Jesus is in the Details

Have you ever heard the saying, “The devil is in the details”? Well, I personally can’t stand that saying. It immediately creates an image in my head of Ebenezer Scrooge hovering over Bob Cratchit making sure poor Bob is counting every bit of money Scrooge has. It’s like the details are about keeping tabs on something and that never feels good to me. I guess this is the time of year where attention to detail does amp up though. We really do keep tabs. We’re making the lists and we’re checking them twice. There are parties to attend and presents to buy. And the decorations to put up and maybe more decorations to put up after the neighbors’ put up theirs. I mean…the devil is in the details, right? UGH. What if we changed that saying a little bit? What if we said, “Jesus is in the details”? How would those details change? Would the lists of presents be longer? Or would the list of givings be longer? Would we invest more time and money on decorations after seeing our neighbors’ display of lights? Or would we just invest more times with the neighbors? Would the details even be material anymore?

I don’t want to sound as though I am criticizing people who find joy in the physical preparation of the holidays. I know so many people who can express what’s in their hearts by decorating. It’s a source of creativity and others are usually blessed by the sheer environmental aesthetics these people are able to create. What I am suggesting is that we are so easily distracted by the details that are all around us this time of the year that we lose sight of the details that have been imbedded inside of us.

 “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:15 – 20)

The details inside of us are the ones that show us we are not alone. That even though we anticipate what is being prepared for us in another life, Heaven is still not far away. We are not orphans. Truth lives inside of us and we live inside the truth of God’s grace and love. And what does that mean? It means that Jesus didn’t leave us empty handed when he departed. The Holy Spirit was left with us and that is no small gift. This gift is far reaching that connects the physical to the spiritual, one person to another and people to God.

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Recently I was asked to offer a meditation/yoga experience to the moms group at church. Their theme was to simplify daily living to support their well-being as mothers. So what I ended up having them do is breathe together while they were sitting on the floor back-to-back. They had to move together a little bit as well but they couldn’t see each other or talk about it. They had to find a way to agree on the exchange of weight and direction from a place of connection, breath and knowing. Does that sound hippy dippy? Probably, but one of the most interesting observations that was shared by one of the moms was that she was “in awe”. She was in awe by the fact that what was divinely residing in her was also divinely residing in her partner. She shared that she could feel the connection between her and her partner because she could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in both of them. It was beautiful. It was specific. It was Jesus in the details.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:1-4)

Maybe this holiday season we replace some budgeted holiday shopping time and instead replace it with time spent with those we are shopping for. Or maybe instead of looking for the perfect gift we try to find the perfect words to express how important and loved someone is. Maybe budget more time sitting on the floor with our kids. Or eat a meal with an elderly friend who may not have many opportunities to eat with others. Or before you run into the store, take a moment to text a friend and tell her how much you appreciate her friendship. Or sit across from your partner and make eye contact for a prolonged period of time without saying a word. Just see that person. You will not regret it. And while Jesus is preparing that place for us in the next phase, don’t miss this phase. Remember those small moments in life are the real details. Make them specific. Make them many. Jesus is in the details.


tori

Tori Conicello-Emery is a long-time member of Hope Community Church. She loves to engage in community, spiritual discussions, faith practices and is a dedicated member of the worship team at Hope.

 

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I Surrender

“I surrender”, two words that when put together signal defeat… or do they? It truly depends on the situation. If you’re a captain of an army and after a lengthy bloody battle you raise the white flag and declare these words to your opponent then yes, you have been defeated. But let’s say that isn’t the situation, lets say you aren’t declaring those words to an opposition but instead to the Lord. Let’s say instead a physical battle, the battle has been internal, emotional and/or spiritual. You’ve tried everything in your power to concur this beast that’s been tearing you apart from the inside, and you’re all out of answers. So you raise the white flag and this time surrender this battle to Jesus. Contrary to common sense, this is not defeat, it’s victory! Victory in the fact that your worries and pains are now in the hands of the only one who can truly erase them for good. Victory in the fact that the one who literally created the heavens and the earth, the one who brought sight to the blind, the one who made death nothing but a gateway in which he is the ultimate gate keeper and the one who erased sin’s hold on the world; now has full control over the troubles that have been keeping you shackled. And if He can do all of those things and so many more, then why worry in the first place or even more continue to worry after we’ve surrendered? You may not know where you are going after this point but shouldn’t you be excited to go there as long as Jesus is “at the wheel”? The answer to that question is pretty easy. We are human. We are flawed. We forget. We want the pain to be over in our time not His.

