HOPE for the HAPLESS

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Romans 12:12


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Bringing a Tear to the “I”

The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad. Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negeb! Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.  [Psalm 126]

rainy windowAs I sit here writing this there is a warm rain hitting window. And while the rain can make some people blue, I don’t think there would be many today who would mourn its coming.

Indeed, there are so many people out there (trust me I talk to them almost every day!) who have been ready to shed tears over how long this winter has been. Every new day with the same old blanket of snow and ice seems to bury our souls just a little more.

And so I, like many of you I would bet, welcome this springtime rain as heavenly tears of joy. Even if it means that with the melting of the snow there will be mud and flooding, and salt and garbage to deal with tomorrow.

The Easter season is also for many, a mixed bag of emotions. There are the slow doleful days of Lent gradually building in their intensity until the repentant heart can barely take any more. There are the raw and cleansing tears of Good Friday with all its holy grief. There are the powerful tears of joy, impossible to hold back, at the sight of the risen and victorious Lord. Yes, in the good and the bad, heavenly tears abound. Tears that melt the winter of sin and death, ushering in the spring-time of new life and the promise of everlasting summer.

And so we once again prepare to welcome tears of sorrow, death, and dying; tears of fear and loneliness as they are turned once more into tears of joy, new life, hope and blessed reunions with those who have gone before us.

In preparing to celebrate Jesus’ Life, Death and Resurrection before the world, we know that there will be unpleasant splash-back. There will be mud flung and garbage cast our way. The world doesn’t want to be reminded of the mess that still needs to be cleaned up. But we don’t mind, because now that Easter has come everything is changed. Life has swallowed up death. Hope has defeated fear, and one day every cold winter tear will be wiped away leaving only Joy behind in our eternal summer!


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Closer to God

ImageLots of people will tell you that they feel closest to God when they are outside enjoying nature. I am not one of them. But don’t get me wrong … I love being outside, hiking, backpacking, canoeing and camping. I appreciate God’s creation, but I don’t go there to learn about Him, or deepen my relationship with Him.

But I do like learning about everything there is to know about wilderness skills and outdoor survival. One of the first books I ever bought for myself was the SAS Survival handbook. It was also the first book I put almost entirely into memory. I was the only ten-year old in my class who could tell you how to field dress a protruding fracture, identify edible fungus, and build a shelter out of a fallen tree. Yes, being outside exploring the escarpment, paddling on the bay, or watching the stars through my telescope recharges my batteries in a way that little else can.

Well, with one exception. I love teaching my children many of those same skills. Finding safe drinking water (and how to know), identifying plants and animals, finding your direction using only a watch, or a stick, or the stars at night. And while they humour me … cause you never know when you might get lost in the woods … they often remind me that there are more important things in life. And they are right.

Teaching them survival skills can only delay the inevitable. Even the best survivalist will eventually die. And teaching them about God’s creation doesn’t teach them anything about God. Not the important things anyway … like where you can find Him when you need Him. For that a different kind of teaching from a different kind of book is needed. Teaching the statutes of God, the history of His gracious presence among us, especially in the life, death, and resurrection of His beloved Son. God is truly with us, just as He has always been with His dear children.

He is with in Christ to bring healing to broken bodies, spirits, and lives. He is with us to raise the dead to life … a life not just of surviving, but of thriving! He is with us to provide us with the food that nourishes body and soul. The Bread of Life and the Water of Life, both without limit or measure. He is with us to give us guidance through His Word and forgiveness when we lose our way. He is with us in Christ, preparing us for the secure and safe dwelling already awaiting us when our journey is done and there are no more paths left for us to trod in the here and now. A warm and inviting home, full of family and friends, food and cheer enough for eternity.

Yes, these are the things that are important to teach, to remember, to enjoy … and that is why on Sunday morning you will not find me and mine out enjoying nature. You will find us safely at home in God’s House, learning again, what really matters. Remembering what God has already done and looking forward to what He has yet in store. Learning not just how to survive, but to actually live!

