Saturday, September 14, 2019

Who’s Listening?

by Candace Cortez

There is one part of parenting that is revealing parts of myself that I didn’t know existed. That is youth sports. I have never been chill, and I know this. But I did not expect passion to escape from my being as it does when my son’s team has the ball. I try to play it cool with some of the other cute moms and relaxed fathers on the side lines. I enjoy chatting with the other fans of children’s team sporting events. But more often than not, I am interrupting a nice conversation about what our kids will or won’t eat for dinner with a shout of “GOOOOO GOOOO GOOOO!” because all of a sudden my son or one of his friends is running the ball. I can’t help it. I am a loud, but encouraging team mom.

I have been comparing these same compulsory responses to those that erupt when you stub your toe on the corner of the couch. You don’t always get to plan those next few syllables that sneak (or stampede) out of your mouth. You don’t get to practice your response to sharp pain and usually that response is wrapped in anger, which could lead to not so shiny statements.  But just because you’re not in a place to edit your comments with your full range of self-control, does not mean you’re off the hook for what comes out of your mouth. I learned this lesson recently.

I was sitting next to a mom I didn’t recognize. She was kind and didn’t complain with her face when I decided to share her shady spot instead of choosing a space outside of her bubble. I was being loud encouraging the team as always. I typically try to celebrate both sides of the field if the situation arises. There was a particular play when one of the players on the opposing team got a little aggressive when he didn’t go as far as he wanted. I kind of laughed at the situation with her, made a passing comment about his frustration, and then quickly followed it up with a complement about his cuteness.  Insert generic mom comments here. After the game, that same little boy from the opposing team came running up to his mom sitting right next to me. My mind immediately raced back to my comments. Were they rude? Did I mock or ridicule him? Was she even paying attention? Luckily after my rapid-fire recall moment, I felt I was in the clear. I told him good game and left so glad I didn’t have my foot in my mouth.

Lesson learned: you have no idea who is listening! There are very few things that can break the potential for relationship than insulting someone’s child. I know I would have a hard time trusting someone who was rude to my little ones. Paul warns us in Ephesians 4:29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

This doesn’t mean when you’re in a good mood, or at church, or when you’re totally aware of your surroundings. This isn’t because God wants to control us, or dictate what we say. I truly believe God gives us these warnings because it’s wisdom. If I were to shout out negative things about a little one who is having a negative moment during a child’s sporting event, I may have used words that don’t matter to end a friendship before it even began. 

God desires for us to love one another. One of the ways to do that is with your words. It’s really difficult to say I love you after a situation when your words or actions say quite the opposite. We must weed out the negative stuff so when we are in an auto-response mode, it’s not hurtful to those who are forced to hear us. We don’t always get to pick who hears us, but we do get to pick our words.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Convictions and Attitudes

by Tim Howard

Someone once said: “Your attitude will determine your altitude.” I totally agree! Some people find opportunity in every difficulty; others find difficulty in every opportunity. Your attitude has the power to create a positive outlook on life as well as a negative one. 

In Phil 2:4-5 the Apostle Paul tells us not to be selfish, which is an action, motivated by a wrong attitude. He goes on to say: “Don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had”. NLT

A person can choose the attitude that will best serve God’s purposes. To do this, however, you must establish true convictions because attitudes and actions are founded upon the convictions you hold. 

Convictions grow over time. They are learned through instruction, thought, decisions and experiences. They provide the foundation of your life perspective. Your future looks bright when your attitude is built upon convictions that are right. When this happens, you become a sweet fragrance to enjoy rather than an odor to be avoided.

People who have great impact on the world, for good or bad, are those with deep-seated convictions. They weren’t necessarily the smartest, brightest, the most educated, the wealthiest or even the most famous but they hold strong beliefs.

I’ve established many convictions that have helped me stay the course. Here are a few of them.

1.  Life Is All About God!
It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s not about profit, politics, or anything else. It’s all about God. Until you understand that, life will never make sense fully. 

2.  People Matter Most! 
Rick Warren said: Projects and programs are great but we are to be driven by purpose and that purpose puts people first. 
               
3.  You Can’t Do Life Alone!
It’s not enough just to love God. You must love His people and connect - despite all of our differences. Jesus is our example and He connected with all people.

4.  Everything Is Possible With God!
Don’t quit believing in God because Miracles still happen! God is pleased when we trust Him to do those things beyond our abilities. He’s willing to empower us!

