Engaging with Peace and Joy

I had a hard time writing this post. Frankly, I was distracted this week, and it was hard to focus my thoughts with so many things going on around us. My approach to writing usually requires several days of meditating on a topic or a passage of Scripture, and then once I start writing the words start to flow. The examples start to fall into place to illustrate the points I want to emphasize. But not this week. This week my mind has been dwelling especially on Florida and the tragic events around the school shooting there. I’ve never been so drawn to the aftermath of an event like this before. I’ve seen debates before that inevitably happen after these events – people start arguing about gun control, guns in schools, mental health issues, decline of culture, the devaluing of human life, and why we should have known this was going to happen and what should have been done. There’s never lack of blame to be handed out and impassioned accusations leveled at anyone within hearing. We argue about all-or-nothing stances on issues versus defining open dialogs as being the honest and civil approach. None of this is new.

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So why did this event affect me differently than before? Why was I not able to penetrate the fog of the discussion, offer some commentary to close friends or family, and move back to focusing on the concerns in front of me? After getting to this point in writing this post, I still can’t fully answer those questions.

But I have started asking myself the questions that have helped me in the past. What’s important? What matters today, and what will matter in the long term? When I was teaching, I would post this phrase to my students a lot: “Quid ad aeternum?”, which is Latin for, “What is it in the light of eternity?” I think answering this question has gotten harder for me recently, because the things that I see in the near term are so fresh and painful to watch, and I find myself empathizing so much more with those who are suffering. Eternity is hard to reach for which the tyranny of the immediate is so close.

So again, I go back to basics. What is true? What is honorable? What is just? What is pure? What is lovely? What has a good reputation? What should we label as having virtue or praise? Paul reminded the Philippians that these are the things that we should be thinking and meditating on. I cannot ignore the circumstances around me, but those things don’t give me hope or joy. They are not the foundation for my happiness. So what is? Glad you asked…

Paul writes to the Roman church about the foundations of their faith. He lays out a series of clear, almost legal, arguments that build one on another, to explain to them that their hope and joy are not based on feelings, but based on a rock-solid basis of faith in Christ. He spends the first four chapters of Romans discussing the basis of our salvation, our ability to stand before God justified, with Christ standing as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. God looks at us now as blameless – the price for our sin has been paid.

But it gets better. In Romans 5, Paul uses our justification through Christ as the springboard to explaining what a new life in Christ really means for us. Not only are we declared righteous, but we have peace with God. It’s the difference between declaring a cease-fire and building a meaningful relationship. Not only is God no longer angry with us over our sin because Christ’s blood covered it, but we now have the basis to develop a friendship with God as a result. Stop and think about that for a minute. The Creator of the universe wants to spend time with you. He wants you to know Him. He doesn’t just blindly forgive you and then ignore you; He holds out His hand and offers a peace that passes understanding.

When that thought gets hold of you, you’ll understand better why hope and joy follow as a natural result. Paul writes that through faith we access this grace in which we stand. Daily we follow His lead, having faith that He loves us, wants to steer us in the right direction, and wants to offer us meaning in this life. We live a life that shows the benefits of that daily grace through the joy that comes from that walk. We have a hope that transcends every other care that we have. That hope shines through in a joy that can’t be suppressed. We should be wearing it on our faces every day, with every interaction we have with people around us. Please understand this: it’s not a forced smile because we know Christians should be nice to people. Joy on our faces is a natural result of not just the legal justification where we are declared righteous, but because we are constantly reminding ourselves through seeking a daily relationship with our Father, that we have hope in this life and in the next!

I must be careful to point out that joy, hope, and peace don’t take away circumstances. Pain and suffering in this life are real. We feel anguish and loss, sometimes ourselves, and sometimes as we empathize with others. While we live in this fallen world, we will have trouble. But joy, hope, and peace happen in the midst of these heartaches – that’s where they are the most effective. The best lights are those that light the darkest spaces. That’s where they are needed the most.

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We should not shy away from engaging with constructive debates on real issues that face our culture and communities. In doing so, we cannot forget the basic and real truth that there is only one foundational and eternal source for the things that we’re all looking for.  Real and lasting peace, hope, and joy can only be found in one place. So whether you choose to engage in the discussion or watch respectfully from the sidelines, try to run each word and action through this filter: what is it in the light of eternity? Will your next statement or act show the joy that you have in your reconciliation with God? Will it be a light in a dark place? Will it spread the hope that our world desperately needs? Will it point people to the Savior? Meditate on these things this week.