White flag waving on the wind. Put your own text

In John 14 there are amazing verses of reassurance presented by Jesus to His disciples. One of my favorite parts of this scripture is the response of the disciples themselves. It’s so beautifully human. The man – who these disciples have literally watched raise a guy from the dead and commit numerous other miracles – has just told them to trust the plan, that everything will be okay in the end and that they know where He is going – and yet in verse 5 “No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?” To which Jesus responds in verse 6 with one of the most powerful verses in all of the Bible (I won’t spoil it but I encourage you to go read it if you don’t know what I’m talking about). Then here comes Phillip once again just being straight up #humangoals, Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Now if that isn’t me, I don’t know what is! And I would bet a good amount of money that is you too. I’m confident in this, because that is human nature. Culture has taught us that getting results “NOW!” (insert JG Wentworth commercial here)  is very important and “what we deserve”. I mean just think about it. How many of you would have been REALLY annoyed if when you clicked on this link for this blog and it took your phone or computer or tablet more than 10 seconds for it to load? I know I would! And that’s over 10 puny little seconds – think about how the disciples felt after Jesus was crucified. They had to wait 3 days! That’s 10 seconds times 25,920! The load time for resurrection was ridiculous! That’s a lot of time waiting in silence. It must have been excruciating.

Silence can be the worst part of surrendering your anguish to the Lord. There’s a song that I really like that illustrates the whole process of giving up your pain to God. It’s called “A Prayer” and it’s by a band called Kings Kaleidoscope. It’s actually a very controversial song because it’s a worship song that contains a curse word. Which I’m sure you could guess stirred up a lot of heat in the Christian music scene. But I think the song is beautiful and it’s one of the most raw, real and vulnerable representations of what it’s like to experience doubt and pain and then giving it all up and surrendering it to God. The song is separated into two parts. The first part is the lead singer crying out to Jesus. Pouring out his fears and expressing that the silence is where the fear is (in the uncensored version) “f’ing violent”. This part ends with the singer exclaiming “Jesus, where are you? Am I still beside you?” over and over. Then the music fades and there’s a few brief seconds of silence. Then it hits. Blasting trumpets and drums in a symphony of triumph; I like to call this part “the response” which is supposed to be from the perspective of Jesus. With lyrics like “I’m right beside you. I feel what you feel. And I’m here to hold you, when death is too real.” The most shiver inducing, tear jerking, “praise God” line in the entire song for me takes place during the response. It says, “You know I died too. I was terrified. I gave myself for you. I was crucified, because I love you. Child.” Wow. Have you ever thought about that before? Really have you? The fact that not only did Jesus die for you but he felt the exact same thing that you’ve felt before He did. He felt fear, why? Because He was beautifully human… and yet perfectly God at the same time. And even through his fear, He still made sure to teach the men that chose to follow Him a very important lesson, His mission never took a back seat.

Verse 9 – Jesus replied, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and yet you still don’t know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show him to you? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me. 11 Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or at least believe because of the work you have seen me do.”

Haven’t we as a church seen Jesus work? And I don’t just mean Hope Community Church in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. I mean the church as a whole. In scripture, yes of course we have but outside of what we have read in the pages of the Bible have we not seen His works?  When healing is brought in hopeless situations. Have we not seen the works of Christ Jesus? When love and grace was shown to another when it is ultimately undeserved. Have we not seen the works of Christ Jesus? When people around you are serving “the least of these” that are mentioned in Matthew 25. Are you not looking directly at the living breathing works of Christ Jesus? If you do not think so, I challenge you to think again. Just because Jesus has not come down from Heaven and personally carried out these works in front of us does not mean it is not Him working.

So when the pain is vicious and violent and “death is too real”, remember that not only is Jesus waiting for you to hand over the keys but he’s been there before Himself. He’s felt what you feel. You’re surrender will lead to the ultimate victory, because you’re giving Jesus the opportunity to work over your life.

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Taylor_Bio

Taylor Hernandez – known as “Biscuit” to the students has been working with Youth@Hope for 5 years and enjoys playing Ultimate Frisbee and going to the gym in his free time.

 

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Thankful – If I Want

One of the most important relationships is the one I have with my parents. My mother, Joann, in specific, is one of the biggest supporters in my life. She encourages me when I am sad, listens carefully to what I say (and what I don’t say), and pushes me when she thinks I need challenging. My relationship with my mom is rich because she has been the most stable figure in my life. No matter what stage or cycle I find myself, I can always count on having my mother’s support. We don’t have the “easiest” relationship, as we have strong (and occasionally, clashing) personalities, and there are many things that we still need to work on within our mother-daughter relationship, but I am so thankful for her commitment to our family. For the majority of the years in my childhood she was the primary caretaker and she was dedicated in raising her three children.  As the eldest child, I was held as the example for my brother and sister, and inherent for first borns are higher standards, as my mother knows all too well.