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Teach us to Pray

Lord, remember us in Your kingdom and teach us to pray … [Liturgy]

JugglingWhen I was 18 years old I decided that I wanted to learn how to juggle. I didn’t know anyone who juggled, so I had to teach myself. I bought a set of juggling bean-bags and got to work practicing. It took me a couple of weeks to get it (mostly) right.

 About a year later I came across a book called “Juggling for the Complete Klutz.” On a whim I picked it up and almost right from the first sentence was dumbfounded. In this wise little tome was outlined in excruciating detail all the mistakes I had made in learning to juggle. It was almost like someone had watched me try to learn and then wrote a book about how NOT to do it!

 Yet I wasn’t hurt. My reaction was one of regret. If only I had this book sooner I could have learned to juggle in no time at all! (Now I can teach anyone everything they need to know to be a competent juggler in about 10 minutes).

 There is a hard way to do things … going it alone … the school of hard knocks … trial and error … learning from our mistakes (lots and lots of mistakes). Sure you will get there eventually, but it may not be all that fun, you will probably quit at least a couple of times, and you will likely be bruised and battered when you arrive.

 But then there is the easy way … learning at the feet of one who has already mastered … following in the footsteps of one who knows better, who has already been there … heeding the advice of the one who is already wise. Not only will you get there, but you will do it sooner, and with more insight than you could have gained on your own.

 Prayer is just such a skill. It doesn’t come naturally. It is something we must learn. And we can do it the hard way … on our own … or we can do it the Lord’s way … and with His help and understanding.

 The disciples understood this when they asked the Lord to teach them how to pray. It is hard to learn how to do well. And so the Master showed them. He gave them the Lord’s Prayer, and with it, the very keys to understanding the kingdom of God!

 The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer that contains more wisdom and insight than you or I alone could ever come up with. It is a prayer that comes from the very heart of God … a prayer that seeks the heart of the Father.

 It is a prayer that takes minutes to learn, but a lifetime to understand. But then again, shouldn’t prayer be a life-long pursuit? Isn’t it time you stopped trying to do it yourself? Isn’t it time that prayer became less of a struggle and a burden for you? Isn’t it time to give up your old ways of stopping and starting, trying and failing, and really learn to pray from the Lord Himself. You don’t have to figure it all out on your own … not when there is someone willing to instruct you.

As Martin Luther said “This is surely the great advantage the Lord’s Prayer has over all other prayers which we may compose ourselves. For in them conscience might ever be in doubt and say: I have prayed, but who knows how it pleases Him or whether I have hit upon the proper proportions and manner? Therefore no nobler prayer can be found on earth than the Lord’s Prayer, which we pray daily; for it has the clear testimony that God loves to hear. We should not surrender it for all the riches of the world.”

 And so Lord, remember us in Your kingdom and teach us to pray …

praying handsOur Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven; give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.


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Holy To The Lord

presentation of JesusWhen the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord     [Luke 2:22-24]

It is sometimes from the seemingly smallest and most insignificant scenes in the life of a person that some of the greatest and life-altering truths can be found. The beginnings of Jesus’ life are no different, except maybe that the life such scenes tend to alter is not His for living through it as our own for being privy to it.

 Consider, for example, the day when Mary took her young infant son (his age still only measured in weeks) up to the temple for the very routine purpose of making sacrifices for herself and little Jesus. It was something mothers and newborns had been doing for centuries. It was something that took place every single day – several times a day.

 The sacrifices served as a reminder that the spilling of blood made a person unclean. And life can sometimes be a pretty bloody affair. Even the good moments. Further, life belonged to God. It was He that gave it, He that delivered it up out of Egypt, by striking down Pharoah with the dreaded ten plagues. Plagues that ended with the death of the firstborn of all those opposed to God.

 Women and their 40 day-old babies had been offering these sacrifices every single day of every single year ever since the Exodus, to connect themselves again with the history of Israel and promises of God. They fulfilled these obligations in order to remain a part of that covenant community.