Blessings!

 


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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Counted

 

As Eleanor Shellstrop’s eyes open in the first scene of NBC’s “The Good Place,” she is greeted with assurances that she is okay and everything is going to be fine. Having passed away in a freak shopping cart accident, Eleanor is now, as afterlife agent Michael informs her, in ‘the good place’.

Relieved, Eleanor begins to settle into her new surroundings. But as Michael describes the process by which she was allowed in, she becomes uneasy. “When your time on earth is ended,” Michael explains, “we calculate the total value of your life using our perfectly accurate measuring system.”

From a giant screen, Michael displays for the day’s ‘good place’ newcomers some sample actions and the positive or negative point values associated with them – implying that their every action on earth was counted for or against them. “Only the people with the very highest scores – the true cream of the crop – get to come here,” Michael concludes.

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Sure that there’s been a mistake, Eleanor begins to panic. Her life on earth was in no way ‘good’ and she doesn’t deserve to be here!

Of course this show is meant to be a comedy, not a theology documentary, but it does play on our society’s perception of religion. It seems ingrained in our minds that in the end our deeds will be tallied, and as long as our ‘positive’ numbers add up, the ‘negatives’ will be overlooked and we’ll earn our ticket into an eternal ‘good place’.

This isn’t a new problem. In chapter 4 of his letter to Romans, the apostle Paul presents his case against this counting mentality. “Now to the one who works,” Paul says, “his wages are not counted as a gift, but as his due.” (Romans 4:4) Since doing ‘good’ requires more effort than doing ‘bad,’ it’s natural to conclude that those who put in the work should earn something in return.

But, using Abraham as an example, Paul points out that God’s counting process only involves one action: faith. “Faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness” (v. 9) because he was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” (v. 21) Did you catch that? He was convinced that God was able, not that he was. A counting mentality focuses on myself and what I can do, but faith focuses on what God can do.

Paul sums up his point by saying that, like Abraham, righteousness “will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” (v. 24-25) It’s not about a magic moment when you “accept Christ” and “become a Christian” – it’s about a choice to acknowledge that you aren’t able to count up enough points to attain righteousness, but that God is able to do what He has promised and make you righteous by the merit of Jesus alone.

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There’s an unexpected twist at the end of the season finale of “The Good Place”. (*SPOILER ALERT!*) After spending the in-between episodes trying to become ‘good’ and avoid being evicted from the good place, Eleanor discovers it’s all a lie – it turns out they’ve been in the bad place the entire time! The whole thing was Michael’s elaborate plan to torture humans in a way they’d never been tortured before.

The most shocked by this revelation is Tahani, a wealthy philanthropist who thought for sure she had earned her way to the good place with her acts of charity and generosity. But what she thought counted for her actually counted against her as all that ‘positive’ was overtaken by a single ‘negative’ – her desire for recognition. In the end, even our best deeds count against us because of the self-focused motivation behind them!

In verses 7 and 8, Paul quotes Psalm 32: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” Putting our faith in Jesus means trusting that not a single one of our ‘negative’ actions will be counted against us (nope, not even using “Facebook” as a verb or blowing your nose by pressing one nostril down and exhaling!).

But just because they’re not counted against us, doesn’t mean they’re overlooked.

In Paul’s quotation of Psalm 32, he uses a Greek word we translate as “forgiven” which means to “send away” or “release”. But in the original Old Testament Hebrew, the word for “forgiven” means to “lift” or “take”. When we say God has “forgiven” our sin, it doesn’t mean He’s just eliminated the negative or “sent it away” – it means He’s released us by “taking” the debt and counting it against Himself.

Unlike Eleanor Shellstrop, we don’t live in fear that the promise of eternity in Heaven will be taken away from us – because we didn’t earn it or ever deserve it in the first place!


Mandy

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

 

 

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Good Enough

 

When I was growing up, I was a good kid. My family went to church every Sunday, and I liked church. The few times I got in trouble were mainly because my friends suggested something that pushed the limits, and I went along. 

Through church, I learned about God. I learned about Jesus. I knew that God is forgiving. I also thought I was doing a pretty good job of being good. 

I saw a lot of people around me that were not so good, and I was pretty sure that God would find my life acceptable to him. Hey, nobody’s perfect, right? So if God wants some people to go to heaven, He’s going to be reasonable, and accept people that are “pretty good”. He has to grade on a curve. 

