#53 – Two Sticks of God


The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

Many who have been around church for a certain length of time, likely have heard the description of these two different kinds of sticks that are described in Psalm 23.

The rod is usually described as an instrument of defense. It’s what the shepherd uses to smack a rogue beast on the head if it comes after his sheep.

The staff is the stereotypical stick-with-a-hook that a shepherd uses to guide and direct. The hook can pluck a wayward sheep out of a bush or a lake. For some reason, every picture I’ve ever seen of “The Good Shepherd” only has this one stick in his hand. Maybe because it would look super awkward to be standing there with two sticks.

One small tidbit I’d never heard before was how a rod (or staff…whatever) was also used by a shepherd to count their sheep. They’d hold it up – and have each one pass under – to make sure counting them one at a time would neither miss one nor double-count one. (Lev 27:32 is an example of this usage).

This Rod/Staff combo then is not only symbolic of protection and guidance – but also concern. The Shepherd wants to make sure he’s still got every sheep he started out the day with. Each one is important. There are other passages in scripture where this is spelled out more clearly (like the parable of the 1 sheep that goes missing from the other 99).

It’s not just that the shepherd will protect the sheep.

Or even that he will guide and rescue them.

He also counts them -and has concern that each is still there.


Which of these characteristics of Jesus as the Good Shepherd do you most deeply need to believe / feel / hear – right now?

That you are guarded?
That you have a guide?
That you count?


Good Shepherd,
Thank you for your protection,
your guidance,
your concern.
We especially pray today for the people of Ukraine.
Hundreds of thousands of people made in your image,
Suffering the brutality of evil, hatred, and pride.
Bring hope to the hurt.
Rescue to the lost
Be with those putting their own lives on the lives to help others.
Be their guiding, protecting, caring Shepherd even right now.


#52 – not just for funerals anymore


as a reminder – this is where we are in our movement through the 23rd Psalm

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

That one line is the one we hear every time a movie fades to a graveyard scene with a priest standing over a casket speaking “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death….”

But that line is actually so much more important than just funerals.

“Shadow of Death” feels like it only applies to that one moment at the end of your life. However, the Hebrew word tsalmaveth צַלְמָוֶת is what we’re looking at here. From tsel “a shadow” + maveth “death”. So literally the word in Psalm 23 is “death-shadow.” But this same Hebrew word occurs in many other places in the Bible and it’s usually translated into English as: deep darkness, deep shadow, thick darkness, dark, or even black gloom.

The word that becomes ‘evil’ that we are not to fear -is commonly translated as adversity, affliction, bad, calamity, displeasure, distress.

So perhaps its clearer for us to think of this verse as: Even when I walk through places of black-gloom-shadows, i will fear no bad thing.

The Message translates it as: Even when the way goes through Death Valley, I’m not afraid.

The line is not written in the future tense – but present. Now – as I walk through. Not -some time in the future when one time I will walk through.


So what?

So – this phrase, this idea, this Psalm is not just for funerals.

This idea that we don’t have to be afraid is meaningful to our everyday lives. It should be applicable whenever something bad/ scary/ dangerous/ threatening/ evil happens to us …in any way, at any time.

That’s when we should remember we have a good shepherd with us.

And we don’t need to be afraid.


What frightens you? What is scaring you right now – at this point in your life? What threatens (your reputation, resources, career, family, health, well-being, happiness, etc etc)

Re-read the Psalm – with that as your “valley of the shadow of death”. Something like this:

“Even though I walk through a week where I”m not sure my company will survive one more pay-day, I will fear nothing bad, For you are with me”


Good Shepherd,
you are with me.
Even when I don’t remember,
even when I don’t see it,
or feel it,
or even believe it.
Give me strength to walk through today’s valleys.

#51 – Path to what?


Every Monday at 6.45 I gather with a handful of other men on someone’s porch. Fellow believers who, for various reasons, also live here in Rwanda. One of them is probably 20 years older than me, but has experiences you would think would take several lifetimes to accumulate.

