Wednesday, April 29, 2015

You say tomato...

Ah, the beauty of the human race.  Like snowflakes, God has not made one of us a copy of another.  And like an inexhaustible catalog, it was His design that we come in all shapes and sizes, different colors and temperaments. It’s what makes clunking around on this planet together so challenging and yet, at the same time, so rich and rewarding.

But how much energy is devoted to trying to persuade others to be like us—think like us, feel like us, to like what we like and hate what we hate.  If you don’t agree, just try listening to 10 minutes of most talk shows (there’s a reason they’re not called listen shows).  It’s “I think blah, blah this and blah, blah that.” Unfortunately this pursuit of group think is not restricted to the world out there…you know, the secular world of education, politics, and entertainment.  It can also be found rearing its ugly head smack dab in the middle of the body of Christ.

One of our core values in the worship and arts ministry of our church is pretty simple: Celebrate diversity. Just two words.  One a verb, an action word.  The other a noun, a person, place or thing. Put them together and they give us a compelling, God-pleasing formula for building up the body of Christ through the arts.  For the purposes of this article, let’s limit our focus to style rather than substance. No one is advocating a watering down of systematic, Biblical theology to accommodate alternatives to orthodox Christianity. Jesus never proposed an expansive highway leading to His kingdom but rather a narrow path.

But in our life together as God’s people, in what areas might we celebrate our diversity? Start with the word celebrate. It suggests an act of intentional affirmation, to hold up or play up in a public way, to honor or value in a deliberate way. What it does not imply is tolerating or observing in a token, even patronizing way. It is, as we have said, intentional, deliberate, positive, and public.

Then there’s the current cultural buzzword: diversity.  Try obtaining a corporate or educational grant these days without a boatload of evidence that you are culturally diverse, and you may as well try to convert the pope.  But how does one define diversity?  I know the government must have a definition.  But what is helpful in constructing a ministry which reflects the heart and mind of God? 

Paul writes to the church at Corinth: “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all people.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)  Our first clue as to what will characterize a healthy church is that it recognizes and allows differences.  God isn’t into cloning.  He likes originals, not copies.  In musical terms, He knew unison gets old, so He created harmony. 

So what are some examples of diversity in the church which we should be witnessing to celebrate the diverse nature of God?  Start with the obvious in the contemporary church in America.  How about different styles? I remember the days when what separated us from the church down the block was mainly doctrine.  Today, we have created niche churches to appeal to a plethora of style preferences. 

A recent church sign I passed actually bragged “We Still Sing the Good Ol’ Hymns.”  So who is right? The traditionalists or the contemporaries?  The Bible actually mentions very little about the “how-to’s” of corporate worship, choosing to use descriptive language rather than definitive.  Check out Psalm 150, I Corinthians 14: 26ff, Ephesians 5:19-21, and so on.  Paul’s summary statement that “there are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all people” suggests that God can actually be expressed through more than one style or language.  We needn’t fight over it or form new fellowships around it.

Other forms of diversity in the body which can find expression through the arts:

·         cultural history (also usually associated with musical styles)
·         how we dress (Before you complain about the casual dress of the contemporary          
      church, don’t   forget how upset your grandma got when you stopped wearing hats 
      and suits to worship.)
·         different types of instrumentation (Do you know that when the organ was first 
      introduced to the church in Europe, it was considered a godless, secular instrument?  
      So also, the drums, guitar, keyboards in our day)
·         use of the body in worship (clappers, hand-raisers, kneelers, those who prefer a more 
      stoic, if not statue-like aspect)
·         expressions which speak more to the thinker 
·         ditto for the feeler
·         people who like to sing
·         people whose gift to the world is not to sing
·         artsy types who love pushing the envelope
·         traditionalists who get nervous when everything appears to be changing
·         the lovers of the loud
·         the root-ers of the reverent
·         and on and on it goes.

