The Peacemakers and the Persecuted 

“PEACE!!” If you’re a child of the 80’s like me, you know this exclamation has nothing to do with the absence of conflict – it simply means, ‘Goodbye.’ I know it makes no sense, but neither did parachute pants and mullets. ‘Peace’ is what rappers and cool kids said when they were leaving a scene. It was accentuated by putting up 2 fingers to form a ‘V’. Why a V? Beats me. It actually originated in the 1940s and did not mean ‘peace;’ it meant ‘V for Victory’ (which makes more sense), signifying our success after World War II. In the 1960s, it somehow morphed into a peace sign during the Vietnam War. It was one of two signs. The other, you might recall, was this  , airbrushed on carpeted vans everywhere. Rappers would also wear it as a necklace pendant, virtually covering the entire torso. The sign is actually the logo for the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, but I’m sure Kool Moe D knew that.   

peace

So why such a focus on peace? Was it a fad, or was there really a need to calm the storm? I would say a little of the former, and a good helping of the latter. We don’t typically consider the 80’s as a tumultuous time in our history, but we certainly had our share of unrest. The two major standouts were the Cold War and the Iran-Iraq War (followed almost immediately by the Gulf War in 1990 (which my brother was in). There was also the Tiananmen Square protest, which did not occur on U.S. soil but rather in China, where people in favor of democracy wanted changes. Several other major and minor skirmishes ensued throughout the 80s and 90s, on up to the present day. 

So when did this desire for peace begin? Since the beginning of time, right? Not quite. There is no need for heat unless there is cold; health without illness, light without darkness, and peace without conflict. In the beginning, there was no desire for peace because there was no conflict. Everything God made He called good. It wasn’t until Adam and Eve exercised their free will at the devil’s behest that conflict came into the earth. I said ‘earth’ and not ‘world’ because conflict was already in the world.  Lucifer rebelled against God Almighty, and so it began. That transpired in the heavenlies; peace was all that was in the Garden, until the devil influenced its inhabitants, then chaos erupted. Isn’t that right, Mr. Joel? > We Didn’t Start the Fire 

So with all of this mayhem, we need people willing to stand up and be peacekeepers, right?  Wrong!  Jesus said in Matthew 5:9 – “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”  We sometimes use those terms interchangeably, but one could argue they are worlds apart. Peacekeepers do just that; they keep the peace. They make sure things stay as they are. No rocking the boat, no upsetting the status quo. Peacekeepers kept quiet when Hitler decided the Jews were responsible for Germany’s woes and orchestrated their deaths in droves. Peacekeepers said nothing when African Americans were treated with utter cruelty and ascribed a value lower than animals. Peacekeepers held their peace when a completely innocent Man was whipped beyond recognition and sentenced to death by crucifixion. British Parliament member, Edmund Burke, said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Doing nothing is, ironically, a peacekeeper’s preferred course of action. 

UN peacekeepers 

A peacemaker, on the other hand, is about peace at any cost. You can’t stir the pot too much, you can’t make the powers that be too uncomfortable, and there is no price too great. After all, you are making peace.  In other words, you are creating peace where none exists.  It’s a tall order, but a necessary one, and only a few can handle its great responsibility. God said those who did this would be called His children. That makes sense, since one of His names is Jehovah Shalom (The Lord is peace). His Child was called the Prince of Peace in Isaiah 9:6, and a prince by definition is the King’s Son.   

What is interesting about Jesus though is He said He didn’t come to bring peace. In Matthew 10:34, He says, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  WHAT?! Does this not sound like a glaring contradiction?  Sure it does. Most everything does when taken out of context. Ephesians 2:14 says “For He Himself is our peace,” so what He was really doing was drawing a line in the sand. If you truly wanted peace – that is, peace with God – the way to obtain it was to follow Him. If you didn’t want things shaken up, if you were fine with the way things were – being at odds with God due to sin – then so be it.  He was saying your relationship with God was at stake, and the cost was great. The proverbial sword He referred to was to divide the makers from the keepers. 

