HOPE for the HAPLESS

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


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Through the Winter Wonderland

snow at nightDriving through the dark and in the wildly falling snow can be both terrifying, exhilarating, and breathtaking all at the same time. I know, because I did it again just last night. You’ve probably had to do it more than a few times yourself.

And like me you’ve probably been struck by how it can be so beautiful and so nerve-wracking at the same time. The flakes so big and bright, falling in gentle sheets that seem to wrap the whole world in a fuzzy white blanket. It takes your breath away. And a part of you could just sit and watch it for hours, reveling in the quiet spectacle.

But you can’t because you’re in your car, and you have to get home where everyone is waiting for you. And the road is quickly disappearing before your eyes so you are not entirely sure where you should be headed. And the other motorists are beginning to panic … Some basically shut down backing up traffic way behind them while others get frustrated and barrel through where calmer heads might think twice.

Sounds a bit like the holidays doesn’t it? Terrifying, breathtaking, exhilarating. The flurry of activities, and programs, and visiting and good cheer, and food, and plans, and decorations, and shopping, and cleaning, and gift-giving. And while, under certain circumstances, it might actually be kind of pretty, it often is lost on many people. Some will simply race through it with a sense of ever-building panic that they will lose their way. Others will panic at the thought and shut themselves down – shut themselves out. Others will become frustrated with the whole mess and bluster their way through, no matter who gets hurt along the way.

So how do we Christians get through the holidays? By remembering that the worst storms of this dark night, become the winter wonderland of tomorrow morning. By slowing down and allowing our breath to be taken away by the little moments of beauty in all that lies ahead. By letting the Lord lead us, by whatever kind of road He chooses, to stable and the manger and the love of the Lord God Almighty Creator of heaven and earth writ in flesh and blood. Held in tiny infant arms. Gently blanketed in swaddling cloths and hand delivered to you and your loved ones.

101_2812The King shall come when morning dawns

And lights triumphant breaks

When beauty gilds the eastern hills

And life to joy awakes.

The King shall come when morning dawn

And light and beauty brings.

Hail, Christ the Lord! Your people pray:

Come quickly, King of kings!

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The Cross Marks the Spot

ImageIn Dealey Plaza, Dallas, there painted in the middle of Elm street is an unassuming “x”. If you were not acquainted with American history you might be forgiven for walking past it not knowing what it means. But if you were passingly familiar with November 22 1963, the Texas School Book Depository, or Lee Harvey Oswald then you might stop and ponder for a moment the terrible significance of those two crossed lines of paint. They mark the exact spot where 50 years ago President John F. Kennedy was assassinated before horrified spectators and a stunned world.

Scholars and pundits have argued at great length as to the significance of that tragic event. While he was not the first leader assassinated in office, nor will he, sadly, be the last; for 50 years his death has been seen by many as something different. What might have been if only he hadn’t died so young, so untimely? How would our world be different today? Would it have changed US relations with Russia or China? Would Vietnam have played out differently? Would there be less division and distrust between government and her people, due in large part, some argue, to those who followed in his office? Putting aside all the lingering conspiracy theories surrounding the president’s death, most people do agree that on that November day 50 years ago the United States lost their innocence. Lost, in a very palpable way, their idealism that everything would only ever get better as time went on.

It is a pall that many people still struggle under today … and for good reason. I’m not sure that anyone still holds to the idea that things are only getting better. We just seem to go from one bad thing to another. One tragedy to another. Once disaster to another. One weak or corrupt leader to another. But then again, not even JFK was without his certain public shortcomings. And so, even if he had avoided that spot marked to this day on the pavement in Dealey Plaza, I don’t think it would have changed the world we live in. At least not significantly. The world was broken 50 years ago, and it is broken now, and not even a man like JFK can change it.

But there is one man who saved it. On another fateful day long long ago in an event equally profound and seemingly tragic, a popular young leader was killed in his prime. Witnessed again, by horrified spectators and a stunned world. If you were not acquainted with Biblical history you might be forgiven for walking past the signs of that cross not fully knowing what it means.

cross SilhouetteYet in those ubiquitous symbols of the Christian faith, looming large at the front and on the top of every church, etched and embossed in book upon book, wrought in silver and gold and hung on bedroom walls, and countless necks … in that unassuming cross rests the memory of an event (THE event) of world-changing significance. Scholars and pundits have argued at great length as to the significance of that event. And there are of course, all kinds of lingering conspiracy theories surrounding the events. But in that death of Jesus Christ on a cross outside of Jerusalem the world forever changed. Not through innocence lost, rather innocence restored. Paid for in the innocent blood and willing sacrifice of a great leader for His beloved people. The world changed, yet not for the death of idealism, but in the birth of hope, and faith, and love.

