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

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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!


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Solid Foundations

Several times over the past few weeks I’ve been reminded of the necessity for solid foundations.  During my holiday I spent many hours slaving over a patch of dirt that would eventually be my “new” patio.  I can’t begin to tell you how many buckets of sweat I poured out trying to make that space level and workable.  And even now you wouldn’t know it to see it.  Once I got through with all that work you will never see the rest of the project practically finished itself.  But that’s what good foundations are all about.

Think about how much time and care it takes to pour a basement foundation and how quickly the rest of the house can be framed in once that’s all set. Think of how much time goes into preparing a canvas or researching a paper compared to the time spent painting or writing.  If you don’t do it right, if you don’t take the time, if you aren’t exacting in your work of laying a solid foundation then everything that gets put on top of it is weakened and in danger of crashing down. The patio stones will trip you up, or the walls will sag and crack. Your finished project will be short-lived, lopsided and unsightly.

And the same holds true for our own personal lives and our family life even more so than for our houses and patios.  Solid foundations are important. I was reminded of that only a few days ago when talking to the family of a beloved saint who was called to her heavenly glory. She was (still is) a woman who knew the importance of laying a solid foundation for herself and her family.  A foundation that rested on the rock solid Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Going to church, hearing the word, praying for and with her children and grandchildren were the bedrock of her quiet life.  Most of what she did to lay that foundation no one outside of her family would likely ever have noticed or appreciated.  But her family did … and still does.  And it shows in the faith they have, and the love they share especially in their time of grief.

Faith is that foundation. Faith is what we build all the works of our lives upon. Do not short-change the work you put into making it solid. Doing it right should make you sweat more than a little.  Read the scriptures, pray, study your catechism, sing the hymns of the faith. Do it every day. Do it with those you love. Do it until you can recite it by heart and then do it again.  You must never underestimate the importance – not just to you but all whose lives interact with your own.

The time and effort you put into laying a good foundation will never impress anyone, but it is absolutely vital … both to you and those you love. Faith is not fancy or showy – it never says look at me.  It is content to go unnoticed, and sometimes even unappreciated. If you do it right no one will ever see all the work you put into it.  But one day they will see all that is built upon its rock solid foundations and they will thank you for it!


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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No doubt …

The following is reprinted from a thought-provoking post over at Pyromaniacs.  I’m not sure that I would go so far as to say “everyone”, but certainly enough that most of this rings mournfully true.  I know that even in my few short years of ministering I have had more than a few of the charges laid against someone who holds to the Scriptures as the authoritative Word leveled against me personally.  What do you think?  Is this on the mark? Does it go too far? Not far enough?  Have you faced this kind of thinking yourself?


Have you ever noticed…

  1. everyone who tries to back away from an unpopular Biblical doctrine paints himself as heroic?
  2. everyone who tries to back away from an unpopular Biblical doctrine paints himself as tragic?
  3. everyone who tries to back away from an unpopular Biblical doctrine paints his doubt as different doubt from every other doubter who has ever doubted and come to a bad end from it?
  4. everyone who tries to back away from an unpopular Biblical doctrine insists that his path won’t end up where every other doubter’s path ended? Which is to say…
  5. …everyone who tries to back away from an unpopular Biblical doctrine hates it when the historical and logical progression of doubt is pointed out?
  6. everyone who tries to back away from an unpopular Biblical doctrine paints himself as smarter, deeper, less lazy, and more honest than people who don’t share his doubt?
  7. everyone who tries to back away from an unpopular Biblical doctrine paints himself as humble, while those who point him back to the Word are arrogant?
  8. everyone who tries to back away from an unpopular Biblical doctrine paints himself as nice, while those who point him back to the Word are mean?
  9. everyone who tries to back away from an unpopular Biblical doctrine paints himself as academically sophisticated, carefully nuanced, and wonderfully insightful, while those who point him back to the Word are unenlightened hacks and drooling theological troglodytes?
  10. everyone who tries to back away from an unpopular Biblical doctrine paints himself as courageous, while those who point him back to the Word are bullies and ruffians?