My mother did not have an easy upbringing, and it was very traumatic in many ways. She had a hard childhood with unstable parents and was adopted by age 5 by a couple who showed her all the love she never witnessed prior to adoption. It was a great blessing for my mother to learn about being gentle and kind as she emulated her adoptive parents for about eight years. She became the caretaker of her siblings when she eventually moved back with her biological mother in her early teens and kept up with the kids after they became adults. She was the one that kept her family intact, despite the physical and emotional distance between her five siblings.

By the accounts of her own biological parents, my mother should not be the loving, caring, and selfless person she has become. I thank God for my adoptive grandparents because without their profound impact on my mothers life, my mother may have been too hardened by the circumstances of her childhood. In the face of obstacles and trauma, she kept living and loving on those around her without hesitation. My mother loved on those who did her wrong, and she still continued to reach out even when others would have given up. I write all of this to explain that my mother amazes me. Her story is one of resiliency and service to others. She inspires me to be more thankful, more loving, and more forgiving. As a Christian especially, these are some of the values that I want to continue to learn and practice because they are easy lessons to “forget” when things are not going as planned.

My mother and I have our differences at times, but ultimately, I am thankful for her in her entirety, not just the parts that are compatible with mine. I embrace her fiercely loving and protective instincts because I know her heart is well meaning, even when the delivery of a message is not in a “pretty” package. Like all loving relationships, admittedly we have disagreements that result in hurt for both of us. I could dig my heels in and kept a grudge when arguments occur, but that is not helpful for either of us! It is not typical for me to be on a bad note with my mother and I am relieved when we make up. By talking and forgiving each other we are able to embrace more fully our relationship, which has evolved into a beautiful friendship. What caused my mother’s heartache in her youth was the glue that encouraged her to love, trust, and forgive as an adult. She is a model mother, friend, and an encouragement to me, and many others, during times where nothing seems right. My mother’s childhood experiences were not in vain. Jesus always has a plan for us, no matter how painful our past or current situation.

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Everyone has a personal history that can be seasoned with painful memories, and yet, counter-intuitively, these hardships can be the very catalysts that enrich relationships. In spite of any instances of drama or stress induced by the upcoming holidays, the holidays can have a magical charm that softens hearts and makes otherwise hard to reach people more accessible. We may try to enjoy the day with those closest to our hearts when possible.

For others though, holidays are more complicated and not as easy to enjoy. With the high demands of the season can come tension, and maybe more difficulty managing relationships. Maybe you, or someone you love, for example, is dealing with a mental health, physical health, or even an addiction that hasn’t improved despite the praying and pleading you’ve done around it. Or maybe you’re at a spiritual crossroads because you think God hasn’t heard your prayers. Perhaps you have lost faith due to a trauma or hardship that you don’t know how to recover from on your own. Maybe a loved one has recently passed or has moved away and your heart is still grieving. Sadly, the holidays that should be joyous can instead be reminders of painful dysfunctions or disconnections in your family.

As my mother has taught me, even through adversity, love and kindness prevails. When I close my heart off because I am hurt, I want to remind myself that humbling myself and having a grateful heart is the example I have been taught by my mother in my youth, and by Jesus as my faith grows in my adulthood. I choose to be thankful, on purpose, regardless of the stressors in front of me. Instead of being stubborn and self righteous, I try to consider other perspectives. By the example of Jesus I can love on others as God intended, as written in John 13, when Jesus washes the feet of his disciples.

In the gospel of John 13:1-17, Jesus is aware that his death hour is near and he is prepping to have his last meal with his beloved friends, the disciples. Jesus takes off his robe, wraps a towel around his waist, and begins to wash the disciple’s feet. As the King of the World, He humbles Himself to wash and dry His follower’s feet. Peter did not understand why Jesus would do this for him as he protests and says that Jesus will never wash his feet. Jesus seems patient and loving as He replies to Peter, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will” (John 13:7). Jesus knows that the disciples need more help in understanding His actions, so He explains that since Jesus, God in the Flesh, was able to serve the disciples in this way, that they should take that example and humble themselves to wash the feet of others in acts of service, forgiveness, and love.

