Set

 

As a wannabe photographer, I like to think I know something about taking good pictures. Really, I know very little, but my ‘fancy’ camera and I have a lot of fun.

My favorite thing to take photos of (besides my children’s smiling faces) is flowers. Whenever we go for a walk or hike, you can guarantee I’ll be holding my family up because I’m kneeling in the bushes taking approximately 74 pictures of each different kind of flower we pass.

The coolest thing about having a DSLR camera is the ability to create a “depth effect” by focusing the lens on a particular flower. This causes the flower to “pop” out at the viewer and everything that’s not the flower to blur into the distance. As the photographer, I have the ability to set the focal point – I press the “take a picture” button down halfway and wherever the center point of the rectangle in my viewfinder is, the lens makes that object the “focus” or the sharpest and clearest part of the photograph.

SET 1

In Romans 8, after getting real in the previous chapter about the struggle of living with a sinful nature inside of him – having “the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out,” (7:18) Paul presents his case for an alternative way of living. Rather than making “the flesh” the focal point, he exhorts his readers to instead set their minds on “the Spirit”:

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” (v. 5-7)

Whether he knew it or not, Paul was hitting on a basic principle of human psychology: Whatever we set our minds on, we give power to. Setting our focus on something makes that thing the sharpest and clearest, allowing it to capture our attention and leaving everything else to blur into the background.

When we set our mind on “the flesh” – even if it’s because we’re trying to stop sinning – we only increase sin’s power. Focusing on our own failed or successful attempts to follow the law leads only to pride on one end or increased feelings of guilt and shame on the other. Focusing on the letter of the law makes obedience to it a “have to,” which our flesh is instinctively hostile toward (if you’ve spent any time with a two-year-old, you know how true this is!). The more we give attention to our natural desires, even if it’s in an attempt to deny those desires, the more we end up enslaved by them.

But by setting our minds on the Spirit, we allow His power to be the focus and the force of real change in our lives.

The power of sin is in the shame and defeat of failure, but the Spirit reminds us that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (v. 1) The Spirit “brings to remembrance” (John 14:26) the “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” character of our God (Psalm 103:8).

The power of sin is in the past and in the tunnel vision of self-pity, but the Spirit puts in view what’s next. When we set our minds on the Spirit, He shows us we have a purpose greater than ourselves. And when our bodies and minds are busy being used as His “witnesses” (Acts 1:8), we don’t need to be consumed with trying to gratify, control, or punish them.

The power of sin is in discouragement at the lack of change in our lives and in the world around us. But the Spirit opens our eyes to all the ways He is working, giving us power to “abound in hope” (Romans 15:13) regardless of what our flesh feels and sees.

As a parent with kids in elementary school, I’ve been introduced over the past few years to an education strategy called “Growth Mindset”.* When a child experiences failure after doing poorly on an assignment, not being able to grasp a concept or perform a skill, their minds tend to default to a “Fixed Mindset,” which says, “I can’t, so I should give up”. But a “Growth Mindset” approach teaches them to say: “I can’t right now, but I will learn”. A “Fixed Mindset” sets the mind on one’s current abilities and inherent strengths or weaknesses, but a “Growth Mindset” sets the mind on the possibility of change.

A “Flesh Mindset” puts the focus on our current ability to change ourselves based on our own inherent strengths or weaknesses – and as a result, says, “I can’t change myself, so I might as well give up”. But a “Spirit Mindset” puts the focus on God’s ability to transform us based on His strength. A “Spirit Mindset” says, “I can’t change myself, but God can, is, and will continue to work change in me.”

My default mode is set to “autofocus” and the center point of my viewfinder tends to stay on “flesh” because it’s in my face all day. I regularly set unrealistic “I can do this!” change goals for myself, honestly believing I’m going to be able to sustain the effort. I hear the Holy Spirit’s whispers of “I have a better way,” but I ignore them – and my life ends up looking like this:

SET 2

In verse 13 of Romans 8, Paul says, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Setting our minds on the Spirit doesn’t mean denying our sin or expending no effort, it means we diminish the power of sin – we let it blur into the background – by directing our effort in the right direction. Manually adjusting our focus by spending time in God’s Word, making space in our lives to pray, and putting aside distractions to listen for and then follow His leading is the surest way to “life and peace” (v. 6).