Can we begin to hold a big enough view of God and a loving enough attitude toward one another that we actually can celebrate our differences.  It will say to the world that the God, in whose image we are made, has many facets to His beauty, and we who reflect His glory desperately need each other.  At the end of the day, if I say tomato and you say to-mah-to, let’s just keep listening to each other.  The world has enough talk shows.
tad

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Come together right now…over Me

Years ago, I sat in my father’s living room, listening to him as he faced the final days of his life.  I remember struggling for words to comfort him as he grieved the loss of his health, two wives, his ministry, his self-reliance, and worst of all—the vitality of his faith. After listening to him for several hours, I chose to read a portion of Psalm 71 to him:


I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign LORD; 
I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone. 
Since my youth, God, you have taught me, 
and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. 
Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God,
 till I declare your power to the next generation, 
your mighty acts to all who are to come. 
Psalm 71:16-18

Note the irony.  Here I was, the “next generation”, declaring to my dad (the previous generation) the mighty acts of God.  And in my mind, turnabout was fair play.  I can’t count the number of times in my life he had instructed me in the faith, encouraged me to trust God, and to trust Him fully with the uncertainty of my future.  It only seemed fitting in his last days for me to remind him of what he had taught me.  It was a “passing of the baton” moment, but it also served to remind me that God’s Word is equally powerful and applicable for all generations.  But in order for each generation to encourage the other along the way, I believe we need to pursue a common life—at least on some level.  In other words, we can’t always separate into generational groups and still hope to learn from one another.  Unfortunately, this is exactly what’s happening in many churches across our land.

The way of the world is to isolate or group according to affinity, interest or demographics.  Add to that our consumer driven culture and “have it your way” mentality, and we find many churches caving to this pattern and allowing Sunday morning to appeal to a very narrow demographic.  Many local bodies of Christ have basically given up trying to do anything intergenerational, especially worship, charting one of two courses instead:  
1) narrow the target to a particular age group or segment of our society or 2) serve up a smorgasbord of worship styles on campus each weekend, allowing attendees to pick and choose based on personal preference.

At Hope, are asking if this is not another example of letting the world squeeze us into its own mold (Rom 12:1, 2).  Let’s be clear.  There is nothing wrong with individuality and organizing around common interests…nothing, that is, until it begins to contradict your basic message of love and unity.  So have your golf tournaments, your youth retreats, your MOPS groups or Empty Nesters community.  It’s all good.  But also remember the power of a love that transcends common interests, ages, or styles.  Jesus told us exactly how the world would know that He had come—that we have (genuine) love for one another.  How does that love happen?  Not without dialogue.  Not without understanding or empathy.  And not, on occasion, without compromise.

It reminds me of the old Beatles song “Come Together.”  All kinds of theories exist out there over the real meaning of that’s song’s message, but the hook line has stayed with me to this day:  Come together, right now, over me.  What if we received that as God’s deep desire for His church related to its corporate worship life.  “Come together (My beloved), right now (don’t put it off), over Me (remember, worship is about Me first).”

In the worship community, we have a unique opportunity to lead the charge on this vision.  Each week we are entrusted with the privilege and chance to help lead God’s people in the most unifying (potentially, at least) event of their week.  We don’t all dress alike, listen to the same music, have the same amount of education or income, attend the same movies or prefer the same political candidates.  But worship is that one experience which is supposed to center us on the One in whose very image each of us has been made and for whose very glory we have been created. 

Think about that: each of us—young and old alike, Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, black and white, sick and well, technical wizards and technical illiterates, has been made to reflect God. Jesus called us the very salt of the earth, the light of the world.  Can you think of a better way to be reminded of that than to engage in a regular activity which celebrates what we share in common, not what distinguishes us? 

Want a big dream? Then imagine Hope church being known as a place where all generations worship together, demonstrate a growing love for each other and an increasing respect for one another’s life view.  It’s part of the vision of Hope’s staff and elders for all of us to begin living out a more common life together as a witness to others.  It’s definitely not the way of the world.  But it is, we truly believe, the way of the Word.  Hope each of you will join us on this adventure.

tad

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Light or Heat

A Mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, 5-year-old Kevin and 3-year-old Ryan. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw an opportunity for a moral lesson.  She said, "If Jesus were sitting here, He would say, 
'Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.'  Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, "Ryan, you be Jesus!"

Whether you are Kevin or Ryan in this story, one thing will always be true.  Someone needs to be Jesus! The world has grown quite acquainted with the fallen version of humanity—the first Adam, to use a theological concept. What they desperately need to meet is the last Adam, Jesus, to hear what he has to say, and experience His supernatural love.

