Tag Archive | Pastor Jeff

Do Something!

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Pastor Jeff Vanden Heuvel

“You’re not dead yet. Do something!”

That’s what Pastor Jeff preached about at Messiah last Sunday. He talked about how difficult the past week had been – with two black men being shot in our country, just a day apart, and then five police officers being killed and more injured in Dallas just days later. When you think about all the violence in our country, and the continuing racial injustice and unrest, it’s easy to conclude that the situation is hopeless. Then, when you look globally at the inequity, hatred, and wars worldwide – the big picture only confirms that we might as well give up. Hatred is the victor. Our experience proves that love and justice will never win in this world. Why bother to fight for what’s right? We won’t win.

The Scripture Pastor Jeff turned to was the familiar story of The Good Samaritan. A lawyer had asked Jesus what he needed to do to have eternal life, and Jesus told him to love God with all his heart, soul, strength, and mind; and to love his neighbor as himself. The lawyer then asked Jesus to define who his neighbor was – to put limits on who he had to love. Jesus then told the story of The Good Samaritan, which essentially said there are no limits. Jesus told the lawyer to go and show mercy. Period. No limits.

Pastor Jeff paraphrased that directive to us. “You’re not dead yet. Do something!” Then he offered some practical suggestions of things we can do, starting with becoming more educated on the issues, and discussing the issues with our families and our neighbors….

The day before, on Saturday, I was inspired by an email I received from Ellen Finn. I mentioned her a couple months ago in this blog. She’s the person who introduced me (via email) to Casita Copan in Honduras. Casita Copan is the organization that connected Mim and me with Dulce Maria and Leydi, the two little girls we provide monthly support for in Honduras. (Here’s a link to that post:
https://whisperingwindsblog.com/2016/04/26/another-piece-in-gods-puzzle/)

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Ellen delivering a Christmas “basket”

I have never met Ellen face to face. A friend of mine, the daughter of one of our assisted living residents, told me about Ellen 7 years ago, when she was trying to raise money to give Christmas baskets to poor families in Honduras. Buenos Vecinos (Good Neighbors) is the name of the organization Ellen created. Ellen explained how she got involved with projects in Honduras on the organization’s website, www.BuenosVecinos.org:

I originally went to Honduras to study Spanish and live with a wonderful homestay family for a week. I stayed two weeks. I fell in love with the family as well as the Honduran people and the children absolutely captivated me!

I came back to Seattle and after 3 months, sold most of my belongings and my car, gave up my music career and moved to Honduras to teach English.

Within 3 months I began to see how distressed the schools were in the neighboring villages and decided that I would commit my energies to raising money to building, supplying, and repairing village schools. Soon we found ourselves expanding into areas of health and emergency relief….

On Saturday I received the following email from Ellen:

IT’S MY BIRTHDAY, IT’S MY BIRTHDAY!!!!

Well okay, soon it will be my birthday.

As many of you know I have been privileged and happy to be working in Central America for almost 10 years!

AND NOW, I am about to turn 70 years old and still going strong!!!

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Ellen getting school supplies for her friends.

In these years, together, you and I have built 15 schools, a library, a clinic, bridges, water projects, endless school repairs and furnishings, school supplies and teaching materials for more than 100 schools … and have provided all sorts of educational and health and nutrition programs for children. We have provided emergency services for pregnant mothers, communities in distress and much more!

Many folks have asked me what I want for my birthday and I keep coming up with the same thought.  Operating expenses for a year! 

It doesn’t require much to keep us going…. we can still provide great services on less than $15,000 per year and if we had this sum, we could concentrate more on providing much needed services and projects, and less on raising the funds. This would be such a great way to start my next decade… with time and energy and support to do even more needed projects.

If you’d like to help me celebrate … You can donate at our website www.BuenosVecinos.org

THANKS FOR HELPING ME MAKE THIS BIRTHDAY A SPECTACULAR ONE IN WHICH WE WILL BE ABLE TO PROVIDE SERVICES TO THOUSANDS MORE CHILDREN!

With love and gratitude,
Ellen

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Ellen opening boxes of school supplies.

That email was inspiring to me! One person can’t solve all the problems of the world, but one person can make a difference in the lives of their neighbors.

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Young Hondurans carrying benches from the storage shed to their outdoors classroom.