So that’s it. You have those who believe and those who don’t. Group 1 lives their lives, and Group 2 lives theirs. End of story, right?  Oh so wrong. In Biblical times, as well as present-day in many areas of the world, Group 2 does not want Group 1 to exist. It doesn’t make much sense to us in today’s western world, but that is because we live in a democracy rather than a theocracy.  Israel was under a theocracy from Moses until Saul (Israel’s first king). It then became a monarchy, but the king was still to rule strictly by religious precepts. So rebellion against those in power was not simply an annoyance against the government, but a capital offense. That meant anyone joining Group 1 was automatically putting their very lives in danger through persecution. Jesus Himself was persecuted, tortured, and killed, so it stood to reason His followers would, unfortunately, have to suffer as well. The Lord bestowed great honor on those who chose this path, and said in Matthew 5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” He went on to say in verses 11-12, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.”   

Hope Youth Sorting-Ashley Place

[Photo credit: Ashley Place]

Peacemakers are not interested in temporal comfort, but rather eternal impact. They understand their mission is to see to it that this world is better because they existed. If that means they have to be uncomfortable for a time, or rock others’ comfort zones, then it is simply par for the course. If it means struggle, hardship, and difficulty, bring it on. It was one of the world’s most significant peacemakers, the apostle Paul, who said in 2 Corinthians 4:17 “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” Light affliction. This is the same man who was whipped 39 times on 5 separate occasions. He was beaten with rods 3 times; he was stoned, he was shipwrecked 3 times, he starved, he froze, he went through unimaginable adversity, yet he basically said, ‘No biggie.’ This is the mindset of a peacemaker, and those who endure persecution for the sake of Jesus the Christ. They forsake their own satisfaction for the betterment of others. For that, God Almighty calls them Blessed, and gives them a little parting gift called THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. If we would aspire to live our lives in this manner, I believe the term ‘world peace’ would no longer be considered a pipe dream, but rather a wonderful reality. 

PEACE! 😉  


Ketchum_julian

Julian Ketchum is a resident of Norristown, PA, originally from the Baltimore area.  He is a member and former elder of Hope Community Church in King of Prussia, and serves primarily on the Worship Team as a drummer, pianist, and vocalist.  He has been married to his lovely wife, Katina, for 21 years, and they have 3 children – a daughter aged 16, and two sons, 14 and 12.

 

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Fair vs. Mercy

“That’s not fair!” 

Said every child ever.  

Including me. 

If my brother got something I wanted it wasn’t fair. 

If he was asked to help my dad outside while I was stuck inside cleaning it wasn’t fair. 

If I was punished along with my brother it really wasn’t fair. 

If someone I was extra kind to in the past was mean to me it wasn’t fair. 

If I didn’t receive the award I thought I deserved, but it went to another colleague instead of me, it wasn’t fair. 

If their team got the large budget, but mine had been working behind the scenes tirelessly without a budget, it wasn’t fair. 

Okay, maybe it’s not just children. If we’re honest it’s adults, too. We want life to be fair. Well, most of the time. When it’s in our favor.   

When I look at my sin, I do not want it to be fair. I don’t want to get what I deserve. I want to experience God’s mercy and forgiveness. I want to live in freedom and experience being rightly connected to our Heavenly Father even though I mess up daily and don’t deserve that gift. 

As Jesus was teaching his disciples on the mountain in Matthew 5 he said, Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” 

Mercy is not getting what we deserve for our wrong-doing. It’s forgiveness of our debt. Not having to pay back what we owe. Our accounts payable column is cleared. Our slate wiped clean. A fresh start. That sounds like an amazing gift, but it is not particularly fair.  

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Peter asked Jesus in Matthew 18 about this very topic. “How often should I forgive someone when they sin against me? The law only requires me to forgive someone three times. What if I doubled that mercy and added one for good measure and forgave someone seven times?” (my paraphrase) 

Jesus responded, “I tell you not seven times, but seventy times seven,(Matthew 18:22). Most commentaries agree that Jesus wasn’t suggesting that we count the number of times we show mercy to someone up to 490 times, but rather that we extend forgiveness an unlimited amount of times. That surely doesn’t seem fair. 

Jesus continued in this same chapter of Matthew with a parable – a story with a spiritual meaning – about a servant who was shown great mercy. He compared the kingdom of heaven to a king who wanted to settle his accounts with his servants. In this process he discovered a man owed him a colossal amount of money. In today’s economy it is estimated that the debt was the equivalent of at least twelve million dollars. Since the man was not able to pay this huge debt the king ordered that he and his family be sold for payment. 

