All of Creation Groans

All of Creation Groans

I began the first day of a new year began like most days around the holidays: sleeping in. My self-employment afforded me the benefit of sitting around in my sweatpants all day, watching Netflix with my family, chipping away here and there at a project for a client.

I was shutting things down shortly after midnight when I ran across an article that a friend has posted on Facebook. The headline got to me; I could go no further.

20-year-old UNT student shot in head.

“What is wrong with the world?” I found myself asking out loud. It’s a question I’ve been asking more and more these days.

I would later sift through the grisly details, to find that the drive-by shooting had taken the life of this seemingly innocent young woman, a college student in a town not far from my parent’s house in Texas.

I was in Baltimore a few weeks ago, driving through the neighborhood that was at the center of the riots earlier this year, when a simple sign on the front porch of a row home brought tears to my eyes. In large letters, it simply stated: We need to stop killing each other.

I’ve been losing hope for the past month with every headline. “When will we learn to love?” I ask myself. “When will we stop hurting each other?” And it’s not just senseless violence; we hurt each other in so many ways. Not always intentionally, but it’s been several thousand years and we still haven’t quite figured out how to be human.

I think I am beginning to understand what the Scriptures say when they tell us, “All of creation groans.” Even if we are not aware of it, the rocks and trees and birds recognize that something has gone terribly wrong with the world. How much more should we ache for things to be made right?

I don’t know what to do with all the things the eyes of my heart cannot un-see. But I don’t want my lack of answers to scare me into hiding. I don’t want to catch myself longing to be removed from the world; rather, I want to enter into it more fully. I want to feel the pain and the heartache and the angst of creation; I want to come alongside of it and echo its groan with the groan of my own heart. I want to taste the sting of death so I will be able to glory in the beauty of resurrection. I am not talking about physical death or resurrection, but the death and resurrection we all go through in our lives. It almost seems as if life is but a series of cycles of death and resurrection. Perhaps this is why the creation that doesn’t hide its groan goes through cycles of death and resurrection each year with the changing of the seasons.

If creation is groaning, I find it necessary to ask the age-old question of “Why?” In Romans 8, as Paul reveals to us this reality, he also tells us that creation is groaning because it is waiting for the sons and daughters of God to be revealed (v. 19). He then goes on to say that it isn’t just creation that is groaning, but we also are entering into this groan as well (v. 23).

Creation is groaning as it waits for us to step into the reality of what we will someday be. We aren’t always aware of this, because we tend to fill our lives with so much noise that we drown out the groan. This is why silence is so unnerving to some; if they get still for long enough, they just might hear the groan of creation, and that groan might mess with them, it might stir them up, it might cause an ache in their heart so big that they begin to groan themselves.

I still have hope in the midst of all of this, as did Paul, because I know that we were good before we were bad. What I mean by this is we were made in the image of God, and original goodness predates original sin. I also know that Jesus is restoring to us the life we’ve lost, that He is re-setting a humanity gone mad with sin and violence and a whole manner of death-filled pursuits. The great rescue mission is underway, and the little pieces we say breaking in to this present age are but the tip of the iceberg. God is making all things new, right in the middle of this messy and broken world where all we can do is groan at times.

We like verses like Romans 8:28 that tell us God works everything together for good for those that love Him, but sometimes, in the middle of cutting these versus out and putting them on our refrigerators, we forget the whole slew of verses leading up to that one about suffering and madness and the rocks, trees, and even the cute little bunnies coming alongside of us and joining us in our groan. We forget the present sufferings that must be entered in to before we can catch a taste of the future glory that is ours in Christ. I like how Paul does that, how he tells it like it is and lays it all out there before he paints a picture of beauty as our God comes to the rescue. We want to be rescued from our circumstances, but God instead rescues us through them.

And then, in Verse 31, Paul so plainly asks, “What, then, shall we say in response to these things?” Because the temptation is to shut down, to become numb, to drown out the groaning with whatever we can find. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Paul goes on to ask. And I like the question mark there, because this is a question, a thought to ponder, before it is a proclamation of victory. Before this statement was a post-game response by a surface-level Christian on the football field, it was foremost a question. Because when we are in the middle of our groaning, the idea that God is for us and no one else can stand against us is first a question before it is a proclamation. It is something we must wrestle with until we feel it deep down in our guts, because only then can we boldly proclaim from the depths of our hearts that God is for us and no power can stand against us.

