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

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Lent: A Season Whose Time Has Come!

ash_2As I was making my way to the gym (“Be It Resolved”) after Ash Wednesday Service – big smudge of ashes across my brow, I got to thinking that Lent is a season whose time may finally have come! As I began my workout I was the only one with a cross on my forehead, but I was NOT the only one bearing a mark upon my brow.

You can see all over people’s faces now. The wrinkles of uncertainty, the furrows of self-reflection, the down-cast countenances of people deeply involved in soul-searching. The signs of these tough economic times are played out on the brows of men and women everywhere. People are now being forced to confront all those problems they have been able to avoid by simply throwing away more money (or credit). Those days of grandiose self-indulgence and avoidance are gone – as are the fortunes, security, and homes of so many. The days ahead are full of doubts and uncertainty for a lot of people who are not ready for it. Everyone is being asked to consider both how we got where we are and what we might yet need to do to get out of it all. Some are even beginning to contemplate their own complicity in all this. Regardless, the deeper these friends, neighbours, strangers and acquaintances are forced to look, the bigger the creases and furrows grow. Yes the signs are everywhere!

But that is also why Lent, and those of us who regularly observe it may be of some use! We are accustomed to bearing the marks of personal reflection and soul-searching. At least twice a year we devote an entire season of the church year to just such spiritual exercises. We don’t always like what we see when we get there, but we are at least willing to look. And why? It’s as obvious as the sign upon your forehead.

You see, while no less complicit in the affairs of this world … no less burdened and troubled by all that goes on around us … no less saddened by the continual hardships faced by friends and relatives, neighbours and even strangers … the mark we bear is not one of doubt or futility. It is a mark of hope, and certainty! As strange as it may sound, Lent can be a wonderful comfort to those who are burdened by fears and faults. It can provide a renewed breath of life and hope to those suffocating under the weight of their burdens and anxieties. And it can do all this because Lent shines forth the sign of the cross like no other season I know.

“You are dust and to dust you shall return.” Yes, I am guilty. Yes I deserve nothing. But God in His love and grace has given me a sign. A sign marked upon my head and my heart. He has given me His Son and His great victory upon the cross. He has shown me the way out. He has shone forth the bright beacon of hope and joy in the face of so much darkness, both within and around me. For in that cross He has canceled the debt of my sin. In that cross He has erased my complicity. In Holy Baptism (where the sign of the cross was first inscribed on my head and heart) He has adopted me into His family and has granted me an eternal home, more beautiful than any dwelling this side of Eden.

Therefore I will gladly bear this mark upon my life. The cross of Christ Jesus happily smudged upon my brow, to be a sign for our times. A sign of relief for those who suffer the mark of sin in their lives.

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Transfiguration – A Spoiler.

transfigPeople have very differing views about spoilers these days. There are those who make their livelihood by revealing movie secrets on the web. There are those who can’t stand it when the surprise is ruined by the careless dissemination of information. Then there are others, like me, who are somewhere in the middle.

I have an uncanny knack at being able to guess the twists and turns of most stories. It drives my wife crazy. The height of her frustration came with the movie The Sixth Sense. She saw it before I did, and was so taken aback, she couldn’t wait to see how long this one would stump me. She was careful to guard me against any “spoilers” until I could see it. Well … she tried. One day a friend happened to say “That was some surprise ending wasn’t it?” That was enough for me to guess the plot five minutes in. It spoiled all of her fun (and mine too … it is a long movie when you know the secret right from the get-go).

But in our house, filled as it is by little ones, spoilers are a necessary part of any story with questionable or scary parts. I can’t begin to count the number of times we have had to begin a story, a show or a movie with words of caution and comfort. Words that say although there will be scary parts they will not last long, and everything will turn out just fine. In such instances we find that it spoils the enjoyment of the work far less than trying to console traumatized children for days afterward.

In that sense God himself has provided a spoiler for us in the Transfiguration of Christ. On that mountain, in the presence of Peter, James, John, Moses and Elijah God lets slip an important part of the narrative to come. But He doesn’t do it to ruin the fun of what is to come, He does it for the sake of those not quite ready to take it all in. And so God gives them a spoiler. You see the story is about to get scary. It is about to turn dark and ugly. There will be treachery, betrayal, torture, suffering and death. BUT everything will be fine because Jesus really is God! Everything will work out in the end, just wait and see.

