Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I Wish My Church Bought Some Porn

I really love what this church just around the corner from my house did.  Read the article, then read my commentary on the whole issue.



Grand Rapids Church Buys Porn to Keep it out of the Community

by Sarah Sell

Grand Rapids - A Grand Rapids video store that rented x-rated movies has a new "best" customer. The Tabernacle Community Church in Alger Heights.

The three pastors recently purchased 200 videos in hopes of keeping the DVD's off the streets. The move came shortly after the video store decided to go "porn-free".

Dan Fochtman, the General Manager of Video Maste,r says adult videos were a third of their business. He says he had some devoted customers, but others in the community, complained about the adult video section. "We knew it was a conservative neighborhood. We got the vibe by the neighborhood coming in here."

Fochtman says he had to make a moral decision. He got rid of the adult video section and started selling off the inventory. When the church next door heard about what was going on, they wanted to help. They offered to buy the videos.

Pastor Marvin Williams says, "He(Fochtman) was a bit unsure. Not so sure about that because he didn't want the church money to be invested in something like that." But, Pastor Williams says the church didn't want the videos to end up in someone else's hands.

"We're taking a stand. As a faith community. We've seen how destructive it can be."

The church went out and bought an industrial shredder. On Sunday, they will destroy the DVD's. "We believe this is one of the ways we can help men as well as women become better Christ followers."

The church also believes that by getting rid of the videos, the community will respond and do business with the store. From now on, they will only sell movies rated “G” through “R”.

Fochtman says he's hoping for the best. "We've been getting a lot of vocal support from the community and business around here so, this is a quaint neighborhood. It feels a lot better."

The Tabernacle Community Church will destroy the videos at their 10 Am service on Sunday. They purchased the pornographic videos for 10-dollars each.


Jake's commentary
It's about time a church put their money to good use.  I know that there are people out there who will say, "Well, they're just supporting the porn industry by purchasing it."  Or, better yet, "Just because people can't buy porn at that store, doesn't mean they won't find it elsewhere." Both of these statements have some validity.  It is true that Bob the porn addict (if your name is Bob, I'm not talking about you...unless you're a porn addict) will just go around the corner to the Velvet Touch (which my aunt thought was a car wash) or the Red Barn (where you can not only get porn but also watch exotic dancers).   It's an addiction...just like a heroine addict will find heroine and an alcoholic will find booze, a porn addict will find porn.  Is the church supporting the porn industry by purchasing the DVD's and destroying them?  I don't think so in this case.  The video store was selling off their inventory of DVD's that they already purchased...the porn industry got their cut already.  I say this church is helping the owner of that video store recoup some of his costs for making the decision to do away with a large part of his business.  And, they're taking at least a few DVD's out of circulation.  

And if you live in Alger Heights, then go rent movies at Video Master...support this guy for making a moral decision.  Plus, it's cheaper than Blockbuster.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Guess Who's Back, Back Again...

It appears I have come full circle.  I find myself back in the apartment industry, managing a property on the Southeast side of Grand Rapids.  This week has been good.  I've met some great new people who I could see becoming good friends.  I will admit that it will be a big adjustment to have to go to an office and keep office hours and such.  The last year and a half has allowed me the freedom to work when I wanted.  Of course, if you know me, you know that I work hard at whatever I do, so I'm not concerned about the amount of effort it will take to get the job done.  It's just now I won't have the luxury of being able to head upstairs to my office to get some work done.  And I won't have the luxury of being able to take an hour or two off at a time to get some stuff done around the house.

I'm very thankful that I found a job so quickly, even though the pay is less than I had hoped for. In our state's economy, just having any job is a Godsend, so to speak.  After getting to know the staff and my new boss  little bit, I'm excited about the job.  So, if you need an apartment in the Grand Rapids area, talk to me.

I also have been thinking a lot about the spiritual gifts I have and how I have given my life to the cause of Christ.  So I want to make it clear that my going back to a "regular job" is in no way my attempt to remove myself from ministry.  I plan on taking just as much initiative in people's lives to help them become like Christ.  That is my heart...that is what I love to do...and it doesn't take a job in a church to make that happen.  In fact, it may actually free me up more to do the kind of work God has called me to do.  So with that said...it's Christmas time...and I have a tree to decorate.

Peace,
Jake

Friday, November 23, 2007

Respite

Here I sit in my parents' kitchen. It's been a relaxing two days...lots of turkey with all the fixings. It's amazing how slow life goes in the Thumb of Michigan. It almost seems like when you hit the Huron County line life changes instantly. It's laid back, it's low key, it's rest. I needed some rest...I still need more, but I must go back home tomorrow and get ready to lead worship one last time at Origins.

A bit of me is very nervous about the coming months. I don't have a job lined up. Starting December 1, I'll only have half-time pay and need to make up the rest of my income somehow. I've been informed by my mother that she talks with lots of people who read this blog all the time...who would have thought? So, if you're reading this, pray for me and Heidi...for provision, for a job, for a season without the stress we've faced in the last few years.

Grace & Peace,
Jake

Monday, November 19, 2007

Third Time's a Charm

A little over a month ago I fasted and prayed for eight days. I broke the fast with a wonderful wet burrito from El Chisme (R.I.P.), but I’m not here to talk about fasting or eating today. Today I want to talk a bit about what God was showing me during that fast. As many of you know, fasts are fairly regular in my life. I think it’s a spiritual discipline that helps me retain (or regain) focus on God and being obedient. The reason for this fast was really three-fold. The first and foremost reason was to enter into a season of thankfulness and giving honor to God for the conception of Baby Blakeney. We had just found out that Heidi was pregnant, and it seemed right to devote some time to being grateful to God for this incredible blessing. The second reason was to enter into a season of preparation. They say that when you get married you realize just how selfish you are, and then when you have children you realize to a greater degree how selfish you are. So, I wanted to rid myself of as much…uh…self…as I possibly could. The third reason for the fast was to seek God’s face regarding my job and church.

As many of you know, a little over a year ago Heidi and I helped plant a church. We were committed to not becoming just another run of the mill church (the Lord knows Grand Rapids doesn’t need any more of those), and the future looked promising. There was a passion, an excitement in the air…the newness of it all lit a fire under us to work hard and build something new. Over the course of time, the newness wore off and reality set in that said it would be much more difficult than we had expected.

