Thankful – If I Want

One of the most important relationships is the one I have with my parents. My mother, Joann, in specific, is one of the biggest supporters in my life. She encourages me when I am sad, listens carefully to what I say (and what I don’t say), and pushes me when she thinks I need challenging. My relationship with my mom is rich because she has been the most stable figure in my life. No matter what stage or cycle I find myself, I can always count on having my mother’s support. We don’t have the “easiest” relationship, as we have strong (and occasionally, clashing) personalities, and there are many things that we still need to work on within our mother-daughter relationship, but I am so thankful for her commitment to our family. For the majority of the years in my childhood she was the primary caretaker and she was dedicated in raising her three children.  As the eldest child, I was held as the example for my brother and sister, and inherent for first borns are higher standards, as my mother knows all too well.

My mother did not have an easy upbringing, and it was very traumatic in many ways. She had a hard childhood with unstable parents and was adopted by age 5 by a couple who showed her all the love she never witnessed prior to adoption. It was a great blessing for my mother to learn about being gentle and kind as she emulated her adoptive parents for about eight years. She became the caretaker of her siblings when she eventually moved back with her biological mother in her early teens and kept up with the kids after they became adults. She was the one that kept her family intact, despite the physical and emotional distance between her five siblings.

By the accounts of her own biological parents, my mother should not be the loving, caring, and selfless person she has become. I thank God for my adoptive grandparents because without their profound impact on my mothers life, my mother may have been too hardened by the circumstances of her childhood. In the face of obstacles and trauma, she kept living and loving on those around her without hesitation. My mother loved on those who did her wrong, and she still continued to reach out even when others would have given up. I write all of this to explain that my mother amazes me. Her story is one of resiliency and service to others. She inspires me to be more thankful, more loving, and more forgiving. As a Christian especially, these are some of the values that I want to continue to learn and practice because they are easy lessons to “forget” when things are not going as planned.

My mother and I have our differences at times, but ultimately, I am thankful for her in her entirety, not just the parts that are compatible with mine. I embrace her fiercely loving and protective instincts because I know her heart is well meaning, even when the delivery of a message is not in a “pretty” package. Like all loving relationships, admittedly we have disagreements that result in hurt for both of us. I could dig my heels in and kept a grudge when arguments occur, but that is not helpful for either of us! It is not typical for me to be on a bad note with my mother and I am relieved when we make up. By talking and forgiving each other we are able to embrace more fully our relationship, which has evolved into a beautiful friendship. What caused my mother’s heartache in her youth was the glue that encouraged her to love, trust, and forgive as an adult. She is a model mother, friend, and an encouragement to me, and many others, during times where nothing seems right. My mother’s childhood experiences were not in vain. Jesus always has a plan for us, no matter how painful our past or current situation.

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Everyone has a personal history that can be seasoned with painful memories, and yet, counter-intuitively, these hardships can be the very catalysts that enrich relationships. In spite of any instances of drama or stress induced by the upcoming holidays, the holidays can have a magical charm that softens hearts and makes otherwise hard to reach people more accessible. We may try to enjoy the day with those closest to our hearts when possible.

For others though, holidays are more complicated and not as easy to enjoy. With the high demands of the season can come tension, and maybe more difficulty managing relationships. Maybe you, or someone you love, for example, is dealing with a mental health, physical health, or even an addiction that hasn’t improved despite the praying and pleading you’ve done around it. Or maybe you’re at a spiritual crossroads because you think God hasn’t heard your prayers. Perhaps you have lost faith due to a trauma or hardship that you don’t know how to recover from on your own. Maybe a loved one has recently passed or has moved away and your heart is still grieving. Sadly, the holidays that should be joyous can instead be reminders of painful dysfunctions or disconnections in your family.

As my mother has taught me, even through adversity, love and kindness prevails. When I close my heart off because I am hurt, I want to remind myself that humbling myself and having a grateful heart is the example I have been taught by my mother in my youth, and by Jesus as my faith grows in my adulthood. I choose to be thankful, on purpose, regardless of the stressors in front of me. Instead of being stubborn and self righteous, I try to consider other perspectives. By the example of Jesus I can love on others as God intended, as written in John 13, when Jesus washes the feet of his disciples.

In the gospel of John 13:1-17, Jesus is aware that his death hour is near and he is prepping to have his last meal with his beloved friends, the disciples. Jesus takes off his robe, wraps a towel around his waist, and begins to wash the disciple’s feet. As the King of the World, He humbles Himself to wash and dry His follower’s feet. Peter did not understand why Jesus would do this for him as he protests and says that Jesus will never wash his feet. Jesus seems patient and loving as He replies to Peter, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will” (John 13:7). Jesus knows that the disciples need more help in understanding His actions, so He explains that since Jesus, God in the Flesh, was able to serve the disciples in this way, that they should take that example and humble themselves to wash the feet of others in acts of service, forgiveness, and love.

