Four Letters

“If I could speak all the languages of the earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.” 1 Corinthians 1-3.  

These few sentences are some of my favorite in all of scripture. You may not recognize them, but if you have spent any amount of time in the Bible or spent a good amount of time around a church or even just been to a handful of weddings, you’ve probably heard they’re more popular younger brothers, 1 Corinthians 4-7. (Love is patient, love is kind… etc.) Don’t get me wrong – those verses are great, but to me verses 1-3 are just so meaningful on a whole other level. We could be amazingly blessed by the Lord in so many ways but without four little letters all that would mean nothing. How can that be? How can one feeling or in this case lack thereof, render so much good void? Well when you think about it, if it weren’t for love what would we be? The blunt answer here unfortunately would be doomed to hell. BUT! And it is a big but! Love! More specifically God’s love! His overwhelming, never ending, reckless love, which we could never earn and never deserve, was shared with us and saved us from such a terrible fate. Please do not downplay how truly reckless that love is, because trust me. it is!

Think about it this way. Let’s say you have a puppy; (or for those of you who are incorrect in your thoughts of what constitutes a good pet, a kitten. Or a fish for those of you with allergies. Or a one hundred dollar bill for you soulless pet haters… I apologize if I’ve gone too far on this tangent; I love all of you I promise! I’ll get back to the point.) Okay forget all that. I’ll simplify this; you have a piece of your favorite candy. One day, I come to you and I tell you that if you are willing to throw away that piece of candy a group of 10 people will then each get the opportunity to have a piece of that same candy, free of charge to them. All they have to do is accept it. But here’s the thing – you know the group of 10. You know that most of them don’t even like this kind of candy. You know a bunch of them are going to turn it down. You know that some of those who accept it don’t appreciate it the way you do. You know that there is a good chance that when some of the people hear that you gave up your piece of candy so they can have a piece, they will ridicule you for wasting your candy. And finally, you know a good portion of them wouldn’t have done the same so you could have a piece of their favorite candy. Yes, some of them will be grateful to you for your choice, but for the most part it’s a shaky deal at best for you. So why would you do it? Well it would have to come down to one thing. You loved and cared about those 10 people enough that you would want them to have the opportunity to share this wonderful thing that you have and that has given you such joy. Regardless of whether they choose to accept it you want them to have the chance to experience it. Now replace yourself in this scenario with God, the candy with Jesus, the 10 people with the 100 billion plus people that have ever lived and the countless people that will come after us, and the satisfaction that you get for that piece of candy with Heaven. God loved us so much that he gave His son to a group of people, some who would love Him for it (about 31% of the current world), some who would not, some who would never even hear His name nor the name of the son that He sent to die for them, some who would deny he even existed, and some who would even curse His name. And He knew ALL of this. I’m sorry but I that doesn’t constitute true love I don’t know what does. To make such a massive sacrifice for such little gain is mind blowing, but to quote a cliché of romance, love makes you do crazy things.

Picture 1- Cross

So what do we do now with this knowledge – the knowledge that we have been set free from the power of death thanks to God’s great love? It’s easy, pay it forward. Well it’s not “easy.” I think we all know loving people isn’t easy sometimes. But in Romans 12 it says this: “9 Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection,[a] and take delight in honoring each other.” Then in verses 13-16 it continues on to say, “13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!”

Again it says, “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them.” I know how easy it is to pretend to love others. To ask someone how they’re doing today and just hoping that they say good to avoid having a more drawn out conversation that you’re not all that interested in having. But that’s not what we’re called to do. We have to REALLY LOVE. I know how hard it is to not only be willing but “ready to help” God’s people. But we have to REALLY LOVE. Learning  to “bless those who persecute you” can be the hardest thing we ever have to do. But we have to REALLY LOVE. It’s often easy to “be happy with those who are happy” and often hard for some of us to be willing to “weep with those who weep.” But we must REALLY LOVE!