So, what can we do? Pastor Jeff kept reminding us, “You’re not dead yet. Do something!” So, who are my neighbors? I guess I have some neighbors in Honduras that need some help, and Ellen is willing to coordinate the logistics of getting help from me to these neighbors. I can simply go to her website and make a donation. That’s a start.

And I have other neighbors with needs…. Last week I received a phone call from someone who was trying to line up donations of winter coats for inmates who will be released from the Dane County Jail this winter. The caller asked me if I could enlist the help of our church in this project. The inmates are my neighbors, too. I guess I could follow up on that request. I could also clean out my own closet….

With the world being in such a sorry state, there are plenty of opportunities to be a good Samaritan. As Pastor Jeff suggested, I need to educate myself on the issues underlying the tragic problems in our neighborhood, our country, and our world. I need to look around to see and understand the needs of my neighbors.

Like Jesus said,

“Which of these three [the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan], do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” [Luke 10:36-37 NRSV]

Or, as Pastor Jeff said, “You’re not dead yet. Do something!”

coat-drive

Jail inmates released in the winter months will need warm coats. Maybe we can help….

(You can hear Pastor Jeff’s homily on the church website. Pastor Jeff always begins his homilies with a song and a story. Even if you just watch the first few minutes, you’ll hear a great story about an old and very clever German Shepherd.
http://messiahchurch.com/media/video/2016-sermons/  
Note: You may have to click the refresh button of your browser and then click the arrow for the July 10 sermon.)

Tap Dancing in Church

you_make_me_feel_like_dancing_tap_dancing_cat_poster-r51004af4ca5e48cf85af6aa87fffa6f0_w2q_8byvr_512That was a first. A woman tap danced to my postlude in church Saturday evening. I was playing a pretty jazzy arrangement of “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” on the piano, and I heard some rhythmic tapping. It sounded great, and I sensed a few people gathering together to watch someone near the front of the church. Unfortunately, I couldn’t look up to see what was going on because I had to keep my eyes on the sheet music I was playing. The woman tapped throughout the whole postlude, and then left before I got a chance to meet her. Mim told me it was fun watching her, but she didn’t know who she was. I really enjoyed the percussion sounds that her tapping added to the postlude. I think I had just as much fun playing for her as she must have had by tap dancing.

I wondered what prompted the woman to start dancing. Maybe she tap danced to the postlude because she couldn’t resist the jazzy beat of the arrangement (by Melody Bober – my favorite piano arranger).

Or maybe she did it because of Pastor Jeff’s homily. He talked about having the courage to do what God calls us to do. After all, we are God’s children, and we should have the courage to do what we feel we are called to do. Perhaps for her, she was being called to express her joy, and to praise God through tap dancing.

Or maybe both of the above.

I just finished reading the book, A Song to Sing, a Life to Live: Reflections on Music as Spiritual Practice, co-authored by Don Saliers, a theology professor and church music director, and his daughter Emily Saliers, a member of the Indigo Girls, a folk-rock duo known for their vibrant music and social activism. In chapter 2, entitled “A Sound Spirituality,” the authors say,

imagesThe human body with all its senses is the primary location of the impulse to acknowledge the glory and power of God. Rituals, whether sacred or secular, always involve the body and its senses – what is heard, seen, tasted, touched, and given bodily expression in movement and gesture. … Spirituality is not an idea in the brain but rather a disciplined bodily experience that grows deeper with practice. … 

Unless we pay no attention or deliberately suppress our senses, the body is always being touched by music, is always ready to become a musical instrument. (p. 21-22) 

Maybe the tap dancer allowed herself to become a percussion instrument to become a part of the music and to experience its joy.

The tap dancer was not the only person who was touched by the jazzy music at the end of the worship service. Several people talked with me after the service, saying how the lively postlude gave them a physical lift, some extra energy to finish out their day.

The Bible tells us to make music and dance to praise God.

praisehimdancePraise God with trumpet sound, 

praise God with lute and harp.

Praise God with tambourine and dance,

praise him with strings and pipes.

Praise God with clanging cymbals;

praise God with loud clashing cymbals!

Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!

[Psalm 150:3-6]

God has given us the gift of music, and has provided some suggestions for how to use the gift.