Jesus knew that He would be betrayed in just a few hours by one of His disciples, and that he would suffer a brutal and agonizing death. In spite of the knowledge that Jesus would be betrayed, He washed all of the disciple’s feet, including Judas, the one who would begin the cascade of events that would lead to Jesus’ death. Jesus, even close to His death hour was still teaching about self service and forgiveness, as he sat alongside of the man would lead Him to His death! Jesus instructs us to remember that the Father’s message should be upheld independent of our own human will when he says:

“I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who send the message” (John 13:16).

Jesus set the example of loving others, in spite of what actions or wrongs a person may have done in the past, or will occur in the future. His message of self sacrifice is the key to lasting impact on another person’s life. If Jesus personally did not set the example for His disciples of how to impact the lives of all He met, how would the disciples have known how to love and serve others as Jesus did? Jesus loved and cared about everyone and He humbled Himself when it was not expected. How often do we humble ourselves when we want to be self righteous or proud instead?

Jesus washing His disciple’s feet was an act of love and self sacrifice. Jesus used Himself as the ultimate self sacrifice to show His love for humanity when He died a violent death on the cross. If Jesus could love even those who wished Him death, how can we use Christ’s example of love and be thankful for others who are in our social circles, especially when someone is not in our “good graces”. Service and gratitude of others may not be a common consideration when things are not going right, but Jesus explains that holding this perspective is the way that God will bless us.

For my family this Christmas season, I hope to be more intentional about loving on others when serving others is not my first thought, as my mother and Heavenly Father have set this example for me. I understand that for some, the holidays are merry and bright, and for others holidays are less cheerful and more somber. Regardless of which side you identify with most, joyous or more complex, or even how the two categories combine in your life this holiday season, rest assured that God sees you in your current circumstance. He knows where intervention and healing needs to occur in your life. Choose to give thanks! Choose to humble yourself and figuratively wash someone else’s feet as an act of service and love. Choose to have full, thankful hearts in spite of what you may think is missing.

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Darlene

Darlene Servolini lives in King of Prussia with her two young daughters and has been a member of Hope for three years. She has been thrilled to witness the love of God poured out from her church into her own life, family, and home throughout the various seasons of sunshine and storms. As a new Christian, she hopes to continually learn and grow in her faith and to share the kindness, gentleness, and forgiveness that Jesus has shown her (even at her worst!), with everyone she meets.

 

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Dead Men Walking

1Some of my most distinct memories of childhood were made in the woods with my family.  On this occasion, we were out walking quietly along a wide path through the woods and hunting squirrels.  If you’ve spent any time in the woods stalking game, you’ve learned a few things about walking quietly, gently placing your heels down and rolling your weight to your toe.  You wear the right clothing to blend into the trees and grasses, making sure that the fabric doesn’t make noises as you push through the underbrush.  Everyone stays quiet, speaking only in whispers when necessary, and communicating with slow hand motions.  You’re careful of wind direction and which way odors are likely to travel.  And most of all, you’re staying intently aware of your surroundings.  Every sound, every movement, could be a sign of game nearby.  And every sound and movement you make can alert them to your presence.

I say all this to tell you what I SHOULD have been doing.  Every ten-year-old has a timer.  When that timer reaches zero, the initial thrill of the hunt is over, and boredom sets in.  Mind you, I was disciplined enough to know not to make noise or move excessively so as to ruin the hunt for everyone else, but I did stop paying attention.  I just started moving along with the pod as we walked down the trail, meandering through my own little world.

After a while, I didn’t realize that I wasn’t moving along at the same pace as the others, and I started to pull ahead of my Dad.  Then it happened.

STOP!

My Dad’s crisp order should have frozen me in my tracks, but it didn’t.  Continuing on, I re-emerged from my little world to ask the age-old question, “Why?”

To a boy of my age, curious about the world in every respect, it seemed like the right thing at the time.  After all, I was learning everything I could get my hands on at this point.  I was absorbing everything people would put in front of me.  I would sit and read encyclopedias by the hour.  Yes, I was that kid.  Why shouldn’t I expect a good answer to satisfy my need to know?

As quickly as I’ve ever seen my Dad move, in that split second between his command and my hesitation, he reached out and grabbed the back of my shirt and yanked me backward.  In the same motion, he brought up his .22 rifle and started shooting a line across the trail where I was about to land my next step.  I don’t think I really understood how quickly a .22 could be unloaded.

At this point, I was understandably stunned, not able to process what had just happened.  I didn’t see what my Dad saw.  While my mind was wandering, he had stayed focused, paying attention to the the hunt.  So he saw the rattlesnake laid out across the trail. It was camouflaged in the short grasses, warming itself in the sun, and it was directly in the path of my next footfall.

