Saturday, March 25, 2017

What's Important to You?

by Sylvia Gaston

Decisions, decisions, decisions. We make thousands of them each day – big and small.

Who will care for my children should I die unexpectedly? What should I eat for dinner? Should I have a child now? Does this shirt go with these pants?

We make decisions that are significant and insignificant; important and routine; life-changing and mundane.

Some research suggests that we make a staggering 35,000 decisions a day. Children make only about 3,000. Ah, to be a child again.

How to you make your decisions? Do you give them detailed thought and time before deciding? Or are you a snap decision maker? Do you consult wise people or do online research? Do you pray before deciding?

I believe that, in order to make wise decisions, we must first decide what is really important to us. That will then dictate how much time, research, prayer should go into each one.

Is it super important to my life which gas station or brand of milk I choose? No. Is who I marry or who I become important to my life? Yes!

Here’s something to consider. What are the most important things in your life? In the grand scheme of things, what means the most to you? It isn’t necessarily the same for all. For me, it’s my husband, kids, friends, conduct/character – basically, the ones I love and why I exist.

In deciding where to spend my time and decision-making, it makes sense to dash past the unimportant and focus on the meaningful. Am I doing that? Am I spending time and building up the ones I love? Am I a good, contributing, compassionate, and giving human being? Does this make my life successful and worthwhile? (pregnant pause here)

In this culture, where we reward and revere the accomplished, the beautiful, the wealthy…are we defining success accurately? My definition of success has drastically changed in the past 15 years. I no longer crave fame, possessions, power. I long for meaning. I now desire meaningful relationships and making a positive impact on the world around me. That may not bring me worldly recognition, notoriety, and riches. But, that’s what has become the most important to me.
Once we define what’s really important, THAT’S where we need to spend our time and focus. That’s where we need to heavily weigh our decisions in the hope that we will create a life worth living.

Speaking of a life worth living, what about the most important decision of all? We must each decide where we will spend our life after this one. The Bibles tells us in John 17:3 (ESV) “And this is eternal life, that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

God teaches us that this life on earth is but a mist in contrast to forever. Where will you spend forever?  THAT’S a decision on which we should all deem extremely important and spend much time, research and lot and lots of prayer. 

What’s important to you?

Saturday, March 18, 2017

To Be Honest

by Candace Cortez

When I need a change of pace or scenery, I often try to find a place to work outside of the office. Coffee shops, diners, even a park if I don’t need WIFI. Sometimes this change of pace pays off and I am focused and productive. Sometimes I place my ear buds in my ears and get right to work. Sometimes, I forget to turn music on and I am sitting with my ear buds in my ears, and I can still hear all of the conversations around me. To be honest, I kinda love when this happens. Call me a creeper, but I love to feel the presence of community and I am curious about how people relate to each other and what topics matter and make relationships happen.   

I was sitting earbuds in when a couple was obviously on a first or maybe a second date. I have overheard a breakup. There have been friend fights and even some friend counseling. Mothers of young children get together and talk the challenges and tricks to being a parent. Conference calls, Skype sessions with mom, and even job interviews, all overheard at the table next to me.

Some folks people watch. I suppose you can say I people listen.

One of the most beautiful things I have heard is a group of friends, who have obviously been friends for some time, discussing the tough stuff. Religion, politics, social issues and marriage issues just to name a few. The most interesting part was not the topics of discussion, but how many opposing perspectives and strong opinions were represented within that social circle. A few were very Anti-President Trump, while a couple others highly supported our President and his decisions. One couple were involved in a specific denomination at church, while a few others had some strikingly different thoughts about practicing worship. A few of them had older children who were struggling and there was a lot of different types of advice given that actually contradicted each other, from tough love to total support.

These are big deals for a lot of people, and I have found that many relationships struggle to be honest when the topics present differences in opinions.

These very same topics are often the cause of many arguments on both social media and in other conversation venues. These individuals had found a way to be totally honest with each other without offending each other. I believe that extra element was love.

To be totally honest with someone, we risk exposing cracks in our relationship and in the character of others. This risk has created a general silence in so many relationships. The other option is to just not say anything if we disagree or see something in our loved ones that needs to be addressed. We sometimes make assumptions and instead of asking for clarity, we walk around with unknown misconceptions in our hearts. Sometimes we just need to ask the tough questions. We need to challenge our thoughts about tough topics. We need to hold each other accountable. To do this, we need honest AND love.

Not once did Jesus ever lie, by omission or otherwise. He also didn’t shy away from the things about life and relationship that were hard. The way the tough things like “go and sin no more” was received, was perfect love. 

