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

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You Don’t Know What You’re Asking.

what askingJesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking.” [Mark 10:38a]

James and John thought they could handle whatever Jesus handled. So do you and me and every single person who has ever lived. Some of us are just less foolish about asking for it out loud. But that doesn’t mean that we aren’t asking.

Just a little recognition and praise for all our hard work and dedication. Just a little pay-back for all our efforts and willingness to do without. Just a little of that much deserved thank-you for not being like so many others who don’t have time for God and their fellow-man!

Others might let it all go to their head, but not us … no we would be markedly humble in receiving what was due us. We would handle it with as much grace as Jesus Himself! Or so we think. And so we ask … even if it is only ever in our heart-of-hearts.

But then, we rarely know what we are asking do we? The things we so often want are precisely the things that are no good for us. Would we really want recognition for our work … all of it … not just the good stuff? Do we really want payback for all that we really deserve?

In an effort to be fair, would we be just as willing to give up what we have for all the extra we’ve enjoyed, just as quickly as we clamour to be repaid for the little we’ve done without? And are we really any different from anyone else? No. We, like they, can’t handle what we are asking for.

But Jesus can. And that is why we walk with Him every year to the garden and the cross and the tomb. He was willing to take the credit for all our sin, even though He had none of His own. He was ready to suffer all the divine payback for our transgressions even though it was His own Law being transgressed. He was happy to do without comfort, or honour, or peace, or support … walking the last painful steps to His death all alone … so that you and I might never have to receive what we actually ask for.

We may not know what we are asking, but He has always known how to answer … for our eternal good!

May you receive all that He asked for you this blessed Easter season.

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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.

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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

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For Dorothy

“I can’t believe it!” the nurse says walking into the room. “I was here on Sunday and thought then that she was done. But here we are three days later!”

Yes, here we are. In that same small room. Waiting. Waiting for another dose, another bolus, another turn, another in a long line of little adjustments meant to bring some measure of comfort.

But there is little comfort, even for all this care. Not for those gathered around, anyway. For as surely as the caring hand will not leave her weakened shoulder, the hand of death will not be stayed forever. With each diminishing breath we can see that it is coming. ‘But why will it not come?’ the heart silently cries out. ‘Where is the relief?’

“I can’t believe it!” the man says as he walks down the road. “We had thought He was the Messiah … but then He died. A horrible death. An agony of humiliation and stolen breath. And now it is the third day.”

“The words of comfort, the way He brought healing and relief in the midst of suffering, the joy and the hope … it is all gone now.” ‘Why did it happen?’ his heart silently cries out. ‘Why did it come to an end so soon – too soon?’

But the stranger only smiles in answer. And there is silence as they walk together for the span of a few paces. Then placing a nail-scarred hand upon the grieving shoulder, He draws in sweet breath and begins to tell of the mysteries of death and of life, and of all that is still down the road … still waiting when we finally get home …

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Life (and Death) Along a Busy Road

It was the morning of Good Friday, five minutes before the Divine Service was about to begin, when the skidder appeared across the highway to begin the very noisy work of hauling fallen trees from the site of the new bypass. For weeks the logs had lain there (this is a long term infrastructure project). For weeks there had been no sign of any heavy machinery. Indeed, since that day I have only seen the skidder one further time. But there on Good Friday, like clockwork, the big diesel tractor begins his deafening work only a few hundred feet from our church’s front door.

And as I stood there watching in disbelief, I found myself then looking at the hundreds upon hundreds of cars steadily making their way (presumably) up the road to the ski hill for a last long weekend of skiing in beautiful 20 degree weather. The clouds of darkness began to descend upon my heart. What was going on? Didn’t people realize that this was an important day? That earth-changing events were being remembered? Life and death were being played out on a cosmic scale. We were about to hear the last words of Jesus as He sacrificed Himself for this world that has lost its way, that has got its priorities all wrong! Work and play can wait, this day is different! Let the trees lie, there will be time to move them later! Stop for a few minutes on the way to the hill and hear what your God did out of love for you! But the world didn’t listen to my pleas. They all just kept on doing what they were doing, oblivious to life-changing events going on right under their noses.

But then the words of that Good Friday reading struck me in a way I had never really considered before.

“Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.’ Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek.” (John 19:19-20)

“And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads.” (Matthew 27:39)

When Jesus was crucified for the sins of the world, He was hung beside a busy highway, just like mine. And as He hung there paying the debt of every sinner, the world went about it’s business. Flocks of people going into the city for their holiday weekend festivities. Normal men and women on the way to or from their daily work. As Jesus hung there dying, life went on! When the Saviour was lifted up, how many were too busy to look? When the King spoke His last words, how many gave no pause to listen? How many took no notice at all? How many simply paused for a moment to wonder what all the fuss was about, only to be called back to their own concerns a moment later? How many, took the opportunity to sneer and jeer, and think to themselves what a big waste of time and life that sad spectacle was?

That’s what the world does. What it has always done. It busies itself with countless frivolities that will never really matter. It distracts itself with work and play, very rarely ever giving thought to what is really going on around them. Life and death, forgiveness and salvation is right there, but will they ever see it?


Only four days later, I sat in the hospital room of a dear saint as she passed from this veil of tears into her heavenly reward. She died in her Lord with her beloved children by her side. And in the hallway of the hospital people continued to hurry from one task to the next, from one thing to another. Life went on and very few took any notice of this life and death either. But some did.

The doctor, the nurses, the caregivers, and the family … each was given that pause. Each marked the passing and the promise. Each dropped, even if only for a moment, the trivialities of this life to ponder the eternal truths and comfort of a Saviour who brought about life for His dear saints, from His own death and resurrection. Each was pulled to the side of this busy highway of life to consider again, the cross, the tomb and the hope of the resurrection.

So, now as the world continues to stream by the doors of the church, hurrying on to whatever job or joy they have planned and taking little or no notice of what is going on right there beside that busy road, I don’t get as upset. For I know that even if they are not willing to stop today, there will come a day when they cannot go any further and will have to pull in. A day when their life comes crashing down like a fallen tree, ready to be hauled off and disposed of. And I pray that on that day when they pull of that busy road they will see the cross and the tomb, the death and the resurrection, and I can share with them what Jesus did for them on the side of that busy Judean road so long ago.