5.  God Expects Everyone To Love Everyone.      
Matt. 5:43-44 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy’ but I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. NIV When something bad happens, you have three choices: You can either let it define you, destroy you, or strengthen you. Don’t let anything stop you from loving everyone.

Turning a problem into an opportunity, being victorious rather than a victim or seeing the possibilities rather than the impossibilities is determined by convictions and attitudes. What are you some of your convictions and do you need an attitude adjustment?

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Good Luck!

by Sylvia Gaston
How many times have you said that to someone? I say it all the time to kids who are playing sports or taking a test or to someone making a presentation. Technically speaking, is it really luck that determines these outcomes?
Luck is defined as success or failure brought by chance rather than through one's actions. Our successes and failures are usually brought on by choices we’ve made or by whether or not we have adequately prepared for that game, test or presentation.
How does luck relate to fate? Fate is defined as the development of events beyond a person's control, as determined by a supernatural power. What supernatural power? Are we talking about God here?
Lastly, I’ve heard my teenagers and their friends say “Karma!” to someone who has an unfortunate thing happen. By saying this, they mean, “That’s what you get (or deserve)”. In Hinduism and Buddhism, karma refers to the sum of a person's actions in this and previous lives that determine their fate in their future lives.
What does luck, fate or karma have to do with my life? Absolutely nothing!
There are two important fundamental beliefs that I wish each man, woman, and child would believe and live out. (There are more but let’s focus on these two for now)….
1.    God created you on purpose.
2.    God created you for a purpose.
In the Old Testament of the Bible, God speaks directly to Jeremiah, His prophet. Jeremiah, in turn, shares God’s words with the people. In Jeremiah 1:4-5, he says, “The Lord’s message came to me: “Before I made you in your mother’s womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I chose you for a special work.” (ERV)
David, of David and Goliath fame, puts it this way . . .
“O Lord, you have examined my heart
     and know everything about me.
 You know when I sit down or stand up.
     You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
 You see me when I travel
     and when I rest at home.
     You know everything I do.
 You know what I am going to say
     even before I say it, Lord.
 You go before me and follow me.
     You place your hand of blessing on my head.
 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
     too great for me to understand!” (Psalm 139:1-6)(NLT)
 It wasn’t luck, fate or karma that created you. It was God. You are precious to Him. He loves you with an unconditional love that we humans cannot fully comprehend or replicate.
AND He created you for a reason, a purpose. When we live out our life doing what our Creator created us to do, then and only then, are we truly living our best life. 

So, what is my purpose, you may ask? I have only begun to grasp some of the things that I’m certain God created me to do. It is a lifelong conversation with God, listening and watching for His promptings and confirmations. Each of us must seek Him to find answers to that paramount question. To that, I say good luck (just kidding)!

Saturday, August 17, 2019

When Temptation Comes Knocking

by Tim Howard
Oscar Wilde said: “I can resist anything except temptation.” I can relate! How about you? You’ve got to remember, when it comes knocking on your door you don’t have to open it!
Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. Closing the door to temptation can be daunting. If you always say ‘yes’ when it knocks then you have yet to realize the level of difficulty. Only those who try to resist know how strong it is.
Temptation is like food – we’re enticed to eat the wrong things and those things that are healthy are not attractive to us. Too often we think of temptation as being enticed to do big things like stealing, murdering or committing adultery. But most often we're tempted to be impatient, stingy, jealous, greedy or just plain lazy and apathetic.
A survey I read listed ten powerful temptations people face in this culture. Here’s five or them:
1. The desire to buy more than they can afford.
2. The temptation to put themselves first and live a self-centered life.
3.  The inclination to laziness rather than productivity – to do nothing rather than something.
4. The enticement to procrastinate.
5. The temptation to make pleasure more important than purpose.
According to the dictionary, temptation is the act of enticement with the purpose of causing you to do something wrong or unprofitable by promising something positive. Temptation motivates you to do ‘bad’ by promising something good. The Bible totally agrees with this and affirms the need to say NO when it comes.
Temptation shows up early in the Biblical narrative. Only 3 chapters into the Bible we are told of a couple named Adam and Eve who were tempted to disobey God for the purpose of setting up their own autonomy. Guess what! They yielded to the voice of temptation and others were impacted negatively.
When you yield to the temptation of surfing the Internet while you’re being paid to work, the productivity or your company decreases. When you sit on the couch watching sports knowing you should be helping your mate, your relationship suffers. When you’re tempted to lie rather than tell the truth, you sacrifice your integrity if you yield.
Here are four things I’ve learned that may help in this ongoing battle with temptation and it is ongoing!
1. You have a better chance of standing strong in the midst of temptation if you have an exit strategy before you experience it. Schools and companies have an escape plan set in place in case of fire. People living in hurricane areas have a calculated strategy for when the winds come. And coaches never go into a contest without a game plan. Ask yourself: How am I going to escape when it happens to me? Get a plan!
2. It’s critical to identify your weaknesses prior to a moment of enticement since temptation looks for your weak moments. In Luke 4 when Jesus was tempted, we are told that the devil left Him for another ‘opportune’ time. You can strengthen your resolve if you’re aware of your vulnerable points and set up a guard.
3. People who lose the battle to temptation have often lost sight of the big picture. He or she becomes myopic, only seeing what benefits them. 