The apostle Paul describes him like this in 1 Corinthians 15: The first man, Adam, 
became a living person. But the last Adam—that is, Christ—is a life-giving Spirit.  
And just what did this “last Adam” have to say to us who represent him? Among other things, this:

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:14-16

If we are to be candles for Christ in this increasingly darkening culture, I would propose our witness be characterized more by light than heat.  Said another way, I believe those seeking an encounter with the divine are more likely to be drawn to Jesus by a loving, Christ-like example than through the friction of a heated argument, in which we seek to defend Him. This is not an original idea.  Consider a few quotes:

"My position is that I write songs, I'm in a band and I just hope that when it's all over for U2, that in some way we made the light a bit brighter. Maybe just tear off a corner of the darkness."   - Bono

“It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”   - Joseph Conrad

"To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one's life would not make sense if God did not exist.”  - Madeleine L'Engle

“Being salt and light demands two things: we practice purity in the midst of a fallen world and yet we live in proximity to this fallen world. If you don't hold up both truths in tension, you invariably become useless and separated from the world God loves.” - David Kinnaman

And finally, from the famous theologian Charles Schulz:


Jesus approach to converting people from one ideology to another was not through confrontation or coercion, but by being compelling, and this was mainly achieved by radical, inexplicable love.  Sure, he put the religious super-saints in their place repeatedly, even befuddled a rich young ruler…because he saw their hearts.  He knew they had no intention of changing their point of view and following him.  But until you and I are supernaturally gifted to see inside a person to discern their true motivations, 
much less destinations, we probably would do best to err on the side of humbly seeking to listen to, love and serve those outside the faith who are inside our reach.  Not saying we should never challenge, enlighten, or even correct.  But like the original Light of the World, let’s lead with building a relationship first, and saving the heat for the appointed, appropriate time. My guess is that effective listening beats a swinging lunchbox every time.

tad

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Power of Forty

In 1932, the American psychologist Walter Pitkin published the self-help book Life Begins at Forty
Pitkin stated confidently: “Life begins at forty. This is the revolutionary outcome of our New Era. Today it is half a truth. Tomorrow it will be an axiom.” The fact is that prior to the turn of the 20th century, death usually began at forty. It wasn't until the early 1900’s that one’s life expectancy began to creep up into the 60’s and today is somewhere between 75 and 80 in most developed countries. Still the saying holds, since it suggests a natural period of time before life begins to make sense and one can begin to live a more informed and intentional life.

Actually, the number 40 has been significant long before Mr. Pitkin penned his book.  
In fact, the Bible seems to suggest an almost divine or supernatural significance to this number. It marks a period of completion or completeness. Do you realize how many times in the Bible God made major changes and transformations take place after the period of 40 something? Consider these:

•           It rained for 40 days and 40 nights when God wanted to cleanse the world and start over. (Gen 7:12)  And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights.

•           Noah waited another 40 days after it rained before he opened a window in the Ark. (Gen 8:6) And it came to pass at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made.

•           Moses was on the mountain with God for 40 days (TWICE). (Ex 24:18) And Moses went into the midst of the cloud, …and Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights. (Ex 34:28-29) And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; …and he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.

•           It took the spies 40 days to search out the promised land and bring back fruit. 
            (Num 13:25) And they returned from searching of the land after forty days.

•           The Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness, one year for each day they explored the Promised Land. (Ex. 16:35) And the children of Israel did eat manna forty years, until they came to a land inhabited; they did eat manna, until they came unto the borders of the land of Canaan.

•           Goliath intimidated God’s people for forty days before being killed by David. 
            (1 Sam. 17:16) For forty days, twice a day, morning and evening, the Philistine giant strutted in front of the Israelite army.

•           Elijah strengthened by one angelic meal went forty days to Mount Horeb where the Lord passed by and he heard the voice of God. (1 Kings 19:8) And he arose, 
            and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God.

•           Jonah warned the City of Nineveh they had 40 days until God would overthrow the city. The people repented in those 40 days and God spared the city. 
            (Jonah 3:4 and 10) And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, 
            and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. 
            And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.

•           Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness. (Mat 4:1-2) Then Jesus was led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was hungry afterward.

