Saturday, February 2, 2019

On Point

by Andrew Cromwell

When you are setting a course for a long journey, a few degrees off-course can be the difference between Hawaii and Taiwan. It is critical to stay on course and on point if you want to get somewhere specific. The farther you have to go, the more important it is to stay “on point”. Pilots know that one degree off between Los Angeles and New York means you’re as likely to end up in Scranton or Philadelphia instead.

Similarly, in the course of life, a few degrees can be the difference between success and failure. One degree off — one little white lie, one careless financial decision, or one flirtatious glance — may not be a big deal today, but uncorrected, those small errors in judgment can result in lost jobs, mountains of debt, and ugly divorces.

By definition “on point” means “relevant and appropriate to what is happening or being discussed”. When I think of staying on point, I think of how easy it is to get off point! At our staff meetings, we frequently find ourselves off-topic and wonder how it is that we arrived at this severely “off-point” location. We then have to course-correct and get back on topic.

Isn’t life like that? We head out in one direction — we determine to do it right, stay on track, make good decisions, and not make the same mistakes we made last year — but before you know it, we find ourselves far from where we meant to be.

The Apostle Paul reminds us to “give attention to your spiritual life.” In other words, stay on point! It is so easy to drift off course and get distracted. We quickly forget that there is a spiritual world underneath the things we can see with our eyes. And before you know it we ignore the very part of us that is eternal (our spirit).

Paul goes on to say that if we stay close to the truth, we will experience a kind of life that is transformative and powerful both for us and for the people around us. That’s the kind of life I want! And I’m guessing it’s the kind you want too. But in order to experience it, we’re going to have to pay attention and make sure we stay on point.

Do you need to get back on point? Maybe you’ve been meaning to get things right with God for a while but just haven’t seemed to get around to it. Or maybe, you’ve never even tried. I want to see you find real success in life — the kind that echoes into eternity.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Need Some Reassurance?

by Sylvia Gaston

2019. It’s a new year and a great time to reflect on last year and plot a course moving forward. Without setting goals, the likelihood of forward progress is slim. As I set goals for myself, I reflect on the following pieces and parts:

·     Spiritual – Is my relationship with Jesus getting deeper? Do I know Him better? Am       I on the path that He has set for my life?
·     Physical – What do I need to do to be healthier this year?
·     Professional – What can I do to improve my effectiveness at work? How can I help my company/organization reach its goals?
·     Financial – Am I spending and saving my money as I should?
·     Emotional – Are there relationships that I need to work on? Are there things I need to focus on to be more emotionally mature?
·     Intellectual – As a lifelong learner, what can I do to keep my mind sharp? Are there new skills I need or want to acquire?

Remember to not set too many goals. Success is more likely if you just choose one or two things and remain focused on them throughout the year.

As I was exploring what the Bible says about moving forward, I was drawn to the story of Joshua. Most of us have seen some version of the movie - The Ten Commandments - the story of how Moses led the freed nation of Israel from slavery to the land God has promised them. Moses has died and Joshua must fill some very large shoes as his successor. God, in His infinite compassion, assures Joshua that He is still with them.

God tells Joshua, “’Moses my servant, is dead. Therefore, the time has come for you to lead these people, the Israelites, across the Jordan River into the land I am giving them.  I promise you what I promised Moses: ‘Wherever you set foot, you will be on land I have given you…No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you.’”

And as the Israelites moved toward the promised land, they followed the Ark of the Covenant – a brilliant and beautiful chest that contained the stone tablets of God’s ten commandments and other sacred items.

The Lord told Joshua, “Today I will begin to make you a great leader in the eyes of all the Israelites. They will know that I am with you, just as I was with Moses. Give this command to the priests who carry the Ark of the Covenant: ‘When you reach the banks of the Jordan River, take a few steps into the river and stop there.’” –Joshua 3:7-8

God gives Joshua specific instructions so that the people can easily and safely cross over into the land that He has promised them.

So, “Joshua told the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.’” –Joshua 3:5.  Consecrate means: to make or declare sacred; to devote or dedicate to some purpose. Joshua tells his countrymen to prepare themselves and that they are going to see the amazing things God is going to do.

What I love about this narrative is the reassurance God gives to this newly appointed leader, Joshua. Can you imagine the uneasiness Joshua must have felt moving forward? He was being entrusted to lead the nation that had followed Moses for decades and had witnessed the miracles God previously performed through him. God reassures Joshua that He is still with him and that He will demonstrate that fact to the Israelites and to the other nations watching.

The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground. –Joshua 3:17

God performed a miracle similar to the one that had previously brought about their freedom (remember the parting of the Red Sea?) by halting the Jordan, a river at high flow, to giving them dry passage. Amazing!

