Saturday, January 25, 2020

Love Yourself

by Bryan Vickers

No, this is not a Justin Bieber song. It's a reminder. 

I think we all tend to go through seasons of dissatisfaction; with where we are, and who we are. Maybe we aren't living up to our potential. Maybe we've made some bad choices and are living with regret. Maybe we just never liked much about ourselves and have spent a lifetime wishing we weren't this person. I tend to swing back and forth between being confident in who I am and what I'm capable of...and feeling completely inadequate, accusing myself of just faking it. I think they call it imposter syndrome.

Whatever the case, you don't always love yourself. But you should. For a million reasons. Just for starters, there's the fact that God created you. He wanted you, He dreamed you up, and He made you exactly the way He intended. Then there's the fact that the only good and perfect person to ever walk the earth decided you were worth dying for. And Jesus went through with this plan because God wanted a way to be close with you in spite of the ways you've fallen short. If He loves you that much, why don't you?

Well, I'm willing to bet it's because your head is full of thoughts about the way you are and the way you should be. Every day you listen to things like "you're not a good person," "you really messed up," "they probably don't like you," and "why can't you be better?". My friend, you are being lied to. Some of it is the enemy, Satan, throwing out lies and accusations to keep you stuck believing you don't deserve love. But some of it is you...lying to yourself.

In Acts chapter 10, the apostle Peter has a vision in which the Lord tells him "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean". In this vision God is speaking about which food is suitable for Peter to eat; but we learn later in the chapter that God is communicating a deeper truth: that the promise of new life in Christ is not just for those who have been born into the right circumstances and done all the right things. God's love is for everyone, even though we all were impure. He went to a lot of trouble to make us clean. So when I read this verse, it's a reminder to check the way I'm thinking about myself.

"Do not call anything impure that God has made clean."
Do not call yourself ugly when God has made you beautiful.
Do not call yourself hopeless when God has made you with a purpose.
Do not call yourself unworthy when God stepped down from Heaven to die for you.

There is so much power in our thoughts and our words. The way we treat and talk to ourselves has a direct impact on our wellbeing. Stop believing the lies. Stop playing the comparison game. Stop living under condemnation. Jesus already traded His righteousness for your sin. Start treating yourself the way you would treat a chosen and righteous child of the Almighty God. 

Because that is who you are.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Wise Much?

by Sylvia Gaston

How many decisions do you make each day? Thousands! The average human makes 35,000 decisions a day. Granted, many of these are too small to be of much significance in the grand scheme of life. Things like what time to wake up, what to eat, what to wear, how fast to drive to work or school, etc. are not all that important. Other decisions carry a little more weight and importance such as where to live, what relationships to have, and what larger purchases to make (think cars and houses). And then there are the really big decisions! Decisions like who to marry, how many kids to have (if any), and what to do with your life. This is the stuff that has lifelong consequences.

So how do you make these large and small decisions well? Flip a coin, ask a Magic 8-Ball, phone a friend, or just do what “feels right”? You need wisdom. By definition, wisdom is gained by learning as much as you can, analyzing your experiences and putting your knowledge to the test so you can become a wiser person. In my experience, this is a lengthy and flawed process.

Do you sometimes wish there was a source of wisdom to tap into that could help you always make the right decisions? There is! What?! Oh yeah . . . God. Why wouldn’t you seek the wisdom of the One who created everything, knows everything, and sees past, present and future? Why not ask the Creator who created you with a plan and a purpose?

To do that requires that you know Him. This is the single most important decision that you will make in your life - or not make! To know God gives you access to the Author and Finisher of all things and all people. 

OK, so let’s say you've already chosen to follow God. There was no instant download of all the wisdom needed when you made that choice. So how do you access the wisdom of God?

We read about a man in the Bible, Solomon, who became king of Israel after his father, David, died. Solomon showed his great love for God. God appeared to Solomon in a dream and asked him what he wanted. Solomon asked for wisdom. This pleased God and He promised him great wisdom because he didn’t ask for self-serving rewards like long life or personal wealth. God said to him, “Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for - both riches and honor - so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.” (1 Kings 3)

According to King Solomon, the wisest king ever, wisdom is from God. “For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth comes knowledge and understanding." (Proverbs 2:6)

So how do you get it? Fast forward to Jesus’ day - His brother, James, states, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5)

Wisdom problem solved! Follow Jesus, love God, and ask Him for wisdom! Then . . . bring on the decisions - large and small - and see how your life is transformed! 

