HOPE for the HAPLESS

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


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Don’t Take it Lying Down!

The ever-changing fads and follies of the Internet age never cease to amaze me.  Take for instance, the inexplicable popularity of the “Lying Down Game” also known as Planking.  Planking  involves somebody lying flat on their stomach in unusual or different environments … think of it as extreme sleeping.  A relatively unknown pastime for most of its history, planking has in the last couple of years become a burgeoning Internet craze that has attracted thousands of fans right across the world.  Australia seems to be a particular hub for plankers. Photographs of their exploits are usually shared through social media sites such as Facebook. The more crazy the pose, the funnier the picture, or the more dangerous the circumstances of the plank the more fame and notoriety to be gained when your picture is posted.

And the more potentially devastating the consequences can turn out.  The Planking community found this out recently when a young man plunged to his death after “planking” on a seventh-story balcony in Brisbane’s inner-south.  Local news reports that Acton Beale, aged 20, fell from the balcony of a unit block on Main Street in Kangaroo Point shortly before 4.30am. He was trying to lay face down on the balcony railing of his apartment when he suddenly fell. Paramedics spent 20 minutes trying to revive Mr Beale at the scene, however, he died a short time later. (Read more: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/national/planking-death-man-plunges-from-balcony-20110515-1entn.html#ixzz1NHcshmkk)

The tragic death of this young man is a poignant reminder that anything taken too far – even lying down – can be deadly.  But then we Christians already knew this didn’t we?  In the book of acts we have a 2000 year old example of the dangers of this kind of extreme sleeping.  Act 20:7 -9  On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead.

Let the reader understand … sleeping where you oughtn’t is no laughing matter.  It can be literally life or death. So why do so many good Christian men and women still do it?  And not just on those hot summer days when the church is a little too stuffy, or those oh-so-early Sunday mornings when the children wouldn’t go to sleep the night before, or the neighbours were up to all hours having a loud party again.  I’m not talking about those days when the heart is willing but the flesh is just too tired.  I’m talking about all those times when the body is present, but the heart and the mind are off soaring through the neighbourhood, or riding on the backs of camels in distant lands. When the body is sitting in the pew while the mind settles down on any and every wild and wonderful plank floating around this world of ours.  Our bodies going through all the motions of prayer and worship, with our hearts and minds soundly asleep at the wheel.

Or those dear brothers and sisters who get through their Sunday mornings only to lay down for the next six days. The spiritual life laid right out on the living room floor, being stepped around every morning on the way to work, being tripped over on the way out for friends and activities in the evening.  The family Bible sitting on the bookshelf neatly holding its place under a layer of dust, the Church’s bulletin being shuffled around the kitchen table until it is tossed in the paper recycling bin on Tuesday or Wednesday.  How many have fallen into the habit of planking their faith on top of their dressers, or on a shelf in the closet? A little show here or there, just enough to get a picture and a favourable reaction.

It is a recipe for disaster.  A tragedy in the making.  A little harmless fun, that can lead to a life and death fall without warning. Church is meant to be a rest for your soul … but not by simply lying down in the middle of your busy life. Nor by making a game of it.  Worship is true rest when we find ourselves in Christ, alive to His promises, awake to His gifts, living and active in His love. This kind of rest brings rejuvenation and life.  Much like Paul did for poor Eutychus, when he rushed down and brought him back to life right there on the ground there outside of the building.

For that’s what God does.  He awakens sleepers. He gives life to the dead. He picks up the fallen and the plankers alike.  Maybe it’s time to wake up … to get up … and hear that Good News once again.

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Even Better Than Luck

Friday the 13th is supposedly an ominous date, steeped in superstition and assumed by some to bring bad luck.  And so in honour of Friday the 13th I am re-posting this little piece about luck, and what’s even better.  Feel free to read it under a ladder with your black cat  …

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 [ask me about the iPad I just won], 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 above. 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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Living and Dying by the Sword

The news that Osama Bin Laden was killed by American forces has brought much reaction in the hours following the announcement.  No doubt it will bring much more (and even some potentially violent) reaction in the days and weeks to come.  But what of our reaction, dear Christians?  How should we feel about it all?