I never saw the snake.  I never heard it slither off into the woods, likely full of bullet holes.  But Dad did.  My first instinct was to question; his was to protect me.

The 11th chapter of John relates one of the most famous stories in the gospels, a picture of Jesus with some of his dearest friends.  Lazarus lived with his sisters, Mary and Martha, in the village of Bethany, just a couple of miles from the city of Jerusalem.  Most of us know the story.  Lazarus became acutely ill.  Mary and Martha, fully aware of Who Jesus was and what He was capable of, sent for Him, knowing that He could heal Lazarus.  He had already shown numerous times that He could heal the sick, even from a distance.  In fact, by this point, He had already raised people from the dead!  Getting His attention was definitely the right thing to do.  And being close friends, they had a reasonable expectation that He would come.

Imagine the next scene in Bethany.  Lazarus had grown sick and passed so quickly that there just wasn’t enough time.  Now it’s been days since the messenger left to carry word to Jesus, and there’s been no answer.  Perhaps He didn’t get the word.  Maybe He’s been detained – it’s clear He has enemies.  Then other thoughts creep to mind.  Maybe He has better things to do.  Maybe – no, that can’t be right.  Of course He still cares about us.  But why isn’t He here?

Four days after Lazarus has been laid to rest, Jesus arrives in Bethany.  The floodgates open.  “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!” Then the confession, “I know you are the Christ, the Son of God, promised to come into the world.  Whatever you ask of God, I know He will give it to you!”  Such a faith-filled declaration in the midst of tragedy!

Soon they had no doubts about His love for their family, for as Jesus approached the tomb where Lazarus lay, He started weeping.  Truly He was touched at the loss of a friend.  But then He made it very plain to everyone around why He was there.  He called for the stone to be taken away.  They hesitated, “Lord, he’s been dead for days.  Surely he stinks by now!”  In other words, there’s nothing left to be done!  It’s over!

“Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?  So they obeyed his instruction, and they removed the stone.

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Jesus prays, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.  I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”  And then in a loud voice, He spoke the words they longed to hear: “LAZARUS, COME FORTH.”

This story played out the way it did so they would believe.  His message, as it had been throughout history, was trust me! Mary confessed Who He was, but failed to see the big picture – she didn’t believe the extent to which He was willing go for them, and to fulfill His purpose.  But the onlookers were willing to remove the stone at Jesus’ word, even if they really didn’t know what was coming.

I think the author Madeleine L’Engle says it well in her book Many Waters.  “Some things have to be believed to be seen.”   Jesus calls us to obey, to believe in what He’s doing, regardless of whether we understand what’s going on.  I know I’ve missed many opportunities when I asked, “Why?” rather than just say, “Yes, Lord.”  And there have been other times when I got it right, when I believed and did in obedience what He asked.  I’m not responsible for the outcome, just the obedience.  And many times He lets me see what He was doing after I do my part.

Had Dad not grabbed and pulled me back from the rattlesnake, I could very well have been a dead man walking.  Most of our daily opportunities for obedience don’t have such immediate and costly consequences.  But we don’t want to miss what He’s doing – we want to believe, obey and be part of it.

“Let me see it, and then I’ll believe.  Show me, and then I’ll do it.”  God says, “Do it, and then you’ll see.”


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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Living Life to the Full

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

Have you ever walked into a room and been hit with something? Not like you walk into a gym and get hit with a dodge ball or the smell of body odor, but you walk in and are immediately overcome by a feeling or presence. This past Sunday, that happened to me as I walked into the back of a room where about 30 high school students were singing the above lyrics at the top of their lungs. It was overwhelming to be completely honest. As a 24 year old man, I am not ashamed to say that I teared up faster than Roman Kupecky talking about his adoration for his grandson on a Sunday morning. And the reason was I could see the relationships in front of me, clear as day. Not just relationships with each other, which are strong and fruit baring but also and even more so with Jesus. I looked at the crowd of teenagers and I saw LOVE!

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It’s easy to say that you can “see” love when you see two people smooching and holding hands or when you see a parent comforting and embracing their child but this was something so completely different. This was a group of kids giving everything they had to reciprocate the love of the Almighty God. This was them putting in the effort on their side of the relationship. This was them actively making sure that their relationship with Christ was not a one way deal. This was them living life to the fullest. Standing in a room singing a song, how many of us can say that our idea of “living life to the fullest” would be that simple? I know that when I was their age I surely wouldn’t.