It was during the fast that God reminded me of the two times over the past five years of marriage where I was without work due to losing my jobs. Each time God provided in ways that were unthinkable (random cash in the mail, odd jobs, gifts from friends, etc.). One day towards the end of my eight-day fast I was praying and sensed God saying to me, “Jake, do you trust me?” I said, “Of course I do.” He said, “Ok, then I want you to leave your job.” I said, “Good one, God, you should go on Last Comic Standing.” But as I kept praying, I got the sense that he was serious. It was as if he wanted me to willingly put myself into the position of relying on him for provision where before I was always forced into the position.

This is a scary thing to do when you’re married and renting an apartment…let alone owning a house and having a baby on the way. So, as of yesterday morning, I officially resigned my position at our church. I will complete the month of November and then it’s on to other things. I don’t know what those things will be, but I’m trusting that God will provide us with money to pay the bills, eat, and keep our health insurance. The emotions running through my veins right now are nervousness, anxiety, excitement, and sadness. There are people at this church that I will miss immensely…they have ultimately been my church family for the last three years, and my hope is that the relationships will not just diminish. But I think that overall, there is a renewed sense of vigor in my life because I know I’m being obedient to God. There is nothing in this world that compares to knowing that you are submitting to God.

This will be the third time since Heidi and I have been married htat I've been without a job. So, I need one quickly…know of any? Let me know.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

"It's About Time" or "(in the voice of Nelson from the Simpson's) HaHa!"

Over the past couple of years, readers of this blog (and my previous ones) have read my rhetoric on tele-evangelists, health and wealth gospels, prosperity gospel, etc.

It was just brought to my attention that the US government is now doing an investigation on some very prominent ministries throughout the United States regarding excess wealth for their "Pastors," and shady things done in order to avoid paying taxes. Here's the article published in the Tampa Tribune yesterday.

Here is a list of links to the official letters that each of the ministries received...
Without Walls International Church

World Healing Center Church, Inc.

New Birth Missionary Baptist Church

World Changers Church International

Joyce Meyer Ministries

Kenneth Copeland Ministries

All I have to say is that it seems to me that it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for rich folk to enter the Kingdom. It also seems fitting that the rich young ruler knew scripture and knew tradition, but still realized he lacked something. Jesus told him the thing that he lacked was that he had. And if he would go and sell everything and give it to the poor, then he'd truly have. Ironically enough I'm listening to the new Kid Rock album right now, so I leave you with these words from the second track called Amen.

It's another night in hell
Another child won't live to tell
Can you imagine what it's like to starve to death

And as we sit free and well
Another soldier has to yell
Tell my wife and children I love them in his last breath

C'mon now amen, amen, amen

Habitual offenders, scumbag lawyers with agendas
I'll tell you sometimes people I don't know what's worse
Natural disasters or these wolves in sheep clothes pastors
Now damn it I'm scared to send my children to church
And how can we seek salvation when our nations race relations
Got me feeling guilty of being white
But faith in human nature, our creator and our savior, I'm no saint
But I believe in what is right

To that I say, "Amen Pastor Kid...amen!"

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Positive...

...that's what the test read when I ran downstairs. It was a warm fall day, I was in my office finishing up work for the day when I heard the yells from Heidi downstairs. I hurried to make sure everything was alright and there stood my wife with a pregnancy test in her hand that read positive! Being the man that I am, I cried. It was unbelievable. It's been such a long journey to get to this point.

Only a few of you know that Heidi and I have been trying to have children for about three years. It's been extremely difficult to watch friend after friend get pregnant, have a child, and then get pregnant and have a child again. While we certainly rejoice with our friends who have children, there's always been a part of us that has been envious. It was even to the point that we weren't sure if God ever wanted us to have children of our own and maybe we would have to go the route of adoption (which, don't get me wrong, would have been an incredible blessing as well...we have great friends who have adopted, and know how much love can be given and received from adopted children).

So here we go on a tremendous journey towards raising a child. We've heard the heartbeat twice, which was an amazing feeling, and we couldn't be more excited and thankful for this incredible blessing. Be sure to keep us and Baby Blakeney in your prayers. I leave you with a video of our last ultrasound...note the doctor's wise comments about my lineage.



Friday, October 19, 2007

Uncharted Territory

I think for the first time in my life I don't know what to do. I'm serious...I have no clue.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Emptiness and the Dryness of it All

Sunday night was a Godsend for me. I was able to lead worship at an event called OneChurch. OneChurch is several youth groups from around the city of Grand Rapids coming together to worship and hear some teaching. It's about tearing down walls that we've put up around us by denominations and congregations. It's about realizing we are all a part of one body.

As most of you know, I've been leading worship for years. I remember first really leading back in the Thumb of Michigan for YFC events (Loft, Bridgebuilders). I look on those days with fondness. 50-60 kids in the upstairs of a tractor store with old furniture, carpet pieces duct taped to the floor, and the lights dim as we sang to God. I've led worship in small churches and bigger churches. I've led at colleges. I've led in youth groups. I've led on mission trips. I've led in my living room. For the past three years, however, I've actually gotten paid to lead worship, and it is during this time that I've struggled the most with not having people around me who are passionate about pouring their hearts out before God. Many times I long to be around people who get it...where it doesn't have to be a chore to bring people into God's presence...where people are expecting God to move and to inhabit their praises. Yes, it's been a very dry time in my life. My relationship with God is strong...I pray more than I ever have, and out of those prayers and times of study, some great songs have come. But, I feel that many times my desire to dream is gone. I used to dream big about ministry...about what it could look like to be the Church...about what it could look like to not be hindered by the politics and personalities that are so prevalent in church. And now I feel rather empty...and dry and worn and beaten and in need of some healing and hope and rejuvenation. Sunday night helped a little bit.