By the time he makes it to Verse 37 of his letter, though his original letter had no verses to number it but was instead the Spirit-inspired thoughts of a man who wasn’t afraid to bleed, Paul is moving from questions to proclamations, each one more bold than the last.

“No, in all these things we are more than conquers through him who loved us!” he proclaims, a bit edgier than he was a few verses before. And he could have just left it there, but he didn’t, because he allowed himself to feel the groan and plunge the depths of his own despair until he tapped into a well of life hidden from the wise and religious. There is a depth of knowledge that comes not through intellectual study and reason, but through suffering, and only those who groan can access it.

He could have just said that nothing can separate us from the love of God, but he instead launches into a monologue, each statement a bit ballsier than the last. “Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord,” Paul writes, and he goes on to elaborate: no taste of death, nothing we experience in this present life, no angel, no demon, nothing in this present mess or the not-so-certain future, no cosmic powers, no height nor depth (as if we even know what that means), will be able to separate us from the love of God. And, as if that is not enough, he concludes his monologue by tacking on “nor anything else in all creation,” just in case he missed something in the previous list.

We are groaning. All of creation is groaning. But nothing in this mad, mad world can separate us from the love found in Christ, a love that captivates our hearts and fills us with hope for humanity—for the ones that God called “very good” back before the groaning began.

We Won't Be Shaken

We Won’t Be Shaken?

There’s a popular phrase people of faith like to use when life gets hard.

We won’t be shaken.

We make t-shirts, write songs, preach sermons, and update our Facebook statuses with this catchy truth. The only problem is, what if it’s not true?

I was listening to a song with this lyric on a run one time, when it hit me: We can’t really say we won’t ever be shaken.

Because what if you are?

What if, even with God in your life, something happens that shakes you to the core? What if you lose the things that matter most to you? What if you reach rock bottom and are hit with the stark realization that you can still fall?

I think this happened to a guy in the Bible once.

And we don’t like this, because we like to think that when we invite God into our stories He brings a giant Walmart happy face sticker and slaps it on our faces, so we’re still smiling no matter what happens.

Yes, God is our strength, but that doesn’t mean He insulates us from pain. It doesn’t mean that He helps us muster up enough willpower to refuse to be shaken by anything life throws at us. Rather, it means that at our weakest point, when life has chewed us up and spit us out, He enters into our pain and gives us the courage to get up and give it another shot. He is always with us … even when we’re being shaken.

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Georgia On My Mind

Fresh Peaches
Endless Highways
Big Cites
Small Towns
Golden Skies
Towering Pines
Day Fades to Dark as Moss Leans Toward the Earth from Every Branch
Warm Summer Nights just North of the Florida Line
Drops of Water Hanging in the Air as These Thoughts Crowd Your Mind
You Can’t Get Away, Even if You Tried
We’re in the City, but the Stars Still Shine Bright
… And I’ve Got Georgia On My Mind

Jared Stump
August 20, 2015
Valdosta, GA

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It was one year later—one year since I left my life in Texas behind for Pennsylvania; one year since I moved to the ghetto. Here I was, one year later, leaving my life behind once again. Like last time, it’s a change for the better, but the uncertainty still gets me.

It didn’t become real until I began packing. As the hundred-year-old hardwood floors of my room became more and more visible, the knot in my chest began grow. This is real; there is no turning back.

I left the house Saturday morning, making the rounds and saying my good-byes. I was only saying good-bye for now, not good-bye for ever, but it was still hard. I had coffee with my friend, Kelsey, at the Starbucks where she worked, then drove back to Allison Hill. I passed my house and turned onto Market Street, pulling into the parking lot of a church moments later. As I was approaching the building in search of the pastor, Ricardo, another guy approached me. His name was Nathan. He was the worship leader at the church, and he told me he lived in Syracuse, New York, some four hours away. I left wondering why Nathan would drive from Syracuse every week to lead worship at this little church in the hood of Harrisburg, but then I remembered that Pastor Ricardo had moved here from Syracuse. You can leave, but you can’t run from your most loyal friends, because they may leave with you, which is how I ended up in Harrisburg in the first place. And then there are the ones like Nathan, who don’t leave, but get in their cars each week and drive to wherever you are, laying down their lives so they can be a part of yours.