•           Jesus was seen in the earth 40 days after His crucifixion, before He sent the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:3) After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

With all the talk these days of “60 is the new 50” and “50 is the new 40”, it seems significant that the idea of “Life begins at forty” has still hung around. But maybe 
real change begins at 40” would be more accurate. At least our Maker seemed to think so. 

tad 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Eyes on the Prize

Our current message series, Resolved, takes us through holy week and uses this term as a double entendre to describe both Jesus perseverance to the end with his mission and our sin dilemma being settled once and for all. We all have experienced the difficulty of keeping resolutions, haven’t we?  I can’t speak for everyone, but in my experience it has a lot to do with a lack of this one particular commodity—perseverance.  As much as we may loathe the term, most, if not all of us, 
are quitters.

Like some of you, I’m a great starter.  I like trying new things.  I especially like talking about trying new things.  At times, I even like taking risks.  But then something happens. I meet opposition to my plans.  I encounter difficulty. I get sidetracked.  And eventually, what started as an awesome idea quickly winds up on a pile of good intentions.

Imagine the “assignment” that was placed before Jesus, God’s Son, as he entered his earthly life. Actually it started way back in Eden’s garden when the first batch of humans decided to blow the best deal ever and break ranks with their Maker. (Frank Sinatra only thought “I did it my way”
was an original idea.) God’s judgment was swift, expelling them from their Utopian lifestyle, 
but even worse, giving them nothing less than what they asked for: a life separate from Him.  
Still, God’s mercy was too great to leave man with no options. And right there He promised to make right again what we had screwed up.  In that moment, God’s resolution was made clear. 
To the Satanic serpent who deceived His beloved, He said:

I will cause hostility between you and the woman (Eve),
and between your offspring and her offspring (Jesus).
He (My Son) will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.

In my darker moments, I imagine Jesus hearing these words from His father’s lips and quickly retorting, “Easy for you to say, Dad.”  In fact, scripture never gives even the hint of a dispute between the Father and the Son regarding this plan.  Such was the level of trust and love between the two.  What we are told is that Jesus willingly took up the task, emptied himself (now there’s a theological discussion for you), and accepted the greatest rescue mission ever assigned. 
Paul writes in Philippians 2:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

We've all heard the cliches.  “Keep your nose to the grindstone.” “Quitters never win, and winners never quit.” But faced with this particular assignment, one can only ask “how did He do it?” 
Our culture is so quick to assign “hero” status to anyone who, in the face of injustice or adversity, casts fate to the wind and charges into the fray, regardless of its effects on one’s personal 
well-being.  But here’s the thing.  These decisions are often instinctive, made in either a moment of calamity or as part of a short term scheme or strategy to right a great wrong.

What puts Jesus, his incarnation, life, suffering and ultimate death in such a completely different category from other heroic acts is this: he lived, breathed, and focused on his mission from the moment His human mind could handle conceptual thinking.  As a child, He was taught the Torah, the first five books of what we today call the Bible.  He also learned the Psalms and became familiar with all the prophetical writings made available to Him, including the passages He would quote from Isaiah 61 to inaugurate his ministry, as well as the ones which described in graphic detail his eventual death in Isaiah 52 and 53.  And yet, He stayed the course.  Why?  The writer to the Hebrews proposes this as the reason in chapter 12:

…Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

And what exactly was the “joy” that was set before Him?  The same writer records in an earlier chapter:

In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.

What was the so-called “prize” on which Jesus kept His eyes for thirty-three years as a human being, and eons before as Creator of all that is seen and unseen? You and me. We were the prize. You are the prize. I am the prize.

So make your resolutions and maybe even break your resolutions.  But along the way, don’t forget your and my salvation was and is totally dependent on the Man whose resolve was never compromised.  It was, perhaps, the only mission that could truly be called a matter of life or death. This Easter, let’s offer deepest thanks to the One who kept His eyes on the prize…and never looked back.        

tad 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Life…a matter of inches

Last week, my dear wife Debby laid her father to rest—Irvin Paul Weaver of Lakeland, Florida. He was 91. Died in his sleep, like we all wish to die. In Christ, he was a devoted man of faith who reflected joy and love to all who knew him.  His smile could light up a room, even in his last, often pain-filled, days.  He and Debby’s mom celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary just last November.

His desire was to go home to his Lord, but he also struggled to leave his dear bride behind, her recent years having been made more complicated by increasing dementia.  He sought constant reassurance that she would be okay.  He had similar thoughts for my wife, his only child.  Debby herself struggles with a degenerative brain disease which has compromised her speech, swallowing and balance, among other things. As Dad’s end drew near, he became increasingly concerned for her 
well-being.