So, Sunday night was a Godsend. Here were somewhere around 200 high school students singing their hearts out. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I didn't have to do much leading...I could simply worship. We shot the worship set with a camera off to the side and pulled audio from the tape and from the built-in microphone on my mac, and I've sat here all week listening to it and many times I am moved to tears as I hear the students lift their voices and their hearts to God. I am so longing to have this kind of passion around me...this kind of willingness to abandon self in order to follow God. I'll end this by making clear that worship is not about us...it's about giving God what he deserves...it just so happens that when we pour ourselves out before him, it leaves space in us for him to move and to fill. And so it makes sense that when we give, we receive...when we are empty, we're full.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Theology of Being Used

A lot of times we hear Christians say, "Lord, use me." When, in reality, what they're saying is, "Lord, I want people to know about you, but I'd also like to get a little somethin' somethin' from you as well." I think if we're serious about allowing God to use us, then we can't really expect anything in return. Afterall, didn't we already receive mercy? We get life where we should have gotten death...we don't even really deserve that, let alone anything else.

Right now I feel very used. Before going to bed last night, my wife said, "I've never felt more used in my life." (After writing that sentence, it has occurred to me that it might appear to some that I am using my wife...I assure you I am not, and that we are doing quite well in our marriage and life together). The events of the past couple weeks have been difficult. We had a good friend living with us for July and August...then it extended to September. The agreement was that he would stay until the end of August and pay a set amount of rent (a very reasonable amount I might add). The end of August came, and he didn't have a plan to find his own place...or a job for that matter. We extended his welcome under the same conditions and agreement for one month, but I made very clear that the month was to be used to find his own place, etc. The end of September came, and he still was not out. He had a plan, but it didn't fit within the agreement we had originally made. In addition, he wasn't keeping up his end of the agreement. So, I did one of the hardest things I've ever done: I told him he needed to move his stuff out and asked for the money he owed me. Long story short, he expected to not pay me, and he expected to be able to keep his stuff at my house for a time.

So, as he his moving out (the whole day was a little awkward, considering he still owes me money and on the phone last week blew up at me...but I should also note he has since apologized...which helps to make things a bit better, still awkward sometimes), his stuff goes into storage, he makes plans, etc. At 11pm last night, as I was getting ready to turn the lights off and go to bed I heard a knock on the door. The last time someone knocked on the door this late, it was my friend Chris who had relapsed on drugs and wanted to turn himself in for a warrant that was out on him for other charges. Surprisingly enough (or not so surprisingly at all), it was him, out of jail. He said he needed to use the phone, which I let him, but I also ended up offering him my couch to crash on the for the night. I'm happy to offer people things, but when I feel like they're using me, I don't like it. Sometimes I feel like Chris is using me. He calls when he needs a ride, he shows up when he needs the phone (or a couch). I went to bed last night feeling used, and I didn't like that feeling, yet at the same time, I have to think of Christ...who gave sacrificially...who didn't have a place to lay his head...who probably would have given up his couch for someone else.

Once I prayed that God would use me, and nights like last night I tend to regret that prayer. But mornings like this I tend to be glad I prayed it. I have perspective that the dude on my couch downstairs who just got our of jail for larceny, has a warrant out in another county for violating probation, and is a recovering drug addict also happens to Christ. So, I guess I'm not really being used right now...I'm simply giving back a little bit of what Christ gave me.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I Had Lunch With Jesus

It's been awhile since I've blogged, but I think it's time to start again.

I actually ate with a guy named Bob Evans today. He is on staff at Mel Trotter Ministries, a rescue mission in Grand Rapids' Heartside District. The reason I say I had lunch with Jesus is because we ate in the cafeteria where there are homeless people and addicts in recovery all sharing food together. I love being around these types of people. This is when I feel most alive. This is when I feel like I'm really doing what I'm supposed to be doing. Homeless people and addicts in recovery don't worry about things that don't matter...they're simply trying to get through life. Their lives are simpler. They're not concerned with paying the mortgage or car payment. They're not worried about mowing the lawn. They're not overwhelmed with busy-ness. They laughed a lot. They talked a lot. They ate a lot. They're not concerned about having a say in every little thing that goes on around them. They're simply trying to live...without doing drugs or hitting the bottle. They're simply trying to live...with a roof over their head and some food in their stomach. Seems to me like their priorities are a little more important than mine tend to be sometimes. Their priorities are actually probably a little more closely aligned with Christ's.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Oh the Sadness of it All

I attended two funerals yesterday. One for Hannah Takens and one for Holli Greenman. I didn't know either of these high school girls, but I know a lot of people who knew them. I will say that it is a shame that two young girls had to leave this life so soon. When they got in the car on Thursday night to head home, they had no idea that their life would end in mere minutes. They had no idea that they would never play softball again, never play basketball again, never go to another homecoming dance, never finish high school, never go to college, never get married, never have children, never face breaking up with a boyfriend, never face seeing their own parents and grandparents pass away, never experience the pain of seeing their own friends die, never experience any more pain in general. Really, when it's all said and done, we get the short end of the stick. They're done with sickness and pain and suffering for good. And here we are...left to grieve their loss. And when the grieving is done, we'll move on to grieve over something else...parents, boyfriends, girlfriends, grandparents, children, husbands, wives. Yes, grieving is something we must face day in and day out for as long as we walk this earth...after all, it is a place full of death. Though it was never intended to be that way, it is, and here we are always looking ahead. In our short-sightedness, it seems that there is more heartbreak...more disappointment...more pain...just around the corner. And every corner seems no different. Yet, if we lift our head just a little bit, we can see on the horizon what is clearly a life of endless possibilities and, best of all, no more death. Lord, help me to not be short-sighted...help me to see that life is coming...and please send life soon!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

New Song You Should Check Out

myspace.com/jakeblakeneymusic

Checkout the new song I just put up called Alger Heights...and tell all your friends...get the word out.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Forget Resting in Peace...This is When Life Begins

And so it goes, and so it goes. And the book says, "We may be through with the past, but the past ain't through with us." This is a quote from one of my favorite movies of all time, Magnolia. This quote rings true for my friend, Danielle. Monday, Danielle passed away in the ICU at the hospital downtown. It was a tragic end to what seemed to be a tragic life. Stories of abuse and addiction and prostitution plagued this 32-year-old’s autobiography. But what I knew of Danielle was that had such a passion to see people know God. I think this passion was there because she, too, knew him. She knew him probably better than I ever will. She knew of his love and grace because her life was filled with the filthiness of sin…and she wore it on her sleeve. She wasn’t ashamed to tell people that she walked the streets, doing anything possible to feed her addiction. She wasn’t ashamed to tell of her years of exotic dancing. She wasn’t ashamed to talk of her struggles with drugs. And she certainly wasn’t ashamed to speak of God’s grace and mercy and love. This is how she knew God…graceful, merciful, and loving. He wasn’t simply the God that she grew up with, or the God that she learned about since Sunday school, or the God that was distant. He was the God that was near and wrapped his arms around her in the midst of sin. I think that’s probably why she was able to speak of her struggles so candidly.

