Saturday, August 11, 2018

Out of Control

by Candace Cortez

Most mornings, my routine includes sitting and reading scripture, praying, listening to worship music, and making lists to organize my thoughts for the day. Literally, the simple act of writing my thoughts and tasks down allows me to relax about some of the things in my head. After I write this list, I often read the news and try to get updated on what’s happening in the world. This next habit, if I let it, will literally try to snatch away the peace gained by mediation and organization. It is often a highlighted reminder that I am not in control.

We are packing for a vacation, trying to soak up the last days of summer. In the process, I do everything I can to prepare for what could happen, and what I would need to still enjoy my time and provide for my family. I pack extra socks, in case for whatever reason we lose, or damage the ones that are appropriate for the number of days we will be gone. I bring snacks, things to entertain on the ride, and as many phone chargers as I can get my hands on. I screenshot the directions to our location in case my plethora of chargers bail out on me. We even have a basic first aid kit. But it never fails that when we arrive at the destination, something unexpected arises, and we need something we don’t have! It’s kind of frustrating. This is a reminder that I am not in control!

We have two incredible children, who are doing pretty well in school. We are doing what we can to raise them with care and help them love others through their words and actions. We have taught them about hard work and how to wash their hands. We are teaching them the importance of connection with God and how to hear His voice. We are forcing them to eat a certain ratio of vegetables each meal and are working to help them understand why. But then, I still get phone calls from family or from their school, letting me know that something unexpected happened. No matter how much parenting I put in, I am not in control.

I could go on with examples for days about the moments and ways I am not in control of all of the things that happen in our lives. I have experienced this position of being out of control result in a few different responses: anxiety, working excessively to regain control or peace. One of the ways that I can respond in peace to the unexpected things that happen in life is to remember that I may not be in control, but God is always in control.

Paul writes in Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Just because something is unexpected to me, does not mean it’s out of God’s hands! Just because it’s out of my hands, doesn’t mean it’s out of control. Sometimes the peace we need in our hearts begins BEFORE the crisis. You do not lock the doors and set an alarm while thieves are in your house. You guard your house before the invasion happens. Before you begin to lose your peace to the whirlwind of impossible or out of control, begin to protect your heart with God-given peace. This peace is beyond understanding. It can literally be confusing to others around you how calm you can be in times of chaos or emergency or the unexpected. It may even be confusing to you! 

Today, I admit, that I am out of control. But I stand firm on the fact that God has all power, and has my life in His hands. I have the ability to prepare, but my preparations do not guarantee an easy future. We all have some work to do in preparing the quality of our hearts. We can acquire peace that lasts through the trials. We do know that trials will come. Do you know how your heart will be when those trials arrive? I pray for peace, not for control, because He is already taking care of that.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Hold Your Head Up

by Andrew Cromwell

Our world has a devious way of beating you down. If it’s not the ‘through the roof’ utility bill this month, it’s the unexpected medical bill next month or a lost job or a cancer diagnosis. At least it can feel that way.

The old adage, “when it rains it pours”, generally holds true. Rarely does it seem like one crisis happens at a time. No, they all happen one right after the other. Like a perfectly timed one-two punch with a wicked uppercut to finish you off.

We all have seasons in our life when it feels like the hits just keep coming. If you’re in doubt, just turn on the radio and listen to the experts on the country music station. They’ll set you straight.

The Bible refers to seasons like this as an “evil day”. Evil days are days when the roof caves in and the bottom falls out. When the car breaks down, the money runs out, and the dog won’t look at you, you probably are experiencing an evil day.

The question is not whether you will have an evil day. We all will. And if you’re fortunate to live a while, you’ll probably live through more than one. The real question is, how do you respond in the evil day?

If you’ve ever watched a movie about war, you’ve seen a good example of what most people do when the bullets start flying. They duck and run for cover.

My personal experience of war is limited to the paintball field. A very poor parallel, I know. Nonetheless, when the adrenaline starts pumping and the paint starts flying, you become acutely aware of the pain you are about to experience. You remember all the past times you’ve been shot—in the head (which hurts REALLY bad, in the nose (which tends to bleed), and in the butt (which hurts, but mostly I just wanted to say “butt”). Almost without thinking, you find yourself crouched in a little ball, making the smallest possible target. You stop moving and you hide, hoping that the enemy forces will somehow forget you are there.

They never do.

More experienced players will tell you to resist the urge to freeze and hide under fire. They remind you to keep your head up and use your eyes to see what is going on. Once you drop your eyes, you lose sight of the enemy and put yourself at a major disadvantage. They tell you to keep moving because no one ever won by just sitting behind the bunker (except for that one time the other team kept shooting each other).

