Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanksgiving brings Advent Day 1

This Thanksgiving we visited Steve's side of the family. My in-laws treated us to a night at Great Wolf Lodge. I had forgotten how much fun water could be.

It's amazing how fast time flies especially when you don't see people often. My oldest nephew (on that side) brought his girlfriend, my niece is driving, and my other nephews are already 8 & 6 - wow! To you, probably no big deal, to me, another sign that time keeps moving on...I am blessed to be a part of this family.

With Thanksgiving past, we look toward Christmas. Today is the first day of Advent. I found this morning that I cannot merely read the advent scriptures and expect fireworks. I am reminded that God often speaks to me in a whisper. So I am going back to quiet myself.

I ran across a book this year called, "Advent & Christmas Wisdom from Henri J.M. Nouwen." Since I am a fan, I decided to use this as an accompaniment to the scriptures.

Here is an excerpt from Day 1, entitled, In the Midst of Our Dark World,
"I keep expecting loud an impressive event to convince me and others of God's saving power....Our temptation is to be distracted by them...When I have no eyes for the small signs of God's presence-the smile of a baby, the carefree play of children, the words of encouragement and gestures of love offered by friends-I will always remain tempted to despair.

The small child of Bethlehem, the unknown man of Nazareth, the rejected preacher, the naked man on the cross, HE asks for my full attention. The work of our salvation takes place in the midst of a world that continues to shout, scream, and overwhelm us with its claims and promises.

Advent action: Today I will look for one small sign that God is present in my daily life. I will give thanks for his presence. If he is absent, I will resolve to find out why."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Conversation on Synonyms

If you're not a usual peruser of the Kingdom Grace blog, today might be a good day to check it out. There's an interesting conversation that was started yesterday about synonyms.

Here's a little snipet:
"Postmodern does not equal relativist.

Modern does not equal christian.

Mystery does not equal doubt.

Missional does not equal social gospel.

Inclusion does not equal pluralism.

Justice does not equal democrat.

Christian does not equal republican."

Thanks, Grace. You have a great way of bringing things out.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Today at New Hope we finished up a sermon series that leads us into the Advent Season. We've been tracking the journey of the Israelites - out of Egypt, Sinai, Jerusalem, then Babylon. As we ended today's gathering we left the Israelites along the river, again crying out to God for help.

Over the course of the weekend, I talked to a number of people who are dealing with situations in their lives. Some have to do with life changes, some are too painful to mention, some are "everything and nothing." Isn't that like life? On the one hand, it makes me sad to walk through the crap of life with friends; on the other hand, it makes me hopeful that this could be a time when we see Christ break in in amazing ways.

Personally, I feel the tug of Advent like never before. I have a desire to be quiet and let God break in and do what he does. But I know how I am...I drift. I have intentions of seeking God, but then I sleep in or overschedule myself, name it, I do it.

This year, in attempt to keep a proper perspective, I have decided to participate in the reading the lectionary. The lectionary is a basically a three year Bible reading plan that can be joined at any time. You can find out more here. At that same site, you can also subscribe in a reader, have the scriptures emailed to you daily, or post them on your blog.

God's word, as close as our fingertips, pretty cool. Oh, yea, you can also just pick up your Bible and read them (We'll have the scriptures posted in New Hope's bulletin) - whatever works for you.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Thanksgiving with the Austins

If you don't know who Jon & Angela Austin are, let me just give you the brief lowdown. They lead worship most Sundays at New Hope. They moved here months ago thinking that they would only be here temporarily, but so far God seems to be keeping them here. They hear the cry of the hurting - especially the cries in Youngstown and Africa.

Rather than jump to the next place, they've decided to stay and grow where God has planted them. God led them to the Kingdom Meal Ministry and they have grown to love and develop friendships with many of the people who come there to receive food.

That brings us to Thanksgiving. Jon & Ang felt led to invite their new friends to have dinner with them on Thanksgiving. Because they knew it could potentially be a larger group, they plan to have the meal at New Hope. Including some New Hopers who are planning to be a part, they already have 35 or so people planning to come. They had an unbelievable response of 27 RSVP's at Kingdom Meal yesterday.

I'd like to ask you to pray for this time. May it be a time where God's grace and peace flows. Also, if you feel led in anyway to help out, I'm sure they would appreciate the help. And if you don't have plans that are set in stone, you are also welcome to come. You can email Ang at

Friday, November 14, 2008

Light Up Pittsburgh

If you're looking for the Hopper Family next Friday evening (November 21st), you'll find us in Pittsburgh. We don't have a ton of family traditions, but this is one of the few. We like to go to Pittsburgh on the night of their annual "Light Up Night." If you're into downtowns and don't mind a crowd, let us know and we'll try to connect by cell phone and watch some fireworks together. There is a lot to do and see at Light Up. You can check out the festivities here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Reflections on the Weekend at New Hope

As I look back on this past weekend's gatherings, one of the things that I loved about them was hearing the answers to prayer we've seen since beginning the wailing wall. One woman is thankful her brother (whose name she posted on the wall when we first started using it as a wailing wall) is safely home now from Iraq.

Another woman read a card she had put up months ago that said, "my marriage." She picked that card, read it and she and her husband walked together to the foot of the cross to lay it down. It was so beautiful watching them stand in front of the cross, arm in arm. I wanted to stand up and cheer. God is so good.