He’s been going through a season of change, potential transition, with a lot of confusion, and lack of clarity. The last few weeks he keeps coming back to what he feels the Lord is putting on his heart:

the journey is the destination.

Last week we looked at how the sheep in Psalm 23 are so content in their shepherd that they are less interested in things like water and grass than one would expect. Today is a brief passage -but at least for me packs a lot of punch in it. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Notice where the shepherd leads – not TO someplace (“a meadow” or “pasture” or something) – but ALONG some path. A path of righteousness.

The journey is the destination.

In the Psalm, King David doesn’t specify where this path leads or what he hopes it ends. We have already read that the shepherd leads beside still waters, and to green pastures – but it seems we’re still going.

I think sometimes we get convinced that the goal of following Jesus is to get to heaven – a twisted version of our understanding of this life. Yes – we WILL (by His grace) get there – but is that THE goal? Just limp through this life, dodging whatever evil and hurt in this life – so we can get to the next life?

The shepherd doesn’t just pick us up and take us to the destination – he allows us to walk, and leads us. There must be a reason for that.

(see – told you there was a lot in that tiny passage – and we haven’t even touched “for his name’s sake)


Reflect on how these three verses speak to you about the path you are following right now:

Psalm 119:105: “Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path,”
Psalm 119:9 “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to thy word.”
Clearly, the Bible is key to finding and following this path, but not all.

Romans 8:14, “All who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God.”
Without the leading of God’s Spirit – we may still go astray, even with the gift of his written word.

Where is the righteousness (rightness, God-honoring, justice, right-relationships) in the path?


Good Shepherd,
You have given me your word,
The example of your Son,
And the indwelling of your Spirit.
All of which help guide me.
But I’m easily distracted,
second-guess your instructions,
and just stubbornly ignore.
Forgive me.
Lead me.
Teach me on this journey.
Use me on this journey.

#50 – Do WHAT with the grass??


Last week we looked at only those opening words of Psalm 23 “he leads me..” – and I asked you to reflect on – if that’s even something you truly want.

Today we look at the phrase we skipped over, and the sentence after it: He makes me lie down in green pastures.He leads me beside still waters.He restores my soul.

For the longest time, this image didn’t really speak to me a whole lot. The thought of a fluffy, white sheep next to a babbling brook, in a lush green meadow, was pleasant. It gave feelings of comfort and safety.

But I never noticed what the sheep were NOT doing.

The sheep in this passage are not acting normally. They are walking past the water they would normally love to drink. They are laying down on the green grass they should want to eat. For some reason, they are so content that they are ignoring these material blessings they should want.

The way I see it, there are three reasons why we would not be drawn to things we want or even need.


We convince ourselves that we don’t have desires for ‘worldly things.’ Don’t misunderstand, we often have desires for things that are not good for us, and we should ask God to take away those desires as we fight against them ourselves. But food and water are not those things. Neither are a lot of other good things we can pretend we don’t want. We can pretend we don’t want friends, or that we don’t crave some level of acceptance by others. We can put on appearances that we aren’t bothered by things when deep down we really are. But this is clearly not a sustainable approach. We’re perhaps tricking ourselves for a time – but that’s it.


We have received so much recently that we’re satisfied. We can momentarily look past these things because we’ve recently received them. If you’re just rolling out of an all-you-can-eat buffet, walking past a donut shop may not hold any temptation. You don’t even care – because you can’t possibly eat any more. Maybe we are finding contentment in all the blessings God has given us. We have family, and health etc… However, we are still basing our contentment on things. Skye Jethani said of this approach, “When I seek contentment in God’s blessings my wants only subside temporarily, and they soon return, stronger than ever.” So perhaps the sheep have temporarily abated the desire for more because they are so full – but that desire will come back, likely stronger than before.


The third option is that they are so focused on the shepherd they don’t really pay as much attention to what he offers them. They have moved their eyes from the gift to the giver. Jethani finishes the above quote with: “When I learn to seek my satisfaction in God himself, however, the pleasures offered by the things of this world grow dim in comparison.⁠”

There is only one option above that is sustainable for real contentment. We can pretend we don’t need things, or binge on them, but eventually we will come back to desires for more. We will be discontent because we don’t have what we want, or think we need, or demand we deserve.

