Life is Meaningless

 

We are living in a time where information runs downstream at a rapid pace. We could find out what’s happening across the country and even across the world within hours or even minutes of it happening. Yet in this era of information where we can be informed and educated more than any other generation, have we changed? Have we stopped repeating the sins of our ancestors? Have we come closer to ending world hunger? Terminating human trafficking? Protecting the rights of children? Ending any form of genocide? Have we stopped hating our brother? The answer to those questions is…not really. So, what does this thing called life mean? What are we doing here anyway? Are we all just hamsters on this karmic wheel that keeps spinning in the same direction? 

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I believe most people have asked the question, “What does this all mean?”. At least once in a lifetime, many of us question our purpose, the meaning of our suffering, or what value we have in a more global sense. We all have existential dilemmas, and sometimes they grow into existential crises. In fact, it is so common that there is a form of psychotherapy dedicated to helping people process through their crisis by exploring their own human experience in-depth. Believe it or not, we even see this in the Bible. For many, it is easy to view the Bible as a mystical piece of literature, an out of date text or simply not relatable. But it is actually a book describing the relationship between God and His people. God and us. So it’s not surprising that the book of Ecclesiastes is actually an example of this humanistic experience and examination of the meaning of life from the perspective of the author. The first chapter is even entitled “Everything is Meaningless”.  

The words of the Teacher,[a] son of David, king in Jerusalem: 

2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”
3 What do people gain from all their labors
    at which they toil under the sun?
4 Generations come and generations go,
    but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises and the sun sets,
    and hurries back to where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south
    and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
    ever returning on its course.
7 All streams flow into the sea,
    yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
    there they return again.
8 All things are wearisome,
    more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
    nor the ear its fill of hearing.
9 What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one can say,
    “Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
    it was here before our time.
11 No one remembers the former generations,
    and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
    by those who follow them. 

Look, we are still struggling with many of the same issues that generations did before us. We are most definitely struggling with new issues the more and more technology develops. At the core though, the human condition remains the same. Life is hard. Life isn’t fair. Life is redundant. And, as we know, life keeps going.  

In my line of work, I have seen a lot of hardship. I have worked in a children’s hospital, private practice, and in a setting with compromised young children. I have seen mothers lose their children over a long period of time, and I’ve seen them lose their children suddenly. I have sat with parents as a medical team is unplugging their child, and goodbyes are being painfully whispered. I have worked with children who were homeless, whose parents were incarcerated and who were kicked out of their preschool because of “poor behavior.” I have worked with teenagers who are hurting, can’t make sense of the world, and want to desperately understand themselves. Sometimes those teenagers contemplate ending it all because it “all feels so meaningless.” I have seen a lot of trauma, pain, and suffering, and I have experienced my own in the midst of it. Here’s the thing – I don’t know what it all means. I know what it means to me though. I know that my heart breaks with every patient, client, and case that I have worked on. And I know that the moment my heart stops breaking is the moment I have stopped caring, stopped loving, and even stopped fully living. Galatians 6:9 says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” James writes, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin (4:17).” 

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I know that every day can feel like the same old same old same old same old. I feel like I make less of a difference way more times than I feel like I’ve actually made a difference. I don’t know what I mean to others all the time, I don’t know how to weigh my value, and I don’t know if I’d be able to tell you what purpose I have on this planet. I do know what life means to me. I know what I value and what I feel is purposeful. And I believe that those things are what I am supposed to pursue. I may be doing the same thing as someone else because, honestly, there’s “nothing new under the sun”. But what if I’m doing good and some other person is doing the same kind of good and then 10 other people are doing it too? Doesn’t that amount to something bigger? We are called to be active, radical ambassadors of love while we are residents here on this planet. And the truth is, we may not know our meaning while we are here. But I believe that God cares. God cares what I do, and God cares about those I influence, those I help, and those I love. And I believe what I do can reflect God’s heart if I am doing the good works that I know I am supposed to do with the gifts and abilities I am given.  