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Uncommon Habits for the New Year

by Andrew Cromwell

This year, just as in year’s past, most will make some new year’s resolutions. We will determine to lose weight, get back in shape, spend more quality time with family, save money, and read more. We resolve to do differently because we want to be different! 

Inherently we know that if we are going to become better people we have to change our habits. Habits have the power to transform our lives for better or worse. We can be filled with peace and patience or anxiety and angst, all depending on how we order our lives. According to Justin Whitmel Early, “habits form [not just] our schedules, they form our hearts.”

Let me suggest three habits—three new year’s resolutions—that could have the power to change your year because they have the power to influence your heart. Let me warn you, these habits are countercultural. They are uncommon. But uncommon habits lead to uncommon lives. And uncommon lives have the power to change our world.

The first uncommon habit is Scripture before Screen. It is as simple as it sounds. And yet, for many of us, we have become so trained by our technology that we no longer are in control. For many of us, our phones are both our alarm clocks and our mindless entertainment (not to mention the way we communicate with the world). So the phone tends to be the first thing we grab as we wake up in the morning. If the phone is not your screen of choice then it might be the television or something else. This simple habit involves a decision to first stare at the mirror of God’s Word before anything else. It may be the single best strategy for having daily devotions that we have available to us today! 

The second uncommon habit is One Meal with Others. For some, this habit may not be a challenge. But increasingly we live in a world where we are disconnected from others. Our lives are filled with activity and yet we find ourselves eating alone. Sometimes we might eat next to others but we aren’t really with them because we are so preoccupied with our technology. This habit is all about connecting relationally with the people around us. We all have to eat, why not turn it into a meaningful time for conversation and connection? Imagine if you planned your life and work around connecting with others rather than the other way around?

The third uncommon habit is One Hour with Phone Off. It sounds easy, but for many of us, the very thought of being without your device brings on a panic attack. Perhaps that’s why this one is important. Pick a time and turn your phone off completely. It’s not good enough just to put it on silent or to turn it over. Turn it completely off. Oh, and don’t cheat with other devices -- turn off the Apple Watch, the iPad, and any other device that stands between you and the physical world. The world will go on. You will be free. And you might notice some things you’ve been missing. 

You might have noticed that two out of three of these habits have to do with technology. The simple fact is that our lives, our hearts, and our relationships are being shaped by tech in ways that we often don’t realize. Perhaps 2020 will be the year when we begin to take back control of what shapes our hearts! 

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Ready or Not

by Tim Howard
Are you prepared for 2020? Ready or not, it will be here in a few days! For me, the New Year will give birth to a new season of life as I officially retire on December 31, 2019.
As my career concludes after 46 years of ministry as a Pastor, I now have the privilege of serving God and people in a different capacity.
Preparing for the future can be overwhelming unless you have set goals and know what you are reaching for.
Listen to a paraphrase of what the Apostle Paul said as he spoke to the Philippian people and prepared himself for his future.
I want to know Christ in a very real way. I’m on the right path but haven’t arrived yet – far from it!  There is a goal that I am pressing on to obtain and that goal is to live a lifestyle honoring God. I am focusing on what is ahead and letting go of that which is behind. I encourage all of you to do the same. 
Please notice the three specific things Paul did: He declared his goals, shared his goals and documented them for us! If you aim at nothing you will hit it! That’s right: You will hit nothing! What do you really want to accomplish in 2020? Speak it out. Write it down. Share it with someone. Paul did and it’s important for us as well.

It’s also imperative to let go of the past! You won’t be able to embrace tomorrow if you are still holding onto yesterday.

Here are three things you should leave behind as you exit 2019 and enter 2020.

1. Guilt

Remorse, regret and guilt grow when we focus on our mistakes, failures, inadequacies and sins. When you have received the gift of forgiveness from Jesus through confession of your sins, however, your guilt gives way to God’s goodness and your past gives way to freedom!