Are you in a place where you need reassurance to move forward? Do you need to know that God is still with you in 2019? You need only ask Him. The God Who created the universe is just waiting to hear from you! 

Take another look at those different areas of your life! Pick one or two goals you’d really benefit from. Then move forward with the reassurance that God loves you, He has a plan for you, and He is ready to lead you just as He led Moses and Joshua – showing you AMAZING things that He will do!

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Are You Listening?

by Tim Howard

My wife and I were out to breakfast not too long ago and the waitress who came to our table was bubbly, vibrant and very friendly. After a few moments of exchanging pleasantries, she asked us if we wanted some coffee and what we would like to order. Since I was hungry, I began to rattle of a list of several things. Midway through my request she interrupted me and said: “ I’m sorry, could you start again, I wasn’t practicing active listening.”

I can’t begin to tell you how hard the three of us laughed. I had never heard anyone say that out loud! A person may not be listening but he or she doesn’t outright say it to you!

At times we all have moments when we drift off. We may hear what someone says but aren’t necessarily paying attention. We don’t practice active listening – we consciously or unconsciously choose to turn our proverbial hearing aid off.

Francis A Schaeffer wrote a book titled “He Is There And He Is Not Silent” 

God isn’t silent and He really wants to talk with you! His preference is to talk ‘with’ you and not ‘at’ you because He’s genuinely interested in your feelings, your thoughts, your concerns and your words.
When you speak – He listens! When He speaks, He wants you to listen!

Jesus said: Matt. 4:4 … “It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Having ears that actually hear and listen to God’s voice is crucial – if we want to experience true life.

God has given you His written ‘Word’ as an aid to help you learn how to hear His voice. When you read it and study it – your ears become attuned to His voice like antenna that locks into the right frequency.

He has also invited you to join with a church family of your choice each week to help assist you in hearing. When you set aside some time to meet with others – you practice active listening.

My mother use to say: “ I’m not talking to hear myself talk!” And neither is God. He want’s you Practice active listening. 

He has some great things to share with you. He wants to tell you how to face the challenges confronting your life. He wants to tell you how to dispel the confusion you are currently experiencing. He wants to tell you where to find life and purpose and He’s wanting to tell you why things keep falling apart and how you can make things last. He is speaking good news!

On one occasion a young boy named Samuel was learning to hear God speak to him and a wise priest told him this: The next time you sense the Lords presence say “Speak, your servant is listening.” Too often we are guilty of wanting Him to hears us and we say: “Listen my Lord, I am speaking.” It’s important to remember that it’s impossible to listen when you are talking!

When you speak to God – He listens!
When He speaks to you – do you listen?
Are you positioned to hear His voice?

Do you have a strategy to discover what He is saying, to you, right now?

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Keeping It Wild

by Candace Cortez

One of my favorite things about God is that He never runs out of ideas. Looking at the faces of people as they pass by me in a store or on a street, I am amazed that God has it in Him to design, create, mold, each set of eyes, each different shaped head, and each heart full of layers we can’t fully grasp even within ourselves. God is a wonderous creator. In the unique way we were created, I believe each believer has a specific gifting that delights God when it is used in worship. I believe there is a way that I can worship Him, that nobody else can, and it is delightful to God, while simultaneously I can sing with the angels who will sing “Holy Holy Holy” for eternity. I believe God hears and loves all of those voices. I believe you have something to give to Him that is different, specific, and a sweet aroma to Him. The thing that unifies us, believer and non-believer, is that we were made to glorify Him.

Even though I know and believe all of that, after following the Lord for a while, it’s possible to find yourself in a spiritual rut. Numerous times, I have experienced a distance from God’s perceivable presence, even though I was doing all of my normal prayer, worship, and Bible reading times. This always brings at least an eyelash worth of doubt: is this all real? Is God there? Does it matter?

This morning I read the story of King David in the Bible, in 2 Samuel 6, when the ark of the Lord was on the way back into the City of David. David was so thrilled to have the presence of God back in his camp that he worshiped, danced, praised until his robes fell off. There was no other time in scripture that describes David’s worship exactly like this. There were times he sang, there were recorded times of playing instruments. There were examples of obedience and times of humbled repentance. I believe this dance is an example of how David kept it wild. He did not allow his worship style, habits, or timing to be solely dictated by past experiences, present pressures, or hopes for his own advancement. The recorded nature of David’s praise to God is dynamic, mirroring the dynamics of God Himself.