And then a couple weeks ago she was sucked back into it. The cocaine called her name and she went to find it. For 36 hours she was out there in the darkness…and no one will ever know for sure what happened. We can make guesses, but it does us no good. We can play the part of Columbo, but it still leaves questions in our mind. The simple fact of it is that for 36 hours, Danielle was gone. The Danielle that we knew had disappeared and the Danielle from the past was alive and well if only for a brief time. The scary thing is that it can happen to all of us. One minute we’re praying and following God, and the next we are on a quest for cocaine…or porn or lust or power or fame or pleasure or alcohol…whatever your vice may be. It can rear it’s head in an instant…and if you close your eyes now you might even be able to hear it’s voice in the distance, calling you back…beckoning you to come and die.

When JR and I found her, we could tell that she had a rough couple of nights. We took her in to the emergency room and left her there, thinking it would be a safe place. To our surprise, we later learned that it was in this very place where sicknesses are healed, broken bones are mended, fevers are brought down, and life is given that life was taken away. Not by the nurses or doctors or police or us…but by her. She took her own. And for nearly two weeks we sat in that hospital room with IV’s, ventilators and feeding tubes wondering…hoping…that she would come back. And yet all the while having the feeling of helplessness that it was the end of the line for Danielle.

This helplessness, however, was actually comforting. In this helplessness lied sense of hope. We were helpless on our own, yet understood that there was hope because of who Danielle had become. I am convinced that the Danielle of the past died in that hospital room, but the Danielle of today and tomorrow and forever is alive and well. And to hope, I raise my glass…knowing full well that in our helplessness, there is hope. In our struggle, there is overcoming. In our failure, there is success. And only when we truly embrace our downfall can we truly experience the love and grace and mercy that we find in Christ. “In your presence, all fear is gone. In your presence, is where I belong.”

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Hell is Here...or at least something like it

The last two days have been some of the most hellish I’ve every experienced. It’s been a time where I’m reminded of the frailty of life, the depravity of man, and just how much our individual lives have an effect on those around us. I’ve spent the majority of the last 48 hours in a hospital room watching a young girl on her death bed. We’ve prayed, we’ve cried, we’ve laughed. Parts of the day seem to be a dream, like something unreal is happening…like I’ll wake up to the annoying sound of an alarm and go about my business as usual. Then other times the pain of what’s happening is all too real, and I wish that it really was a dream.

So now, I’m taking a break from the sterility of the hospital to sit down at the computer and just write a little bit of what’s going on. It’s helping me to process it. Monday morning started like most for me. Reading some scripture, praying. Then the phone call. It was JR. Our friend Danielle who had been missing since Saturday had called her boyfriend…our friend…Dave. He was at work, and apparently we were to pick her up at 28th and Division. For those of you who know that area of Grand Rapids, it is a friendly corner for prostitutes. That whole stretch of Division, from 28th St. to downtown is where most of the prostitution happens in Grand Rapids. As we pulled into the gas station we looked for her, but no sign. I got out and ran inside, asking the clerk if anyone was in the bathroom. He handed me the key, I ran in, looked behind the door…no one. I handed the key back to him as he looked at me puzzled…I’m sure he wondered why I didn’t go to the bathroom, but it didn’t matter. We drove behind a hotel that looks like it’s seen its fair share of prostitutes. No sign. We drove back up Division, and got another call from Dave. She was apparently at Popeye’s Chicken, just a few blocks away. When we arrived, no sign. She had told Dave that she had been at a house on Buchanan and Stewart, so we went there. No sign. We drove Division all the way downtown and thought we saw her outside of Degage Ministries, a local soup kitchen. We parked on the street, ran inside and looked around…it wasn’t her. Then we went home.

This whole time, I was calling her cell phone every few minutes. It would simply ring and ring and ring. Then, the last time I called her it went right to voice mail. It’s ironic that just three days prior to this, on Friday, she had held her first outreach to the prostitutes and drug addicts on South Division. She gave away Bibles, water, hugs, and prayers. Newschannel 3 from Kalamazoo picked up the story. And now, just hours after reaching out to people, she had relapsed and gone downtown to cop some drugs. JR and I decided we would make one more round. We pulled back around to the corner of Buchanan and Stewart and sat there for a few minutes. We were looking at the houses, trying to figure out if any of them were crack houses. Only one looked suspect, but we couldn’t be sure. Then we left and headed home. As we pulled onto Division, there she was…it looked like she was trying to pull some tricks. We pulled up next to her and JR said, “Get in!” She got in. She smelled of crack…something I had never smelled before…and you could tell that there were drugs in her system. We drove right to the hospital, and on our way we discovered that she had a crack pipe on her. We took it and got rid of it and I searched her purse for drugs.

She claimed she had been beaten and raped, but there were no marks on her other than burns on her forearm from the crack pipe. We took her to the emergency room anyway. The whole time we were pushing her to get checked into a long-term care facility. This pattern has become the norm in her life. Months or years of being sober all thrown away at the drop of a hat as she hits the street, prostituting and using drugs again. She didn’t want to have anything to do with rehab. And so we ended up leaving the hospital. Danielle was safe, the police were on their way to question her, and she would be discharged shortly. Then later in the afternoon we find out that after the police questioned her, she attempted to kill herself…which landed her in a coma, on a ventilator, and the latest report today is that there’s not much of a chance that she’ll make it. They think the oxygen to the brain was cut off for 8-10 minutes, which is more than enough to do extensive damage. And so now she lies in the hospital bed, family on their way, friends and family gathered around her side. Nothing short of a miracle will save her at this point. And while I’m certainly praying and hoping for that, I’m starting to grasp the reality that this could be it for Danielle.

More to come I’m sure.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

It's About Time...


Here I sit on my back deck. Mac in my lap, the sun shining, the breeze slightly blowing, birds chirping, lawn mowers running in the distance. It's peaceful here. And this has the potential to become my new office for approximately the next four months. Who says Michigan sucks?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Just Shut Up

So, I met my good friend Justin for breakfast this morning at my favorite restaurant, New Beginnings. There was one of those free papers at the entry-way and it was entitled, "The West Michigan Christian (paper). It was filled with "inspiring" stories as well as some "news" pieces that focused on the importance of Christians going out to vote to "ensure that conservatives have a voice in our country."

