Silence in the Noise of Living

By Rebekah

This year in New Life senior high youth group, we have been focused on the theme of Living Counter-Culturally. Our lesson on the 2017 Senior High Winter Retreat was based around the idea of the noise we face in our life, and how to live quietly. However, a resort filled with arcades, bowling, and a waterpark didn’t exactly seem like the best setting. But, through lots of fun and fellowship, each student came away with a real idea of how to connect with their Savior.

Following a fun night of bowling and swimming, our first session began with each student writing out their daily schedule. It did not take long before I noticed how overwhelmingly busy we are as a youth group. We then created a list of the activities or devices in our lives that create noise. After making what seemed like a never-ending list, it was very clear why there is a need for silence and prayer with God.

Perhaps the most profound part of the trip though, was when Todd [Hill] made a large, and somewhat uncomfortable request. To convey to us how hard, but necessary, silence with God is, he asked each student to spread out in the resort, with nothing but their Bible, and spend 20 minutes alone with Christ, studying His word and talking to Him. For me personally, it seemed boring. I would much rather do devotions with my friends than sit by myself in silence. But after the time was up, I felt so fulfilled, like I could sit for hours doing just that. I realized how much I could feel God’s presence when I had no phone or people to distract me.

Todd summed up the retreat by turning our eyes to Jesus. We read numerous passages of Scripture where Jesus would leave the crowds to be alone in order speak to His Heavenly Father. Jesus was God, and still did a radical thing to get away and pray in silence. For us, who are not God, our need for quiet reflection is even greater. Jesus made it a point to get away from the noise of the people, and we must purposely do the same. It was encouraging to hear how Jesus, our Savior, can sympathize with us in our weakness. He understands our battles, because He has been to war.

As a senior, the lessons I learned are helpful now, but will continue to serve me well as I move into the noisiness of college in the fall. I’m so thankful for all the fun I had bowling, singing karaoke, eating burgers, and going on waterslides. I’m even more thankful for the eye-opening experiences I shared with some of my best friends during this weekend. New Life Dresher senior high youth group continues to impact my life beyond description.

Becoming a Light Seeker

By Rae Barnes

God has given me many gifts in my life. Some gifts were only used for certain phases of my life, but one gift has been with me for over two-thirds of my life. My love for photography began in middle school. By high school, I was in the darkroom every chance I could get, and my art teacher set me on a path to gain a scholarship for photography. That scholarship ended up guiding me on a path to become a professional photographer shortly after college graduation, even though I had no intention of doing so. It’s funny how God works that way.

The Greek origin of the word “photography” is literally translated as “drawing with light.” A photographic image cannot be made without light, and an excellent image must have excellent light. Thus, while I was growing in my photographic skills, I had to learn HOW to see light. I became (and continue to become) a light seeker. I am constantly evaluating it, even when I do not have a camera in my hand. Almost always, I am looking at what the light is doing.

There is a parallel to my walk with Christ in this, but it took me MANY years to see it in my work as a photographer and my life as a Christ follower. As believers, we all need to become “light seekers.” It takes practice and dedication to see and evaluate the complexities of light, but if you look for the Light, it is there. Just as your camera cannot take a clear picture without enough light, so our hearts need more light to be able to fully love the way Christ does.

John 1:5 says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Light always wins over darkness. That is the reality I know when I seek light for my photography, but this is also the hope I have in Christ.

A Weekend at the Jr. High Retreat

By Kim King

What could be better than spending a weekend in God’s creation, enjoying food that someone else cooked and soaking in deeply the seeds of God’s Word? Doing it with 100 junior high kids! That’s right, I said Junior High Kids. This is how I spent one cold weekend back in January when several churches got together at Camp Andrews for our annual Junior High Winter Retreat. It was a great weekend filled with worship, Bible study, silly games, zip lines, hiking in caves, campfires, uncomfortable cots and very little sleep.

The theme of the retreat this year was “The Seed Everything Grows Out Of”, based on Matthew 22:34-40. Love God and love others and how that practically and meaningfully relates to 6th-, 7th- and 8th-graders in 2017. In loving our neighbors, we were challenged to consider Micah 6:8. How can we “act justly”, “love mercy” and “walk humbly” with our God while loving others? During small groups the kids spent time brainstorming ideas on how to love their communities at school and home and even strangers who need the love of Jesus in their lives.

We were especially blessed this year to have our very own Casey and Janae leading worship. One of the highlights of the weekend for me was on Saturday evening. After a full day of craziness and fun, we gathered to worship before our second Bible session. As I was sitting towards the back of the room, they began to sing, “Great Are You Lord”. I decided not to sing but to listen. It was overwhelming to hear all those young voices, in unity, singing, “It’s Your breath in our lungs so we pour out our praise to You only” to our King, Jesus. I stood there, eyes closed, taking it all in and praying to the Lord that these kids, to the depths of their hearts, would know how much He loves them and would believe it!

