a weight, like lead
sits in the pit of my stomach
a pain, greater than anything physical
permeates my entire being
tears come and go,
either refusing to come,
or coming in a flood
today, I go to say goodbye
to the man my wife calls “Daddy”
to the man I had the priviledge
of calling my father-in-law
he claimed it hurt
to have his hair cut
and so he let it
“wear off on his shoulders”
in the ponytail he wore
for longer than I ever knew him
involved for years
in leading Scouts
in helping children
learn to love the outdoors
as he himself did
a man who loved
to get grease on his hands
as he fixed engines…
first in cars,
and then in oilfield pumps
a man who was always healthy
my wife doesn’t remember him
ever taking sick days…
…always healthy, until the
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I’ve been considering trying something a bit different. I want to work my way through the Psalms, and respond through poetry to the verses of Scripture. I hope to plan a few of these, but certainly not all – If I make it all the way through, I may eventually choose to publish the lot, but we shall see. My responses are not meant to be commentary on the Psalms. They are not meant to be theology. They are certainly not meant to be considered as Scripture. They are simply my thoughts about the Psalm. If you do not believe as I do, and therefore disagree with what I write, I am OK with that. If you find the Psalm, pared with my responses to be pleasing poetry, that is good. If you find my responses become a challenge to you to draw closer to God…that is even better! (Scripture text is taken from the English Standard Version). The text of the psalm is not indented, my response is.
Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stands int he way of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of scoffers
Am I a blessed man
In my posture each day?
Do I walk, stand, and sit,
Or kneel down to pray?
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And on his law he meditates day and night.
The thoughts that consume me
Through daytime and night.
Are they thoughts filled with darkness,
Or God’s Holy Light?
He is like a tree
Planted by streams of water
That yields it fruit in its season,
And its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers
We’ll grow into something
And each sow our seed
Will I be a tree,
Or am I just a weed?
The wicked are not so,
But are like the chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgement,
Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
Oh LORD, when I stand
Help me choose the right place
Let me not stand with sinners,
But in the Courts of Your Grace!
This morning, at the church I attend, our pastor put a slide up on the power-point projector. The slide simply contained 28 names, and the ages of the people who owned those names…names of the victims of the Newtown massacre. Then he challenged each of us to pick one of the names on this list…and pray for that person’s family and friends.
When I first heard of this tragic event, my soul felt ripped open. This morning, my soul felt ripped open once again as I picked the name of one little girl. Now, this isn’t just a tragic event any more…I now have a name that I can bring before my God. Since this morning, I was able to find a picture of this beautiful 6 year old child…and the tears came yet again.
I don’t know much about this little girl. I know her name (out of respect for her family, I’ve chosen not to share her name here), and I’ve seen a picture of her, but other than that, I know very little. I don’t know if she liked to dress up and play with dolls, or if she liked to climb trees and play in the mud. I don’t know what her favourite food was. I don’t know if she had siblings, or if she had pets.
I can only wonder what her hopes were for the future. I can only wonder what made her giggle…what made her afraid.
I do know that was a beautiful little girl…loved by her parents, and precious in the eyes of God.
I’m certain, from the smile in her photograph, that she loved life and loved to have fun.
I also know that we can best deal with this tragedy by surrounding the family and friends of these victims by praying for them. I would like to encourage each of my readers to do what my pastor challenged us to do…pick just one of the victims (you can find their names and a brief write up on each of the victims here). Pick one of these children, or one of the teachers on the list. Pray for that person’s parents…sisters…brother…friends. If you’ve picked one of the teachers, pray for their spouse…children.
Let’s not let this tragedy just be a tragedy without faces or names. On Friday, 28 humans lost their lives. They all had people they loved. They all had people who loved them. They are all precious in the sight of God.
Dear people of Newtown, CT…we will not forget you. We will continue to pray for you…when possible, we’ll pray for you by name. God bless you and comfort you as you struggle through this time.
Today, a man walked into an elementary school in Newtown, Conneticut. This man took the lives of 28 people…20 of them young children.
Today, many parents are longing to hold their children in their arms…but their children are no longer there to hug.
Today, many children are confused and shocked…perhaps too confused and shocked to even speak…wondering how it is that their friends are gone.
