Monday, 13 September 2021

Moving forward, making space for grief

Students in the Smithville Christian High School Class of 2025 need to talk to each other and talk to God, they were told.

On Friday of their first week of high school – a week in which one of their classmates tragically died – the students gathered for their Grade 9 Blast. They started the morning with a chapel, to which their parents were also invited. Spiritual life director Gord Park told the students that he had prepared a talk about the power of friendship to transform our experiences, but the death of Morgan changed everything.

Morgan Caissie

“We are all shocked,” Park said. “We are numb, confused, maybe angry.”

Some students knew Morgan as a classmate. Some worked with him at a summer camp. Others were just getting to know him, Park said. “We don’t know what we are supposed to do, what we are supposed to say, or even what we are supposed to feel.”

Grade 9 students and their parents at the opening chapel
of the 2021 Grade 9 Blast.

The feelings – and the uncertainty – are all normal, Park said, and we may experience them shifting. “We may be crying one moment, and a few minutes later, you may find yourself laughing.” And then you might feel guilty about that. But students don’t need to feel guilt, “because you are going through grief.”

Spiritual Life Director, Gord Park

Park told the students that God’s heart for them is to get through the grief, “because I want to tell you a great truth about Morgan: Morgan and Jesus were friends. Morgan and Jesus *are* friends. Park said Morgan’s theme verse was Isaiah 12:2.

Surely God is my salvation;
               I will trust and not be afraid.
The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense;
               he has become my salvation.

In the gospel of John, Jesus promises his followers that he is their friend.  That confidence in the love and friendship of God can carry us forward, Park said. God is always with us, even when we are hurting. We are not going through this alone. God is an amazing friend, who desires to be our comfort and strength. Take time to connect with God – to read the Bible, to pray, to listen to worship music, to listen for the voice of God.

Park told students that in addition to talking to God, they need to reach out to friends – the ones you already have and the ones you are going to make. Being a new student at Smithville Christian means you can reach out to people who don’t know you. “Be friendly. Be a friend," Park said. "That’s what building good community is all about – being friendly, being a good friend, and putting Jesus in the middle of your friendship.”

We may be missing Morgan and want to honour his memory, but we can do that by reaching out to help each other and allowing God to help us, Park said.

He then invited students who knew Morgan from elementary school and summer camp to pay tribute to their friend, and one by one they came forward to talk about Morgan’s kindness, his jokes, his love for animals, and his ability to make others laugh.

Park said the best way to honour Morgan’s memory is to continue sharing stories and to do what Morgan did when he befriended a new student, making him feel like he belonged in a place when he was really scared. Park also urged students to both laugh and cry. “Take time to take care of yourself, and know you are not alone.”

Park concluded by praying a prayer of blessing on the students. He also prayed for God to turn the pain of losing a classmate into an opportunity for the students to experience comfort by being good friends to each other and building a strong community that cares for each other. Park also prayed for Morgan’s family.

The Grade 9 Blast continued with games, good food, and many opportunities for the students to relax and get to know each other. The school had a pastor and a counsellor on hand to meet one-on-one with students or staff, and students were reminded of the additional supports available to them as the school year gets underway.

Thursday, 11 February 2021

Living well

Weekly chapels are a highlight for students and staff at Smithville Christian High School. The regular opportunity to be together as a whole school – worshipping, learning, and celebrating together – builds both community and participants’ faith.

Throughout the pandemic, Smithville Christian has continued with chapels, using Zoom and custom-built pages on the school website to share content. When we are able to be in school, students join the chapel with their classmates, tuning in on a screen each of their first period classrooms. When we are learning and working from home, the school hosts large Zoom meetings, with as many as 150 screens joining at once. Some weeks, student praise teams have also been leading worship – masked and safely distanced, on stage in the lounge.

At this week's chapel, we celebrated what our students are doing by sharing a video of a "typical" day in Grade 9 English class, made by students. (You can find the link at the end of this post.)

Our chapel speaker was teacher Stu Bender, who said the experience of living through a pandemic is similar to what the Israelites experienced when they were in exile in Babylon. God’s message to them, through the prophet Jeremiah, is relevant to us today. God told them to continue living life to the fullest, and to seek the prosperity and wholeness of those around them.

Living well is good advice for us today, Bender told students – speaking from the gym via Zoom, and with his students masked and safely seated at a distance on the other side of the room.

