HOPE for the HAPLESS

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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Painting a Different Picture

For some truly wonderful pictures of motherhood, might I suggest you visit the site of Katie m. Berggren http://kmberggren.com/

For some truly wonderful pictures of motherhood, might I suggest you visit the site of Katie m. Berggren

I don’t normally like to do this sort of thing, but someone I care about alerted me to this recent post over on Facebook. As it is a time sensitive issue, and as Facebook is notoriously difficult to comment on (in a meaningful way), I have decided to pursue the issue here.

I’m not sure if you have noticed, but the pro-abortion supporters have been working really hard lately at painting a different picture of themselves. The talking points of choice and women’s freedom are fading into the background as a new tactic begins to take the center stage. Abortion as the kind and loving option!

[Author’s note – following the links below will take you to stories that are emotionally disturbing. They do contain graphic and tragic content that is not for everyone …]

There was the young woman who so bravely (and out of love for others struggling with the shame and stigma of abortion) filmed her abortion to show how empowering and uplifting it can be. There was the couple in Britain who bravely and lovingly poisoned their unborn child so he wouldn’t have to suffer in life. It was after all the only thing a mother could do. And because it was such a hard decision to make you know it had to be the only right one to make.

And then there was this article, about a young woman bravely struggling with her decision to abort her baby [tomorrow] by writing an open letter to the child she is going to terminate. Sarah Burris who writes the article for Blue Nation Review, after accusing those who oppose abortion of thinking all women who get one are selfish, finishes with the summation: “The facts, and this woman’s story, paint a different picture.”

So, just what are the facts here? And what picture is being painted? Best go right to the source and see for ourselves. [Again, my apologies to those who will find this upsetting]

Little Thing:

I can feel you in there. I’ve got twice the appetite and half the energy. It breaks my heart that I don’t feel the enchantment that I’m supposed to feel. I am both sorry and not sorry.

I am sorry that this is goodbye. I’m sad that I’ll never get to meet you. You could have your father’s eyes and my nose and we could make our own traditions, be a family. But, Little Thing, we will meet again. I promise that the next time I see that little blue plus, the next time you are in the same reality as me, I will be ready for you.

Little Thing, I want you to be happy. More than I want good things for myself, I want the best things for the future. That’s why I can’t be your mother right now. I am still growing myself. It wouldn’t be fair to bring a new life into a world where I am still haunted by ghosts of the life I’ve lived. I want you to have all the things I didn’t have when I was a child. I want you to be better than I ever was and more magnificent than I ever could be. I can’t do to you what was done to me: Plant a seed made of love and spontaneity into a garden, and hope that it will grow on only dreams. Love and spontaneity are beautiful, but they have little merit. And while I have plenty of dreams to go around, dreams are not an effective enough tool for you to build a better tomorrow. I can’t bring you here. Not like this.

I love you, Little Thing, and I wish the circumstances were different. I promise I will see you again, and next time, you can call me Mom.

First, lets begin with the seeming confusion in the recipient of this letter. Is it a little thing or a person being addressed? One doesn’t usually write letters to things. But then again, one doesn’t normally go around talking about killing people next friday.

Next, consider that this woman states she wants the unborn to be happy, and that more than she wants good things for herself she wants the best things for the future … but whose future? Obviously not the little thing in question. She wants her child to have everything she didn’t have as a child, but since she can’t give her all that  her only recourse is to kill it instead. This, by  the way, is what Sarah Burris states is one of the main reasons for abortion – no money to raise a child. That and abusive partners. which I think may lead into the next point.

Next this young lady states that ghosts of the life she’s lived would cause too much harm to the child in question. So again, to avoid  the possible victimization of this person in the future the best solution is to kill them before it happens.

Once you get past the emotionalism of the words (which I don’t think you are supposed to do – remember if the person is agonizing over the decision then whatever they decide must be right) … once you get to the heart of what is being said … such words do indeed paint a picture, but one that is very dark and terrifying.