Today, thousands of people from around the world sit. Stunned. Wondering how such an evil thing could occur…not just in one school…another 22 children were attacked by a man with a knife in Chenpeng village in Henan, China…so the evil is obviously not localized, but universal.
Today, even as I type this, my soul is screaming. HOW?? WHY??
Today, I am convinced that God Wept.
He wept over those children who were senselessly murdered
He wept for those left behind to mourn
He wept because, his Creation isn’t what it was supposed to be
He watched those children walk into their school today, knowing that they would not walk out again
He watched some of those children leave their homes…
…without getting a hug from their parents…
…knowing those parents would long for one last hug
Today, God watched a man pick up a weapon and load it with bullets
God wept for that man…as much as for the children he killed
He saw a man…created in the Image of God…
…but so corrupted by this world that his soul had turned to stone
He wept over a world that will weep for a while…but will too soon forget
He wept that, today, this world tasted a bit of Hell…
…but he so longs that we could catch just a glimpse of Heaven
God wept today
God weeps every day over the sin of the world…
…but he rejoices over every lost soul that turns to him.
If you are my friend list on facebook, you might have seen the status that I posted yesterday, regarding a lady that rammed her shopping cart into my 10 year old son at Costco because he “walked in front of her”.
Stuff happens. Sometimes a 10 year old boy will not be looking where he is going, and may get bumped by a shopping cart. But in this case, the hit appeared to be very deliberate. In fact, even after the initial hit, she kept on pushing her cart against him until he was physically pushed out of the way. She ran over his foot in the process (he was wearing sandals), and she didn’t even seem to care that the arm he was using to protect himself from her onslaught was in a cast.
I called her on her actions, and all that she said to me was, “he walked in front of me.” I told her at that point that she wasn’t watching where she was going, but she wasn’t interested in entertaining the idea that she might be at least partly responsible for the incident. I’ll freely admit that my son probably had walked in front of her. Sometimes 10 year old boys don’t look where they’re going. That’s a simple fact of life when you are dealing with children!
I dropped the argument at this point, as I didn’t really want to make a bigger scene than had already been made. A little while later, as we were coming out of one aisle, we saw her walking down the lane. She passed right in front of me. My wife was pushing our shopping cart at the time, which is probably a good thing…if I had been pushing the cart, I would have “bumped” into her cart and then told her, “You walked in front of me.” Yes, I admit, sometimes I want to act a bit childish too.
Complaining about the actions of the lady at Costco is not the true intent of this article. I’m more interested, right now, in exploring my own reaction to yesterday’s incident. I already confessed that I wanted to react childishly…but even after we left Costco, the incident wouldn’t leave me alone. My wife and I discussed the situation numerous times over the course of the evening – what we could have done, what we should have done.
When I woke up this morning, “that lady at Costco” was one of the first things to enter my mind. I was still angry at her (and that feeling of anger is not entirely gone yet!)
Eph 4:26-27 tells us “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”(ESV)
Clearly, last night’s setting sun found the cinders of anger still smoldering in my heart.
I’m not sure what caused the lady to do what she did. Perhaps she’s normally a very nice person, but had just finished a really rough day at work…or maybe she’s one of the people who are rude all the time. I don’t know her. I don’t know her story. I’ll likely never see her again, so I can’t even ask her. Somehow, I had let a complete stranger ruin my evening!
My 10 year old son, on the other hand, seemed to be completely unaffected by the incident within about 10 minutes (a friend of mine commented on my facebook status: “The lesson here is that some children are more mature than some adults.” I doubt that my friend realized that she was talking about me as much as the lady.
I guess the question that I have, after all of this, is: How do I let something like this go? It’s not like my anger does me any good…in fact anger causes me to lose focus on anything of value…it causes loss of sleep…it could potentially cause all sorts of health problems unless I bring my anger under control.
I don’t have a lot of answers for my question – but I think that a key component to closure of this issue is prayer and forgiveness. In that order. Without God’s help, I don’t have the strength to forgive. Once I have prayed for the strength to forgive, I need to decide to forgive. That means that every time the situation comes to mind, I need to forgive…repeatedly if necessary, until I’m no longer plagued by a situation that is over (and completely out of my control anyways).
Does forgiveness excuse the behaviour of the offender? No. Her offenses are still hers to deal with. What forgiveness does do…is release me from obligation to worry and fret about the situation…and yes, releases me from the need to remain angry.