Now, I will refrain from getting into the conservative/liberal debate here...though I will mention that I don't believe God is either. However, I would like to address the tag line underneath the title of the paper. It reads, "Just like salvation, this paper is free." I wasn't really sure if I should laugh or throw up, so I opted for rolling my eyes instead. I cannot stand cheesy slogans, and it seems like Christians really like to use them. Just drive by church signs. You're guaranteed to find one that says something dumb. I just wish Christians would shut up sometimes and not make themselves look cheesy and irrelevant.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

And I'll Cherish the Old Rugged...Potato?

It's 11:00pm on Easter Sunday. I'll admit, I've had better Easters. Church was just alright this morning. The time I spent early this morning praying was very good, though. And, this afternoon at JR and Di's was tremendous...dinner with neighbors and friends...it doesn't get much better than that.

But, the reason I felt like writing tonight is that the top story on WOOD TV was about a woman who, and I quote, “found a sign from God in a potato.” They showed a picture of it...a potato, cut in half with what appeared to be a rotten spot in the shape of a cross inside. Now, I'm not one to doubt that God moves in very real ways. I'm certainly not a cessationist that denies the supernatural movement and bestowing of gifts to Christ-followers (though I don't agree with certain theologies out there regarding the use and operation of gifts...just ask me if you're really interested in my views on this). However, a cross in a potato? A sign from God? I don't know. The woman who found the potato said in an interview that she is going through a rough time right now (divorce, job struggles), and that this cross in the potato is a sign of hope from God. And, as ridiculous as this sounds, I find myself thinking that maybe it's not so bad that she's found some hope...that her thoughts have been turned to Christ because of a cross in a potato. So, whether it truly was a “sign from God,” or if it was just a rotten spot in the potato, I suppose it's not a bad thing to have your mind turned towards the hope and peace that comes from Christ.

My only question is, “Why in the world did they make this the top story on the 11:00 news?”

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

oh for the new creation

(note: I started writing this on an airplane somewhere between San Antonio and Chicago, and finished two days later in the comfort of my office)

Why can't it end? There's so much pain, so much suffering. So much hell. I find myself on a plane from San Antonio to Chicago, then I have to drive three hours back to Grand Rapids. My wife will be waiting at home for me. I can't wait to see her. This weekend was good. We celebrated marriage with Rick and Melissa. It was a beautiful wedding. Heidi and I had scheduled a photo-shoot on Sunday afternoon with the wedding photographer, who happens to be one of the best photographer's I've ever seen. It was so much fun to walk around 6th Street in Austin with two photographers and an assistant. It was truly a good time. And the few pictures that I saw were tremendous.

And so now I look down on lights beneath me as the sun has just set. And I sense the voice of God saying come. Yes, there is pain and suffering and sickness, but I'm inviting you into life as you've never known it before. It is difficult, you know. To see all of the heartache going on around me...and even to be a part of heartache. To have my heart broken. To have life not work out easily and smoothly. It's difficult. Within the last two weeks I've dealt with mother's of friends dying unexpectedly and fathers/husbands ready to leave and start over...both of which I've blogged about previously. Within the last few months some very close friends miscarried their child. It's sad and overwhelming and exhausting. So I went down to Texas for the weekend, hoping to get away...to close myself off from my world for just a few days. To rejuvenate, to refuel. And I get there to find that a couple of our friends in Texas had just miscarried their child. Heartbreak is impossible to escape...even for a few days. And then I go home and I'm faced with a friend of a friend who's sister attempted suicide and is in intensive care at the hospital. I went to meet the family and visit with them and pray with them.

As I stood in the hospital room, just ready to go home and sleep because of all the hell that is breaking loose around me, I mustered up the strength to pray. This family doesn't have a church...I don't even know if they are Christ-followers. But as we stood around the bed and we bowed our heads and closed our eyes, I prayed. I prayed for healing. I prayed that this situation would bring the family together. I prayed that God would use this situation to reveal himself in some way. And as I said amen and we all opened our eyes, the woman who had attempted suicide...unable to speak, barely able to move, hooked up to i.v.'s and breathing tubes...lifted her hands and clapped.

I walked away no longer wanting to escape the realities of life and the hell that we all are experiencing here. It's time to do whatever it takes to bring the grace and mercy and love of God to people who are experiencing the hell of this fallen creation. Maybe it's time for me to realize that even I cannot escape the difficulty of life...and maybe it's time for me to pour myself out...to embrace even the hell that I have to go through (because it is true that my life is not always easy and smooth and more often than not everything doesn't fall into place) so that I can better help those around me who are experiencing pain and suffering and sickness and difficult marriages and miscarriages and lost jobs and attempts at suicide. In the words of some good friends of mine, Jon and Angela... “oh for the new creation!”

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Don't Mess With Texas

Yeah. Here I am in Austin, TX. Went to Heidi's best friend Melissa's wedding yesterday. It was a fun time. They had the ceremony at this mansion...it was beautiful. And now today, we're going to go hang out downtown for the afternoon. It's been good to get away and relax a bit. Austin is such a cool city. Good food, good places to hang out, and lots of good friends (some new and some old).

The only downside to this trip is that Thrifty Rental Car decided it was necessary to give me a PT Cruiser for my rental car. Now, I mean no offense if you enjoy the PT Cruiser. I'm sure there are some out there who enjoy driving a car that looks like a new rendition of something that would have been driven in the 1930's. However, I do not like them, and I feel rather stupid driving it. When I took the airport shuttle to the Thrifty office, the salesman at the desk said, "You reserved an economy car, is the silver PT Cruiser sitting right there ok?" I looked at it. I looked at him. I looked back at the car. I looked at him again. And I said, "Actually, do you have anything else economy?" He looked back and me and said in his thick southern accent, "No, we just have the PT Cruiser." I replied, "Well that will have to do." So here I am driving the streets of one of the coolest city in the US in a freaking PT Cruiser.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

What a Glorious Day

Yes, friends, today was an excellent day. The forecast called for warm weather, so I decided to make today the inauguration of my new flip flops. See, last fall it was determined that my flip flops were about worn out. You could tell by the worn out leather and overall flatness of the sole. So, I made a trip to the mall and found the exact same pair on sale. But, knowing that snow was just around the corner, I hid them safely in our entry closet to await spring. And today was the day that I brought them out. So here's to a new season of warm weather and many nights of walking the streets of Grand Rapids in my wonderful flip flops.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

"The State of Things," or "It Wasn't Meant to Be This Way."

