HOPE for the HAPLESS

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


1 Comment

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.

Advertisements


4 Comments

Greater Love Has No Man Than This

PoppyLet me begin by stating at the beginning that I love my children very much. I love seeing what they are doing at school. I love being able to take some time to be present at their assemblies, such as I was on Monday.  As far as Remembrance Day ceremonies go it was your pretty standard affair. The teachers doing their best (but generally failing) to file the children in neatly and get them sitting in respectful silence. The welcomes and introductions. A poem spoken (barely) by the older children, the presentations of a wreath from each home room class. The presence of veteran to play the traditional bugle parts. And then my son and his class got up to sing. They sang beautifully. They sang with gusto. They sang clearly (and for the most part on key). I could make out my son’s voice and he is a credit to both his mother and his father. But what they sang was like nails on a chalkboard …

Put a Little Love in Your Heart.

Perhaps you know it. Here are just a few of the grating phrases i had to sit through: “If you want the world to know we won’t let hatred grow put a little love in your heart. And the world will be a better place …” “I hope when you decide kindness will be your guide put a little love in  your heart. And the world will be a better place …” I’m not sure who thought this was a good idea, or worse yet who agreed with them and signed off on it. But I do understand the thought behind it. It comes from a deep-seated misunderstanding that many people in our culture have regarding love and what it is. One that is intimately tied into their misunderstanding of Tolerance and Compassion.

For many people these days (people who for the most part have never really and truly had to face real war) love is often confused with appeasement. If you love someone you need to let them be. If we really loved, there would be no more need for war. If we really loved, we could all just get along. If we really loved, not one veteran would ever need to waste their life on something so foolish ever again.

It all stems from the idea that everyone is basically good and that no one really wants to hurt anyone else (or if they do it is only because they don’t know better, and a little kindness will show them the error of their ways). Perhaps we all watched a few too many after-school specials growing up. It is the kind of thinking that summarized in the recent (but certainly not new)  “white poppy” debate.

It is also, unfortunately, a thinking that simply doesn’t work in our world. And it doesn’t work because it refuses to acknowledge both sin and evil.  You see, no one in this world is basically good. We are all sinners, every one of  us. There are times when even the best of us has no qualms whatsoever with sticking it to someone else.   And there are some who genuinely enjoy hurting others, killing others, and subjecting others to all kinds of  suffering. And no amount of kindness is going to teach them otherwise. Not to put too fine a point on it, but one might ask the former British Prime Minister Chamberlain, how well his loving approach to appeasing Hitler’s Germany worked. Better yet, ask the Austrians.

This world is broken by sin. This world is pock-marked by evil. And no amount of school assemblies, children’s choirs, or after school specials (no matter how good they are) is going to fix it.  Somethimes the only loving thing to be done is to confront the evil head on, and not allow it to do any more harm.  This is the kind of love that God showed for us. No appeasement to the way things were. No, “I’m OK, you’re OK.” No desire to get along by letting things slide. Instead He took it upon himself to come down to this battleground in the flesh and stand in the breach. In love He choose the path of love that led Him to pay the ultimate price in defeating evil. In love He chose to give up His life in the battle that would set us free from sin, grant us victory over death and evil. In love He waged a war. In love He fought and He died and He rose again so that He might lead His people to do the same.

John 15:12-14a  “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends”

And this, I think, is what is missing in so many people’s stundted understanding of war and peace, and the remembering of our veterans. They did not do it (most of them) to glory in war. They didn’t do it out of hatred … but out of love. Love for you and me and all who were (or are) oppressed. Love for Canada.  Those blessed men and women loved enough to lay their life upon the line. They loved enough to say “enough is enough” in the face of evil. They loved … and for so many of them they lost … all so that you and I might gain the freedom and security we now take for granted. And I can think of no greater love to put in my heart, as I remember their sacrifice for me, than a love like theirs … a love like our saviour’s … A love that is willing to lay down my life for someone else.


3 Comments

Marked Men (and Women)

toleranceI will admit it freely … the book of Revelation is one of my favourites in the Bible. Who doesn’t like seven-headed, ten-horned beasts and buckets full of plagues pouring out death and destruction over the face of the globe? It is the stuff of big budget Hollywood blockbusters.

But it is also the stuff of everyday life here in this sin-broken world. It is a profound and deep commentary of not only how things are, but where they are going. Take, for instance, the part about the mark of the beast from Rev. 13: “Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.”

