HOPE for the HAPLESS

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


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What a Sight!

m83_gendlerLast night marked a noteworthy accomplishment for me. I tracked down and viewed M83 (NGC 5236) also known as the Southern Pinwheel Galaxy. For over a year this was the last observation I needed to make to complete my certificate of 110 Messier Objects. For an amateur astronomer like myself, this is a significant accomplishment. Galaxies, Nebulae, Clusters of stars (both Open and Globular) I have hunted down and trained my telescope on 110 of the nicest in the night-time sky. The Southern Pinwheel galaxy is one of the most conspicuous spiral galaxies that can be seen up there. But it is also very low in the southern skies, so for us northern observers there is a limited window of opportunity each year to see it.

And so it was that for a year now my list has sat at 109 observations … with only this one to fulfill. And then it happened … a clear night, a dark spot, a detailed star-hop and … Wow! There it was! And what a Sight!  It was a great moment – a year’s patience finally paying off. I won’t say that I was giddy, but I was very happy. It was a great moment … unless you were an outsider happening to stumble upon it. Then it would have looked rather less impressive than I felt.

050409m83_stack_final-cropFor you see, the picture of M83 you saw at the beginning is not how you would have observed it in my scope. No human eyes will ever give you a view so nice. They just aren’t designed that way. If you were to have come across me in that dark field out in the countryside and asked to look through my eyepiece what you saw (if you could see it at all) would have looked something more like this second picture. A faintest whisp of a smudge of some very dim light … at best. A trick of the eye? No. It was there … but for most people it would never be something to write home about, let alone get excited about.

Yet isn’t that true of so many of our greatest accomplishments in life. At the time they are happening, they don’t really seem like much to others who might happen to observe them. A husband and wife working through a really rough spot to save their marriage. A father being there for his children. Young men and women respecting themselves and others enough to remain chaste until marriage. Students working hard in school. Men and women being diligent at their jobs. Christians reading their Bibles, praying for one another, talking to a neighbour or helping out a stranger. Not one of these things might seem impressive or exciting to an outsider, just the faintest smudge of a thought might ever be given to someone accomplishing any of this. But that doesn’t make the accomplishment any less important, any less exciting.

And that doesn’t mean that no one is watching either! God sees – His eyes are not limited like ours. And God rejoices with you in all your accomplishments by faith. For He is the King of accomplishing great deeds that the world barely takes notice of. Salvation through a cross … and a tomb. Everlasting life through the death of His Son. Faith and life freely given through the washing of Holy Baptism. Strengthened and renewed faith in (not so) simple bread and wine. The whole kingdom of heaven right here in little churches here on earth. One day his patience will pay off and the whole of creation will see things as he now sees them. One day we will rejoice with Him over all that He has tracked down and added to His list … for there in His catagory of favourite targets will be you and me!  And what a Sight that will be!

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Fries With That?

french-friesSo there I am in the fast food line getting ready to order my lunch. Then the inner debate begins. Do I get that side-salad whose picture is staring me in the face? I could … but … what dressing will I get? … Do I ask for croutons? …  Will I slop on my good clothes? (Salads are messy things you know!) And while I’m debating, the line moves and the lady asks what I want and before you know it all the questions are silenced and I find myself soon walking away with french fries. Why? I don’t really even like fries!

Well it seems that I’m not alone. As was recently reported, a new study shows that if I’m not in good company, I am in a large company (bad pun I know) More healthy food choices lead to less healthy eating: study reads in part: “Do you want fries or salad with that? We all know the right answer but given the choice, most of us will opt for the fries, says new research into consumer behaviour. It would appear that as restaurants and vending machine operators grant us our wish for health food options, we are more likely to order the least healthy option, say researchers with City University of New York and Duke University.”

Strange as it sounds, you and I probably already knew this truth didn’t we? It applies not only to something as inconsequential as salad or fries, but so much of the choices we make concerning our spiritual diets as well. Should I go to church today? Do I have time for devotions right now? I really should spend some time praying about that … The inner dialog begins and before you know it the snooze button is working overtime, the schedule is over-booked and prayer is the last thing on your mind. And worse yet, most of us know even as we are making these poor choices that we not only need these godly pursuits, not only that they would be good for us, but that we would enjoy them more than the poor substitutes we so often walk away with! So what is going on?

The authors of the study in question suggest “their finding shows that merely presenting a healthy option vicariously fulfills health-related eating goals, drives attention to the least-healthy choice and provides people with license to indulge in tempting foods.”

So as long as we intended to do good, our minds tell us it is OK to indulge in the bad! Again, this shouldn’t really surprise us should it? Isn’t that what God himself tells us we struggle with because of sin?

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! [Romans 7:15-25a]

It may not be easy, but it can be done … with God’s help, with Christ’s deliverance, with the Holy Spirit’s continual encouragement. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord, that we can move beyond empty intentions to real results! So put down the fries, wipe the ketchup from your chin and put something far better in your face … like your Bible!  See how much better it makes you feel, not only intending – but actually doing!


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Think Again!

I’m not often moved by sentimentality, but sometimes a moment is captured that can’t help but tug a little at the heart strings. One such moment for me was with the video of Ms. Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent. Setting up the scene much better than I, in a recent blog post this is what Sarah Liss had to say:

What’s marvelous about Boyle is how she managed to completely challenge not just our preconceived expectations (and those of the Britain’s Got Talent judges) but also the collective perception of what an undiscovered star looks like. Watch the initial moments of the clip and you can tell that the producers are salivating over Boyle’s potential as a wacky character who’ll make great television fodder. An unemployed, eccentric dowager from a small Scottish village who lives alone with her cat, Pebbles? A 47-year-old clad in an unflattering taupe housedress who claims not only that she’s never been married, but that she’s never been kissed? “This?” they’re silently guffawing, “This woman thinks she’s got a snowball’s chance in hell of becoming a professional singer?”

The set-up is cruel: a collection of spliced-together clips of Boyle making doddering, off-colour comments, snarky tween audience members rolling their eyes and the Britain’s Got Talent judges addressing the self-proclaimed singer as though she’s a recent escapee from a mental institution … But Boyle screwed all of that up. When she opened her mouth to sing, something exquisite and jarring came out …

What moved me most as I watched this all unfold on my computer screen, was that what I saw before me was a fitting picture of the church. The comparisons are just too wonderful to pass up! (Now please understand that I am not saying any of this as a commentary on the life, or beliefs of Ms. Boyle – neither of which I know anything about).

Just like Ms. Boyle, the church is often written off, simply because she is not what people today are looking for. She appears a little eccentric, what she has to say sometimes comes off as socially awkward. She is a little old and out-of-touch – past her best before date. The hip youngsters roll their eyes – “like she could have anything to share with me!” Those who know how the world works chuckle under their breath “Her, I don’t think so – maybe when we were both younger, but it’s too late now!”

Yet the church, just like Ms. Boyle, knows that she has a song to sing no matter what anyone else might think. It is a song of love and forgiveness. Of longing and mercy. It is a song of salvation and joy and peace. It is a song of a cross and an empty tomb. And when the Church opens her mouth and lets that sweet Gospel sound forth … WOW! Chins drop, mouths hang open and hearts are moved!

So thank you Ms. Boyle for the moving performance, and for the much needed reminder to think twice about the Bride of Christ, and the power of her song!


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Chew On This …

108_drbibby38In a recent article “Teen Atheism on the Rise” Professor Reginald Bibby gives all of us some tough news to chew on. It is especially tough for us in the church as it gives a stark outline of the growing work that we must do, not simply to stay connected, but to actually re-connect with a society and culture that is increasingly moving in a very different direction from us.

But the news is tough even for those who don’t think much of the church or her mission. It’s tough to chew because it points out some troubling numbers for society in its head-long rush to villify the Christian Church … It seems the numbers show that as people increasingly leave the church behind, they are less nice to be around! In his study Prof. Bibby found that only 54% of non-believers considered having concern for others to be highly important. Only 44% of the same, thought that forgiveness was important. And only 35% thought patience ranked highly as a value to hold.

Gee … you think? As if we needed the numbers to tell us the obvious.

There are those who argue that you don’t need the church to teach such values … fine I say … then you can start any time! Anyone who has ever had to stand in line at a store check-out, or wait at a red light, knows how well the world teaches patience. Anyone who has ever made a mistake, been the victim of a grudge, or a vendetta, knows how highly society holds up forgiveness. Anyone who has ever walked down the main street of any town in any province of our country can see for themselves the kind of concern most people have for those in need. Yes, I suppose you can teach such values without the church getting involved, but I have yet to see any proof of it.

But lest you think it is only the athiests at fault consider these statistics from the same article (which I would argue are perhaps even more disheartening) Only 55% of Christians polled valued patience highly. (That means nearly 1 out of every 2 Christians seems unconcerned with using this gift given them by the Holy Spirit!) Only 72% upheld the importance of being concerned for others. One in four apparently thinks it is OK to care foremost about oneself, despite all that the second table of God’s Law says to the contrary. And only 72% of Christians valued forgiveness as highly important. Forgiveness! That one precious gift bought with the blood of Christ upon the cross. Forgiveness, the one and only way that anyone will ever see the gates of heaven unlocked! Forgiveness, the foundation, and substance of the Christian faith … and nearly a quarter of the Christians polled didn’t think it all that necessary!

As tough as this news is to chew, I suppose that it does make the story of this Holy week so much more important to believer and athiest alike! More important and therefore maybe easier to swallow. The bitter suffering and rejection of Jesus at the hands of friends and foes alike, the impatience of the religious and secular leaders to be done with all annoyances, the debt of sin and selfishness that could only be paid by the innocent suffering and death of Jesus on the cross … this is not just some tragic story of what might have been. It is the story of what had to be. It is the story of how God was concerned enough to rescue us from ourselves. It is the story of how God was patient enough to bring everything together all at once, so salvation could be gained once and for all. It is the story of how God loved each and every one of us – selfish, impatient, unforgiving so-and-so’s that we are, to send His only begotten Son to suffer and die and thus earn us forgiveness. It is a sweet piece of news we could all chew on for a while!