The servant fell on his knees and begged for the king to be patient with him.  “I will pay back everything,” he promised. Jesus said the king took pity on the man and cancelled the entire debt and let him go. 

Then this same man (whose very large debt had just been forgiven) found that one of his servants owed him the equivalent of a few dollars. He grabbed this man and began to choke him demanding, “Pay back what you owe me!” His fellow servant dropped to his knees and begged him to be patient with him, so he could pay him back. But the man refused and had his servant thrown into prison. This upset many who knew him, and they told the king everything that had happened.   

The king called the servant in and said, “You wicked servant. I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to be patient. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” (Matthew 18:33) Then the king ordered that the man be tortured in jail until he could pay back all that he owed.   

At the end of this story Jesus challenges us. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” 

The first servant should have been full of mercy. Merciful. Because he had been forgiven much. But, instead he cruelly withheld mercy from his fellow servant, and in the end was tortured instead of living a blessed life.   

I’d like to think that if I was shown the same kind of mercy that the king in this parable showed his servant that I would live my life full of mercy for the people around me. Oh wait. I have been shown that kind of mercy. When Jesus died on the cross I was given the colossal gift of mercy. I have been forgiven of my sin debt. I get to live in freedom enjoying a personal relationship with Jesus because of what He did for me. Because of his infinite mercy I am not getting what I deserve – eternal separation from God, but instead I have the promise of eternal life with Him when I die. Thankfully, it is not fair! 

uplifted hand

Maybe if I fixed my eyes on God’s mercy – on what He has given me – instead of what others have done or do to me – I would live a blessed life sharing mercy with others. Perhaps, I would stop focusing on what’s fair and what’s not and picture the difficult people in my life in view of God’s mercy to me. How then might I treat the homeless person who has an addiction keeping him from holding a job and a roof over his head? The woman who told my friend behind my back I didn’t deserve that position? The guy from the office who spews hatred on social media? The friend who makes bad decisions with men and now needs a ride to a court hearing? The neighbor who wants to borrow a tool from me but whose daughter lied about my daughter at school?   

I used to teach across the hall from a colleague who had a sign in her fourth grade classroom that said, “Fair isn’t equal.” It took the “It’s not fair!” mantra right out of the mouths of her students.   

I’m glad life isn’t fair. I’m so grateful that I have been shown mercy by the Most High God. I want to live the blessed life that Jesus talks about in Matthew 5, so I think I need to do a heart check. I need to stop measuring what is fair around me and start looking for ways to show mercy. I want to be full of mercy because I want to continue to receive the gift of mercy. 


JH profile pic

Jennifer Hiltebeitel and her husband, Eric, live in Malvern and have been members of Hope for almost 20 years. They found this church through the yellow pages in the phone book about three weeks after they returned from their honeymoon. Jennifer is the Director of the Orphan-Widow Ministry at Hope, leads a small group of 7th-8th grade girls on Sunday mornings and looks forward to studying God’s Word every week with her Morning Light friends on Wednesday mornings. She and Eric are blessed with two daughters, Skyler (16) and Cameron (12).

 

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Spiritually Hangry

My life has been dramatically changed by one of the most significant technological advances of the last century: the DVR. Most people may not think that it warrants the same level of prestige as the artificial heart, the personal computer or the cellular phone, but for me, it has been a game-changer. I am a child of the 60’s and 70’s, and while growing up, my primary entertainment medium was television. Rarely did my family go to movies or concerts and never to a play. But we watched a lot of major network TV (for those of you under 50, that translates to ABC, NBC and CBS), and occasionally, when we were feeling particularly adventuresome, sampled a little PBS or the mysterious world of UHS. Mostly, we stuck with the mainstream sitcoms and police shows, so I am pretty well versed in the casts and characters from All in the Family, Barney Miller, Charlie’s Angels and ColumboI realize how old-fashioned that sounds, but back in my youth, quality TV time meant that I was up-to-date with the latest in pop culture.

My life and my schedule have changed greatly over the decades so that today I almost never see TV shows as they are broadcast. But, with the help of the miraculous DVR function in my cable box, I am able to watch the few TV shows that I want to see, when I want to see them. The wonders of living in the modern world!

