Saturday, April 14, 2018

What Are You Passing On?

by Candace Cortez

I am a Navy Brat. We moved to Lemoore because of my Dad’s orders to NAS Lemoore. They have recently been redeployed and are now living in Florida. It’s been about 2 years since they have lived here and it has not been my favorite thing living away from my family. During a long visit this past month, I noticed many things about both my parents that I had not realized before. Little gestures, or sounds that I had missed during our time apart. Taking notice of these habits, I was shocked to see some of those same tendencies in myself. I know, I know! There are a dozen clich├ęs out there about being the product of our parents and becoming your mother that just flashed through my head. I know I picked up my work ethic, my creativity, and my ability to listen to my parents. I suppose I just hadn’t noticed how many other things they had passed onto me. And now, my husband and I are currently passing certain things on to our children. Some things on accident, while others with specific intentionality.

In scripture, I recently read in Judges 2 about an entire generation who did not pass on the story of their faith in God to the next generation. I have been wondering about this since I read that passage. I wonder what kept the story from being heard. Maybe it wasn’t articulated well. Maybe the outside culture was louder and more convincing than the message of their parents. Maybe the parents were afraid of controlling their children’s belief’s so they watered down their passion and faith. Maybe the generation before had stopped living their faith in their real lives and allowed it to become predominantly ceremonial. Maybe they hadn’t figured out how to include their own children in the process when the miracles hadn’t happened for them. The maybe’s are endless.

Maybe we are doing the same.

I do not want to miss out on passing on the fire of my faith to those younger (either in age or in belief) than myself. God gave EVERYTHING to make sure the way for us to Him was possible. He gave His Son to die. To make sure people know that, most of the time, we just have to have some conversations. 

You may not have children. Or your children may be grown. Or you may not have a good relationship with your children. Or you may be a “child” yourself! But we are all called to raise up the next generation. Part of knowing how to show love and your love for Jesus to someone else means you may need to know who that someone else is. A conversation with the understanding of acceptance and love goes much further than those that are shrouded in person-less agenda. Here are a couple bits of data collected by *Barna on their research report on Generation Z, the generation of young people currently in Elementary, Middle, and High School.

    Teens 13-18 years old are twice as likely as adults to say they are atheist (13% vs. 6%).
    About half of Gen Z is non-white.
    Half say happiness is their ultimate goal in life. For 43%, happiness equals financial  success.
    More than half of teens use screen media 4 or more hours per day. One quarter report they look at screens 8 or more hours on an average day.
    One-third reports being bullied online.

This is just the most basic snapshot. If you want to pass on something important to
someone, you may want to consider getting to know that someone. I hope I pass on more than my laugh to my little ones. I am praying daily that they catch more than even a value of hard work. My prayer is that they, and their generation with them, falls in love with Jesus in a way that is real, and life-changing. Be a part of making disciples in this generation! Get to know a person younger than yourself, and pass on one of the most important gifts you can ever give: the story of why you believe. 

*Gen Z: The Culture, Beliefs, and Motivations Shaping the Next Generation by Barna in partnership with 360 Institute

Saturday, March 31, 2018

You Are Invited!

by Tim Howard

As I re-read the narrative of Christ during Passion Week – I became intrigued with the way Jesus interacted with people.

Just before the crucifixion and resurrection, He never demanded anything from His followers nor did He seek control of their lives in a dictatorial way. In one of His darkest moments while in Gethsemane, He didn’t demand that His disciples stand alongside Him but merely asked them to join Him in prayer. No pressure, no pushiness and no strong-armed tactics. He simply gave an invitation.

In the early days of Jesus’ ministry He began to approach people and invited them to become His partners. He said in Matthew 4:19: “ … Follow Me, and I will make you into a fisher of men.” His promise to them had to do with transformation. If you follow me, I will make you – shape you and show you how to become a person who develops meaningful and lasting relationships.

Jesus is a different type of leader. He doesn’t merely talk about doing something but actually shows His followers how to walk and how to live a fruitful life. While many today wax eloquent in mere rhetoric and pontificate specific dogma that sways people, Jesus practiced a ‘Show and Tell’ lifestyle.

He told those who were lost and needed direction for their lives to follow Him. He didn’t tell you where to go and what to do but actually led them to the destination. Follow Me! Wow that simplifies everything. Do what He does, go where He goes, say what He says and things will work out. Jesus will get you to your appropriate destination because He knows the way.

