HOPE for the HAPLESS

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


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Working Hard at Rest

rest areaSo then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.
[Hebrews 4:9-11]

Anyone who has had to plan a holiday knows that relaxing takes a lot of effort. Work needs to be wrapped   I can leave it behind for a while. Plans put in place for while I am gone. The vacation itself needs to be planned (where are you going to be and who will you be with?), supplies need to be gathered, time allocated, and people informed.

Is it any wonder that very few of us are able to relax for the first few days of our holidays? We are still wound up, strung out, and in full work mode. The holiday doesn’t really begin until your head joins your body, leaving work and concerns behind. Yes, relaxation takes a lot of work if you are going to do it right. Rest means effort.

But the rewards are well worth it! Do you remember what you did at work last week? Last year? Ever? Of course not. Not really, anyway. But, do you remember that time at the lake with your family? Or that trip you took out of country as a youngster? Or that reunion so many years ago? Of course you do … and fondly too!

For many people work is how they spend their time. The weekend, the summer, the holidays are where they really live! The joy of that rest and relaxation gets people through the frustrations and tedium of 9-5.

But rest doesn’t just happen. That’s important for us Christians to remember. Just as our bodies need rest, so do our souls. It is why God made room for a Sabbath rest right from the very beginning. It is why He rested Himself. Not because He was tired, but because we will be. Our spiritual batteries need to be recharged regularly or we just won’t have what we need to get through this life.

But this kind of rest doesn’t come easy either. It is something that takes conscious effort. It takes planning and committment. It takes a conscious effort. Where are you going to be? Who will you be with? What will you need? How much time should you set aside? All these need to be worked out before the benefit of God’s rest can work its blessings in your life. Your heart needs to be there together with your bottom when you plunk it down in the pew. Being ready to receive God’s Rest means putting in the effort ahead of time to really appreciate it when it comes.

But the reward is well worth it! For where Christ (who is our Sabbath rest) is there God refreshes unto everlasting life. The precious words of Forgiveness, the unconditional love of our Saviour. The blood-bought gift of salvation and a peace that passes all understanding … a peace that even passes the terrible Wednesday slump. All these and more are ready and waiting for you in the Word and the Sacraments. Are you ready to get the most out of them?


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Let’s Get this Party Started!

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And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.  [Acts 2:46-47]

When you think of the earliest Christian Church, the word party probably doesn’t come to mind. Trials, persecution, martyrdom … sure, but party? Not usually. But read again the above passage from Acts, describing the life of that early church and it doesn’t sound all that bad to me! Food, and fellowship, glad and generous hearts … it sounds a lot like a party to me. If only we all had to suffer such trials more often.

This month marks what many consider to be the birthday of the New Testament Christian Church. It also, as it just happens this year, to mark the beginning of what we in my household like to call our little season of birthdays. First up is Dad (me) followed in pretty quick succession by Daughter #1, Daughter #2, and the one and only Son. It is safe to say that our house will see its share of parties over the next couple of months.

And the parties will be as different as the birthday boy or girl. Mine will have lots of chips and some quiet activities (board games anyone?). Others will have lots of sweets, no cake, extra ice-cream, NO chocolate, plenty of friends, swimsuits, movies, outings … and who knows what else!

And each will also come with its own set of trials. Some of us are getting older and finding it harder to keep up with (and relate to) the younger ones. Some are still trying to find a place to fit in. Others are trying hard to carve out their own space, separate from their siblings. One is the lone male (except for dad) in a sea of estrogen and hair accessories, and princesses.

Yet there is one thing that they will all have in common. For each, true happiness is enjoying where you are and what you have. Thankful for those around you, and sharing the blessings that make you unique with those who have helped to make you who you are. That’s what makes parties so interesting. Even if you have all the same elements, no two parties will be identical.

It is much the same for the Church and her celebrations too. She may face trials (as she always has) but these don’t define her. She may struggle to find her place in this ever-changing world, carving out her own space in the public square. She may have to stand alone in a sea of changing opinions. She may feel her age from time to time. But still she knows how to party!

With glad and generous hearts, through time together in prayer and worship and fellowship. Sharing all the gifts that makes her unique, with those who have made her who she is. There may be many guests, or only a chosen few. The celebration may be quiet and contented, or exuberant and busy. Yes the celebrations may be as different as the congregations who hold them, but the underlying joy is the same.

And if we approached this thing called church, more like we do our own birthday celebrations (and less like a chore), people will be drawn to it! They were back then. After all, who doesn’t like a party?


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Winter is Past

My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away, for behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
[Song of Solomon 2:10-12]

101_2567Are you ready for the Victoria Day long weekend? Who am I kidding? After a winter like this last one, who isn’t? For many people in Canada this annual holiday marks the unofficial start of summer … or at least the summer mindset. Sometimes I think that we try to hurry the warm days of summer along by all agreeing to use our barbeques all weekend long. It couldn’t hurt, could it?

Even though the actual start of summer will still be a full month away, people all across our country will use this coming Victoria Day weekend to live like its summer already. Along with the aforementioned backyard cooking will come patios with all their long-forgotten furniture, music, family get-together’s and just a general feeling of happiness that the worst is finally over.

And lest you think I’m upset that people would be “jumping the gun” and letting loose too soon, let me assure you I am not. In fact, if anything, they’re late to the party! For we’ve already begun our celebrations in Easter. We’ll still be celebrating when the long weekend comes around. But we’re not celebrating the end of winter and the coming of summer. We’ve got bigger things to be joyful about. For Easter marks the end of death and the beginning of everlasting Life!

In Easter we throw open the doors and windows of the cold and oppressive life of sin and joyously step into the bright sunshine of God’s love and forgiveness in Christ Jesus. From the open and empty tomb flows a refreshing breeze full of the promise of new life and beautiful days ahead. In Easter we are guaranteed the food of everlasting life, at a banquet table that never empties. In Easter we look forward to the grandest family reunion ever seen. All our long lost and distant relatives together again for a backyard party at God’s own house.

But aren’t we jumping the gun ourselves in celebrating all this already?

No!

For where the bright summer promises of meteorologists must always be taken with a handy umbrella and a backup plan, the promises of God in Christ are iron-clad. They are already ours. The moment the angels announced the good news over the rolled away stone and the empty grave clothes the party was already well under-way. And it is only picking up. Never feel bad about enjoying it now … it’s been a long time coming!


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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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