Being on staff with Youth@Hope it never ceases to amaze me how much you can learn from the students that you could never learn from any class or reading any book. This last weekend our high school students and a handful of our leaders had a stay retreat in which they engaged in multiple worships sets, gospel messages, a few service projects in the area and spent lots of time in fellowship. On Friday night my small group of Senior and Junior boys commented on how they had some hesitations going into the weekend regarding their spiritual growth. I can’t say I blamed them at first, with huge events like SERVE (our yearly mission trip to Vermont) and trips to Haiti (which most of them did last year), it would be really different getting something new out of something that was so “regular” for them. But then one of the boys spoke up against the group, “You get out of this weekend, what you put into this weekend.” There it was, the thing they all needed to hear in that moment, and something that inspired something in me. Something I’ve come to realize more and more over the last few years is that you will miss 90% of God’s glory when you’re only looking for him in the expected times. We all needed to start to look for Him in the 90% not just the 10% (messages, scripture… etc.) and from that point on I believe that we did. I can personally say that small group lit a fire under me, and walking into the back of that room 2 nights later I saw the fire in them burning bright.

In John 10 it says, “24 The people surrounded him and asked, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus replied, “I have already told you, and you don’t believe me. The proof is the work I do in my Father’s name.” Other than my personal walk with Jesus, in which I have received more than I could ever ask; if you asked me how do you know that Jesus is real and alive, I would simply point you at one of our Youth@Hope students. I have seen Jesus in their hands and feet, I have heard the Father in their words, and I have witnessed the Holy spirit move through their faith. Whether its through selflessly serving, coming along side a friend in need, organizing a group to tackle a problem they’ve identified or bringing the group together with something as simple as a game of kickball. They’re doing amazing things in the name of Jesus and half of the time I don’t think they even realize it. And yet I am privileged enough to be THEIR leader? When they’ve shown and taught me so much more than I could ever do for them? What did I do to deserve this? Nothing. Another reason why I know Jesus is not only real but He is good!

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So now here I am, sitting at a computer running out of words to say. Reflecting on what was an amazing weekend where no doubt God showed up in bigger ways than I think anyone was really expecting him too (a reoccurring theme this year). And the only thing I have left to say is this. God is good, and He is worth living for. His works are worthy of all praise and be assured His children are carrying them out right in front of you. Sometimes you just have to look a bit harder at the 90% and when you do I can just about guarantee your life will start to feel a little more full.


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. 

Running on Fumes

 

Running on Fumes
Two weeks ago, I was beginning my drive through Delaware County on I-476 to get to work. I knew that my car’s gas light was on, but I was tight on my timeline and didn’t have any time left to lose! I figured I could not afford to spend five minutes to fill up my tank before heading off in the direction of work because that would have made me later. “I will make it to my destination by the skin of my teeth because I have never run out of gasoline before! I know my gas mileage capacity!” I convinced myself. I think you can maybe guess what happens next…

About 10 miles from my exit, my car begins to slow down, even when I pressed the acceleration. I was in the right lane so I was able to quickly move over to the shoulder as I realized that my worst fear in that moment had come true; I ran out of gas. As I pulled over I went through many emotions. I was already having a hectic day and this was just bad timing. After ensuring I was safe on the road, I thought about my appointment and how I would definitely be late, although I was actively trying to avoid that scenario. I reached out to my co-worker first and explained the situation in frustration and near tears. She asked me “how can I best support you?” and that was such a relief. She was able to attend and cover my appointment and she encouraged me in my desperation at the same time. While I waited for AAA to give me gas, I sat in car on the shoulder lane, praying I could still salvage the rest of my day and appointments. I remember feeling so frustrated and mad at myself for not being more proactive in filling up my tank to avoid this situation. I felt so helpless and alone on the side of that road! How depleted I was in those moments. I was disheartened and deflated after my already chaotic day.

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Refueled
I started to really beat up on myself for a few minutes before I realized that in the midst of my crazy day, I had not had any moments of quietness before my break down. I was going 60 miles an hour (literally and figuratively) before I was forced to stop and just be in those still moments. I realized that while I could not work from my car, that I could still make the idle time productive and meaningful. I remembered that I made a choice in that moment to be content despite my temporary circumstance. By the grace of God I was able to salvage my sanity, coming from despair to calm.  If I were leaning on my own power, and not the power of God,  I would have crumbled in those moments; my whole day may have been marked “ruined”, but God has a plan, and in those moments he saw my frustration and hurry and saw that I needed a “slow down”, so He met me at my point of need in an unconventional way. I love that God’s love always shines for me at just the right moment, even if i don’t consciously label it as the “best moment” up front. I was having an eventful day and I needed a pause to breathe. Since I didn’t allow myself a break, God built a break into my day! He knows my heart and He knows my needs better than I do. In my humanness I was initially upset about the disruption in my schedule, but I was able to reset my perspective during that one hour pause.

