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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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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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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Straight Out of Left Field

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Have you ever had a time in your life when God did a work for you that came straight out of left field?

The blessing, provision or miracle he bestowed on you caught you off guard and astonished you. It was completely unexpected and surprising.

You never saw it coming.

God seems to like to work that way, doesn’t he?

Think of Moses in the Old Testament, when he was leading the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt.

They found themselves in a jam: cornered at the Red Sea with the Egyptian army snapping at their heels.

Moses had faith that God would save them, but I wonder if he was racking his brains trying to figure out just how it would happen.

Maybe God would send a flotilla of boats from the other side to rescue them, Dunkirk-style? But no one knew they were coming, and at any rate, the only people on the other side were either enemies or strangers.

Maybe God would send an affable and reasonable Egyptian captain to negotiate with Moses? Not likely, since all of Egypt’s firstborn had just been killed. The Egyptians were in no mood to parley with their escaped slaves.

No matter what Moses came up with as a potential solution, he never could have expected the curveball that God threw:

God miraculously parted the waters of the Red Sea and allowed the Israelites to cross over on dry ground, then closed up the waters to drown their enemies. Moses surely didn’t see that one coming!

And that’s not the only curveball that God threw…

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God Sees You In Infrared

Photo by Veronica H. on Pixabay

Did you know that some birds and bees can see things that are completely invisible to us? They’re able to see in infrared, just beyond the wavelengths of the visible light spectrum that human eyes can detect.

What looks to us like a regular pink flower might resemble a helicopter landing pad to a bee. Where we see only the uniform expanse of one colour, the bee may see a target-shaped design involving different colours. The bee’s infrared vision allows it to home in on the most nectar-rich part of the flower.

The world looks completely different when you can see in infrared.

I sometimes think that God sees us in “infrared.” He can see things in us that are invisible to others, and even to ourselves.

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Beauty Out Of Brokenness

Photo by treenabelle on Pixabay

Once this pandemic is over, psychologists warn that many of us may suffer from post-traumatic stress for some time to come.

Some of us will have seen our business close down for good, suffered isolation and loneliness, or may have even lost a loved one during the COVID-19 crisis.

But is PTSD a given in these circumstances? Is there different outcome that can occur, an unexpected benefit that may arise out of these difficult times?

Psychologists say yes: there’s such a thing as post-traumatic growth.

It’s been found in survivors of war, cancer, and natural disasters. Some people emerge from a crisis with increased spirituality, a greater sense of personal strength, new priorities and closer relationships with others. What could have broken them actually made them better.

This phenomenon reminds me a bit of “sea glass.” Sea glass, or beach glass, found washed up on shores, starts out as merely cast-aside pieces of broken glass. Perhaps they’ve been tossed overboard from a ship, or thrown into the sea from land along with other garbage.

These shards of glass endure years of being buffeted against the stones of the sea bottom. It seems like they’re being dashed about mercilessly by the relentless action of the waves. Surely no good could come of this?

But then, something almost magical emerges.

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Empty Rooms Tell A Story

Image by dozemode from Pixabay

Empty rooms can sometimes tell a pretty full story.

For instance, if you come downstairs into your empty kitchen and find chocolate sauce smeared over everything and a trail of chocolatey footprints leading into a closet, you can probably surmise what happened:

Your four-year-old went wild while you were busy upstairs and is now in hiding.

Or if you come home to an empty living room only to discover the sofa’s cushions have been chewed to bits and there is stuffing all over the place, the room itself tells you all you need to know: that your naughty dog shouldn’t be left alone so long.

Perhaps you arrive back from vacation and each empty room shows evidence of having been ransacked. A window was broken, drawers have been pulled open, and valuable items are missing. Police detectives find additional clues in the house that help them figure out the identity of the burglar.

Investigators (and parents) are masters at being able to figure out what story an empty room tells.

I wonder if we can use our detective skills to determine what the empty tomb of Jesus conveys?

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God Can Use Anything And Anyone

Image by Terri Cnudde from Pixabay

Now that spring has arrived, the birds are starting to build their nests.

It’s delightful to watch them collect items to fashion into a new home.

They’ll mostly gather twigs and leaves as their construction materials. They might also add moss, plant fluff, dried grass, or feathers to make the nest soft for their chicks.

But sometimes birds use unexpected things when constructing a home.

They’ve been known to use mud, pet fur, discarded snake skins, and spider silk for their nests. They’ll even use man-made items, such as plastic, tinsel, dryer lint, or even purloined underwear from a clothesline!

Birds don’t seem to count anything out: they’ll use the most unlikely things to achieve their goal.

And so does God.

God also uses unexpected things and unlikely people to fulfill His purposes. The Bible is chock-full of examples of this:

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