Jesus knew that He would be betrayed in just a few hours by one of His disciples, and that he would suffer a brutal and agonizing death. In spite of the knowledge that Jesus would be betrayed, He washed all of the disciple’s feet, including Judas, the one who would begin the cascade of events that would lead to Jesus’ death. Jesus, even close to His death hour was still teaching about self service and forgiveness, as he sat alongside of the man would lead Him to His death! Jesus instructs us to remember that the Father’s message should be upheld independent of our own human will when he says:

“I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who send the message” (John 13:16).

Jesus set the example of loving others, in spite of what actions or wrongs a person may have done in the past, or will occur in the future. His message of self sacrifice is the key to lasting impact on another person’s life. If Jesus personally did not set the example for His disciples of how to impact the lives of all He met, how would the disciples have known how to love and serve others as Jesus did? Jesus loved and cared about everyone and He humbled Himself when it was not expected. How often do we humble ourselves when we want to be self righteous or proud instead?

Jesus washing His disciple’s feet was an act of love and self sacrifice. Jesus used Himself as the ultimate self sacrifice to show His love for humanity when He died a violent death on the cross. If Jesus could love even those who wished Him death, how can we use Christ’s example of love and be thankful for others who are in our social circles, especially when someone is not in our “good graces”. Service and gratitude of others may not be a common consideration when things are not going right, but Jesus explains that holding this perspective is the way that God will bless us.

For my family this Christmas season, I hope to be more intentional about loving on others when serving others is not my first thought, as my mother and Heavenly Father have set this example for me. I understand that for some, the holidays are merry and bright, and for others holidays are less cheerful and more somber. Regardless of which side you identify with most, joyous or more complex, or even how the two categories combine in your life this holiday season, rest assured that God sees you in your current circumstance. He knows where intervention and healing needs to occur in your life. Choose to give thanks! Choose to humble yourself and figuratively wash someone else’s feet as an act of service and love. Choose to have full, thankful hearts in spite of what you may think is missing.

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Darlene

Darlene Servolini lives in King of Prussia with her two young daughters and has been a member of Hope for three years. She has been thrilled to witness the love of God poured out from her church into her own life, family, and home throughout the various seasons of sunshine and storms. As a new Christian, she hopes to continually learn and grow in her faith and to share the kindness, gentleness, and forgiveness that Jesus has shown her (even at her worst!), with everyone she meets.

 

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Dead Men Walking

1Some of my most distinct memories of childhood were made in the woods with my family.  On this occasion, we were out walking quietly along a wide path through the woods and hunting squirrels.  If you’ve spent any time in the woods stalking game, you’ve learned a few things about walking quietly, gently placing your heels down and rolling your weight to your toe.  You wear the right clothing to blend into the trees and grasses, making sure that the fabric doesn’t make noises as you push through the underbrush.  Everyone stays quiet, speaking only in whispers when necessary, and communicating with slow hand motions.  You’re careful of wind direction and which way odors are likely to travel.  And most of all, you’re staying intently aware of your surroundings.  Every sound, every movement, could be a sign of game nearby.  And every sound and movement you make can alert them to your presence.

I say all this to tell you what I SHOULD have been doing.  Every ten-year-old has a timer.  When that timer reaches zero, the initial thrill of the hunt is over, and boredom sets in.  Mind you, I was disciplined enough to know not to make noise or move excessively so as to ruin the hunt for everyone else, but I did stop paying attention.  I just started moving along with the pod as we walked down the trail, meandering through my own little world.

After a while, I didn’t realize that I wasn’t moving along at the same pace as the others, and I started to pull ahead of my Dad.  Then it happened.

STOP!

My Dad’s crisp order should have frozen me in my tracks, but it didn’t.  Continuing on, I re-emerged from my little world to ask the age-old question, “Why?”

To a boy of my age, curious about the world in every respect, it seemed like the right thing at the time.  After all, I was learning everything I could get my hands on at this point.  I was absorbing everything people would put in front of me.  I would sit and read encyclopedias by the hour.  Yes, I was that kid.  Why shouldn’t I expect a good answer to satisfy my need to know?

As quickly as I’ve ever seen my Dad move, in that split second between his command and my hesitation, he reached out and grabbed the back of my shirt and yanked me backward.  In the same motion, he brought up his .22 rifle and started shooting a line across the trail where I was about to land my next step.  I don’t think I really understood how quickly a .22 could be unloaded.

At this point, I was understandably stunned, not able to process what had just happened.  I didn’t see what my Dad saw.  While my mind was wandering, he had stayed focused, paying attention to the the hunt.  So he saw the rattlesnake laid out across the trail. It was camouflaged in the short grasses, warming itself in the sun, and it was directly in the path of my next footfall.

I never saw the snake.  I never heard it slither off into the woods, likely full of bullet holes.  But Dad did.  My first instinct was to question; his was to protect me.