As with most things, there is a darker side to my DVR use. Because I don’t get around to watching shows timely, I can sometimes feel a little bit left behind. For example, when catching up on the 40 or so episodes of Jeopardy! I have recorded, I can be surprised when Alex Trebek wishes the audience a happy Mothers’ Day when I am celebrating Labor Day. I can get a little out of sync with the rest of the world. Even more disorienting is the double-edged sword of having the power to fast-forward through commercials. I love the freedom of being able to skip commercials and opening and closing credits so that an hour-long program takes only about 40 minutes. I find, however, that I have begun to miss the commercials. On some shows, the commercials were the funniest parts. Some commercial slogans or tag lines have worked their way into our language and shared experience. Who could forget: “Where’s the beef?”, “Can you hear me now?”, or “Got milk?” One current commercial slogan that I like is Snickers’ “You’re not you when you’re hungry”. Snickers has been running that campaign for several years, so even I am familiar with it. I like this campaign both because the commercials are very funny and because I think that the premise is true:  hunger changes us for the worse.

JimSnickers

I was reminded of this as Roman was teaching about Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. The Gospel of Matthew tells us, “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry.” (Mt 4:1-2) Jesus had taken on our humanity, and Satan was trying to take advantage of Him while He was weakest – while He was hungry. I think Satan hoped that Jesus would be like us – He wouldn’t be himself when He was hungry. Jesus, however, showed how far superior he is to us by resisting Satan’s temptation and even driving him away despite His hunger and physical weakness. Three times Jesus defeated Satan’s temptations and lies by quoting scripture. He was still His true self, even when hungry.

Jesus highlighted the connection between our physical needs and our spiritual ones when Satan tempted Him with food. He responded, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Mt 4:4) I think that God gave us this story because we would be able to relate well to it. We have probably all been very hungry at some time in our lives, so we can understand how Jesus felt. When I get really hungry, I get a headache, am impatient, can’t concentrate and am irritable. When I am “hangry”, all I think about is getting food, I don’t care about other people, and I make stupid decisions.

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I also think that God gave us this story because He wants us to learn the lesson about our spiritual needs as well. It is natural for everyone to recognize that we need food, but it is not as obvious to us that we need God’s word just as much. When Jesus rebuked Satan, He was quoting Deuteronomy 8:3 which is the passage where Moses was reminding the people of Israel that God had provided them food in the form of manna along with a series of instructions for gathering and preparing it so that they would understand that they needed both the resources God provides and obedience to His word in order to live and thrive.

I see the truth of this in my own life today. When I try to live on just “bread” and don’t get enough of God’s word, I become spiritually hangry. Without a regular intake of scriptural truth, I don’t view the world the way God does. I become more selfish, less patient, less loving, less able to resist temptation and less joyful. Even my prayers change. My prayers become small and self-centered. I find myself praying only about my needs and desires, or if I am feeling especially generous, the needs of my closest family and friends. Only when I have gotten adequate feeding from the scriptures do I have the right view of God and have God’s view of the world. Then my prayers can be focused on praising God for His greatness and asking Him to make me the man He wants me to be and to move in the world to accomplish His purposes.

We need to learn from Jesus and from Snickers; we are not ourselves, not the people God has made us to be, when we are spiritually hungry. So, here, have some scripture…


Jim

Jim and his wife Tracey live in King of Prussia and 3 adult children.  They have been at Hope for over 15 years and thrive on seeing God working in His people to demonstrate Christ to our community.

The Conclusion of the Matter

One of the hardest parts of working with students over the years has been watching them make poor decisions for their life and react to minor events in major ways. I imagine this is the same pain that every parent goes through. This desire to protect them against all the evil in the world and the wish that they would listen to your advice are overpowering at times. For deep down you know that they need to take ownership and experience life themselves in both small and big events. However, standing back and watching them go through the ups and downs when all you want for them is to see the joy can be agonizing some days.
I couldn’t help but notice that the author in Ecclesiastes chapters 11 & 12 understood this as they continually remind the readers to remember God and enjoy life while they are young, because life doesn’t always get better as we get older. Those of us who are more seasoned in life can attest to that truth. What we thought was a “big deal” when we were young is not even close to the “big deals” that we deal with as adults. Our views of pain, suffering, troubles, and frustrations all change as we experience more of life.