Right when I started to feel my most hopeless and disheartened, Jesus met me. I was aware of my heart shifting from anger to frustration to sadness, and how it had just as easily moved from sadness to reflective to peaceful when I allowed God to comfort me. It can be hard for us to rely on the power of God and trust His way, especially during the many trying and confusing moments we face. If I allow myself to slow down enough, I can marvel at all that God is doing for me in all my days.  Jesus performs “micro-miracles” daily, like shifting hard hearts or stubborn attitudes in our daily lives, we just need to take note and appreciate in time how grand those changes have been. It takes practice to intentionally trust and seek God, especially at our most vulnerable moments, but I am convinced that this is just how Jesus always works in my life. I trust God and He moves in closer to reassure and strengthen me as a response. My hopelessness is always replaced with hopefulness when I lean on Jesus.

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Getting Back on Track
Within the hour I was able to get back on the road, in a significantly improved emotional and spiritual state and I was reminded that there is a plan for everything. I needed to get back to who God has made me to be, and those moments in the car helped me refocus my slowly-leaking positive energy into being reinfused with the encouragement I needed to share with others. Jesus does this kind of unexpected kindness, caring, and encouragement often in the Bible. Just in the gospel of John alone he performs several miracles, including turning water into fine wine at a wedding (John 2:1-12), feeding thousands of men and women with just five loaves of bread and two fish (John 6:1-15), walking on water (John 6:16-21), raising the dead (John 11:1-44), and healing the sick, disabled, and the blind (John 4:43-54, John 5:1-15, John 9:1-41). My initial hopelessness when the car stopped reminded me of the miracle when the blind man was healed because I was temporarily spiritually blinded by circumstance. I had not yet seen how necessary my spiritual sight was in those moments of powerlessness and as a result I was so down on myself when I really could have turned into God automatically and avoided all of my internal strife.

In the story of how Jesus heals the blind man, Jesus explains that it was not because of the blind man’s sins or his parents sins that he was born blind. Jesus explained that the man’s blindness would highlight the power and glory of God to those around him once he was healed. Jesus used an unconventional method to heal the man; he spit into dirt and made a mud that he rubbed on the man’s eyes. Jesus told the man to wash the mud off his face and when he did he was healed of his lifelong blindness!

There seemed to be a divide in how this miracle was interpreted by others. Some people recognized the blind man and others denied it was the same blind man. The religious leaders, the Pharisees, had a mixed reaction to this healing as well, some agreeing that this miracle performed by Jesus should not have happened if Jesus was sent from God, because He was doing miracles on the Sabbath. Other Pharisees seemed confused as to how an ordinary, not divinely created human, could perform this miracle. The Pharisees could not see the divinity of Jesus as the Son of God as he cured and loved on others. The Pharisees were spiritually blind. They could not physically or spiritually see because of their pride and religious laws that prohibited them from acknowledging and recognizing God’s power in every miracle Jesus performed.

Jesus gave an important reminder to remain faithful and to keep our spiritual eyes sharp when He says:

Then Jesus told him, “I entered this world to render judgement– to give sight to the blind, and to show those who think they see that they are blind” (John 9:39).

Sometimes we can be spiritually blind and forget the complete power and glory of God. When we are running on spiritual fumes, or have even run out of gas completely, we have to trust in God most. In our spiritual sight, we can take comfort in that the Son of God is the still the One who can refuel us and change our hearts in matters big and small.

 

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Darlene

Darlene Servolini lives in King of Prussia with her two young daughters and has been a member of Hope for three years. She has been thrilled to witness the love of God poured out from her church into her own life, family, and home throughout the various seasons of sunshine and storms. As a new Christian, she hopes to continually learn and grow in her faith and to share the kindness, gentleness, and forgiveness that Jesus has shown her (even at her worst!), with everyone she meets.

Growing Faith

I am not a great gardener, but I really enjoy growing things.  As my wife, Tracey, and I figured out many years ago, I am actually more of a plant collector than a gardener.  If you see my yard, you can see the results.  There isn’t much in terms of great design or aesthetic qualities, but I grow some cool stuff! I like to grow unusual plants, or those that grow in unusual ways.  I am fascinated by the amazing process of how a seed germinates, grows into a plant and then produces flowers and new seeds.  One of my favorite plants I‘ve grow is the night-blooming cereus, also known as the Queen of the Night.  For botanical purists, it isn’t really a cereus (a variety of desert cactus) but is actually Epiphyllum oxypetalum, a tropical plant closely related the traditional Christmas cactus you can find in any grocery store in December.

Although it’s one of my favorites, there are some good reasons why the Queen of the Night is not one of the best sellers at your local garden center.  The plant looks like a cross between a chorus member from The Little Shop of Horrors and that bag of spring mix that you’ve left in the back of your refrigerator for too long.  My biggest specimen of this plant (below) always catches people’s attention, not because of its beauty, but because it looks like some bizarre alien piñata.

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The coolest thing about this plant is the show it puts on one night each year.  For a single night, it produces beautiful, fragrant blossoms as big as my outstretched hands.  Because it has to transition its closed buds to fully open gigantic blossoms in one evening, the flowers open so quickly that you can actually see the flowers move!