 So maybe the question you can ask when you are in the midst of an existential struggle or crisis is not “What does it all mean?”. Maybe reframe the question as, “What does it all mean to me?”. Maybe we can see each moment as an opportunity to get closer to our purpose, increase our value, and see bits of meaning here and there. We may never have the answer to the meaning of life at the end of the day or at the end of our lives. But I know that we are meant to be here now at this time with the people that surround us and with the lives we are given. In a sense, we are ordained to be living this life, and that right there means something.  


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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Love Never Fails

When I was two and a half years old my biological father brought my brother and me over to his mother’s house for dinner. He was a single dad trying to raise two children at the age of twenty-three. He must have been exhausted and overwhelmed. After dinner he told his mom he was going to take a walk. And he never came back.

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After a few weeks of waiting for his return, my grandmother (also a single parent and working for seventy-five dollars a week) called my maternal grandparents (whose daughter had already abandoned us), asking them to help care for my brother and I until her son returned. They said they would, but instead of taking us home to their house they took us to Montgomery County Children and Youth Services, and we entered the foster care system. My grandmother tried to explain to the social workers that a mistake had been made and that she would take care of us. However, because she was neither our mother or father she was not able to bring us home. She spent the next two years visiting us about every other week under the supervision of case workers until we were adopted.

Although I did not remember these details as a child, I knew I had been abandoned, and the effects of this followed me well into adulthood. They were compounded in my adoptive family as I learned at an early age that love was conditional – based on whether I was good or good enough. I learned that love did not last forever, and I was not worthy of it.

When I was growing up I would sit in church and hear the minister talk of “Our Heavenly Father” – how God was our Father – and I would cringe. I had two fathers who had abandoned me – one physically and another emotionally – so, I had a difficult time believing that God’s love for me was going to last forever. I just wasn’t worthy of His love. My image of God and my understanding of His love were wrong. I thought I knew all about fathers and their so-called “love.” I was comparing God to my earthly fathers and was sure that He, too, would abandon me. It took me years of Bible study, prayer and seeking after God to discover just how wrong I was about who He was.

According to Bible Gateway, the phrase, “his love endures forever” appears forty-three times in the NIV Bible. All but six of those references appear in the book of Psalms and are repeated most frequently in chapter 136.

1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
2 Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures forever.
3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love endures forever.

4 to him who alone does great wonders,
His love endures forever.
5 who by his understanding made the heavens,
His love endures forever.
6 who spread out the earth upon the waters,
His love endures forever.
7 who made the great lights—
His love endures forever.
8 the sun to govern the day,
His love endures forever.
9 the moon and stars to govern the night;
His love endures forever.

The writer of this song first states who God is, reminding us of His character and recounting what He did as Creator.  For the rest of Psalm 136 the psalmist lists the ways that God worked in the lives of the Israelites: rescuing them from slavery, providing food and land for them, helping them to win battles, and blessing them.  All these actions point them (and us) to His everlasting love.  A love that endures over time.  A love that never fails.  I can almost hear a music director leading God’s people in this responsive song, proclaiming each statement and then the congregation responding with a loud refrain, “His love endures forever!”

I used to count and recount all the ways I had been abandoned; let down by people – people whose love tired of me. It used to be what defined me. I was abandoned. I was lied to. I was cheated. I was unwanted. I was unloved. I was abused. But, I have learned over time that when I focus on my circumstances and what has been done to me bitterness only grows where love was meant to be. I am learning that if I fix my eyes on God’s character, creation and acts of faithfulness in my life instead of the people who have hurt me then I can see His enduring love.  If I focus not on what has been done to me, but what was done for me by my Savior then I am motivated to love others.  To replace bitterness with love.

Every once in a while the fear of abandonment rears its ugly head in my adult life, and I have to go back to what I know to be true.  God has promised that He will never leave me or forsake me.  His love endures forever.  It is not based on who I am, but who He is, and His love never fails.

onethingremains
“One Thing Remains” by Jesus Culture


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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Love Forgives

I come from a family of immigrants. We can trace grandparents arriving through Ellis Island in the 1920’s and 1930’s. All four were incredibly proud of their heritage and passed that pride along to their children. But my mother, much to the shock of her four incredibly overprotective brothers, did not marry a fellow Italian. She married my very Hungarian father. My mother hailed from a family of eight siblings, and they were a close- knit group. It did not take them long however, to welcome this 6’2”, red haired, fun loving, adventurous, family man right into their hot pepper eating contests. Each side of my family loved the other. Mom lost her parents prior to my entrance into the world. Before she passed, my Italian grandmother asked my Hungarian grandmother to care for her youngest daughter. Nana did, she embraced my mom and lavished all of us with her brand of Hungarian love.