Now many might look at such a thing and launch into grand conspiracy theories of world governments, secret economic cabals, the world-wide-web, and microchip technology; but I think there is a much simpler way to understand the mark of the beast … Tolerance.

Let me explain. Tolerance is a counterfeit virtue. It is the pale shadow of the real virtue of compassion. Just as God has marked His own (with compassion and for compassion), so too will the devil mark those he seeks to claim. And he will do it with tolerance. For tolerance is that which sweeps all sin under the rug. “I’m OK you are OK we are all OK and everyone should be OK with that.” Tolerance is a breeding ground for every dark and perverted affront to humanity. Tolerance is today’s open door to tomorrows moral atrocities. Tolerance accepts anything. Tolerance celebrates everything … except not being tolerant. Tolerance is completely intolerant of such exclusiveness as right and wrong, good and bad, hurtful and helpful.

And just like the prophecy from Revelation, unless you are marked by Tolerance there is no longer any room for you in our culture. Unless you are fully supporting of everything, and refuse to stand against anything there is no place for you anymore. The recent news has been awash in one story after another showing this is no joke. Entrepreneurs run out of business, employees are losing their jobs because they believe in traditional marriage. [Link Link Link] Religious communities told they must pay for things they find morally reprehensible. [Link] Christian schools facing open hostility for wanting to train lawyers who might also be Christian and hold to Christian ideals. [Link] Christians (and to a lesser degree other religions) told there is no place for them in the public square … you can be a Christian in your own home, so long as you never talk about it, show pride in it, or live your life according to its principles). [Link] But then again, Christians being told they are not allowed to teach their faith even in their own homes. [Link Link]

There is no tolerance in today’s public square for the person who does not firmly and publicly bear the devilish mark of Tolerance. No place for their beliefs, no place for their participation in public debate, no place for their livelihood. No place for them.

But the beast will not have his way. The world, though awash in death and destruction and the trampling of so much in the name of tolerance, will be saved … is being saved. For Revelation shows us that no matter how strong or pervasive this counterfeit mark becomes in the hands of the devil and his beast, it is still only a counterfeit and will never come close to the true mark with which God has sealed His own … The mark of compassion. For compassion is a true virtue. One that does not cover over sin, but still cares for the sinner. Compassion values all human life, defends all human beings … even those who are different, belligerent, or out-rightly opposed. Unlike Tolerance which can ONLY demand, threaten and make claims against others, Compassion never demands but rather it offers, it pays, it sacrifices.

For God in His great Compassion, sent His Son into the world, because He could not tolerate sin and its consequences any longer. And in that great compassion He offered Himself up for those who were not like Him. He payed for their sins and did not love them any less for all that it cost Him. He sacrificed His own life for those who cannot tolerate anything He has to say. In that life-changing compassion He marked us with the sign of all compassion – the cross – and promised to be with us to the bitter end. Defending us from the tyranny of tolerance, protecting us from the evils of this world, and bringing us safely to His heavenly home … not because He tolerates us … but because He has compassion for us.

(Rev 7:3-4) “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel. (Rev 14:1) Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.

We are marked by compassion and we are marked for compassion. And so we, in turn, seek not to be more tolerant but more compassionate. Gently holding our ground, praying for our friends and neighbours and ideological opponents. Opposing those things which are hurtful, no matter how many people want to do them. Holding out the truths of right and wrong, good and evil … especially for those who are not like ourselves. Because, not even we intolerant Christians want to see anyone left for the seven-headed, ten-horned beast and his bitter death and destruction (no matter how cool a movie it might make).


Leave a comment

Even Better Than Luck

Friday the 13th is supposedly an ominous date, steeped in superstition and assumed by some to bring bad luck.  And so in honour of Friday the 13th I am re-posting this little piece about luck, and what’s even better.  Feel free to read it under a ladder with your black cat  …

The definition of Hapless is to have no hap. That is, to have no luck, no fortune. In my heart of hearts I’ve often felt like this defines me too. I know it’s not true, but some days you simply cannot convince me otherwise. There are those to whom everything seems to come so easily. Those who go from one joy to another, those who always seem so full of hap-piness. I am not one of those people, and even when technically I am [ask me about the iPad I just won], I still don’t always feel like it. There are the Happy – like them, and the Hapless – like me.

And it is true, there are only two kinds of people in the world, but it has nothing to do with luck. Look again at the picture above. The Crucifixion by Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506) portrays the two kinds of people in this world admirably. It does so in the thieves on the crosses to either side of Jesus. In this world you are either like the thief on the right or the thief on the left. Both are sinners, both are deserving the punishment that lay before them, both will end up dead and in the grave. No difference there. Not much luck either!