2. Grudges

We’ve all been hurt: It may have come from disappointments or failing miserably. Maybe someone abused us in some way or we made some terrible decisions on our own. Even though we’ve experienced pain, we don’t have to ‘hold a grudge.’ You can turn it over to God. It’s a better solution than blaming yourself or others for your current status. It’s amazing how much lighter and brighter you feel when you let a grudge go.

3. Grief

Jesus came to help us with our grief. In this world you will have trouble, the Bible says but Jesus said: “take heart! I have overcome the world.” According to Isaiah the prophet, Jesus came to help us find the gold in the midst of the dirt we find ourselves mired in at times. He can help us praise instead of grieve.

Last of all, to be ready for 2020 you must change your focus. Paul said: I press on – I focus on what is ahead and commit myself to reaching the goal. What is your goal? What do you need to do in order to become a better mom or a better dad in 2020? What do you need to do in order to be a better friend – a better employee? Focus on that and go full steam ahead.

The New Year is full of opportunities and challenges. Ready or not, here it comes!

Saturday, December 21, 2019

What If?

by Tim Howard 

Since Christmas is only four days away, I’m sure you’ve heard those two well-known words within the past few weeks: Merry Christmas! Some folks like to use the phrase Happy Holidays, which suggests it’s a time to celebrate for a variety of reasons. 

I like the phrase Merry Christmas because it keeps the name of Christ prominent and helps me remember that He is the central reason for all our festivities and frivolity. After all, it is His birthday we are celebrating. 

A Doctor by the name of Luke reminds us of the reason behind our celebration in his book, recorded in the Bible. He explains: The angel of the Lord said to some Shepherds…Listen closely, I bring you good news, the most joyous news the world has ever heard and it is for everyone everywhere! For today in Bethlehem, there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’ 

That’s not only good news, that’s great news! The very fact that God decided to live among us reveals His great love and gives us a reason to celebrate. He came to help us be victorious and not victims, to defeat evil rather than be defeated by evil, to empower us to love rather than hate and treat others the way we want to be treated… His love for us is incomprehensible and beyond comparison.

Why do we celebrate Christmas? Because God is with us! His presence among us brings hope and joy and is good news to the ears of those who will believe. By the way, did you notice that Luke said: “Jesus came for everyone and not just a few?”

Unfortunately, many have lost sight of the real purpose behind the Christmas celebration. Too often it becomes a burden to endure rather than a blessing to be experienced. 

Here are a few ‘WHAT IF’ questions I‘ve been asking myself as I walk through this Christmas season. 

What would happen if people returned to the real meaning of Christmas?
What if we put more emphasis on His presence in our midst rather than presents under the tree?
What if God and others became our highest priority rather than ourselves?
What if we loved people the way God loves us?
What if we gave more of ourselves and invested our time in others rather than spending more money and going into debt?   
Maybe we would make a greater difference in the lives of those we touch.
Maybe we would have more money in our pockets and more life in our hearts at the end of the season. Maybe, just maybe we would see more peace on earth and goodwill toward mankind.
At the very least we would genuinely have a ‘Merry Christmas”.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Can You Just Wait?

by Candace Cortez

 Guess what everyone? Today is my birthday! By the time anyone will be reading this, the day will have passed. But the day that I am writing this article, I am also celebrating the day God decided would be the best time for me to be born. I have discovered that I am basically a child because I could not fall asleep last night in anticipation of today. I know that my husband and I will be doing a list of fun birthday things today and in response, I saw every hour on the clock until my alarm went off.

The blessing to my unexpected fatigue is a reminder of a crucial element of being people of faith: anticipation. While watching the clock tick by, I was reminded of a couple of different waiting seasons for all people in our faith history.

The first waiting season was the night before the People of Israel were to be freed from Egypt. They had been held captive as slaves, forced to labor for a ruler who did not care for them. God worked it out through Moses for them to be freed, but at a great cost for the Egyptians. That evening, God gave them specific instructions before they were to leave. He commanded them to eat a feast with unleavened bread and with their clothes and shoes on, ready to go. The process for making leavened bread was time-consuming, and during this evening of anticipation, what they wore and even what they ate was poured into the process of waiting. In this situation, God’s people waited for their lives and freedom. How they waited could have cost them both.