I believe the same advice applies to the evil days we encounter in life. Rather than dropping our eyes, rolling into a little ball, and getting stuck, we should stand up straight, look around and see, and keep moving. 

One of my favorite things to do when things go bad is to remind myself that I am a child of God, that He loves me, and that if I stay close to Him, everything is going to be just fine. Psalms 16 says, “I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” 

So when the hits keep coming, I lift my head, put my shoulders back, and smile.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Everyone’s Going Through Something

by Sylvia Gaston

There is a phrase being quoted on social media. It is credited to author Wendy Mass and says:

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

This sentiment is a good one that I’ve given a great deal of thought to. It has actually helped me with my (sometimes) bad attitude toward others.

There are certain things about people that drive me crazy such as when people are impolite or demonstrate entitlement. Some examples are when I stop in the middle of the road to let someone cross and they don’t even look up or acknowledge that I didn’t zoom by them as I could legally do. Or when I hear a parent talking to their child in a loud, embarrassing, mean or demeaning way. I chalk it up to rudeness or a product of poor upbringing. This is the judgmental side of me that I’m not very proud of.

However, when I remind myself that I have no idea what this person is going through, my empathy kicks in and I find myself saying a prayer for that person instead. In fact, as I drive around town, going about my busy day, I find myself praying for a lot of people – strangers that look to be sad, homeless, or disabled. I pray for the skater boys and girls I see that they would be kept safe as they roll around town. I pray for the people I see who are too poor to afford a car for their groceries. I pray for the ones gathering cans and bottles to supplement their income. I pray for the ones that appear to be struggling with mental illness.

We’ve all been, or will go through, tough times – a crisis, a health scare, a traumatic event, or some other terribly difficult incident. When I found myself in the middle of a crisis, I became so inwardly focused, or in such a state of survival mode, that I became oblivious to others. I’m not sure I can even recall how I behaved.

I need to give others the same benefit of the doubt I would want because I don’t know what their life is like. Some people are really struggling – either temporarily or their entire life is a struggle.

Perhaps that’s why God wrote hundreds of verses in the Bible about how to treat others. A few of my favorites are:

“I want all of you to agree with one another. Be understanding. Love one another. Be kind and tender. Be humble. Don’t pay back evil with evil. Don’t pay back unkind words with unkind words. Instead, pay back evil with kind words. This is what you have been chosen to do. You will receive a blessing by doing this.” – 1 Peter 3:8-9 (NIRV)

“If possible, live in peace with everyone. Do that as much as you can.” – Romans 12:18 (NIRV)
 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. The second most important command is this: ‘Love your neighbor the same as you love yourself. These two commands are the most important.” – Mark 12:30-31 (ERV)

Jesus even simplified it for us when he said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Luke 6:31 NIV)

Lastly, I’m reminded by Wendy Mass’ phrase about how callous, selfish, and mean our culture is becoming. I want to be counter-cultural to that. I want to try to be kinder to others than they deserve. I want to be part of a solution in the midst of a generation that is sometimes foul-mouthed, heartless, or looking for someone to take advantage of. 

Thanks, Jesus (and Wendy), for the reminder to . . . “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Leaders Worth Following

by Tim Howard
If you are a leader, you have people following you! I believe it was John Maxwell that said something to this effect: If you think you are a leader and no one is following you – you are just out for a good walk.
I‘ve followed several great men and women over the years and have been helped greatly by them in the process of my maturity. They led in such a way as to elicit from me loyalty, faithfulness, a willingness to sacrifice and a strong desire to follow them.
How do you develop a team that people want to play on? To reword the question; How do you become a leader, people want to follow?
One key word is “Environment.” We all create a certain environment, atmosphere or aura if you will, that other people can see, sense and react to. How many of you find yourself rejoicing when a certain co-worker calls the office to say they won’t be in on a specific day? Be honest!  If you rejoice when they are not present, it’s because they have created an environment that’s not very pleasant. The opposite is true as well. We miss someone because they create an atmosphere that is enjoyable.
There’s a sign that reads: “All people bring me joy, some when they enter and others when they leave.” That sums it up.
 A good atmosphere or a good environment keeps the morale high and when the morale is high, people want to follow the leader and they look forward to playing on the team. One of the greatest challenges a leader will ever face is not merely to complete a task but to create an environment conducive to love, joy, peace, and camaraderie.

Here are four ways to create an atmosphere on the job, in the home, at the school, and a myriad of other places that will help to create in people a desire to follow your leadership.

1.   Be a person of integrity. Open, upfront and honest! The environment this creates will allow openness from others and build a safe place for free expression. Authenticity is a must!