“Don’t dwindle away,” said Bender, quoting Jeremiah 29:6 from the New Living Translation. “Promote the welfare” of those around you.

Bender offered suggestions for ways students can live well in their current situation.

·        Look for God in the little things around you, like sunshine or starlight.

·        Learn a new skill, like knitting, or playing the guitar.

·        Be kind to people, bring joy to those around you.

·        Send a letter or a card through the mail, the old-fashioned way.

·        Do your best at your schoolwork – it’s your current vocation.

·       Rebel against your phone – put it out of sight so it is out of mind and you aren’t tempted to scroll endlessly. To live life to it's fullest, you need to be present and fully living in the world, rather than living behind a screen.

·        Be proud to wear a mask.

Bender said no one likes wearing a mask, but with the current pandemic guidelines, wearing a mask is one of the best ways you can live well and help others live well too.

“You are protecting people,” he said, “especially the most vulnerable in our communities. You are protecting the teacher who has health concerns, or you are protecting someone’s grandparent.”

Mr. Bender shared the worship song “This is Living” by Hillsong Young and Free, and said the lyrics are worth keeping in mind as we look for the good that is happening in our lives.

Waking up knowing there's a reason
All my dreams come alive
Life is for living with You
I've made my decision

You lift me up, fill my eyes with wonder
Forever young in Your love
This freedom's untainted with You
No moment is wasted

See the sun now bursting through the clouds
Black and white turns to colour all around
All is new, in the Savior I am found

This is living now
This is living now

You lead the way, God You're right beside me
In Your love I'm complete
There's nothing like living with You
This life You created, I choose

See the sun now bursting through the clouds
Black and white turn to color all around
All is new, in the Savior I am found

This is living now
This is living now

You take me higher than I've been before
It's Your perfect love that sees me soar
God your freedom is an open door
You are everything I want and more

Maybe I ain't really know what livin' is
Is it love, if it was, am I livin' it?
Do I live in it? (yeah) So astounding
Love is an ocean, you can drown me
The sweet embrace, the lovely taste, I taste and see I'm under grace, the place to be
It means I'll never need an umbrella
I'm cool in the cold and the hot weather
Whether or never I ever, understand I'm a man in the hands of great plans
I stand with faith in a life I never known or touched, it's still outside my clutch but
I'm like what's to dream of? What's to hope in? What's to die for? Live to no end
This is living, the life I've been given's a gift
If I'mma live it, I'mma live it to death
So what's to dream of? What's to hope in? What's to die for? And live to no end
This is living, the life I've been given's a gift
If I'mma live it, I'mma live it to death

This is living now
This is living now

You take me higher than I've been before
It's Your perfect love that sees me soar
God your freedom is an open door
You are everything I want and more

A "typical" day in Grade 9 English class.

Monday, 30 March 2020

Setting our minds and hearts on what we know is certain

Spiritual Life Director Gord Park, who is also Smithville Christian High School’s longest serving staff member, has some perspective on the turmoil of our coronavirus-infected world that is good for all of us. This is a devotion he shared – remotely of course – with his drama students. May it be a blessing and comfort to you too. 

This is different for all of us. None of us feel comfortable about learning this way, because it is so new to all of us. Me too! We need to learn so much more about how to do things together, and yet from our homes. Weird!
Mr. Park speaking at an earlier Smithville Christian High School chapel.
Let's talk about that. Right now, there is so much going on all around the world, that is causing a lot of uncertainty and fear. We're all shut away, doing what we can to help, and don't know for how long, and what it will all mean in the future.

I don't like not knowing any more than anybody.

So here is what I am doing.

I'm setting my mind and heart on what I know is certain. On what will never change. On what will always be true, always be hope, always be love.
Mr. Park speaking at an earlier Smithville Christian High School chapel.
Yup. I'm doing all I can to keep bringing my thoughts back to Jesus, because He promises that He is always with us.  He's always with you too.  Right now! As you read this little note, Jesus is with you, all around you, for you are in His presence always.  The key is to keep reminding yourself of that, and taking a moment, especially when you are starting to think about more troubling things (like starting study online) to remember that Jesus loves you, and that He is with you, and He will see you and your family through this.

In 2 Chronicles 20 (look it up - you've got time), we see the story of King Jehoshaphat. Israel is about to be attacked by a huge invading army. It's overwhelming. Fear and uncertainty begins to grip the nation.