But it is the Italian side of my heritage that I identify with. I cannot explain it; it just is. I think it is the passion that my Italian family embraced life with. One of my favorite childhood memories is a family reunion where we made a 16mm home movie version of The Godfather before Francis Ford Coppola stole our idea. Both sides of the family were there, and the only remaining 12 minutes of the original scratchy, far from perfect video is a family treasure. The memory of that weekend reminds me of the stereotypically wonderful things of Italians: gathering the entire family, love, laugher, time spent together doing the silliest of things and just enjoying one another. But there were some parts of the movie that my Hungarian grandmother pointed out to me needed to be ignored. She did not agree with “Don Corleone” that revenge was the answer, and she taught me that forgiveness was the better option than to carry a grudge or get even at all costs.

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Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that love keeps no record of wrongs. I was challenged once to exchange God’s name every time the word “love” was used in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. God keeps no record of wrongs. This form of record keeping is the very basis of forgiveness. Not keeping count of wrongs allows us to start the process of forgiveness, and not counting those wrongs keeps us from taking up the issue again once forgiveness has been extended.

If we are honest, we depend on this kind of forgiveness from God daily – well, at least I do. It is the very essence of the gospel. God promises in Psalm 103:12 to remove my sin “as far as the east is from the west”. This truth is why I can approach God with confidence. It is this promise that assures me I will find mercy and grace when I approach him, not shame and guilt. I can only imagine the damage it would do to my relationship with him and my view of myself, if I thought my wrong doing was the lens that God used when he looks at me. But to his glory, it is not; the cross took care of that. When he looks at me, he sees Jesus.

I absolutely understand why Paul tells us to not keep a record of wrongs. It changes how we view people. It sets up barriers to fellowship, to intimacy, and most importantly, to forgiveness. Jesus tells Peter that we are to forgive 7 times 70 times. Jesus, when teaching us to pray, said, “forgive us as we forgive others.” He knew our default position would be to remember everything anyone had ever done against us and make them pay. Make them hurt as they hurt us rather than forgive as we have been forgiven.

We are not to keep a record of wrongs. Yet we do. We allow people’s failures to define them. We let those mistakes keep us from believing that life change can and has happened in their lives. We refuse to see the good and often believe the worst. We view them through the lens of what they have done to us. It is so self-centered. It is so opposite of what Jesus taught. It is the complete opposite of what we want people to do to us. Yet we do it.

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I have learned some things about forgiveness, and most come back to this concept of not keeping a record of wrong. I have seen all too often how a lack of forgiveness has kept people in the endless cycle of sadness, despair and anger. They recount the injury, injustice or betrayal over and over in their minds. They become caught in an endless loop of pain because they refuse to transform their minds. We looked at the power of a transformed mind in Romans 12:2. Without a decision to replace that running record of wrong with a recounting of God’s goodness in our lives, this cycle will never end.

Forgiveness does not happen overnight. It is a process. I have found a great place to start is following the words of Paul found in Phil 4:8, Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  Imagine the transformative power of this kind of lens. It is not easy when we have been hurt, but refusing to do so only allows the pain to continue. Forgiveness is not for others; it is for us. It allows us to be free of our past and to live fully engaged in our present. It is a source of peace for our souls.

A fellow teacher once told me that you know you have forgiven someone when you can pray the same blessing on them as you pray for those you love the most. Man, that is a high standard. Forgiveness is refusing to let the evil one have a foothold of bitterness in your life. I have also been told “not forgiving is like someone drinking poison and expecting the other person to die from it.” I have seen too many broken lives from drinking the poison of unforgiveness, lives defined by hard hearts. Too many lives wasted living in the past refusing to let go of past hurts. Too many bitter spirits that block the light of a life living out the gospel. God has modeled what forgiveness looks like; we need to walk in it.

