HOPE for the HAPLESS

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


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What’s Luck Got to Do With It?

I’m not a lucky person. But  I am not complaining. I’m simply stating a fact. I am not a lucky person. I don’t have an abundance of good luck that makes my friends and neighbours jealous of me, nor do I suffer from an inordinate amount of bad luck such that others must look at me with pity. I am not a lucky person.

But then again, neither are you. Really, no one is. No thing is. I don’t hold to ideas that some things are more or less lucky than others. Clover is just clover, no matter how many leaves it has, and Fridays are just another day, no matter what date they happen to fall on. Oh, and for that matter, thirteen is simply the number between 12 and 14, nothing more and nothing less (that would be 15 or 11 respectively).

So why do people get so hung up over a day like Friday the 13th? Wikipedia estimates some 17-21 million Americans are affected by a fear of this day … with an estimated economic impact of  $800-900 million in lost business.  Why does a day like today come with its very own phobia (friggatriskaidekaphobia)?   How did this date and day of the week acquire such bad reputations? Again, Wikipedia has a few theories:

One theory states that it is a modern amalgamation of two older superstitions: that thirteen is an unlucky number and that Friday is an unlucky day.

  • In numerology, the number twelve is considered the number of completeness, as reflected in the twelve months of the year, twelve hours of the clock, twelve gods of Olympus, twelve tribes of Israel, twelve Apostles of Jesus, the 12 Descendants of Muhammad Imams, etc., whereas the number thirteen was considered irregular, transgressing this completeness. There is also a superstition, thought by some to derive from the Last Supper or a Norse myth, that having thirteen people seated at a table will result in the death of one of the diners. (Was the last supper really the very first time these thirteen men sat down together for a meal? -me.)
  • Friday has been considered an unlucky day at least since the 14th century’s The Canterbury Tales,[3] and many other professions have regarded Friday as an unlucky day to undertake journeys or begin new projects. Black Friday has been associated with stock market crashes and other disasters since the 1800s.[6][7] It has also been suggested that Friday has been considered an unlucky day because, according to Christian scripture and tradition, Jesus was crucified on a Friday (at most one could argue here that friday was unlucky for Jesus, but not really for those whom his death brought salvation! – again, me).[8]
  • One author, noting that references are all but nonexistent before 1907 but frequently seen thereafter, has argued that its popularity derives from the publication that year of Thomas W. Lawson‘s popular novel Friday, the Thirteenth,[9] in which an unscrupulous broker takes advantage of the superstition to create a Wall Street panic on a Friday the 13th.[4] Records of the superstition are rarely found before the 20th century, when it became extremely common.

Here’s my theory … people believe in luck (good or bad) because they are looking for someone or something to blame other than themself. If it is all just a matter of luck, then it really has no ultimate bearing upon my merit or worthiness.  Didn’t get the job? It was just bad luck, not my lack of preparedness or qualifications. Don’t have everything your neighbour does? It’s not because maybe they deserve it where you don’t (or worked hard for it, where you didn’t) but simply because they have some sort of lucky streak that you never had.  See, if you just have luck then you never have to be responsible or accountable for where you are or what you are dealing with. If you have luck then everyone is on the same playing field and no one is better than me. I am never a bad person, Iam a good person with bad luck.

So let me state it again. I am not a lucky person … and neither are you. There is no luck, good or bad. There are good things that happen and bad things that happen, certainly, but the bad things happen only to bad people and the good things happen only to bad people. Yes you read that right. The bad that befalls us in this life is only the result (directly or indirectly) of our own badness. We Christians call it sin. Sin has broken us, our lives, our relationships and our world. There is no one else to blame for it than us.  We are not what God created us to be, not since the day Adam and Eve decided to go against His will.

But if that sounds extremely unfair, consider this … all the good that happens in this world happens to people who, in their sin don’t deserve one bit of it!  All the good that daily comes to you and me and everyone we know, comes through a God that loves us, broken as we are. All the good that happens to befall us is a gift of God through His Son Jesus Christ. That’s why He sent His Son to die for us on that particularly Good Friday. Why, in Jesus, we are told that even the bad that happens is really being used by God to bring about good.  Who needs luck when you have a promise like this?!

