HOPE for the HAPLESS

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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Goodbye to Shadows

Groundhog day … a day steeped in tradition … and rodents …  As strange as it may seem, you cannot dismiss its importance in the hearts and minds of the average person in this land of snow and ice.  You might think that living in Canada we would come to accept that winters will be long and cold. That there will be snow, and blowing, and freezing.  You might think that we would come to take it all in stride, as a recognized (if not welcome) fact of life.

But we don’t.  Somehow we always seem surprised when it snows. We get gloomy when the winter lasts all winter long. We complain when the deep freeze is strangely colder than our summer swelter. Every winter is the same … “This is the worst one I can remember.” “This is the longest one ever.” “This is the coldest one I’ve ever lived through.”

And so it is 43 unbearable days into the season that people begin to crave release from this bondage to winter. They long for a sign. They pray for some good news. They plead for a ray of hope to see them through the bleak days ahead.  Enter the humble groundhog and his lowly shadow.  Here in Collingwood we are not so very far from one of the most well known of the Furry Canadian Meteorological Prognosticators, Wiarton Willie.  And what good news he brought us?  In the midst of a snowstorm there was no shadow, so winter will end early (but still not early enough for some!). Good-bye shadows, hello Spring!  Only time (about six weeks at the most) will tell if this is true or not.

And yet, even when winter finally does end (sooner or later) people will still be in bondage to the whims of this time we live in.  Life is still full of many dark and foreboding shadows.  We will still be surprised when bad news falls upon us, when the gloom lasts, when hearts remain cold. You might think that we would come to accept that life can be unpleasant. That there will be sadness, grief and pain.  People get sick. People are lonely. People hurt one another. People suffer and die. You might think that we would come to take it all in stride, as a recognized  fact of life.

But we don’t … because deep down everyone knows that it shouldn’t be like this.  Deep down everyone knows there should be something better.  Even the most jaded and storm-worn individuals this world has produced still crave release, still long for a sign, still pray for some good news. Everyone is looking for that little ray of hope to see them through the bleak days ahead.

And God has given that sign. In the chill of another early morning nearly 2000 years ago another prognosticator of sorts emerged from his rest to give hope to this world in bondage to sin, death, and the devil.  Only His prediction lies not in the loosing of winter for another year, but the springing forth of new life – eternal life, where once there was only the gloom of death.  For as this man, himself once dead but now gloriously alive again, stepped forth from the tomb, it was good-bye to shadows and hello to life and light eternal.  Were oh death is thy victory? Where oh death is thy sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 15:55-57)

So as we sit and wait for the coming of our early spring with all of its long-awaited warmth and life, let us remember not to be afraid of the shadows around us. In Christ our Light, there is Good News, the promise of fairer days ahead.  No matter how deep or dark the shadows in your life may seem, they will not last . In the the ever greater Life and Light that is coming in our Lord, they will be dispelled once and forever. And life will rise anew in a springtime of blessedness that will not end.


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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?

Sometimes.

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.


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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!