So what does he do? He calls the nation to worship and pray. I won't get into the whole story (as great as it is), but I want you to pay attention to the end of verse 12. "We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you."

That's the key. Keep your eyes on God.

If you read the rest of the story, they simply go forward worshipping God - and ... Well, you read the story. 
Mr. Park speaking at an earlier Smithville Christian High School chapel.
What we are doing is right, by staying home. It's one way to show the world we care. But continue to pray for God's healing, and continue to fill your thoughts with Him through worship, or whatever. Keep your eyes on Jesus. He's got you, your family, the whole world - in His hands.

(You can sing that if you want.) :) 

Saturday, 30 November 2019

Be yourself

Our final chapel of Spiritual Emphasis Week 2019 began with Madeleine, of student praise team Ignite, reminding students “of how blessed we are as a school.” She encouraged students to enjoy the presence of God and the presence of each other. “Don’t worry about anything else. Focus on God and what he has done for you and can do for you,” she said. The praise team led in worship with “Glorious Day” and “Love Like This.”

Spiritual Life Director Gordon Park shared Matthew West’s song, “Hello My Name Is” and recapped the messages Mike Gordon had shared this week, based on the biblical story of Jacob. 

We each need to know our unique identity and be content with it. Wanting to have what someone else has or wanting to be like someone else leads to discontentment, Park reminded students. When we pay attention to the dreams and desires God has placed within us, we will experience true peace and contentment. God has already given us all we need to be the person God created us to be, Park said.

Turning to the continuation of Jacob’s story, found in Genesis 32:24-29, Park described Jacob’s encounter with the presence of God in a dream. Jacob was by himself, which is what we also must be willing to do in order to “get into the throne room of God.” After wrestling with God, Jacob asked for God’s blessing. What is different in Jacob’s life now is that he is no longer trying to be someone else, Park said. Instead of pretending he is Esau, his brother, which he did in order to gain his father’s blessing, Jacob is now willing to own his unique identity, Park said.

Like Jacob, we can also try to be someone else, to wander away from who we really are, and end up getting involved with things we shouldn’t.

“God says you be you,” Park told students. “God already knows who you are, but do you know who you are?”

Park said it’s important to reflect on our identity as people who are redeemed by God. He invited students to think of a number between 1 and 7 and then to consider how a corresponding biblical identity statement was something God wanted them to know about themselves right now.

1.      I am free forever from sin’s power. Romans 6:14
2.      I am a light in the darkness. Matthew 5:14
3.      I am hidden with Christ in God. Psalm 32:7
4.      I am kept by the power of God. 1 Peter 1:5
5.      I am secure in Christ. John 10: 28-29
6.      I am more than a conqueror. Romans 8:37
7.      I am sheltered under God’s wing. Psalm 91:4

“Ask yourself, why is that true of me today?” Park said. “All of these statements are true of you, but why that one today?”

God has placed a dream inside of you and when you own your identity in Christ, accepting who Jesus is and what he has accomplished for you, you will be able to find your way. There may be times when you struggle, but those struggles are also part of God’s claim on your life.

“Thank God for who you are and then go after your dreams. Your dreams and potential are enormous,” Park said. “Never think that your past mistakes could have forfeited God’s love for you. Who you are is you God created you to be, stop trying to be someone else.”

The praise team closed out the final chapel with “Who You Say I Am,” “Lay Me Down,” “You Make Me Brave,” and “We Are Free.”

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Own it. Live it.

We all experience awkwardness – those moments when something happens to us or something we say or do causes us to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed.

Mike Gordon, the chapel speaker for Smithville Christian High School’s annual Spiritual Emphasis Week, said when he was in Grade 6 and assigned a role for a skit in a school assembly, he totally missed his cue.

He found himself on stage, loudly delivering his lines, at completely the wrong time. Later, when he was a new student enrolled at Bible college, he was told by some other students that he was equally out of step, that he didn’t belong.

 “If someone had told me then, ‘Mike, you are going to be on the stage quite a lot,’ I would have said ‘no, no, no, no, no.’ ”

Fast forward to today, when he is a sought-after speaker, travelling and preaching and spending much of his working life on stage – often in front of thousands of people.

Gordon said he found his calling by accepting his uniqueness and the plan God made for him. “Deep inside of me, God placed a desire in me,” and it was only when he stopped trying to be like the other seminarians and theology students that he was able to thrive in his unique ministry.