So on this Friday the 13th, forget all the excuses once and for all and consider the fact that you are neither lucky or unlucky. You are a sinner who has been saved by Christ. Neither this nor any Friday bring bad luck, but rather very Good News. You are a bad person for whom the very best person (God Himself) was willing to suffer and die. And in Him you are bad no more. In Him you are more than lucky – you are loved, and blessed, and called in Christ.

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Recent Visitor

Let me begin by stating that pastors love it when they receive visitors at the office. I know sometimes we seem busy, or frazzled, or frustrated, or impatient … but never with those who come by the Lord’s House to spend some time with the pastor.  We love visiting with people at the office as much as our people love to be visited in their homes.  I don’t know about other pastors out there, but I long for any excuse to get up from the desk, or out of the books and the studies, and the preparations for this that and the other.

I love it when I have visitors.

And for the past two weeks I have had the blessing of being visited at the church nearly every single morning.   Now, granted, my visitor is not much of one for conversation. They haven’t worked up the nerve to confide any of their troubles yet.  They usually can’t stay long, but are more than willing to pop over and see how the morning prayer service is going … or the Men’s breakfast … or the Sunday School opening … or just around coffee time for a quick nod and a “How-do-you-do.”

I’ve got to tell you I’m starting to feel a little spoiled … But I can’t help but wonder if all this sudden attention doesn’t come with a price.


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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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How Do I Love Thee …

Every once in a while a story comes along that just seems to say it all.  Consider the following gem:

Bronx Zoo selling naming rights – to cockroaches – as Valentine’s Day gifts

Published: Friday, February 11, 2011 | 5:44 PM ET  Canadian Press The Associated Press

NEW YORK, N.Y. – If lingerie is too intimate and dinner out is too expensive, the Bronx Zoo suggests another Valentine’s Day gift: a Madagascar hissing cockroach.  Spokesman John Calvelli says, “Nothing says forever like a cockroach.” The Wildlife Conservation Society runs the New York City zoo and is raising funds by offering the public the chance to name the huge roaches. In return for each name, it’s asking for a $10 donation. Calvelli says about 1,700 cockroach names were bought in the first two days of the promotion. Recipients get a certificate. The zoo says naming a roach will honour a sweetheart’s resourcefulness and resiliency. As the zoo puts it: “Flowers wilt. Chocolates melt. Roaches are forever.”

via Bronx Zoo selling naming rights – to cockroaches – as Valentine’s Day gifts.

How is a person to show love on Valentine’s Day … if outright lust is just a little too carnal for your tastes, and gourmet gluttony is above your pay scale …  why not try cockroaches!  What says “I love you” more than putting your beloved’s moniker on something that scurries from the light, feeds off of garbage, secretes a form of neuro-toxin, and  hisses to communicate?  What girl in her right mind wouldn’t want that! How do I love thee? Let me count the ways … 1, 385,418 … 1385,419 … 1,385,420 … no wait! Don’t lift that!

And I don’t know what is worse, that someone thought of cockroaches and Valentine’s Day as a good fit, or that 1700 people bought into it within the first two days.  Is this what people think of love?  Is this what it’s come to … pleasing the baser desires of sensuality, or grabbing a few bucks off of a bizarre marketing plan?

Here’s a humble idea instead. Why not do something that is actually loving for Valentine’s Day.  Take that ten dollars and just donate it to the zoo, or the charity of your choice and leave everybody’s name out of it.  Or save yourself the money and maybe volunteer a little time with someone who is stuck in a nursing home, or visit a friend who’s down in the dumps. Send some food to your local foodbank. Volunteer an hour or two for one of the hundreds of local charities in your community.  Help your children with their homework. Talk to your spouse about things that are important.  Or maybe you could take a moment or two to read about the man behind the Holiday, St. Valentine himself. Physician, priest, martyr … his life and death have a lot to say about the true meaning of love.

Love doesn’t have to last forever (only God’s love for us is that good!), but it should be lived out in the here and now.  Love doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, but it should cost some of you (just as God’s love cost all of Jesus).  Real love can never be expressed by lingerie, lunches, or laughable marketing campaigns, only in one person giving of themselves for another – no matter how  un-sexy, unpretentious, and unassuming that may seem.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.  In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  (1 John 4:7-11)


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Goodbye to Shadows

Groundhog day … a day steeped in tradition … and rodents …  As strange as it may seem, you cannot dismiss its importance in the hearts and minds of the average person in this land of snow and ice.  You might think that living in Canada we would come to accept that winters will be long and cold. That there will be snow, and blowing, and freezing.  You might think that we would come to take it all in stride, as a recognized (if not welcome) fact of life.