I’ve been a follower of Christ for over 6 decades but I must admit I have followed reluctantly at times. I haven’t always liked where He was taking me! Sometimes it’s through darkness and difficulty but in those times Jesus develops character in me. Sometimes He leads me into the unknown but even when I’m unable to see the future, He causes trust to grow. At times it’s through a dry and barren landscape, but even then, He provides for our necessities.

Someone recently asked me if I was going to attend a major event that was happening in the city. Since it was by invitation only and I hadn’t received an invitation – the answer was no! When you’re not on ‘invite list,’ It can hurt!  With God, however, everyone is on the invite list – and that includes you!

Matthew 11:29-30, "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly.” MSG

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Courage...Do You Have It?

by Sylvia Gaston

Courage is something everyone wants. It’s a trait that people admire and garners respect. Courage grows our confidence and inspires others.

The dictionary defines courage as: the ability to do something that frightens and strength in the face of pain or grief.

Have you done something even though you were frightened? Sure you have. From the time we were small kids, we were often afraid as we learned how to navigate school and relationships and life. As we got older, our fears change somewhat. Though lists of top fears vary slightly, here is one that is pretty common.

      1.     Flying
      2.     Public speaking
      3.     Heights
      4.     The dark
      5.     Intimacy
      6.     Death
      7.     Failure
      8.     Rejection
      9.     Spiders
    10.     Commitment

Fears fall into 2 categories – specific phobias and social phobias. The “specific” ones are most common and usually focus on simple objects such as spiders, flying, or heights. “Social” phobias are those that cause extreme anxiety in social or public situations such as public speaking, rejection, or commitment.

I’m sure that the specifics of our lives and past experiences come into play, as well. Do you work in a dangerous environment? Do you have children? Is your future uncertain? Do you have health issues?

Let’s take a look at the second part of the definition of courage. Have you remained strong in pain or grief? I’m sure we all have, to some degree. We have all experienced pain, loss, or crisis of some sort. Did you come apart at the seams or remain strong?

My fears, at this stage of life, tend to revolve around my children’s safety and decision-making and the health of those I care about.

God has a lot to say about fear and courage. I could recite tens of them here, but you have a computer – just Google it. But, let me share my favorite…

Six years ago, in the midst of a personal crisis, I relied on a verse I found in the Bible in Isaiah 41:13 that says,

“For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you Do not fear; I will help you.”

I wrote that verse on a 3X5 card and taped it to my refrigerator. It stayed there for months. I wanted to see it often and I knew others in my household needed to see it, too. It was a reminder to us that, because we follow Jesus, God will never leave us. He will strengthen us (give us courage) to endure whatever life throws our way.

That little 3X5 card is still around. It resides on the inside of my spice cabinet. I’ve relied on those words when my sister was dying, when one of my kids’ messed up, when my husband was very sick, and when my daughters took their first out-of-town road trips.

You see, I’m a pretty strong person. I can be extremely tough when the going gets tough. But we all have our limits or breaking points – emotional ones and physical ones. It’s easy to become overwhelmed. How do you find strength when you feel you can’t go on? How do you find courage when you are afraid?

I have learned to rely on someone with all the resources, power and authority to move heaven and earth, as He sees fit. Of course, I always hope God sees fit to move heaven and earth for me, but the outcome is not always what I want. It doesn’t matter. He’s still there to pick me up, to love me, and to see me through the incredible challenges of life hear on earth.

As I get older, and wiser, I use this reliance on God to help me even when I’m not in the middle of a mess. I have fewer worries, headaches, and stress when I just do my part and leave the rest to Him. Because, really, who am I kidding? I may be a tough chick but God is soooo much smarter, and more capable, than I am.