Picture 2- Sign

About a year ago I went to a one-day youth ministry conference, and during a break out seminar I remember being particularly impacted by one specific quote that the speaker used. It was something that I had heard in different words before but never truly absorbed. And it was this: “How we walk with the broken speaks more than how we sit with the great.” Truly friends, how we love those who are not easy to love, who cannot reciprocate our love and those who are by the world’s standards “not worthy” of love says everything about who we are in Christ. Why? Because when God sent His Son, were we easy to love? Could we reciprocate His love? Were we worthy? The answer to all these questions was and still is “no”, yet He did and still does. For those reasons, so will I; because if I didn’t… I would be nothing. .


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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What Was I Thinkin’?

We love music in our house. All types. As an act of love for her mother, my daughter Samantha will often make up playlists for me. She saves me from the frustration of having to figure out, yet again, the difference between Spotify and Apple Music. There is my “happy” playlist. My “work out” playlist. The “refuel my soul” playlist. We have been known to spontaneously break out into song while cooking; we dance while cleaning; we even finally gave in and bought Samantha a Karaoke machine as part of her college graduation present. You really have not lived until you have been in our car while we blare our music and have a Paradis family concert. It is as embarrassing as it is fun. (We do a marvelous rendition of the song Popular from the play Wicked!) 

The funny thing is, not one of us can carry a tune in a bucket. We have no ability whatsoever to sing on key. But that minor detail does not stop us. The kids come by it honestly. I will never forget my third-grade choir director telling me that there was no reason for me to come back down with the rest of my class as I was not going to be a part of the choir. This was followed by my sixth-grade music teacher telling me that while he would not say every note was sour – I did only have three or so that came close to pitch.  (That same teacher was my guitar coach, and he finally realized I was tone deaf.)  But sing we do!
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Even with no ability to sing well, music is still something I fully engage in. I listen to and consider lyrics. I do have rhythm, so I feel music. Music impacts me deeply. I have a running soundtrack in my head. I routinely quote lyrics. I think there are some very wise songwriters out there. Some come from the world of country music. Now before you roll your eyes, some of the most insightful life lessons can be found in this genre of music that focuses on the human experience. Love, loss, joy, faith, and family are common themes. One lyric that just makes me smile every time I hear it comes from a song called “What Was I Thinkin’?” by Dierks Bentley. 

“What were you thinking?” Parents ask their kids this question1,000 times a day in 1,000 households.  “What was I thinking?” is a common lament we say to ourselves when we make decisions we had no business making. The answer too often is “I don’t know” or “I wasn’t”.  Both are dangerous answers. If we don’t take care, one of the greatest protections we have is left on the shelf. We fail to recognize the danger we put ourselves in when we don’t use it. That protection? Our minds. God has given each of us a mind. The ability to think and to reason. It is what separates us from the rest of his creation.   

Romans 12:2 reads, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then, you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, perfect and pleasing will.”  

Paul tells us that transformation comes from the renewing of our minds. There are so many voices out there. Voices that demand to be heard. The voice of a culture that is moving further and further away from the beauty of God’s word. Voices of discouragement. Voices of shame. Voices of those who want us to be or do things we know God would not have us be or do. All these voices vie for our attention. The source of all these voices: evil and a fallen world. We need to fight back. We need to transform our thinking. To know and believe what God says about us and his love for us. To know “the good, perfect and pleasing” will of God. Voices that conform to the world will say that God’s will is bad, flawed and joy-busting. We need to know better. That only comes from the transformation of our minds, from replacing what we think with the better, higher thoughts of God (Isaiah 55:8-9). 

I cannot count the number times I have been asked what the will of God is in a certain circumstance.  But as I enter into conversations with people, I have learned to listen. Listen to how they view God and his will for their lives. From Romans 12:2, we know that it is good, perfect and pleasing. So often people are trapped into believing God withholds good things. We know from Ps 84:11 that God withholds no good thing from those who walk with him. I have learned that a “No” or “Wait” from God is not because he is mean, but for some reason, one I often do not understand, it is not for my good for him to say “Yes” yet. I spend quite a bit of time helping people see their circumstance from a perspective that is different from the world’s. 