The 11th chapter of John relates one of the most famous stories in the gospels, a picture of Jesus with some of his dearest friends.  Lazarus lived with his sisters, Mary and Martha, in the village of Bethany, just a couple of miles from the city of Jerusalem.  Most of us know the story.  Lazarus became acutely ill.  Mary and Martha, fully aware of Who Jesus was and what He was capable of, sent for Him, knowing that He could heal Lazarus.  He had already shown numerous times that He could heal the sick, even from a distance.  In fact, by this point, He had already raised people from the dead!  Getting His attention was definitely the right thing to do.  And being close friends, they had a reasonable expectation that He would come.

Imagine the next scene in Bethany.  Lazarus had grown sick and passed so quickly that there just wasn’t enough time.  Now it’s been days since the messenger left to carry word to Jesus, and there’s been no answer.  Perhaps He didn’t get the word.  Maybe He’s been detained – it’s clear He has enemies.  Then other thoughts creep to mind.  Maybe He has better things to do.  Maybe – no, that can’t be right.  Of course He still cares about us.  But why isn’t He here?

Four days after Lazarus has been laid to rest, Jesus arrives in Bethany.  The floodgates open.  “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!” Then the confession, “I know you are the Christ, the Son of God, promised to come into the world.  Whatever you ask of God, I know He will give it to you!”  Such a faith-filled declaration in the midst of tragedy!

Soon they had no doubts about His love for their family, for as Jesus approached the tomb where Lazarus lay, He started weeping.  Truly He was touched at the loss of a friend.  But then He made it very plain to everyone around why He was there.  He called for the stone to be taken away.  They hesitated, “Lord, he’s been dead for days.  Surely he stinks by now!”  In other words, there’s nothing left to be done!  It’s over!

“Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?  So they obeyed his instruction, and they removed the stone.

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Jesus prays, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.  I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”  And then in a loud voice, He spoke the words they longed to hear: “LAZARUS, COME FORTH.”

This story played out the way it did so they would believe.  His message, as it had been throughout history, was trust me! Mary confessed Who He was, but failed to see the big picture – she didn’t believe the extent to which He was willing go for them, and to fulfill His purpose.  But the onlookers were willing to remove the stone at Jesus’ word, even if they really didn’t know what was coming.

I think the author Madeleine L’Engle says it well in her book Many Waters.  “Some things have to be believed to be seen.”   Jesus calls us to obey, to believe in what He’s doing, regardless of whether we understand what’s going on.  I know I’ve missed many opportunities when I asked, “Why?” rather than just say, “Yes, Lord.”  And there have been other times when I got it right, when I believed and did in obedience what He asked.  I’m not responsible for the outcome, just the obedience.  And many times He lets me see what He was doing after I do my part.

Had Dad not grabbed and pulled me back from the rattlesnake, I could very well have been a dead man walking.  Most of our daily opportunities for obedience don’t have such immediate and costly consequences.  But we don’t want to miss what He’s doing – we want to believe, obey and be part of it.

“Let me see it, and then I’ll believe.  Show me, and then I’ll do it.”  God says, “Do it, and then you’ll see.”


KevinDow

Kevin Dow loves being a project manager and photographer, and has been using his gifts to support Hope for about four years now on the Production Team and leading small groups.  You can follow him @firstcreationphoto. 

 

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Living Life to the Full

“When we arrive at eternity’s shore
Where death is just a memory and tears are no more
We’ll enter in as the wedding bells ring
Your bride will come together and we’ll sing”

Have you ever walked into a room and been hit with something? Not like you walk into a gym and get hit with a dodge ball or the smell of body odor, but you walk in and are immediately overcome by a feeling or presence. This past Sunday, that happened to me as I walked into the back of a room where about 30 high school students were singing the above lyrics at the top of their lungs. It was overwhelming to be completely honest. As a 24 year old man, I am not ashamed to say that I teared up faster than Roman Kupecky talking about his adoration for his grandson on a Sunday morning. And the reason was I could see the relationships in front of me, clear as day. Not just relationships with each other, which are strong and fruit baring but also and even more so with Jesus. I looked at the crowd of teenagers and I saw LOVE!

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It’s easy to say that you can “see” love when you see two people smooching and holding hands or when you see a parent comforting and embracing their child but this was something so completely different. This was a group of kids giving everything they had to reciprocate the love of the Almighty God. This was them putting in the effort on their side of the relationship. This was them actively making sure that their relationship with Christ was not a one way deal. This was them living life to the fullest. Standing in a room singing a song, how many of us can say that our idea of “living life to the fullest” would be that simple? I know that when I was their age I surely wouldn’t.