As someone who works with students daily, both in my day job and at the church, I always want the best for them. I want them to see the world is bigger than themselves and that they can control their actions, emotions, and how they respond to the world around them. As humans we often want the best for ourselves and those that surround us: kids, grandkids, siblings, parents. We want them to live a healthy and happy life. We desire for them to approach every day full of life and joy, finding the beauty of all that God has created, whether that be a sunset, puppies, rain, a good book, anything.

First Creation Photography 20180610-_U3A5341

However, in a world that is full of sin, natural disasters, destruction, and emotion, finding that joy and celebrating God can be very difficult. I was caught off guard by the strong language that was used to describe dealing with these negative emotions in chapter 11 vs 10. The NLT says, “refuse to worry” – be “unwilling to accept” it, as Merriam Webster says it. The NIV says, “banish anxiety…and cast off the troubles,” and the NASB says “remove grief and anger.” If you look at the origin of the word, it means to depart from, to abolish, to reject.

I’m not sure when the last time was that I actually worked at rejecting or abolishing a thought or complaint or anxious moment that came into my brain. Often we let the thoughts fester slightly; we allow them to sit and stew instead of instantly rejecting them, not even accepting them into our train of thought. When we get angry or judgmental, do we abolish it, reject it? As anxiety and worry enters our hearts do we banish it, not even allowing it to sit for a moment?

Many days I struggle to see God’s beauty and experience His joy. I wonder why can’t I see it; why am I not a joyful person? But I have seen that it is not that I don’t see God’s beauty or His love, but it is that I am so full of worry, anxiety, judgment, negative thoughts, and depression, that even with all the good I see, there is no room for it to fill me up. To see God more clearly I must say NO; I must abolish and banish the other thoughts that cloud my day. It’s not always about “choosing” joy, but it IS about choosing to NOT listen to all the negative thoughts and desires that occur. It IS about choosing to NOT let an event overtake our life.

At the end of Ecclesiastes as a summary of the book the author states,

“Now all has been heard;

here is the conclusion of the matter:

Fear God and keep his commandments,

for this is the duty of all mankind.”
And in Matthew 22:36-39,

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?

Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it. ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Our duty as mankind and followers of Christ is to love God and love people. But we can’t do that if we are bogged down by the “Eeyore complex” or the “glass half empty” view of life.  To have room in our lives in our hearts for God’s love and His joy or to see His beauty all around us, we must FIRST rid our lives or anxiety, judgement, complaining, worry and all other negative thoughts. This action is not a once and done; these things will continually find their ways back in, but we have to be ready to banish them, to reject them, and to refuse to let them take over and steal the ability to see and experience all that God has in store for us.

First Creation Photography-9355


IMG_Elisabeth Bio Pic

Elisabeth Evenson and her husband Daniel have both been a part of Hope for years. Elisabeth started serving with our youth 12 years ago as an intern. After a few years of serving youth in Vermont she returned to be an assistant director for Youth@Hope, at which point she and Daniel crossed paths. When she’s not working and serving our youth, you might find her enjoying a great sunset or cooking or baking something tasty to give to others.

 

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Sad Beginnings and Better Endings

As a younger man I remember vividly reading a scene from Steven Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in which the reader is asked to pause what they’re doing, close their eyes, and imagine being at a funeral. We notice the smell of the flowers and the sound of the soft organ playing some forgotten hymn. We see the faces of the sympathetic mourners and of the family who has lost someone dear. We feel the pain of loss and remember happier days. We walk down the center aisle toward the casket and suddenly come face to face with ourselves in the casket. 

This is our funeral, some years from now. The people have come to pay their respects to us. 

We’re asked to consider what the speakers will say at our funeral. What stories will they reflect on? What examples will they use to illustrate the happy times? How will they explain what mattered to us? Will they call us a leader? A servant? A friend? A good parent? A strong sibling? A helpful neighbor? 

Roy's Funeral

Covey goes on to quote Joseph Addison:  

“When I look upon the tombs of the great, every emotion of envy dies in me; when I read the epitaphs of the beautiful, every inordinate desire goes out; when I meet with the grief of parents upon a tombstone, my heart melts with compassion; when I see the tomb of the parents themselves, I consider the vanity of grieving for those whom we must quickly follow; when I see kings lying by those who deposed them, when I consider rival wits placed side by side, or the holy men that divided the world with their contests and disputes, I reflect with sorrow and astonishment on the little competitions, factions, and debates of mankind. When I read the several dates of the tombs, of some that died yesterday, and some six hundred years ago, I consider that great Day when we shall all of us be Contemporaries, and make our appearance together.” 