At best these words paint a picture of  someone who doesn’t really believe the humanity of the baby involved, but will play on the heart strings of those who do to show that abortion is not selfish (really?) and is in fact the only loving thing you can do sometimes.

At worst they show (perhaps even more fearfully) someone who does in their heart of hearts believe in the humanity of the child in question and simply doesn’t care. If you or I were to walk up to anyone on the street and say the things this mother says to her unborn child we would rightly be called sociopathic. Why is it criminal in one case and “brave and loving” in another?

I am not saying all this to attack the person struggling with her life and her decisions. I think she is struggling in large part because she, like so many other young women (and men) have been duped into thinking something that their hearts don’t really believe. I am saying all this in the hopes of getting past the brazen and deceptive picture some would like to paint of abortion, to the truths that lie behind the emotion.

Finally, I am writing all of this to ask you to join with me in praying for this young woman, and for her unborn child. Pray for a different understanding of love to guide her actions tomorrow. Pray that this young woman, and so many others like her would come to see that her life is in the hands of  the God who paid everything (even His own life on the cross) for her salvation because cost is never really a consideration when it is someone you truly love.  The very same God who has brought her through the harsh abuse of this cruel and calculating world by sacrificing not someone else but himself. Just as He did for that precious baby He has entrusted to her.


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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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Adding Something On For Lent

Over the past seven months I’ve been suffering from digestive issues that have yet to be diagnosed. All I can say so far is what my problem is not. Through the course of all the testing and retesting, I have been changing my diet in an attempt to pinpoint what might be causing (or adding to) my distress. I have at one time or another cut out all fats, all acidic foods, all gluten, alcohol, caffeine and throughout the long process nearly every kind of processed foods (junk food of every kind). None of it has made a difference so far, so now I’m off refined sugars for a while.

After more than half a year of giving things up, you can well imagine that when the season of Lent begins today and people in the Christian Church turn their thoughts toward fasting, and denial as a form of spiritual exercise, my heart will not be in it. Been there, done that – for six months already. And I don’t feel any better for it.

But then again, I don’t think I ever really have. I’ve done the Lenten fasting. I’ve given things up for Lent. Sometimes successfully sometimes not. But in the end what did I really gain from it all? In those instances when my cravings were more than a match for my will power I was left humbled and hollowed – feeling like a secret failure. In the one or two times when my will dominated my flesh I felt the temporary joy of being a better man … and then quickly went back to my old ways. Was I any better for it? Not really. Indeed, where my pride took hold I might even admit to being worse off for the whole experience.

But that’s the problem with giving things up for Lent … it’s not meant to be a measure of our devotion, or a work deserving of praise. It is really meant simply as a way to remove those obstacles that come between us and Christ. To put aside the distractions so we can more clearly see our saviour. But more often than not, that obstacle, that distraction, is ME … so what then? Even if fI could give up myself, it wouldn’t bring me any closer to Christ … just further away from me.

So this Lent instead of worrying about what to give up, I will instead add something to my life. Jesus. Instead of spending my effort on avoiding me, I will devote my time to meeting Christ. This Lent I will Confession my sins and failures and seek Absolution from His precious Gospel. I will take time to remember my Baptism. I will set apart time to come to the altar of the Lord. As C.F.W. Walther once said:

Therefore let us not wait until perhaps in our last hour we must cast away all our own doings, all our own works, and all our own righteousness and worthiness, and cling only to the Word and the Holy Sacraments. Let us already now begin with casting this ballast from the ship of our heart, that our little ship may not sink and perish in the storms of temptation and death. Let us confide in the Word, which, in being preached, proclaims grace to all and which, in Holy Absolution, announces it to us in particular. Let us confide in our Baptism, by which already long ago we were received into God’s covenant of grace. For this covenant remains unbroken to all eternity. Lastly, let us confide in the consolation of the Lord’s Supper as often as we partake of it. There Christ gives us His body and His blood as incontrovertible pledges that we also participate in His redemption.

That first consolation remains even then, when our own heart condemns us. It affords consolation even in the hour of death, when our whole life accuses us, and the world and satan bear witness against us. It affords consolation even for the Day of Judgment; for what God Himself has promised, that He will and He must keep. Amen.

