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

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Don’t Blame Me!

blame game“There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him … out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”     [Mark 7:15, 21-23]

I might be tempted here to be a real stinker and make a joke about the mystical properties of broccoli around the Maher household, but I will spare you from the sordid details.

There is a much more serious point being made by Jesus here, and it has little to do with dietary considerations. It is all about the blame game (and not just blaming your food for the evening’s olfactory entertainment). It is all about our desire to blame our own wickedness on external sources like the actions or attitudes of others. It is all about our insistence that if only we were free from such polluting influences, we could finally put our lives together the way we always knew they should be. It is nothing new, it goes back in us humans all the way to our first father and mother, caught in their sin in the Garden of Eden. She blames the devil, He blames her, and everyone blames God. And so here we are millenia later thinking to ourselves that if only everyone else hadn’t made them do it, our own life would be so much better now!

There are two current societal issues that show this blame game remarkably well. The first is abortion, much in the news lately after so many damning undercover videos have surfaced. Unwanted babies ruin young women’s lives … or so we are told. But the Baby didn’t ask to be unwanted. The baby didn’t engage in questionable behaviours leading to his or her conception. These are firmly and only rooted in the heart and life of the man and woman involved. And when faced with the realities of those sins, the broken human heart tries to pass the blame, make someone else pay … and who better to pay than the one who can’t argue back.

Similarly, adultery has been a big news-maker of late, with millions of people (almost entirely men) exposed for their cheating through the internet. And instantly the blame goes to the porn industry, the particular internet company (with lawsuits already in the works) or even the victimized spouses (if only they hadn’t made it so bad in the marriage then none of this would have been necessary!)

But we could just as easily speak of the violent man who blames harsh discipline as a child. Or the tax cheat who blames a wasteful government. The gossip who justifies her words on the arrogance or actions of the subject. The list is as big as the whole world, but boils down to everyone else but me. No matter how grievous the sin, the hurt, the fault you will always be able to find someone or something else to blame it on with just a little looking.

However, (and this is Jesus’s point here) no matter who we want to point at, the source of it all is my own sinful heart. And that really and truly stinks – but it is still true. I can blame every other single person in the world for every single one of my problems, my faults, and my sins but it won’t change one little thing about me – except maybe the number of people who still like and want to be around me.

Know this dear friends, no one can make you sin. No one forces you to do what you do. You choose that yourself. And there is not one thing you can do to change that … it comes from so deep down in the heart. We are all of us, every single one of us to blame for ourselves and our choices and our actions. Blaming others is a thinner disguise than Adam an Eve’s leafy coverings. It doesn’t really hide anything from anyone – especially ourselves.

But there is one who can change that defiled heart. Nothing can enter and make you bad, but one person can enter and make you forgiven. There is One who can enter and make you better, help you do better. The very same one promised to Adam and Eve, standing there before God with no excuses left. Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the One who took all that sin – yours and mine – into Himself. Even though He was holy and blameless He made Himself unclean and defiled for us. He took the blame for us. Willingly, lovingly – so that there is no more need for excuses and the blame game. In His precious blood there is forgiveness for all who are selfish and deceitful. Forgiveness for the cheat and the gossip and the murderer and adulterer in each of us. And it is only this forgiveness that can cleanse the defiled life, ease the troubled conscience and heal the broken heart.

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Taking Time to Ponder

ponderingBut Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. [Luke 2:19]

 Have you sat down and taken a deep breath yet? It is the season when you and I could really use one! Times of celebration are so full of joy and cheer, comings and goings, family, friends, food, and festivities … but what about reflection?

 Don’t get so busy making it all happen … cleaning up after its done … catching up once everyone is gone … getting back to normal once the holidays are over … that you forget to stop in the moment and treasure all these things up in your heart.

 For this season is truly something to be treasured. A gift from God’s own heart to yours. The gift of His Son, your Saviour. The gift of peace on earth that passes all understanding. The gift first given over 2000 years ago, but one who still keeps on giving today.

 If you must be overwhelmed at this time of year, why not take a quiet moment or two … when the meals are done and the button on your pants is comfortably undone. Yes, take a moment and sit down with your Bible and a warm drink of your choice (and an ant-acid if needed) and be overwhelmed by the love of God. A love so bold that He did not spare His own Son, but sent Him into that stable, to lay in that manger.

 A love that alone could satiate our hunger to know that everything will be OK. That our loved ones are indeed loved. That we will be taken care of. That God does not abandon us to the hectic din of this demanding world.

 A love offered up in the Bread of Life, laying in a feeding trough in the town of Bethlehem (the House of Bread). A love that treasures us more than we can ever know. A love worth pondering again, and again and again … in every gift, every loved one, every opportunity to gather before Him and hear again of that great love for us, stored there in the beating heart of that Babe in the manger, where you (yes you!) are quietly and joyfully treasured above all else.

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The End is Near

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. [Mark 13:31]

It’s that time of year again. The days are growing darker, wetter, and colder. The leaves are gone, and all but a few of the flowers have failed. The gardens are gathered in and laid to rest for another season. The growing season is done, and now we all take a breath and wait for the snows we know are soon to come.

It is a gloomy and expectant time for many. The colour is gone, the world seems muted and depressed. And what comes next some face with a certain stoic dread. (Are you really ready for all the bundling and shoveling ahead?) It is natural in the dreary last days of autumn for us to wander into thoughts of death, dying and the ending of all things.

And how could such thoughts not be at least a little gloomy? Change often brings about sadness. But it doesn’t have to. Change can also bring about wonderful benefits! Sure the lazy, hazy, days of backyard barbeques and family picnics is over, but soon they will be replaced by glistening white mornings filled with a quiet awe. Soon there will be skiing, sledding, snowmen, skating, and hot chocolate by warm fires with those we love.

