Sunday, 26 July 2015

Words of hope and promise for parents dealing with guilt

You left this morning without -
making your bed,
putting your clothes away,
picking up your toys.

You left this morning without -
locking the door,
putting gas in the car,
cutting the grass.

You left this morning without -
feeding the cat,
walking the dog,
putting the garbage out.

You left this morning without -
checking the mail,
watering the plants,
picking up the newspaper.

For all these things you didn't do, I shook my head and cursed.

I didn't love you perfectly.
When you were small -
I didn't always walk slow enough, bend down far enough, or give you my full attention.

I didn't love you perfectly.
When you were a child -
I didn't always wipe away your tears when you were sad, hug you enough when you felt deserted, or sit with you when you were lonely.

I didn't love you perfectly.
When you were a teenager -
I didn't always enjoy taking you to the movies, watching you play ball in the rain, or picking you up from the mall.

I didn't love you perfectly. And, now that you're all grown up...

You left this morning without -
saying "Good-bye".

For this one last thing you didn't do, I hung my head and cried.

And, in that moment of despair, I heard someone whisper my name. You know the one, don't you? Jesus? He reminded me that though my love for you may have been imperfect, his love is perfect. Welcome him into your life, and he'll never ask you to say, "Good bye". He'll stop when you say, "Wait for me". He'll bend down when you say, 'I have something to tell you". He'll be your friend when you say, "I'm lonely". He'll cry when you cry, and laugh when you laugh. He will be a father, a friend, a brother like you've never had! For all my broken promises and more, you can hang your hat on this because he's my friend, too. He won't let you down.


Sunday, 19 July 2015

A God-moment never to be forgotten

Picture courtesy of Heather DH (Burlington CRC)
This one's tough. Not because I don't know what to say...I don't know how to say it and give it the justice it deserves. (I'm also hesitant to label what I'm about to write as a 'God moment', because I think it limits God! God's complete omnipresence and omniscience is foundational to my Christian belief. However, I think most readers will understand what is meant by a God I'm sticking with it!)

What I witnessed at this past Wednesday's worship service was proof positive that the postmodern 'God is Dead Movement' is dead wrong. He is alive and he was present among the 47 youth who came to Burlington this past week on a Youth Unlimited SERVE mission trip. Through their personal testimonies, these teens, hailing from parts of the US Midwest and Ontario, confirmed God's faithfulness to his promise of sending his Holy Spirit to believers and to their children and to all who are far off (Acts 2:39). Picture many of the 47 teens singing loudly, clapping, and dancing to 'Days of Elijah'; doing a jig to the bridge 'There's no God like Jehovah'; followed by a soulful and equally moving 'When Peace like a River/It is Well with my Soul. The first written in 1994 and the second in 1876! Penned more than a century apart, these songs were used to praise and worship God by teens in 2015 - most of whom were born around Y2K!

I'm one of those guys who experienced my teenage years in the 1980's. If you happened to be a member of a Reformed, or another conservative, Protestant church at that time, then it was fairly typical to look at those who raised their hands in worship, or say 'AMEN' aloud, with a crooked brow and question their brand of Christianity. I don't know when and why it happened, but somehow raising arms and clapping hands in worship to God became unacceptable. Kneeling was also frowned upon...perhaps it smacked of too much 'Catholicity'. I'm afraid that in the zeal of our Protestant forefathers and mothers, they threw 'the baby out with the bathwater.' Makes me think what are we going to do in Heaven?

Music was sacrosanct - much like it is today. Apparently, the organ and the occasional trumpet and French horn were the only instruments allowed in the Holy of Holies. I think that's what the psalmist really meant when he said "Praise him with the tambourine and dancing; praise him with strings (guitars?) and flutes"! (Psalm 150:4) As a teen, the only acceptable Christian songs, that were not in a Christian hymnal, were Kum Bayah, We are One in the Spirit, and Michael Row Your Boat Ashore. We were cautioned to handle musicians such as Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith with care and a modicum of suspicion, while Christian metal bands like Stryper were scorned and condemned for being to AC/DC 'ish.

Today, it's usually the older songs that I learned as a child, or heard my parents sing, that speak in louder volumes and are more spiritually meaningful to me than the newer music - with a few exceptions. And, the conservative styles of worship that are loved by older and younger generations alike have both equally beautiful and God honouring elements. I can't emphasize the importance of quiet, reflective, and reverend worship enough. But, participating with these teens as they sang both old and new, praise and worship songs with equal enthusiasm and passion for our Lord brought me to silence. I couldn't sing. So, lifting my hands in praise and adoration, I could only pray and thank God for granting me the joy to watch and experience almost 50 youth singing and praising his name.

If only there was a kneeling bench!

Sunday, 12 July 2015

A man and his tattered toy elephant

Ever see an adult clutching a stuffed toy or holding a blanket close to his or her face? I did last Sunday; and admittedly - I had to look twice, because it's not something you see everyday. I saw an adult man holding a stuffed toy very close to his chest. Accompanied by his caregiver/guide, this man, with apparent special needs, was a visitor in our church so I don't know his story. However, this scene of a man holding his tattered toy elephant got me to think...and smile.

What if we carried around with us a special blanket, a piece of cloth, or a stuffed animal? And, when we were upset or nervous we would hold it up close to our face and the world would return to its peaceful state? Imagine if that was the norm. We would get ready for work and run a checklist through our head - wallet ... yup .... keys ... yup ... lunch ... yup ... teddy bear ... yup. What if you didn't like to carry 'things' but liked to suck your thumb, pinky finger, or even a plastic soother? In today's culture, you'd be looked upon as quirky, in need of professional help...or needed simply to be left alone!