Covey is bringing us to a critical point with the second of his 7 Habits: Begin with the End in Mind. 

King Solomon made a similar observation in Ecclesiastes chapter 7, where he tells us that a wise man is better off going to a funeral than a party. He says that the end of a thing is better than the beginning, and the day of our death is better than the day of our birth. He doesn’t offer any explanations for these ideas, but I think we can safely make some educated guesses as to what this wisdom literature is telling us. 

New beginnings are great, aren’t they? New love. Moving into a first house. Birth of a child. Graduation day. First day at a new job. That new car smell. Kicking off a new project. In each of these we see optimism, new chances to grow, anticipation for the future. Great beginnings are full of new life and the chance to turn a corner. But they are only beginnings. Pretty soon the polish on the car isn’t so shiny. Diapers have to be changed. School bills have to be paid, as does that new mortgage. Workers start to grumble. Someone has to do the dishes, again. New beginnings are great, but we don’t ever really look at them as the beginning of an end. During those first moments we don’t often consider what this situation is going to look like in five or ten years. When the reality hits us that something will have an end, that’s when we can start considering what influence we have over how that end turns out. And the earlier we think about it, the more opportunity we have to change that outcome. 

I think this gets us in a good mindset to consider Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes. Thinking about the outcome helps us make better decisions now. If we want a happy marriage, we take time to nurture that relationship. If we consider the magnitude of college debt, maybe we consider a plan to pay off the loans before we take them out, or consider alternatives to taking on that debt. Maybe we take better care of that vehicle, changing the fluids regularly and giving it an occasional wash and wax, so it’ll last longer than the payments. We know how we want the kid to turn out, so we teach them the right lessons and put them in the right situations with the right friends and teachers so they can grow up to be productive and caring citizens. A vision for the future compels us to make a plan to get there. I think this is the genius of Solomon’s wisdom in this chapter – asking us to think about the future and telling us that we have a choice to help create the outcome. 

Covered Bridge - First Creation Photography

Happiness teaches us nothing. Parties can give us a temporary good feeling, but nothing comes of them. We learn little to nothing from talking. It’s in the times of sadness, heartbreak, and listening that we change – that we understand that God is good, and He has put people in our path to encourage us and to remind us that He is always walking with us. We learn to trust Him in the tough times, not the easy ones. Don’t get me wrong. I like the mountaintops. I prefer them. I don’t look forward to the valleys. But I do appreciate the growth I’ve had in walking through them. Diamonds can only be formed under pressure. 

We have a short time on this earth. In the blink of an eye, we are born, live, love, and die. We have things to accomplish while we’re here. We have relationships to build, arts to create, generations to educate, buildings to erect, people to encourage, and hope to spread. At the end of all this doing, we must remind ourselves that there will come a time when we equally stand before God to give an account. Did we accept God’s free gift of salvation? What did we do with the time and gifts we were given? That’s the end of the story. We have opportunity now to see that end and to alter course if necessary. We can make a plan and take actions that get us to a better outcome if the road we’re on isn’t getting us to where we want to be. 

 Take Solomon’s words to heart from Ecclesiastes 7: 

1 A good name is better than a good ointment, and the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth.  

2 It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart. 

3 Sorrow is better than laughter, for when a face is sad a heart may be happy. 

4 The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning, while the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure. 

8 The end of a matter is better than its beginning; 

19 Wisdom strengthens a wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city. 

 I encourage you to consider your future today. Assess where you want to be, plan for that future, and take steps today to get there. Make today a new beginning to change your ending, to change the course of your history. Stand over your own casket. 