Focusing on the shepherd is the only way we can not be made discontent by the things of this world – even when they are good, and necessary.


Have a listen to the old hymn Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus – (perhaps Lauren Daigle’s rendition).
The line that directly addresses what we’re talking about today is: And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of his glory and grace.

What things of this world do you need to grow strangely dim?
What aspects of his glory and grace are you missing out on?
How can you make changes to your life – TODAY – that will allow you to dwell on these things more deeply, so that the others will grow more dim?


Good Shepherd,
help me to focus on you.
not on the problems,
not even on the solutions.
Not the hurts,
not the gifts.
Give me the clarity to turn my eyes upon you,
on your glory, on your grace,
so the things of this world grow strangely dim

#49 – Not so sure about that…

READ THISThe Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He leads me…..

Let’s just stop right there.

Yes, we’re not very far into this Psalm, but we need to take stock right upfront. It’s something that we can recite pretty easily – but if we stop to think about what that honestly means – we suddenly realize we’re not so sure.

This poem was written by David – someone who was referred to as “a man after God’s own heart.” (1 Sam 13:14; Acts 13:22). Yes, he was a deeply sinful man – committing a murder-adultery combo that few attempt. However, he was also deeply remorseful over his sin and was fully aware of his dependence on God.

David’s words and actions show he had a deep passion to follow Yahweh. He wanted to do what was right, to seek the Lord, to have more of him.

It wasn’t just that he wanted to be saved from his enemies (although he wanted that), he wanted Yahweh – for the sake of being with him. He wanted to be led by God, because he trusted him – not because he thought he’d get something from it.

He wanted God. Full stop. Not because he will get something. Not because he’ll be spared something. But because he wants God.

He wants to follow the shepherd.

That’s where we need to start. If we can’t get on board that desire right from the beginning – the rest of the Psalm will be fairly meaningless.

So let’s get that straight.


What part of your life is the part you just can’t give up? The parts where you are unwilling to be led by the Good Shepherd?
Examine your heart – really. Truly.
Do you really – honestly want to follow Jesus through this life?
Or are you more convinced you need to keep control? At least for a while? At least in that one area?
Before we look at the Shepherds Psalm any further – examine if you really – actually – want to be led by him.
Ask for the faith to follow. Ask for the courage to want to be led.


Lord you are the Good Shepherd,
yet I struggle to trust you.
I know you lead me in good ways,
to peaceful places.
You know what’s best,
yet I still want to lead myself.
Give me the courage to set my pride aside,
and follow your lead.

#48 – Not Just for cross-stitch


Today we’re going to start a series based on one of the best known, most widely used, most mis-understood, mis-directed parts of scripture:

Psalm 23

We all know it. Even people who know almost nothing of the Bible have some familiarity with both John 3:16 and Psalm 23.

It’s used in funerals, especially in movies and tv. It seems to often be quoted in strange situations. It’s made into posters, and is a solid contender for “scripture you most likely saw cross-stitched in someone’s grandma’s house as a child.”

But like so many things we get very familiar with, we can lose sight of it. It’s the ole’ ‘water to a fish’ situation.

However, it is anincredible teaching on contentment.

A sheep that lies down even when surrounded by food. It is not scared even when in scary situations. It can see and appreciate what is given to it by its shepherd. Sheep that find – to use Dallas Willard’s words, ‘a life without lack.’

So we’ll spend the next few weeks digging into The Shepherd’s Psalm.

Trying to understand more clearly how the truths that have always been there, actually have a lot to say to use about contentment in our lives today.


Read through Psalm 23 in a different version than you normally do, or even in a paraphrase (like The Message or The Amplified Bible). It’s actually really short – probably much shorter than you realise. Listen to it spoken to you

 Psalm 23Streetlights

Listen to one of these musical arrangements:

  • The House of God Forever – John Foreman
  • Psalm 23 (Surely Goodness, Surely Mercy) – Shane & Shane
  • Psalm 23 – Peter Furler
  • Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt, BWV 112 – J.S. Bach

Even do an image search – even if it’s just to see how our culture thinks of this Psalm. Look at how ‘the good shephard’ is portrayed. How many seem destined purely for children.