But we don’t.  Somehow we always seem surprised when it snows. We get gloomy when the winter lasts all winter long. We complain when the deep freeze is strangely colder than our summer swelter. Every winter is the same … “This is the worst one I can remember.” “This is the longest one ever.” “This is the coldest one I’ve ever lived through.”

And so it is 43 unbearable days into the season that people begin to crave release from this bondage to winter. They long for a sign. They pray for some good news. They plead for a ray of hope to see them through the bleak days ahead.  Enter the humble groundhog and his lowly shadow.  Here in Collingwood we are not so very far from one of the most well known of the Furry Canadian Meteorological Prognosticators, Wiarton Willie.  And what good news he brought us?  In the midst of a snowstorm there was no shadow, so winter will end early (but still not early enough for some!). Good-bye shadows, hello Spring!  Only time (about six weeks at the most) will tell if this is true or not.

And yet, even when winter finally does end (sooner or later) people will still be in bondage to the whims of this time we live in.  Life is still full of many dark and foreboding shadows.  We will still be surprised when bad news falls upon us, when the gloom lasts, when hearts remain cold. You might think that we would come to accept that life can be unpleasant. That there will be sadness, grief and pain.  People get sick. People are lonely. People hurt one another. People suffer and die. You might think that we would come to take it all in stride, as a recognized  fact of life.

But we don’t … because deep down everyone knows that it shouldn’t be like this.  Deep down everyone knows there should be something better.  Even the most jaded and storm-worn individuals this world has produced still crave release, still long for a sign, still pray for some good news. Everyone is looking for that little ray of hope to see them through the bleak days ahead.

And God has given that sign. In the chill of another early morning nearly 2000 years ago another prognosticator of sorts emerged from his rest to give hope to this world in bondage to sin, death, and the devil.  Only His prediction lies not in the loosing of winter for another year, but the springing forth of new life – eternal life, where once there was only the gloom of death.  For as this man, himself once dead but now gloriously alive again, stepped forth from the tomb, it was good-bye to shadows and hello to life and light eternal.  Were oh death is thy victory? Where oh death is thy sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 15:55-57)

So as we sit and wait for the coming of our early spring with all of its long-awaited warmth and life, let us remember not to be afraid of the shadows around us. In Christ our Light, there is Good News, the promise of fairer days ahead.  No matter how deep or dark the shadows in your life may seem, they will not last . In the the ever greater Life and Light that is coming in our Lord, they will be dispelled once and forever. And life will rise anew in a springtime of blessedness that will not end.


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A Very Spiritual Experience

Believe It or Not! Acquires Laundry Lint Artwork of Biblical Proportions

ORLANDO, Fla. (Jan. 11, 2011) –Michigan artist Laura Bell is a little fuzzy about the details of her portrait -The Last Supper. That’s because she used fluffy dryer lint as the medium for her take on this famous work of art. The massive masterpiece measures 14 feet long by 4 feet tall and has been acquired by Ripley’s Believe It or Not!

Bell says she spent seven months saving the lint from her own dryer … she ended up buying towels in the colors that she wanted to use in the portrait and washed and dried them separately to get lint with just the right tint. She estimates that she spent 700-800 hours just doing laundry to get the lint she needed for The Last Supper.  She says it took another 200 hours to create the portrait. All the lint in her portrait is as it came out of the dryer and has not been colored or dyed.

She says she’s been thrilled by the response from people who have seen it, and the prospect of millions more seeing it via Ripley’s. “For some people, it’s a very spiritual experience,” said Bell. “Others are simply amazed at what someone could do with basic laundry lint.”


This past summer I took my family through the Ripley’s “Odditorium” in Niagara Falls.  I remember seeing similar pictures made from dryer lint (and other more disturbing media).  But nothing quite so grand or wonderful as this! The best part of all this for me is the artist’s quote near the end: “For some people, it’s a very spiritual experience. Others are simply amazed at what someone could do with basic laundry lint.” Count me as one of those who sees this as a very spiritual experience.  But not simply for the subject matter of the lint in question.

