BETHANY BELUE|GUEST It is 6:00 p.m. on a Friday night. The kitchen is a mess with dirty dishes scattered on the counter and crumbs blanketing the floor from a toddler who thinks throwing his food is funny. My hair is tied in a messy ponytail, and spit-up stains dot my shirt. My 19-month-old is running wild awaiting bath time while my two-month-old cries, ready for her last little nap before the end of the day. As I look around at this scene, with toys scattered everywhere and the sounds of young children filling the home, I can’t help but laugh. Although I’m living in my very own circus and a far cry from how I used to spend a Friday night, I laugh at how different my life is now and how peaceful my heart is in this moment of chaos. For all of us, the last few years have felt heavy, unnerving, and probably at times like living in a dramatic movie. Between a pandemic which has completely changed so much about our world, political divisions, racial unrest, and continual brokenness that fills our lives, we can all say we have faced tribulation. While all of these things have impacted my life personally, the biggest focus in my world has been the birth of two children in less than two years after years of struggling with infertility. These babies were prayed for, longed for, and still very much a surprise to us. In a short period of time, while the world around us changed dramatically, everything in our personal lives changed as we welcomed these two little lives into our family. As I navigate this new season that feels like I’m barely keeping my head above water, I surprisingly told a friend recently, “I think I may be more at peace now in this season than I've ever felt before.”
ALLISON VAN EGMOND | GUEST The world news blares updates about recent warfare. An email alert chimes with bad news from a doctor. A mom yells in frustration. A pastor is persecuted for speaking the truth. A teen is plagued with suicidal thoughts. A kid screams for attention. A couple quarrels regularly. A woman struggles with falling into the same sin. There are many daily concerns that threaten to steal our peace. Longing for Peace Our chaotic lives can cause us to feel overwhelmed and unsettled. We are surrounded by various forms of suffering. Sometimes in the midst of the turmoil in my own life, I dream about lounging on the beach with a book in my hand, a salty snack to nibble on, and the soothing sounds of the ocean around me. Perhaps you’ve had a similar daydream. When life seems to swirl in chaos around us, we tend to want to escape the noise. We dream about another world, another place where there are no demands on our attention, no noises filling our ears, no fears or sorrows filling our minds. We long for a break. A pause button. Peace and quiet.
JENNA TEACHEY | GUEST What comes to mind when you hear the word “peace”? It’s funny, but when I hear the word peace, I think about the movie Miss Congeniality. It’s a cute comedy with Sandra Bullock starring as an FBI agent who goes undercover as a beauty pageant contestant. At the end of the movie, the final five contestants are asked, “What is the one most important thing our society needs?” They all say, “world peace” except for Bullock’s character who says society needs stronger punishment for parole violators. When she says it, the auditorium goes completely silent, and the crowd looks appalled and Bullock quickly adds, “and world peace.” The crowd then goes wild, cheering and applauding. It makes me chuckle every time I watch it. I recognize the movie is clearly making fun of the typical beauty pageant answer of “world peace.” But really, who doesn’t want world peace? Who in their right mind prefers war over peace? So, what exactly is this peace that we all want? Webster defines peace as a freedom from disturbance; a state in which there is no war. This definition of peace sounds awesome but the more I have pondered this, it also seems fleeting.
PEY CHU|GUEST I am a huge fan of modern medicine. My first three children were born in North Carolina with the marvelously numbing help of an epidural. Sure, I felt uncomfortable but I did not feel the excruciating agony of childbirth. This was not the case for baby number four. He was born in East Asia where the epidural was not often administered and so, it did not take. I did not know that birthing a baby was actually supposed to be so painful. At one point, I was so convinced that I was dying in childbirth that I tearfully looked into my husband’s eyes and apologized for dying and leaving him a widower to care for three, possibly four, children. From Sorrow to Joy In his farewell address to his disciples, Jesus compares his impending earthly departure with a woman’s sorrow in labor. This metaphor would not have been a new one to those listening to Jesus. It was used in Old Testament biblical literature to allude to “the birth pains of the Messiah refer[ing] to a period of terrible trouble that must precede the consummation.”Jesus uses this imagery to show his disciples that they were at that point. The misery of Christ’s death would be countered with the bliss of Christ’s resurrection. In the Upper Room Discourse, Jesus has been preparing his disciples for what was about to come. As he looked ahead to his own death, Jesus tells them in John 16 that soon they would not see him. Their sorrow at his departure would be like the pains of childbirth. But their sorrow would not be the end; their sorrow would turn to joy. The intense agony of labor (and their sorrow) would be followed by inexpressible joy just as a woman “no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world” (John 16:21). Jesus follows with, “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:23).
MELISSA OSTERLOO | GUEST Relationships are powerfully influential; we begin our lives completely reliant on the love and care given to us by our parents. Secure attachment— trust built over time through consistent encounters of dependent needs being fulfilled— informed us that we were seen, safe, and valuable. Children naturally feel at home in their parents’ arms, no matter what circumstances surround them. They grow and thrive, confident that their longings will not go unnoticed. We can learn a lot from children. In John 15:1-2, Jesus describes himself as the true vine, and his Father as the vinedresser. "Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit." Over the past four years, I have been living through a tough season of pruning. My husband, Adam, and I moved to northern Alabama in March 2018 for what seemed to be a great opportunity. He had built a solid reputation in the commercial truck industry and was recruited to open a new sales territory that had great potential. However, within just 8 months, instead of reaping the rewards of hard-earned commissions, we found ourselves endorsing the back of a severance check. Just enough to get by for a couple of months, and mere weeks before Christmas. Our harvest had not been fruitful.