God has it in Him to listen to the same song on repeat by the angels and make billions upon billions of different faces and spirits. Yes, sing the songs you know and love, but also, take time to intentionally breathe creativity into the ways, postures, and places you give honor and praise to the Lord. Keep it wild! This will not only add some fun to your walk with the Lord, but you will also keep from getting too deep in the rut. Staying out of the rut will combat the doubts and lies of the enemy that sneak in during distant times.

I’m not an expert, but here are some ways to switch it up, if your creative worship wheels are rutted too deep to begin. 
  • Read the Bible outside (Preferably with a view! Hello, mountains! God likes long walks on the beach.) to give a backdrop to the One who made it all.
  • Gather a few friends and sing some songs, pray for each other, and ask some of the more challenging faith questions you’ve had rolling around in your heart.
  • Turn off your phone! Spend a crazy amount of time listening, reading, and writing the things God does when the distraction count is significantly lower.
  • Go to a store with a monetary gift, and pray for someone to bless in Jesus name.
  • Write down your personal testimony. Sometimes we need to think about all the things God has done and actually write those things down!
  • Make something! Anything! God is an artist and likes when we act like Him. This can be a blanket, a painting, a cake, or a plan.
It’s ok to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone, or even our talent zones. Just because you are not talented in a specific way to worship, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it out. The author of 2 Samuel didn’t tell us that David danced well, we read that he danced with all his might. Stay engaged. Remain faithful. Keep it wild!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Broken

by Tim Howard

Opening presents at Christmas is fun for children and adults but there’s one thing that remains a joy killer! It’s opening a present that needs batteries and none are included. Even worse is opening a present, only to find that it’s broken.

A few years ago at Christmas, my wife opened a beautifully wrapped box only to find a gorgeous colorful glass vase broken. Even though she was careful to unwrap the gift, the pedestal was severed in three distinct places.  The end result was — Broken!

Hopefully everyone has a Christmas present under their tree this year but we tend to forget that people are gifts as well. Especially our family and friends! What we may not realize, however, is that every person surrounding and supporting us is broken as well.

You and I live in a world of brokenness. Marriages are breaking up at an unprecedented rate. Broken families are everywhere and our society is experiencing long-lasting ramifications as a result – much like the aftershocks of an earthquake.

That’s why Jesus came to heal the sick, free those who are bound, forgive all who have sinned and restore that which is broken.  I like what the old prophet Isaiah said in chapter 42 of his book. “God won’t brush aside the bruised and the hurt and he won’t disregard the small and insignificant.”

Jesus came to restore – not to discard and dispose of the broken!

My reaction to the broken vase was quite different than my wife’s.  I immediately decided to throw it away and purchase a new one.  From my point of view the decision seemed rational and logical. After all, it was broken – not valuable – and should be thrown away.

My wife’s response, however, was not quite so rash.  She carefully studied the vase from every angle for several moments.  She studied it as though she were a scientist in search of a cure for a rare disease.  Finally, she announced to me with great conviction, “I can fix it.”  And she did. 

If you find your life broken at some point, don’t believe the lies that tell you – you’re beyond repair! You’re not worth restoring or nothing can be done.

You may remember the Nursery Rhyme that says:
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Here’s some good news that will bring great joy to all who believe! Jesus is the King of Kings and He is willing and able to put you back together again. All you need to do is ask!

Luke 2:10-11 “And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” NIV 

Merry Christmas

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Making Room

by Candace Cortez

Nobody would ever confuse me for a domestic goddess. I have been known to fold laundry on my dining room table and pick articles of clothes from that very pile for a few days until the pile magically disappears. It’s ok, you have permission to judge me. I try to keep my kitchen and living room “ready for company” but I would warn any random pop in visitors to not visit some of the rooms on the edges of my house! I’m a clutter bug. I blame my overly creative brain.

However, out of the basic laws of house management, there is one area that gets cleaned out more than most: my refrigerator. Around once a week, I find myself pulling out leftovers, checking labels on bottles, and generally making sure there isn’t anything hidden in there that may scare me the following week. I pretty much can’t handle mossy foods and feel responsible to make sure my family is safe from whatever can happen after vegetables start getting slimy. Now before you start believing there is some hope for my domestic lifestyle, I must confess the primary reason I keep things clean-ish is to make sure that when I bring in fresh groceries, there is room for it all! Gathering groceries is a big enough chore, I don’t want to have to clean the fridge every time I purchase a new bundle of produce, milk, and eggs.

