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

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Don’t Blame Me!

blame game“There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him … out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”     [Mark 7:15, 21-23]

I might be tempted here to be a real stinker and make a joke about the mystical properties of broccoli around the Maher household, but I will spare you from the sordid details.

There is a much more serious point being made by Jesus here, and it has little to do with dietary considerations. It is all about the blame game (and not just blaming your food for the evening’s olfactory entertainment). It is all about our desire to blame our own wickedness on external sources like the actions or attitudes of others. It is all about our insistence that if only we were free from such polluting influences, we could finally put our lives together the way we always knew they should be. It is nothing new, it goes back in us humans all the way to our first father and mother, caught in their sin in the Garden of Eden. She blames the devil, He blames her, and everyone blames God. And so here we are millenia later thinking to ourselves that if only everyone else hadn’t made them do it, our own life would be so much better now!

There are two current societal issues that show this blame game remarkably well. The first is abortion, much in the news lately after so many damning undercover videos have surfaced. Unwanted babies ruin young women’s lives … or so we are told. But the Baby didn’t ask to be unwanted. The baby didn’t engage in questionable behaviours leading to his or her conception. These are firmly and only rooted in the heart and life of the man and woman involved. And when faced with the realities of those sins, the broken human heart tries to pass the blame, make someone else pay … and who better to pay than the one who can’t argue back.

Similarly, adultery has been a big news-maker of late, with millions of people (almost entirely men) exposed for their cheating through the internet. And instantly the blame goes to the porn industry, the particular internet company (with lawsuits already in the works) or even the victimized spouses (if only they hadn’t made it so bad in the marriage then none of this would have been necessary!)

But we could just as easily speak of the violent man who blames harsh discipline as a child. Or the tax cheat who blames a wasteful government. The gossip who justifies her words on the arrogance or actions of the subject. The list is as big as the whole world, but boils down to everyone else but me. No matter how grievous the sin, the hurt, the fault you will always be able to find someone or something else to blame it on with just a little looking.

However, (and this is Jesus’s point here) no matter who we want to point at, the source of it all is my own sinful heart. And that really and truly stinks – but it is still true. I can blame every other single person in the world for every single one of my problems, my faults, and my sins but it won’t change one little thing about me – except maybe the number of people who still like and want to be around me.

Know this dear friends, no one can make you sin. No one forces you to do what you do. You choose that yourself. And there is not one thing you can do to change that … it comes from so deep down in the heart. We are all of us, every single one of us to blame for ourselves and our choices and our actions. Blaming others is a thinner disguise than Adam an Eve’s leafy coverings. It doesn’t really hide anything from anyone – especially ourselves.

But there is one who can change that defiled heart. Nothing can enter and make you bad, but one person can enter and make you forgiven. There is One who can enter and make you better, help you do better. The very same one promised to Adam and Eve, standing there before God with no excuses left. Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the One who took all that sin – yours and mine – into Himself. Even though He was holy and blameless He made Himself unclean and defiled for us. He took the blame for us. Willingly, lovingly – so that there is no more need for excuses and the blame game. In His precious blood there is forgiveness for all who are selfish and deceitful. Forgiveness for the cheat and the gossip and the murderer and adulterer in each of us. And it is only this forgiveness that can cleanse the defiled life, ease the troubled conscience and heal the broken heart.

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So loved …

love“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  [John 3:16-17]

Love is difficult. It is painful. Love often hurts the one who loves … but you wouldn’t want it any other way. Because that is part of what makes love so beautiful. It is the power behind those well-loved words of St. John “For God so loved the world …”

Yes, God the Father loves this world enough to give to the ungrateful, to supply the unthankful, and to bless those who will in turn horde and abuse, and complain that He hasn’t given enough.

God the Son loves this world enough to have lived and died for others – even those who mock and spit and hurl insults as His blood flows for them. He loved enough to be lifted up in public shame so no one else would have to.

God the Holy Spirit loves this world enough to limit himself to working through the Word and Sacraments for our surety, teaching and life of prayer. He loves enough to promise He will work through them, even when people would rather hear some other word (any other word), or ignore the plain words of their loving God.

God’s Love does not come easy. Indeed it comes at great cost to Him. But it comes precisely for that reason. God doesn’t do what He does to condemn the world. It stands condemned in its sin already. God does what He does to save the world through His Love. No matter what it costs.

And that is the kind of Love we Christians need to share. The love God shared first with us. In this world so quickly unraveling at the seams, and into lives being torn apart by the sin sweeping over them and our culture, we need to love as no one does anymore.

Our love must be ready to bear the cost of helping those in need, even those who do not appreciate the gift or thank the giver. Our love needs to be ready to stand firm and suffer for the right thing. To be made public a spectacle and the mockery of those who would sacrifice others to get their way. Our love must be willing to submit itself to the ways and means that God has provided, the truths that He has spoken. Content always and ever to teach, and pray, and hope in Christ.

Such a love is difficult. It is painful. It will cost those who love, but we wouldn’t have it any other way, for it is His way. And it is the kind of Love that will save this condemned world!

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Buzzwords … or the “Love” Word?

Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. [1 John 3:18]

Tolerance, acceptance and inclusiveness are the buzzwords of our modern age. They are the words our culture has decided to use to show their understanding of love. Don’t believe me? Show yourself to be intolerant, or divisive in any way, and people will quickly tell you how unloving you are. The problem is not whether you are living up to these ideals, but that they really have nothing to do with true, real, or genuine love at all.