This Lent I will give up the need to give things up. This Lent,  I will add instead the promises and consolation of a gracious God. A God who has, whether in my sickness or in my health, added all things to my life through the gift of His Son. That way, even when my resolve weakens, and my intentions crumble under my weakness, my hope and joy and salvation will rest secure in the hands of the One gave up even His own life on the cross for me. I will add His promise, for the One who has promised, cannot do other than fulfill that promise in Christ.

Quotation from C.F.W. Walther, Sermon on John 20:19-31 Regarding Absolution, translated by August Crull, and printed in At Home in the House of My Fathers, 2009 CPH, Matthew Harrison editor. page 210.


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Too Much … So What!

pastorabsolves“When I urge you to go to confession I am doing nothing else than urging you to be a Christian.”

– Large Catechism, Brief Exhortation, 32

I’ve offered private confession and absolution for over 11 years now, and only performed the blessed rite once (the dear soul wasn’t even looking for forgiveness – just the chance to confess, but I forgave them anyway!)  For 11 years I’ve heard from people that the forgiveness they receive in the Divine Service is more than enough.

Maybe it is because everyone thinks it will be awkward (it really isn’t). Maybe its because no one thinks they really need any more forgiveness.  (I sure hope this isn’t the reason!) Maybe it is because lots of people think that there can simply be too much of a good thing.  (Being forgiven too many times, or for the same thing more than once, might make it less special?)

Not too long ago I remember saying something to the effect that you can’t have too much of a good thing. (Rejoicing in the Routine)  Well it seems like I’m not alone in that sentiment.  Consider the following from today’s daily reading in the good Dr. Luther’s works.

Another Form of Confession

I confess before God and you that I am a miserable sinner, guilty of every sin, of unbelief and blasphemy. I also feel that God’s Word is not bringing forth fruit in me. I hear it, but I do not receive it earnestly. I d not show works of love toward my neighbour. I am full of anger, hate, and every envy toward him. I am impatient , greedy, and bent on every evil. Therefore, my heart and conscience are heavy, and I would gladly be freed of my sins. I ask you to strengthen my little faith and comfort my weak conscience by the divine word and promise.

Why dost thou desire to receive the sacrament?

Answer: Because I desire to strengthen my soul with God’s Word and sign and to obtain grace.

But hast thou not found forgiveness of sins by absolution?

Answer: So what! I want to add the sign of God to His Word. To receive God’s Word in many ways is so much better.

Not only did this reading hit me square between the eyes, saying so much better than I could just how I’ve been feeling lately (yes this is a confession), but it also filled my heart and made me laugh out loud.  You tell it brother Martin!  Forget what anyone else may think, I need to hear it again and again!  So what, I gladly say.  So What!  To recieve God’s Word in many ways … in all His ways …  is so much better!


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Chew On This …

108_drbibby38In a recent article “Teen Atheism on the Rise” Professor Reginald Bibby gives all of us some tough news to chew on. It is especially tough for us in the church as it gives a stark outline of the growing work that we must do, not simply to stay connected, but to actually re-connect with a society and culture that is increasingly moving in a very different direction from us.

But the news is tough even for those who don’t think much of the church or her mission. It’s tough to chew because it points out some troubling numbers for society in its head-long rush to villify the Christian Church … It seems the numbers show that as people increasingly leave the church behind, they are less nice to be around! In his study Prof. Bibby found that only 54% of non-believers considered having concern for others to be highly important. Only 44% of the same, thought that forgiveness was important. And only 35% thought patience ranked highly as a value to hold.

Gee … you think? As if we needed the numbers to tell us the obvious.

There are those who argue that you don’t need the church to teach such values … fine I say … then you can start any time! Anyone who has ever had to stand in line at a store check-out, or wait at a red light, knows how well the world teaches patience. Anyone who has ever made a mistake, been the victim of a grudge, or a vendetta, knows how highly society holds up forgiveness. Anyone who has ever walked down the main street of any town in any province of our country can see for themselves the kind of concern most people have for those in need. Yes, I suppose you can teach such values without the church getting involved, but I have yet to see any proof of it.