I left Ricardo’s church and drove to another friend’s church on State Street, just a few blocks away. John’s congregation had just bought the blighted building and were restoring it to its former turn-of-the-century glory. This was there work day, and I was amazed to see how much progress they had made since I had last been there five days before. We have to restore the Church before we can restore the city, but that doesn’t mean we have to get out of town and come back when we have our act together. Rather, we should go ahead and move into the neighborhood; we should throw down some roots and begin to figure things out from there.

I left Allison Hill and drove across town, to the house Kelsey shared with Courtney to say good-bye to her as well. We sat in their living room for hours and talked about Jesus, and how we don’t always see Him in the church because we’re too busy focusing on our own self-interests.

I left Courtney’s house in Uptown, and that was when the nostalgia really began. I turned onto Green Street at it’s far northern terminus, up past Italian Lake, next to the Interstate. I began driving south, toward the heart of the city. I drove past the governor’s mansion and the house I had considered buying, back when I was considering making my move to the city permanent. I drove past my friend’s house and another friend’s house and past the coffee house I’ve been to upwards of fifty times in the past year. I passed another friend’s house as Uptown began to give way to Midtown. As I crossed the intersection where Green Streets meets Verbeke, I looked to my left and saw the sign marking the Broad Street Market. I had only visited once, but seeing that sign took me back to that August day when I first moved to Harrisburg.

I remembered the anticipation that had built up after spending the night in the suburbs. The light of day would reveal the city I would call my home for the next year, the city I had never laid eyes on before. I remember seeing the city for the first time; I remember the way it captured my heart in a moment. It has yet to let go. I remember crossing the mile-wide river and looking toward the skyline; it was much bigger than I thought it would be. I remember driving these same streets, these streets that have become so familiar; they were foreign back then.

I crossed Forster, within a few blocks of the southern terminus of Green Street. The two-mile drive had taken much longer than it would had I gone two blocks west to Front Street, which ran along the river. Green Street had stop signs at nearly every intersection, but it was a street that I had such a rich history with, a street that had shaped me. The towering dome of the Catholic church came into view above the row houses, as I turned right onto North Street, where Green Street came to an end. I noticed they were having a block party in the parking lot. Funny, the two churches I had visited hours earlier were having parties that day as well, and so was the Lutheran church that sat between them on the Hill. Sometimes, we think we’re the only church doing things in the city, when there are all these other churches doing the same thing at that exact moment.

I turned left a few blocks later when my new street of choice ended at the river. As I drove down Front Street, I noticed a small crowd gathered at Riverfront Park, along the banks of the Susquehanna. The first thing I saw was a man holding a sign that read, “Repent, judgment day is coming!” He did not look very happy. It seemed a bit random to me, until I saw the larger sign behind him. Oh yeah, today is the Central PA Pride Festival. With same sex-marriage now legal nationwide, the tension between the Church and the homosexual community had unnecessarily escalated.

I turned left onto Market Street, shifting my eyes away from another example of the Church’s failure to love like Christ. Jesus never held up signs telling people they were in danger of judgment, though this was a stark reality. Instead, He entered their lives, entered their pain, and was very honest with them about the path they were walking down. The difference was, He made sure they knew He loved them first. He didn’t just say He loved them; He actually demonstrated it before their eyes.

I crossed the boundary of Allison Hill. Waiting at a red traffic signal a few blocks from my house, I suddenly heard a person shouting into the silence. The noise startled me as I frantically looked about, trying to figure out where it was coming from. Fifteen seconds later, I noticed the street preacher in the neighborhood square. This one didn’t carry a sign, but something worse—a microphone. The content of his message was a lot less angry, but it was his tone that got me. As the signal turned green and I drove away, I heard him say, “Who can we trust in this world but God?”, referring to the people in this life that will leave us high and dry. His message was true—it was even good—but his tone was so abrasive, so rigid, so unlike everything I know God to be.

