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

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Tricks and Treats!

The bowl of candy at the front door is now empty. Our children have crashed in a sugar-hazed, twitchy kind of sleep. Another Halloween has come and gone and I miss it already. Would it surprise you to know that this has always been a favourite holiday of mine? I know … Lutheran pastor … October 31st … perhaps I am missing the mark … forgetting something … But I don’t think so.

Trick or treat. Think about it …it’s the only sanctioned (and generally encouraged) form of extortion I know. Strangers appearing on your doorstep with a thinly veiled ultimatum. “Nice place you’ve got here – what’s it worth to ya?” Trick or treat. Take your pick. We can do this the easy way or the hard way. And the candy fills bag after bag. I love it … such a wonderful snapshot of our existence.

At least it is for mine. Growing up I loved dressing up for Halloween. You name it, I wore the costume … a tramp, a hobo, a bum, a vagabond. Just tie a pillow case to a stick and out you go. Self-esteem issues? Naw, I just liked that I didn’t have to bathe for a few days before I went out, and I usually didn’t even have to change clothes. (My poor mother!) But that’s the Halloween snapshot. We show up at the door wretched and squalid with tricks in our heart and bag in hand – and we come away tasting the sweetness of life.

But not just any door mind you … God’s door. We show up at the gates of heaven wretched and squalid with wicked tricks in our heart and empty sack in hand – and we come away tasting the sweetness of forgiveness, life and salvation. Isn’t that at the heart of the reformation? The incredible richness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We can’t demand it, we dare not try to extort it. To think such things will lead to a scary trick all right … but one you don’t want to be on the receiving end of!

Unworthy, unlovable, unwashed sinners, granted all the joys of heaven through Grace alone, by faith in Christ alone. God sees through the masks we put on, through all the bluster we spout and treats us anyway. And the treats just keep flowing, filling day after day after day. No matter what I look like when I come to His door, He is always there to fill my life with his gifts. And that’s no trick!

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Little Ones to Him Belong

“Jesus loves me this I know” … the words have been ringing around the Maher household for a couple of months now. We sing with our children all the time – but now our children like to sing for us as well. Jesus Loves Me is the favourite our our little two year old. Half a dozen to a full dozen times a day you can hear her break forth into her charming and enthusiastic version. At home, in the park, at the store, in the car – now time or place is off bounds. She can’t go to bed at night, until we have sung it together. She loves it so much I have even heard her sing it in her sleep. It moves me more than Bach’s Christmas Oratorio every time I hear it. It makes me smile just thinking about it.

So what? A dad boasting about his beloved daughter – what’s news in that? Nothing. But that’s not why I bring this up. I love my daughter so very much, but I will be the first to admit that she isn’t a little angel (mine or anyone else’s). She’s a high-spirited, outspoken, zest-filled force of nature much like her grandmother! Ever since day one, she has known what she likes and what she doesn’t and so does everyone around her. She can be stubborn and cranky. She can be willful and disobedient. In short, she can be just as much a little sinner as everyone else in this world.

But then we get to talking, or singing, or reading our daily Bible story and BAM! Her face lights up and she asks in that little voice of hers “Jesus?!” You can see the excitement building. Not only in her face but also through her whole body (she’s very expressive that way). Next thing you know the smile breaks forth and “Jesus loves me …” rings again up and down the length of the house. She knows Him to whom she belongs. She knows and she loves it!

It is the power of Holy Baptism at work before my marvelling eyes. She trusts in Jesus to love her. She loves that Jesus loves her. She is comforted by knowing she belongs to Jesus. It is nothing I have done for her. The excitement is all hers. The faith is hers. The worship is hers. Gifts from her Lord and Saviour, gifts returned in kind as only a little child can do it.

It is very easy for us grown ups to become clinical or pragmatic in our approach to issues of the faith, or the living out of our relationship with God. It is easy to dismiss the faith of those who are little, or those who are weak – or to undervalue them at least. But then I come home struggling with all my grown up spiritual issues … I come home exhausted and frustrated and feeling empty and joyless in my faith … I come home and face the music. I come home and hear the sweet words of the Gospel being sung from the glowing face of my little trouble-maker and I know that it’s time to grow up into a Baptismal faith more like hers. Jesus loves Me this I know, for my daughter so rightly and wonderfully reminds me.

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Ctrl + Alt + Delete

Here it is late at night as I await my latest computer endeavour to be done. Sometimes it is fun “playing god” to a virtual world of bits and bytes. Programs in, programs out. Tweaking the file system in a whole new way. Having the power to wipe the slate clean as God did in the flood. Saving only the key data on a CD backup, just like God placed Noah and his family safely in the ark. Keeping the good and flushing the bad.

But the bad usually starts out as good. I can see why God would become so angry with a creation that did not live up to His expectations. You install a new program and expect a long lasting relationship that will be worthwhile for both involved. You will give your new program a home with plenty of system resources and all the .dll files it needs to live long and be happy. Your creation will serve you and work for you so that your creativity can be proclaimed by the works of your hands.