So he patiently waited for that release.  Still he had a ready smile for everyone who came to visit him, 
and wanted his family and friends to know that he was ready to die.  He had trusted Christ for salvation and was at peace with his Lord.  After 91 years,
he had kept the main thing the main thing. A few years back, our pastor delivered an Easter sermon in which he spoke of life on this earth as being represented by, like, an inch, along an infinite line that stretches as far as the eye can see.  Most of us spend our time, energy and resources on making that little inch of time the most it can be, and we forget to prepare for the infinite amount of time we will spend in eternity.  Dad was prepared.

When the time came, I think he understood the apostle Paul’s frustration when he wrote, “for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. I am torn between the two: I desire to be with Christ which is better by far, but it is necessary for you that I remain in the body.” 
(Phil. 1:21ff).  Dad understood his life was not his own.  He had been bought with a price.  His days had been ordained and numbered by his Creator.  And it was his Heavenly Father’s decision as to when that homecoming would take place.

In our last conversation with him on the phone just two days before his death, Dad made sure to tell us how much he loved us, and he even complimented Debby on her speech over the phone. Like many of his generation, he was not known for being the most demonstrative person at expressing his feelings.  But as the end drew near, he seemed to be more attuned to the feelings of those he loved most, and began expressing his love much more directly.

Now that he is “gone,” I—we, too, experience an emotional paradox.  Sadness and joy. 
I used to think Juliet said it best in Shakespeare’s classic Romeo and Juliet
“Parting is such sweet sorrow.”  She was merely anticipating a momentary absence from her beloved Romeo.  She fully expected to see him again, and soon.  But then I read the words of John the apostle in Revelations 14, and concluded that his description wins the prize.

“And I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, Write: Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from now on: Yes, said the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them.”

Though perhaps no experience associated with being human frightens us more or is more mysterious than death, John calls those who die in the Lord blessed.  And for obvious reasons.  In death, we are finally at rest.  We cease our striving.  Our struggles are over.  And we are fully in God’s presence—we are with the Lord.  He no longer is experienced where we are (condescension), but rather we experience Him where He is (ascension).


Dad could boldly face death, because the judgment and penalty for his sin had been paid in full by the One he trusted for salvation—His savior Jesus.  This week we were reminded that, for him and all other believers in Christ, suffering, pain, and loss are only temporary—only a part of this life. What endures forever is peace with God, joy in His presence, and sweet reunion with those who loved Him and have gone before us. As we celebrate the life and homecoming of Irvin Weaver, may each of us pray with the Psalmist: Teach us to number our days that we might apply our hearts to wisdom. 
(Ps. 90) After all, this life is about an inch.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      tad

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

SUNDAY'S COMING!

Let me take a moment to encourage each one of you who reads this, as you enter the home stretch of preparation for Holy Week.  The “90% of Life Is Showing Up” axiom is about as true during this time as anything.  I know your lives are full.  And I know some of your emotional and physical cups might be running a little low (if not approaching empty) right now.  Let me turn you to God’s Word for strength, comfort and inspiration.  You are an amazing team of people called by God to deliver the goods, the good news,
the greatest news in the history of mankind!  In about a month, you will participate in events which can actually alter a person’s destiny as the Holy Spirit is poured out and the word of God is sown into hearts.
 
Expect to be opposed in this pursuit.  Expect the enemy to try to discourage you,  to cause unrest in your home, to strain relationships with those you love; even to attack your body physically. Why shouldn’t he?  He is miserable and wants all the company he can get.  And you are retelling his worst nightmare for all the world to hear…about the week in history when a stake was driven into the very heart of evil, and every real or perceived enemy of God’s creation was annihilated. But stand firm in those times, remembering that “greater is He that is in you than
he that is in the world.”  Here are some more antidotes for discouragement:

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion,
 “Your God reigns!”  (Is. 52:7)

You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.(Is. 40:9-11)

Do you not know? Have you not heard?  The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40 – selected verses)

Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. For you, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living. (Psalm 116:7-9)

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them. (Psalm 145: 18-19)

The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you,
 he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)

Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith. . . . And after you have suffered for a little while, 
the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.(1 Peter 5: 7-10)

I love each one of you and so appreciate your tremendous investment of time and energy. You sound amazing and your attitudes towards each other are little acts of worship themselves. You are bringing delight to God.  May you also bring many others to Him through your ministry this Easter!        
tad