I love junior high kids. I love their excitement for life, their willingness to be silly and their inquisitive minds. I consider it a privilege to be part of Junior High at New Life and watch firsthand as covenant kids grow into young men and women with genuine faith. So, take some time to get to know them; ask them what they are learning at church; ask them how you can pray for them; and ask them to pray for you!

“Look Into My Eyes”

By Debbie Shope

No thank you. Invasion of personal space. Turn your gaze elsewhere if you will. After all, the poor guy in Song of Solomon had his heart held hostage with just the glance of his lover’s eyes (4:9) — this eye contact thing is powerful stuff.

For those who are blessed with a natural and easy social manner, this little non-verbal gem comes without thought or effort. For those of us who are not so endowed, however, this handy little skill can be a bit perplexing. I confess, I am often one of the perplexed. Apparently I am not alone. We are a subtle group, for most of us have learned the little tricks that help us appear to be looking you in the eye, yet still preserving what we feel is a comfortable “optical distance”. We are everywhere among you, but most often you don’t even know — we are that good 🙂

So why am I spending a perfectly good snow day thinking about this, let alone writing a blog about it? Well, on one level, whether looking into the eyes of another person is easy or difficult, it is part of being human. Sharing eye contact, whether brief or maintained, creates a connection. We look at the people we love, and we are touched when they return the gaze. The dearest memory of this in my life is Ward saying his vows at our wedding — all of the love and promise of the words were evident in his eyes. And it is that picture in my mind that I return to often, even after many years.

But I am pondering this visual tactic for a more current reason. Our home group is doing Living for the King this winter, and this whole topic was brought home to me the other night when Meredith Elder was talking about repentance. I felt I was fairly aware of this concept — after all, I have plenty of opportunity for practice. However, he spoke of a part of repentance, a second “step” of sorts (my words, not his), that I realized I rarely get to. It turns out that after we have looked at ourselves, recognized our sin and confessed it, we need to look at Jesus. We need to see the love and promise and forgiveness in His eyes. For someone who is reluctant to look anyone in the eye, peering into the eyes and heart of the Son of God, let alone having Him peer into my own heart and soul, is not a comfortable place. It feels vulnerable. I feel exposed. I don’t want to look. And yet, on the occasions when He, by His grace, has turned my head to see the tenderness and compassion in His eyes, I wish I could never look away.

One day it will be that way. All of the self-conscious drivel and daily distractions will fall away and we will with wide-eyed pleasure look into the eyes of El Roi — the God who sees. Yes, thank you — my personal space is now His.

Minimalism: Decluttering My Soul

By Jane Highley

Spring is here because I can feel it in my eyes, in my sinuses, and in my throat. We had a very mild winter, and even though March can be a very dicey month, weather-wise, the early onset of seasonal allergies this year tells me that spring has sprung. Aside from Easter bunnies, chocolate eggs, and pastel dresses, this season is synonymous with cleaning. At least, it is for me. But I’ve been in “spring cleaning” mode since January when we rang in the New Year.

After a long holiday season, I felt completely overwhelmed with the consumption of what amounted to just “things”. Or stuff. Sure, I was and still am very happy for thoughtful gifts given and received. However, I was overwhelmed. I felt stuffed, but not with food. In fact, it was the kind of feeling one would get after eating an obscene amount of salty and sweet treats in one sitting after being famished all day.

I had a “lightning bolt” moment after Christmas when I was putting old things away to make room for the new things excitedly unwrapped. Why do I own so many striped t-shirts? Why do I hoard so many new Moleskine journals? Why is it so difficult to fit everything into our closets, drawers, containers, and storage boxes? Change was necessary because I felt overly and uncomfortably full, but not content. I own so much, yet was sourly discontent. I felt tantalized by more shiny, new things, yet I wanted nothing more. And I thought how the apostle Paul exhorts Timothy to live in this world: “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into this world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:6).

As much as I love all of my favorite things – fancy running gear, mile-high collection of (mostly unread) books, my calligraphy supplies – I am very relieved that they are just things. I want to slough off the insidious, infectious notion that things – what we wear, what we drive, what we use – define who I am. Thus, I began to declutter. The objective was not merely to get rid of stuff. That has been attempted in the past only to result in accumulating more things to replace what I had mindlessly discarded. This time, decluttering has become a means to detach myself from the overstock of the things I own so that I can enjoy God’s gift of Himself to me.

Since January, I’ve gladly purged my house of so many useful extras that I know I can’t enjoy any time soon. Many bags have been filled for donation, either to our church or elsewhere. Does my house look starkly minimalist? Can I proclaim a clutter-free house? Absolutely not! (I have 3 small children, if you didn’t know.) However, I feel freed from the constant frenzy of needing to buy or own. My soul feels hushed like the baby in Psalm 131: “But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with his mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me” (v. 2). I can breathe more freely because I can trust fully in my Father, who gives generously and holds back lovingly.

Money, Sex and Discipleship

By Ward Shope

Chances are I got your attention by writing that title – or perhaps you are too embarrassed to be found reading a blog with that heading and will never get here.  But for those of you who have done away with all propriety and decided to read: relax.  Because the emphasis here is on discipleship.