 And yet look at the deeper truth being played out in this every-day scene. For the mother is no ordinary mother, for this firstborn Son belongs to God Himself. And even though the price is paid, His life cannot be bought back from God. His life will be wholly devoted to the Lord. He himself will be the sacrifice that buys back firstborn Israel once and for all time.

 In the impending passover death of this precious Lamb of God, and his subsequent resurrection death will be forever passed over. His blood will write a new covenant with God’s people, marking their homes so that sin, death, and the devil will never have a fixed place within again!

 In the life of this true Son of Israel, this “One who is Holy to the Lord”, God’s people will finally be brought out of the wilderness of sin and doubt, and delivered safely through the waters of Baptism into the awaiting promised land.

 It certainly doesn’t look like much. Just a mother and her baby, fulfilling their routine obligations. But That Mother and That Baby are doing it not just for themselves, they are doing it for you and me.  This shedding of this Son’s blood will make people clean, and bring life even from death, that we too might be Holy to the Lord!


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Taking Time to Ponder

ponderingBut Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. [Luke 2:19]

 Have you sat down and taken a deep breath yet? It is the season when you and I could really use one! Times of celebration are so full of joy and cheer, comings and goings, family, friends, food, and festivities … but what about reflection?

 Don’t get so busy making it all happen … cleaning up after its done … catching up once everyone is gone … getting back to normal once the holidays are over … that you forget to stop in the moment and treasure all these things up in your heart.

 For this season is truly something to be treasured. A gift from God’s own heart to yours. The gift of His Son, your Saviour. The gift of peace on earth that passes all understanding. The gift first given over 2000 years ago, but one who still keeps on giving today.

 If you must be overwhelmed at this time of year, why not take a quiet moment or two … when the meals are done and the button on your pants is comfortably undone. Yes, take a moment and sit down with your Bible and a warm drink of your choice (and an ant-acid if needed) and be overwhelmed by the love of God. A love so bold that He did not spare His own Son, but sent Him into that stable, to lay in that manger.

 A love that alone could satiate our hunger to know that everything will be OK. That our loved ones are indeed loved. That we will be taken care of. That God does not abandon us to the hectic din of this demanding world.

 A love offered up in the Bread of Life, laying in a feeding trough in the town of Bethlehem (the House of Bread). A love that treasures us more than we can ever know. A love worth pondering again, and again and again … in every gift, every loved one, every opportunity to gather before Him and hear again of that great love for us, stored there in the beating heart of that Babe in the manger, where you (yes you!) are quietly and joyfully treasured above all else.


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Through the Winter Wonderland

snow at nightDriving through the dark and in the wildly falling snow can be both terrifying, exhilarating, and breathtaking all at the same time. I know, because I did it again just last night. You’ve probably had to do it more than a few times yourself.

And like me you’ve probably been struck by how it can be so beautiful and so nerve-wracking at the same time. The flakes so big and bright, falling in gentle sheets that seem to wrap the whole world in a fuzzy white blanket. It takes your breath away. And a part of you could just sit and watch it for hours, reveling in the quiet spectacle.

But you can’t because you’re in your car, and you have to get home where everyone is waiting for you. And the road is quickly disappearing before your eyes so you are not entirely sure where you should be headed. And the other motorists are beginning to panic … Some basically shut down backing up traffic way behind them while others get frustrated and barrel through where calmer heads might think twice.

Sounds a bit like the holidays doesn’t it? Terrifying, breathtaking, exhilarating. The flurry of activities, and programs, and visiting and good cheer, and food, and plans, and decorations, and shopping, and cleaning, and gift-giving. And while, under certain circumstances, it might actually be kind of pretty, it often is lost on many people. Some will simply race through it with a sense of ever-building panic that they will lose their way. Others will panic at the thought and shut themselves down – shut themselves out. Others will become frustrated with the whole mess and bluster their way through, no matter who gets hurt along the way.