My dad was a pastor. My mom taught us in Sunday School. We got cleaned up and put on our best clothes for church on Sunday, but it’s not like I was just “acting good”. I wasn’t really any different during the rest of the week. I knew the Ten Commandments, and I was NOT doing that stuff. I was pretty far up the ladder of following the rules. 

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When we look at the world, we can see a lot of pain and sin and evil. Reading the news or following Facebook exposes you to all sorts of bad things and bad people. Make sure you don’t click on any of those links because they will pretty quickly take you into a whole world of temptations. And a simple email from someone who wants some help retrieving their inheritance can show you just how nasty people can be to you. Why do they want to harm me when they don’t even know who I am? 

It’s very easy to see the world on a scale of good and evil. Sure there are people like Billy Graham and Mother Teresa that are better than me. But there is a lot of the scale that is below me, and an enormous crowd of people that are much less kind and caring and deserving of God’s goodness than I am. I was not judging them. But I was pretty sure that God would judge them as not worthy, and me as worthy of spending eternity in heaven with Him. 

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It always seemed to me that I was good enough. That’s the way we get accepted for most things in this life. Try out for a team – are you good enough? Join a band – are you good enough? Apply to college – are you good enough? Interview for a job – are you good enough? We can wait around forever for the “perfect” candidate, but we all know nobody’s perfect. If that is the requirement, then we are never going to find the candidate that measures up. 

If I really understood the level of righteousness needed to get into heaven, I would have been worried about whether I was good enough. Jesus told some stories about this as well. A rich young man asked Jesus “What good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” Jesus told him to follow the commandments that he had learned since he was a boy. He said “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?”  

Jesus said “Go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven.” The man thought he was good enough, but could tell that something was missing. He wasn’t ready for that additional challenge and walked away from Jesus. 

Jesus said to His followers, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 19:16-20) 

In a recent Sunday message, Pastor Roman told us that the Law is a mirror. When I look in a mirror, I usually decide that I don’t look that bad. This is not based on an honest assessment. It is just a way to encourage myself and avoid the truth. I certainly am showing a lot more wrinkles and a lot more gray than I was in the past. And even at my best, I did not qualify for any glamor awards! 

Until I was 20 years old, no one had ever challenged my thinking about being good enough. But then someone asked me, “Why should God let you into heaven?” The only thing I could say was that I tried to be good and that I thought God would consider me good enough. Even that wasn’t really true, because I was not trying that hard to be good in college. 

The disciples understood that Jesus was telling them how hard it is to be good enough to get into heaven. They responded to Jesus, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus said, “With men it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 

Jesus also told that rich young man to, “Come follow Me.” This is the piece that he, and the disciples, weren’t getting. This is the piece that I never learned in my years of attending church. This is the piece that Paul lays out for us in Romans. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) None of us can get into heaven by being good enough. None of us can add some good thing to our life to make us worthy of being accepted by God and allowed into eternal life. 

Instead, Paul tells us that we can be “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 3:24)  It doesn’t depend on us. It doesn’t matter if we were a Jew following the Law or a Greek that was living a life of freedom. It doesn’t matter if we tried to be good, or if we didn’t try. It doesn’t matter how good a job we did, or whether we failed a little bit, or we failed a lot. You are NEVER going to be good enough to get into heaven.  

But that’s alright. Jesus says “Come follow me.” 


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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Lenses

It was 2 nights before our son was getting married. The original 5 of us were out to dinner together before we became (much to our delight) a family of 6. We would be welcoming our daughter-in-law into the family in 48 hours and were beyond excited to do so. But as we sat there as a family of 5 for the last time I was curious (and apparently so was our daughter Samantha, because she asked aloud a similar question to the one I was pondering in my head) what would Joel  as he was about to start his own family with Carolyn  and for that matter, his sisters, remember being the mantra(s) of our home?  What catch phrases would they always attribute to Jim and me? The answers were not surprising but were enlightening. They repeated back several of the statements we routinely said to them as they grew up.

“Be the hands and feet of Jesus today.”

“Put a speed bump between your brain and your mouth.” 

“Make wise choices.”

And a personal favorite of mine (although it came from their Dad), “Not everything that is true needs to be said.”