Tolerance, acceptance, and inclusiveness are just words. Words, which sound loving on the surface, but in reality promote attitudes and actions that are anything but. They are the very words that excuse inaction in the quest to simply “live and let live”. They are words that gloss over problems, sin, and real differences by saying “you have yours and I have mine”.

They are words that are designed to make it easy to feel like you are loving when in fact you are only being selfish. Most who champion such wordy ideals do so because they are happy to let you have what you want as long as they then get what they want.  That’s not love, it’s quid pro quo.

Tolerance, acceptance and inclusiveness are finely crafted words that allow us to protect grand hypothetical ideas … all the while ignoring real people in real need. Lowly people who are different from us. Dirty and dangerous people who are disagreeable to us. Angry and offensive people who might never think twice about helping us in return.

We are not called to love in word or in talk, but in deed and in truth. Real love is hard. Real love means doing, giving, and sometimes even suffering, for people we don’t always like very much. Love finds its value in people, not buzzwords. Love is lived out not in blazing emotions but in well-reasoned choices. Love does not ask us to give up and give in but to make difficult (and often unpopular) stands. Love never seeks out excuses or the easy way out, it fights for what it good and right and beneficial, not for the self nor some hypothetical, but for the other.

Love led Jesus not to tolerate our sin, but to pay for it with His own blood. Love moved Jesus to give up His life for those who would never accept Him. Being the recipients of that love in action we are now moved not to tolerate or accept or include, but to love. And love guides us to uphold everyone in our thoughts, prayers, and actions … not because it is easy (it is the hardest thing to do in truth) … but because God loved us first in Christ.

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You Don’t Know What You’re Asking.

what askingJesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking.” [Mark 10:38a]

James and John thought they could handle whatever Jesus handled. So do you and me and every single person who has ever lived. Some of us are just less foolish about asking for it out loud. But that doesn’t mean that we aren’t asking.

Just a little recognition and praise for all our hard work and dedication. Just a little pay-back for all our efforts and willingness to do without. Just a little of that much deserved thank-you for not being like so many others who don’t have time for God and their fellow-man!

Others might let it all go to their head, but not us … no we would be markedly humble in receiving what was due us. We would handle it with as much grace as Jesus Himself! Or so we think. And so we ask … even if it is only ever in our heart-of-hearts.

But then, we rarely know what we are asking do we? The things we so often want are precisely the things that are no good for us. Would we really want recognition for our work … all of it … not just the good stuff? Do we really want payback for all that we really deserve?

In an effort to be fair, would we be just as willing to give up what we have for all the extra we’ve enjoyed, just as quickly as we clamour to be repaid for the little we’ve done without? And are we really any different from anyone else? No. We, like they, can’t handle what we are asking for.

But Jesus can. And that is why we walk with Him every year to the garden and the cross and the tomb. He was willing to take the credit for all our sin, even though He had none of His own. He was ready to suffer all the divine payback for our transgressions even though it was His own Law being transgressed. He was happy to do without comfort, or honour, or peace, or support … walking the last painful steps to His death all alone … so that you and I might never have to receive what we actually ask for.

We may not know what we are asking, but He has always known how to answer … for our eternal good!

May you receive all that He asked for you this blessed Easter season.

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Set Your Mind

set+your+mind+on+things+aboveFor you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man. [Mark 8:33]

Life is a busy affair. On any given day your mind is probably sifting through a dozen or more important tasks, working its way through two or three pressing personal issues, and weighing at least a few ethical or societal issues impacting your life.

Do you mind if I add just one more thing to that already long list?

I am talking about setting your mind on the things of God, instead of just the things of man. It’s one that you already know should be there, but most of us just don’t often get around to. And that’s precisely the problem.

As the old saying goes, many of us have “Half a mind” to devote ourselves to that religious stuff. In other words, we are almost determined – we have good intentions – but never quite seem to get around to it. Our minds are too full of other concerns which always seem to take precedence. Prayer is important but the baby is crying now. Devotion is good, but not until after I run the errands. Worship is a priority, as long as something else doesn’t come up first.

But that’s the mistake. By spending all our time and mental focus on the things of man (the stuff of day-to-day living) we so easily lose the things of God. But by focusing first on the things of God you will find that so much of the things of man are already considered, weighed, or outright solved.

That’s what the season of Lent is all about. Pulling ourselves out of the things of man, which always seem so important, and setting our minds on the things of God which truly are important.

And the more you put your mind to the things of God … things like Law and Gospel, Morality and Christian Duty, Forgiveness and Salvation, Mercy and Compassion … The more you set your mind on such things the more the mind boggles.

Because very quickly you will come to see that through all these things lived out in Christ’s Life, Death, and Resurrection one thing becomes crystal clear – stunningly clear – God has only one thing on His mind …

… You.

Jesus obeyed every letter of the Law in the Spirit of the Law, for you. His absolute morality, the fullness of His Christian duty was all for you. The forgiveness He won on the cross – yours. The salvation earned just for you. Every last ounce of mercy and compassion had you in mind. It was all for you! And with that great truth in mind, the things of man don’t seem nearly so pressing or insurmountable anymore. Set your mind on the things of God, for His mind is set on you!