My sweet Hungarian grandmother did not have an easy life, but she knew joy. She modeled daily how to look for the best in people, to overlook deep flaws and deep hurts.  She taught me that if we refuse to look for beauty, beauty would be wasted. She was not a doormat, but she also knew that forgiveness was better than revenge.  She showered her “enemies” with love and walked in the knowledge that she had done her part in making the relationship right. In contrast, I have some cousins unable to carry on a conversation without recounting everything anyone has ever done to them. It saps the joy from every encounter with them. It breaks my heart that is their world view.

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There is power in forgiveness. We can stop the enemy in his tracks by offering and asking for forgiveness. When a watching world sees a believer walking in the knowledge that their God has freely forgiven them, and they therefore, freely forgive…is there a more powerful image on earth to point someone to the cross? That kind love is irresistible!


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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Love is Faithful

I Chron 16_34

“Remember,” He said.   

“Remember that I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt.  Remember what I did for you. I loved you so much I rescued you.”  

God’s faithful love for the Israelites, His chosen people, was evident in a powerful way as He parted the Red Sea and protected them, enabling them to escape on dry land. 

But it was much easier to remember how hungry they were. How scared they were. How tired they were. How good it was back in Egypt where they were slaves, yes, but they had predictable days. And bread. It was much easier to believe the ten spies who told them stories of insurmountable obstacles in the promised land than Joshua and Caleb who knew with God’s help they could conquer their enemies. It was much easier to focus on their fear than how God had rescued, protected and provided for them in the past. Their lack of faith cost them forty years of wandering in the desert. One year for every day the spies were in Canaan gathering information (Numbers 14:34). 

After Moses died, the LORD commissioned Joshua (the Hebrew name for Jesus) to lead His people across yet another river. To the Promised Land. A raging, flood-swelled river. The Jordan. But, before God issued those instructions He wanted Joshua to get ready. He reminded Him, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5) I am faithful. My love for you has withstood the test of time. I will protect you. Trust me. Persevere.  Meditate on my word day and night. Be strong and courageous. For I will be with you wherever you go.   

In Joshua 3 we read that as soon as the feet of the priests carrying the ark of the covenant touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing and “piled up in a heap” in a town far away. When the whole nation of Israel had finished crossing the Jordan the LORD told Joshua to choose twelve men (one from each tribe) to take up a stone from the middle of the river and put them down at the place where they were going to stay for the night (Joshua 4:1-2). 

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“In the future when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”  (Joshua 4:5-7).   

In other words, as with The Passover, God wanted His people to remember His faithful love to them. How he had protected, provided and blessed them. He knew that life would get hard again. That there would be distractions and defeat that would threaten their confidence in His faithful love. He knew that they would need frequent reminders of His love for them, of how He had displayed that love in the past.  

Like the Israelites, I’m good at forgetting God’s faithful love to me as well.  I can easily become consumed with my fear and frustration instead of trusting in the One who has provided for and protected me for five decades. I often focus on my circumstances and rely on my own strength and then wonder why I feel like things are hopeless. It is only when I shift my focus back to God’s faithful love for me that my confidence is restored and trust returns.   

A few years ago I began reading Linny Saunder’s blog, A Place Called Simplicity. This mom to many and pastor’s wife described her family’s “Memorial Box”, a box where they placed small objects that reminded them of a time when God had been faithful to them. It gave them visual reminders that His faithful love is trustworthy. When they were trying to trust Him in a new situation or when they were scared and wondering how an impossible detail could be resolved, they were reminded of how He had provided for them in the past. This strengthened their faith and helped them to persevere with love. 

I wanted this visual for my own family. A legacy of God’s faithful love to us. Times when we prayed and asked Him to move mountains, times when He showed His attention to the details of our lives, gave us our heart’s desire, helped us find something that was lost or helped us believe. We started our own Faith Box, and I love when we bring it to the table about twice a year and take out each item, telling the story it represents and remembering God’s faithful love for us. It strengthens my faith every time. It reminds me to trust, hope and persevere.
Because God’s love is faithful. 

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Jesus also asked us to remember.  During the last supper He shared with His disciples He said, “This is my body which is for you; do this in remembrance of me…This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (I Corinthians 11: 24-25) In the ultimate expression of love, Jesus died for us. Once and for all. To forgive our sins. So that we could be right with God. Oh, how He loves you and me and He wants us to share that love. 