Being on staff with Youth@Hope it never ceases to amaze me how much you can learn from the students that you could never learn from any class or reading any book. This last weekend our high school students and a handful of our leaders had a stay retreat in which they engaged in multiple worships sets, gospel messages, a few service projects in the area and spent lots of time in fellowship. On Friday night my small group of Senior and Junior boys commented on how they had some hesitations going into the weekend regarding their spiritual growth. I can’t say I blamed them at first, with huge events like SERVE (our yearly mission trip to Vermont) and trips to Haiti (which most of them did last year), it would be really different getting something new out of something that was so “regular” for them. But then one of the boys spoke up against the group, “You get out of this weekend, what you put into this weekend.” There it was, the thing they all needed to hear in that moment, and something that inspired something in me. Something I’ve come to realize more and more over the last few years is that you will miss 90% of God’s glory when you’re only looking for him in the expected times. We all needed to start to look for Him in the 90% not just the 10% (messages, scripture… etc.) and from that point on I believe that we did. I can personally say that small group lit a fire under me, and walking into the back of that room 2 nights later I saw the fire in them burning bright.

In John 10 it says, “24 The people surrounded him and asked, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus replied, “I have already told you, and you don’t believe me. The proof is the work I do in my Father’s name.” Other than my personal walk with Jesus, in which I have received more than I could ever ask; if you asked me how do you know that Jesus is real and alive, I would simply point you at one of our Youth@Hope students. I have seen Jesus in their hands and feet, I have heard the Father in their words, and I have witnessed the Holy spirit move through their faith. Whether its through selflessly serving, coming along side a friend in need, organizing a group to tackle a problem they’ve identified or bringing the group together with something as simple as a game of kickball. They’re doing amazing things in the name of Jesus and half of the time I don’t think they even realize it. And yet I am privileged enough to be THEIR leader? When they’ve shown and taught me so much more than I could ever do for them? What did I do to deserve this? Nothing. Another reason why I know Jesus is not only real but He is good!

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So now here I am, sitting at a computer running out of words to say. Reflecting on what was an amazing weekend where no doubt God showed up in bigger ways than I think anyone was really expecting him too (a reoccurring theme this year). And the only thing I have left to say is this. God is good, and He is worth living for. His works are worthy of all praise and be assured His children are carrying them out right in front of you. Sometimes you just have to look a bit harder at the 90% and when you do I can just about guarantee your life will start to feel a little more full.


Taylor_Bio

Taylor Hernandez – known as “Biscuit” to the students has been working with Youth@Hope for 5 years and enjoys playing Ultimate Frisbee and going to the gym in his free time. 

Running on Fumes

 

Running on Fumes
Two weeks ago, I was beginning my drive through Delaware County on I-476 to get to work. I knew that my car’s gas light was on, but I was tight on my timeline and didn’t have any time left to lose! I figured I could not afford to spend five minutes to fill up my tank before heading off in the direction of work because that would have made me later. “I will make it to my destination by the skin of my teeth because I have never run out of gasoline before! I know my gas mileage capacity!” I convinced myself. I think you can maybe guess what happens next…

About 10 miles from my exit, my car begins to slow down, even when I pressed the acceleration. I was in the right lane so I was able to quickly move over to the shoulder as I realized that my worst fear in that moment had come true; I ran out of gas. As I pulled over I went through many emotions. I was already having a hectic day and this was just bad timing. After ensuring I was safe on the road, I thought about my appointment and how I would definitely be late, although I was actively trying to avoid that scenario. I reached out to my co-worker first and explained the situation in frustration and near tears. She asked me “how can I best support you?” and that was such a relief. She was able to attend and cover my appointment and she encouraged me in my desperation at the same time. While I waited for AAA to give me gas, I sat in car on the shoulder lane, praying I could still salvage the rest of my day and appointments. I remember feeling so frustrated and mad at myself for not being more proactive in filling up my tank to avoid this situation. I felt so helpless and alone on the side of that road! How depleted I was in those moments. I was disheartened and deflated after my already chaotic day.