My heart is heavy. No other way to put it. I have seen the destruction that people can cause in the name of Christ. I have seen the result of manipulation and dishonesty. I have seen the result of too much control. I have seen the result of selfish motives. I have seen wolves in sheep's clothing. I have seen what seems like a good and spiritual and Godly thing result in heartbreak, anger, sadness, and hopelessness. I have seen a close family begin to be torn apart because of all of this. It makes me sick.

I found myself thinking about the state of things last night...both as a whole and the specific instance that I just mentioned...I found myself weeping. I haven't cried like that in a long time. The weight is too much to bear. And then when I got home, I lay down in bed next to my sleeping wife, and the tears flowed again. And then this morning in the car...again...and even as I type now, I can feel my throat swell and my eyes water. It wasn't supposed to be like this. There wasn't supposed to be pain and sickness and sorrow. There wasn't supposed to be ulterior motives and manipulation. There wasn't supposed to be suffering and hatred and inconsideration. It...was...not...meant...to...be...this...way.

And yet it is. What seemed like an innocent bite of fruit turned into this...mess. What seemed like an innocent comment turned into this hell. What seemed like an innocent action turned into this turmoil. Why, Eve, did you have to pick that fruit? Why did you have to be selfish? Why did you have to bring hell to this beautiful creation? It wasn't meant to be this way.

And yet it is. Day in and day out we continue to pick the fruit off of the tree and bite. And it tastes so sweet for a moment but turns sour when we chew and swallow. It is great to be applauded, it is great to be recognized...but fame and recognition are fleeting...and what is left? Prideful arrogance that screams, “I am God.” It wasn't meant to be this way.

And yet it is. Families are torn apart. Husbands try to start over. Wives get buried in the day-to-day routines of making ends meet. Children stay busy to keep their minds off of it. Friendships are burned to the ground. Eyes stay wide open into the wee hours of the night, staring at the plastic glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling. How did we get here? Where did we go wrong? It wasn't mean to be this way.

And yet it is. And even though I'm removed from the situation, I can feel the weight on my back. And it's slowing me down. It's making my breath short and my eyes bloodshot. It's making my head hurt. It's making my heart race. It's making me press on...because even though all hope seems to be lost...and it seems like I'm running out of steam...and it seems like it would be easier to give up and walk away, I can't. There is still a glimmer of hope for me...and I can see that same glimmer in others. It wasn't meant to be this way, and yet it is. But it won't be for long.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

The Sheer Beauty...

...of a brand new Macbook Pro. Tremendous I say, tremendous! And it arrived today via UPS. I started the process on February 7, and exactly one month later I have a brand new Macbook Pro in my hands. It cost me a total of $60.33.

You may have read a previous post of mine that stated I qualified for a Mac by signing up for trial offers. I deleted that post due to a change in the company's terms and conditions. I didn't want anything to get in the way of getting my mac, and I wasn't willing to take a chance on it. However, now that I have my Mac, I will paste that post below to bring any of you up to speed who may not have read it. Ultimately the company (Niutech) has changed their terms of service, rendering it impossible to get a Macbook Pro for so cheap. I'm glad I got mine in time!

And so, on March 7, 2007 I have entered the world of Mac.


Post from before...

The Best President's Day Ever

I never thought I'd have a reason to celebrate on President's Day...I mean it really seems like sort of a pointless holiday. I'm pretty sure a federal employee thought it up just to get a day off work. However, this year will be remembered by me for quite sometime. Not only was it warm enough to melt some snow and drive with my window down (albeit a short distance), but today I received a voucher for a free Macbook Pro! I can't tell you how excited I am.

My relationship with Mac goes back to high school. A good friend of mine named
Angela was always raving about Macs. Her dad was a Mac fan, and so was she. I, however, voiced my hatred for Mac and made sure to state my love for the PC. I'll be honest, I never really hated the Mac...I was just looking to cause trouble...but, with that said, I still had an affinity for a PC. It was a different time. I was young...and ignorant. Over the years, my eyes have been begun to open...and my soul has begun to be saved. I have slowly grown into a love affair with the Mac. I think it was when I first started to realize that there is an extremely artistic side of me, and that a PC just doesn't cut it for what I would like to do.

So, about a year ago I made a decision that I wanted a Mac. The only trouble was that I could not afford one. Then what I thought was the perfect opportunity arose. My
wife and I decided we needed to buy a new laptop because our computer was officially dead. I tried to talk her into a Mac, but it wasn't to be...she was blinded by the world of PC's, and we settled for an HP. Now, don't get me wrong, it's a nice computer, but I still had an empty spot in my heart that could only be filled by a Mac. It probably worked out for the better anyway because Macs tend to be more expensive than PC's, and we really couldn't afford (though I probably would have found some way to make it work).

Fast forward to February 7, 2007. I found out about one of those websites that I was certain was a scam. You know you've seen them...free Ipod, free 42" Plasma TV, free Trip for 2, free Airfare, free Vacuum, free Macbook Pro...what? Free Macbook Pro? Hmmm. Sounds interesting. All I had to do was sign up for 18 offers from their sponsors. Wait! 18! It's got to be a scam. Then my good friend
JR told me about some guy's blog that actually completed the offer and got a Macbook Pro. I spent about an hour on this guy's blog, and it turns out that there are countless others who have done the same.