As Christians, we are “little Christs”. Disciples of Jesus. He said in John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you; Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” 

When I remember how much God loves me, when I remember His faithful love to me over years of heartache and joy it spurs me on to love others.  To show people in my communities and the world at large that faithful love as modelled by our Heavenly Father always protects, always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres.  

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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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Love is…Sacrificial   

“I love you.” This is arguably the most common, yet power packed, emotion-invoking phrase on the planet. The energy it takes for one half of a new couple to muster the courage to say it to the other could power a city. The dreaded anticipation of the ‘I love you return’ is equally as stirring.  It is not reserved for romantic relationships only though; we also love our pets, our cars, our Netflix and Hulu shows, meals, and entertainers we’ve never met.  How is this possible?  Well, it’s because we Americans have one word for love, while in the original Greek, there are eight.   

The one we use for romantic relationships is Eros.  The love you have for your best friend is Phileo. Love for a family member is Storge (pronounced STOR-gay). Pragma is a practical love, or one of convenience (think arranged marriage).  Philautia is self-love, which could go two ways. The negative form is when our favorite piece of furniture is a full-length mirror, also known as narcissism. The positive form is pride (the good kind) in oneself, like Leviticus 19:18: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The last is the highest form of love, called Agape (uh-GOP-ay). It is a selfless, sacrificial love. It’s no wonder the same spelling in English means ‘the state of the mouth being wide open in surprise and wonderment.’ When it’s actually accomplished, that’s the kind of effect it has. This is the one we all strive for, and the one we mean when we say it to our betrothed. By the way, I didn’t miscount; the other two ‘loves’ are Ludus (game-playing, uncommitted love) and Mania (obsessive love). I would argue they are not really love because they don’t fit God’s character, and 1 John 4:8 tells us God is love.   

As powerful as love is, it may also be the most misunderstood. Though it is defined in countless ways, and means different things to different people, there is but one definition which originated long before Noah Webster, or Noah’s Ark for that matter. 1 Corinthians 13 tells us exactly what it is, and what it is not. If you say you love someone, here is your litmus test. If you consistently perform each of love’s characteristics, then you are a true lover. One caveat:  you can’t truly love without knowing God. Not only is God love, but that same passage says everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God. Notice two things: (a) if you want to know if you know God, just ask yourself if you are able to check off everything in 1 Corinthians 13; and (b) love is used as a verb. In other words, it requires action, and it requires choice. It’s been said you can’t choose whom you love.  That may be true for Eros, but not Agape. The very nature of Agape is choosing to love, and proving it through action. It is when you pay the toll for the jerk who’s been tailgating you for three miles. It is when your friend conveniently has to use the bathroom when the check comes, but you pay it (plus tip), then offer to treat him/her to the movies the following week. It is when you provide a foot massage to your spouse who just finished screaming at you over a misunderstanding. These are instances where you have every right to retaliate, but you give up that right for the sake of the relationship. You sacrifice. 

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There are also instances where this is taken to a whole new level. Like when a big brother confesses to a crime he didn’t commit so his little brother won’t have a record. Or when a black man donates one of his kidneys to a dying white supremacist. Or when a soldier dives on a hand grenade so his whole unit doesn’t die. Or when a King pays the penalty of sin by being tortured and killed, though He never sinned Himself. This is true sacrificial love, where there are permanent, detrimental and sometimes fatal results by benefiting someone else, but you do it anyway, because you care more about their well-being than your comfort. That is the essence of Agape, and all other love types are merely tributaries flowing into it. 