Jerusalem Steps - First Creation Photography


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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Enjoy Yourself

In this passage of Ecclesiastes, Solomon gives us some famous sayings: 

“Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand.” Eccl. 5:15 

“The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep.” Eccl. 5:12 

“Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.” Eccl. 5:10 

“Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” – Actually, Solomon doesn’t say that. In his study of work and money, Solomon comes to a statement where he does not conclude that “this too is meaningless.” He gives us one of his findings of his investigation of everything in life: “Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward.”  Eccl. 5:18 NASB 

Even more, Solomon seems to point to our labor as the means for us to be happy in life: “Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work – this is a gift of God. He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.” Eccl. 5:19-20 

I was recently asked about someone at work, and whether I thought he would retire soon. I said, “He enjoys what he is doing. Why would he retire from it?” I think this is what Solomon is saying – that man doesn’t “reflect on the days of his life.” He isn’t counting the days until retirement or worrying about how many he has left. He recognizes that what he is doing now, his labor, is a reward in itself. 

God made us for work. In Genesis, before the fall, while life on earth was still perfect, God gave Adam work to do: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Gen. 2:15 The whole story of God in these first chapters of the Bible has been about the work He did, He created. Here’s what it says about the last thing that God created: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness’… So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them.” Gen. 1:26-27 After God demonstrates that His character is to create and do work, He creates man and woman as reflections of His image. We are like Him. So we are intended to create and do work. 

And God created work for us. Paul tells us that God has work ready for us: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand for us to do.” Eph. 2:10 

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There is a story about a traveler who comes across three men working on a construction site, chipping rocks. The traveler asks the first one what he is doing. “Obviously, I’m chipping this rock. I’m counting the time until I can go home and relax.” The traveler asks the second one the same question. “I’m building a wall. It pays well and I’m saving up a lot. Someday I’ll have enough saved up to retire.” The traveler asked the third one the same question.  He responded, “I am building a great cathedral so that people are inspired to worship God.” 

If we focus on the labor we are doing, we can become frustrated with how little meaning it has. We will die, and not be able to take any of the fruits of the work with us. If we focus on the wealth we are building through our labors, we can become obsessed about the money, which will never seem to be enough, and will never satisfy us. If we see the gift of God in the way that he created us and the work that he has given us to do, we can rejoice in the gift of God, in how He created us, in how our work can serve Him. Even if our work seems mundane and routine, we can see it as the tasks that God has given us, and worship God through it. 

Paul says “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Col. 3:17 

Here’s a story (find it here) about a college student who was in an internship to become a Physician’s Assistant, but completely disrupted his career plans when he figured out what God had created him to do, what God was calling him to do. 

“I saw the doctors and physicians assistants standing outside the room, discussing the patient’s treatment while the nurses were inside the room working with the patients,” Chris remembers. “I stopped and stared at that picture for a while and said to myself, ‘God is calling me to nursing.’” 

When we serve the Lord in the way that He created us to serve, it is a gift from God. We shine as an image of a piece of the Creator that no one else can be. It is its own reward. 

 


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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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In This Together

A couple years ago, a friend of mine told me she had been diagnosed with cancer. While it was not an absolute worst-case scenario, the diagnosis was still not good, and it meant that she was facing a difficult regimen of surgery, chemo treatments and radiation that would extend into the summer. As an 18-year cancer survivor myself, I know how challenging chemo treatments can be, so I knew that I wanted to be there with her for them – I knew that having a familiar face there would make the sessions go faster and maybe a little easier. Happily, she completed her treatments and is now another breast cancer survivor. It was not always easy, but she was a real inspiration, and we both found our time together to be special and fulfilling.

It’s hard to describe what I felt the first time I walked into the room with her where she would receive her infusions. My own treatments were 18 years ago, in a different hospital, under the care of a different doctor, but there were enough similarities between her situation and mine that I sort of gasped that first day. I was immediately thrown back 18 years, and I was a little stunned at how vivid all those 18-year-old memories still were. The smells were the same. The sounds were the same. The lights were still very bright. The chairs were still large and plastic and not entirely comfortable. The room was still chilly. The nurses were still young and sweet. And it was still a very diverse mix of patients and visitors. Old, young, women, men, black, white, Asian. And the patients themselves, though all different, still had similarities. Mostly bald. Pale. Sleepy.

My husband had recently been hired and was working at a new job for far more than 40 hours a week when I was going through my own treatments, so my mother was the one who took me to all my sessions, sat in the guest chair by my side for the four hours each session took, and provided the company that helped pass that time. Having her there each time was a treasure for me – she made it comfortable and manageable and okay. I used to wonder how I would have done it without her there, but I don’t wonder that anymore. She WAS there. And I endured it because she offered what I needed during those moments:  a hand to hold, conversation, silence, care.  As the chemo provided a solution, she provided the strength.