The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

#47 – Advent 4 – Contentment with who you are


One of the peculiarities of the Christmas story is the cast of characters. 

Joseph, who we are introduced to only because he is engaged to Mary. Otherwise, he seems to be a manual labourer from a small town in rural Palestine.

Mary, a teenage girl, who seems to have nothing significant about her before the story picks up.

Some farmworkers, who drew the short straw and had to work the night shift watching over grazing sheep.

The Magi / Wise Men are the only ones in the nativity story that are educated (scientists -which in that day included astrology) with respectable jobs (probably trusted advisors to the King they served). However, they likely don’t come for at least 40 days (and some say up to 2 years) later. 

We need to re-examine the nativity scene we think we know so well.

It’s full of poor, uneducated, rural, young.

So what?

The arrival of Jesus was a surprise to every human on earth (except Mary and Joseph, and a few others close to them)

But who played a role in that scene – who was present?

God plucked shepherds out of obscurity and they became people who have been portrayed in art more than any king or emperor.

There was Joseph who – through no doing of his own – became a key player in the story of God coming to earth. He was busy working as a carpenter, thinking about getting married and starting a family. Suddenly his name is coupled to the event that literally changed human history.

There is a young, unwed, pregnant girl. Whose identity is now synonymous with yielding faith, and whose name millions of Catholics and others recite every day of the year for the past several millennia.


What did these people do to become key players in God’s movement of history?


They were just living their lives, and they were obedient when called.

That for me is the Contentment of Advent.

We don’t have to struggle to be used by God.

We don’t have to hustle our way into his plan

We don’t have to figure out how to be a part of his movement. 

He will use us.
As we are.
Where we are.
Who we are.

We just – like Mary, Joseph, the shepherds – have to be willing to 



What are you trying to do – to become – to get – to accomplish —SO THAT you may be used of God?

Think about where you are right now. How much more influence you have than the shepherds. How much more education, and resources than Joseph. How much more of the story you know than Mary.

What can you do RIGHT NOW – TODAY – to respond to God’s call.

What can you do NOW – to play your part in His story?


God with us,
I don’t understand why you choose to work through the people you do.
I don’t even know why you want to include me,
or how.
But I trust that you do.
Give me ears to hear what you are calling me to,
and eyes to see the needs,
that are right around me,
right where I am
right now.
Exactly as I am.

I trust that your story is big enough to include even people like
Mary, and Joseph, and the shepherds,
and me.


#46 – Advent 3: Happiness to the World, the Good has Come

It’s that time of year again, when suddenly the word “joy” becomes part of everyday language. After the 26th it will basically return to its 11-month hibernation for most people, but for Christians, it should not. 

One of the impacts of having a word that cycles through cultural seasons, is that it’s easy for its true meaning to be missed. Like ‘resolution’ at New Year’s, and “Giving Thanks” just a while ago, the ideas that are associated with “joy” around Christmas by most of our society are not helpful.

For most people: 
joy = happiness
Which is really too bad.

The Biblical idea of Joy is similar to the concept of contentment.
Whereas happiness is dependant on circumstances, contentment and joy are not.

You can have joy in the midst of pain, the same as contentment.
You can have joy when things look bleak, just like contentment.

Joy, like contentment, is so much bigger, so much more powerful, so much more impactful than mere happiness.
Emotions like happiness are fleeting. 
They are our responses to things that happen to us.

When something infuriating happens to us, we get angry.
When something disappointing happens, we get sad.
When something good happens to us we become happy.

But Joy – true joy – does not come and go like a mere emotional response. 
Joy is similar to happiness in some ways – but so different.
We can have joy in the midst of pain. We can have joy during sorrow. We can have joy despite sadness.

But only when we have Joy that originates outside of ourselves. 
Our happiness is what comes out from inside us, when something happens.
Joy is something that we are given. It’s not something we need to try harder to have, but something we merely accept.