Another lie is that God is out of touch, and his ways are simply well, unenlightened. Culture would have us believe the collective thinking of humanity somehow trumps what God has to say. We need to stand firm and know that God’s way brings a peace and joy that nothing can compare to. To be at odds with God and at peace with the world is a dangerous, lonely place to be. We need to let the transforming work of the Spirit and the Word of God determine how we live our lives.
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I was recently in a spiritual funk. God felt far away, and I was out of sorts. I did not know what was causing it or how I got there. But there I was. As I confessed to God how I was feeling, God showed himself to me in (yes, you guessed it) music. God and I often meet in the Word. But this time he met me in music, on two separate occasions through four songs. God changed my thinking by reminding me of truth. I play a game when I listen to music. I try to match the words of a song to the Word of God. So when I sang, “I have resurrection power living on the inside…living in the light of your goodness”, God reminded me of Eph 3:20. When I was reminded that “Jesus is my portion; my constant Friend is He: His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me; His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me” (Matt 6), I could absolutely join in and sing “I sing because I am happy, I sing because I am free”.  Finally, the truth of “he walks with me and he talks with me and tells me I am his own” is the reminder I needed to bring my mind back to him. (Is 43:4) All leading to me belting our “How Great Thou Art” with tears flowing down my cheeks. They were tears of joy, an outward sign of a changed heart and mind. 

Our minds are a weapon like no other. Once surrendered to the matchless love of God and his Word, no force can stand against it. 


Jim

Tracey Paradis and her husband Jim live in King of Prussia.  Tracey serves as the Director of Women’s Ministry at  Hope Community Church and does her best to fill her days with people, ministry, and at least one bout of uncontrollable laughter.

 

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Christmas Hymn

I grew up singing hymns in church. One of my favorite Easter hymns is “Joy to the World!” Now, you may think of this as a Christmas hymn, but it’s snowing the week before Easter, so maybe this is okay.

Technically, “Joy to the World!” is an Advent hymn. Advent is the period before Christmas that the church traditionally prepares for and honors God’s coming to His people. He came once as a man, Jesus, which we celebrate at Christmas. But Jesus tells us He is coming again, and that will be an even bigger event.

The first verse of “Joy to the World!” is about Christmas. It fits with the message of Christmas, of making room for Jesus, not just in Bethlehem where the inns were full, but in our hearts

Joy to the World –  by Isaac Watts 1674-1748

Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing.

At the end of that verse, Watts starts a theme that runs through the next two verses: nature also praises God. The words of the second and third verses tell of some awesome events that didn’t happen when Jesus came, so we still look forward to them when He comes again:

Joy to the world! the Savior reigns
Let all their songs employ,
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy
No more let sin and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found

This is a theme that is in the Bible from the start, from the Garden of Eden where the ground is cursed because of the sin of Adam, so there are thorns and snakes and things that we have to work hard to overcome in order to enjoy the fruit of the ground.

Paul talks about this in Romans 8. “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” v 22. The world is a hard place, hard for us, hard for the natural world. Plants and animals are suffering under spring snow storms, maybe even more than we do, since they need to start finding food and building nests and raising their families. They need the new growth of spring.

But even when the weather is good, nature is in a constant struggle, “the survival of the fittest”. God did not create the world for animals to eat each other, and for death to overcome all living things. These are part of the curse that came to the earth because of Adam. “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice.” v20.

There is a famous painting, by Quaker minister Edward Hicks, called “Peaceable Kingdom”. It illustrates the passage where Isaiah proclaims that God will fix this, saying that the lion and the lamb will lie down together. That’s the way it was intended by God, and that will happen when Jesus comes again to finally restore the earth and humans and all of His creation.

Scott1

Edward Hicks, The Peaceable Kingdom (1826), National Gallery of Art

Isaiah received his vision 700 years before Jesus was born, but he paints a beautiful picture of what it will be like when the messiah comes and the world is freed from sin to be God’s kingdom as He intended once again:

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace;
The mountains and the hills will burst into songs before you,
And all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn bush will grow the pine tree;
And instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
For an everlasting sign which will not be destroyed.