I began to think, He has a lot more courage than me. I don’t think I would stand on a street corner and preach like that. But then, I realized that perhaps that is a good thing. The leaders of the early church would stand up and preach on street corners. Their messages were often a bit provocative. They told the truth about the human condition, but a reading of Acts reveals that they typically did this in response to what God was already doing. Kind of like Jesus, who gave people an encounter with Love and Life before He told them that they were not on the path toward it. It’s a lot more effective to paint a picture of what someone’s life could look like if they sought a new path, rather than appearing out of thin air and telling them they’re doing it all wrong.

Perhaps the street preachers aren’t the ones with the courage at all. Perhaps the courage is those who remain remain quiet, who stay in the margins until the right opportunities present themselves. What I mean by this is it takes a lot more courage to trust God than it does to take matters into your own hands. It takes faith to wait for that perfect moment when hearts are tuned to hear the message that will wreck their lives forever, in the best way possible. Our message is certainly a message that will wreck lives—either for better or for worse. Which one are you displaying to the world around you?

Jared Stump
July 28, 2015
Selinsgrove, PA


Project Spotlight: Chronicles EP

Project Spotlight: Chronicles EP


We were honored to partner with Colorado-based songwriter and worship leader Grace Stailey for her first project, a 7-song EP composed entirely of original songs.

We first met Grace in June of 2014 on a missions trip across the Western Mountain Region of the United States. We first heard her lead worship in Salt Lake City, and were impressed by her voice and stage presence. Grace went on to lead worship at several of our gatherings as we traveled through the mountains. In Greeley, Colorado, she wrote the song Come Awake, while on a run through heart of the city. It made its debut that night at a local coffee house, and went on to appear as the second track on her EP.


As we traveled, several people asked Grace if she had any plans to record, and as we entered the Pacific Northwest, we began to discuss what her first album might look like. At the time, Grace was planning on recording a few songs at home, burning them to CD’s, labeling them with permanent markers, and giving copies to those who had helped sponsor her trip. We immediately knew she needed to shoot for something greater than that.

A few weeks later, we signed a contract to produce a 5-song EP, dubbed Chronicles, at a bakery on Colorado’s Front Range. Recording began shortly thereafter, at Grace’s home in Fort Collins. Two new songs were added, and by September, Chronicles had evolved into a hybrid of an EP and debut album. This is not a traditional means of releasing music, but we’re pretty fond of breaking the mold around here.


After the recording was finished, the project hit a few bumps in the road, but we pushed through, not unlike the original pioneers who crossed the mountains some two hundred years ago. Our friend Buster in Texas mixed and mastered the tracks, and additional guitars were recorded at a church in Dallas. We put the finishing touches on the album as fall turned into winter, with the first shipment of Chronicles arriving in the mail for a February 1, 2015 release.

This album is a glimpse into my journey of discovering who God is as my creator and friend. I have found that we come alive when we lean into the faithfulness of God, as David did when he brought the ark of the covenant into the temple in 1 Chronicles 16. Our history with God begins when we allow His presence into our lives, which frees us to become who we were truly created to be. ~ Grace Stailey

One of the most unique aspects of this project is the album art. The CD sleeve features two of Grace’s watercolors, painted specifically for the album. The front of the sleeve features an abstract watercolor with a headshot blended in to create a truly original and artistic image.

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The back of the sleeve, which was originally created to be the front, features another of Grace’s watercolor paintings. This same image is repeated on the on-disc imprint, making it a prominent part of this project. Grace also designed the shadowbox that sets off the track listing. We added the Made in Colorado stamp to the lower left corner as a tribute to her home state.


Sleeve ECO

People of the Cross

People of the Cross

People of the Cross: a late night reflection

I remember around this time last year, when I first learned that ISIS was beheading Christians. I was in the process of moving from Texas to Pennsylvania, and we were at a gas station outside of Knoxville when my dad returned from inside. He stood there, outside my car, and he told me that people were losing their heads because they confessed Christ. I wasn’t the same after that. I would sit up late at night, staring at the walls of my new house, and I just couldn’t make sense of it. I would read the articles and look at the pictures and cry nearly every day, but I couldn’t seem to wrap my mind around the fact that this was actually happening.