So, I did what any red-blooded American who's stupid enough to use a credit card to sign up for trial offers from companies he's never heard of would do...I started working towards a free Macbook Pro. And, as of today, President's Day 2007, I received a voucher and a tax form for my free computer. I've had it notarized, and it is on it's way, and within 4-8 weeks, I will have my new Mac. All it took was about 15 hours of work (signing up for offers, canceling offers, etc.), $60.33, and a whole lot of patience. The latter of which I still must utilize because I'm waiting for my Mac to come in the mail.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Restore

The worship night this past weekend was, for me, excellent. If you were there, thanks for coming, I hope you were able to worship God. Here is what made it great for me. Going into it I was tired. A part of me wanted to go home and sleep, and had I not had the prior commitment of leading worship for a night of worship, I would have. But, I pressed on. Certainly I was excited to play with Carl, Justin, and Rick. I was also excited to hear Rick and his friend Mike open up the evening. When I took the stage, I had a lot going through my mind. I was concerned that the whole thing was too loud for some of the people there. We set it up more like a concert, lights down in the room, sound system louder than a Sunday morning, and if I’m being honest, I didn’t want to hear people say anything about it being too loud. Once we started playing, though, I just let it go. I just focused on singing to God, I forgot the crowd of people in front of me, and I really was in another realm.

It’s been awhile since I’ve just worshiped so freely…and, even though it was a refreshing evening of time with God, I felt like I could have given more. I felt like I was still holding on to some things that I needed to let go. I went to bed Saturday night feeling like I wasn’t giving everything that night. The good news is that on Sunday morning I got to lead worship again. The crowd was different, the sound wasn’t as loud, the lights were not completely off in the room. However, I let go of some other stuff that I needed to let go of the night before, and it was right. It was one of those worship times (both Saturday night and Sunday morning) that really clicked. Not because the crowd was really into it, or the band was really tight, or the sound was perfect…but because for a moment, I knew that I stood in the presence of God. For a moment, I knew that he triumphed over all of my fears…all of my cares…all of my short-comings…all of my sin. He’s bigger than me and my tired self. And for a moment on Saturday night and Sunday morning collectively, I knew that.

And then I walk away, go to meetings, reply to emails, make phone calls…and forget. I forget the words that he’s spoken to me. I forget the things he’s done for me…and I’m not just talking about dying (which if that’s all he ever did, he’s still worth it)…I’m talking about the times when cash has showed up in the mail when we were short on money to pay the bills…I’m talking about providing jobs for me when I needed them…I’m talking about keeping me extremely healthy so that I can keep the pace that I keep…I’m talking about giving me an incredible wife...an incredible family…incredible friends…I’m talking about trusting me to pastor people. I forget all of these things so often and get caught up in the difficulty of life…the pain, the suffering, the hunger, the depravity…and I’m overwhelmed. And yet, for some reason, I’ve been called to help bring people out of this hell that we’ve put ourselves in.

The depths are too deep…

The sorrow too thick…

The pain too intense…

The sadness too overwhelming…

The tears too quick…

The sin too much…

The sickness too crippling…

For me

Monday, February 26, 2007

Just Like That...

It's funny how plans change so quickly. We were gearing up for a youth group party at our house on Sunday night...everything was in place. I was ready to head to Spring Arbor on Monday afternoon with JR, then I get the call that my mom fell on ice and broker her hip. So here we are in Pigeon on a Monday morning getting ready to go hang out at the hospital.

Pray for her...quick recovery and that she's back at her normal life soon.

Much Love,
Jake

Thursday, February 22, 2007

"Lent Loopholes" or "It's Cool to Give Stuff Up for Forty Days"

First off, I want to thank my Thursday Morning Bible Study group for inspiring me to write about Lent today…especially Lauren. We’ve been meeting at the Byron Center McDonald’s at 6:30am every Thursday, and today we found out that they were giving free samples of iced mochas and vanilla lattes. This realization led to Lauren stating that for Lent she gave up chocolate, but she is allowing herself to drink hot chocolate, so if she could get a free sample of a hot mocha, that qualified as hot chocolate. This, in turn, led to a discussion on Lent Loopholes.

It seems to me that Lent is sort of en vogue. It’s the cool thing to do. Let’s not only give up something that we love for 40 days, but let’s make sure everyone knows how sacrificial we are being. Let’s call attention to ourselves and our spirituality. Or, at the very least, let’s make sure to follow our tradition of giving something up for Lent. Interestingly enough, Lent has evolved over time. In it’s beginning, the Church was very strict about the practice of Lent. It started as a fast from food. One meal was allowed per day, usually taken in the evening. By the fifteenth century, they started to allow the meal to be taken at noon with an allowance of another small meal during the evening.

It’s no surprise that today, we see Lent as a time to give up soda, chocolate, candy, or any other random thing that often times has no spiritual significance other than the discipline of giving up something you love. Lent was originally designed to prepare us to celebrate the resurrection of Christ (Easter), and instead we’ve made it a time of self-deprivation with no ties to God and Christ and Holy Spirit. We come off of our 40 days and say, “Look at my self-discipline and self-deprivation! I’ve done it! I’ve given up something I love, but Lent is over so I can now drink all the soda I want and eat all of the candy I want and I don’t know how I lived without chocolate, but I’m eating it right now and it tastes so good.” My question is how does this prepare us to celebrate Easter? How does this help us to draw closer to God? Isn’t that the point of fasting anyway? We remove something…traditionally food…from our routine, and we’re forced to rely on the Holy Spirit to fill that hunger.

A good friend of mine from across the country gave up masturbating for Lent this year (yes, I said it…he struggles with it…he’s working on it). I dare say that even giving up this grotesque act of self-fulfillment can become nothing more than a practice of more self-fulfillment. One of the things he said to me is, “they say 21 days of something makes it a habit…I’m hoping at the end of forty, I’ll never have the urge to masturbate again…it will be a habit not to do it.” This is fine thinking, and I’m sure there’s some truth to it. However, if he’s merely stopping masturbating in order to form a habit of not masturbating, is it really worth it? I think there’s deeper issues at hand. Issues of self-gratification, self-worship, self-fulfillment, disobedience to God, unfaithfulness to his wife…the list goes on. And the sad thing is that forming this non-habit based solely on self-discipline and self-deprivation only leads to more focus on self and is no more significant than giving up soda or candy or chocolate. Additionally, I dare say that it’s only a matter of time before he’s masturbating again, which is no different than someone who gives up soda or candy…as soon as Easter hits, we’re letting the Dr. Pepper and Cadbury Cream Eggs flow freely.

