rodenberger McAfee (Harry’s sister)

“Stories of The Great Hymns of the Church” – Silas H. Paine

Rev. John Newton, 1725-1807 

Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost,
but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!

Thru many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
‘Tis grace hath bro’t me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun.




Suffering Like Jesus

“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders
and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be
raised.”  -Luke 9:22

When I’m most like my old self and least like Jesus is when I’m suffering.

I had traveled across the globe to share the suffering of Christ with Rakhine people.

I had finally arrived. I spent busy days riding my bike around town, getting the lay of the land and meeting people.
I had strived to hear new words and dealt with stomach problems. It was the beginning of the big festival season.
I heard the electric guitars plug in and begin to practice for the main stage show.
It was 9pm and I was exhausted.
I laid there angry.
I had been through suffering, but this music was insufferable to me. As the musicians played their hearts out next door to me, I waited impatiently for the power to go out on schedule at 10pm. I was elated when it did, I felt like I deserved for the loud music to stop. As I lay there sweating in the Prince Hotel in silence the sound of a generator roaring to life brought my selfish anger back.

Suffering comes to us in many ways, but it’s useless if it doesn’t make us more like Jesus.

May we listen to the guitar rifts and drum solos in our sleepless nights remembering that God used suffering to perfect even his own Son.

Why should we expect comfort and ease?
~ Jim Randall

“The gospel is not a cheap consolation of faith.”
Mechthild of Magdeburg

The Ordinary Small Things

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Matthew 6:5-6

I used to be a part of a farce. When I was new to the world of social media, I would post messages to people; making personal compliments, or recounting some shared memory or inside joke. There was a problem with this, though. I made those posts on a public forum, so any passerby could read them. That in itself wasn’t bad; what was bad was that I knew I was doing it, and that I was doing it in part because it drew more attention to my supposed wit and virtues. I could have sent more private messages, but I sometimes allowed my desire for publicity to override intimacy in my friendships. When I read Jesus’ critique of “religious” prayer in Matthew 6:5-6, I realize how easily I do the same thing with God.
Humility in a relationship is naturally disinclined to draw attention. It finds its delight in intimacy, in honest recognition of the aches and delights found in every relationship this side of heaven. Profoundly, humility also fosters thankfulness; because humility is the opposite of entitlement, it causes us to see things and relationships as gifts rather than earnings.
That’s why Jesus urged us to pray in humility, to avoid the entrapments of pride that had beset the hypocritical religious leaders of the day. Prayer without humility is ritualistic superstition; it’s merit-based religion, believing that God will hear because you’ve done enough good. 
Pride is a cloud that obscures the gifts of God and leads us to forget the “little” things he is constantly giving us. With pride, we make God our debtor. In humility, he is our great Benefactor, and nothing is too small to be a gift from him. 
~Breanna Randall
on the theme of “Prayerful Reflection”
– “We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts.”
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer