HOPE for the HAPLESS

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


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The Quest for Perfection

Not so long ago there lived a good and kindly count. His rulings were always fair and impartial so he was well loved by all the people. Now as the count grew older it came to his mind that his image should be displayed for his subjects as a testament to all he had done for them. (This was a common practice among the nobility of the time.)

And so it was that in the prime of his reign the count set forth to find an artisan capable of the challenge. You see, the count though loved by all in the land was not of comeliness well endowed. He loved his people dearly, was quick to laugh always ready to help, and had (in his own meager sort of way) a warm and unforced smile. Unfortunately none of this could be conveyed in carved stone as readily as his short, stooped stature, his heavily-browed face, or his abundantly portly build. And thus he spent the next few years looking for just the right person to carve his statue.

Until at last in a small secluded village he found the very man he had been looking for. Just like the count this man had no striking countenance but simply by looking at him, the keenness of his eye, the sureness of his hands, the count knew beyond all doubts that this was the artist who could do the perfect job.

The count approached the small, weathered sculptor and told him of what he was looking to have done. The artisan was deeply flattered but replied “Surely there are better sculptors than me. As count you could have your choice of the best!”

“Yes, I most certainly can,” countered the lord, “And you sir are the man for this job.”

“I am nothing but a solitary young man with a watery eye and none-to-steady hand.” The count could see that this was an obvious lie. He had his royal coffers brought forward. To the little man he offered gold, jewels, riches beyond all measure. Nothing could sway his decision. The count offered him land, a new home, titles, servants. These were of no more success. Finally the count was able to wear the man down by sheer persistence.

“I will do what I will do for the sake of artistic truth” the sculptor told the count. He took only a small bag of gold up front. Less than a week later a large block of the finest marble was brought to the sculptor’s workshop just outside the village.

The count himself came soon afterward and took up residence in the village’s one tiny inn. He would be needed for the first while so the artist could make sketches and do studies from which to do his finished work. Right from the beginning the count knew that he had chosen well. He had never seen anyone spend so much time or give so much attention to every single minute detail as this young man did. The count would sit for as long as he could every day while the sculptor patiently studied and drew every detail of his face from every possible angle. When this was finally done the count took up a striking pose befitting any lord and the whole process began again.

The posing and the careful study went on for weeks and weeks. The count was beginning to wonder if having a statue, like the other nobles, was really worth all the bother. Unexpectedly the sculptor looked up from his paper and said “I am now ready to begin. Your statue should be finished within the year.” He was young but he knew the business well.

The count was so overjoyed that he gathered up all his people and left the village that same day, promising to send someone round to check in on the young man in one month’s time. The young sculptor, not wasting a moment put down his paper and picked up the hammer and other tools. The sound of the chisel striking stone could be heard well into the night.

From sun up to sun down the sculptor worked every day. As his work progressed he used his many near-perfect sketches to form a perfect image of the count in his head. It was this that he then went about letting loose from the marble ever so slowly. Tap by tap. Piece by piece. Flake by tiny flake.

Shortly there came a visitor to the door. It was a servant of the count. A month had already passed. At this point there was little more than the outline of a human form visible in the stone but the servant was wonderfully pleased.

“I can already tell who it is to be!” he exclaimed. “The count will be happy indeed!” The servant left that same day to take the good news back to the count. Time passed swiftly by. The young artist continued to work on the statue of the count every single day from sun up to sun down, and sometimes even longer. People had always said he was too particular in his work but no one could argue that this piece was shaping up to be one of the very best in the whole world.

Another rap on the door heralded the second servant of the count. By this time the specific details of the count were beginning to take shape. The servant laughed out loud for joy when he saw the statue.

“Surely that is the count himself I see being born before my very eyes!” he exclaimed “The count will be very pleased indeed!” With that the second servant left to return to the count.

And so the pattern continued month after month for the better part of the year the sculptor had promised. The statue continued to take shape and the servants seemed to be more and more speechless each time they came. The last servant to come was so immediately overwhelmed by the statue’s likeness that without a single word he fell to one knee then got up to personally fetch the count.

For all that time the sculptor had put up with the showings for the servants but now the count would be coming himself and the statue still wasn’t finished, it still wasn’t perfect.

A mere couple of days later the count arrived to a feverishly working artist. It looked as if he hadn’t eaten or slept in days, but the count quickly forgot his concern when he looked upon the statue before him.

Absolute perfection!” the count bellowed, his warm smile beaming forth. The sculptor had indeed captured the very heart of the dear count. Anyone who looked upon the statue could not help but smile and feel warmth for the man it portrayed, and who felt so much warmth for them in return.

“Verily I say to you, young man, that you have surpassed even my most glorious dreams! You shall be rewarded greatly for this work of most beautiful art. Money, servants … anything you ask for I will gladly give it to you!”

The sculptor seemed greatly distressed. “I would ask for but a little more time to finish the work before you my Lord” came his haggard reply.

The count was taken aback for he had not expected this at all. “But come now, why, young fellow? This is without a doubt exactly what I wanted, and even more if possible.’

“But, my Lord, it is not yet perfect! An that is why I ask for but a little more time. Give me yet one more month and I will give you absolute perfection!”

The count could not see how this was possible but consented to the man anyway. ‘What could it hurt?’ he thought to himself. It was already more than he had hoped for. As he began for home his mind began to dream of what more could be done.

The thirty days passed quickly for the driven sculptor. He worked feverishly, taking little time out to eat and even less to sleep. He would contemplate a single tap of the hammer and chisel sometimes for hours before committing it to the stone.

Fleck by tiny fleck he did the seemingly impossible. He took that statue and made it unquestionably, undoubtedly, and inescapably perfect. At long last he could sit back and look at his work with a craftsman’s pride!

The same day he finished was the day that the cont and his retinue came back. The sculptor was nervous, but excited and very proud as he prepared to unveil his final work.

“My Lord, I give you perfection” he said, pulling away the covering.

The count’s expectant look turned to one of confusion and then to anger.

“What is the meaning of this? Is this some sort of cruel joke?” he bellowed, “I’ll have none of it, and you will be lucky to ever work again. Mark my words!” And with that the nobleman stormed off, never once looking back.

The weathered young sculptor was in a daze. He looked at the statue. It was perfect, down to the last hair, down to the finest wrinkle. Nothing but the colour of the stone could distinguish the statue from the man!

Then the answer hit him like a thunderbolt. He reeled back from his work of perfection. The statue was dead. There was no glimmer of life in it whatsoever. He had been so busy for so long making it physically perfect that he had failed to see that in dong so he ha destroyed everything that made the piece (and the man) beautiful to behold.

The young man looked at his handiwork in the harsh afternoon sun and bitterly recognized that all that had mattered about the statue lay in dust about his feet.


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No Power But the Word of God

Here is a true gem for all of us in Christ’s Church from C.F.W. Walther. A reminder of where God’s promises lie, and where our hope as pastor and people forever dwells:

Even though we possess no power but that of the Word, we nevertheless can and should carry on our work joyfully. Let us, therefore, esteemed sirs and brethren, use this power properly. Let us above all and in all matters be concerned about this, that the pure doctrine of our dear Evangelical Lutheran Church may become known more and more completely among us, that it may be in vogue in all of our congregations, and that it may be preserved from all adulteration and held fast as the most precious treasure. Let us not surrender one iota of the demands of the Word. Let us bring about its complete rule in our congregations and set aside nothing of it, even though for this reason things may happen to us, as God wills. Here let us be inflexible, here let us be adamant. If we do this, we need not worry about the success of our labor. Even though it should seem to us to be in vain, it cannot then be in vain, for the Word does not return void but prospers in the thing whereto to the Lord sent it [Isaiah 55:11]. By the Word alone, without any other power, the Church was founded. By the Word alone, all the great deeds recorded in Church history were accomplished. By the Word alone, the Church will most assuredly stand also in these last days of sore distress, to the end of days. Even the gates of hell will not prevail against it. “All flesh is as grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the Word of the Lord remains forever” [1 Peter 1:24—25]. Amen.

The Synod has No Power But the Word of God, 1848 Synodical Address. Translated by Paul F. Koehneke, published in “At Home in the House of My Fathers”, by Matt Harrison. Lutheran Legacy, 2009.


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The Snag About Materialism

According to Wikipedia Materialism “holds that the only thing that exists is matter; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena (including consciousness) are the result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance.”

Materialism is, whether or not you know it, the philosophy at the heart of  (and laying the foundation for) the theory of Evolution.  Evolution, you see begins with the a priori assumption that there is no God – no deity – no supernatural anything.  The only thing that is real is matter (and energy) and everything that is can be explained by the properties of it. If it can’t be explained without God, then it can’t be real.  Your soul, your mind, your thoughts, dreams, ideas and memories are simply the result of the physical interactions of physical matter (eg. in your brain).

It seems to me that there are two reasons why one should think this is a bunch of silliness.  Number one. If all thought, is simply a process of material interactions then there can be no right or wrong thought.  To call one kind of material interaction (with its attendant result) wrong cannot apply.  It simply is.  Therefore there would be no reason to disagree with anything anyone ever thought – including the thought that there must be not only a spiritual component to life, but a supernatural spiritual being responsible for creating and sustaining all that matter.  Yet see how accepting materialists are of any such idea (produced, as they would say only by material interactions).  Obviously they can still think that there are some things which are more real than others.

The second reason materialism does not, and cannot, amount to much is stated very well by C.S. Lewis, who identified this problematic philosophy so many decades ago:

If the solar system was brought about by an accidental collision, the the appearance of organic life on this planet was also an accident, and the whole evolution of Man was an accident too.  If so, then all our present thoughts are mere accidents – the accidental by-product of the movement of atoms. And this holds true for the thoughts of the materialists and astronomers as well as for anyone else’s. But if their thoughts – i.e. of materialism and astronomy – are merely accidental by-products, why should we believe them to be true?  I see no reason for believing that one accident should be able to give a correct account of all the other accidents. It’s like expecting that the accidental shape taken by the splash when you upset a milk jug should give you a correct account of how the jug was made and why it was upset.

Two accidents, no matter how great they are, just don’t make a truth. If there is no outside guiding force or principle (eg a spiritual reality) behind all thought then every thought is simply random chance of randomly interacting particles of matter.  But random chance cannot be taken for truth.  Again, it just is. So what makes materialistic random material interactions more “true” than the material interactions leading to a trust in God?

Just because matter “is” it does not follow that nothing else can be.  Just because we can’t measure something directly doesn’t disprove its existence.  (Ask astronomers about Dark Energy and Dark Matter, or an archeologist about “deep” time!)   Nor does being able to study the physical stuff of my brain tell you what my inner-most thoughts are.  But that’s fine, because now you know!


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Christ Set His Face

Text:   Luke 9:51-62

To Tune of #425 (LSB) “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” [Hamburg – LM]

Hymn Text by Ken Maher

1. Christ set His face to Calv’ry high,

When time came to be lifted up.

With resolve He would not decry

to down bitter dregs of that cup.

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2. Foxes have holes and birds have nests,

by His care they ne’er suffer loss

For His own Son there’s no such rest

But lay His head upon the cross.

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3. Love for Father, duty of Son

by such concerns He’s only led.

Buried is sin, and the day won

When He’s abandoned, left for dead.

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4. All for fam’ly, for you, for me

Stretches out hand, not once looking back.

For this purpose all things He sees,

And in this gift we nothing lack.

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5. When I set my face to His cross,

See again through my Saviour’s eyes;

May I come to count all as loss

But that my Lord for me did die!