But simply recognizing his gifts didn’t mean he was suddenly a successful speaker. Gordon said he had to work hard to prepare himself.

The Biblical story of Jacob has a similar pattern. Jacob tricked his brother and deceived his father in order to get what he thought he wanted. He gained it, but then had to flee for his life. In a dream, God revealed to Jacob the purpose and plan for his life: “that his descendants would be like the dust of the earth that can’t be counted. They will spread out to the west and to the east. They will spread out to the north and to the south. All nations on earth will be blessed because of you and your children after you.” (Genesis 28:14). In order to achieve that plan, of being a father to many descendants, the culture of Jacob’s time and place required that he work to earn his wife. So that’s what he did.

“The turning point for Jacob was when he started tying into the plans God had for him,” Gordon said.

“What’s your dream?” Gordon asked students. “What’s your desire? When you look deep down inside yourself, what has God put in your heart? What desires has God put there?”

Many people find that a difficult question to answer, he said.

Gordon said students at Smithville Christian High School, who are part of the post-millennial generation, can struggle with a question like that. “It is said that this generation is apathetic, that it has lost the ability to dream.”

That could be due to the pressure of social media, and being inundated with the accomplishments and successes of others. “We become scared to dream, because it is safer not to dream than it is to put yourself out there and follow the desires God has put on your heart.”

Gordon said no matter how old you are or what stage of life you are at, there are three questions you can ask yourself that can help you answer the bigger question of what is God’s plan for your life.

What is your passion?
What are your talents?
What are your motivations?

Gordon invited students to ask and answer these questions with the people sitting around them, and to keep asking and answering these questions all their lives.

Gordon said he is confident that if we can tap into our passions, talents, and motivations, we will find ourselves lining up with the desires God has placed in us, and we will experience deep peace and contentment.

“Stop looking at what everyone else is doing and focus on what God has planned for you,” he said. Then take the necessary steps and do the necessary work to get there.

“Own it. Live it.”

Student praise team “Amplified” led in worship with “One Way,” “Reckless Love,” “Touch the Sky,” and “Happy Day.”

Discussion questions
·        What are you passionate about?
·        What are you good at?
·        When you see what’s happening around you, what motivates you to make a difference in the world?
·        How do those three things connect with our uniqueness and God’s plan for our lives?
·        How can your dreams glorify God?

The final chapel of Spiritual Emphasis Week starts at 12:30 on Friday. All are welcome!

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

What makes you feel discontent?

Smithville Christian’s Spiritual Emphasis Week speaker Mike Gordon said he got married last year, but when he was younger, he had a few dating mishaps.

“I don’t know if this has happened to you but I have had some awkward dating moments,” he said. Like the time he accidentally smacked the most popular girl in his biology class, or the time he tried to impress Sarah, “who played the drums.”

Gordon learned that Sarah was an avid snowboarder, so he decided the best way to get her attention would be to be interested in snowboarding too. He read about snowboarding, talked about snowboarding, and pretended “I was super duper into snowboarding.” All seemed to be going fine until the day Sarah and some friends invited Gordon to join them on a day trip to a resort in Quebec.

“Sometimes love makes you do stupid things,” he said, explaining the $1,100 he spent on new boots, bindings, and a snowboard so he could join the trip and “fake I know how to snowboard. How hard could it be?”

Gordon said he started his first descent down the mountain, falling every 15 feet until he landed hard and suffered a concussion. He walked the rest of the way down the hill.

“I thought the only way she might like me is me being someone different, but the whole time, I knew it wasn’t me.”

Looking back, Gordon said the problem was “I wasn’t content. I thought what I brought to the table was not good enough for her to like me.”

Gordon said it happens to all of us. If someone else is better at sports, if you want a job you’re not quite qualified for, if you get a lower mark than a classmate, if someone you like is not that into you, if your parents set high expectations, if you get teased, if your sibling is a prodigy, if you get rejected by a college or university, or you don’t get enough Instagram likes, it’s easy to feel discontented with who you are.

We find ourselves thinking that the only way we will benefit, or gain something, or succeed “is to be someone different, to act like someone else, to put on a mask," he said. "With the culture we live in, it is very, very easy to go down that road. We can go from content to discontent because of a little number [of likes] under a picture.”

