Patience and Kindness

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 1 Corinthians 13:4 (NIV) 

“Home is where the Air Force sends us.” 

Many of you know that my family moved around a lot when I was growing up. The military set us up with a new life situation every few years – new town, new house, new school, new friends, new church, new sports teams, new doctors, new dentists – you get the point. People who have lived in the same community for much of their life usually get that look on their face when I relay this to them. It’s usually an expression of empathy – you poor thing, having to uproot and start over so many times. Since I didn’t know any differently, I don’t really think I was traumatized by any of this. I just expected to be in a place for a while, and then I’d be in a new place, seeing new things and making new friends. It was my norm. And frankly, I was just along for the ride. I didn’t have many responsibilities in these moves, and I didn’t have any input into the decision making. I don’t think any of this really phased me. 

The responsibilities on my parents during these regular life adjustments – I’m sure that’s a slightly different story. It’s only as an adult that I can start to appreciate all the things they had to do to get us packed up from one life and settled into another before the next school year started. I remember some parts of their system – as you can imagine, they got quite good at it. They would always look for a good church first, followed by a good school. They would get a house on base if they could, and if not, then something off base that made sense for our space and location needs. They would pack the important things first. Then the professional packers would come and put everything else in boxes, and the movers would load the truck. Then we’d race the truck to the end of the line so we could avoid having them unload everything into storage and wait several weeks until they could deliver it. Door-to-door: that was the strategy. 

But even having a good system and refining the pattern every few years, you know things didn’t always go according to plan. Truck drivers would decide to unload our household goods into storage, even if we beat the truck to the destination. Boxes would be lost on every move. Even the door-to-door ones. How does that even happen? And without fail, something would break in transit, no matter how well it was packed. We learned to plan for things to go wrong and adjust accordingly. And we didn’t get too attached to our stuff. 

Mom 

Why do I tell you this? Let me tell you about my Mom. 

I can’t recall ever hearing my Mom complain about any of this. She accepted it as it was. Dad always tried to get assignments that would keep us as close to extended family as we could, but she never talked about finding new schools, houses, churches and friends at any location as being a hardship. Dad was doing what he needed to do, and we were going to do what we needed to do. 

Not only did she accept things with patience, but she has been kind to everyone I’ve ever seen her interact with. Even people who didn’t deserve it. I’m sure she’s come across people who have gotten sideways with her, but she always seems to wait a beat before responding, and it’s always with a sort of kindness and grace that should be made an example. 

Shine
Day 83 of 365 Here Comes the Sun #365blackandwhitechallenge #monPaul described love in I Corinthians 13:4 using these words: patience and kindness.  They are the first two in a string of positive and negative attributes used to help us understand what love is and is not. It’s in a letter written to the church at Corinth to explain how to live rightly in a culture that we would not be able to relate to if we saw it here today. The church was shining in a very dark environment, but they still were having to learn the basics so they could stand apart spiritually and morally from a culture that was still influencing and pervasive. 

Can you imagine the contrast? By this time, Paul had spent some considerable time with the Corinthian church, helping it to grow. He had written a couple of letters to them to solidify his teaching and encouragement, both of which have been lost to history. They would not have the New Testament as we know it today to teach them the fundamentals and the norms we experience that have been solidified into our culture by Christians through centuries of our history. As a hub on a major trade route, the Corinthians probably have Jewish influence in the city, but it’s not necessarily a pillar of their heritage to know God and live by His commandments in the Old Testament. So they’re getting this stuff new. Imagine what happens when the truths that Paul writes about living in love start to sink into their hearts and start showing in their lives. Against the darkness around them, this is a bright light! 

Paul writes this passage in I Cor. 13 to define and describe what love looks like and what love does. After he gives its essential nature in the first three verses, he then just starts to describe it. He gives us two adjectives, patient and kind, followed by eight actions it does not do and then four things it does in verses four through seven. Why lead with two descriptors? They’re easy to spot, I think. It takes a while for a person to establish a track record of what they do and don’t do, so you can decide whether or not you want to have a friendship with them. But you can tell something about them immediately if they are patient and kind – you can probably tell this in your first conversation with them. 

Evidence 

If you and I have love in our hearts, perhaps the first things that people will notice about us are patience and kindness. Love does that for us. We don’t have to manufacture it. It’s evidence of God in us, His character being embedded in ours. Our love should contrast us with the world around us. That’s not to say that people can’t love each other if they don’t know God. But when we have the sort of patience and kindness that comes from having a growing personal relationship with God, it looks different, because it’s not a product of our own effort, but of letting Him work and shine through us. 