BARBARANNE KELLY|CONTRIBUTOR We live in a world at war. On Thursday, February 23rd, we woke to the news that Russian bombs were falling in Ukraine. My first thought was for my precious new friend, Tatiana, whose parents were in Odessa, shocked at what was unraveling before their eyes and unsure how to (or even if they should) escape their war-torn nation. They never thought they would live to witness a full-scale invasion of their home. * As horrifying as war is, it’s nothing new. The Treaty of Paris could no more have stopped the Russian Invasion of Ukraine than the Treaty of Versailles stopped Hitler. And yet, as awful as this new war is, the horror unfolding in Ukraine simply mirrors the spiritual battle each and every one of us face each and every moment of our lives. We need peace, a peace that reaches to the inner recesses of our hearts, a peace that is true and lasting. We need the peace only Christ can give. The Peace of Christ On the night of his arrest, the disciples were tucked away with Jesus, sharing with him what they didn’t yet realize would be their final meal together before the fury and terror of the cross. But Jesus knew. Furthermore, Jesus knew where he was going, and he’d told his disciples repeatedly that he would be arrested, killed, and raised on the third day. Though they’d seen his miracles and believed with God-given faith that he is the Messiah, they still didn’t fully grasp what it all meant. They didn’t realize that David’s King of Zion (Psalm 2) and Isaiah’s Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53) are one and the same. They didn’t understand all the implications of his Messianic mission, but Jesus knew that from the moment of his arrest they would desperately need his peace. So, he promised:
CB CAMPANO | GUEST “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey.” As I reflected recently on John 15, this simple yet profound chorus that I leaned on years ago flooded my mind. The recurring theme in John 15 is Jesus’ plea to his beloved disciples to abide in Him— that is, to stay vitally connected to Him so they may be assured of his love, experience his joy, and produce good fruit. I imagine like you, in days of clarity, there is nothing I desire more than to fully abide in Christ, to completely trust in my Savior’s unwavering love for me in all circumstances. But there are days, when I forget the mercy of God in my life and the how of abiding in Him eludes me. In John 15: 9- 11, Jesus reveals to his disciples a not-so-secret secret to abiding in Him, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” There, we have it. Keep the Lord’s commandments and we will be assured of his tenacious love for us. We will be happy in Jesus. Obedience is a Fruit, Not the Root How inconsiderate it would be for me to stop there! Inconsiderate for many reasons but especially because I would be trivializing the fierce battle we face this side of heaven. Though the call to obedience is not complicated, obeying God’s Word, as we know all too well, is terribly difficult. Our soul’s trifold enemies— the flesh, the world and Satan—war fiercely against this call to obedience. Putting sin to death is painstaking work for fallen creatures like us. This said, sisters, we must endeavor to pursue holiness of life for the glory of God and the good of our own souls. The Lord promises that obedience enables us to abide more deeply in his love and experience his joy more fully. I have, by God’s grace, experienced this to be true in my own life and have seen it to be true in the lives of many I have counseled.
ALICE KIM|GUEST The disciples had waited their entire lives for this moment. They envisioned Jesus as the fulfillment of the promised king who would rescue them from their oppressive pagan government and establish a kingdom where they would assume roles of prominence (Mt. 20:21, Mk.10:37). So, when they heard Jesus say he would leave them, they were deeply discouraged and disturbed. Jesus responds, “Let not your hearts be troubled” (Jn. 14:1a). Pause here and consider how Jesus comes alongside his disciples and acknowledges their angst. He relates to them by sympathizing with the awaiting trauma. Earlier, he too uttered the same distress (Jn. 12:27a) as he anticipated both the agony and necessity of the cross. He then proceeds to invite the disciples to let go of their finite understanding of redemption—which included their misguided perceptions of Christ’s earthly ministry—in exchange for infinite and incomparable glory.
HOPE BLANTON AND CHRISTINE GORDON|GUEST “Wow. I’d like a personal encourager. How do I obtain one of you?” Our younger friend was sitting in our hotel room with us listening to a description of what our administrator, Jen, does for Hope and me (Chris). “We literally pay her to pray, among other things,” we joked. But it was based in truth. This woman, hired to do things like mailings and conference planning for At His Feet Studies, had become so much more than that. She prayed for us every week, encouraged us, comforted us, exhorted us, and challenged us. It was no wonder our friend wanted her own personal Jen. Our daily attempts to follow Jesus come up against hostility both from the world and from our own sinful hearts. We all need our own personal encourager. We need someone who knows our very specific life situations, needs, limits, stresses, temptations, weaknesses, and tendencies. Everyone needs a Jen! In John 14, we learn that we do have someone that does these things. But even better than Jen, we have Jesus himself.
STEPHANIE FORMENTI | GUEST There is something special and even powerful about old things made new again. Perhaps this is why millions of viewers regularly follow various home makeover shows on HGTV. It is mesmerizing to watch an old, broken, and dilapidated building transform into a shiny and beautiful new home. It is thrilling to celebrate the character of old wood, stone, and brick alongside new plumbing and electricity. The gospel of John is full of similar beauty. John consistently points his reader to consider how the coming of Jesus transforms old into new. From the opening words, “In the beginning,” John invites us to consider Jesus’ work and ministry as one of new creation. We see the same beauty and emphasis of old things being made new in the Upper Room Discourse when Jesus turns the conversation to love. In John 13:34-35 Jesus says: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Any reader of Scripture would pause for a second. How is the command to love one another new? In fact, isn’t it as old as the law itself? After all, we find these words in Leviticus 19:18 “you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” Love for others has always been at the heart of God. It is woven throughout the law and the prophets and Jesus himself regularly summarized the law as love for God and others (Matthew 22:36-40). Loving others does not seem like a new thing. In fact, it seems rather old.