Jesus our king made his way through the streets of Jerusalem that fateful day, but not as an unwitting victim. He did it knowing full well what lay ahead. And He went up anyway, to deliver us from darkness to His own kingdom. He redeemed this world from death and destruction. Defeated the ancient enemies of mankind – sin, death and the devil. He gave us a future that will not only be better, but the very best. And the cross, marks the spot where it all happened. It is tragic when a leader is stolen from his people. And so we grieve with those who still grieve the events of November 22, 1963. But it is glorious when the rightful king lays down His life that His people might live in peace and security after Him. And in that everlasting promise we rejoice, in the face of all that this world may yet take from us.


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Greater Love Has No Man Than This

PoppyLet me begin by stating at the beginning that I love my children very much. I love seeing what they are doing at school. I love being able to take some time to be present at their assemblies, such as I was on Monday.  As far as Remembrance Day ceremonies go it was your pretty standard affair. The teachers doing their best (but generally failing) to file the children in neatly and get them sitting in respectful silence. The welcomes and introductions. A poem spoken (barely) by the older children, the presentations of a wreath from each home room class. The presence of veteran to play the traditional bugle parts. And then my son and his class got up to sing. They sang beautifully. They sang with gusto. They sang clearly (and for the most part on key). I could make out my son’s voice and he is a credit to both his mother and his father. But what they sang was like nails on a chalkboard …

Put a Little Love in Your Heart.

Perhaps you know it. Here are just a few of the grating phrases i had to sit through: “If you want the world to know we won’t let hatred grow put a little love in your heart. And the world will be a better place …” “I hope when you decide kindness will be your guide put a little love in  your heart. And the world will be a better place …” I’m not sure who thought this was a good idea, or worse yet who agreed with them and signed off on it. But I do understand the thought behind it. It comes from a deep-seated misunderstanding that many people in our culture have regarding love and what it is. One that is intimately tied into their misunderstanding of Tolerance and Compassion.

For many people these days (people who for the most part have never really and truly had to face real war) love is often confused with appeasement. If you love someone you need to let them be. If we really loved, there would be no more need for war. If we really loved, we could all just get along. If we really loved, not one veteran would ever need to waste their life on something so foolish ever again.

It all stems from the idea that everyone is basically good and that no one really wants to hurt anyone else (or if they do it is only because they don’t know better, and a little kindness will show them the error of their ways). Perhaps we all watched a few too many after-school specials growing up. It is the kind of thinking that summarized in the recent (but certainly not new)  “white poppy” debate.

It is also, unfortunately, a thinking that simply doesn’t work in our world. And it doesn’t work because it refuses to acknowledge both sin and evil.  You see, no one in this world is basically good. We are all sinners, every one of  us. There are times when even the best of us has no qualms whatsoever with sticking it to someone else.   And there are some who genuinely enjoy hurting others, killing others, and subjecting others to all kinds of  suffering. And no amount of kindness is going to teach them otherwise. Not to put too fine a point on it, but one might ask the former British Prime Minister Chamberlain, how well his loving approach to appeasing Hitler’s Germany worked. Better yet, ask the Austrians.

This world is broken by sin. This world is pock-marked by evil. And no amount of school assemblies, children’s choirs, or after school specials (no matter how good they are) is going to fix it.  Somethimes the only loving thing to be done is to confront the evil head on, and not allow it to do any more harm.  This is the kind of love that God showed for us. No appeasement to the way things were. No, “I’m OK, you’re OK.” No desire to get along by letting things slide. Instead He took it upon himself to come down to this battleground in the flesh and stand in the breach. In love He choose the path of love that led Him to pay the ultimate price in defeating evil. In love He chose to give up His life in the battle that would set us free from sin, grant us victory over death and evil. In love He waged a war. In love He fought and He died and He rose again so that He might lead His people to do the same.