A couple weeks ago in this blog I explained that my spiritual practice throughout Lent this year is to spend some time alone playing prayerful music on the piano every day. Music is more than a means of offering joyful praise to God. It can be a means of communicating with God, expressing feelings of all kinds. One of my favorite hymns is “My Life Flows on in Endless Song” by19th century American Baptist minister Robert Lowry. Here are some of the words.

55497b4c76534024d9fccb9c960bc7edThrough all the tumult and the strife,

I hear that music ringing.

It finds an echo in my soul.

How can I keep from singing?

Over the next several weeks, in church (and anywhere) we’ll be singing songs like: “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me,” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord,” “O Sacred Head Now Wounded,” “The Strife Is O’er, the Battle Done,” “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today,” “Thine Is the Glory.” The music will help us feel and express emotional extremes as we strive to understand God’s love for us, and learn to reciprocate that love.

Praise God for the gift of music. And tap dancing as one more way of experiencing that gift!

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Amen, Papa, Amen.

My mom used to tell the story about one of her best childhood friends, Ruth Eckblad. Ruth’s father was pastor of the Willerup Methodist Church in Cambridge, Wisconsin for a few years in the early 1900s. One day when Ruth was a little girl, she got tired of sitting in church and being quiet for what seemed to be an awfully long time. Finally she stood up on the pew and said loudly enough for her father who was at the pulpit preaching (and the whole congregation) to hear, “Amen, Papa, Amen.”

1930s Willerup Preacher

Inside Willerup Methodist Church in the early 1900s.

Mom told that story often enough that “Amen, Papa, Amen” became a family expression that meant, “That’s enough for now. Let’s move on to something else.”

Well, it’s about that time of the year to say, “Amen, Papa, Amen” to 2015 and to welcome a new year.

Near to the Heart of GodLast Sunday’s hymn in the devotional book, Near to the Heart of God: Meditations on 366 Best-Loved Hymns was “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” composed by Peter C. Lutkin. As you read the words  below, I’m sure many of you who have been members of church choirs will hear this benediction being sung in your mind as a beautiful choir anthem, especially the 7-fold Amen at the end.

The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord lift His countenance upon you,
And give you peace, and give you peace;
The Lord make His face to shine upon you,
And be gracious, and be gracious;
The Lord be gracious, gracious unto you.
Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen.

The reflection for the day was on benedictions. The word benediction was defined as a “Latin-based term meaning a concluding prayer of blessing.” The author, Robert J. Morgan, cited several different benedictions given in the Bible. His favorite benediction is from Hebrews 13:20-21, “May the God of peace … equip you with everything good for doing his will.” (NIV) His wife’s favorite is Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (NIV)

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Pastor Jeff at Messiah

My favorite benediction is the one Pastor Jeff says at the end of every service at Messiah:

May God go before you to guide you;
Be behind you to encourage you;
Above you to watch over you:
And beneath you to support you.
But may you discover the presence of God within you,
And know that God will always be your friend.
Amen.

As I was drafting this blog post, Floey came up to me and asked, “What are you doing, Mom?”

“I’m writing my blog post, and it’s kind of a benediction as we move on from 2015 and into a new year.” I read to her what I’d written so far.

Floey sitting - profile cropped“I like that, Mom. It’s good to think about God blessing us as we move into a new year. I especially like Pastor Jeff’s benediction. I like being reminded that God is guiding me, encouraging me, watching over me, supporting me, being within me, and being my friend.”

“Yes. Isn’t it comforting to know that God is with us as we begin the new year,” I replied.

“It sure is, Mom. I was going to offer to help you write your blog this week, but you’re almost done. Can I blog with you next week? I want to blog about our special words for 2016. I’m so excited. I can hardly wait to tell you what my new word is. You’ll never guess it.”

“Great! We’ll work on it together next week. I’ve chosen my special word for 2016, too. We’ll check with Mim to find out her new word, and we’ll reveal them to everyone next week!”

Meanwhile, it’s time to move on to something else – just about time to begin our New Year! Amen, Papa, Amen!

Floey-Marian 12-29-15 cropped

 

 

 

Gratitude and Surprises

Gratitude words“Gratitude” has been an interesting word to think about for a whole year. Last December when I chose “Gratitude” to be my special word to ponder for 2015 (instead of making any New Year’s Resolutions), I had no idea how much my perspective on everyday life would be altered by thinking about being grateful every single day.