I came to an interesting conclusion a while back. All sin…or evil…or human badness…or whatever you want to call it comes down to one over-arching problem. Selfishness. At first glance, that may appear to be an over-simplification, but think about it for a minute. Why does someone rob a bank? Greed (selfishness). Why does someone commit murder? Hatred. Hatred at its root can be traced back to selfishness (I hate because I have been offended, or I have been wronged).
Sometimes, perhaps, someone might commit some sin/crime because of circumstances…consider the person who has lost everything due to civil war…but even there, selfishness is a contributing factor at a second-hand level as war could never begin if someone (or some group) did not selfishly demand something.
So…what is selfishness? The Oxford Dictionary defines selfish as: “adjective (of a person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for other people; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.”
If you want my definition of selfishness, it’s a “me first attitude”.
Jean Piaget (1896-1980) came up with a theory of cognitive development divided into 4 major stages:
- Sensorimotor Stage (0-2 years of age)
- Pre-operational Stage (2-7 years)
- Concrete Operational Stage (7-11 years)
- Formal Operational Stage (11+ years)
(note: ages are approximations)
Without getting into all the details (see above link for more information on all the stages), the first two stages are characterized by egocentrism – or the inability to view a situation from any perspective other than one’s own
Piaget theorized that once somebody reaches approximately 7-11 years of age, they begin to be able to see the world from the perspective of someone else. In other words, they begin to have a capacity for unselfishness – not to say that selfishness ends at this point – far from it! They simply gain the capacity to be unselfish.
I have a new theory: Somewhere in the last 50 years or so, the number of people who cease to view the world egocentrically has seriously declined. Yes, they may be able to consider somebody else’s perspective, but they are unwilling to do so.
For example, I had a run-in with a man who was playing his car stereo so loudly that he was causing dishes to vibrate in our cupboards half a block away. I was polite as I could be under the circumstanced, but I asked him to turn his music volume down. His basic response was that he likes loud music, and so he would play his music loudly. When I and a few other neighbours explained our perspectives to him, he didn’t seem to “get it.” He seemed to wonder how it could be that we would be bothered by his music when he liked it? I thought at the time that he was simply very rude, but now I’m beginning to wonder if he has a psychological inability to view the world from the perspective of his neighbours. I’m starting to wonder if something happened during his developmental years that caused him to stop maturing while he was still in the egocentric preoperational stage.
I know that we are all guilty of egocentrism to greater or lesser degrees, but I’m really starting to think that our society has a major issue with adults who are unwilling or unable to think and behave as adults.
Unfortunately, I have only observations and no solutions at this point, but I suspect that there has been a dramatic change in the way that children have been raised over that past few decades, and if unchecked, we will find ourselves in an ever increasingly narcissistic society.
We all love to hear amazing stories of struggle and victory…of rising out of some difficult circumstance…of triumph over the worst of situations
As a Christian, I’ve often been powerfully moved by the testimony of somebody who lived the worst kind of life imaginable, but who changed to become a powerful soldier for the Kingdom of God. I think we all gravitate to these kinds of stories. What could be better than a dramatic transformation?
I don’t have that kind of testimony. The story of how I became a Christian would probably not become a best-seller in the Christian book market. In fact, I used to get quite embarrassed when someone would ask me how or when I became a Christian. Honestly, I can’t remember.
I grew up in a family where my Dad would read to us from the Bible at breakfast every day. My Mom would read Bible stories to me on a regular basis. I heard about Jesus and his love for me from the time I was an infant. I never needed to be convinced to love Jesus…from the training I received as a child, I just grew up loving Him. Loving Jesus came about as naturally to me as breathing.
Does it make a dramatic story or a great read? Perhaps not. Sometimes I have wished that I could say I had once been a drug addict, or a murderer, or a bank-robber before God got ahold of me…but I don’t wish that anymore. I’m thankful for a “boring” story. It means that I was spared the heartache and misery of those who had the so-called more exciting testimonies!
I’m thankful for parents who love God, and who love me enough that they taught me to love God too!
I’m not trying to say that my life has been perfect. Far from it! I have made my share of poor choices. I’ve spent more than enough time in my life ignoring God. This has never been because God abandoned me, but more accurately, because I have wandered away from God. Thankfully, He’s always been willing to welcome me back!!