The issue of sex is everywhere in the media today: sexual identity, sexual preferences, sexual orientation, and on and on.  The problem is that it has become an “issue”, which tends to be very loud, impersonal, and divisive, when God’s design was for sex to be very tender, relational and a sign of oneness between a husband and wife.  Everybody has an opinion; fewer know God’s rich blessing through it.

In some ways, the issue of money is very similar.  There’s a lot of loud talk in our society about making it, and what it can do for us. This objectifies money, and makes it its own goal when in reality money is all about relationship.

Debbie and I realized very quickly that my “down to the penny” bookkeeping in the first days – maybe months or years? – of our marriage produced less than satisfying relational results.  Having children only made the issue more relational.  How much do we spend on them, while seeking to be faithful to God, His Church, and his kingdom work around the world.

Soon we were discussing our children’s future, life insurance, and our future together after they were gone.  When does putting money into these things show a lack of faith in God’s providence for us as believers?  What about giving to secular organizations like the Red Cross or the local community ambulance squad?

And then there’s the housing questions. One rental or mortgage amount could help us move forward in our giving, but having a guest room in our home would help us entertain others more readily.  Is it even legitimate to buy a home?  (Yes, we own our home.)  The truth is, the money we decided to give to the church was an easier discussion compared to other financial considerations.

All financial questions are relational.  They have impact – on people – sometimes eternally.  We can’t look at our money as if we live in isolation from everyone else.  It’s fine for us to keep a budget and stay out of debt, but if that’s as far as we go, we’re not walking in relationship with the Lord, and maybe not walking in relationship with others.

At our staff meeting earlier today, one person asked, “Why don’t we intentionally disciple and mentor people regarding money?  We are willing to approach almost every other area, including sex, but we shy away from the personal financial discussion.”

I need that discussion.  I need the community to come around me and talk about my finances and relationships together.  When was the last time I discussed my personal finances with another believer who loves me and only wants my best?  My covenant community (New Life) should probably disciple me in an area that can make or break relationship with God and others.  And I need to be bold enough to disciple others in that way as well.  After all, everybody has an opinion about money, but fewer know God’s rich blessing through it.

Self-Sermon on Respect

By Anonymous

Each year, Living for the King, New Life’s discipleship course, asks participants to write a sermon to themselves regarding a prevalent root sin in their lives.  The following is one sermon.

Peter, we need to talk about respect.  Respect is something that the Scriptures require of us as we consider others, particularly those who are in authority over us (Romans 13:7; 1 Thess 5:12).  For us to show respect to others honors them.

But to seek the respect of others is never a biblical calling.  In terms of our behavior and attire, we are to be respect-able, but none of that seeks honor for oneself, but instead represents Christ in us.  You are a “respect-seeker”.  You are concerned that others see your contribution, your talents, your giftedness, you “wonderfulness”.  You aren’t always concerned about whether people are emotionally effusive towards you, but their affirmation of what you bring to the table, or how you live your life – these are the things you love to hear.  Hearing it third-hand is even better.

Peter, you are misguided in this.  For one thing, God offers far more than respect ever can.  He calls you “son”, speaks to you warmly and intimately, gets down and dirty with you rather than admiring you from afar.  Respect is a poor substitute for the affirmation He gives you through Jesus Christ.  You don’t need to impress Him, “wow” Him and convince Him to take action on your behalf.  He is already doing that – as everything He does is for your good and for your relationship with Him.

What can others add to that?  Would you settle for less than that by seeking respect from others?  Would you keep one eye on yourself as you go through your daily paces, making sure that you work hard, keeping all the balls in the air, proving your gifted-ness, all for the point of winning a few words of praise in front of human beings?  Is that the reward you want?  To receive the love of the Father through the fully satisfying work of the Son provides the only worthy affirmation you want.

And seeking respect has many negative by-products.  Besides watching yourself (which is a crazy form of pride and self-focus), when you don’t receive the respect you want, it can lead you to workaholism, or to anxiety.  To be either disrespected, or to be ignored leads you down the path of disappointment, which often leads to anger and bitterness.  “Why don’t people notice me?  Don’t they know what I have to offer?”  Or maybe you believe that people have it out for you?  They are intentionally slighting you, or pushing you away for some mysterious and malevolent motive that you force on them.

This poisons your relationship of love to them, and pollutes the love of service.  Peter, you will spend an eternity with the Father due to Jesus.  Why would you place so much value on these fleeting mortal years?  Why not rather be a contented servant in the house of the Lord than a hero in the world that all see now, but is of no consequence on the day of the Lord?  (Psalm 84:10)

Love God.  Love others.  Jesus has won your salvation for this – and there is nothing of more importance, or as satisfying.  Do you not believe the promises He gives to sons and servants?  Take your eyes off yourself and look to Him.  Seek His affirmation, His love and the intimacy that He wants for you.  Receive Him and you will honor Him and will forget about your own honor.