Sit for a minute and think about all the ‘problems’ present that first Christmas. An unwed teenage girl giving birth in a town far from her family without a proper place to stay – for starters. 

Maybe read the story from the Gospel of Luke in a paraphrase, so it hits you differently. (like The Message

Yet there was Joy. Joy to the world, for the Lord has finally come. Come to save all people. So even though all problems didn’t dissapear that night, the final solution to them did come. 

Knowing that is what brings true, lasting, JOY.


God with us,
You came so that our Joy may be complete,
So that we may know true Joy.
You didn’t take away all the pain of this world,
you didn’t make all sin and sickness disappear.
yet you offered us joy.
Help us to believe thathelp us to receive that
Give us strength to live in that Joy
Give us courage to share it with others.

#45 – Advent 2 – PTSD, Advent, and family road trips


Are we there yet?

Are we there yet?

Are we there yet?

One thing we specifically find hard to wait for is when what we’re experiencing is not what we want.

It’s one thing to wait for your birthday to come as a kid, but in the meantime, you ride your bike with your friends, go to school, play, etc etc.

Normal day, normal day, normal day, normal day…….BIRTHDAY PARTY FOR ME DAY.

That’s not such a bad kind of waiting, because things are “normal”… then get better.

I’ve recently had what feels like a relapse in PTSD symptoms, but am told is actually a good sign that additional processing, healing, progress is being made. But I continue to live with the reality that I’m still not ‘back to normal’

This is not the same kind of waiting.

It’s more like:
Worse than normal, worse than normal, worse than normal ——> when does this end?

I sometimes just feel like that kid stuck in the back of the 1981 Ford Econoline van with his 4 siblings driving across the prairies to get to Grandma’s house for Christmas Eve. In that kind of pitch-black that only comes from living so far north that the sun sets mid-afternoon in late December. Hours, upon hours, upon hours it seems.

Are we there yet?
Are we there yet?
What about NOW?
How much longer?

Advent in some ways is the kid-waiting-for-his-birthday kind of waiting.
We continue with our normal lives and know that there will be a pleasant change at the end.

Normal day, normal day, normal day, normal day………. CHRISTMAS.

However, as creatures made in the image of God, we constantly long for something more than this fallen world has to offer.

Things around us are broken.
Life is hard.
Bad things happen to those we love.
Addictions are real.
Racism abounds.
People starve.
Friends betray.

The miracles we see Jesus performing in the Bible were in many ways Him pulling back the curtain to what originally was, and what will be when He comes again

He heals a man who can’t walk – as there will be no sickness.
He multiplies bread and fish – as there will be no hunger.
He calms the storm – as there will be no fear
He raises his friend Lazarus from the grave – as there will be no death.

THAT is what we long for, even when we don’t realize it.

We were not created to be trapped in the back of a van in the dark.

We were meant to be at our grandmother’s house, full of cousins, and relatives, and food, and drink, and presents, and singing, and laughing.

THAT is what our souls long for…and we will be restless in this waiting until we get there.

THAT is the other kind of Advent waiting. We know things aren’t right yet…but they won’t always be this way.


Here is the most famous quotation from St Augustine’s confessions:

You are great, O Lord, and greatly to be praised. Great is your power, and of your wisdom, there is no measure. And yet we want to praise you—we who are some part of your creation.
We also carry our mortality about with us, carry the evidence of our sin and with it the proof that you thwart the proud. You arouse us so that praising you brings us joy.
For you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.

Augustine lived a life of influence, power, money, friends, in what is now Algeria. When he was a bit older, he realized his life was empty. It’s like he understood he wasn’t living a constant “every-day-IS-my-birthday” kind of reality – but more of a “are we there yet?” world troubled by sin.

What does this mean to you?
Where does your heart feel restless?
What do you think your heart SHOULD feel restless about?