Isaiah 55:12-13

Did you know that trees have hands? Right now, they can’t clap for God, but one day, they will be freed from the current troubles and praise God by clapping. I sure look forward to hearing the roar of all the trees in the world clapping for our awesome God.

When I look at nature, I am reminded how magnificent God is, who created nature as a beautiful world where people and animals live in harmony with one another, but that they are currently struggling and hurting. And I look forward eagerly to the time when Jesus will come again, and we will get to see the fullness of creation as God intended it.

Paul says: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed…that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” v 18,19,21

There is a worship song that I love that also conveys this joyous expectation of the freedom that is coming. In the first two verses of “You’re Beautiful”, Phil Wickham  expresses this idea that we see the glory of God in creation. Then, after Jesus pays the price to redeem us, and all of creation because of us, he expresses the joy we will experience when we get to spend eternity with Jesus and His restored creation.

I see Your face in every sunrise
The colors of the morning are inside Your eyes
The world awakens in the light of the day
I look up to the sky and say
You’re beautiful

I see Your power in the moonlit night
Where planets are in motion and galaxies are bright
We are amazed in the light of the stars
It’s all proclaiming who You are
You’re beautiful

I see You there hanging on a tree
You bled and then you died and then you rose again for me
Now You are sitting on Your heavenly throne
Soon we will be coming home
You’re beautiful

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
You’re beautiful

This is such a beautiful promise from God for the future eternity that we get to share with Him in a kingdom without pain or tears or death.

Paul says: “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.” v 23-24

That’s the message of hope we celebrate at Easter.

 


ScottBio

Scott Sibley is on our Leadership Team. He also serves as our Director of World Outreach. His favorite times of the week are serving with Youth@Hope. It has been 40 years since he responded to Jesus’ command to “Come follow me”.

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No Greater Love

“The real reason why so few men believe in God is that they have ceased to believe that even a God can love them.”  — Thomas Merton (No Man Is An Island)

Was I a good girl mommy?

Did you see me swim?

Did I do a good job?

Did I earn a treat?

Do you like my drawing?

Do you like my outfit?

Are you happy with me?

Are you so proud of me?

My 6 year old daughter Fiona is such a people pleaser. Even more so, I know she wants to please me. She needs to hear me say how much I love her, that I’m proud of her, that I see her and that she makes me happy. Her sweet little voice almost brings me to tears when I hear her ask me if she was a “good girl”. There’s a pure innocence and deep yearning there. It breaks me. It’s even more potent because I have never used the term “bad girl” to describe her and I’ve tried to use many more descriptive terms besides “good girl” in addressing her. It doesn’t matter though, does it? We all seem to have this inherent need to strive for acceptance, to deserve generosity and to earn love. And that need is palpable when it’s from the people that we love the most, our origins, our first contact with love.

Fiona and mommy

I so desperately want Fiona to understand how much value she holds inside my heart, that she could never do anything to lose my love and that she didn’t do anything but exist to make that happen. Do I get angry? Yes. Do I lose my temper? Yes. Do I run out of patience? Yes. Do I run out of enough reserves to give her everything she needs when she needs it? Reluctantly I answer yes. I’m not perfect. I’m just trying to do my best with what I have because I’m human. But I know that she needs this to feel valued, safe and loved. Children in general need that constant reassurance of love, acceptance and value. We know that when children feel secure in love, they grow up as highly functioning, contributing members of society. But what have they learned from fellow broken, well-intentioned people? Most likely they learn that they need to ultimately earn those things.

That’s how love works among people. We have reward systems, behavior modification, action plans, etc. We learn that, by doing, we are accepted, have earned our value and, ultimately, loved. We need to show our worth in what we accomplish. Those accomplishments are great things. Many times, they give people a sense of purpose. But what if you strip all of those things away? What then? Are we still valued? Will we be accepted? Will we feel secure? Will we be loved? Maybe not by people. But by God? Absolutely. In fact, God has promised us that nothing can separate us from His love. Nothing. We can’t even mess it up ourselves!