As we are in full swing in the holiday season, my question for you, myself, and for my family, is this: is there room for Jesus in our lives? In our hearts? I talk very regularly to my young children about how Jesus really is the main reason we have Christmas. He’s the main reason we get to have fresh beginnings, hope, and peace in this life. He’s the source of all things good, and the redeemer of all things rotten. I do not have a problem understanding these things to be true in my thought process. But is this evident by how I make space I my life to point to Him? When the Holy Spirit gently asks for me to move, is there room in my schedule to make that happen? When the Spirit of the Lord gives me something new to take care of, do I just add it to the pile of old things not taken care of in a timely manner?

One of my hopes for this season is that our community would make space in their hearts, schedules, and spirits for the Lord to do something incredibly special in their lives. There have been times when I know the Lord has asked me to wait, or give, or do something just out of the ordinary, but I didn’t make space in my schedule or my level of faith. I do believe that I may have missed out on miracles because I didn’t make space for Him to work in me and through me.
  
Here are some of the things I regularly need to evaluate and potentially get rid of in order to make room in my heart and life for the Hope of Jesus.
  
1.     Old habits. Some habits are great for life. Some habits are great for a season. Some habits are never great. Looking at the repetitive routines in your life as unfixed is important. Not everything you do has to be done. Not everything that is important right now will be important forever. For example, when my husband worked nights, I developed a habit of staying up way later than my mornings should have allowed.  This habit cut out morning devotions, morning peace, and my patience with my kids as we got ready for the day. Recently, the Lord has asked me to go to bed earlier, to make room for His presence in the mornings. Do you have a habit or choice you’re making regular that keeps you from saying yes to Jesus?

2.     Unhealthy relationships. I am very rarely pro getting rid of relationships in your life. I am, however, pro shifting what shelf of importance or influence those relationships carry in your life, and time=influence. If I am not strong enough in my walk with the Lord to overcome the negativity or yucky habits a person brings with them, then I have to decrease the influence that person has until I am more full of the Spirit.
  
3.     Lingering doubts or misunderstandings about who/how God is. Life can teach you a lot of things incorrectly. Sometimes if a child prays a prayer to the Lord, and does not receive what they ask for, they doubt the goodness or power of our Heavenly Father, and potentially stop asking for big things. It is good to keep discovering who God is, how He is and moving out the old doubts about His character. 

Make room for the Lord this holiday season. Don’t let the mold creep in. Never get too busy or full of old ways for God to hand you another blessing, another call, another bit of who He is.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Divorce Day

by Andrew Cromwell

This week I learned the first business day in January is known in some circles as “divorce day" because of the number of divorce filings that happen on that day. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out why. The holidays are some of the most stressful times of the year. Beginning with Thanksgiving and running through Christmas and New Year’s, the last two months of the year are ripe with opportunities for relationship hurts, family drama, and offense. Whether we are hosting events in our own home or visiting relatives, the stress tends to lead to short tempers and sharp tongues. We are often not at our best even as we are trying to look like we are.  

It doesn’t take long and we find ourselves frustrated with our spouse: wounded by their looks or words and adding up the offenses. Throw in our tendency to avoid real conversation until a “better time“ and you have people holding on just so they get through the holidays (because no one wants to have that difficult conversation in the middle of what is supposed to be a happy season). By that time, many couples are so frustrated and so fatigued they begin to believe the only way out is divorce.

Don’t let it happen to you!

As we roll into this holiday season, I’d like to encourage you to not become a statistic. I believe by intentionally doing three simple (but not necessarily easy things), your marriage can become stronger in spite of the stress.

First, expect that things are going to be stressful and that you and your spouse are going to react in less than perfect ways. Stop idealizing and romanticizing the season. While the holidays present us with amazing opportunities to enjoy family and friends, they are also riddled with land mines waiting for one small misstep. So don’t be caught off-guard this season. Prepare for things to go less than perfectly. Anticipate that your spouse is going to run out of patience at some point and they are going to look at you cross-eyed and maybe even say something hurtful. OK, now that you’re prepared, decide right now to extend extra grace and forgive. Instead of getting your feelings hurt just forgive and move on. That one little decision can save your marriage.

Second, keep the air clear between you and your spouse. This will require you to make an effort! Check in with your spouse in the morning or in the evening (or even both). Ask them how they’re feeling, let them know how important they are to you, and even ask for forgiveness for being a jerk that day (because you probably were). Talk about the calendar and the stress and the kids and the gifts and the expectations. Remind yourself that you are on a team together. This proactive move will keep you connected to each other and help you to come through the season united and ready for the new year.

Third, ask God to help you! Don’t ever underestimate God’s power and desire to help your marriage. He is ready and willing to help. Ask Him to change your heart, help you to forgive, help you to serve, and help you to love better! Ask Him to bless your spouse and your marriage. Invite Him in and then go and walk in His strength.