2.   Treat people in the same way you want to be treated and don’t show favoritism. Everyone has value and is uniquely made. In Genesis 37, Jacob showed favoritism by loving one son more than the others. Result: The family members resented each other and negativity grew. A competitive and comparative spirit enters and the temperature becomes very cold when you favor some over others.

3.   Compliment your followers more than you criticize them. How many of you would admit: When the boss asks you to step into his or her office, the first thing to go through your mind is this question: “What did I do wrong?” Focusing on the good and giving some praise now and then can build the morale and create a positive attitude.  Look for the Gold. You will never find the gold in people if you only focus on the dirt surrounding them. And by the way, we all get dirty. 

4.   Talk WITH people, not TO them! You can talk to people, at people or with people but when you do the latter of the three, people will respect you because you are actually listening to them. Communication was always intended to be a dialogue, not a monologue.

I encourage you to be a leader worth following!

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Life On Mission

by Candace Cortez

When this article reaches you, I will be on a short-term mission trip to Central America with 9 other young people from my church family. As a church, we believe in both local and global missions, because Jesus told us to ‘go unto all the world and make disciples.” As I mentally and physically prepare for another experience serving and sharing Jesus’ love with another community, I am counting the lessons learned by saying yes to these opportunities.

Loving is easy when you’re not in your regular context.
There’s something special about getting out of your regularl scheduled life to focus on love others. This lets me know that sometimes I have made my life too busy to be aware of opportunities to love “in real life.” I am reminded to slow down.

God is everywhere.
I do not have the edge on what living for the Lord looks like, and how He chooses to reveal Himself. When you get to worship, serve, and create communities in places different than what you’re used to, it is a great reminder that God is in places you least expect Him.

Living on mission is a mixture of intentionality and sensitivity.
If we don’t make it a priority, caring for others will not often make its way into our lives because caring for others is not always convenient. It often took Jesus out of His way, and we need to expect the same for ourselves. But even in the unplanned moments, are we staying sensitive to when God is giving us a window to shine through in someone else’s life? Do it on purpose, and make sure to stay open to those unexpected moments to serve.

Loving people is work.
That is all I have to say about that!

The work of loving people gives life.
Some of my favorite moments in life have been the feelings of joy and comradery of a time of hard work for someone else. Those conversations when I was able to encourage, help or share the gospel make life feel at it’s best.

My neighbor is both next door and across the globe.
I love loving the people in the communities in other countries, and it reminds me how easy it can be. I am reminded that showing love to those in close proximity is often a challenge, but is just as valuable as loving those around the globe.

I have enough time to love others if it is a priority.
Just like everything else, if it matters, there is time. Some people confess to being too busy to pause to help, serve, or encourage others. But I think there is something incorrect about our pace or priority if helping others doesn’t make the cut, and we may need to make some adjustments.

I am able to do more than I thought I could.
I feel so limited by my lack of knowledge, actual skills, etc. During these mission trips, when you are squeezed without the normal resources of our comfort zone, I am surprised by what I am actually able to do. I have poured concrete, bandaged wounds, taught messages in different languages, and worked past exhaustion to help others, none of which would have happened if I didn’t say yes to doing whatever it takes for the mission.

In my failures, God is still making things happen.
Because we are often asked to do those things beyond our own abilities, mistakes will be plentiful. I am so reassured, that even if I slip up, if bad attitudes reside, if I say the wrong thing if I forget things, God does His thing, sometimes even more beautifully than if I got it right.

Serving next to people creates community on a new level.
I have memories with people that I will remember for the rest of my life. We may not always connect in our normal context, but serving in a focused way together brings the Church together. 

My prayer for all of us is that we wake up each morning, with the intention of making disciples of those in our world. This may be your children, your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers. Making disciples is sometimes slow work, but it literally changes the world. God has called you today, to love someone in a way shows them Jesus. For some of you, God has placed a big idea, one that is sort of scary, and may be bigger than you. Start working on it! For some of you, God has placed a burden in your heart for a certain situation, or group of people. Find out how to serve them! You are the only you He made, and He desires to use all of us in this mission.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Bottom Line

by Tim Howard

On July 8 I will begin a short series at Koinonia Church titled: The Bottom Line! Those who consider Koinonia their church home know that Loving God and Loving People is our bottom line. We call it a Passion for God and Compassion for people.

In thinking about my love for God and people – It’s been a long learning process! Understanding how to love God and people ‘His Way’ has taken decades. I am a slow learner! For example it took me years to discover that people often need the most love when they deserve it the least.

I learned a lot about loving God and people from my wife!