4. Be willing to fight. (James 4:7) There will always be a battle but if you’re willing to close the door on temptation it will bear great dividends.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Still Hostile

by Candace Cortez

One of my favorite things about the Bible, the incredible, God breathed and powerful text handed down and preserved for generations is that if I read it right, I always find something new. I have been reading the Bible for more than 2 decades and this is still so true. Is this true for you? The key here is reading it “right.” There have been seasons when I read because I knew I was supposed to, so it was essentially just a verse count relay. I needed to get a certain amount of verses in me to justify calling myself a Christian. Fortunately, I have grown, and continue to grow in my love for scripture. If you are where I was, take heart! It gets better. I now read because I know I will find something. I now read because I love God more than I love being a Christian. I now read for growth, not verse count. Here is one of the beautiful things that recently stuck out to me.

From the beginning, God had a plan for all eternity. This alone, kind of blows my mind. In Genesis 3, we have the account of the fall of all mankind. The process is sad, and the reaction from the Father reveals so much about His love, compassion, handle on justice, and desire to keep us in the loop. One statement in particular recently stuck out about our relationship with the serpent, the central bad guy in this story. Genesis 3:15 is the middle of God’s account of His plan, both in retribution and in restoration. It is written,

“And I will put enmity
     between you and the woman,
     and between your offspring, and hers;
 he will crush your head,
     and you will strike his heel.”

The first word highlighted in my heart (and now in my Bible) is the word enmity. I knew that Satan was my enemy, but I never realized that the status of enemy was established by God Himself. The status of enemy may have primarily existed between God and the devil, but God placed that same hostility between His created children and Satan. The meaning of enmity is the state or feeling of being actively opposed or hostile to someone or something. This feeling of despising the work of the enemy is a result of the Father’s will. As I prayed on this, I began to realize, that if I am not in active opposition to the evil in this world, to the ways in which the enemy is trying to deceive and corrupt, then I am outside of the will of my Father. Each moment of passive acceptance of what the enemy is doing in this planet, actually puts me in HIS camp, instead of the side of the creator of the universe. Here’s my prayer: Lord, help me to keep that feeling of hostility against the enemy, and LOVE for people and this planet, alive in tandem, propelling me towards the active building of Your Kingdom. Amen.

The last part I’ll write about is God’s plan for Eve’s offspring. Many scholars suggest that the specific offspring mentioned here is actually Jesus. He will crush the head, meaning actually destroying Satan in the end, while Jesus will be struck a blow to the heel. Honestly, I am still studying to figure out the significance of the heel as the specified place of the strike, but I am certain of this: the enemy is destroyed, while Jesus, Eve’s offspring, is only wounded. This leads me to remember the crucifixion, as terrible as it was, led to the resurrection. Jesus conquered it all to defeat the enemy.

Now here we are. Still enemies of Satan, but on the side of a King who has already begun the process of victory. We live in victory and will be victorious even more. I don’t know what part of your life the enemy has tried to win over, or what you have become comfortable with, but remember that we are victorious in so many ways already. God uses all things, even the strikes of the enemy to create something good. He will use your trials to build strength, perseverance, and leverage these over the plans of the one who has already lost. Keep studying God’s word. Keep hostility for evil alive. Keep in mind, you serve a God who is crushing it!