*https://www.mindsetworks.com/Science/Impact


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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Dead Men Singing

I once sang in a choir. Well, it was a small church and the whole congregation was the choir. When we sang, we read the music from the hymnal. Different people sang different parts, but it was all laid out for us to follow. I can see the notes and know what to do, but my sinful body can’t obey and I sing flat most of the time. I love to sing, especially when it is praise, but it doesn’t sound beautiful. I’m glad David says to make a joyful noise, because my singing qualifies as both joyful and noise.

One hymn that we liked to sing, Blessed Assurance, the conductor liked to change it up. On the last verse, he would say “watch me”. We had to look up from the music, and remember what we were singing so we could put our eyes on him. He would conduct us, slowing it down, adding some dramatic pauses, stretching out some notes. It was beautiful. (Except for my flat notes).

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In the typical case, we were following what was written – as best we could. It was technically correct. We were following the law. We were doing what the composer intended.

When the conductor took control, we were doing something more. We were creating something in addition to what the composer had written. The conductor was adding in what he knew that our choir was capable of. He was giving the music some spirit, some life.

God gives us the opportunity to walk through our lives like this. He has given us the law so that we know what is expected. Like my voice, our human bodies are tainted by sin and can’t follow the written law. Try as we might, we fail. “For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.”  Rom 7:15

But we no longer need to struggle to try to obey the law. “So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.” Rom 7:4 If you keep staring at the law, that won’t get you life. We no longer are expected to concentrate on the law. If we spend our time looking at the law, then we can’t create the beautiful fruit that God desires from our lives. Like singing with a conductor, when we look up and put our eyes on Him and seek to follow Him, He leads us into life.

To the Galatians, Paul says it a little differently: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the spirit, let us keep in step with the spirit.” Gal 5:24-25

Walking by the spirit seems hard. We keep getting pulled back to our familiar struggle of trying to follow the rules and be good. But Paul says that we have no reason to do that. He says we are dead to the law. He says, “by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” Rom 7:6

I still feel that pull of temptation. I still run off down those trails of pleasing myself. But Paul says we are dead to that. It doesn’t have any power over us. I should be learning to leave my old flesh in the grave and not jump up to follow the temptation. But I still have a lot to learn before I’m good at that.

But even more, Paul says that our bodies are dead, and it doesn’t matter if they continue to sin. Our bodies are in the grave and no longer obligated to follow the law.

He says that we are free to follow the spirit, to walk with Jesus, to bear fruit for God. Paul lays out the struggle of what our bodies, controlled by sin, want to do and what our minds, guided by the spirit, want to do. We need to stop focusing on the body controlled by sin – it’s dead. Instead, follow the spirit of God to produce fruit. If we focus on the struggle, if we keep thinking about trying to avoid sin, we are not being available to serve God.

Paul wants us to be freed from the control of our feelings of guilt. There is no longer any condemnation for us. Our failures are the actions of our bodies which are dead. Turn away from them and reach out to God.

So we need to take our eyes off of the written instructions that we think we need to follow. They will only lead us to failure and death. We need to keep our eyes on the Director. He will guide us to paths that are beautiful, creative, and new.


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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I Need a Doctor

 

There are few things that I remember truly fearing in life when I was a child, but one of the things that I remember frequently running through my head was a general fear of getting the most dreaded disease for any child… the chicken pox! Luckily that fear never came to be a reality for me but I remember first hearing about them while I was watching an episode on one of my favorite childhood TV shows, “Arthur”. The way they described the chicken pox in that episode just made them seem such a pain in the butt.

A) Arthur almost didn’t go to the circus because of how contagious they were. (Which in those days missing a day at the circus would have been devastating, let’s be honest.)

B) They made his whole body itch. And,

C) He wasn’t allowed to scratch them!

That last one alone would have been enough to drive me crazy. When I was young I HATED whenever I got bug bites or irritated skin because the constant itching was the worst! So, the thought of having itches all over my body that I wouldn’t be allowed to scratch was about as torturous a thought that my little mind could think of. Even though the threat of the chicken pox frequently haunted me as a child, I came to realize as I got older that I didn’t have anything to worry about because I got vaccinated for chicken pox when I was a baby.