The difference is that one of them realized this, while the other did not. One confessed his guilt and looked for mercy, while the other continued to blame his misfortune on the world around him right up to his dying breath. In this world there are not those who are lucky and those who are not. We are all sinners, deserving no luck, no fortune, no consideration from God whatsoever. But what sets some apart from the rest is the knowledge of that sin, and the repentant heart that looks for grace, mercy, and pity.

And that brings me to another definition of Hapless. One that I really appreciate. To be hapless is to be deserving pity, or inciting pity. When I start ranting and raving about the world being out to get me, my wife often looks at me with pity, but that’s not what I’m getting at here. While I do not deserve pity, I have incited another’s pity, and in that sense I will joyfully proclaim my haplessness to the world. Look to the picture again. It shows us only two kinds of people in the world, but it also shows us one wonderful Saviour between them both. One Lord and God, who took it upon Himself to hang on the cross and die for their sins – for my sins! An unparalleled act of pity, mercy and love, for those who are truly hapless. Better than all the luck of the world, Jesus Christ crucified … this is real Hope for the Hapless! May you, my dear fellow hapless, find Him to be your one and only hope too.


4 Comments

He Turned Not Aside

Here’s a little something just in time for Palm Sunday …

Text by Ken Maher ©2010

Based on Numbers 22:1-34, Luke 19:29-40

To Tune of #442 (LSB) “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” [76 76 D]

+

1. A lowly beast of burden upon the road once trod.

God’s anger there before it in holy angel shod.

Unwitting was poor Balaam, the sword before him bared.

Unkind, the hand that lashed out when his own life was spared.

+

2. Once from the road it wandered into the field aside.

Once to the wall it pressed in, the master’s foot to bind.

When no more room was left it, upon the road it lay,

For love’s great burden led it to spare his life that day.

+

3. A second beast of burden, foretold to us by them.

God’s anger still unanswered in old Jerusalem.

Full seeing is this Jesus, the price that must be paid.

Yet gentle are the hands upon that donkey laid.

+

4. For love again the burden, He will not turn aside.

His Hand and foot so gentle upon the cross must bind.

A life again will lay down, ‘neath wrath and curse and scorn.

Unfair the anger’s target, yet gladly it is born.

+

5. Oh, Lord, so quickly kindled our anger does lash out.

Your sacrifice free given casts all our pride to rout.

Forgive our misplaced incense, that would Your love decry

And turn us from our danger with full and open eye.

+

6. Lord Jesus hear our praises to You the servant king.

Again our sins upon you, we gladly now will bring.

E’en now You bear them in love, as once you did back then,

So let our glad Hosanna’s uplift in bold AMEN!


5 Comments

Smell You Later!

stinkWhile ‘nosing’ around the net I came upon this story recently:

ROTTEN OFFICE FRIDGE CLEANUP SENDS SEVEN WORKERS TO HOSPITAL

Published: Wednesday, May 13, 2009 | 12:09 AM ET Canadian Press THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

SAN JOSE, Calif. – A California office worker cleaning a refrigerator full of rotten food created a smell so noxious that it sent seven co-workers to the hospital and made many others ill.

Firefighters had to evacuate the AT&T building in downtown San Jose on Tuesday after the fumes led someone to call emergency services. A hazardous materials team was called in. What crews found was an unplugged refrigerator crammed with moldy food.

Authorities say an enterprising office worker had decided to clean it out, placing the food in a conference room while using two cleaning chemicals to scrub down the mess.

The mixture of old lunches and disinfectant caused 28 people to need treatment for vomiting and nausea.

Authorities say the worker who cleaned the refrigerator didn’t need treatment – she can’t smell because of allergies.

It’s everyone’s dirty little secret … we all know what happened in that office don’t we? We’ve all been part and parcel of the dreaded game of moldy mayhem known as the office fridge (or the school locker). Even if you didn’t put anything in there to serve as the beginnings of monstrous genetic experiment … you saw it growing … and said it was the problem of someone else. But then it begins to spread so maybe you push it a little further back or begin only to use the top shelf. You turn down the temperature to slow the progress. You start bringing food that only needs to be microwaved. But do you clean it up? No way! That’s not my mess – even if it is now everyone’s problem.