Gratitude jar with note

The first entry in my Gratitude Jar

As you may recall from my blog posts early in the year, I put a “Gratitude Jar” on my desk with the intention of writing down things I was grateful for every day, and stuffing the jar with these notes. I envisioned a jar overflowing with notes by the end of the year.

I just emptied the jar and I had a pretty small handful of notes. After the first week of looking at the jar, I decided I needed to create a little form on the note paper to make it easier to quickly jot down what I was grateful for. When that didn’t trigger me to write things down on a daily basis, I decided I needed to move the jar from my desk to my easy chair where I read my devotional materials. Obviously that didn’t help either. I guess having a “Gratitude Jar” didn’t easily fit into my routine. It seemed like a good idea, but it really didn’t help me.

However, what has worked well for me all year is to think about whatever I’m grateful for every night when I go to bed. This has become a habit that is the best new thing for me in 2015. I don’t limit myself to being grateful only at bedtime – more and more often these thoughts come into my mind during the day, too.

Towards the end of November, around Thanksgiving, several of the daily readings in Sarah Young’s JESUS CALLING book are about being thankful. On November 25, she paraphrases Jesus as saying:

Thank Me frequently as you journey through today. This practice makes it possible to pray without ceasing, as the apostle Paul taught. …

When your mind is occupied with thanking Me, you have no time for worrying or complaining. If you practice thankfulness consistently, negative thought patterns will gradually grow weaker and weaker. Draw near to Me with a grateful heart, and My Presence will fill you with Joy and Peace.

Yesterday in church Pastor Jeff described us as being big winners in the cosmic lottery. He encouraged us to open our eyes and be grateful for all the blessings we have received. To emphasize the point he sang the old camp song, “Rise and Shine and Give God the Glory.” That’s kind of what having “Gratitude” as my special word for the day has been helping me do throughout 2015 – to open my eyes to recognize and be thankful for all kinds of blessings in my life every day.

Marian at organ - tall picYesterday was a day of surprises for me – surprises to be grateful for. I went to church alone because Mim was away at a timeshare in Wisconsin Dells for a few days. Before the service started I was sitting at the organ getting my music set up. I looked back at the entrance to the sanctuary, and there came Mim. She had woken up early and decided to drive from the Dells to Madison for the service. Seeing her walk through the entrance was a nice surprise for me.

After church we decided to go out for brunch before Mim drove back to the Dells and I drove home. We were headed toward a Perkins Restaurant, but when we drove by a Hy-Vee Food Store I said, “Don’t they serve breakfast?” Mim said, “I think they do.” So I turned into the Hy-Vee parking lot.

The host was about to seat us in a booth when we saw Kay and Lynn, two women from church, sitting in the next booth, and they invited us to join them. They had just placed their order, so it was good timing.

We sat down and the waitress came right back. She looked at me and said, “I know you.” She was a little familiar to me, but I couldn’t place her. Then she said something about Chaplain Julia, and I remembered. She had been an inmate at the county jail, and we had gotten to know each other from my playing the piano for the women’s worship service in the jail chapel. She told me that she has been out of jail for two full years now, with no relapses. She has stayed sober and she has a job working at Hy-Vee. It was great to see her again, and to hear that she’s doing well. That was another great surprise of the day for me.

One of the things we always do in jail worship services is pray for each other. We sit in a circle, and we go around the circle, praying out loud for the person sitting on our right. I’m sure this waitress and I have prayed for each other many times. Seeing each other today was a totally unexpected reunion! I’m so thankful that Mim and I spontaneously decided to try out Hy-Vee for brunch as we “just happened” to drive by.

Gratitude Jar 11-30-15When I got home and started to write this blog, I pulled the handful of notes out of my “Gratitude Jar” and re-read them. The note dated March 31, 2015 said, “My heart is full of gratitude for people who pray with me and for me! Especially inmates!” I smiled when I read that. Life is full of blessings and surprises.

Yes. “Gratitude” was a good word to focus on this year. And, Sarah Young was right when she paraphrased Jesus saying, “Draw near to Me with a grateful heart, and My Presence will fill you with Joy and Peace.”

