Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Gift of a Second Chance

By:  K. O'Connor
Every day I walked along the concrete walkway that led from our condominium unit to the stairway. And each day I was annoyed by the sight of a dedraggled, overgrown plant hanging over the edge of the walkway above, down to the second floor where I lived at the time.

"Why doesn't Lois do something about that thing?" I asked half aloud. "It's an awful sight and it's practically dead anyway."

I complained to my husband about it.

"Don’t look at it," he said. "It's hers. Leave it be."

I should have listened, but I didn’t.

Later that week, I could no longer resist the urge to clip, clip! So I did. I reached over the railing with my pruning shears and snapped them shut around the ailing limb. It dropped into my free hand and from there I sent it down the trash chute! I felt better–almost heroic. I had put this poor thing out of its misery.

I went on with my day. About 11:00 I returned home from some errands, picked up our mail, and ran up the stairs, suddenly stopped by the sound overhead of a woman crying. Then I heard the soothing words of another woman. I looked up and there stood Lois, my neighbor on the third floor. Her neighbor Nancy stood with her, as the two commiserated about the plant that had been pruned.

I felt like a criminal. My heart pounded so fast, I could hardly talk. But I knew what I had to do. I had to confess or someone else in the building, and I knew who it might be, would receive the blame for something I had done.

I ran up to the third floor, breathless. "Lois," I said, "I'm the culprit. I'm the one who cut your plant. I’m so sorry. I should have asked first. But I thought it would be okay to prune it a little since it was hanging over the railing all the way down to the second floor...and...."

I couldn't stop. I was mortified, embarrassed, apologetic, and defensive all at the same time! How right the Bible was in reminding me that "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." Prov. 3:34 (NIV).

Lois stood listening with eyes wide in disbelief. And Nancy didn't know what to say. I stopped. Lois spoke. She told me how she had worked so hard to get that little plant going. She couldn't imagine why anyone would be so cruel. Of course she was right. It was a cruel thing to do–even though I didn't see it that way at the time. I was so caught up in my opinion of what looks good that I took action regardless of how it might affect another person. I certainly did not consult with the Lord about what to do. I simply had done what I wanted to do.

I apologized profusely, hoping Lois would understand that I wasn't motivated by spite (though I wasn’t sure at that point). I was only tidying things up a bit!

She thanked me for being honest, dried her eyes, and we parted. The rest of the day was pure misery for me–not so much because of the plant. I knew it would keep growing. I hadn't destroyed it. But I had hurt a neighbor. Someone I like. A person who lives close by.

I couldn't let it rest. I prayed about what to do. And the Lord spoke clearly. I needed to make amends. There was no second guessing his guidance. I ran downstairs, jumped in the car, and drove directly to the local nursery. I spent some time selecting a beautiful, thriving, flowering plant that looked similar to the one I had cut. I bought it, wrote a note on a card, acknowledging my fault once again, and asking for Lois' forgiveness.

Within moments of leaving the gift at her doorstep, I received a phone call. Lois accepted my apology and thanked me for such a thoughtful gesture. I was stunned at how easy–and how difficult–that experience had been.

That day had turned out differently than I expected, but still, it had turned out. I had made things right when I had been wrong—by asking for and receiving forgiveness–and in turn, my neighbor did something for me. She, like the Lord, gave me the gift of a second chance.


"Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned" Luke 6:37 (NIV).

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Fear of the New Thing

By:  B. Keith

Benji used to have this fuzzy blue puppy blanket that instantly got him to sleep. It was a miracle worker, Mommy's helper, the only thing that got me a break.

Well that was until I misplaced it.

We spent weeks looking beneath sofas and even inside vent ducts. Then we started trying to find substitutes but none ever quite "fit". This also meant weeks of bouncing, endless nights of playing lullabies on a loop and trying desperately to find anything to get normal back.

I'd all but forgotten about the blue blanket months later – that was until Ben discovered this big floppy eared bunny that he now likes to have laid across his tummy when he gets sleepy. The bunny is at least ten years old. It is dingy and green. (Sounds a little gross right?) Frankly, it smells a little weird. He found it when he learned to scoot right next to the closet I was cleaning out. Long story short - he loved it and took it for his own.

It's old. But to him it's a new thing. Now it's become his comfort. It has replaced the little lost blanket and even though we have since found it, the bunny still WINS when it comes to nap time.

But I remember when he first saw that green bunny a few months ago. When all he could do was sit in the hall stationary, he didn't care a thing about it; but that was before he could grasp it.

I think we adults are a lot like our children. We would like to think that we outgrow our blue blankets, but we never really do. They just change shape, take on new forms. The things that comfort me are my old red sweater, my hippo pillow pet (like a million years old) and life that doesn't change! But like you, I have discovered that the last thing I mentioned is something that comforts us all – and something we all eventually learn is quite impractical!