And in that way the Transfiguration serves as a spoiler for us too. Tomorrow we begin the season of lent. It is a season of contemplation, repentance and consideration on the sacrifice of our Lord. As a season so intimately connected to soul-searching it can lead us to some very dark places. It can open up to us things we prefer to keep hidden away in dark shadows. It can take us down paths that no one in their right mind willingly wants to tread. Sin, guilt, complicity, suffering, shame, the death of Christ. It is a season in which it is easy to get lost in the dark, lost in ourselves, lost in despair. So God gives us a spoiler just days before we begin. Everything will be fine because it is not about our failures. It is about God’s victory in Jesus! As dark as the soul-searching may get, everything will work out in the end, for there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Just wait and see. That light is Jesus Christ who did indeed come to suffer and die because of sin – My Sin – but He did it willingly. He did it to lead me out of the darkness into the light. He did it to show the true glory of His love for me and all mankind. He did it so that He could rise again from the dead, the firstfruits of all who will go through death to life.

Before the dark he gives us a taste of the light. Before the death, a glimpse of the resurrection. A heavenly spoiler so we can better enjoy, and rightly understand, the story about to unfold.  Indeed, the greatest story ever told!


Sooo Many Things Wrong With This!

I am truly amazed (and more than a little terrified) by the overwhelming gun culture of our Southern neighbours (and the increasing spill-over up here too). I found this article while surfing the web today and all I can say is “WOW”!  How can people think that ANY good will come of such a worldly (and just plain dangerous) idea?  What do you think?

jesus-is-the-riflemanArkansas House approves bill allowing guns in churches

Published: Wednesday, February 11, 2009 | 9:37 PM ET

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The Arkansas House has approved a bill allowing concealed handguns in churches, despite hearing arguments that lawmakers should put their faith in God, not guns.

The bill passed on a 57-42 vote and now heads to the Senate. It removes churches and other houses of worship from the list of places where concealed handguns are banned.

Currently, the only private entities where concealed weapons are banned are churches and bars.

The bill’s sponsor, Representative Beverly Pyle, said she introduced the measure after a series of church shootings across the country.

She said it would be up to each individual church whether to allow the concealed guns.

“It is time we changed our concealed-handgun law to allow law-abiding citizens of the state of Arkansas the right to defend themselves and others should a situation happen in one of our churches,” she said.

Pyle said at least 20 states have similar laws allowing churches to decide whether to permit concealed guns.

The measure drew opposition from a pair of pastors who are also legislators.

Representative Steven Breedlove, a minister at the Valley View Church of Christ, said allowing concealed handguns won’t stop someone from opening fire inside a church.

“Ronald Reagan was completely surrounded by armed guards and he was still shot,” Breedlove said.

“And that is why we must put our faith in God and not put our faith in something else. Let us keep the sanctity of churches and put our faith in God and not in guns.”

© The Canadian Press, 2009

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An Embarassing Confession

moldwallI have a moldy basement.  There I said it.  You may commence with the puns and the good-natured ribbing.  I am trying to make light of the situation, but I know that it isn’t great.  It’s very far from great.

Just after Christmas we had our first water leak in the basement.  There was a lot of rain and melting snow.  We got it cleaned and dried and thought we were OK … but …  then it happened again and we knew there was something going on.  We called in a friend and he helped us open up the wall.

I wish he hadn’t.  Now problem is impossible to ignore, but also strangely hard to fix.  Contractors won’t touch it until it is properly cleaned.  Cleaners won’t go near it until it has been tested.  The mold tester is supposed to come today.  So the basement sits there in all its open shame, taped off and sealed in until we are allowed to get on with fixing it.

What have I learned in all this?  I have learned that my basement is only “damp-proofed.”  I have learned that there is a lot of water pressure that builds up in the ground in my neighbourhood through the winter and spring.  I have learned that one tiny little crack can lead to a world of damage, the worst of which is often not easy to see.

I have been given a valuable reminder of what our life looks like because of sin.

