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.

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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.

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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.

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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? 

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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. 

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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. 

 


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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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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JennyB_Small

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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Forever Is Now

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift, which is why it is called the present.” – Eleanor Roosevelt 

You may have heard or read this quote before. It’s a popular one. There are a lot of quotes about time and, more specifically, about the present moment. It’s something with which we humans are so fascinated. We try to understand time and how it affects us, how to reverse it when we are old, how to speed it up when we are young, how to change it and how to control it. But the truth is we already have it implanted deep within us. In Ecclesiastes King Solomon writes a beautiful phrase that struck me and is more profound than any quote I have ever read about time.  

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) 

He has also set eternity in the human heart 

What a beautiful gift it is to have eternity inside each one of us. I imagine it like a single drop of water that has the potential for so many things. I actually looked up the journey of a drop of water, and it was fascinating. A single drop of water that is evaporated from the surface of the ocean enters the ecosystem and takes on whatever form the weather and temperature asks of it. It can be taken by the wind, can become part of a cloud, and it can turn into rain where gravity brings it back to earth. It could be a drop of rain on a tree, roll off and sink into the ground to become part of the groundwater and return back to the ocean. Or it could end up in your sink washing your dishes or in a firefighter’s hose putting out a fire. The point is, if a single drop of water could hold such potential for so many different purposes, don’t we harbor so much more potential for a greater purpose given that we have eternity set inside our hearts?   

I believe our potential and our purpose is also a part of that eternity. To stick with this water analogy (it is summer after all), let’s imagine a drop of water when it touches the surface. Doesn’t it create a ripple? When does that ripple end? How far does it go? What is the potential for its reach? There’s even a term associated with this. It’s called “the ripple effect.” The definition of this term is “the continuing and spreading results of an event or action.”  

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I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. (Ecclesiastes 3:14a) 

See? God has started the ripple effect even before we knew what it meant or that it even existed. And it’s beautiful. Another king talked about this idea as well. King David writes: 

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;  His love endures forever. (Psalm 136:1) 

King David actually wrote the phrase “His Love endures forever” 26 times in Psalm 136. God’s love endures, lasts, exists, continues, persists, perseveres, survives, lives, remains, goes on and prevails forever. Forever set inside each human heart. That is quite beautiful and quite meaningful.

So, what do we do with this revelation of forever? The revelation that God has loved us so completely that He has set eternity in our hearts? King Solomon, in all of his wondering and wisdom, discovered this… 

So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot. For who can bring them to see what will happen after them? (Ecclesiastes 3:22)  

Will the ocean see what the drop of water has done in its lifetime? Will it know the impact of its journey? No. It will never know. Just like we will never know the true impact of the lives that we live or the work that we do either. Should that stop us? Should that keep us from sharing our gifts? Cultivating our passions? Loving our neighbor? Finishing that project? Writing that blog? I think the answer to that is also no. The real answer is that each present moment holds within it the opportunity to begin again, to love again, to learn again, to try again, to be bold again, to be quiet again, to stand up again, to sit down again, to end again…because God “has made everything beautiful in its time” and the time is right now.  

I have an example to give you, a story about a friend and mentor. My friend’s name was Rob. He was cool and hip and had long hair when he came to my very conservative church. Rob was married to another cool, hip human being, and she was an artist. Her name is Suzanne. Rob and Suzanne made me feel normal as a teenager. They ended up volunteering their time with the church youth group and exposed me to really great music. Rob even “managed” the band that a group of us formed in the youth group. They just gave of themselves and were their authentic selves. This made me feel safe and loved and included and important at such a crucial time in my life. So much of what they poured into me influenced who I became as an adult in almost all of the aspects of my life…musician, mother, wife, friend, Christian, etc. It never mattered if we lost touch. They were a part of me. They had shared their drop of eternity with me. Years later, Rob became very sick. He was on hospice, and I had time in one of my work days to see him every week. I saw him wherever he was, either hospital or home. The staff even got to know me and didn’t even asked questions or stop me when I brought my guitar. I brought all of the songs that he taught me and exposed me to, and I sang to him. It was the very least I could do and, believe me, it felt like the least considering everything he and his wife and poured into me. Rob died on May 4, 2013, but Rob shared the eternity God gave him with me and I poured it right back into him. I know Rob is now inside of eternity itself and in the presence of the One who is eternal. The One who is Love.  

So, what do we do with this gift of eternity we are given? Enjoy it. Share it. Let God reside inside of it so that he may direct your journey even though you may never know where it will take you or how it will affect those around you or even what purpose it will fulfill once you’re gone. It’s just important to understand that we are each operating in eternity right now, in the present moment because it is set inside each one of our hearts. Pour it out, and it will create a ripple effect whether or see it or not. Forever is now. 