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 38-39)

I guess the question we need to ask ourselves is, “Can I accept this love?” Referring to the quote by Thomas Merton, can I believe that God can love me? Even when I’ve messed up? Even when I don’t love my neighbor? Even when I’m short with Fiona? Even when I lose my temper? Even when I lack generosity? Even when I turn my back on the hurting? That’s hard for me to accept that love then. Am I even worth the work let alone the love it takes for my redemption? Sometimes it is easier for me to believe there is nothing out there then to believe that there is a God who does love my sloppy, messed up self. It’s easy to ask God…

Was I a good girl?

Did I do a good job?

Are you happy with me?

Are you so proud of me?

Answers to those questions seem like they’d be easier to swallow even if they’re not all positive. I would at least have something to work on. But…

Do you love me?

Hold up. That one makes me hold my breath. And I think of Fiona. Would I want her to wonder about my love for her? Would I want her to go unsure of the answer to this? Of course not. I want Fiona to know, without a shadow of a doubt, that she is my beloved daughter. I want her to know that I know she’s not perfect. I want her to know that I love her no matter what. Even when she hurts me I will love her. I will love her even when she’s not nice to others. I will love her even when she’s acting selfishly. I will love her even when she’s a mess. I will always see the best in her and I will try to help her reach her potential. That’s what mothers do, right? They love you through it all no matter what. Most of all, I want to steer her in the direction of the Son. For when my loving arms can’t reach or are too weak or are gone from this earth, I want her to reach for His.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

Good question. Who can be against us? The answer to that question for me is…me. Thomas Merton also wrote, “ Our idea of God tells us more about ourselves than about Him.” And I find that to be true. We put conditions on God’s love because we are conditional. We try so hard to earn and deserve His love because that’s what we know to do. Truth is, we don’t need to do anything and that’s hard to imagine. It’s hard to imagine especially when we are taught that our utility is an asset in this world. But it’s unnecessary to receive ultimate grace and love, and that’s evident as we near Good Friday.

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Good Friday is a profound reminder to me of God’s ultimate sacrifice and Christ’s unconditional love for me. Don’t simply “make it” through Good Friday to get to Easter. Let the meaning of the sacrifice sink in stillness. Be present for that day. For it was that very day that Christ did the one thing needed to allow us full access to unconditional, pure love. And we didn’t do anything but exist to give him enough reason to do it. I know I would lay down my life for my daughter the moment she existed. There is no question about that. My love pours out freely to her and it always will. I can’t completely explain it. It’s a divine gift from God to be able to experience it as a mother and it helps me begin to understand His love for me (especially when I’m struggling with myself).

So, the question isn’t if God loves you. The question is, will you let Him?


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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Set

 

As a wannabe photographer, I like to think I know something about taking good pictures. Really, I know very little, but my ‘fancy’ camera and I have a lot of fun.

My favorite thing to take photos of (besides my children’s smiling faces) is flowers. Whenever we go for a walk or hike, you can guarantee I’ll be holding my family up because I’m kneeling in the bushes taking approximately 74 pictures of each different kind of flower we pass.

The coolest thing about having a DSLR camera is the ability to create a “depth effect” by focusing the lens on a particular flower. This causes the flower to “pop” out at the viewer and everything that’s not the flower to blur into the distance. As the photographer, I have the ability to set the focal point – I press the “take a picture” button down halfway and wherever the center point of the rectangle in my viewfinder is, the lens makes that object the “focus” or the sharpest and clearest part of the photograph.

SET 1

In Romans 8, after getting real in the previous chapter about the struggle of living with a sinful nature inside of him – having “the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out,” (7:18) Paul presents his case for an alternative way of living. Rather than making “the flesh” the focal point, he exhorts his readers to instead set their minds on “the Spirit”:

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” (v. 5-7)

Whether he knew it or not, Paul was hitting on a basic principle of human psychology: Whatever we set our minds on, we give power to. Setting our focus on something makes that thing the sharpest and clearest, allowing it to capture our attention and leaving everything else to blur into the background.