As I walked into a different chemo room 18 years later with my friend, the memories flooded back. I looked around and saw the patients, the nurses, the doctors, and the visitors – all those people, like my mom, who were sitting beside their loved ones offering that same care. And then I remembered one patient from 18 years ago whose face I will never forget. She was different from all the rest of us, because she sat in her own big, plastic, uncomfortable chair, all alone. The guest chair beside her was always empty. She came to her treatment sessions alone.  She took a cab to get there in the morning, and a nurse called for a cab to take her back home when the session was finished. No one ever came with her. No one ever gave her a ride. No one spoke to her except for the few spare moments a nurse could stop and chat before moving on to the other patients.

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I remember how much that burdened me. It seemed so wrong, so unfair. I knew firsthand what she was dealing with physically, but I had no idea how she was doing it. I knew that my mother’s presence took the edge off all of it for me, and all the other patients, with someone sitting in the guest chairs next to them, too, were also comforted by a presence – a person willing and wanting to offer the hand, conversation, silence, or care. But this woman didn’t have that. I couldn’t imagine how that felt. I wondered if she ever asked herself, “Why bother?” And in truth, I avoided imagining it. The journey through cancer is hard enough, but the idea that she might be coping with that pain and sickness without having someone to either celebrate a good outcome or console in a bad one was heartbreaking.

I was reminded of that woman as I walked in with my friend for her first infusion, and I was so glad I was there with and for her. Certainly, she has an amazing husband and many friends, and she would not have been alone through her experience, but in that moment, I was so grateful that I got to be that companion for her.

King Solomon speaks about that very thing in his book of Ecclesiastes. In verse 8 of chapter 4, he says, “There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother.”But just before that, in verse 7, he first says, “Again I saw something meaningless under the sun…”Among all the truths of life that his wisdom showed him was the fact that being all alone is meaningless. He calls it a “miserable business.”

We were never meant to be alone, ever. In Genesis we read about how God created the heavens and the earth, and as He created each part, He stepped back, looked at it, and labeled it “good.” He created the light and called it good. He created the land and the seas and called them good. He created all the plants and vegetation and called it good. He made the morning and the night and called them good. He created all the creatures in the sea, in the sky, and on the land and called them good. But then He created man, and put him alone in the garden of Eden, and for the first time, He said it was not good – not good for the man to be alone.

That has not changed. It really is not good to be alone. Solomon, in his wisdom, gained that understanding. He declares that, “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.”He goes on to say that, “If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.”So true, so true. I think of that woman 18 years ago, falling onto a journey of pain and sickness and fear and uncertainty. I can’t help thinking that she would have had a greater chance of success with someone seated by her side. And success would not necessarily have meant a cure. For her, or for anyone enduring overwhelming hardship or pain or loss or challenge, success may be finding the ability to put one foot in front of the other on that path through that valley. That effort might truly be meaningless without knowing someone cares.

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Another friend suffered an immeasurably devastating loss a couple years ago. She and her husband were instantly surrounded by many people offering the care and strength that would help them endure it, and it was amazing to see so many people with hearts longing to climb into their yoke with them and share their burden. One of them said something that I thought was profound and which has stuck with me. As she held and cradled this woman grieving with such pain, she said, “If I could, I would lift you out of this dark pit you’re in. But since I can’t do that, I’ll climb down and sit in it with you for however long you need.”

The pits of life are often dark and unbearable. We all have them from time to time – Jesus warned us that that would happen.  We can’t escape them, we can only endure them. But I know that, for me, those dark pits are made less dim when there is someone by my side in them. As Solomon also said, “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer.”So I do two things:  I make sure I have people in my life whom I care for and I know will care for me, and I don’t ignore opportunities to come alongside someone in need of a companion. I assume it’s God’s desire for me to be there, and I know the blessings that follow will be deep.

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Jenny Buelow and her husband, Bill, have attended Hope for 18 years. She is involved in several ministries, including the Production Team, Women’s Evening Light, and the Visitation Team, and she and her husband have hosted a weekly Bible Study in their home for 26 years. Jenny is a grateful 19-year cancer survivor. 

 

 

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