And so, Lent has become something where we practice self-discipline and self-deprivation, and in order to make it easier on ourselves while still appearing somewhat holy, we give up chocolate, but not hot chocolate…soda, but not energy drinks (that are laced with sugar and caffeine)…or, as I did a few years ago, give up listening to the radio on the way to work so that I can spend that time with God, but then justify listening to talk radio because it’s not the typical trashy music that I normally hear. Yes, we like to soften the blow of giving something up. Jesus talked some about fasting in Matthew 6, right in between talk on giving to the poor, prayer, and worshipping God, he says this…

“When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God, don't make a production out of it. It might turn you into a small-time celebrity but it won't make you a saint. If you 'go into training' inwardly, act normal outwardly. Shampoo and comb your hair, brush your teeth, wash your face. God doesn't require attention-getting devices. He won't overlook what you are doing; he'll reward you well.”

So, to you Thursday Morning Bible Studiers, don’t take any of this personally…I admire you for giving up some things that are very important to you. But for Christ’s sake (and yours’ for that matter) make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. Get rid of as much self as you can, so that as much of God as possible can fill those places that you’ve emptied. I know you all well enough to know that you have a genuine hunger to live the way Christ would like you to live. Hold each other accountable to not just the act of fasting, but to the reason behind the fast. What if, by the end of this Lent season, we were all more in tune with what God wants for us? What if, by the end of this Lent season, we were all a little bit more like Christ? What if, by the end of this Lent season, we could truly celebrate the resurrection of our Lord because we know that a little bit of ourselves has died, and Christ lives in it’s place?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

My First Valentine's Day at a Strip Club



Yeah, that's right. The day of love this year wasn't celebrated on a romantic date with my wife. Instead, we went to all five strip clubs in our wonderful city of Grand Rapids. I didn't actually go inside any clubs, but Heidi did. See, we came up with the idea to give flowers to all of the exotic dancers in town on Valentine's Day.
I've had a few different jobs over the past few years, and some of those jobs involved managing apartment complexes. You meet a lot of different types of people when you work in the apartment business, and I had the privelage of meeting no less than three strippers throughout my time in the apartment biz. Each one was very different. There were two that were lesbians and fit the party mentality pretty well. They were constantly getting high and wasted. They would wear clothes that you might expect a stripper to wear...I remember one of them had a shirt that said, "I stop traffic." The other one that I knew didn't really like people to know what she did. She had two children, she was soft spoken, and pretended like she had it all together. Once I was talking to her, though, and you could see this look in her eyes that said she wished she could do something else, but didn't know how to make the money she would need to in order to provide for her children. I also knew a few of the servers at one of the strip clubs here in town. They were very nice girls, and when they found out I had never been in a strip club, they were blown away. To my surprise, they didn't seem to think I was a prude, but they seemed to have more respect for me. So, all of this led me to do an outreach to the strippers of Grand Rapids.

A team of seven women from our church came together, we travelled to all of the strip clubs in GR, and went inside to give them flowers. When the night was over, we had about 20-30 roses left over, so we stopped by Mel Trotter to give the rest to the women in the homeless shelter and rehab program. I think it was good for the ladies from our church to get outside of their comfort zones and go into a place that is dark. On that note, it's good for us as Christians to go places where we are pushed out of comfort and into the unknown...where we have to rely on God as opposed to choosing to when it's convenient. It's good to go to the people that the Church is currently not reaching...to go to the place where they are at...to show Christ's love...to reach out. The Gospel of Christ reaches into the depths of our hearts, no matter where we stand.

So, five strip clubs, one homeless shelter/rehab clinic, and 60 roses later, we all went our seperate ways having more compassion for those who are not like us.


Oh, and on Friday I took my wife to Via Maria in Holland to give her the Valentine's Day she deserved.

Peace,
Jake

Saturday, January 27, 2007

beautiful

admirable, alluring, angelic, appealing, beauteous, charming, classy, comely, dazzling, delightful, divine, elegant, enticing, excellent, exquisite, fair, fascinating, fine, gorgeous, graceful, grand, ideal, lovely, magnificent, marvelous, nice, pleasing, pretty, radiant, ravishing, refined, resplendent, sightly, splendid, stunning, sublime, superb, taking, wonderful...and yet, somehow this just doesn't sum You up.

words are falling short tonight
words are falling short
tears are flowing free tonight
tears are flowing free
pain is running deep tonight
pain is running deep
sorrow is overwhelming tonight
sorrow is overwhelming
burdens are made light tonight
burdens are made light
rest is coming quickly tonight
rest is...

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Long Day

It was a long day...but a good day all in all. Worship gathering at Origins was great today...I don't know if anyone else felt it, but I felt like I connected with God as I led worship. I hope others did, too.

Funeral for our friend's father/grandpa. This was hard. I didn't really know the guy, but it makes me think about having to bury my own grandparents probably within the next 10-15 years. I'm not looking forward to this at all. It's going to be hard.

Then tonight we took our youth group over to a big church in GR where David Crowder Band led worship. It was great to sit in the crowd and worship...even though my view was of David Crowder's posterior.

This week is shaping up to be a good one. Sermon prep for Sunday, Thursday morning discussion at McD's, lunch with Nathan, and meeting with Trygve.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Put Down Your Sword

Staring into the eyes
Of adversaries strong
Fearful shivers, strained breath
Knee-jerk reactions to keep
My world safe from harm's way
Protect, shelter, preserve
At all cost, at all cost
Sword drawn in anxious
Anticipation of the brawl to come
Blood shed, lives lost
Brokenness ensues
And in an instant, with
A miraculous touch
The ear is back, wholeness
Put down your sword

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

New

I love the new year. I love starting over. There's something so fresh about beginning again. Even though the reality of it is that life continues just as it has in the previous twelve months, there's something magical about waking up and turning the calendar to a new year. It's as if all that has happened so far pales in the light of what's going to happen in the future. It's as if you can smell spring coming...even though it's the middle of winter. The days are getting longer. The sun hangs out a little bit later. Even the crispness of the frost on the grass in the morning seems to speak words of rejuvenation. As I stepped outside this morning and inhaled the cold air, it was life-giving. The coolness came rushing through my nostrils and through my mouth...I could taste newness in the air...it came pouring through my windpipe...exhilarating...it flooded my lungs and overwhelmed my senses. It's hard to explain, but I felt alive again...not that I was dead before, but it just felt refreshing and restoring and...new. We toast to newness and life and joy and peace and hope. We raise our glass to the possibilities of what is to come. May this new year truly be new.