I for one, am amazed, not by what can be done with ordinary lint, but with ordinary lives.  As this lady crafted the product of 800 loads of laundry into an iconic work of art, so to does God mold and shape the basic components of everyday lives, into a work of art with heavenly meaning.  For me, the spiritual experience is in the doing  of the laundry, not the picture at the end. 800 hours of laundry is in itself a glorious picture of one person’s love and commitment to her home and family.

In Lutheran circles we call that vocation.  And vocation truly is a very spiritual experience.  When a mother cares for her sick children. When a father plays with his son or daughter.  When grandparents send cards and call on birthdays.  When employees work diligently, when students learn to the best of their abilities … when ordinary people do the ordinary things of ordinary life … extraordinary beauty unfolds.  Most of the time we are so busy doing it that we can’t see it.  But if we just step back and look again, we might just be surprised at the work of art before us.

That’s why God the Father sent His Son Jesus.  An divine artist in the medium of basic humanity.  A flesh and blood saviour to weave His life and vocation into our own.  In doing all that ordinary sons should do He redeemed those who are children.  Through His devotion to work He redeemed workers.  Through His limitless compassion to His fellow man He redeemed neighbours. In faithfully paying taxes He redeemed citizens. In suffering and dying He redeemed those who suffer and die.  In rising to everlasting life He gives life the living.  Water for Baptism, Words for faith, Bread and Wine for His body and Blood.  God uses the ordinary to achieve a very Spiritual Experience – Forgiveness, Life, and Salvation!

And in Christ, your life as a husband or wife, as a son or a daughter, a grandparent, a student, mentor, employer or employee … this is the raw material that God, the greatest artist of them all, is using to build His greatest masterpiece!  Strand by strand, the grand tapestry is woven together, as we are built up and we in turn build others up by doing the work that is before us to do.  By itself no one thread, no single bit of dryer lint, seems like all that much.  Taking that time to spend with your children, going to the extra effort at work, being neighbourly … again, not much.  Not the material we would have used to leave our mark.  But put it all together in the hands of a master artist and you have something truly amazing. A grand masterpiece of  Biblical proportions!


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The Book that was Never Meant to Be Read?

The picture above is one of the smallest of the Bibles I have in my office. It is also one of the most difficult to read. Not just because it is so small (2″ X 2.5″) but because it is written in Hebrew. I guess you could say that this Bible wouldn’t be worth much to most people. They simply couldn’t use it.

What a shame.

Do you want to know something even more sad than that? This Bible was never meant to be read!

I picked it up at the Jewish pavilion in Edmonton’s “Heritage Days” Festival. The woman I bought it from was very kind and answered many of my questions such as “Why do you make portions of the Bible that are so small?” [There was another version there less than half the size of this one!] The answer she gave me was very enlightening.

In Deut. 6:6-9 it is written: “And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates”

When those words were first spoken they were meant to show just how vital it is to keep God’s Word before us every day of our lives … at home in our families, at work … everywhere! Unfortunately, over time this came to be seen by many people as little more than a superstition. Keep a portion of God’s Word with you wherever you are and “good luck” will follow you. Thus the little Bible that was never really meant to be read … just kept.

But when you think about it, isn’t that the way we so often treat the Word of God. Little more than a good luck charm. Something to fall back on just in case life starts to get rough. Until then, it’s just nice to know it’s there if needed.

How many homes have Bibles in them that are never read? How many different excuses have you come up with for not reading yours? (Not enough time, too hard to understand, don’t know where to start, I did it once already …)

The Bible is the most precious gift God has given us outside of Christ Jesus Himself. The Bible has the power to change your life. (Just as it has changed millions of lives before you.) It is His love letter to you. An unchanging message of peace, hope, love, and forgiveness in the midst of a world and a life that changes by the minute. It is the one absolute Truth in a world gone crazy with shades of gray. The truth of God’s love for you in Jesus.

Our God is not a tame God, C.S. Lewis once wrote. He’s not happy to merely be kept. So don’t let your Bible turn into a lucky charm. Forget your old excuses, look instead to God’s promises in His Word! It will change your life for the better and forever!