Gratitude bird

THINK about the Gift of Language

Do you hate the political ads on TV as much as I do? Which ad do you hate the most? Is there any ad, from either political party, that you really like?

I’ll be so glad when the election has come and gone and TV can get back to its usual commercials that we can simply ignore, rather than being manipulated into getting angry about the “factual” distortions that are being shouted at us.

political ad cartoonSomething that makes me even angrier than the political ads on TV is some of the political diatribes posted on Facebook. I have FB friends on both political extremes as well as all along the continuum from left to right. The tone of some of their posts is extremely condescending toward their “friends” who hold differing opinions. I’m tempted to unfriend some of them, but then I reconsider, hoping that posts will get friendlier once the election is over. Unfortunately, I’m afraid I may be proven wrong, but I’ll wait and see.

I really don’t believe that God gave us the gift of language so that we could create political ads and Facebook rants.

T-H-I-N-KOur pastor said something in church (MessiahChurch.com) a couple weeks ago that I’m trying really hard to remember. Pastor Jeff said that he and his wife Melissa are trying to teach their kids to THINK before they speak, especially when they are responding to something that irritates them. They need to THINK before speaking – to ask themselves the following questions about what they are going to say:

  • Is it TRUE?
  • Is it HELPFUL?
  • Is it INSPIRING?
  • Is it NECESSARY?
  • Is it KIND?

Those key words form the acronym THINK. (You can watch a 12-minute video of his sermon here – and click on the arrow for the October 19, 2014 Sermon, “Pick the Correct Song!”)

Can you imagine what political ads on TV would be like if the creators of the ads had asked themselves those questions – if they had taken the time to THINK – before creating the ads?

Can you imagine how much kinder your friends’ Facebook posts might seem if your friends would take the time to THINK before they post their comments?

I’m trying to imagine how I might respond differently to friends, acquaintances, and strangers if I would take the time to THINK before communicating my responses to them. Is my comment TRUE? Is my comment HELPFUL? Is my comment INSPIRING? Is my comment NECESSARY? Is my comment KIND?

Thanks, Pastor Jeff, for telling us about the THINK approach to communicating – to THINK before we speak. Your comments were HELPFUL and INSPIRING.

One more thought. To all those questions: TRUE? HELPFUL? INSPIRING? NECESSARY? KIND? I’d like to add the comment, “and the greatest of these is KIND.” That brings me back to my favorite Bible verse of all time. Here it is as I memorized it 60 years ago from the King James Version:

And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. [Ephesians 4:32]

kindness kittenThe most important question for me to ask myself before speaking (or messaging, or posting on Facebook, or blogging, or communicating in any other way) – “Is the comment I am about to make kind to the person who will be receiving it?” If not, let me re-phrase the comment, or maybe even keep quiet.

Language is a precious gift. I guess it’s prudent to THINK before using it.

Kindness - Mother Teresa quote 2

 

 

My Thoughts on Last Weekend’s Big Event

Not the Super Bowl – Church!

Humility SandLast week, as I was planning music for church, I read the lectionary readings for Sunday, as I usually do. I was happy to see that two of the three readings were among my favorites.

The Old Testament reading was Micah 6:1-8, which ends with the well-known verse:

What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8 NRSV)

The Gospel reading was Matthew 5:1-12, a passage commonly referred to as “The Beatitudes.”

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
(Matthew 5:3-12 NRSV)

Sheet Music 2 - Theyll Know We Are ChristiansAfter I read the Scriptures, I thought about what music might prompt people to reflect on living the kind of life God wants us to live. Two songs came to mind: Lord, I Want to Be a Christian, and They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love. Fortunately, I remembered a couple arrangements of those songs that would make a good prelude and postlude. All I had to do was find the music. I found both pieces within an hour, and was all set for the service – after a little practicing.

Last weekend I was scheduled to play for the Saturday evening service at Messiah. (We have three services – 5 pm Saturday, 8:15 am Sunday, and 10:30 am Sunday.) The service was so good, particularly Pastor Jeff’s sermon, that I went on the Internet to the church’s website Sunday morning to watch the 8:15 service as it was streamed live (messiahchurch.com/streaming/).

emptying ocean 9The most vivid image that’s still in my mind from Pastor Jeff’s sermon is a story he told about St. Augustine. The 4th century priest was walking along the shore of the ocean, deep in thought, pondering what God really is like. He saw a little boy who had dug a hole in the sand and was running back and forth to the water’s edge, pouring bucket after bucket of water from the ocean into the hole. Augustine asked him what he was doing. The little boy replied, “I am trying to empty the ocean into this hole.”