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Refueled
I started to really beat up on myself for a few minutes before I realized that in the midst of my crazy day, I had not had any moments of quietness before my break down. I was going 60 miles an hour (literally and figuratively) before I was forced to stop and just be in those still moments. I realized that while I could not work from my car, that I could still make the idle time productive and meaningful. I remembered that I made a choice in that moment to be content despite my temporary circumstance. By the grace of God I was able to salvage my sanity, coming from despair to calm.  If I were leaning on my own power, and not the power of God,  I would have crumbled in those moments; my whole day may have been marked “ruined”, but God has a plan, and in those moments he saw my frustration and hurry and saw that I needed a “slow down”, so He met me at my point of need in an unconventional way. I love that God’s love always shines for me at just the right moment, even if i don’t consciously label it as the “best moment” up front. I was having an eventful day and I needed a pause to breathe. Since I didn’t allow myself a break, God built a break into my day! He knows my heart and He knows my needs better than I do. In my humanness I was initially upset about the disruption in my schedule, but I was able to reset my perspective during that one hour pause.

Right when I started to feel my most hopeless and disheartened, Jesus met me. I was aware of my heart shifting from anger to frustration to sadness, and how it had just as easily moved from sadness to reflective to peaceful when I allowed God to comfort me. It can be hard for us to rely on the power of God and trust His way, especially during the many trying and confusing moments we face. If I allow myself to slow down enough, I can marvel at all that God is doing for me in all my days.  Jesus performs “micro-miracles” daily, like shifting hard hearts or stubborn attitudes in our daily lives, we just need to take note and appreciate in time how grand those changes have been. It takes practice to intentionally trust and seek God, especially at our most vulnerable moments, but I am convinced that this is just how Jesus always works in my life. I trust God and He moves in closer to reassure and strengthen me as a response. My hopelessness is always replaced with hopefulness when I lean on Jesus.

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Getting Back on Track
Within the hour I was able to get back on the road, in a significantly improved emotional and spiritual state and I was reminded that there is a plan for everything. I needed to get back to who God has made me to be, and those moments in the car helped me refocus my slowly-leaking positive energy into being reinfused with the encouragement I needed to share with others. Jesus does this kind of unexpected kindness, caring, and encouragement often in the Bible. Just in the gospel of John alone he performs several miracles, including turning water into fine wine at a wedding (John 2:1-12), feeding thousands of men and women with just five loaves of bread and two fish (John 6:1-15), walking on water (John 6:16-21), raising the dead (John 11:1-44), and healing the sick, disabled, and the blind (John 4:43-54, John 5:1-15, John 9:1-41). My initial hopelessness when the car stopped reminded me of the miracle when the blind man was healed because I was temporarily spiritually blinded by circumstance. I had not yet seen how necessary my spiritual sight was in those moments of powerlessness and as a result I was so down on myself when I really could have turned into God automatically and avoided all of my internal strife.

In the story of how Jesus heals the blind man, Jesus explains that it was not because of the blind man’s sins or his parents sins that he was born blind. Jesus explained that the man’s blindness would highlight the power and glory of God to those around him once he was healed. Jesus used an unconventional method to heal the man; he spit into dirt and made a mud that he rubbed on the man’s eyes. Jesus told the man to wash the mud off his face and when he did he was healed of his lifelong blindness!

There seemed to be a divide in how this miracle was interpreted by others. Some people recognized the blind man and others denied it was the same blind man. The religious leaders, the Pharisees, had a mixed reaction to this healing as well, some agreeing that this miracle performed by Jesus should not have happened if Jesus was sent from God, because He was doing miracles on the Sabbath. Other Pharisees seemed confused as to how an ordinary, not divinely created human, could perform this miracle. The Pharisees could not see the divinity of Jesus as the Son of God as he cured and loved on others. The Pharisees were spiritually blind. They could not physically or spiritually see because of their pride and religious laws that prohibited them from acknowledging and recognizing God’s power in every miracle Jesus performed.

Jesus gave an important reminder to remain faithful and to keep our spiritual eyes sharp when He says:

Then Jesus told him, “I entered this world to render judgement– to give sight to the blind, and to show those who think they see that they are blind” (John 9:39).

Sometimes we can be spiritually blind and forget the complete power and glory of God. When we are running on spiritual fumes, or have even run out of gas completely, we have to trust in God most. In our spiritual sight, we can take comfort in that the Son of God is the still the One who can refuel us and change our hearts in matters big and small.

 

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Darlene

Darlene Servolini lives in King of Prussia with her two young daughters and has been a member of Hope for three years. She has been thrilled to witness the love of God poured out from her church into her own life, family, and home throughout the various seasons of sunshine and storms. As a new Christian, she hopes to continually learn and grow in her faith and to share the kindness, gentleness, and forgiveness that Jesus has shown her (even at her worst!), with everyone she meets.

