God Is with Us

By Tim Shaw

One of Jesus’ names, Emmanuel, tells us “God is with us.” I believe this is true, but it’s so easy for me to live as if it were not. On good days, on bad days, and especially on those countless ordinary days, the reality of his presence often seems like a vague abstraction in the midst of my self-absorption. Emmanuel becomes just a word in a hymn we sing at church every December. But when I take time to reflect on my life from a spiritual perspective, I can see that he has, in fact, always been with me. God is with me today. And he will be with me tomorrow. But how?

My father died in May, and I had to travel to Phoenix, Arizona to settle his affairs. Due to his chronic alcoholism, he and I never enjoyed a close relationship. In recent years we spoke on the phone occasionally (maybe twice a year), but the last time we saw each other was in 1997. At the end of his life, he lived alone in a tiny one-room apartment in one of the city’s worst neighborhoods. I didn’t want to go there, to clean up the mess he’d left behind, but I did. After I opened the door to his apartment, which was barely fit for human habitation, I was both disgusted and deeply saddened: “This horrible place is where my father spent the last decade, where he died alone to be found days later by a cleaning service?” I felt overwhelmed, unsure of what to do, and utterly alone.

But the Lord was with me, and he made his presence known in simple ways. As I stood in that lonely room, overcome with emotion, it was as if I heard him say: “I am your Father, and I love you more than you’ll ever know.” As I washed my father’s dirty dishes, I experienced some of the most intimate prayer time I can remember. While I sorted through my father’s belongings, I found myself quietly singing some of my favorite worship songs and was keenly aware of the Comforter’s presence. That afternoon, as I looked at cremation brochures in a strange funeral home, the printed excerpts from Psalm 23 helped to calm my waves of grief. During the drive to my step-sister and step-brother-in-law’s house (who live near Phoenix and graciously opened their home to me), my mind was flooded with Scripture I had memorized as a child. That night, they hosted their home-group for a potluck dinner. Fellowship with believers—whom I didn’t know, but that didn’t matter—provided sweet refreshment at the end of one of the longest, most difficult days of my life.

God is with us, sustaining and guiding us through seasons of profound loss, abundant blessing, and everything in between. One of Scripture’s great promises, which we recall during this season of expectant waiting, is that the Lord whom we love and serve is coming again, in person. “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” (Revelation 21:3, ESV) What a day it will be when we see him face to face, to live in his presence forever. Come quickly, Emmanuel!

An Invitation to a Seasonal Poem

By Ward Shope

There once was a poet from Dresher
Who felt under significant pressure
To write a short diddy
Deep and yet witty
About Christmas as a de-stresser

So he took up scratch paper and ink
And pounded his noggin to think
Very little was there
(Including his hair)
But from the delicate task he didn’t shrink

“I believe I can write something short”
And with gusto he began to snort
As pen etched the page
The author engaged
In a poem of meaningful import

It could have been funny or serious
To some it sounded delirious
But Jesus was present
And the season was pleasant
And led to a poem which would cheer-i us.

So now you can blog a poem
You can do it at work or at home
Write for the season
And use some reason
And we’ll post it on “Notes” as a tome.

Whether you’re old or young as you write
The poem can be deep or bold or trite
There’s very few limits
And no threat of gibbets
In the end it will all come out right.

(So in case you didn’t get it: You, or your child, or your grandmother can submit a Seasonal or Christmas poem to be published on New Life Notes. It can be any style, serious or funny, long or short. Just send your poem to fae.hicks@newlifedresher.org or ward.shope@newlifedresher.org And wait for it to be posted.)

Food Cupboard Blog

By Steve and Donna Daly

Quietly and behind the scenes, every weekend at New Life there is a logistical marvel orchestrated by Dyan De Jong-Fischer – keeping the Food Cupboard up and running, providing nutritional support for both local brothers and sisters and for various charitable organizations in Philadelphia. It starts with generous food donations from Trader Joe’s in North Wales made available each Saturday and Sunday morning. These donations are picked up, brought to the church, sorted and readied for our local clients. Food not needed locally is then picked, packed and delivered to sites in the City.

The food donations include fresh fruit and vegetables, a huge variety of breads, cakes and pies, meats and cheeses, and various canned goods. It is curious to see how the donated food varies along with the seasons – massive amounts of strawberries in the early summer, fresh greens throughout the summer and apples, apples and more apples in the fall.