When we set our mind on “the flesh” – even if it’s because we’re trying to stop sinning – we only increase sin’s power. Focusing on our own failed or successful attempts to follow the law leads only to pride on one end or increased feelings of guilt and shame on the other. Focusing on the letter of the law makes obedience to it a “have to,” which our flesh is instinctively hostile toward (if you’ve spent any time with a two-year-old, you know how true this is!). The more we give attention to our natural desires, even if it’s in an attempt to deny those desires, the more we end up enslaved by them.

But by setting our minds on the Spirit, we allow His power to be the focus and the force of real change in our lives.

The power of sin is in the shame and defeat of failure, but the Spirit reminds us that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (v. 1) The Spirit “brings to remembrance” (John 14:26) the “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” character of our God (Psalm 103:8).

The power of sin is in the past and in the tunnel vision of self-pity, but the Spirit puts in view what’s next. When we set our minds on the Spirit, He shows us we have a purpose greater than ourselves. And when our bodies and minds are busy being used as His “witnesses” (Acts 1:8), we don’t need to be consumed with trying to gratify, control, or punish them.

The power of sin is in discouragement at the lack of change in our lives and in the world around us. But the Spirit opens our eyes to all the ways He is working, giving us power to “abound in hope” (Romans 15:13) regardless of what our flesh feels and sees.

As a parent with kids in elementary school, I’ve been introduced over the past few years to an education strategy called “Growth Mindset”.* When a child experiences failure after doing poorly on an assignment, not being able to grasp a concept or perform a skill, their minds tend to default to a “Fixed Mindset,” which says, “I can’t, so I should give up”. But a “Growth Mindset” approach teaches them to say: “I can’t right now, but I will learn”. A “Fixed Mindset” sets the mind on one’s current abilities and inherent strengths or weaknesses, but a “Growth Mindset” sets the mind on the possibility of change.

A “Flesh Mindset” puts the focus on our current ability to change ourselves based on our own inherent strengths or weaknesses – and as a result, says, “I can’t change myself, so I might as well give up”. But a “Spirit Mindset” puts the focus on God’s ability to transform us based on His strength. A “Spirit Mindset” says, “I can’t change myself, but God can, is, and will continue to work change in me.”

My default mode is set to “autofocus” and the center point of my viewfinder tends to stay on “flesh” because it’s in my face all day. I regularly set unrealistic “I can do this!” change goals for myself, honestly believing I’m going to be able to sustain the effort. I hear the Holy Spirit’s whispers of “I have a better way,” but I ignore them – and my life ends up looking like this:

SET 2

In verse 13 of Romans 8, Paul says, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Setting our minds on the Spirit doesn’t mean denying our sin or expending no effort, it means we diminish the power of sin – we let it blur into the background – by directing our effort in the right direction. Manually adjusting our focus by spending time in God’s Word, making space in our lives to pray, and putting aside distractions to listen for and then follow His leading is the surest way to “life and peace” (v. 6).

*https://www.mindsetworks.com/Science/Impact


Mandy

Mandy Desilets is part of Hope’s student ministry staff. A big fan of anything to do with outdoor adventure, coffee, and the Bible, this wife and mom of three writes weekly at: mandydesilets.wordpress.com

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Dead Men Singing

I once sang in a choir. Well, it was a small church and the whole congregation was the choir. When we sang, we read the music from the hymnal. Different people sang different parts, but it was all laid out for us to follow. I can see the notes and know what to do, but my sinful body can’t obey and I sing flat most of the time. I love to sing, especially when it is praise, but it doesn’t sound beautiful. I’m glad David says to make a joyful noise, because my singing qualifies as both joyful and noise.