A Prayer of Augstine:

My God,
let me know and love you,
so that I may find my happiness in you.
Since I cannot fully achieve this on earth,
help me to improve daily until I may do so to the full.
Enable me to know you ever more on earth,
so that I may know you perfectly in heaven.
Enable me to love you ever more on earth,
so that I may love you perfectly in heaven.
In that way my joy may be great on earth,
and perfect with you in heaven.
O God of truth, grant me the happiness of heaven
so that my joy may be full in accord with your promise.
In the meantime let my mind dwell on that happiness,
my tongue speak of it,
my heart pine for it,
my mouth pronounce it,
my soul hunger for it,
my flesh thirst for it,
and my entire being desire it
until I enter through death in the joy of my Lord forever.

#44 – Advent 1 – I’m Afraid You’ll Have to Wait for This

Contentment for Advent

(seems like there must be a clever wordplay there…but I keep coming back to ConVent…and I’m not quite sure that captures what we’re talking about here)

Advent Week 1: I hate waiting


Normally when I make a statement about something I like or dislike, I assume some people will agree, some will not. Waiting, however, is something so antithetical to a modern western worldview that it’s essentially impossible to imaging anyone disagreeing with my hatred of it.

Waiting is inefficient. Waiting means someone is not doing their job well, or well enough, or fast enough. Waiting means we don’t get to a few more things on our to-do list. Waiting means I reflexively pull out my phone because I HAVE to do SOMETHING.

Generally speaking we – as people – wait poorly.

We jockey for the quickest lane of traffic, the shortest line at the check-out, the fastest route home, the quickest path to get done.

Don’t get me wrong – I am just as much an ‘efficiency junky’ as anyone else – if no more so. And I still struggle with if/how/how much/ when that’s a good thing or completely not. Getting stuff done is great…right? But what about when our drive to get things done means we can’t stand any interruption into those plans.

What about when my push to not have to wait means I use the self-checkout (which I love) and online banking (which I honestly can’t live without) and shopping online (which I don’t know how I lived without)…..until suddenly I am so isolated from every other person that my day is spent optimizing human interaction right out of my life for the sake of not having to waste my time waiting ever, for anyone?

But advent really – at its core – is all about waiting.
Reflecting back to the people of God as they waited for hundreds of years for their Messiah to arrive.
Opening the doors of advent calendars, slowly counting down the days.
Consecutively lighting one more of the four candles every week as we anticipate celebrating the coming of the Chosen One.
As we look to the future for the coming back of that same Messiah.

For me, the hardest kind of waiting – for sure – is when the end is not known. Living in a culture that is drastically and fundamentally different from the one I grew up in means there are so many events that I just don’t understand. Things that I would have some sense of when they finish if I were in Canada, but I don’t here.

When is this road construction going to be finished?
OK, but WHEN is this new building going to be opened?
What do you mean by “SOON”
Why isn’t this task already done, I was told ‘almost’
How long will I stand in this line waiting to get my phone registered?
What do you mean the power is out, come back some other time?

These things put me on edge because I have no real sense of the ending. Which in some ways is the part I LOVE about advent.
Advent starts + Four Sundays ——> Christmas.
But at its heart, it’s of course so much more than that.
Christ first coming + WE HAVE NO IDEA ——> Christ Returns

That’s a hard kind of waiting. We live in what is so often called the ‘already, yet not yet’, the Saturday between Good Friday and Sunday. But we have no guess at all as to how much longer it lasts.

That’s probably good for us.

Forced to wait.


This is simple: go here. Every year for both Advent and Lent the Center for Christianity, Culture, and the Arts at Biola University puts together a daily series that includes: a piece of visual art, a poem, a piece of music, and a devotional thought all entered around a short biblical text. Every year they have a common theme that ties them all together. This Advent the theme is Canticles – those short songs found scattered throughout the Biblical narrative. I highly, highly, really, very much recommend it.


God outside of time,
you have created us finite in time and space.
We have been created with a sense of our own limited mortality,
and we have developed a sense of getting things done.
Give us rest,
Give us hope,
Give us peace…
In the waiting.
Help us to not just grit our teeth until it’s over,
But help us see what you are doing,
even in us,
during the waiting.