It takes a number of dedicated volunteers to keep this nutritional supply chain operating, including young children, wide-eyed and waiting to see what type of cookies “accidentally” open for them to sample once their work is done, and the rest of us slightly more mature folks. My wife Donna and I pick up the donations at Trader Joe’s one or two Sundays a month and help with sorting the delivered food throughout the month. We are a small part of the overall effort, but we feel blessed to be able to contribute. When we joined New Life a bit more than a year ago, we were looking to be part of a “hands on” ministry and we found this working with the rest of the wonderful volunteers in the Food Cupboard ministry. Being part of a team of people in a Ministry truly blessed by God makes us feel we are really part of our Father’s plan.

The Food Pantry can always use more help and more people to pitch in. Helping out with this ministry is an enriching experience, and the spirit of the team is contagious as we wait each week to see the amount and variety of the donations: “Is this a good week for bread?”, “Wow – there is a good amount of meat this week!’, “Eggs! We don’t see much of these.” Come by and check out the ministry – before you know it – you’ll be hoping and praying with us to see what our Father makes available for our blessed clients.

Glory

By Debbie Shope

Sometimes my mind gets stuck. As you might imagine, this can often be quite unhelpful. Occasionally, though, it sticks on a word that I believe God wants me to consider deeply. In the last months, that word has been “glory”. (Lest you think the words are always so ‘inspired’, after reading a recipe recently that called for a fluted pan, I have been walking around saying the word “fluted” – I just like the way it feels when you say it and how it sounds. Oh well.)

Glory is not a word we use much anymore. And yet, as I conversed with someone recently, I recalled a particular moment in which I had a profound sense of joy and peace, beauty and goodness, humility and dignity, all enveloped in a sense of God’s loving presence – and the only word I could use was glorious. Why is that?

Minds far greater than mine have pondered the meaning of glory, particularly God’s glory. So I decided to look around. One dictionary of theology defines God’s glory as “the external manifestation of his being”. John Piper says that “the glory of God is the infinite beauty and greatness of his manifold perfections”. Wow. The Scriptures are filled with references to God’s glory: In Kings, it “fills the house of the Lord”; in the Psalms, God is the “King of glory” who “thunders”. In Luke, “the glory of the Lord” shines around the shepherds on a hillside. The more I look, the more the idea of glory becomes greater and deeper and more wonderful and terrible than I can imagine. It is far beyond the comprehension of my busy, finite, and over-tired mind. But this is where God has told me to sit for a while, and so I sit, and wait.

As I thought about it, I realized this is exactly where I should be as I come into the season of Advent – a season of waiting. I believe that, even though the concept of His glory is too weighty for us to bear all at once, God graciously gives each of us glimpses of glory – moments of insight or experience that pull back the curtain to uncover what is too great for us to hold as long as we are in this fallen world – a taste of things to come. But years ago, he gave all of mankind the greatest glimpse of His glory that He ever could. “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” I hope that in the coming weeks I will sit and wait and be steeped in the glory of the Incarnation. Maybe being stuck isn’t so bad after all.

Plumbing the Nature of Thanksgiving

By Ward Shope

This past summer, we remodeled our bathroom. The ubiquitous pink tile of the 1960’s standard bathroom wall – AND floor – was replaced by a white wainscoating, gray tile and bold green tint paint. Everything from closet to tub to toilet was redone. Out with the old; in with the new. Only the ceiling remains.

Before you become too impressed, though, I confess that I use the word “we” rather loosely. We did hire a company to do all of the tiling. And we also made generous use of some very willing and giving volunteers, who spent hours leading me through – and doing – a significant part of the work. I know nothing about plumbing – and confess I still remain significantly ignorant on the subject. What I do know is that the help of my friends enabled us to accomplish something in a few short weeks that probably would have taken months and lots of advice otherwise. I can’t imagine paying them back for what they gave so freely.

But then, they weren’t expecting me to either.

And that’s the nature of the relationship between the giver and the thank-er. In our commercial world, we expect the equation to equal out: I give you a certain amount of money, and you give me an equivalent product. Or I might barter my services to my neighbor in exchange for them watching my dog when we’re away. There’s nothing wrong with that – and in fact, we usually say “thank you” in these exchanges and we might even get to know our neighbors better for the sake of the kingdom.

But we are really thankful when we can’t pay someone back. They pulled our child from the wreckage of an auto accident; they talked us out of doing something we would regret forever. When things get this desperate, the giver is never thinking about whether they will be thanked. And if the thank-er is wise and humble enough, they will never be thinking about repayment.

Thanking – true thanking – always starts with a passive humility. We receive from one who freely gave. To receive graciously honors the giver. To try to pay them back frustrates the giver. It attempts to commodify their giving so that the relationship is no longer free. Your actions must somehow be tied to my actions.