Our love is not perfect. But it gets a bit closer with honesty with the people in our circle. Talk about the tough stuff! Share who you are. Give space for others to do the same.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Go Back to the Beginning

by Andrew Cromwell

I love the movie The Princess Bride. If you’ve never seen it, it is a comedic take on a fairytale love story set in the time of knights and maidens and kings and queens. Apart from having a great cast including Billy Crystal and Andre the Giant in unforgettable supporting roles, it is full of witty one-liners and clever repartee (how’s that for my word of the day?).

At one point a character in the movie, Inigo Montoya, who is played by Mandy Pantkin, remembers that his friend Vizzini had told him to “go back to the beginning.” For those of you who have seen the movie, I cannot resist quoting the line exactly, for you will surely hear Inigo’s voice and accent: “I am waiting for you, Vizzini. You told me to go back to the beginning. So I have.”

This moment of revelation leads Inigo to exactly the place he needed to be. He had lost all hope of redemption but his decision to go back to the beginning is the thing that made the difference. Of course, in the way of all fairy tales, things worked together in just the way they are supposed to and Inigo won the victory he so desperately needed.

In case you haven’t noticed, your life is not a fairy tale. Neither is mine. But that doesn’t mean there are no good lessons for us to apply from our favorite fairy tale stories. And this one is no different. Sometimes you just need to go back to the beginning.

I don’t know where you are at in life. But I imagine that there are some areas that you wish you could just hit the restart button. Maybe it’s a relationship that soured or a job gone sideways. Or maybe you have wandered far, far away from God.

I can’t offer you a restart button that will erase all of your past, but I do know that you can go back to the beginning and have a new start. To go back to the beginning means going back to the time and place where you knew the ground was solid, to that time before you got off track. It was the moment where hope was alive in your heart and your vision of the future was bright. The Bible talks about that moment when our hearts were alive with our first love — before we soiled it and spoiled it.

You can go back to that. Or if you feel like you’ve never had that, you can go there for the first time. Most everyone knows that this past Wednesday was Ash Wednesday. It signalled the start of the season of Lent. Lent is a six week period when many Christians go back to the beginning. They set their hearts towards Jesus once again. They fast and pray. They rededicate themselves to following Him with their whole heart. They prepare themselves so that they can see His purposes in their lives.

You may never have practiced Lent. You may not be a Christian. But you may know that you need a new start. Jesus said, “Come to Me all you who are tired and weary and I will give you rest.” Now, that’s a beginning! 

Wherever you are today, perhaps it is time to go back to the beginning. To get yourself close to Father God. To rededicate yourself to Him and to the things He wants for your life. And if you don’t know where to begin, just start with a conversation with Him. 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Frustrated!!

by Sylvia Gaston
 
We’ve all been there. Overloaded with what feels like a ridiculous amount of frustration in your day caused by others around you. Have you been at the end of your rope because of a family member? Or co-worker? Or even a stranger?

 
In fact, as I type this, I’m on, what I call “eternal hold” with a governmental agency. Now that’s to be expected EXCEPT when I called earlier they gave me the option to not wait 12-18 minutes on hold but, instead, to get a call back when it was my turn. So, I did. They called back and an automated voice put me on hold. For quite awhile. WHAT? That wasn’t the deal! I’m frustrated.

 
To make matters worse, I can’t multi-task and keep working while I’m on unjustifiable hold because my phone doesn’t get great reception in our brick-walled offices. So, I need to stand next to the glass doors overlooking our back alley, watching the rain form puddles…while on hold…frustrated. So, I hang up. Very frustrated.

 
Frustration is the feeling of being upset or annoyed, especially because of the inability to change or achieve something. It is inevitable and a part of every day life.

 
Sometimes, though, it feels like it stacks up in our day. Before we can decompress from one frustration, here comes another. And another. And another. Here comes wave after wave of irritation, annoyance, anger. That’s when we feel the urge to punch someone in the face.


So, what’s the solution?
 
Usually, our frustration is caused by people. Most of the time we have no idea what another person’s struggle is that day. Perhaps their husband just moved out, their kid is cutting themselves, they are months behind on all of their bills, they are lonely, or they just received a horrible diagnosis.

 
Every day our paths cross with people who are deep in the problems of life. Many are feeling hopeless, sad, desperate.

 
So, when I want to punch someone in the face, I think of that. God’s quiet voice speaks to me that I need to see that person through His eyes. They are His little boy or girl who is struggling and just wants to be loved. My solution is to BE KIND even when I don’t feel like it. Why? I’ll be kind because it’s the right thing to do; because our world needs more kindness more than ever. But, mostly because that’s what God wants me to do.