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When I think back to my childhood, every Sunday it was “Tracey, wake up. It is time to go to church.” I did, and I went. With that heritage, one would think that I would have a faith foundation that would lead me to understanding the Gospel in its fullness. It did not. Much like the Jews described in Romans 3, I falsely assumed that God was pleased with my religious behavior. That I could earn his favor. That my church membership or adherence to the sacraments or doing good works on a Super Saturday undid anything that I may have done that was not honoring to God. He was, after all, required to forgive me – it was his job as God. I had a complete lack of understanding of what it meant to sin and need forgiveness. Andy Stanley, in his “Twisting the Truth” series, points out the difference between understanding I am a sinner in need of a Savior rather than a mistake maker who needs the rest of you to get it over it … it was just a mistake. We, if we are not careful, will say the same to God. I am not a sinner  I merely made a mistake, and mistakes do not have eternal consequences. What a self-serving way to view the world and God. And perhaps one of the most deceiving lies of the evil one. According to the word of God, we all are sinners in need of a savior. (Romans 3:23)

Verse 18 of Romans 3 says “there is no fear of God before their eyes.” The “their” in this verse is every human who has ever made a “mistake” and refuses to acknowledge it is a sin before a holy and righteous God. (Verses 10-17.) If I diminish sin to a simple mistake, I run the risk of living a life that will cause an eternal rift between me and God. Or if I do not let Jesus be my Savior, I will be caught in an endless cycle of trying to earn my favor with God, insisting he give it to me based on what I do and not on what Jesus has done. When I fully acknowledge my sin, I can come to him as a sinner in need of his saving grace and have freedom. Freedom from shame, freedom from fear, freedom from the exhaustive effort to do and be perfect.

Without the cross, verse 19 is a very scary verse – the world will be held accountable to God. I grew up thinking I was above such accountability. I did what I was supposed to do. I prayed, I went to church, I went to Sunday School. God and I were good.  Until we weren’t. Without my mom waking me up every Sunday, church became hit or miss in college.  I paid my dues as a kid, and I was better behaved than most around me. All those hours in church and Sunday School surely bought me all kinds of passes with God. New mantras filled my head. “Give to get.” “People cannot be trusted.”  “Look out for number one.” “God and faith are not relevant.” Another personal favorite: “you can do this on your own.”

I could not have been more wrong. I soon felt the repercussions of this thinking. I was a hot mess! These lies of the evil one were taking a toll on me. Only looking back do I see and understand God put some people in my life to help me to learn to look at life with a new lens. To hear and learn what He has to say. Good friends gave me a new voice to listen to.

Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.

You can do all things through Christ.

He will never leave nor forsake you.

He can be trusted.

So often we deceive ourselves into thinking that somehow our life and how we live it does not matter to God. The reality is that all of us will see him one day. Hebrews 9:27 says, “all men are destined to die once and face judgment.” God is all in, totally committed to mankind. He is not aloof and ignoring us. In the next several weeks, we will hear and study the good news of the gospel. God’s new covenant with us. It takes away all the fear of that judgement. It is life-changing.

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I was re-phrasing the question Sam asked that night recently – as a daughter of the most high King, if He were to ask me what is the family mantra, my answer would be:

I am precious and honored in your sight, and You love me.

You, Abba, are my source of rest and peace.

You, Abba, give me my value.

You should be my all in all.

I will live with You forever.

I am a gifted member of Your body and You have work for me to do, not to earn your favor, but because I already have it.

Truer words have never been said because they were said by my heavenly Father, and He never lies.


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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The Judge

 

In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow published his theory of a Hierarchy of Needs in a famous paper entitled, “A Theory of Human Motivation”, and later explained his theory more fully in his book Motivation and Personality in 1954.  These needs are laid out in this order:

  • Physiological needs: food, water, air, sleep, shelter, clothing, etc. (physical)
  • Safety needs: personal security, financial security, health, safety from accidents (environmental)
  • Love/Social belonging: friendship, family, intimacy (socio-cultural)
  • Esteem: feelings of acceptance, value to others, and self-respect (emotional)
  • Self-actualization: realization of a person’s full potential (intellectual and spiritual)
  • Self-transcendence: the giving of oneself to a higher goal outside oneself (outside of needs)

For those of you who took general psychology in school, you’ll remember that these needs are laid out in the shape of a pyramid, with the first layer of needs at the bottom, the foundation.  Each successive layer of needs is built on top of the previous one.  According to the theory, the more basic needs have to be met before we’re concerned with the needs at the next level up.  In other words, if we don’t have food, clothing or shelter, we’re not concerned with our belonging or identity in a group.  If we have basic financial needs or are concerned about our health, we’re not as concerned about being respected by our community or reaching the level of our full potential.