The gospel sets the example of the giver-thanker relationship. God the Father gave his Son Jesus freely to die on the cross for us so that we might be present with him forever. The only way to truly honor the One who gave this gift is to receive the gift with humble thanksgiving. To respond in any other way in thought or actions is to dishonor the One who just takes great pleasure and joy in giving. Just give thanks.

21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  –Romans 1:21

Sun Salutations and Worship

By Jane Highley

Yoga and Jesus were two words that rarely fell into the same sentence in my mind. And if they did, it was clearly a mistake or a joke. They were unequivocally and mutually exclusive from each other. Until a few years ago, that is, when I started incorporating yoga as a means to stretch more regularly after long training runs. I followed yoga instructors on YouTube and went to Ashtanga classes at the YMCA. The classes were immensely helpful in strengthening my core and extending my flexibility; the efforts were rewarding. Of course, as a “good” Christian, I thought I was supposed to assume a very suspicious attitude toward yoga, a haughty posture that was the equivalent of a thousand and one eye-rolls. No one ever explained to me why yoga was “evil” and anti-Christian, but I implicitly believed that notion. Plus, it was hard not to have a blithe and dismissive attitude toward an instructor who encourages us, while in a pretzel-like, gut-twisting position, to “use our third eye for balance.” Whaaaa? When did I acquire a third eye? Where is it? But I knew what she meant…I think.

As I grew to like yoga, I also began to appreciate (not just tolerate) the yoga jargon and found surprising parallels to personal worship. For example, most yoga instructors begin each session with some meditative call: “Bring your hands to your heart-center. Now close your eyes. Set an intention for this practice….” Isn’t that unmistakably similar to our call to worship on Sunday morning? Oftentimes, I find that I need the stillness and intentionality of yoga to help me slow down. Everything in yoga that I’ve encountered thus far (which isn’t much) is slow and deliberate. That careful pace helps to avoid injury, but is equally important to establish a deeper awareness of oneself. For me, that slow, meditative opening of my mind to the present moment as I focus on each pose is an invitation to pray. The more difficult the pose, the more discipline I need to stay focused. But my focus – that self-awareness – is on my need for Jesus. Every time I think, “I can’t do that pose,” I rest on Christ’s assured love for me. He loves me when I can’t do something (like a headstand), and he loves me when I can. So even though the intended focus of yoga is on the self, my heart’s posture invariably turns to Jesus. He knows my daily failures and still accepts me completely. His finished work on the cross makes that love possible, even though I can hardly love myself some days. On those days, I unroll my mat and set my intention to hear the Lord’s voice: “Abide in me, and I in you…Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).

My Hope for Perfection

By Todd Hill

Just last month, I ran into a young, 20-something cashier at the local Subway. After a brief discussion, he told me that I was actually his P.E. teacher at a local summer school about 15 years ago. We reminisced about some of the activities we did in the class – me thinking fondly of a 15-year-younger Todd! As I was leaving, he said, “ I remember what you used to say to us: ‘Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect!’” Yep! That was a motto that had been passed on to me, and one that I often passed on to my students!

Well 15 years, quite a few pounds, and many gray hairs later, I would still offer that advice to students who I teach or coach – in basketball, soccer, or any other sport or pursuit that requires precise execution. However, I find myself in a new stage of life right now. I find myself as a parent of a 12- and 14-year-old, and I am discovering that I might just be trying to force my motto into this complex new role.

You see, I have discovered what every other parent who has gone before me has discovered. This parenting gig is not for the faint of heart! Rarely does a day go by where the biggest challenge I face isn’t navigating all of the interaction between my children and myself. I have learned first-hand the gap that my sister spoke of when she said, “Our children were designed to have perfect parents and we were designed to have perfect children – and frankly we find ourselves continuously disappointed!”

God has graciously begun showing me my heart during these challenging times. One of the things that He is teaching me is how I have been trying desperately to force my old coaching motto onto my role as a parent. I find my heart saying, “Parenting doesn’t produce perfect children. Perfect parenting produces perfect children!” Though I no longer wear a whistle around my neck, my quest for perfection remains! Unfortunately, this noble quest falls drastically short of the Gospel!

One of the main things God has shown me is that my desire for my children to turn out to be a Godly young man and woman has actually become an idol to me. Is this desire appropriate? Of course! However, when I find myself striving and stressing over implementing a perfect parenting regime so that I can ensure that my children will turn out perfect, something in my heart is not right.

I am a very slow learner in the lesson that God’s power is made perfect in my weakness! A message I seem to experience most in my role as a parent! I am grateful that He keeps showing me that the only perfection in my relationship with my children comes from a perfect Heavenly Father and His perfect Son who continually redeem an imperfect family.