So how do we Christians get through the holidays? By remembering that the worst storms of this dark night, become the winter wonderland of tomorrow morning. By slowing down and allowing our breath to be taken away by the little moments of beauty in all that lies ahead. By letting the Lord lead us, by whatever kind of road He chooses, to stable and the manger and the love of the Lord God Almighty Creator of heaven and earth writ in flesh and blood. Held in tiny infant arms. Gently blanketed in swaddling cloths and hand delivered to you and your loved ones.

101_2812The King shall come when morning dawns

And lights triumphant breaks

When beauty gilds the eastern hills

And life to joy awakes.

The King shall come when morning dawn

And light and beauty brings.

Hail, Christ the Lord! Your people pray:

Come quickly, King of kings!


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The Cross Marks the Spot

ImageIn Dealey Plaza, Dallas, there painted in the middle of Elm street is an unassuming “x”. If you were not acquainted with American history you might be forgiven for walking past it not knowing what it means. But if you were passingly familiar with November 22 1963, the Texas School Book Depository, or Lee Harvey Oswald then you might stop and ponder for a moment the terrible significance of those two crossed lines of paint. They mark the exact spot where 50 years ago President John F. Kennedy was assassinated before horrified spectators and a stunned world.

Scholars and pundits have argued at great length as to the significance of that tragic event. While he was not the first leader assassinated in office, nor will he, sadly, be the last; for 50 years his death has been seen by many as something different. What might have been if only he hadn’t died so young, so untimely? How would our world be different today? Would it have changed US relations with Russia or China? Would Vietnam have played out differently? Would there be less division and distrust between government and her people, due in large part, some argue, to those who followed in his office? Putting aside all the lingering conspiracy theories surrounding the president’s death, most people do agree that on that November day 50 years ago the United States lost their innocence. Lost, in a very palpable way, their idealism that everything would only ever get better as time went on.

It is a pall that many people still struggle under today … and for good reason. I’m not sure that anyone still holds to the idea that things are only getting better. We just seem to go from one bad thing to another. One tragedy to another. Once disaster to another. One weak or corrupt leader to another. But then again, not even JFK was without his certain public shortcomings. And so, even if he had avoided that spot marked to this day on the pavement in Dealey Plaza, I don’t think it would have changed the world we live in. At least not significantly. The world was broken 50 years ago, and it is broken now, and not even a man like JFK can change it.

But there is one man who saved it. On another fateful day long long ago in an event equally profound and seemingly tragic, a popular young leader was killed in his prime. Witnessed again, by horrified spectators and a stunned world. If you were not acquainted with Biblical history you might be forgiven for walking past the signs of that cross not fully knowing what it means.

cross SilhouetteYet in those ubiquitous symbols of the Christian faith, looming large at the front and on the top of every church, etched and embossed in book upon book, wrought in silver and gold and hung on bedroom walls, and countless necks … in that unassuming cross rests the memory of an event (THE event) of world-changing significance. Scholars and pundits have argued at great length as to the significance of that event. And there are of course, all kinds of lingering conspiracy theories surrounding the events. But in that death of Jesus Christ on a cross outside of Jerusalem the world forever changed. Not through innocence lost, rather innocence restored. Paid for in the innocent blood and willing sacrifice of a great leader for His beloved people. The world changed, yet not for the death of idealism, but in the birth of hope, and faith, and love.

Jesus our king made his way through the streets of Jerusalem that fateful day, but not as an unwitting victim. He did it knowing full well what lay ahead. And He went up anyway, to deliver us from darkness to His own kingdom. He redeemed this world from death and destruction. Defeated the ancient enemies of mankind – sin, death and the devil. He gave us a future that will not only be better, but the very best. And the cross, marks the spot where it all happened. It is tragic when a leader is stolen from his people. And so we grieve with those who still grieve the events of November 22, 1963. But it is glorious when the rightful king lays down His life that His people might live in peace and security after Him. And in that everlasting promise we rejoice, in the face of all that this world may yet take from us.

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