One hymn that we liked to sing, Blessed Assurance, the conductor liked to change it up. On the last verse, he would say “watch me”. We had to look up from the music, and remember what we were singing so we could put our eyes on him. He would conduct us, slowing it down, adding some dramatic pauses, stretching out some notes. It was beautiful. (Except for my flat notes).

Picture1

In the typical case, we were following what was written – as best we could. It was technically correct. We were following the law. We were doing what the composer intended.

When the conductor took control, we were doing something more. We were creating something in addition to what the composer had written. The conductor was adding in what he knew that our choir was capable of. He was giving the music some spirit, some life.

God gives us the opportunity to walk through our lives like this. He has given us the law so that we know what is expected. Like my voice, our human bodies are tainted by sin and can’t follow the written law. Try as we might, we fail. “For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.”  Rom 7:15

But we no longer need to struggle to try to obey the law. “So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.” Rom 7:4 If you keep staring at the law, that won’t get you life. We no longer are expected to concentrate on the law. If we spend our time looking at the law, then we can’t create the beautiful fruit that God desires from our lives. Like singing with a conductor, when we look up and put our eyes on Him and seek to follow Him, He leads us into life.

To the Galatians, Paul says it a little differently: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the spirit, let us keep in step with the spirit.” Gal 5:24-25

Walking by the spirit seems hard. We keep getting pulled back to our familiar struggle of trying to follow the rules and be good. But Paul says that we have no reason to do that. He says we are dead to the law. He says, “by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” Rom 7:6

I still feel that pull of temptation. I still run off down those trails of pleasing myself. But Paul says we are dead to that. It doesn’t have any power over us. I should be learning to leave my old flesh in the grave and not jump up to follow the temptation. But I still have a lot to learn before I’m good at that.

But even more, Paul says that our bodies are dead, and it doesn’t matter if they continue to sin. Our bodies are in the grave and no longer obligated to follow the law.

He says that we are free to follow the spirit, to walk with Jesus, to bear fruit for God. Paul lays out the struggle of what our bodies, controlled by sin, want to do and what our minds, guided by the spirit, want to do. We need to stop focusing on the body controlled by sin – it’s dead. Instead, follow the spirit of God to produce fruit. If we focus on the struggle, if we keep thinking about trying to avoid sin, we are not being available to serve God.

Paul wants us to be freed from the control of our feelings of guilt. There is no longer any condemnation for us. Our failures are the actions of our bodies which are dead. Turn away from them and reach out to God.

So we need to take our eyes off of the written instructions that we think we need to follow. They will only lead us to failure and death. We need to keep our eyes on the Director. He will guide us to paths that are beautiful, creative, and new.


ScottBio

Scott Sibley is on our Leadership Team. He also serves as our Director of World Outreach. His favorite times of the week are serving with Youth@Hope. It has been 40 years since he responded to Jesus’ command to “Come follow me”.

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I Need a Doctor

 

There are few things that I remember truly fearing in life when I was a child, but one of the things that I remember frequently running through my head was a general fear of getting the most dreaded disease for any child… the chicken pox! Luckily that fear never came to be a reality for me but I remember first hearing about them while I was watching an episode on one of my favorite childhood TV shows, “Arthur”. The way they described the chicken pox in that episode just made them seem such a pain in the butt.

A) Arthur almost didn’t go to the circus because of how contagious they were. (Which in those days missing a day at the circus would have been devastating, let’s be honest.)

B) They made his whole body itch. And,

C) He wasn’t allowed to scratch them!

That last one alone would have been enough to drive me crazy. When I was young I HATED whenever I got bug bites or irritated skin because the constant itching was the worst! So, the thought of having itches all over my body that I wouldn’t be allowed to scratch was about as torturous a thought that my little mind could think of. Even though the threat of the chicken pox frequently haunted me as a child, I came to realize as I got older that I didn’t have anything to worry about because I got vaccinated for chicken pox when I was a baby.

PICTURE 1

It took me a number of years though, to be really be able to understand that I wasn’t even at risk of contracting chicken pox because of a shot I had gotten years before. How could that one trip to the doctor, years prior, protect me from contracting the childhood equivalent of leprosy? There was no way my little brain could understand the concept of a vaccine. For those of you who need a refresher course of exactly how a vaccine works I’ll give you a brief run down.