This is the kind of love that I saw in Mom. The love she has for me, shown through the patience and kindness that only God can give, drew me to Him.  Let that love shine through you this week, so others can see it and be drawn to Him. 

Given that this past Sunday was Mother’s Day, and the topic this week was on patience and kindness, I clearly lucked out by drawing this week’s blog assignment. Happy Mother’s Day to my Mom and Moms everywhere! 


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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Not About Food and Drink

There is a scene in our wedding video (originally recorded on VHS) that makes Eric and me laugh every time we watch it. Our ceremony and reception were both outside at a beautiful bed and breakfast in Montgomery County. During our first dance as husband and wife, apparently we were very close to the buffet table. We didn’t notice this at the time as we only had eyes for each other and were savoring that once in a lifetime moment. But, on the video, you see first my uncle, then my grandfather and then the dear man who married us all walk up to the buffet table for another plate of food. While we were dancing. Walking right by us and around us, to and from the buffet table. It looks like they are completely unaware that we were there. They may have been really hungry, but more than likely they were trying to busy themselves with another task to avoid watching something that made them very uncomfortable. These are all men of deep faith who have deep Mennonite roots. Men who I’m pretty sure never danced with their wives or with anyone else because dancing in their faith worlds was considered wrong.

JH wedding pic

In the early Roman church dancing wasn’t the issue, but the people were divided about what to eat and drink, and Paul addressed this in Romans 14. As a well-studied Jew he knew the deeply rooted traditions from the Old Testament law about what to eat. God gave Moses very specific details to obey in regard to food, so that the people of Israel – His chosen people – would be set apart from other nations. They took great measures to be holy in God’s eyes.  To be right with Him.  They made animal sacrifices for their sins according to God’s instructions and participated in multiple feasts each year that helped them remember God’s faithfulness to them.

When Jesus died on the cross He made a way for us to be right with God.  Once and for all. Our sins were forgiven. We were justified. Animal sacrifices were no longer necessary because of His love, mercy and grace.

Paul refused to believe that this was true until the Lord interrupted his journey to Damascus where he planned to persecute people of “The Way” – the way to God through Jesus. Through a local believer, Ananias, Jesus told Paul that he was His chosen instrument to bring the good news of His gift on the cross and through His resurrection to the Gentiles. These were an uncircumcised people without the same faith history as the Jews – a people without rules of sacrifices, what to eat and what to celebrate when. Jesus was and is the great equalizer.

But now the church had a problem. “Disputable matters” entered the scene.  What was necessary to be right with God? To be a people set apart for Him? A holy people.

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Shortly after Paul was convinced that Jesus was God on the road to Damascus, Jesus’ disciple, Peter, was in Caesarea where God was working in the heart of a very prominent Gentile named Cornelius.  Peter had an afternoon dream where heaven opened, and something like a large sheet was let down to earth containing all kinds of four-footed animals as well as reptiles and birds that Jews would not eat.  This repeated three times (just as Peter denied that he knew Jesus three times, and Jesus asked him after His resurrection if Peter loved him three times before commissioning him). Peter’s mind and heart were being prepared in advance to share the good news of his Messiah with Cornelius and his whole household, and the next day they believed this message and were baptized.

For almost twenty years of marriage, whenever we host my extended family, Eric and I choose not to serve alcohol.  As followers of Christ, we don’t personally believe that drinking a glass of wine with dinner or sharing a margarita by the pool is wrong, but in an effort not to offend or to “put a stumbling block or obstacle” in the way of other believers, we don’t even have a bottle visible in the kitchen when certain loved ones are in our home.

It doesn’t matter which of us is “right” about this subject because one day every knee will bow before the Lord, and every tongue will confess to God, and we will all stand before Him and give an account of ourselves (Romans 14:11-12).  Not each other. And, as Peter learned, God does not show favoritism regardless of what we eat and drink.

I am so thankful that we are instructed not to judge each other, but to make “every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Romans 14:19).  May we follow Jesus in obedience out of love for what He has done for us and share that good news with those around us.