Augustine said, “But that’s impossible.”

The little boy responded, “No more impossible than your being able to understand the wonders of God.” Then the little boy disappeared.

The point Pastor Jeff was trying to make by retelling this legend is that we need to be humble. Humility is a virtue that underlies all the Bible readings of last weekend’s service. And it’s a virtue that is undervalued and quite scarce in our society. “To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” is what the Old Testament prophet Micah said God wants us to do.

The gift I received from participating in worship last weekend was this image. I can picture myself trying to empty the ocean with a little plastic bucket, and I’ll be reminded – that’s how little I really understand the grand scheme of life on earth and how each of us fits in with God’s plan.

I guess there’s good reason I should be humble.

emptying ocean 10

Grace and a Failing Grade

Grace quote with winter scene

Pastor Jeff told a quick story at the end of the church service last week. An old friend of his, a priest, had died earlier in the week. This story was told at his funeral. The priest had been an English teacher in a Catholic high school. Many years ago, one of his students came to him near the end of the school term and begged him not to give him an F. The student knew he deserved an F, but he didn’t want to have to take the class over again. He pleaded with the priest to give him a D instead. The priest responded with, “I’ll give you an A.” The student replied, “Oh no. I don’t deserve an A.” The priest replied, “You don’t deserve a D either. But if I’m going to give you a gift, I’m going to give you a good gift.” Pastor Jeff commented that the story is the best illustration of grace he’s ever heard.

“Grace” is a word with several different but related meanings. One definition that is helpful to me in understanding God’s grace comes from Tony Campolo. He was a frequent guest preacher at my church when I lived in Chicago. He says, “Grace is about us receiving from God blessings that we don’t deserve.”

Jeff’s story made the idea of grace more tangible to me last week. His story also prompted me to remember a couple incidents from the early 1970s when I was a high school English teacher. I also had students who pleaded with me to not give them an F – two of them; and academically, they both deserved F’s.

footballGary was a popular football player. He excelled on the football field, but he certainly never excelled in English. He was too busy to take the time to complete his homework assignments. About a week before the quarter ended he begged me for a D. If I gave him an F he would be kicked off the football team according to the school’s athletic policy.  I told him that if he completed his past-due homework assignments, I would give him a passing grade. The next day the football coach came to see me, to plead on behalf of the student. I repeated my offer. Gary did not complete any of his past-due homework assignments, and I gave him an F. Gary didn’t learn about grace from me, but he might have learned about it from his coach. He was not booted off the team.

F GradeDenny was a skinny little freshman. When he was in class, he was a very pleasant kid, and he was good in English. He was a good reader and a good writer. However, his attendance got progressively worse, and as a result of that, the majority of the grades in the grade book were I’s for Incomplete. I talked with him a few times throughout the term about attendance and completing his assignments, and he always said he’d try harder. Unfortunately, when it was time for me to calculate his grade, I couldn’t justify giving him anything but an F. (I wasn’t allowed to give a grade of Incomplete in that school system.) When Denny got his report card he came to see me with tears in his eyes. “Why did you flunk me? I’m good in English. Can’t you change the grade? My dad will kill me.” I felt so sorry for Denny. I really didn’t know how I could change his grade, even if I could justify it. The school’s grading system wasn’t designed to incorporate grace.

That's me as a brand new English teacher in the early 1970s.

That’s me as a brand new English teacher in the early 1970s.

These two stories happened 42 years ago – just after I had graduated from college. I was living in Connecticut where I was an English teacher for two years. I wonder whatever happened to Gary and Denny. I wonder if Gary understands the concept of grace partly because of the kindness of his coach. And I wonder if Denny ever was given the opportunity to learn about God’s grace by receiving some undeserved gift from someone else.

Besides wondering about my students, I guess I need to think about what I have learned about grace from the people in my life, and I need to thank God for bringing each of these people into my life.

Atlanta megachurch pastor Charles Stanley said it this way, “Thank the Lord for using each person as a tool in your life to deepen your insight into His grace and conform you to the image of His Son.”