Fast forward a year. There is still no peace in the Middle East, but it dominates the headlines less and less these days. I sometimes go days, even weeks, without thinking about it. And this bothers me. Because even when I can’t get my mind around, I want these things to be in my mind, and in my heart too, you know. I don’t want to ever forget these things, even when I feel totally weak and helpless and am still trying to make sense of my own life.

It’s summer now, but I remember back in February of this year, when it was so cold in Pennsylvania that the wind chill reached negative sixteen. I was working outside that week, and I got a sinus infection as a result, but I kept plowing ahead as best I could. I remember one night, when I crawled into my warm bed after a long day of work, and I couldn’t help but think of those spending the night on the streets of my city. I was sick, but at least I was safe, sheltered from the arctic air of the Great Northeast. And I thought of the group of Egyptian Coptic Christians who had recently been killed for their faith. I thought of how they died singing on that beach, and as I lay there on my bed I heard myself say aloud, “God, I want to love You like that!”

We are all people of the cross, but we certainly do not live the same day-to-day experiences.


Perspective on the Baltimore Riots

Like most people across America, I am deeply saddened by what is taking place in Baltimore right now. I have been asked to give my opinion several times, and to be honest, I don’t really have one. There are a lot of things running through my mind, but I have more questions than answers.

I am a white male in my 20’s. I grew up in the suburbs, and currently live in a low-income, urban neighborhood where I am a minority. I am a little more than an hour drive from Baltimore City, and while I have been there several times, I am not familiar with the inner-workings of the city.

One of the things that bothers me, perhaps even more than the riots themselves, is that many people on the Internet appear to suddenly be experts on the situation. There are a few of them that I’d like to stop and ask, “Have you even been to Baltimore?” Because if you’re not right there in the middle of the situation, can you really speak to what is taking place there? You may have some good thoughts, but even those are likely based on the very limited information you have.

I am one with limited information myself, but I’d like to share a few things I have observed over the past several months, with more and more incidents like Baltimore making their way into the headlines. My goal here is not to prove a point, but to offer perspective in an age where most of what we hear on the news is one extreme or the other.

  • Racism Still Exists in 2015

I am good friends with an African-American family of six that lives in the Midwest. They are your typical hard-working, God-fearing, respectable, middle-class family. The only difference between them and anyone else in their small town community is the color of their skin.

One morning, they awoke to find that their vehicle had been tagged with several choice words and racial slurs. The individuals who were responsible for this were later caught. As it turned out, they were students who went to school with two of the boys from this family.

Both the husband and wife have had to endure countless racist remarks, and have even been openly discriminated against in their places of employment. Yes, in 2015.

  • Sometimes, Angry People are Simply Looking for a Voice

It’s easy to divide people into categories, because if we label them, we can distance ourselves from them. But what there are no “angry people?” What if there are just people?

I have not met very many people who are angry over nothing. Sure, it may appear that way on the surface, but there is always more going on behind the scenes. For many people, their outbursts of anger are the result of deeply-held pain and anguish.

If I were black, it would probably bother me to hear people say things like, “It’s 2015, get over it already!” when I know very well that systemic racism still exists. It would probably bother me to hear people say, “But he was a criminal!” when an unarmed black man is shot and killed by the police. If this were to happen repeatedly, I would probably grow to be quite angry. Sure, I may not have the best perspective on the issue, but I would definitely feel a lot of raw and troubling emotions.

If this were me, I would probably take part in a peaceful protest in the streets. If the result of this decision was upper-middle-class white people harshly telling me to, “Go get a job and get over it!” I would likely get very emotional, and those emotions might get the best of me.

I doubt most people involved in the Baltimore riots took to the streets with the intention of hurting people and damaging property. Some may have, but the most likely did not. Still, in the heat of the moment, some of them may have resorted to some less peaceful methods of making their voice heard.