Growing Faith

I am not a great gardener, but I really enjoy growing things.  As my wife, Tracey, and I figured out many years ago, I am actually more of a plant collector than a gardener.  If you see my yard, you can see the results.  There isn’t much in terms of great design or aesthetic qualities, but I grow some cool stuff! I like to grow unusual plants, or those that grow in unusual ways.  I am fascinated by the amazing process of how a seed germinates, grows into a plant and then produces flowers and new seeds.  One of my favorite plants I‘ve grow is the night-blooming cereus, also known as the Queen of the Night.  For botanical purists, it isn’t really a cereus (a variety of desert cactus) but is actually Epiphyllum oxypetalum, a tropical plant closely related the traditional Christmas cactus you can find in any grocery store in December.

Although it’s one of my favorites, there are some good reasons why the Queen of the Night is not one of the best sellers at your local garden center.  The plant looks like a cross between a chorus member from The Little Shop of Horrors and that bag of spring mix that you’ve left in the back of your refrigerator for too long.  My biggest specimen of this plant (below) always catches people’s attention, not because of its beauty, but because it looks like some bizarre alien piñata.

Plant1

The coolest thing about this plant is the show it puts on one night each year.  For a single night, it produces beautiful, fragrant blossoms as big as my outstretched hands.  Because it has to transition its closed buds to fully open gigantic blossoms in one evening, the flowers open so quickly that you can actually see the flowers move!

Plant2

The blossoms stay open for the night, emitting a spicy sweet scent that is meant to attract the nectar-drinking bats that would pollinate it in the wild. By morning, the blossoms have faded, and I am left with what looks like a pot of wilted seaweed.

So, with only a few hours of beauty a year, why do I bother growing this bizarre plant?  Because I am fascinated by its remarkably strange behavior.  It doesn’t just engage my senses with its one night of beautiful sights and smells; it also stimulates my mind to think about why this whacky plant blooms as it does.  Why bloom for only one night?  From an evolutionary, “survival of the fittest” perspective, wouldn’t it be better to have flowers open for multiple nights or flowers that open on different nights to increase the likelihood that bats would come to pollinate them?  Surely, bats feed on more than one night each year.  I think that this plant would have made Darwin crazy.   For me, the Queen of The Night epitomizes what I find so fascinating about growing plants – I want to learn about how it grows and why it grows the way it does.  I want to understand.

My desire to understand overflows into my relationship with God as well.  I want to know Him; I want to understand Him.  I really enjoy when I read something in the Bible and, for the first time, I understand it.  I have an “Aha moment” when something I had heard or read before finally clicks and makes sense to me.  For example, I had heard the story of how when Jesus died on the cross, the veil in the Temple was torn from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51).  I thought that was interesting, but unimportant.  The veil had been the barrier to keep people out of the “Holy of Holies”, the inner sanctuary where only a specially chosen priest could go to meet with God.  It wasn’t until someone pointed out the significance of this to me that I understood that the veil being torn was to show that, since Jesus had paid the penalty for our sins, we could now approach God directly, without fear, without a priest as an intermediary.  Aha!  I understand!

I want everything about God to fit together as nicely as that.  But that hasn’t been my experience.  I have loads of questions that I don’t have clear answers for, and I bet that you do too.  Why did God bother to make people at all?  Why does He allow sin?  Why does He allow suffering?  How does His grace work when we have free will? If He already knows everything that is going to happen in the future, why doesn’t He just make it happen now?  Did Adam have a bellybutton?  And what about the duck-billed platypus?  Is that just God’s idea of a joke?

There is so much that I would like to understand but don’t.  I guess that’s always been the case for those us following Jesus.  In the passage from John 6:16-71, Jesus is explaining to the people following him that he is source of their eternal, spiritual life but the metaphors he uses are lost on them.  When Jesus talks about being the bread of life and the need to eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to have eternal life, the people are naturally confused.

52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves,
“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

Jesus is trying to explain about accepting him through faith, but they’re thinking cannibalism!  It’s easy for me to look down on those people for their lack of insight.  They just didn’t get it.  But the disciple knew Jesus.  They had faith in him, even though they didn’t understand everything about him. When Jesus asked his twelve closest disciples if they were going to leave him along with the groups who were turned off by his difficult teachings,

68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

I guess that’s the decision we all face.  We don’t have all the answers.  Jesus has revealed himself to us; he has shown his love for us by dying for us to bring us to God.  We don’t understand how everything works, but we know that he has the words that bring us life.  No one else does; to whom else shall we go?  We believe him, love him, and follow him, even without all of questions answered.  I guess that’s why it’s called faith.

(I would still like to know why the silly plant only blooms for one night!)


Jim

Jim and his wife Tracey live King of Prussia.  When he’s not gardening, Jim serves as a hospital administrator.