So I say to you…“Be strong in the Lord and in His might power.” –Ephesians 6:10

Saturday, March 17, 2018

A Divine Perspective

by Tim Howard 
In two weeks Christians everywhere and Churches throughout the world will remember the crucifixion of Christ and on Sunday, April 1 they will celebrate His resurrection – And that’s not an April fools joke! Some may describe that era as the best of times and the worst of times while others may say it was the turning point in human history.  One thing is certain, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has caused centuries of controversy and a multitude of change.
When Jesus was crucified, He was put in a tomb. But when some women came to the tomb – The stone was rolled away! According to Luke 2:26 they were told: “He is not here, but has risen.”
Dying is not something people enjoy thinking or talking about.  When death comes knocking on a person’s door, he or she is more apt to resist it with tremendous vigor or deny it altogether – rather than openly embrace it with hope.  Even the Apostle Peter when Jesus told His disciples that He would soon be crucified – He vehemently refused to accept the truth.  We are told that he actually took Jesus aside and rebuked Him.  He emphatically declared: “this will NEVER happen to you!”
From a passage in Matthew 16, we discover that Peter didn’t fully understand the significance of Christ’s death and only viewed things from a human point of view. Peter focused on the pain, sorrow, hurt, misery and injustice, but he didn’t see Christ’s death from God’s vantage point. There is, however, a divine perspective!
God sees His Son’s death and resurrection as the beginning of something new and not the end of something old. It marks the end of religious duty and opens the door for authentic relationship with God. Death doesn’t have to be the last step on earth but can be the first step into eternity with God if you put your faith in His Son.  There is a future hope beyond this earthly life and the resurrection of Jesus is God’s gracious evidence to all of us.  It assures us that God turned the sting of death around and what once produced fear is now conquered by faith.
 The Life of Christ was full of teachings, miracles, words of encouragement and personal ministry, but His death was the ultimate statement of God’s love.  The Bible tells us in John 3:16 that God so loved the world He gave His one and only Son to die on a cross for our sins.  Anyone who believes in Him will not only experience forgiveness from their sin but will receive an eternal inheritance as well. He loves all mankind and has a desire to relate to each and every individual. No one is exempt from His touch unless they reject Him.
As you celebrate the Easter season, God wants to give you a divine perspective and help you see from his vantage point.  Those who are receptive will see more than a man dying on a cross and listen to stories about His resurrection.

They will see a Savior who lived among us, died for us and walks with us to help us live life to it’s fullest. 

Saturday, March 3, 2018

A Little Change

by Andrew Cromwell

How many times have you tried to change your life and failed? You threw the ciggys away, dumped the drink, tossed the sweets, or deleted their number from your phone. You told yourself, “never again.”

And for a little while, for a few days, or maybe even a few weeks, you rode high and in victory. But then something happened, you had a bad day at work or someone waved a cronut under your nose, and just like that you were right back to your old habit. And no matter how much you beat yourself up, you still ended back up where you began.

Change is tough! Especially when we are trying to change something in our life that has become part of our normal routine. Whether it is drinking a soda or a beer after work, having a cigarette on our break, or snacking in front of the TV, these routines are strongly entrenched and become almost automatic. We don’t even consciously think about doing them most of the time.

Let’s get even more personal for a moment because some of you don’t have any of the vices we’ve talked about so far. Have you noticed the way that people walk around with their phone in their hand and “check” the screen every few moments? How about at stop lights? Have you ever looked around and noticed how many people grab their phones and pet them during the red light? Or maybe you’re too busy looking at your phone.

I particularly love the chimes, dings, chirps, guitar riffs, and dog bark alert sounds that cause people to go scrambling. I’m pretty convinced that if an alien culture came to study us, they would conclude that we get our marching orders from our phones. Bye, bye free will.

But I digress.

The point is that we get trapped in these habit patterns that are really, really difficult to break. And we don’t help ourselves when we try to change things cold turkey. More often than not, that is a recipe for failure.

A recent study showed that people trying to lose weight were much more successful if they didn’t change anything else other than beginning to journal everything they ate. This small change led to other changes — they became aware of what they were eating and some of the habit patterns that surrounded their eating. This awareness then led them to make adjustments to those patterns. It caused them to break out of their automatic routines and introduce some healthier ones.

As humans we want everything right now. We want a new life tomorrow, or better yet today. But we aren’t designed to work that way. The prophet Isaiah said more than three thousand years ago that God, “tells us everything over and over--one line at a time, one line at a time, a little here, and a little there!" In other words, little by little! 

Want to grow? Lose weight? Quit a bad habit or relationship? Perhaps you want to build a good habit of eating right, talking to God more, or changing the way you talk. Maybe you start small and build on little victories. Maybe you begin by asking some “why” questions (“Why do I do that?”) before jumping to the what question (“What do I need to do?”). 

You just might find the key to your change is little by little.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Tolerate Me

by Sylvia Gaston

I am a Christian.

I haven’t always been a Christian and was not raised in a Christian home so I came to this lifestyle in a rather different way than most.

When I was about 10 years old, I asked my mom if she would take us to a small nearby church. I cannot recall what piqued my interest about that church or if it was God Himself beckoning me (He does that, you know). She agreed and came with us for a while but then after a time, I remember we often went by ourselves.

It was there in that very small church in that very small town that I first learned about God, about praying, about the Bible. I remember laying in my twin bed one night, particularly upset over the fighting that took place in our home, and asking Jesus to help me with this thing called ‘life’. And, for a while, I was very aware of something bigger than myself watching and guiding and comforting me.