In the early years of my marriage, I did a lot of foolish things and wasn’t a very good husband. I could blame it on youthfulness since I was only 22 years old, immaturity, stress, difficult times or I could simply acknowledge the truth. I was self-absorbed. Life was all about me! In 45 years of marriage, we have had our share of bad times!  The word divorce has crossed our minds but one word has proven to be more powerful than the desire to go our separate ways. That word is FORGIVENESS and I’m convinced this is the ultimate proof of love!

The Bible tells us to “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as God forgave us thru Christ.” Forgiveness reveals God’s love and lays the foundation for everything God does. Jesus offers forgiveness to those who choose to follow Him. He offers forgiveness to those who fail and choose to do unwise things and He even offers forgiveness to the ones who hate Him. That’s love!

You cannot have a long-lasting, growing, ongoing, in-depth, healthy relationship without forgiveness! Something will happen, your relationship with stall, someone will do something unintentionally or intentionally and if there is no forgiveness – The relationship ends.

Un-forgiveness locks a person into the past and provides a great environment for bitterness, resentment, hatred, and anger to flourish but forgiveness cuts the cords to the past and gives you the possibility of a bright future. It’s one of the top five tools you need in your toolbox in order to maintain a growing relationship. Acceptance, Respect, Trust, and Truth are the other four.

Forgiveness is definitely not the easiest choice to make but it is the best! Holding a grudge, getting even, remaining bitter and choosing to walk in resentment may feel good but it will ultimately destroy you.

God’s Bottom Line is revealed in the words of Jesus found in Mark 12.
Love God with everything you have and Love your neighbor as yourself. Simplified: Love God – Love people!

Yes, It’s taken me years to grow the type of love God desires and it’s still in process. I have so much more to learn but thanks to God who forgives me, my wife who is patient with me and the people who are committed to helping me, I’m making progress! 

The Bottom Line is: If we want to love God and people ‘His Way’ we must learn to forgive.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

It’s Time To Rest!

by Sylvia Gaston

Now that all the kids are out of school and the temperatures are on the rise, it’s time to enjoy the lazy, crazy days of summer.

Whether you have the entire summer off, a week or two, or even just a 3-day weekend here and there – there is great value in the practice of rest. Even God rested after creating the entire universe, Earth, and everything and everyone on it!

However, some of us take on summer like warriors – trying to cram as many trips, projects, activities and events as we can possibly fit into our available “time off”. We travel, paint our kitchen, renovate our yard, etc., etc. We come back to work exhausted and needing a vacation from our vacation.

How about this summer we plan some time to just rest? What?!? What a crazy concept!

We read in the Bible about a time when Jesus was teaching and performing miracles with His 12 closest followers. The Bible says, “Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, He said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’” (Mark 6:31)

Doesn’t that sound so wonderful? Come with me to a quiet place and get some rest.

But what would that look like, you may ask? What would I actually DO, you might ask? Here are only a few suggestions:
  1. Reconnect: Reconnect with family or friends. Invite someone over to play a game, watch a movie, or just catch up. Relationships are the most important thing we will leave behind when we die. Why not cherish them now as the most important thing we could ever do?
  2. Walk and Reflect: If you can find a beautiful place to do this, all the better but even a walk around your neighborhood can be enjoyable. Appreciate the outdoors that God created and give your mind a chance to wander and your imagination a chance to run free.
  3. Breathe deeply. Most people don’t breathe deeply and the benefits are numerous. Deep breathing calms anxiety, is a natural pain killer, relieves stress, promotes better blood flow, increases energy.
  4. Slow down: Do something leisurely that you used to enjoy. Are there things that you never have time to do? Bake cookies, read a book, exercise, paint or write. Just make sure it’s relaxing and enjoyable.
  5. Pray: When was the last time you took time to count your blessings. Yeah, I know, life can be hard at times – mine, too – but the good always outweighs the bad.  Take time to really thank God for all that He has done for you and to appreciate all that is right in your world.
  6. Get to know God: If you don’t already attend church, try out one (or two) and learn more about this Jesus guy. If you already do, spend more time reading God’s word, the Bible. (PS-Find a version that’s easy to read and understand. You’ll enjoy it so much more.)
  7. Help others: It’s been proven that people feel so much better when they get outside their own world and help someone else. Serve at a pantry (Koinonia Church has one – wink, wink), cook a meal for someone, volunteer to babysit for a parent who desperately needs a break. You’ll be glad you did.
  8. Sleep in or take a nap: Enough said!

You don’t have to use anything on this list. You can create your own restful plan for whatever time off you may have from work or school.

No matter what you decide to do this summer, remember to do it with rest in mind. And remember what Jesus said, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”