John 15:12-14a  “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends”

And this, I think, is what is missing in so many people’s stundted understanding of war and peace, and the remembering of our veterans. They did not do it (most of them) to glory in war. They didn’t do it out of hatred … but out of love. Love for you and me and all who were (or are) oppressed. Love for Canada.  Those blessed men and women loved enough to lay their life upon the line. They loved enough to say “enough is enough” in the face of evil. They loved … and for so many of them they lost … all so that you and I might gain the freedom and security we now take for granted. And I can think of no greater love to put in my heart, as I remember their sacrifice for me, than a love like theirs … a love like our saviour’s … A love that is willing to lay down my life for someone else.


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Hagiographies of the Hapless

all saintsNovember 1st marked the festival of All Saints. It is the time of year when Christian thought wanders to the saints of Christ, and all that God did for His kingdom through their lives in the world. It is a good time of year for hagiographies.

Hagiographies are the biographies of the saints. Some of them are doozies! Women using crosses to carve their way out of the belly of a dragon. Men carrying their decapititated head for several miles, preaching all the way. Men and women in picture after picture holding various body parts sacrificed to their persecutors, and/or the instruments of their torture and death … all for being faithful to Christ.  I suppose these saintly stories are supposed to be uplifting … pointing to the greatness of faith, and what it is willing to suffer for Christ.

But when I think of hagiographies, I am led to remember the lives of saints who are far less astonishing (in the gruesome sense of so many of these ancient stories), and far more astounding given ordinary nature of the men and women involved.

Consider, for example, the dear saint who struggles to raise her three rambunctious daughters. For weeks at a time her husband is overseas working to support the family, and she becomes the sole caregiver. Yet through her exhaustion and frustrations she never fails to bring those girls to Sunday School and church. You can see the concern etched into her features. You can feel her tiredness and ache. You could not count the number of times she has been at her breaking point, ready to give up, roll over and go back to sleep, give in and take the easy road. But she doesn’t. She struggles on, she finds the resolve, and the time, for her daughters … the precious gifts God has entrusted to her. She cannot give them everything she would like (including her patience) but she can give them Jesus.

Or take for example the elderly saint who after a lifetime of living successfully as the world has told him he should, one day finds himself broken and defeated at the funeral of his beloved wife. And there he hears the Good News of forgiveness, salvation, and the promise of something better to come in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is the first time he has really heard it … and he wants to hear more. After several conversations with the pastor he finds himself one Sunday morning not so very long afterward being Baptized at the tender age of 78 years. See him only few weeks later as he is given the news from his doctor that he has terminal cancer. Yet, he is no longer the man he once was only months before. He takes the news in stride, and spends the next few months … the first few months of his life in Christ … planning his funeral. Choosing the hymns and the readings with his pastor. Writing letters for his children to send to family in Holland who don’t speak english. Using the little time he has to share his precious faith with his devasted children. Telling them He is not only fine (he is better than fine) and looking forward to seeing their mother again.

Or consider the dear saint  who lives alone in her little basement apartment. Unnoticed for the most part by the world around her. A quiet little lady, full of grace and quiet conviction. A talented seamstress, she has spent her life mending and hemming, and altering other’s clothes. She has designed more than a few in her time too. These days she mostly works for family, grandchildren in particular. Her hands are showing their age and she can’t work the cloth like she used to. So the gifts are fewer and farther between. But she prays. Sitting there at her dining room table is her Bible, her prayer book, and her notebook FULL of names and prayers. Page upon page of handwritten notes. Notes for everyone and everything … It all goes in there.  And she prays it every single day. While the world goes by her, completely unaware of the treasure in their midst she quietly and happily prays for them all. Earnestly, continually, joyfully … never for her own satisfaction, but always for others’ needs.

These are the hagiagraphies we should tell. The stories of the saints we should remember. People like you and me. Ordinary, average, fallible people who are loved and saved by God. People called by the Holy Spirit. People gifted with the Gospel of Jesus. People who taught … and still teach … this pastor what it means to be a saint. People with their struggles. People with their weaknesses, their shortcomings, their sins and failings. But despite it all, people who God has claimed as His own. People He has set apart. People He has used to bring Christ to those around them and change this world for the better. Patience, long-suffering, and prayer may never make for a spectacular story, but they make for astounding lives of faith!