Saturday, August 3, 2019

We All Need Somebody

by Andrew Cromwell

So much in life is outside of our control. We are reminded of this constantly. No matter how much we try to fool ourselves into believing we can manage, fix, patch around, or prevent the bad parts of life, we just can’t.

People get sick unexpectedly. Financial markets turn upside without warning. Cars crash and bridges fail. And festivals, like the one in Gilroy just the other day, become funerals.

When life is good, everything is easy. Things fall into place without much effort — relationships are sweet, there’s enough money to go around, and the kids put a smile on your face. But when things go wrong, suddenly what was easy becomes difficult.

It is in these moments—when your child gets sick, when your spouse tells you they’re not sure anymore, when you lose your job—that you need true friends. True friends are friends when things are good and when things are bad. Proverbs says, “a true friend is born for adversity.” In other words, when things get ugly, the people that stick around to encourage you are the ones that are your real friends.

And we all need real friends. We need real relationships. Not just casual friendships or acquaintances. We can know the name of 100 people but not be friends with any. Real friends know who we really are and love us anyway. They stick around when we have a bad day and get grumpy and they tell us the truth when we need to hear it.

Real friends also don’t happen by accident. Developing significant relationships requires time, energy, and effort. It is a two-way street that requires us to do our part too.

As a pastor, I hear a story repeated far too often. The story has many variations but the formula is always the same: ‘life was good and I got lazy and stopped doing the important things then life got bad and I don’t know where to turn.’

What I find most revealing about these stories is that rarely do people not know what to do. Nine times out of ten, they know exactly what to do. But they stopped doing it and now they wish they could turn the clock back.

And most often these regrets have to do with relationships. They stopped investing in their marriage. They stopped regularly meeting with good, healthy friends. They stopped building their relationship with God.

Relationships matter. They are hard, but they are so worth it.

What are you doing to maintain the critical relationships in your life? 

As a pastor, I have seen how churches can be a place where deep relationships can happen. But only if people make the effort and stick with it.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Squeeze Principle

by Tim Howard

When I was a small boy I hated naps with a passion. My mother’s love for naps, however, greatly exceeded my hatred and I was doomed to take one each and every day.  I think her love for them was rooted in the fact that she got a break from me.  If the truth were known, it may have been her favorite time of the day!   I recall one afternoon waking up from one of those naps and within a few minutes, my mom told me to go back to bed.  Curious as to why, I asked for a reason (in a demanding tone) and she said, “Because you got up on the wrong side of the bed.”  That didn’t make sense to me but I soon learned she was talking about my attitude. 

A person’s attitude is connected to his or her focus and perception of life. In my specific case, I hated naps and a bad attitude manifested itself.  One man calls it the ‘Squeeze’ principle. It’s when the pressures of life try to squeeze your hope, joy, and peace out of you. The pressures do not create the attitude - only reveal it! 

In Acts 16:22 –25, Paul and Silas were having a challenging day.  They were being squeezed!  They had been preaching the Gospel in Philippi and the crowd was attacking them.  They were ultimately beaten and thrown into prison.  About midnight, “Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.”  As I read this narrative, I asked myself: “Isn’t there something wrong with this picture?”  They have been stripped, imprisoned, put in stocks, and now they’re singing. Not to mention they had done no crime.

I would have expected this verse to read that Paul and Silas were having a pity party and complaining at midnight or blaming God and others for their current dilemma.  The truth, however, is that these two men simply focused on God and not their current situation. Their focus and perception created a positive attitude while others listened intently.

A positive attitude in the midst of dark times will influence people greatly.  Don’t forget the greatest impact of your life will often come at the time of greatest pain.  Maybe you’re being squeezed right now.  How are you handling it?  Are you reacting, blaming and criticizing? Or are you responding, focusing on the future and trusting God?

When life squeezes you – God wants to build your character!

To build character you don’t need to get up on the other side of the bed! You need to:

1. Have the right values.
One educator said: "Teaching kids to count is wonderful, but teaching them what counts is best."

2. Do the right thing.
People of character know there is no right way to do the wrong thing. If you start something wrong, you'll end wrong. You've got to do the right thing.

3. Be the right kind of person.
When you walk humbly, live a lifestyle of giving, do acts of kindness and consider others before yourself. You are the right kind of person.

4. Have the right attitude.
Someone said that your attitude will determine your altitude! 

By the way… I have learned to love naps.  I wish I could take one each and every day.