Fast forward to junior high, high school and college. I’m now not so aware of God’s presence probably because we had moved and my church attendance came to an end, as did my interest in Him. But, His pursuit of me did not.

After walking on my own, with better than average success in my life, I felt that familiar beckoning once again; coincidences that I could not explain and people in my path in the most astounding places and ways. It was then, in my 30s, that I made an adult decision to follow Jesus again.

My life after that adult decision is forever changed. My priorities of career, power, and money were replaced with concern for healthy relationships, purpose, and God’s will over my own.

I wish I could tell you that all my problems went away from that point on but they didn’t. That’s not the way it works – ask any Christian. Life’s challenges are still there. Relationships are still hard sometimes. I also seem to have the lifelong job of overcoming some personality traits I’ve developed over a lifetime of coping with difficult situations from my past.

Yet, through it all, I wouldn’t change that adult decision I made long ago. Because, despite the fact that life on this earth will never be perfect, or even easy, I have amazing hope. Hope in a Savior that guides and comforts me. Hope in wisdom from a God who knows all. Hope in what lies beyond my years in this body and on this earth.

I don’t struggle with fear about the future or with what I’m supposed to do next. I have a Counselor and a Protector to decide those things for me.

Living in this current culture of tolerance, I often wonder why there is so little tolerance for Christians. I recognize that not all Christians have represented God well. But, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

When I think of the incredible gifts offered by God the Father, His Son Jesus, and His Holy Spirit, I don’t understand why more aren’t intrigued. His gifts are forgiveness, acceptance, and guidance. He places great value on joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. His overwhelming trait and message to our world is love for all. ALL.

He loves you. He’s beckoning you. 

Hit your knees in prayer or jump into a church to connect with Him. If it’s not a good fit for you, try another and another, if you have to. He has a place for you – a place where you and He will connect and where you will receive the benefit of His unconditional love and purpose for your life.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Maturity Looks Different

By Candace Cortez

It’s February. In our community, it looks, feels, and smells like springtime is here. Recently, I have been focused on making all the plants that turned brown, or yellow, or frail in the winter months green again. I must confess, I am not really good at keeping plants alive. But the prospect of trying to bring things back to a place of strength that doesn’t actually hurt my world if I fail is a nice place to go on my rest days! I don’t know all the tricks. But I do remember, that water and sun are important, right?

Then I remember hearing something about fertilizer? Or was it making sure there was enough soil space? Or did I read something about rotating plants in reference to the light source? Living in the Valley, with so many agriculturally savvy minds, I must be causing a lot of eye rolls. My apologies for disappointing. I’m in the beginning stages of learning. Last week I aerated the soil in my potted plants. I learned about this process by googling some of my sick plant’s symptoms. This week, literally only 6-10 days later, some of my plant babies have stronger leaves, and even fresh baby leaves sprouting up. It worked for a couple of my plants! For some of my other plants, I simply repotted them in a larger pot. This also worked! For some of my younger plants, I’m learning that they require more water than some of my “established” plants.

As I spend my Saturdays in the dirt, the Lord keeps quickening in my spirit about the soil of our hearts. At first, when we are young in our faith, there is a certain regiment or level of discipline needed as the Lord is revealing Himself to us. At first, just attending church services regularly felt like my spirit was on fire for God! I was in it! I was growing and hearing fresh revelation through the pastors and teachers! It was incredible. And then eventually, it didn’t feel like enough. Simply going to church, was no longer an adequate source of strength. I began to read the Bible on my own. (They told me to do this before, but I didn’t believe I needed to considering how alive church services made me feel!) This began a new level of fire for me and my relationship with God.

As years progressed, in my faith, I learned to give financially, serve practically, and submit myself to mentors and leaders, and become a leader and mentor myself. These are all progressive steps in spiritual maturity. They did not all happen at once. I know my spirit looks different than it did 5 years ago. I require different habits to maintain my spiritual health. I cannot expect to continue growing fruit by just listening to others talk about God.

I am enjoying working out the soil of my heart. Finding God when working through concepts like racism, or systemic poverty, or how to best care for those who are marginalized is requiring me to keep digging deeper, and seeking health in my relationships and perspective and calls to action. I am consistently seeking to know the next step of how to keep growing. I know that at certain times of my life, God is asking me to add something to my life, and others, He is requiring that I remove something. Growing in maturity requires something different today than it will tomorrow. Like my plants, I need to keep working to figure out the next steps to grow.