Only it never seems to go that way for long does it? The new program has you all tingly with great promise, and you are happy getting to know it, but then it starts acting up. First it is a little glitch here or there, then a button, menu, or a feature that just disappears or won’t work every time. Then files begin to go belly up and your beloved program just starts throwing stuff back in your face and treating you like you should be happy it is willing to do even this much for you.

And so it is that when the blue screen of death washes over your system, and all your hard work drowns in corrupted code and system-wide errors you are sad, but you know that it is not your fault. Your creation did it to itself. What else can you do but find your precious files and gather them up before it is too late. Break out the backup DVD, maybe tomorrow won’t be such a washout …

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The definition of Hapless is to have no hap. That is, to have no luck, no fortune. In my heart of hearts I’ve often felt like this defines me too. I know it’s not true, but some days you simply cannot convince me otherwise. There are those to whom everything seems to come so easily. Those who go from one joy to another, those who always seem so full of hap-piness. I am not one of those people, and even when technically I am, I still don’t always feel like it. There are the Happy – like them, and the Hapless – like me.

And it is true, there are only two kinds of people in the world, but it has nothing to do with luck. Look again at the picture at the top of the blog. The Crucifixion by Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506) portrays the two kinds of people in this world admirably. It does so in the thieves on the crosses to either side of Jesus. In this world you are either like the thief on the right or the thief on the left. Both are sinners, both are deserving the punishment that lay before them, both will end up dead and in the grave. No difference there. Not much luck either!

The difference is that one of them realized this, while the other did not. One confessed his guilt and looked for mercy, while the other continued to blame his misfortune on the world around him right up to his dying breath. In this world there are not those who are lucky and those who are not. We are all sinners, deserving no luck, no fortune, no consideration from God whatsoever. But what sets some apart from the rest is the knowledge of that sin, and the repentant heart that looks for grace, mercy, and pity.

And that brings me to another definition of Hapless. One that I really appreciate. To be hapless is to be deserving pity, or inciting pity. When I start ranting and raving about the world being out to get me, my wife often looks at me with pity, but that’s not what I’m getting at here. While I do not deserve pity, I have incited another’s pity, and in that sense I will joyfully proclaim my haplessness to the world. Look to the picture again. It shows us only two kinds of people in the world, but it also shows us one wonderful Saviour between them both. One Lord and God, who took it upon Himself to hang on the cross and die for their sins – for my sins! An unparalleled act of pity, mercy and love, for those who are truly hapless. Better than all the luck of the world, Jesus Christ crucified … this is real Hope for the Hapless! May you, my dear fellow hapless, find Him to be your one and only hope too.

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An Apple A Day

Driving through the countryside these past few weeks has got me thinking of the Garden of Eden.  Here I could begin to wax poetic for my new home.  I could paint a picture of the lingering of the fall with its exquisite scents and the vibrant autumn colours I haven’t seen in 25 years.  But that’s not what has got me thinking of our great-ancestors’ paradise.  It is the apples.

You see, my new home is in the heart of apple country.  Every time I go for a drive I go past one orchard after another.  Tens of thousands of trees, each covered in hundreds and hundreds of apples, all in neat rows right up to the edge of the road.  Apples of a dozen or more varieties.  Apples for every taste and preference.  Apples that have proven to be a strange and peculiar temptation to me.

I noticed it almost from the moment the sweet red fruit began weighing down the branches in one orchard after another.  I would be driving along, and all of a sudden this little voice would pop into my head and say “Boy those apples sure look good.  You should stop and pick one.  Nothing’s better than an apple right off the tree!  And they’re good for you … an apple a day and all that … What?  You can’t!  Why not?  Look around … no one is going to miss a hundred apples much less ONE!  The farmers even expect it, or they wouldn’t have put them all so close to the road for such easy picking.  Go ahead, you know you want to!”

And the scary thing is that the voice is right.  My mouth starts watering, my foot hesitates on the gas pedal and all of a sudden a second voice pops up and says “What are you crazy?  You’ve got apples in the fridge!  There’s an apple stand just two minutes down the road!  There’s a U-Pick place on the way home, if you just can’t keep your hands off!  Why are you even thinking like this?”

Indeed … why?  I’m not normally a thief.  And apples are nice, but I’m not crazy for them or anything.  Why the temptation every time I drive past row upon row of them by the road.  I guess the old temptations are still the best.  I guess it is part of my sinner’s heritage to always want more, even in the face of such abundance and blessings.  Forbidden fruit still promises to be the sweetest.

Luckily I know better.  I know the cost of that first forbidden taste for Adam and Eve.  I know the cost to Jesus, who had to come and hang from another tree, to pay for the temptations of the first.   I know the sweet taste of forgivness in Christ and sins paid for by Him who is the firstfruits of all who will rise from the dead.  But even knowing this, the temptation to reach out and take one of those apples is killing me.  Maybe today, before I go out in the country again I will stop and buy a couple to tide me over till I get through the orchards again.  No point in keeping the doctor away, if I’m only inviting the police over!