The world is full of so many pressures, each pushing hard against our foundations.  All the best of intentions, all our hard work can only damp-proof that foundation against this world’s assaults.  Eventually sin will cause that foundation to crack.  Maybe it is because of an illness, maybe a lay-off.  Maybe it is the friction within your marriage or family.  You may not even notice the crack at first, but it all starts to seep in and the damage is already done.  A little thing to clean up and then you are fine again … or are you?  The real damage may lie hidden beneath the surface  getting moldy and more toxic every day.  Getting worse and worse, until it comes out into the open … but by then it is hard to deal with and nobody really wants to!

Well, one person does.  That’s why Jesus came – to clean the basement of our moldy souls and heal the damage sin has done.  But even more, He still comes in His Word and in His Sacraments to help prevent any further damage!  By His Word of Forgiveness He seals the crack sin have made.  By the means of grace He waterproofs our foundations puts a barrier around our lives … a barrier to protect us from the pressures that seek to crack, the cares that seek to erode, and tragedies that seek to destroy our foundations.

I have a moldy basement.  There I said it again.  But more importantly I will also say that I have a heavenly contractor who is at work even now to solve the problem once and for all!


The Abortion Question (Part II)

Here, as promised, is the second part of my discussion on the question of abortion.  In the first part I did what I could to answer just the latest of the so-called unanswerable questions posed to those who support the right to life.  In this post I would like to make things a little more personal, with a story and a question of my own.

samuel-1What you are looking at is a picture of my son, Samuel.  This picture was taken only an hour or so after he was born prematurely.  It was an unexpected surprise for all involved.  He decided to come some 5 1/2 weeks early.  One evening at home my wife’s said “Uh-oh!” and hurried into the bathroom.  Minutes later we were already pulling into emergency.  By the time we got her to the hospital things were well underway.  The doctor barely got there in time to deliver him.  Because the birth was so fast (and early) he had trouble breathing on his own.  He needed to be taken to the NICU in a neighbouring city.  He spent the first few days of his life hooked up to tubes and wires.  It was something straight out of a sci-fi movie. I didn’t get to hold him until he was 6 days old.  But he recovered quickly and by two weeks old he was out of the hospital and back home with us.

Now you should also know that I live in Canada, which has a great health care system.  I truly believe that.  They were there for my wife and my son every step of the way.  I have nothing but praise for the doctors and nurses who did so much to help us get through it all.  But something else you should know about Canada is that there is absolutely NO restrictions on when or why a woman may have an abortion.  The very same morning of the very same day my son would be born, it was well within my wife’s legal rights to have walked into a clinic or a hospital that performs abortions and to have had the pregnancy terminated.  In fact, by law she still had upwards of 5 1/2 weeks to have gotten around to it (if he had not come quite so early)!  In my country, while abortions this late in pregnancy are not the norm, they are done.

Now MY question … and this is not meant to stump anyone or prove anything … I’m just asking it because I think it is important to ask and answer truthfully, openly and honestly … My question is this:

“What changed in the couple of hours on that fateful day in September when in the morning what you see in the picture above was (to so many) just a lump of cells, a bit of tissue that could be discarded on a whim, and just a few hours later when he was now very obviously a human being that so many dozens of people were going to so much effort to save?”

What happened?  What changed?  What was the all important difference (legally, and morally speaking)?  He had not changed physiologically over the intervening minutes and hours – he had not grown a head or a heart or anything like that.  He was not any bigger, not any more developed.  In the morning he was disposable flesh, something less than human under the law and in the eyes of so many.  In the evening a person, a citizen of Canada with all the rights and privileges thereof.  … What changed?

Furthermore, on the day he was born he was not technically looked for or wanted (not right then at any rate, not under those circumstances).  He was not able to breathe on his own.  He needed machines and tubes and round the clock nursing care.  Yet not one person in that delivery room for even one second questioned whether he was a human being or if he was worth saving!

So what changed?  He didn’t.  His circumstances didn’t (not in any meaningful way).  His “viability” didn’t.  His need for care and support didn’t.  His life looked very much in the evening as it had in the morning, and was lived very much as it had been that morning – completely in the hands of (at the mercy of) someone else.  So what changed?

I’m just asking …