The 2nd waiting season was the time leading up to the birth of Jesus. People knew a Savior was coming, but they did not have all of the details of His arrival. A specific group of people, Matthew calls them wise men, arrived after they noticed a change in the heavens. They followed a star that was foretold in prophecies from generations earlier. Scholars believe that these men were connected to the men who served the king alongside Daniel (Daniel and the lions Den-Daniel!) and had been watching the heavens for generations.  As soon as they witnessed the sign, they brought gifts of worship. They had a message of how to anticipate the coming Savior, and with patience and dedication, they waited.

The waiting season of the wise men reminds me of the last waiting season: you and me today. We have been given directions from Jesus that He will return again. He lets us know that the hour is unknown, and there is work to be done in the meantime. If we give up waiting for Him and refuse to wait according to His instructions, we may miss it. Jesus’ return is not the only place of anticipation. We can also expect the promises of a full life when we live it with Jesus. 

I do this thing with my children when if the event is too big or awesome, I do not tell them about it because they get so excited. Handling excitement over long periods is not their strength, and so I let certain things be last-minute surprises. Even with this workaround, I find myself saying the phrase, “can you just wait” regularly. Today, I ask myself this same question. Can I just wait for Jesus? Will I be wearing righteousness like the Israelites were wearing sandals? Will I be watching, or will I be distracted by life? Can I just wait? Or will I give up the honor of anticipating His promises for an easier quick fix? I pray we would wait well today, tomorrow, and however long it takes.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Prayer: The Ultimate Gift

by Tim Howard

In a conversation some time ago the topic of prayer came up and the person I was speaking with said emphatically: “ I don’t believe in prayer, I believe in luck!” I jokingly said in response: “I too believe in luck but it seems the more I pray, the luckier I get!”

In it’s broadest definition, prayer is talking with God. This can be done audibly as God hears our words or silently, since God knows our thoughts. And because communication is a two-way connection, prayer includes both speaking to God and listening to Him speak to us.

Prayer is like having an internal cell phone that allows you to call God at any time and from any place.

Speaking of cell phones: According to a national survey from CTIA and Harris Interactive, nearly half (47%) of US teens say their social life would end without his or her cell phone and 80% say their Cell phone provides a sense of security while on the go.

In comparison, prayer is the ultimate cell-phone and many are taking advantage of this amazing gift. According to surveys by Barna Research Ltd. over a 10-year period, 82% of adults and 89% of teenagers pray in a normal week. 88% of women and 75% of men pray. 96% of professing Christians pray weekly, while 72% of people not describing themselves as Christians pray as well.

One reason I pray is because Jesus prayed. He carried on an ongoing dialogue with the Father and prayed daily. He prayed over meals, He prayed early in the morning and sometimes all night long.  He prayed short prayers and long prayers. He prayed for His enemies, His friends and His followers. He prayed in private and in public. Even with a cursory study of the Bible, we discover that it is imperative to maintain constant communication with the Father each and every day.

Prayer, however, does not negate God’s divine prerogative nor does it override His purposes. We have the privilege of asking and He retains the right to answer on the basis of His vantage point. We may not understand why He chooses to do what He does and His answers may defy logic and analysis from our perspective but His response is always filled with wisdom, foresight and love. He has our best interest in mind and knows what is correct. What we think we need isn’t always what we really need!

My prayer in this season is for us to continually give thanks throughout the year and not merely one day out of 365. The Thanksgiving season comes every November and is awesome, but Romans 1:21-24 gives us the rationale behind giving thanks each and every day. It’s worth reading to discover the logic for making this prayer. 

A cell phone will set you back a few bucks especially when you include the extensive package. It may provide teens and others with a sense of security but the ultimate cell phone is free! No upfront fee, no monthly service charge and no hidden cost. It truly does provide real security because the emergency line to God is always open. B.T.W. Everyone has been given an internal cell phone and if you pray, God will listen and if you listen, He will speak!