We all have a communal fridge in our souls – and in it we gladly give friends and family, community, and causes shelf space. Sure it gets filled with all sorts of good intentions and well-wishes, warm-feelings and good causes … but we don’t always look after it too carefully. Sometimes something will get lost or ignored, and we all know that it only takes one small part of it to sour or fester and the rot quickly spreads. The longer you try to ignore it the worse it gets, the more it smells, and the less likely we are to do anything about it. And make no mistake, others see it … and ignore it … because they know their own fridges are hiding equally monstrous creations.

And that is why so many, Christians included, are often reluctant to deal with the stink and corruption of sin in people. Gossip is allowed to wander freely through people’s lives. Sexual sins are safely hidden in the bedroom. Hatred is allowed to masquerade as tolerance. Love is redefined, or simply made optional. Morals are left to others to sort out for themselves, just so long as I’m left the freedom of my little corner where their stink cannot touch me.

But it always does. And the longer you let it grow the worse off everyone will be when you must finally clean it up. Sin is toxic, even just a little sin. Sin stinks with a stink that can overpower even the strongest of us. Sin, like an office fridge, is everyone’s problem.

And that is why God sent His Son. The woman in the office didn’t succumb to the fumes because she couldn’t smell them. Jesus didn’t succumb to sin, because He is God. Yet He was willing to bear that stink … OUR stink upon the cross so that no one might be overpowered by it again – even if it meant that He must be overwhelmed by it to the point of death. And having left that rot of sin in the grave He rose and come forth again – clean and fresh and smelling of victory. And what’s more, He continues even now to come back again and again through the Word and the Sacraments to clean out the moldy corners of our souls, making our lives full of the aroma of Christ. Making our witness to the reality of sin and the power of forgiveness a sweet smelling fragrance to the world around us … well to those who like having their fridges cleaned out anyway … To those who won’t let the fridge be cleaned it’s just one more stink they will have to put up with until the Hazmat team arrives!

2 Corinthians 2:14-16 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.


1 Comment

No Sneaking Back In!

oldjailI came across this story yesterday and it got me thinking.

Georgia inmate arrested trying to get back in jail

Published: Saturday, March 7, 2009 | 2:05 PM ET Canadian Press

WOODBINE, Ga. – Authorities in Georgia say they arrested an escaped jail inmate trying to sneak back into the lockup with cigarettes allegedly stolen from a nearby store. Sheriff Tommy Gregory said Saturday that 25-year-old Harry Jackson had opened a door to the exercise yard and climbed the outer fence. Deputies found a jail door unlocked early Saturday and were looking for the inmate. They spotted Jackson trying to come back in and found 14 packs of cigarettes they believe were stolen from a convenience store about a block away. Jackson faces new charges of breaking out of jail and burglary. He was already in jail in Camden County in far southeast Georgia for charges including possession of a controlled substance and violating probation.

© The Canadian Press, 2009

It got me thinking, that, laugh all you want, this man is not alone. (And not just in the sense that he’s safely back with all his fellow inmates.) What this fellow did is not all that different from the foolish capers any of us does.

Oh sure, most of you reading this will not be currently incarcerated (I assume), but we are all of us prisoners of a sort. We are prisoners to sin. Kept under lock and key by a sinful, fallen nature that is beyond our control. Guilty of the crimes against God and our fellow man that this sin manifests in our thoughts, words, and deeds.

Or at least we were. For in Christ Jesus our Lord and Saviour we were set free. We couldn’t jimmy the lock ourselves or slip over the fence on our own. This sin-prison is too tight. Instead, the warden – God Himself – came to our cell and set us free. Walked us to the door, opened it up and sent us on our way. Sins forgiven, the price paid, and freedom granted just like that … no questions asked, no parole, nothing.

And what do we do with that Gospel-granted freedom? Too often we turn around and try to get right back into the very place we’ve been freed from. As I study the Catechism again this Lenten season I am struck by how many of the commandments I keep going back to – but not in obedience to God. Why is that? Sin is comfortable. Sin is something we understand. Sin is something we are used to. Sin is easy – it expects so little of us. Sin promises an immediate payoff (like stolen smokes when you crave a cigarette).

But sin is not us anymore. Not in Christ. Try as we might to climb back in that old prison and live like the inmate we once were, we can’t. Jesus’ cross now occupies our old cell and He himself is there by the door to usher us out again, forgiven, freed, and tasked with trying to live once again, life on the outside. But life on the outside is not always easy. Its a big wide world full of love and grace and mercy and freedom. It is a world of overwhelming choices and opportunities. It is now your world in the freedom of Christ … so where are you going to go with it?

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:16-23