Similarly, in the month of November  we Christians turn to the end of another church year. And with it comes the annual reminder that the days of this life and this world are measured and counted. That one day they will end. None of this will last forever. Some days as I look around at our sin-stained, dying, world I can’t help but think that this a good thing.

But instead of being saddened by the loss of what is, we look forward with bated breath for the glorious days to come. Days that will be ushered in with Christ’s return from heaven, when He comes to take us up to His home with the Father. Days glistening with wonder and awe. Days of rejoicing in the blessed company of those we love who have gone on before us. This is His unchanging promise in Holy Scripture. Though everything in this world will come to an end, this promise … indeed, all promises in Christ, will remain forever. For just as the Scriptures promised, even though Jesus died on the cross, it was not the end – but just the beginning of new and glorious days for those who follow where their Lord has trod. Yes the Word of the Lord will remain forever, and in Christ so will we. Without end.

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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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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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Year after Year

Luther once wrote: “In time one becomes tired of other hymns, but ‘Christ ist erstranden’ one can sing year after year.”  Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands was a hymn that he loved dearly and referred to often.  And why wouldn’t he?

Rarely will you find a hymn with a more encompassing, and comforting theology.  Here our true Paschal Lamb we truly see.  Here the story of our salvation, and God’s continued grace is played out before our eyes and in our ears.  In these few short stanzas is contained all that makes this Passiontide so important for you and me.  In these few short stanzas is the whole of the theology of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday … of the Cross and the Glory … of Suffering and Joy … of Death and Life.

So won’t you join me in singing (praying) it again this year? Even year after year, I guarantee you will not tire of it!

May God bless you and your loved ones in this most holy season as you remember that the victory remains with life, the reign of death is ended!

Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands

Christ Jesus lay in death’s strong bands For our offenses given;
But now at God’s right hand He stands And brings us life from heaven.
Therefore let us joyful be And sing to God right thankfully
Loud songs of alleluia! Alleluia!

No son of man could conquer death, Such ruin sin had wrought us.
No innocence was found on earth, And therefore death had brought us
Into bondage from of old And ever grew more strong and bold
And held us as its captive. Alleluia!

Christ Jesus, God’s own Son, came down, His people to deliver;
Destroying sin, He took the crown From death’s pale brow forever:
Stripped of pow’r, no more it reigns; An empty form alone remains;
Its sting is lost forever. Alleluia!

It was a strange and dreadful strife When life and death contended;
The victory remained with life, The reign of death was ended.
Holy Scripture plainly saith That death is swallowed up by death,
Its sting is lost forever. Alleluia!

Here our true Paschal Lamb we see, Whom God so freely gave us;
He died on the accursèd tree — So strong His love—to save us.
See, His blood now marks our door; Faith points to it; death passes o’er,
And Satan cannot harm us. Alleluia!

So let us keep the festival To which the Lord invites us;
Christ is Himself the joy of all, The sun that warms and lights us.
Now His grace to us imparts Eternal sunshine to our hearts;
The night of sin is ended. Alleluia!

Then let us feast this Easter Day On Christ, the bread of heaven;
The Word of grace has purged away The old and evil leaven.
Christ alone our souls will feed; He is our meat and drink indeed;
Faith lives upon no other! Alleluia!

Text and Music: Public domain


Everyday Fools

Here is an uncredited article that ran on the Canadian Lutheran Online site … so I will claim it as my own.

(It really is mine, they just changed the picture to protect my identity!)  Even though I am including it below, I would encourage you to read it on the original site, as it is not only that good … but there is also loads of great content over there that you don’t want to miss.

“The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year.” So wrote the ever-observant Mark Twain with his trademark wit and wisdom … and more than a grain of truth.

April Fools’ Day is celebrated in the Western world on April 1 every year. It’s a day marked by jokes and hoaxes of varying sophistication on friends, family members, teachers, neighbours, work associates, etc. It can be a lot of fun—depending on which side of the joke you find yourself. I’ve always thought a day devoted to fools and foolishness is great as long as I am not the fool in question.

I can’t remember how many April Fools’ Days I spent as a child hunkered down and hoping not to get “caught” by someone’s prank or seen as foolish. Whether you are pranked or not, it’s no way to spend a beautiful spring day much less your whole life. Yet sadly, many Christians do just that day in and day out.

“It’s better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and leave no doubt” (Mark Twain).

How many Christians firmly shut their mouths and hope to get by without being noticed? How many guard their tongues and lives in case they say or do the wrong thing and be thought of as foolish? And why? Because, for many, what Christians have to say and the hope in which we live is simply foolish! Have no doubt about that.

You, dear Christian, put your trust in

  • a God whose glory was the cross.
  • A Saviour who suffers.
  • A God whose power is made perfect in weakness.
  • The author of Life who died and was buried.
  • An omnipotent being who binds Himself to words, water, and bread and wine.
  • A Lord and King who doesn’t reward works or merit, but repentance and trust.
  • A God who calls to Himself not the fortunate or famous, but the fallible and foolish.

Such things can only seem foolish to others, but they are no joke.

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:18-21).

“Let us be thankful for the fools. But for them the rest of us could not succeed” (Mark Twain)

On this April Fools’ Day, lift up your head and give thanks for foolishness of God by which you are saved.

Rejoice in the Divine prank God pulled on sin, death, and the devil on the first Good Friday. Without it we would be lost.

Join in the joke by which death is swallowed up by life, and Satan, who once made damnable fools of us by a tree in a garden, is overcome by the tree of the cross.

Gladly count yourself as a fool in Christ, not just today, but every day.

As Mark Twain said: “Ah, well, I am a great and sublime fool. But then I am God’s fool.”