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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The Golden Rule

 

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Pretty simple, right? That’s what I teach my kids. In fact, that’s what I teach my kids when they are in the midst of conflict. And I know many other parents who do the same. But are we modeling that for them? Are we showing them that it’s really that easy? What if my neighbor has a different opinion than me? What if they are a different denomination than me? Or maybe even a different religious affiliation? What if they are different race than me? A different gender? The answer to those questions isn’t too hard for many of us. I’m sure most would say, “Of course I would love my neighbor even if they are any of those things. I mean, this is 2018!” Let’s make the stakes higher though. The love riskier. Ask yourself the following questions. Would you love your neighbor as yourself

If your neighbor was a convicted felon?
If your neighbor took a knee during the national anthem?
If your neighbor stood during the national anthem?
If your neighbor had a confederate flag?
If your neighbor was an atheist?
If your neighbor was a conservative?
If your neighbor was a liberal?
If your neighbor was a different sexual orientation than you?
If your neighbor was a democrat?
If your neighbor was a republican?
If your neighbor was a gun owner?
If your neighbor was against gun ownership?
If your neighbor voted for Trump?
If your neighbor voted for Hillary?
If your neighbor has offended you?
If your neighbor has wronged you?
If your neighbor does not love you back?

That list is getting pretty uncomfortable, isn’t it? There are things on that list that I could argue with. Neighbors from which I would like to withhold my love and justify doing it all the while. The problem is, that simple statement – love your neighbor as yourself – is pretty clear and without any parameters. I can’t really argue with it. The part that gets me even more is the as yourself part. That’s the real conviction.

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I believe God knew how binding that statement would be for us. In fact, that exact statement is mentioned eight times in the Bible and is one of the most reiterated commands in the Bible. To me, that statement is a foundational truth of life that God keeps trying to teach us, and that’s why it was repeated so often. And it’s not something God just told us in the Bible. It was something that God showed us through Jesus. The truth is, Jesus sacrificed himself for humanity. And honestly, whether you believe in Jesus or not, whether you believe he resurrected from the dead or not, and whether you believe he was the Son of God, his death and intentions were historically documented. That’s pretty powerful.

So, what does all this mean? It means we belong to each other. And God knew we would have a hard time understanding that and living that out. But Jesus’ blood, through the cross, covered us all equally. So that means God loves that neighbor who voted differently from you just as much as He loves you. And you know why? Because “…love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13: 10b).” Maybe that’s why it’s called the golden rule. Maybe love was always meant to be the currency.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8)

You know what the good news is about all of this? It’s not up to us to decide who is worthy of love. That decision was already made for us on the cross. But in my humble opinion that’s also the really hard news. I don’t want to love freely. Sometimes I want to put my head down, turn my eyes away, say the thing I want to say, ignore the need, make an excuse as to why I can’t “spend” my love currency right now. The cost is high and sometimes it feels as though the return is little to nothing. It’s really hard to love. And definitely hard to love someone as you love yourself. Because, let’s face it, have you told yourself you love you today? Sounds corny, right? But I’m not talking about the kind of love where you’re buying yourself something or you get a haircut or you take a day off or you allow yourself a “cheat meal”. I’m talking about the realization that you are a chosen child of God that is seen and precious and wanted and needed and has a purpose. Do you see that when you look in the mirror? Do you grasp the value you have on this planet? In this life?

Maybe that’s where we start. I start with me. You start with you. We start by realizing that we are enough for the blood of Christ. We start by realizing we do have enough to give as little as it may seem. That love works differently than any currency we know. It builds as we spend it. The interest increases not by saving it all up in one place where it never sees the light of day but by spending it with reckless abandon. One of my favorite quotes by Thomas Merton says this, “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.”

Your neighbor is worthy of love no matter how they vote. And so are you. Your neighbor is worthy of love no matter what they believe. And so are you. Your neighbor is worthy of love no matter who they hurt. And so are you. Your neighbor is worthy of love no matter what they own. And so are you. Your neighbor is worthy of love no matter who they are. And so are you.

Love your neighbor as yourself. Pretty simple, right?


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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Four Letters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Taylor_Bio

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

 

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What Was I Thinkin’?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Jim

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

 

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Christmas Hymn

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

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

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

Joy to the World –  by Isaac Watts 1674-1748

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott1

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

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

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

Isaiah 55:12-13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


ScottBio

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

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No Greater Love

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

Was I a good girl mommy?

Did you see me swim?

Did I do a good job?

Did I earn a treat?

Do you like my drawing?

Do you like my outfit?

Are you happy with me?

Are you so proud of me?

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

Fiona and mommy

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

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

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

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

Was I a good girl?

Did I do a good job?

Are you happy with me?

Are you so proud of me?

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

Do you love me?

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

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

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

2

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

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


tori

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

 

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