When disease-causing germs enter your body, you have natural defenses that our immune system creates to fight the disease. These proteins are called antibodies. Basically they’re like little fighter jets sent out into the bloodstream to seek out and eliminate deadly invaders. Whenever a disease enters your body it begins to multiply, and often times your body is able to produce enough antibodies to fight off the germs even as they multiply. Sometimes however the disease is strong enough that the body can’t totally fight it off, and that is when we get sick. And sometimes the disease is too strong and our bodies are caught so off guard by the attack that we are overrun by it, which can have some very serious and sometimes deadly consequences, especially at a young age. This is where vaccines come into play. When you get a vaccine injection, you are getting a little bit of whatever disease you are being vaccinated for injected into your bloodstream, a very weak or even dead strain of the disease. This gets your immune system and antibodies to be familiar with that disease. They then store that familiarity with that disease in their memories to help fight it in the future causing your body to then develop an immunity to it. It’s really amazing when you think about it—all of that going on inside of you.

PICTURE 2

Now let’s look at something a little more common like the flu. It’s recommended that you get vaccinated for the flu once a year. This is because the flu virus is constantly adapting and evolving into new strains, so keeping your body up to date on how to fight it is important to keep yourself healthy. And at this point I can just about hear all of you saying to yourself, “Isn’t this supposed to be a church blog, not a medical forum?” The answer to that question is yes, and I would like to thank you for helping me segue into the meat of this post. You see, when I think about disease and vaccination I don’t only think about physical health and the human body, but I also think about spiritual health and the church body.

Close to 2000 years ago, the world received the most powerful vaccination of all time: the vaccination against the disease known as sin and death. Christ was sent by God the Father to die on the cross so that His children would not succumb to the crippling power of sin, leaving all who believe in Him immune to the fear of eternity in hell. But just because we have received this vaccination, that doesn’t mean that we should ignore the sin in our lives. Just because you get a flu shot doesn’t mean you should go around licking doorknobs at your doctor’s office or letting people cough in your face. A vaccination isn’t an excuse to live a reckless life, just like accepting Christ into your life isn’t an excuse to continue or dive deeper into sin.

“Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death?For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him.”  (Romans 6: 1-8)

Do not take for granted the gift of salvation you were given with the sacrifice that Christ made for us on the cross, because truly that is what it was: a GIFT! An incredible, perfect, gracious gift! And what better way to show your appreciation for this gift than by leading a life that shows Him just how thankful you are.

Realistically we all sin—that is unavoidable; the least we can do is try our best to be our best and do it in His name because at the end of the day God’s vaccination of grace will be there to help us fight sin, but we still must fight if we want to avoid getting “sick” from sin. We have to be the antibodies, both in our personal lives and in the world. The great commission calls us all to “go forth and make disciples,” in medical terms, “go forth and make more antibodies,” because it was the Son himself who said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” The world doesn’t need us to be totally free of disease. It needs us to be willing to fight the disease in the name of the greatest doctor, the greatest healer this world has ever known, Jesus Christ.

PICTURE 3

It’s really easy for us as Christians to sit down and tell ourselves that because we are in church every Sunday, pray frequently and read our Bibles regularly that we are spiritually healthy. But is that true, or are we just using those practices to cover up the unhealthy and sinful behavior in our lives? I know I’ve found myself guilty of this in my life in the past, and I’m sure it’ll happen again in some form in the future. We can’t overlook it, because if we do our health starts to fade. Our choices have consequences and, yes, our doctor will be there to fix it, but how smart is it for us to let ourselves become sick in the first place—especially when we have been provided all the tools and resources, all the medicines and vaccines we need to avoid getting seriously ill in the first place? His grace is sufficient, but our effort is required to stay healthy. For the church body to remain healthy we have to remain healthy as well, so let’s go forward with the intentions of making this world a much healthier place.


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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