First of all, even though I was not expecting the timing, I was not really surprised.  The world is a big place, but no one can hide from their fate forever.  When Bin Laden took it upon himself to deal out death to the west, to put innocent people in harm’s way, to terrorize nations through attacks on their citizens in their homes … well, He too, I am sure, knew what his fate must one day be.

As our Lord himself said in the quiet evening garden torn by anger and weapons and torches:   “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”  (Mat 26:52)  When Osama Bin Laden chose to live by the sword, he also chose to die by the sword. Violence can only bring down more violence on those who practice it.  But then, one must ask, does this also apply to the soldiers who hunted him down and killed him, or the president who ordered it, and the nation who called for it? Are they not bringing more violence on themselves? Won’t more innocent people die precisely because of this punitive action?

Most likely they are, and they will.   Every soldier, every commander in chief, every nation on earth knows that sometimes this is the price they must pay for their neighbour, if peace is to prevail for their citizens and loved ones.   It is no crime for a Nation to exercise the use of the sword for the protection her citizens, and the punishment of evil-doers.  The nation, the President and the soldiers in question were (and are) doing their God-given duty in protecting others from further harm. Do not think for a moment there would have been less violence if Bin Laden had been left alone to continue his plans.

As we read in Romans 13:1-4  “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.  For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval,  for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”

Or again, in our own Confessions: For civil government deals with other things than does the Gospel. The civil rulers defend not minds, but bodies and bodily things against manifest injuries, and restrain men with the sword and bodily punishments in order to preserve civil justice and peace. [Augsburg Confession Art. XXVIII:11]

As a Christian I continue to thank God every day for those who place themselves in harm’s way to protect the peace I have been blessed with.  As a Christian I pray every day that God would guide the actions of the governments of this world to serve the peace by valuing the life of their citizens and by punishing those who seek only to destroy life.   But as a Christian I also know that I can, and must, do what no civil government on earth can do.  I can proclaim the true peace that passes all human understanding.  The only peace that can change evil once and for all.  While the rightful governments of this world protect human lives (even when sometimes this means taking life), it is my privilege to share the only Good News that can bring real and everlasting life to even the blackest of human hearts, or the vilest of cruel regimes.

Violence will forever breed violence … until that violence is swallowed up once and for all.  Consider that other man who was hunted by the sword.  That man whose words we heard in the garden. He was the target of earthly kingdoms. He was taken out in a night-time raid. Captured in the cloak of darkness. Brought before mock political and military tribunals.  His fate sealed long before He stepped into the courtroom.  He was a man marked for violence and death. Yet all of it was so that sin and death, violence and atrocity might be swallowed up in His loving sacrifice once and for all.   The carnage of sin taken into every last part of His flesh. Righteous punishment meted out on the only truly innocent man who ever walked this earth.  The terror of death swallowed up in life.  All of the violence and death and bloodshed of this world piercing his soul like a sword … so that the power of the sword might not hold sway over us anymore.

You see, we must all die some day, and the timing of it is rarely expected, whether we end up laying down our life, or someone takes it from us makes little difference in the end.  What matters is the reason for which we live that life.  The reason for which we are willing to spend it.  Those who stand on the front lines are willing to spend their lives for you.  Those who spend their life in bringing death and those who spend it protecting life are not the same. But Jesus … well Jesus spent His life for and and for all.  And having risen from the dead, He wants to share it will all.

Should we then, as Christians rejoice in the demise of this particular wrong-doer?  I leave you with God’s own thoughts on the matter from Ezekiel 18:23  “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? … 32  For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.” I will not rejoice but rather continue each day to pray that God who willingly spent His life upon the cross to bring peace and healing to this world might even now use me and you, and all our brothers and sisters in the Holy Christian Church, to call one and all to drop the sword, to give up the pursuit of death and turn and live. But where there are those who will not be moved by His love and mercy I will rejoice that there are those who will live by the sword, and risk their lives for mine … and  that God would keep them safe as they do so.