But lest you think it is only the athiests at fault consider these statistics from the same article (which I would argue are perhaps even more disheartening) Only 55% of Christians polled valued patience highly. (That means nearly 1 out of every 2 Christians seems unconcerned with using this gift given them by the Holy Spirit!) Only 72% upheld the importance of being concerned for others. One in four apparently thinks it is OK to care foremost about oneself, despite all that the second table of God’s Law says to the contrary. And only 72% of Christians valued forgiveness as highly important. Forgiveness! That one precious gift bought with the blood of Christ upon the cross. Forgiveness, the one and only way that anyone will ever see the gates of heaven unlocked! Forgiveness, the foundation, and substance of the Christian faith … and nearly a quarter of the Christians polled didn’t think it all that necessary!

As tough as this news is to chew, I suppose that it does make the story of this Holy week so much more important to believer and athiest alike! More important and therefore maybe easier to swallow. The bitter suffering and rejection of Jesus at the hands of friends and foes alike, the impatience of the religious and secular leaders to be done with all annoyances, the debt of sin and selfishness that could only be paid by the innocent suffering and death of Jesus on the cross … this is not just some tragic story of what might have been. It is the story of what had to be. It is the story of how God was concerned enough to rescue us from ourselves. It is the story of how God was patient enough to bring everything together all at once, so salvation could be gained once and for all. It is the story of how God loved each and every one of us – selfish, impatient, unforgiving so-and-so’s that we are, to send His only begotten Son to suffer and die and thus earn us forgiveness. It is a sweet piece of news we could all chew on for a while!


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Be It Resolved …

resolutionsNew years resolutions, lots of people have them. Some people even keep them. Most everybody has had an unpleasant experience with them at some point in time or other. As you can tell by how late in the “new” year this post is coming … I’m not so great with New Year’s resolutions.

And I’m OK with that.

I tried for many years to have positive new year’s resolutions. I tried to eat well, live right, exercise more and all of the tired cliches you hear the crowds of well intentioned people swearing every late December, early January. Soon enough, however, my sincerely sworn best intentions turned into sour experiences that just left me swearing. For some reason the life I wanted to change for the better just didn’t want to be changed.

Then I decided to get smart about things. I figured if you can’t beat them (me) then join them (me) … So it tried my hand at making resolutions that I knew I already liked. Resolutions to play more games, read more books, have more adventures. “How could it fail?:” I thought. I guess I didn’t think it through well enough.

Sure enough, only a few weeks into it and all my best intentions to do what I like doing were causing me just as much misery as trying to make myself miserable with things like diet and exercise. The more I told myself I should be doing certain things (even things I liked to do), the more I resented myself for not being able to do them. Work got too busy, life got crazy, and suddenly my resolutions to have more fun felt more like an accusation hanging over my head. “What happened to you man? You used to be so much fun! Now you’re like … old and serious or something? What happened?!”

What happened is that in my rush to do I forgot that the law ALWAYS accuses. It’s basic catechism stuff, but I forgot it none-the-less. By making even something I like doing into something I should be doing I made it into the law. And the law always accuses. And that’s no fun.

How many Christians have likewise taken the fun, the joy, the comfort out of the gifts of God by turning them into the law, by saying in effect I could have, I should have, I ought to … How many of us end up feeling guilty about Church, Bible reading, praying, witnessing etc… because instead of seeing them as a good that God gives us, we turn them into a good we could be, should be, ought to be doing for Him and for ourselves. Even if we normally enjoy these things, they turn sour and accusing when we can’t, we don’t, and we fail to live up to our expectations.

So I’m not so great with New Year’s resolutions, and I’m OK with that. Instead of turning the things I enjoy into the Law, this year I wised up. I’m simply going to enjoy what I enjoy and leave it at that. I will enjoy all the wonderful gifts God has given me, most especially the gift of forgiveness for when I break even this un-resolution and find myself frustrated all over again. Happy New Year!