I’m a parent now, with 3 boys of my own. My prayer for my boys is that they will each have a “boring” testimony. I pray that each of them will love God as easily as they draw breath. I pray that when they wander (and we all wander sometimes), that they will find their way back without too much heartache in the meantime.
For this prayer to be answered, I need to do my part too, of course. If I don’t teach my boys my faith…if I don’t read to them the stories of the Bible…if I don’t encourage them to discover the Word of God on their own, I will have failed them. So part of my prayer for my children is that I won’t be a failure in sharing my faith. My older 2 sons have already expressed their love for Jesus. My youngest son is still a toddler, so he doesn’t have the words to express, yet, if he already loves Jesus. However, even for our youngest, Bible stories are a regular part of his daily routine.
Proverbs 22:6 tells us, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
I guess my prayer for my children could be summed up in that one verse.
I love my church. I love the pastor of my church. I love the passion that Russ has for the Word of God, his passion for the lost, and his passion for the less fortunate of our community. Pastor Russ has a large ambition: he wants us to be a church that changes the world. Perhaps this seems like an overly lofty goal…how can one church in a small Canadian city impact the entire planet? One step at a time. If the individuals in our church start to look at the needs of those around us, we can change our community. If those in our community begin to look at the needs of those around them, we’ll change our province. Our province can affect change in our nation. Our nation can change the world! In the past year, Russ has regularly spoken of the “Quartet of the Vulnerable”. This includes widows, orphans, immigrants, and the poor. In the past year or so, among other things our church has partnered with Hands On Ministries (an organization that works with inner-city street kids), and has been helping a refugee family from Myanmar to adjust to life in Saskatoon (and is working on helping them to bring more of their family members to Saskatoon as well).
Sometimes as individuals, we wonder, “What can I do?” “How can I be an agent of change in my church/community/world”? Start by looking at the small things you can do.
In the province of Saskatchewan, there is a chain of grocery stores (C0-Op) that runs a promotion each year for their customers. They started this promo 2 years ago by offering knives to customers who collected enough stickers (different knives were worth a different amount of stickers). Last year they offered pots and pans in the same way. This year the offer is for plates, bowls and cups. Stickers are collected by spending money on groceries at the store (for each $10 spent, one sticker is earned). This year’s promotion just began a few day ago, and will run til mid June.
My wife and I were in need of knives…our old set of sharp knives could barely cut warm butter (OK, they weren’t that bad, but they weren’t in the best shape anymore), and the pots and pans were greatly appreciated as well. Plates, bowl and cups, though? We have more than we need already. So my wife came up with an idea: She suggested that we should collect the stickers as usual, and then get some dishes for a needy family in our community…or perhaps for the family members still to come over from Mynamar. The needs in our city are numerous enough that finding a recipient shouldn’t be too difficult.
We recognized that, although we can contribute some, we likely couldn’t contribute an entire set of dishes on our own. So we decided to involve our church and other friends in the city. If numerous people were to “join forces” in sticker collection, we might be able to provide an entire set of dishes for a family…or maybe multiple sets for multiple families!
I know that some of the readers of this post will be from the Saskatoon area, and for those of you who live in the Saskatoon area: if you’re interested in helping us out in this endeavour, I’d encourage you to leave a comment at the end of this post.
For those of you who live elsewhere, you might not be able to help us out, but you can do things to help the needy in your own communities. Do you have growing kids? Consider taking the clothing that your children have out-grown and donate them to an organization that helps out young moms who can’t afford to clothe their children. Or have a garage sale and instead of using the money for yourself, consider donating it to a local charity. Or…find your own creative way of doing something for the betterment of somebody else.
“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor.’” (Zech. 7:9-10)
What better way to ‘not oppress’ than by actively seeking ways to help them out?
There is a popular song that is often sung around Christmas time called “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” The lyrics are as follows:
You better watch out/ You better not cry/ Better not pout/ I’m telling you why/ Santa Claus is coming to town
He’s making a list/ And checking it twice;/ Gonna find out Who’s naughty and nice/ Santa Claus is coming to town
He sees you when you’re sleeping/ He knows when you’re awake/ He knows if you’ve been bad or good/ So be good for goodness sake!
