HOPE for the HAPLESS

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


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Set Your Mind

set+your+mind+on+things+aboveFor you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man. [Mark 8:33]

Life is a busy affair. On any given day your mind is probably sifting through a dozen or more important tasks, working its way through two or three pressing personal issues, and weighing at least a few ethical or societal issues impacting your life.

Do you mind if I add just one more thing to that already long list?

I am talking about setting your mind on the things of God, instead of just the things of man. It’s one that you already know should be there, but most of us just don’t often get around to. And that’s precisely the problem.

As the old saying goes, many of us have “Half a mind” to devote ourselves to that religious stuff. In other words, we are almost determined – we have good intentions – but never quite seem to get around to it. Our minds are too full of other concerns which always seem to take precedence. Prayer is important but the baby is crying now. Devotion is good, but not until after I run the errands. Worship is a priority, as long as something else doesn’t come up first.

But that’s the mistake. By spending all our time and mental focus on the things of man (the stuff of day-to-day living) we so easily lose the things of God. But by focusing first on the things of God you will find that so much of the things of man are already considered, weighed, or outright solved.

That’s what the season of Lent is all about. Pulling ourselves out of the things of man, which always seem so important, and setting our minds on the things of God which truly are important.

And the more you put your mind to the things of God … things like Law and Gospel, Morality and Christian Duty, Forgiveness and Salvation, Mercy and Compassion … The more you set your mind on such things the more the mind boggles.

Because very quickly you will come to see that through all these things lived out in Christ’s Life, Death, and Resurrection one thing becomes crystal clear – stunningly clear – God has only one thing on His mind …

… You.

Jesus obeyed every letter of the Law in the Spirit of the Law, for you. His absolute morality, the fullness of His Christian duty was all for you. The forgiveness He won on the cross – yours. The salvation earned just for you. Every last ounce of mercy and compassion had you in mind. It was all for you! And with that great truth in mind, the things of man don’t seem nearly so pressing or insurmountable anymore. Set your mind on the things of God, for His mind is set on you!

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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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Lent: A Season Whose Time Has Come!

ash_2As I was making my way to the gym (“Be It Resolved”) after Ash Wednesday Service – big smudge of ashes across my brow, I got to thinking that Lent is a season whose time may finally have come! As I began my workout I was the only one with a cross on my forehead, but I was NOT the only one bearing a mark upon my brow.

You can see all over people’s faces now. The wrinkles of uncertainty, the furrows of self-reflection, the down-cast countenances of people deeply involved in soul-searching. The signs of these tough economic times are played out on the brows of men and women everywhere. People are now being forced to confront all those problems they have been able to avoid by simply throwing away more money (or credit). Those days of grandiose self-indulgence and avoidance are gone – as are the fortunes, security, and homes of so many. The days ahead are full of doubts and uncertainty for a lot of people who are not ready for it. Everyone is being asked to consider both how we got where we are and what we might yet need to do to get out of it all. Some are even beginning to contemplate their own complicity in all this. Regardless, the deeper these friends, neighbours, strangers and acquaintances are forced to look, the bigger the creases and furrows grow. Yes the signs are everywhere!

But that is also why Lent, and those of us who regularly observe it may be of some use! We are accustomed to bearing the marks of personal reflection and soul-searching. At least twice a year we devote an entire season of the church year to just such spiritual exercises. We don’t always like what we see when we get there, but we are at least willing to look. And why? It’s as obvious as the sign upon your forehead.

You see, while no less complicit in the affairs of this world … no less burdened and troubled by all that goes on around us … no less saddened by the continual hardships faced by friends and relatives, neighbours and even strangers … the mark we bear is not one of doubt or futility. It is a mark of hope, and certainty! As strange as it may sound, Lent can be a wonderful comfort to those who are burdened by fears and faults. It can provide a renewed breath of life and hope to those suffocating under the weight of their burdens and anxieties. And it can do all this because Lent shines forth the sign of the cross like no other season I know.

“You are dust and to dust you shall return.” Yes, I am guilty. Yes I deserve nothing. But God in His love and grace has given me a sign. A sign marked upon my head and my heart. He has given me His Son and His great victory upon the cross. He has shown me the way out. He has shone forth the bright beacon of hope and joy in the face of so much darkness, both within and around me. For in that cross He has canceled the debt of my sin. In that cross He has erased my complicity. In Holy Baptism (where the sign of the cross was first inscribed on my head and heart) He has adopted me into His family and has granted me an eternal home, more beautiful than any dwelling this side of Eden.

Therefore I will gladly bear this mark upon my life. The cross of Christ Jesus happily smudged upon my brow, to be a sign for our times. A sign of relief for those who suffer the mark of sin in their lives.


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Transfiguration – A Spoiler.

transfigPeople have very differing views about spoilers these days. There are those who make their livelihood by revealing movie secrets on the web. There are those who can’t stand it when the surprise is ruined by the careless dissemination of information. Then there are others, like me, who are somewhere in the middle.

I have an uncanny knack at being able to guess the twists and turns of most stories. It drives my wife crazy. The height of her frustration came with the movie The Sixth Sense. She saw it before I did, and was so taken aback, she couldn’t wait to see how long this one would stump me. She was careful to guard me against any “spoilers” until I could see it. Well … she tried. One day a friend happened to say “That was some surprise ending wasn’t it?” That was enough for me to guess the plot five minutes in. It spoiled all of her fun (and mine too … it is a long movie when you know the secret right from the get-go).

But in our house, filled as it is by little ones, spoilers are a necessary part of any story with questionable or scary parts. I can’t begin to count the number of times we have had to begin a story, a show or a movie with words of caution and comfort. Words that say although there will be scary parts they will not last long, and everything will turn out just fine. In such instances we find that it spoils the enjoyment of the work far less than trying to console traumatized children for days afterward.

In that sense God himself has provided a spoiler for us in the Transfiguration of Christ. On that mountain, in the presence of Peter, James, John, Moses and Elijah God lets slip an important part of the narrative to come. But He doesn’t do it to ruin the fun of what is to come, He does it for the sake of those not quite ready to take it all in. And so God gives them a spoiler. You see the story is about to get scary. It is about to turn dark and ugly. There will be treachery, betrayal, torture, suffering and death. BUT everything will be fine because Jesus really is God! Everything will work out in the end, just wait and see.

And in that way the Transfiguration serves as a spoiler for us too. Tomorrow we begin the season of lent. It is a season of contemplation, repentance and consideration on the sacrifice of our Lord. As a season so intimately connected to soul-searching it can lead us to some very dark places. It can open up to us things we prefer to keep hidden away in dark shadows. It can take us down paths that no one in their right mind willingly wants to tread. Sin, guilt, complicity, suffering, shame, the death of Christ. It is a season in which it is easy to get lost in the dark, lost in ourselves, lost in despair. So God gives us a spoiler just days before we begin. Everything will be fine because it is not about our failures. It is about God’s victory in Jesus! As dark as the soul-searching may get, everything will work out in the end, for there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Just wait and see. That light is Jesus Christ who did indeed come to suffer and die because of sin – My Sin – but He did it willingly. He did it to lead me out of the darkness into the light. He did it to show the true glory of His love for me and all mankind. He did it so that He could rise again from the dead, the firstfruits of all who will go through death to life.

Before the dark he gives us a taste of the light. Before the death, a glimpse of the resurrection. A heavenly spoiler so we can better enjoy, and rightly understand, the story about to unfold.  Indeed, the greatest story ever told!