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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A Time for Everything

July is a busy month for our family. We have birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays to commemorate, each bringing its own sense of joy and reason to celebrate. As I watched my 91-year-old mother laugh with my soon to be 30-year-old daughter, I was immediately transported back to her birth. As my 86-year-old mother-in law-bent her head close to hear Jim tell a story, I reflected that I have been married and a part of her family longer than I was single. As my son and his new bride marked their third year of marriage, I remarked to my daughter-in-law’s mother that it seems impossible that it had been three years. So much life has been lived in what seems like a blink of an eye.

One of the birthdays we celebrate in July is my husband’s. Jim and I are the same age, so we hit the age milestones together. We have been married close to 31 years. We have celebrated and cried as we have built our life together. We have seen seasons come and go. We had to learn how to navigate each season as it came, never sure how it would end but knowing who held all our days in His hands.

young parents graduation

This was not a milestone birthday year. We are smack dab in the middle of our fifties (well okay, closer to our late fifties). What struck me this year, a year marked by blissful routine, is that time is a one-way street. We cannot turn the clock back. I must admit as I age, I have come to agree with Mark Twain, “Youth is wasted on the young.” Not because I begrudge the young the energy I once had or the sense of wonder in every new first they encounter, I just wish that the wisdom that comes with age could somehow be transferred to those on the front end of their journey. I wonder how my life would have been different if I had the insights about life I now have.

Chapter 2 of Ecclesiastes ends with Solomon once again lamenting that life is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.  My heart breaks for him. How thankful I am that I know the ending…stay tuned for his conclusion in the last chapter of the book; it makes the journey worth it. Solomon has only just started to dissect life in the early chapters of the book. As each facet has the spotlight turned on it, he decides it simply is not meaningful.  Then, in a moment of clarity, he gives us an insight so true, so profound that when I finally embraced its truth, I found it a guide post for living.  These simple verses give us a framework that keeps us from being overwhelmed by life.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

He starts out with the summary statement, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”  I wish I had embraced this truth as a much younger woman! I was such a Martha.  You know Martha, the woman that Jesus pointed out was distracted by many things. I wanted it all, and I wanted it all at once.  I did not have the wisdom to know that life is made up of seasons. The wisdom to know that I could not cling to a season for longer than it was intended. That I needed God’s strength to not get bogged down in a season I was meant to walk steadfastly through.  To know that God is glorified as much in the process as He is when the final goal is accomplished.  To know that to reap, I needed to sow.

2018

Verses 2-8 are so freeing. Solomon’s words give us freedom. Freedom to laugh, freedom to cry, to work, to rest. To set boundaries and to tear them down. God, through the pen of Solomon, is giving us a glimpse of “above the sun” thinking. We need to apply wisdom to our circumstances and put the lens of eternity over them. A common Tracey-ism is “in light of eternity does this matter?” Heck, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Will this matter tomorrow? In 2 weeks? In a year? Once I started to use this grid, I found I could discern what path I should follow, what decision was best, what I should pursue.

Without Ecclesiastes 3 thinking, I was routinely disappointed, confused and discouraged. I had yet to learn that there were no cookie-cutter answers in life. Each circumstance had more than one appropriate response. More than one possible outcome. More than one course of action. I needed to take time. Time to consider. To pray. I could impact the world for God, in my own little corner, in my own little world (thank you, Cinderella). Work took on a new meaning when I realized that it was not the task at hand as much as the people I did it with that mattered. When I was a young mother, I needed to find new ways to minister. I found coordinating a Sunday Morning ministry made the most sense since our kids were in the children’s program. As I am aging, I have had to learn to say “No.”  I cannot do what I once could; both my brain and body are slowing down. That does not make me a failure, it shows my humanity. All kingdom work brings God glory. Conversations on the sidelines of kids’ soccer games have been replaced with conversations playing cards at the senior center. Conversations at small group have changed from how to parent to how to be good in-laws and grandparents. It is all part of the normal ebb and flow of life. We need to embrace each season for what it brings and what it teaches us.

how you walk

These verses are also a source of protection. We can use them to protect ourselves from the lies of the evil one. We know that with life comes death, joy, and sorrow. God is telling us not to expect a life filled with sunny skies and fair winds. We will experience every one of the scenarios that Solomon paints. In these verses Solomon seems to break free of his “woeful” view of life and see the big picture. We live in a fallen world. We need to take the good with the bad. Job says it best: “shall we accept good from God but not the evil?”. These verses help me navigate life without blaming God for what simply is. They also help me know that in most cases “this too shall pass.”

The one-way nature of time is a reality. The best we can do is embrace that truth and live accordingly.

Paul tells us in Philippians 3, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Paul did not allow seasons of failure to define him. He did not let seasons of persecution stop him.  Paul did not grow lazy in seasons of plenty or despair when he knew want. He sang praises in prison and sang praises when in church. Paul, much like Solomon learned there is a season for all things.  May we all join them!


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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