Thirteen By Any Other Name…Is Still Thirteen

I recently realized that I wasn’t living in the house that I thought I was.

Last summer I moved into a house bearing the number 15. I love everything about it: the house itself, the neighbours, and the area’s community spirit.

It wasn’t until some months later that I realized that I didn’t actually live at #15: I live at #13. The house next door is #11, and opposite my house is #12. Counting from the bottom of the street, mine is the thirteenth house.

So why didn’t the city call it #13 when it was assigning street numbers to the houses?

In many countries, the number 13 has unlucky connotations. Why? One reason is that there were thirteen present at the Last Supper, including Judas, who would betray Jesus.

Some people are superstitious about this number, and try to avoid its “bad luck” by keeping away from anything labelled 13. There’s even a word for the fear of the number thirteen: triskaidekaphobia.

The result is that many companies and cities fudge their numbering to avoid 13. This is why many hotels and tall buildings seem to lack a thirteenth floor: the elevator buttons skip from floor 12 to 14.

The thirteenth floor continues to exist, as does the thirteenth house on a street: we haven’t erased them. But we just call them by other names. We simply pretend that they’re actually the fourteenth floor or the fifteenth house. Everyone goes along with this fiction because it means we don’t have to face reality. We’re deluding ourselves, of course, but it seems we prefer to live in denial.

We do the same with sin, don’t we?

We call it by other names so we don’t have to face up to the reality of what it really is.

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See What You’re Missing!

Image of the Milky Way by Evgeni Tcherkasski from Pixabay

Have you seen the Milky Way recently?

If you have, you can count yourself among the fortunate.

Astronomers say that light pollution from artificial lights is strong enough in many places to blot out the stars. They’ve calculated that over a third of humanity, and almost 80 percent of North Americans, can no longer see the Milky Way. Indeed, here in Toronto we’re lucky if we can even see the Big Dipper.

Few of us seem to recognize how sad this really is.

Vision scientist Sonke Johnsen does. He wrote:

“The thought of light traveling billions of years from distant galaxies only to be washed out in the last billionth of a second by the glow from the nearest strip mall depresses me no end.”

We seem to devalue the incredible gift of the night skies. We don’t pay it much mind when it’s there. And if we can’t see it any longer, the loss is of little importance to us.

Why is it that losing our connection to the wonder of our galaxy doesn’t seem to bother us? Is it our self-sufficiency? Are we so caught up with our shiny, man-made baubles that we’re blind to our need for something real?

I think this detachment from the cosmos speaks to a spiritual apathy, too.

How is it that we’re indifferent to the awesome gift of the Son of God?

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The Beauty of Redeemed Brokenness

Image of parrot tulip by Coanri/Rita via Flickr CC BY-NC-ND-2.0

What’s your favourite flower?

Even though I certainly love roses, the tulip holds a special place in my heart. It’s not as showy or fragrant as a rose, but it brings such joy in spring after a long winter.

Among the many types of tulips, I especially like the variegated ones (with multicoloured petals).

But did you know that the dramatic colour combinations of variegated tulips are caused by a virus?

Gardeners had long noticed that tulip petals occasionally “broke” into unusual patterns. But it wasn’t until the late 1500s that botanists realized that the beautiful mixed colouring arising spontaneously in some tulips was actually the result of a disease.

While the tulip-breaking virus causes lovely variegated colouring, it also weakens the tulip bulb, eventually leading to the death of its genetic line.

So how is it that we can still enjoy variegated tulips today? Why haven’t they all died out?

Fortunately, botanists centuries ago learned to graft healthy tulip bulbs onto the diseased or “broken” ones, preserving their lineage. Today, we can enjoy countless cultivars in a dizzying array of colours and patterns.

Doesn’t this remind you of what God does for us?

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Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Image courtesy of Hippopx CCO 1.0: Public Domain

What’s your favourite Christmas carol?

“Jingle Bells” seems to be at the top of many lists of the top Yuletide songs. It’s catchy, kids love it, and it puts people in a cheery mood.

Or perhaps you’re more partial to “Silent Night”? I don’t blame you—it’s a beautiful classic.

The honour of the best-selling Christmas single would have to go to Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.” And with good reason—how can you not love this song?

(I’m hoping that your favourite Christmas number isn’t “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.” If it is, I’m not sure we can be friends.)

As for me, my favourite carol is “Hark The Herald Angels Sing,” with lyrics by Charles Wesley and a rousing melody by Felix Mendelssohn.

This hymn is not only enjoyable to sing, it’s also richly loaded with Biblical truths. It starts out this way:

“Hark! The herald angels sing:
‘Glory to the new-born king
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled.’ “

The angels are celebrating the inauguration of a new Kingdom featuring world-wide peace and the reconciliation of humanity to its creator.

But wait a minute: aren’t the angels jumping the gun in this account?

God and sinners wouldn’t be reconciled until decades later in Jesus’ life, at the Cross.

And since Jesus was born the world hasn’t had a year without war somewhere or other. Where is the peace the carol describes?

Aren’t the angels being a bit premature in celebrating?

Not at all.

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God With Us

I’m so pleased to share with you another guest post by my friend Veronica Gerber. I know you’ll be blessed by her wisdom!


What’s in a name?

So it’s Christmas time again … when we remember Jesus’ birth:

“For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful, Counsellor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

Do you have a favourite way of addressing God or thinking of Jesus?

I’m quite partial to Emmanuel which means “God with us” … ever alongside those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. It’s all too easy to lose sight, so to speak, of Jesus being with us in the day-to-day, especially during the hustle and bustle of Christmas, wouldn’t you say?

“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)

C.S. Lewis has written about God’s plan, “The whole thing narrows and narrows, until at last it comes down to a little point, small as the point of a spear—a Jewish girl at her prayers.”