Life is always changing. It is never stagnant. Even when we think it is.

"Behold I will do a new thing." (Isaiah 43:19)

It's the verse I have turned to so many times when the "comfortable" was ripped from my hands.

We all long for the new thing. But when the new thing comes, God has to pry the old thing from our hands. At first it's uncomfortable. At first, let's face it ... it stinks. But soon, like my Ben, we find that God hasn't taken away our blue blanket, whatever that means for us, away forever. He's just holding it a while. He wants us to find our comfort in Him, not in it; and when we can grasp the comfort of the new thing - we learn it's better. It's just as safe. It's just as miraculous and praise worthy.

The new thing can take on many forms. It can be incredibly exciting or completely the opposite –

Absolutely. Terrifying.

Maybe you have recently discovered a new season in your life that is uncomfortable. Maybe you are battling an illness, starting over, praying for a miracle or walking into the pathways of the unknown.

Whatever your new thing is – I want to assure you this much – God is a God of new things. Like the Israelites, God is always moving us forward.

But forward doesn't have to be scary. His track record is incredible. He never starts something He can't finish. He never moves without purpose. He never fails. He is faithful and He can be faithfully trusted with the new thing.


Until you find your Promised Land, or in this case your green bunny, may God be your comfort. May He fill you to overflowing as He whispers to you "Everything's going to be ok, My child." And most of all, may you discover that all changes are changes you can find rest in; especially when they are faced with the God of never-changing-grace. (Romans 8:18-19)

Sunday, November 2, 2014

This Halloween, Give Grace a Chance

By:  N. Jeter

With a hammer in one hand and a large scroll under his arm, Martin Luther approached the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. He paused to take a couple of nails from a pouch hidden in the folds of his dark woolen habit then began pounding his 95 theses to the church’s heavy wooden doors.

The date was October 31, 1517 and the event changed the course of human history.

Luther’s protest was not against ghosts and goblins or children dressing up to trick-or-treat. He chose All Hallow’s Eve because it was the night before All Saints’ Day, a day when most of Wittenberg’s inhabitants would be in church. It was good advertising.

This was not the United States of America where freedom of speech is protected as a Constitutional right. The Catholic Church was the supreme authority in the land: those who went against the Church did so at the peril of their lives.

What prompted this act of courage and defiance on Luther’s part?

As Luther studied Scripture, his eyes were opened to a new concept: the concept of God’s grace. Passion burned inside him as he read verses like Ephesians 2:8-9:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”

The established Church in Luther’s day misled people into thinking they could be saved by their own works through pilgrimages, confessions and by purchasing indulgences, which were basically “get out of hell free” cards. It became clear to Luther that men could not purchase God’s grace: it was freely given. This conviction led him to write out 95 main points of contention with the Catholic Church, his “thesis,” which he ended up nailing to the door of the church in Wittenberg.

Today many Christians debate the proper stance to take toward Halloween. Some believe that the holiday glorifies witchcraft and evil, while others see it simply as innocent fun. One of Satan’s most successful tactics is to incite Christians to fight each other on matters of doctrine. Perhaps we would do better this October 31 to focus on what is most important to God, just like Martin Luther did on that fateful day in history.

Luther was determined. He was passionate. He was willing to sacrifice his credentials, social status, even his life for the sake of sharing the news about God’s saving grace. The words of Romans 10:14 struck him at the core:

“And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”

Are you willing to make similar sacrifices to bring people from darkness to light?

Taking It to the Streets

Here are some ideas for taking God’s grace to the streets this Halloween.

Organize a prayerwalk around your neighborhood. Before the night falls and costumed children begin their quest for candy and fun, walk around your neighborhood alone or with friends, praying that the children will be protected from physical and emotional harm inside and outside their homes. Pray that the people in your neighborhood might be brought from darkness to light.

Be a Witness. How will they hear unless they are told? Halloween provides a great chance to plant seeds for the Gospel. It’s like door-to-door witnessing in reverse: the lost come to you! Try slipping in a kid-friendly tract along with any candy you distribute. And be friendly: these are likely to be kids from your neighborhood. You may not recognize them out of costume tomorrow but they’ll sure recognize you!

Organize a Neighborhood Party. Provide a “holy” alternative celebration for children and adults in your neighborhood. Consider hosting a “Reformation Day Celebration” in commemoration of Martin Luther’s brave act or a “Harvest Party” that celebrates the things we love most about fall.

Lend a Hand. Many churches organize Halloween alternatives but need help from volunteers to decorate, bring candy, or to help out at the event. Join in their efforts to provide good, clean fun.


Luther’s brave act was like a bolt of lightning rending the midnight sky. Now it’s your turn to do something revolutionary: give someone the gift of God’s grace this Halloween.