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The blossoms stay open for the night, emitting a spicy sweet scent that is meant to attract the nectar-drinking bats that would pollinate it in the wild. By morning, the blossoms have faded, and I am left with what looks like a pot of wilted seaweed.

So, with only a few hours of beauty a year, why do I bother growing this bizarre plant?  Because I am fascinated by its remarkably strange behavior.  It doesn’t just engage my senses with its one night of beautiful sights and smells; it also stimulates my mind to think about why this whacky plant blooms as it does.  Why bloom for only one night?  From an evolutionary, “survival of the fittest” perspective, wouldn’t it be better to have flowers open for multiple nights or flowers that open on different nights to increase the likelihood that bats would come to pollinate them?  Surely, bats feed on more than one night each year.  I think that this plant would have made Darwin crazy.   For me, the Queen of The Night epitomizes what I find so fascinating about growing plants – I want to learn about how it grows and why it grows the way it does.  I want to understand.

My desire to understand overflows into my relationship with God as well.  I want to know Him; I want to understand Him.  I really enjoy when I read something in the Bible and, for the first time, I understand it.  I have an “Aha moment” when something I had heard or read before finally clicks and makes sense to me.  For example, I had heard the story of how when Jesus died on the cross, the veil in the Temple was torn from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51).  I thought that was interesting, but unimportant.  The veil had been the barrier to keep people out of the “Holy of Holies”, the inner sanctuary where only a specially chosen priest could go to meet with God.  It wasn’t until someone pointed out the significance of this to me that I understood that the veil being torn was to show that, since Jesus had paid the penalty for our sins, we could now approach God directly, without fear, without a priest as an intermediary.  Aha!  I understand!

I want everything about God to fit together as nicely as that.  But that hasn’t been my experience.  I have loads of questions that I don’t have clear answers for, and I bet that you do too.  Why did God bother to make people at all?  Why does He allow sin?  Why does He allow suffering?  How does His grace work when we have free will? If He already knows everything that is going to happen in the future, why doesn’t He just make it happen now?  Did Adam have a bellybutton?  And what about the duck-billed platypus?  Is that just God’s idea of a joke?

There is so much that I would like to understand but don’t.  I guess that’s always been the case for those us following Jesus.  In the passage from John 6:16-71, Jesus is explaining to the people following him that he is source of their eternal, spiritual life but the metaphors he uses are lost on them.  When Jesus talks about being the bread of life and the need to eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to have eternal life, the people are naturally confused.

52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves,
“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

Jesus is trying to explain about accepting him through faith, but they’re thinking cannibalism!  It’s easy for me to look down on those people for their lack of insight.  They just didn’t get it.  But the disciple knew Jesus.  They had faith in him, even though they didn’t understand everything about him. When Jesus asked his twelve closest disciples if they were going to leave him along with the groups who were turned off by his difficult teachings,

68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

I guess that’s the decision we all face.  We don’t have all the answers.  Jesus has revealed himself to us; he has shown his love for us by dying for us to bring us to God.  We don’t understand how everything works, but we know that he has the words that bring us life.  No one else does; to whom else shall we go?  We believe him, love him, and follow him, even without all of questions answered.  I guess that’s why it’s called faith.

(I would still like to know why the silly plant only blooms for one night!)


Jim

Jim and his wife Tracey live King of Prussia.  When he’s not gardening, Jim serves as a hospital administrator.

Imagine

I am your favorite show’s worst critic. The phrase “That’s not even possible!” rolls off my tongue regularly as I scrutinize the details of characters and scenes. I know I’m mistakenly projecting the limitations of real life onto an imaginary scenario, but sometimes I just can’t help myself!

If you had spent the entirety of your developmental years locked in a tower with the mentally unstable woman who kidnapped you, there’s no way you’d be as socially adjusted as Rapunzel was in Disney’s “Tangled”. Also, your hundred-foot-long hair would not float perfectly behind you without getting *tangled*, and you wouldn’t have known the lights appeared every year on your birthday because there’s no way your kidnapper would have told you the real date of your birthday!

I can’t watch shows like MacGyver (the new version) without wondering why 99 out of 100 bullets shot at the main characters don’t hit them, but 9 out of 10 of their shots are dead on. And when you’re not even MacGyver and you’re locked in the trunk of a moving car speeding toward your demise and there just happens to be a container of random spare parts and you just happen to know how to turn them into a working cell phone? That would never happen!

And as I’ve watched football over the past few weeks, I’ve said out loud, “Who are these imposters? This pass-completing, 3rd-down-converting, red-zone-succeeding team can’t possibly be the Philadelphia Eagles!?” 😉

My fellow television viewers may be annoyed with my lack of imagination, but what can I say? I’m a realist!