If you think about it, it's really not far-fetched. The truth is many of us carry around items, or engage in habits that we've adopted as adults to give us the 'comfort' we need; and we've become chained to them. We've exchanged our blankets and chew toys for cigarettes, alcohol, and sex. We've traded our thumbs for the casino, fast cars, and the latest pair of shoes. Food. Fashion. Alcohol. Cars. Houses. Hollywood. These things, in and of themselves of are not bad, but we can pour ourselves into them in hopes they'll bring us happiness...and the comfort that internally we all crave and seek to secure. Subtlety, our comforts become our chains and what once provided self-security becomes our jail keeper.

I've been sucked in, too. As a university student, I started engaging in excessive behaviors in search for my own comfort. Wracked by what was undiagnosed anxiety at the time, unknowingly I turned to harmful substances as a way to cope. Instead of turning to the faith preciously handed to me from my parents, schools, and church, I turned to the 'Porcelain God' and became an eager 'Bedside Believer'.

However, on a bed, tucked away at the back of a house in Eastown, Grand Rapids, MI, I remember  praying to God and saying these exact words, "Please God, whatever faith I still have in you, do not let me lose it! Please don't let me go." I knew that what I was doing was counter to God's will. You see - I still believed there was evil in the world.  And, since I believed there was such a thing as evil, then rationally I had to believe that holiness and righteousness were also present. So, whenever I remembered to do so I prayed that prayer.

This year - 2015 - marks twenty five years since graduating university. My life has changed radically. I'm no longer held by chains that were masterfully disguised as comfort. I'm thankful that God has released me from 'servitude' to things into 'service' to Him. Has it been easy? No. But, God met me where I was - he had been with me all along and was waiting patiently. He has truly only comfort in life, and in death. He is neither fake nor imaginary...he is real, and you'll never have to re-sew any toy limbs that have fallen off from too much lovin'!

Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 1

Q. What is your only comfort
in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own,1
but belong—
body and soul,
in life and in death—2
to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.3

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,4
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.5
He also watches over me in such a way6
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven;7
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.8

Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life9
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.10

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Never found a friend quite like him again

I hadn't seen him in quite awhile. Slightly older, a little greyer, but my Dad's friend still had the same gentle voice as I had remembered. Time seemed to stop as we talked outside the front of the hardware store. We were only steps away from the same lumber yard where years earlier - before I was of school age - my Dad and I would visit almost every Tuesday, where he would catch up with his friends.

It didn't take long for us to start reflecting on things past...and the one person we had in common - my Dad. It doesn't happen as often as it used to, but I felt tears welling up when he said, "I still miss Don. He was 12 years older than me, but I've never found a friend quite like him again." Sixteen years after my dad died and I had just learned something special about him! I thought the bank containing memories of my Dad was as full as it was ever going to be.

I had never heard someone describe my Dad in that way - as a person whose friendship he's "never been able to find again". Dad and I were just starting to become friends when God called him home so suddenly and unexpectedly on April 30, 1999. So, I got a sense of what this man was saying as he described their friendship. He continued to tell me how they were always on the 'same page'. They looked at life through the same lens, and they were able to identify with one another. I saw, in that moment, the gift of friendship that this man had received through the knowing of my that I have never been able to fully know.

I saw Jesus that day. I saw him weeping at the grave of his friend Lazarus. I saw him moved and troubled by the sorrow that was being expressed by Lazarus' friends. Jesus' humanity allowed him to feel the brokenness of this world that sin has caused, and he felt the impact of death's cold hand upon their lives. I heard him call to his friend, "Lazarus, come out." And, I heard him command, "Unbind him and let him go." John 11:1-45. And, death released his friend.

As life goes on, and death steals our loved ones away, we may never find the same type of friendships again here on earth. But Jesus has been there. He knows what it means to lose a friend. He has cried and I believe he cries with us when we mourn lost friendships. And, when we find new friends and laugh together, I believe Jesus laughs and smiles like proud parents would smile as they watch their children laugh and play with new found friends.

This morning, while getting ready to attend our worship service, I was singing, "What a friend we have in Jesus." Unknowingly, I would again hear this same song quoted by our pastor as he described how John Scriven, the author of this song, penned the words after losing not one, but two fiancĂ©es just days prior to the weddings. After losing two special people in his life, he was still able to say:

"Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
Take it to the Lord in prayer."

If you've ever lost a friend whose friendship you feel you've been unable to replace, know that Jesus' friendship is greater than any earthly friendship will ever be. Take comfort, we'll be separated from our friends who have died in Christ for only a short time. Our separation is not permanent.

And, one day when Jesus returns, I'll hear him say to my Dad, "Don, come out. Unbind him and let him go." And, we'll be able to catch up...I'll ask him to take me to his favourite lumber yard...and we'll hang out...maybe go out for a chocolate dipped DQ style ice cream cone. 'Cause I'm sure if ice cream cones had been invented when John wrote Revelation, he would have included it in his description of The Golden City, The New Jerusalem!

A stumble, a tear and a rainbow

Greeted by a surprise rainbow on Mom's birthday! It was at a dressed up gravesite that 40 or 50 people gathered around last Tuesday,...