O! You better watch out!/ You better not cry/ Better not pout/ I’m telling you why/ Santa Claus is coming to town/ Santa Claus is coming to town
If we’re going to be honest with ourselves, this is an incredibly depressing song! How much better to know that instead of Santa, Jesus has come to town!
The song starts out by telling us “You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout.” How many of us can say that we never have a bad day where we have complained about our circumstances, or the people that we have come in contact with? Perhaps you are in a difficult financial situation, or are in/have recently been in a bad relationship? Unlike Santa, Jesus doesn’t expect us to be emotional zombies. He knows that we are going to weep and cry, and yes, sometimes even pout! Instead of telling us not to do that, he invites us to come to him with our difficulties. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus gives the invitation: ”
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”(NIV)
In the second stanza, we are warned that Santa is “making a list” and he’ll use it to see if we’ve been “naughty or nice”. Let’s be honest here! We can probably all think of a dozen times in the last week alone when we’ve said or done something hurtful to somebody else. Even if we’ve felt bad about it, the damage is already done. If we’re being judged by Santa to see if we’ve been “naughty or nice”, I’m afraid we’re all doomed! Yes, the Bible speaks of a “list” of sorts…it’s called the “Book of Life”. If your name is in it, you will be saved. Unlike Santa’s list, however, getting your name on this list doesn’t depend on your works…
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He [Jesus] was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:9-13, NIV)
The first part of stanza 3 warns us that Santa sees us when we’re sleeping and knows when we’re awake. In the song, it almost seems to come across as a threat. According to Psalm 121, God is watching us too! But when I read this psalm, there is nothing threatening about it:
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD watches over you—
the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the LORD will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore. (NIV)
The second half of the 3rd stanza tells us that Santa “knows if we’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.” Again, we face a dilemma – how many of us are truly “good”? How good do we have to be to make the “nice list”? According to the Bible, it is impossible, on our own, to appear “good” before God. Romans 3:10 tells us: “…There is no one righteous, not even one.” and again in Romans 3:23 we hear “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Fortunately, though, that’s not the end of it! No, we can’t on our own appear good before God, but…
and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:24-26)
Basically, this passage is telling us that even though we can’t possibly be good before God on our own, God has provided a way for us to be good: He sent Jesus to be a sacrifice for us…and that sacrifice washes clean those who put their faith in Jesus!
So even though we all “cry and pout”; even though we’ve all been bad and can’t get ourselves on the nice list through our own effort, we can be thankful that Santa is not the way of Salvation – we can rejoice instead that Jesus Christ has come to town. Hallelujah! Jesus Christ has come to town!!
This morning, just before the service, I spent a few minutes chatting with my pastor. The topic came up: “Are you ready for Christmas?” I responded that I’m almost ready for Christmas, as I only have one gift left to purchase…and that my wife and I have actually been getting gifts all through the year instead of doing the last minute panic thing.
A little while later, after sitting down in the service and singing some worship songs, our pastor started to give his message. As he spoke, I started to reflect on our previous conversation
The Scripture passage for his message came from Luke 2:18-20. From this passage, he gave us four main points:
- Jesus is Good News: “…And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news’…” (verse 10)
- Jesus is Great Joy: “…’of great joy that will be for all the people.’…” (verse 10)
- Jesus is the Savior: “…’For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior,’…” (verse 11)
- Jesus is Lord: “…’who is Christ the Lord.’…” (verse 12)
(podcast of his message available here)
As I listened to his message and reflected on our earlier conversation, I couldn’t help but wonder: “Did I miss the point?” Somewhere around 2000 years ago, God became man and dwelt among us. Without this intervention in human history, we would be cut off from fellowship with God. We would stand condemned in our sins. We would be without hope of salvation. When Jesus came, that all changed. If we allow him to be our Lord and Savior, then his birth is good news indeed! What could cause us greater joy than to know that we are not separated from God? That we have hope?
Here I had been saying that I was ready for Christmas because I was almost done buying gifts?? This morning I was reminded that we might have bought every gift imaginable, and we could still be utterly unprepared for Christmas. Christmas is about a gift…but not the gifts that we give or get. It is about the gift of Jesus. It is about being his followers and doing his will.
Revisiting that conversation, I have to ask myself again: “Am I truly ready for Christmas?”