In John 6:5, Jesus asked His disciples a question that tested their imagination:

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”

Philip’s realism was revealed in his response:

Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” (v. 7)

Knowing that this was an impossible request, Philip made it clear that even the best scenario he could think of would fall short.

The next to respond was Andrew, whose spark of imagination sparked a miracle:

“Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

Andrew added a disclaimer to the end of his momentary hallucination, but for a brief second, he imagined that this small amount might feed so many!

Isaiah 55:8-9 says:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

As human beings who have spent the entirety of our developmental years in these bodies and on this earth, it’s easy to see why our thoughts would be just that – our thoughts. These thoughts have been molded by our experiences and we naturally predict and plan based on what we comprehend to be the possibilities.

But God’s predictions and plans come from a much different source than ours – not only is He able to take into consideration factors we are unaware of, He also has full knowledge of what His out-of-this-world power is capable of. Unjaded by human disappointments and earthly limitations, He dreams bigger dreams for us than we can dream for ourselves.

As those five loaves and two fish, meant to feed one, expanded to feed thousands, Jesus wasn’t taken by surprise. He had “already had in mind what he was going to do” (v. 6) and as the disciples watched this unfold, their thoughts became “higher” as well. What had seemed outrageously impossible a few minutes ago was now becoming reality!

Yet even then, in the disciples’ minds, the greatest possible outcome was for all the people to get some food. If they had planned this themselves, they never would have dreamed that everyone would get “enough” to be satisfied and even crazier – that there would be leftovers! (v. 12) This was beyond the biggest thing their human thoughts could have imagined.

Our oldest daughter is an inventor by nature – when she’s not climbing walls, she’s dreaming up plans and creating things. Since I am a realist by nature, my challenge as a parent is to encourage this creativity instead of pointing out all the reasons I believe her ideas won’t work.

The other day she asked me, “Do you think I could make ginger cookies without the molasses and use maple syrup instead?” It didn’t sound good to me and even though I didn’t want her to end up disappointed, I held back and told her to give it a try.

And good thing I did! She found a recipe and made (and I’m not exaggerating) some of the best cookies I have ever tasted. Yum!

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Recently I’ve been challenging myself to turn off the music when I’m in the car and use that time to pray for people. I struggle to pray for others – not because I don’t want to or don’t have the time – but because I get sick of praying the same old, same old. My realism invades my prayers as I repeat, “God, rescue her from this” or “Take away his pain” or “Help her come to know You” over and over again.

I can only pray based on what I know of that person’s life, and knowing that the Holy Spirit inside of me knows more than I do, I can ask Him to guide my prayers. But at the end of the day, all I have are my limited “thoughts”. And if all I have is what I can think of, why not say “Here is…” and then pray for the biggest thing I can dream up?!

So instead of praying for my friend to be rescued from a trial, I pray for her future ministry to people in that same trial. Instead of praying for his pain to be relieved, I pray for the people in his life who will come to know Jesus because his pain led him to their place. Instead of praying for a loved one to come to know Jesus, I look at their God-given interests and talents and pray for those who are going to be led to Jesus by their gifts.

When praying these prayers, I regularly shake my head and say, “I can’t even imagine that ever happening!” But I’ve learned to snap out of it and say, “Why not? Jesus can do ANYTHING!”

Will I be disappointed? Maybe. But even if I am – I’m guessing God has something even greater than I can imagine in store!


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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A Grace-full Life

Life Under The Law

I clearly knew the rules, growing up in a military officer’s home.  Knowing the rules wasn’t hard.  Following the rules – well that was a choice.  Did I do a lot of things right?  Sure.  But did I do the right things all the time?  No.  In fact, there were times when I wilfully did wrong.  A lot of times.  To be transparent, I’m still a work in progress, and even with the benefit of a lot of years of hindsight and maturing, I still sometimes do the wrong things, even when I want to do the right things.

For many of us, the first laws we learned were the Ten Commandments, which we find recorded in Exodus 20.  These laws are easy to understand as the standard God has set for right and wrong.  He tells us not to have any other gods before Him, not to bear false witness (lie), not to covet, not to commit adultery, and so on.  Many of us know the list pretty well.  And we’d agree that living according to the Ten Commandments can keep us out of a lot of trouble.

In addition to the Ten Commandments, the first five books of the Old Testament (the Jewish Torah) list 613 laws to govern behavior in more detail, which have been categorized by Jewish scholars.  Here are some examples:

  • Don’t listen to a false prophet. (Deuteronomy 13.4)
  • Don’t eat non-kosher animals. (Leviticus 11:4)
  • Don’t break oaths or vows. (Numbers. 30:3)
  • Give charity. (Deuteronomy 15:8)
  • Release all loans during the seventh year. (Deuteronomy 15:2)

We can understand most of these.  Of course, there are a few on the list we really don’t relate to, like not sacrificing our children to the god Molech (Leviticus 18:21).  But all in all, it’s pretty straightforward stuff.  Do this, and don’t do that.