I remember as a kid I would visit my dad (my parents divorced when I was around 4), and oftentimes he would have just made a steak dinner.  He is a carnivore through and through, steak being his favorite food on earth. It would be complete with two baked potatoes smothered in butter, salt, pepper, and sour cream. The vegetable would usually be cabbage – not the flimsy, wilty kind, but the nice and firm leaves, seasoned with hot pepper.  He’d then have an enormous cup of Kool-Aid®, with Kool-Aid® ice cubes. That’s right; he would pour cherry-flavored Kool-Aid® in the ice trays so that when he put them in his drink and they began to melt, they would not dilute the drink like regular cubes. Genius!! This was just one of his many meals. Another favorite were his tacos. Oh my Lord in heaven! You haven’t had tacos until you’ve had them from Sir Charles Ketchum. Sure, he’d have the regular kind, but then he’d make tostadas (or whatever he called them), which were flat circles. He’d put them in the oven for a ski-taste (that’s Texan for ‘a short while’; he’s from San Antonio), then take them out when they were nice and warm. He’d then put a layer of refried beans over their surfaces, then a layer of shredded cheese. He would top that with seasoned beef, then throw on the pre-chopped lettuce, onions, and tomatoes.  So, what’s the big deal, right? It doesn’t sound like he did anything significantly different. Well, I don’t know if he did or didn’t; all I know is I’m here still talking about them 40 years later. 

He and mom had an amicable divorce, so he actually only lived about 1 mile away. I could go see him anytime. So when I’d pop in to see my pop, sometimes he will have made these elaborate dinners. After he put all this together, he would see me and say, “JUNEBUG!! How you doin’, man?! Here you go.” 

Hi, Dad! What’s this?”
“It’s dinner. You hungry?”
“Yeah, a little. But, you didn’t know I was coming.”
“Right.”
“So how did you know to make me a plate?”
“I didn’t.”
So this is yours?”
“No, it was mine. Now it’s yours.”
“But what will you eat?”
“I’ll make more.”
“You’re going to make all this all over again?”
“Yep.”
“No, I can’t have you do that.”
I want to, and it’s my choice. You’re my son. What’s mine is yours. Period.”  

You know, he still does this to this day?  He informed me he had a procedure he had to have done, so I took off work to drive down to Maryland and spend the day with him.  There was an Eagles game the night before, so I decided to drive down the night before, watch the game with him, then hang the next day. That night, he said, “JUNEBUG!! You hungry? I have steak.” 

Shocker!
“Very funny. I also have some brisket. This is some good brisket, too. I can make you up a nice plate.”
“Okay, thank you, Pop. Have you eaten?”
“Nah, can’t. I have to fast for this procedure.”
So you’re starving?”
“Affirmative.”
“And you’re going to cook me a steak dinner?”
“Yep.”
“Pop, I can’t have you do that. I’ll just go across the street and grab something.”
“No no, it’s no problem. Really. You’re my son.” 

Agape. 

My mom was a big muckety muck at the Federal Reserve Bank. She headed up Human Resources (then called ‘Personnel’). When they offered her the job, she said, “I just want you to know I have a son.  He is involved in sports, band, plays, and other activities. Sometimes I will leave early to attend things. If that will be a problem, let me know, and I will have to respectfully decline.” They admired her forthrightness in putting her family first, and she excelled in her position. So much so that a few years later, she was offered a promotion. Even better, the job was in California, where she is from. She had been trying to get back there for years. She finally had the opportunity to return, with a greater position in the company, more money, and no snow. One problem: me. We lived in a small town in the suburbs. It was one of those towns that was filled with kids, and we all went to the same schools. You went from nursery school to high school with the same kids, and you lived within a 2-mile radius of all of them. They and their families were absolutely like family. No one really locked their doors, and if you knocked and they saw it was you, they’d say, “What are you doing?  Just come in!”    

When the promotion came, I was 16. I had spent almost my whole life with the people in this town, and to leave them – especially 2 years from graduating – would crush me. It would also crush me to ask my mom to turn down her dream job on my account. As was customary in big decisions, she asked for my input. I told her how I felt, and she said she’d take it into consideration. Knowing her, I’m pretty sure she decided right then. She turned down the job, and never let me feel guilty about it for one millisecond. She said it was her decision, and it was final. 

Agape. 

I am blessed to have two parents who didn’t blink when it came to making decisions for my benefit, and I found out at 18 there is a Savior named Jesus the Christ who did the same. I now have the privilege of loving family, friends, and strangers – so basically everyone – with the same love I have been given; and thanks to the road map of 1 Corinthians 13, I have a clear journey. We all do. 

Thanks for reading. I love you (for real)! 


Ketchum_julian

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

 

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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.

animals JH

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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