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It took me a number of years though, to be really be able to understand that I wasn’t even at risk of contracting chicken pox because of a shot I had gotten years before. How could that one trip to the doctor, years prior, protect me from contracting the childhood equivalent of leprosy? There was no way my little brain could understand the concept of a vaccine. For those of you who need a refresher course of exactly how a vaccine works I’ll give you a brief run down.

When disease-causing germs enter your body, you have natural defenses that our immune system creates to fight the disease. These proteins are called antibodies. Basically they’re like little fighter jets sent out into the bloodstream to seek out and eliminate deadly invaders. Whenever a disease enters your body it begins to multiply, and often times your body is able to produce enough antibodies to fight off the germs even as they multiply. Sometimes however the disease is strong enough that the body can’t totally fight it off, and that is when we get sick. And sometimes the disease is too strong and our bodies are caught so off guard by the attack that we are overrun by it, which can have some very serious and sometimes deadly consequences, especially at a young age. This is where vaccines come into play. When you get a vaccine injection, you are getting a little bit of whatever disease you are being vaccinated for injected into your bloodstream, a very weak or even dead strain of the disease. This gets your immune system and antibodies to be familiar with that disease. They then store that familiarity with that disease in their memories to help fight it in the future causing your body to then develop an immunity to it. It’s really amazing when you think about it—all of that going on inside of you.

PICTURE 2

Now let’s look at something a little more common like the flu. It’s recommended that you get vaccinated for the flu once a year. This is because the flu virus is constantly adapting and evolving into new strains, so keeping your body up to date on how to fight it is important to keep yourself healthy. And at this point I can just about hear all of you saying to yourself, “Isn’t this supposed to be a church blog, not a medical forum?” The answer to that question is yes, and I would like to thank you for helping me segue into the meat of this post. You see, when I think about disease and vaccination I don’t only think about physical health and the human body, but I also think about spiritual health and the church body.

Close to 2000 years ago, the world received the most powerful vaccination of all time: the vaccination against the disease known as sin and death. Christ was sent by God the Father to die on the cross so that His children would not succumb to the crippling power of sin, leaving all who believe in Him immune to the fear of eternity in hell. But just because we have received this vaccination, that doesn’t mean that we should ignore the sin in our lives. Just because you get a flu shot doesn’t mean you should go around licking doorknobs at your doctor’s office or letting people cough in your face. A vaccination isn’t an excuse to live a reckless life, just like accepting Christ into your life isn’t an excuse to continue or dive deeper into sin.

“Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death?For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him.”  (Romans 6: 1-8)

Do not take for granted the gift of salvation you were given with the sacrifice that Christ made for us on the cross, because truly that is what it was: a GIFT! An incredible, perfect, gracious gift! And what better way to show your appreciation for this gift than by leading a life that shows Him just how thankful you are.

Realistically we all sin—that is unavoidable; the least we can do is try our best to be our best and do it in His name because at the end of the day God’s vaccination of grace will be there to help us fight sin, but we still must fight if we want to avoid getting “sick” from sin. We have to be the antibodies, both in our personal lives and in the world. The great commission calls us all to “go forth and make disciples,” in medical terms, “go forth and make more antibodies,” because it was the Son himself who said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” The world doesn’t need us to be totally free of disease. It needs us to be willing to fight the disease in the name of the greatest doctor, the greatest healer this world has ever known, Jesus Christ.

PICTURE 3

It’s really easy for us as Christians to sit down and tell ourselves that because we are in church every Sunday, pray frequently and read our Bibles regularly that we are spiritually healthy. But is that true, or are we just using those practices to cover up the unhealthy and sinful behavior in our lives? I know I’ve found myself guilty of this in my life in the past, and I’m sure it’ll happen again in some form in the future. We can’t overlook it, because if we do our health starts to fade. Our choices have consequences and, yes, our doctor will be there to fix it, but how smart is it for us to let ourselves become sick in the first place—especially when we have been provided all the tools and resources, all the medicines and vaccines we need to avoid getting seriously ill in the first place? His grace is sufficient, but our effort is required to stay healthy. For the church body to remain healthy we have to remain healthy as well, so let’s go forward with the intentions of making this world a much healthier place.


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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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.

Counted PHOTO 1

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.

Counted PHOTO 2

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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