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If we studied all the laws that God laid down and committed to them fully, we might be able to go for a while without breaking any of them.  But with a sinful nature, we simply can’t get them all right 100% of the time.  Breaking any law that God has laid down makes us imperfect before a perfect God.  Once we’ve broken the law, there’s no way we can un-break it.  The damage has been done.  No amount of good intentions or good works, admirable as they may be, will bring us to God’s standard of perfection.

The Sacrifice for Restoration

So how do sinful people relate to a sinless God?  God laid out a sacrificial system for the Jewish nation thousands of years ago that instructed them on how to offer up things that were valuable and symbolic, such as spotless lambs, to acknowledge to God that they were sinful and to ask Him to cover their sins temporarily with the blood of a spotless sacrifice and allow them to be seen as holy and pure once again.  This allowed them to be restored to fellowship with God.

The sacrificial system was set out not only to temporarily cover the sins of the people, but also to give us a picture of things to come.  When Christ came as a perfect Lamb and was crucified on a Roman cross, He took on the sins of the world as the last and perfect sacrifice for all time, and His sacrifice is applicable to each of us who acknowledge our sin and accept His forgiveness.

Jesus Himself became the way to relate to the holy God. Jesus allows us forgiveness and restoration, to reconcile us imperfect people to Himself by coming in the flesh and showing us what grace looks like in spite of the law. Jesus allows us to relate to a holy God. There is no other bridge.

Our Reaction to Grace

So, if I’ve accepted God’s forgiveness through Christ’s sacrifice, I’m covered, and I can do what I want now, right?  No.  We cannot throw out the law.  It is right, and it is there for our good.  It gives us a clear blueprint and standard for how to love and honor God our Creator, and how to live peaceably and justly with our neighbors. God uses the law to show us our shortcomings and convict us of our sin. But God no longer judges us by the law, but by our response to grace.

In John, Jesus tells us that God the Father gave Him all authority for judgment (John 5:22) and to execute judgment (v. 27).  We who would have been judged by the law before now answer to the One who freely offers us grace, which is getting what we don’t deserve.

We cannot set the law aside. It is our standard for behavior. It is the beautiful composition of a holy Father Who wanted us to know Who He is and what He is like.  He wanted us to understand how badly we’ve blown it so that we can see our need to accept His simple and profound gift to satisfy the requirements that God’s perfection deserves.

But when we really grasp what grace has done for us, we realize that the task of the law has been completely accomplished. We no longer need to strive for perfection in order to have a relationship with God. Jesus has done that work for us. It is finished.  When God sees us now, He sees the image of His perfect Son.  Our job now is to maintain the relationship with Him that He sacrificed so much for.

A Grace-filled Life

So what are we doing with this undeserved grace?  Our reaction to grace tells others what we think about Who Jesus is.  If we see Jesus as only the judge, handing out sentences of condemnation, we will reflect that characteristic. We will see our job as showing where others have failed to live up to God’s standard. On the other hand, if we live knowing that Jesus has the authority to judge, but chose instead to show grace and mercy, then that’s what we will reflect to the people around us.

Only Jesus has the right to judge the world. What did He do with that right?  Did He immediately execute judgment on everyone who had refused to conform to God’s law?  No.  He offered grace.  He is our example.

And in turn He gives us daily reminders to reflect that grace to our neighbors. We have no rights to judge.  We’ve been forgiven, so we must forgive. (Check out Matthew 18:21-35.)  We have no standing in the case against another person as it relates to their relationship with the Father. We can only stand as an onlooker to the proceedings.

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So how does this play out in daily life?  Here’s the point: God will judge. We don’t need to.

Can we point out the things that will trip people up? Sure. Do we guide people on the right path to keep them from making poor decisions, and show them how to make good decisions?  Of course. But the decision ultimately will be theirs in how they respond.

Grace gives margin for error.  It recognizes the same imperfections in others that we see in ourselves, and it reaches out a hand and an encouraging word to point them to a closer relationship with the One Who made us, loves us unconditionally, and wants us to reflect that love to others.

Do we give place to sin?  Do we allow sin to take hold in someone’s life?  No, not if we can help it.  But love has eyelids.  We’re not perfect, and we need to hold up our friends and relations before God and allow His judgment to decide how best to get hold of that person’s heart and restore them to fellowship. The standard for right and wrong doesn’t change, but we can encourage and pray for our friends and family that God will continue to tug at their hearts.  And we can take the responsibility for our own decisions, to constantly seek to do right, with God’s help.

In Galatians 2:20, Paul sets an example that we can follow.  “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  Through Christ, I can let go of the things that condemned me and my neighbors under the law, and I can instead be an agent in the fellowship of grace, pointing people to faith in Him.


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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