At some point along the way, we start to settle in to our everyday lives, and we may grow content with where we are.  In natural terms, we grow stagnant.  In church terms, we start to get lukewarm.  We’re no longer inspired to new or better things, and we’re no longer spurring others on to love and good works, nor associating with those who would sharpen us.

Here’s the plot twist.  We humans have a problem.  It’s not just that we become content once we have our basic needs met – that’s not so bad.  But when we’re not struggling or contending for life’s necessities or involved in activities which serve our families or others, we seem to have more time and energy for getting into other people’s pyramids instead of managing our own.  When we’re not outright judging each other, we still spend a lot of time comparing ourselves to each other.

Let’s be honest.  It’s hard to not listen to a good story.  We thrive on drama.  It’s the basis of most of our entertainment options and social media interactions.  We like to know what’s going on with other people.  We learn good lessons from these stories about the human condition and about how to live life (or how NOT to).  When the stories are about people we know, our responses can be anything from sympathy and offering help to, “Wow, I thought I had it bad,” or even, “I’m not perfect, but at least I’m not [fill in the blank].”  It’s way too easy to switch over from innocent bystander to supporting actor in the story as we start making judgments about people’s circumstances and decisions.

Look, I’m in no position to tell you where to draw that line, to judge for you where you should be listening to stories or offering opinions or getting involved where you weren’t involved before.  Why?  Because not only would that be wrong of me, but it would also be ironic, considering the topic of this post.

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The first chapter of Romans clearly lays out for us the sin problem, which we are responsible for whether we have heard the good news of the gospel or not.  The second chapter builds on that foundation, leading off with the idea that we are therefore without excuse, specifically for judging our fellow man for the sins that we ourselves are guilty of.  (See plank vs. speck in Matt. 7:3-5.)

Why is it that we sometimes don’t take this as seriously as we should?  One reason could be that we don’t immediately see the effects of our actions.  Paul tells us in Romans 2:4 that even though God would be right to judge us immediately for our sins, He delays that judgment, using His own patience and kindness toward us to bring us to repentance.  The next verse tells us about the danger of presuming that God’s delayed judgment isn’t ultimately coming – we end up heaping up for ourselves more and more consequences for the day when judgment does come.

That’s sometime in the future.  Let’s talk about the here and now.

Paul goes on to clearly say in verses 6-11 that there will be a fair judgment handed out for our works: tribulation and distress for everyone who does evil, and glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good.  I would submit for your consideration that this is not just true in the future, but also now.  I’ve noticed that people who tend to live patient, peaceful lives tend to be involved in fewer emotional struggles and are overall more stress-free.  Even when significant things happen in their lives, they are well-equipped to deal with them because they’re not entangled in other situations around them.

By contrast, I’ve noticed that those who are seeking to instigate problems or constantly want to be conduits for other people’s personal details aren’t often happy, and they carry the stress of all those situations in their own spirits.

Those who legitimately are elected or appointed to stand in judgment of other people have tremendous responsibility.  We give them a lot of power to be able to gather the right factual information to allow them to reach a conclusion about what is right and wrong in a situation, and what should be done about it.  It’s a sober and honorable process.  How just would we think the process was if the judge only considered a portion of the evidence presented, and ignored the rest?  Or what if only one side of the case were presented before the judge passed down their decision?  In the extreme case, what if we knew that judge were being accused of the same crimes as the defendant is accused of in that judge’s courtroom?  We would consider any decision by that judge to be unfair at best, and the process and people involved completely corrupt at worst.

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Would we be any better if we are standing in judgment of the people around us without knowing the situation?  Or worse, judging people for things that we ourselves are guilty of?

I’m not qualified to pass judgment on anyone.  I can do my best to point people to Jesus as the One Righteous Judge, and talk to them about how they can deal with their sins before they meet Him personally.  I can show them how His precious sacrifice can wipe the slate clean and give them a fresh start.  I can also remind them that we will all be held responsible for our actions, judged by the standard of truth that God has given us.  But I’ll leave the actual judging to the One Who knows the thoughts and intents of the heart.


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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Jesus is in the Details

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

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

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

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

Hands

 

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

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

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


tori

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

 

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I Surrender

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

White flag waving on the wind. Put your own text

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

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

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

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

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

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Taylor_Bio

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

 

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