I cleaned up the room last night. I boxed up all the cards, notes, pictures...didn't really give it a second thought, actually. It's just what needed to be done. Of course we move on with life...My prayer is that we keep looking for the needs around us, that we keep listening to God's voice and doing no less and no more than he directs, that we continue to better understand the heart who loves us more than anyone.

Here are some thoughts following this weekend's gatherings at New Hope. Anne, thanks for sharing...

in my church at home, we have this place in the back of the sanctuary that we call the "wailing wall." people are encouraged to write things that break their heart, as well as break God's heart, and post these on the wailing wall. we've been doing this for a very long time, and over time this wall has gotten to be completely covered with pieces of paper, pictures, money, newspaper articles....

today in church we had sort of a reflection service where we took these things off of the wailing wall, read them to the congregation, and then placed these at the foot of the cross standing at the front of the room. this was an extremely powerful service to me. to hear these things spoken out loud was, well, unexplainable. there was one in particular that really struck me...the piece of paper urged people to pray for a young boy's family...this boy, 8 years old, in 3rd grade, took his own life.


it breaks my heart that this young boy, hardly even starting his life, found that he had no hope...
at an age where you have all the hope in the world.
it was so bad that he took his own life.


i read a note that said to pray for those children who are abandoned and neglected, that they would find hope. invisible children comes to mind....children who are affected by the sex trade comes to mind...
these things break my heart.

there was another note that stuck out to me.. it encouraged us to pray not only for those being abused, but those who were abusing. i think this is something that we often forget to pray for. we see those people suffering, those abused, neglected but we don't think to pray for those who are oppressing, abusing, neglecting, abandoning. God loves these people just as much as he loves those who are hurt. so should we.

my pastor used an illustration he heard from David Crowder...distinguishing justice from compassion..
picture you and some friends sitting by a river, enjoying a beautiful day and having a picnic. all of a sudden you see people, floating downstream, drowning. you jump in and pull those people to safety. after a while, you keep seeing more and more people floating down the river, drowning. you continue to attempt to rescue these people but after a while you decide that you need to go up stream to figure out how so many people are drowning and to stop whoever is making this happen.
this is the difference between justice and compassion. you have compassion on those who are drowning and you make those attempts to rescue them, but you also must act with justice and do something to stop the oppression.

i have such a hard time with this. reason being, i feel as though i am so small, so can i stop children from being sold into the sex trade? how can i rescue the homeless, feed the hungry...i'm only one person.
i think this is something that many struggle with. it's so intimidating.

how can i make the difference? how can i be the difference?"

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Wailing Wall

There is no question that this world is messed up. You don't have to look far to see hurt, oppression, hunger, loneliness....these are the things that break God's heart.

We are a group of people who refuse to sit safe in our 'church cocoon' while the world around us suffers. God has given us the privilege and responsibility to act on his behalf and help the hurting and fight injustice we see around us.

This weekend we will have three meaningful gatherings at New Hope. (Parents, please bring your school aged kids in the main room to share in these gatherings - there will be nursery and preschool classes as usual).

For months we've made use of the Wailing Wall to post issues, situations, needs that break our heart and break the heart of Jesus. We will take some time this weekend to refresh the wall and offer these needs and offer ourselves to Jesus. I'm so thankful to be a part of a group of people who desire to make a difference in this world.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Conspiracy Begins

The following letter was posted in this week's bulletin at New Hope:

"New Hopers,
I want to take a minute and share some thoughts about where we’re headed this winter. We’ve been talking about the fact that God resides with the hurting & hears the cries of the oppressed. When we listen and act on the cries we hear, we are also with God. We become his hands and feet to a hurting world.

This weekend begins November. Before we know it, Christmas will be here. Some of us around here have been asking some new questions this year. Rather than becoming over-tired and over-extended by over-indulging and over-spending, what would it look like to turn the ‘Consumer Approach to Christmas’ on its end? What would it look like to focus more on spending TIME with one another rather than spending money on one another? How could we strategically shift our spending to allow us to GIVE more?

Over the next few weeks, you’ll hear us talk about the Advent Conspiracy. It’s a way we can celebrate Christmas the way it was intended:
With Jesus for Jesus.

We want to put an end to feeling like Christmas won’t work if we don’t buy everything on the list. We are actively resisting a culture that guilts us into overspending. We want to recklessly and fully love Jesus and the hurting people around us.

This week we introduce our Christmas Catalog. It is one of the tools to let you know some of the many needs that exist locally and globally.

Join us as we walk away from Stress-mas, Impersonal-mas, Checklist-mas and begin to worship Jesus fully this holiday season.


Now, if you're anything like me, you may read that letter and think several different thoughts.
1. Yes, it would be nice to do things differently, but is it even possible?
2. I feel guilty because I SHOULD want to do things differently, but actually I want to keep them the same.
3. Will my small contribution really make a difference?
4. I don't even know where to begin.
5. My family is DEFINITELY not going to go for this.

But, here's what I wonder...what if we just took whatever step of obedience that God is asking us to take? For some that may mean purchasing a cow for a family in a third world country. For others it may mean planning intentional meals with people in need. For others it may mean taking a trip with your family instead of buying gifts. For others it may mean seeking out gifts that encourage time spent together, like restaurant gift cards with a date to go TOGETHER.

I don't know how God will lead you and that is the beauty of the Advent Conspiracy. As we all strive together to: Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, and Love Fully, God steps in and changes us each individually AND as a church.

Check out more on the Advent Conspiracy at or on the conspiracy's pages on facebook or myspace.