If I felt like I had no voice, I would probably yell and scream and do all sorts of things, if for nothing more to prove that I am human and my voice matters. If I crossed the line and engaged in some actions that I would later grow to regret, I would hope that people would try to understand my point of view, rather than writing me off and pushing me away. I would hope that people—Christians, especially—would build bridges of peace toward me, rather than spew words of hate.

  • We’re All Guilty

In the midst of the violence, President Obama stated, “That is not a protest … they need to be treated as criminals.”

While I do believe that people should be held responsibly for their actions, I don’t think that locking up everyone who participated in the looting and vandalism will keep this from happening again soon. I am not saying they should be given a free pass, but that we should be addressing the actual root of the problem, not just the fruit of it. We should be asking ourselves, “Why are these people acting the way that they are?”, rather than labeling them from a safe distance.

Jesus’ death and resurrection changed the way we relate to God. No longer are we given a rigid law to follow. Instead, God addresses the thoughts and intentions of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12). In other words, He looks at our inward motives, not just our outward actions.

If a criminal is defined as one who breaks the law, than anyone who exceeds the speed limit is also a criminal. That means I am a criminal, and you likely are too. I have engaged in criminal activity today, both intentionally and inadvertently. Obviously, different behaviors carry different consequences, but if we are going to live by the letter of the law, we have to go all the way with it.

We’re all guilty, and we all stand in need of mercy. The more we realize this, the more merciful we should be to others in response.

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. … judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. ~ James 2:10, 13

Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday

The in-between of all-in betweens
Nestled between the tears of Good Friday
The rejoicing of Easter Sunday
Christ is dead
Christ is buried
The cry that He is risen has not come
Stumbling in darkness
Hiding in shadows
We thought this was the One
Let us pause there
For that is how it ended this day
The joy of Sunday had been promised
Yet it seemed far off
A chasing after the wind
To believe in what has happened is one thing
To believe when you have not seen is another
So let us wrestle with the in-between
Let us not be afraid to face our fears and pain
And as we do let us reflect
On the day Christ was dead
May His death not be in vain

a poem by Jared Stump
Bozeman, Montana


The Way of Love

The Way of Love
A Palm Sunday Meditation

The same crowd that shouted “Hosanna!” when Jesus entered Jerusalem at the beginning of the week shouted “Crucify Him!” by the end of the week.

You cannot let the fickle crowd of humanity tell you who you are, because the crowd is easily swayed by what you have to offer them. But the love of God is extended without partiality to the weak and the strong, the rich and the poor, the clean and the dirty — all who will open up their hearts to receive it.

When you open your heart to God, when you allow Him to become to only voice that can define who you are, that is when you begin the journey to becoming your true self, the you that was made in the image of God, free from the power of sin and death. And there is another crowd, the Great Cloud of Witnesses, who have walked this road before you, who are cheering you on as you step into who you really are, who you have always been.

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has set you free from the voice of the crowd, so that you can listen to the voice of the Father and be introduced to your true self. All of creation is longing for the sons and daughters of God to discover and walk in who they already are, agents of love and life in a world bound by sin and death.

Though the crowd turned on Him, Jesus still made the journey to the cross for them. He died for each of us personally, those who would come and those who would let fear keep them away. At the root of all that keeps us from God we find fear, because to come to Him, to call Him Lord, requires us to give up our own lordship and control of our lives, so that we might walk in The Way of Love.

The Way of Love is the way that Jesus walked when He went to the cross for the crowd, for the serial killer, for the rapist, for the terrorist. It’s the way that we are invited to walk when we give up our rights and love those who will betray us. The Way of Love beckons us to extend grace and forgiveness to those who least deserve it, that we might become like our Father in Heaven. To walk in this way is to become your true self, to recapture the image of God that was lost at the fall of man but made available to us again through the resurrection and ascension of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

All of creation is longing for you to discover The Way of Love, which has been hidden from the wise and the highly educated who trust in what they know and comprehend, and has instead been revealed to those who can become the most like children. The counter-intuitive ways of the Kingdom don’t make sense to those who rely on logic, but nothing is too good to be true to those who possess faith like a child.

Welcome to Holy Week. Welcome to the dawn of The Way of Love.