Today as I read the accounts of Jesus’ birth I tremble to think of the fate of the world resting on the responses of two rural teenagers long ago. How many times did Mary review the angel’s words? How many times did Joseph second-guess his own encounter with an angel—“Was it just a dream?”—as he endured the hot shame of living among villagers who could plainly see the changing shape of his fiancée?

Mary, the virgin, whose parenthood was unplanned, had a commendable response to the angel. She heard the angel out, pondered the repercussions, and nonetheless replied:

“I am the Lord’s servant.
May it be to me as you have said.”

Often a work of God comes with two edges, great joy and great pain … as is the joy and travail of giving birth. In Mary’s matter-of-fact response, she embraced both. She was the first person to accept Jesus on his own terms, regardless of the personal cost. An ordinary beginning, an extraordinary journey.

It makes me wonder what work of God hinges on me at my prayers? And on you and your prayers?

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Unsung Heroes

Image by Myriams-Fotos from Pixabay

Ever had a time when all your plans were upended?

Joseph certainly did.

The man who would become the earthly father of Jesus probably had his life all mapped out.

He thought he’d get married to Mary, settle in Nazareth with her, have a posse of kids, and build his business. He could probably foresee how his life would unfold over the ensuing decades.

But then God stepped in.

First Joseph had to deal with the jaw-dropping news that an angel told Mary that she would bear the Messiah. Joseph was told by a divine messenger to go ahead with the marriage, despite tongues wagging in town about his being cuckolded by some other man. No doubt Joseph hadn’t figured his married life would start out this way.

Then the couple had to travel to Bethlehem to be counted in a census. While there, Mary delivered her child in a stable. Joseph certainly never thought this was how a child of his would be born.

The next thing you know, the young family had to flee to Egypt to escape those who wanted to murder Jesus. I’m sure Joseph hadn’t banked on having to travel to a foreign country to evade capture by the authorities.

At every turn, Joseph’s life and plans were upended.

And yet he’s something of a hero in the Christmas story, albeit an unsung one.

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The Wrong Yardstick

Image by Ariel from Pixabay

Do you have a friend who’s a bit of a screw-up?

No? You’ve got to get one!

Friends who make a shambles of things are amazing, because they make you feel so competent by comparison.

Your friend Sue might misplace one of her children, regularly set off the smoke detector when cooking, or accidentally rear-end a police car.

You roll your eyes smugly and think, “At least I’m not as bad as she is!”

In the same way, we like to justify ourselves before God by comparing our sins to those of others.

We think, “At least I’m not a bank robber or a serial killer. I’m not as bad as others. On the whole, I figure I’m a pretty decent person. I don’t think I really qualify as a ‘sinner.’ ”

The problem with this is that we’re using the wrong yardstick.

Instead of measuring ourselves against other people, we should be seeing whether we pass muster according to God’s standards.

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Accept No Substitutes

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

I have a special treat for visitors to The Faith Cafe today: a guest post by my dear friend Veronica Gerber. I’m sure you’ll be as impressed as I am with her Biblical insights and compassionate heart. Enjoy!


Yes, I’ll admit it. I’ve become a bit of a coffee snob since I first tasted the black gold that is the hallmark of the 90s: specialty coffee. It’s easy now to simply say “no thanks” to casual offers of coffee at a meeting or the local diner. Once you’ve tasted the real thing, the competition doesn’t even come close: it may look like coffee, perhaps even smell like coffee, but doesn’t quite pack the same punch…there’s simply no comparison.

Can I say the same about my spiritual palate? Psalm 34:8 declares, “O taste and see that the Lord is good.” Once we’ve tasted, as-it-were, the goodness of the Lord, dined at the King’s table, how can we feed again on the swill that darkly courses through the world’s troughs?

Take a reading of your own heart and mind. Are you consciously aware of what you’re drinking in day by day through the eye-gate and ear-gate? If you’re settling for the trough when you could be drinking deeply of the living water Jesus offers, stop.

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Keep Your Eyes On The Son

Image by mbll from Pixabay

Why don’t trees freeze to death in winter?

After all, if you or I stood outside naked for several months in sub-zero temperatures, we’d soon be turned into frosty statues.

Trees can’t burrow into the ground and hibernate like bears, and they can’t fly south like migratory birds. They’re fixed in place, at the mercy of the elements.

And yet they somehow survive through the cold depths of winter. Why don’t they turn to ice, since, like other living things, they’re made mostly of water?

Their trick is something called “hardening.”

In autumn, trees in cold climates undergo a change whereby water flows out of their cells. The concentrated sugars, proteins, and acids left behind act as a potent antifreeze. The water now in the spaces between the cells is so pure that ice crystals can’t form. This ultra-pure water can be cooled to -40 degrees F and still remain an ice-free liquid.

Pretty cool, isn’t it?

But what is it that triggers the hardening?

Ah, this is where we can learn a lesson from the trees.

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Label Jars, Not People

By Frank Vincentz, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

What’s the difference between a tart and a torte?

For that matter, what’s the difference between torte-with-an-e and tort-without-an-e? Are they all edible?

Let’s see if we can straighten out the confusion.

A tart is an open pastry containing a filling. A torte is a multi-layered cake-like confection. They’re both edible (and extremely tasty—see recipe for Lemon Almond Tart below).

Tort is a legal term referring to a wrongful act or infringement of a right. You could try to eat the paper a tort was described on, but I wouldn’t recommend it!

But we’re not quite finished unpacking the meanings of these similar-sounding words.

A tart can also refer to a promiscuous woman: one who has had many sexual partners. A woman others would look down on. A woman polite society might consider to be “loose.”

But we should be careful before we slap anyone with a label such as this. We never know how God might use them.

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