Gordon said the Biblical story of Jacob describes a similar scenario. In Genesis 25:27 we learn Jacob was content with his life. But a short while later in the story, he is bargaining with his older twin, Esau, to gain his brother’s birthright.

What happened in Jacob’s life to make him go from contentment to discontent? Gordon asked. In Jacob’s culture, he would have known all his life that the older brother was in line to gain the birthright and the larger share of the family inheritance, but something made him go “Hunh, it seems like my brother is getting a better deal.

“That’s the start for many of us – we see someone else and we want what they have.”

Jacob’s story continues with Jacob and his mother conspiring to trick Jacob’s father into giving him the blessing. “He went out of his way to be someone else so he could get a better deal,” Gordon said. “But he is no different than us.”

Gordon said the secret to real peace and contentment is to “stop trying to be like everyone else.
“God made you to be you.”

Student praise team Unbound led in worship with “Yes I Will,” “Stand In Your Love,” “God’s Not Dead,” and “Scandal of Grace.”

Mike Gordon continues his exploration of our identity at chapel on Thursday, which starts at 9:30 a.m. All are welcome.

Questions for discussion:

What made you go from being content with being different to becoming discontent with who you are? 
Was there a time in your life where you could relate with Jacob trying to be like Esau to gain something ‘more?' (Explain)
Why do we try to be like someone else to ‘gain’ more in life?
What’s the benefit of gaining the whole world if we lose ourselves in the process?
What are some practical ways to help us stop being like everyone else?

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Are you content with who you are?

Smithville Christian’s Spiritual Emphasis Week speaker Mike Gordon said he travels a lot for his work as a ministry leader, pastor, and author, and for him, the most difficult part about travelling is crossing borders.

“I love travelling,” Gordon told students during Tuesday’s Spiritual Emphasis Week chapel, “but the hardest part is going through customs. You have to answer all those questions, and I can get really confused.”

Once, when he was travelling to California for work, Gordon decided to economize on airfare and fly from Michigan, so he made the crossing into the USA at Detroit. At the US border, he got sent over to secondary inspection, and had to “answer some questions.”  
He produced his passport as identification, and, after consulting a database, the border guard asked Gordon if he had ever been arrested in Quebec. When Gordon assured him he hadn’t, the border guard asked if Gordon had a driver’s license. He then asked if Gordon had a health card. “I put everything on the table to prove I wasn’t someone else,” Gordon said. “Never try to cross a border and try to be someone else. At a border, it is a good thing you are different.”

Yet in our daily lives, we often try not to be different. “We want to look and be like everyone else,” Gordon said. “In the culture we live in, we forget sometimes” that being unique is good.

Turning to the Biblical story of Jacob, Gordon read from Genesis 25:23-27 – the account of Jacob’s birth.

 “The Lord said to [Rebekah],
'Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
    and the older will serve the younger.'
“When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob.
“The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents.”

Gordon said the passage suggests that God had a different plan for Jacob than for his twin brother Esau, that Jacob looked physically different from his twin, and that as the twins grew up, it was clear Jacob’s personality was different.

Yet the passage says that Jacob was “content,” Gordon said. Despite the fact he looked different, had a different personality, and had a different life path, “he was completely satisfied with who he was and what he had.”

Gordon asked students if they feel the same way.

“Here is my question for you this morning: Are you content with who you are? Are you satisfied with how God has made you unique and different from every other person on the planet?”

Gordon shared three tips for contentment: accept yourself, focus on the good, and be thankful.
Learn how to accept the cards you have been given, Gordon said. Focus on the good in yourself and stop focusing on what social media shows you is good about others. Many people think they need to be awesome to be somebody, but the truth is you are unique and awesome just the way you are. Finally, thank God for designing you the way you are.

Just as the border guard eventually told Gordon “You’re good, you can go,” God has the same message for you, Gordon said.

“You’re good.”

If Jesus thought you were good enough to die for, “I hope you can truly accept who you are.”

A student praise team led in worship with  "Glorious Day," "Love Like This," and "We Are The Free."

In small groups after lunch, students discussed the following questions:

1. Why do you feel God made everyone different?
2. Do you believe God has a different plan for everyone’s life? Why or why not?
3. What are three things that make you different than everyone else?
4. How can you be content with being unique and different in a culture that pressures us to be, look and act like everyone else?

Spiritual Emphasis Week continues for the rest of the week with chapels at 9 a.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, and at 12:30 on Friday. All are welcome.