 
Over the years, I have assembled a handful of Bible verses that I recall when I need to shift my perspective or attitude. One of them is Philippians 4:8 (ERV). Brothers and sisters, continue to think about what is good and worthy of praise. Think about what is true and honorable and right and pure and beautiful and respected.

 
As I stood there, on eternal hold, watching the raindrops form concentric circles in the puddle in our alley, I was reminded to be kind.

 
I shifted my focus to see that my one raindrop of kindness will ripple out and touch those around me. But, my one raindrop of kindness won’t reach the entire puddle. However, as I watched the many raindrops fall, all rippling outward and overlapping, every square inch of that big puddle was touched.

 
Be a raindrop, radiating in your puddle. Be kind!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

You Can’t Stop Love

by Tim Howard 

Valentines Day has come and gone! Cards were received. Flowers were purchased. Chocolates were eaten and presents were given – in the name of ‘LOVE’

LOVE seems to be the descriptive word used to define this day for most people. Many either heard or spoke the words: ‘I love you’ to someone they care about.
Love is a verb and is activated when it does and doesn’t do certain things. Paul the Apostle in 1 Corinthians 13 says: If you really love someone on any level there are some thing you will continue to do and other things you will stop doing. He actually gives 10 descriptions of what love doesn’t do and 5 illustrations of what Love does.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.  Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. NLT

The simple truth being conveyed in these verses is: Love doesn’t remain silent. It knows when to speak up and when to shut up. It knows when to advance and when to retreat. It knows when to give and when to receive. Most important: Love never ceases! You can’t stop love!

The test of real love is not a one-day celebration. It’s not a one-time purchase of some flowers or candy. It’s not the big things but a lot of little things. The real test of true love is time! If the words ‘I love you ’ are still being acted upon in May, Sept and November – then the words spoken on February 14 might be genuine! Why? Because love never ceases – You can’t stop love.

God wants you to find true love on every level. He’s willing to teach you about the different kinds of love and how to love people as He loves people. The love of emotion is based on a desire but the love of devotion is based upon a decision. Every time a mother decides to change a baby’s diaper, even though she has no desire to do so, she exercises true love.

Whenever you decide to sacrifice something for the benefit of another by putting their needs before your own desires, you express true love. True love is a decision that never stops.

When my wife and I were married on Feb 16, 1973. – we made a commitment for better of for worse! I didn’t know what that meant back then – nor did she but we both do now.

True love is offered 24/7 and 365 days of the year. When things are good and when things are not so good.

For better or for worse! When you feel like it and when you don’t feel like it.

That’s how God loves us and that’s how we are to love Him and others. You can’t stop love!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Monday Moments

by Candace Cortez

I must admit, I love the month of February. But not because of Valentine’s Day, or even the President’s Day sales. I love February because it’s the month that means it’s no longer January! 

I have decided that January is the “Monday” of months! 

It’s true! January marks the end of the holiday season. The calendar is free of parties and festivities, which, as relieving as that seems, it can also be a little disappointing.  It’s back to the regular grind, granted (or maybe graced?) with the inspiration of a fresh start, but with the fatigue of social exhaustion! 

The month of December is much like the weekend. There are many moments with friends and family that I’m excited about. In youth ministry, I call these “post-able” moments, meaning things that happen in your life that you would take a picture of and post on Instagram or Facebook. 

I’ve come to realize that most of life is more of a January or Monday experience rather than a December experience.  As a mom of two young children, not every day is picnics and birthday parties. As a wife, not every day is our anniversary or even a date night. As a follower of Jesus, not every day is our baptism day or another mountain top experience. These are all big things. 

God has called us to be faithful with the little things. 

In Luke 16:10, Jesus tells His disciples, “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.” This verse can be directly related to monetary stewardship, but I believe it relates to our time, talents and relationships as well. 

 My husband and I work hard to make date nights happen as often as possible, which typically means it happens about once a month. These nights we connect, laugh, share hearts, and usually eat good food. If I were to totally ignore him during the other 30 days of the month until our next opportunity to do something special, then most likely, our relationship would cease to thrive. It’s the purposeful embraces after work, the texts throughout the day, and the loving glances over our children’s head during a family movie that make up the difference. Just little things. 

As a parent, I am given around 5 hours a day (minus sleeping and regular school and work schedules) to spend on my kids. Honestly, when I count it out, it doesn’t seem like much, especially considering that those 5 hours have to include brushing teeth, cooking meals, cleaning, checking homework, basketball practice, and all the other little things that make up our day. How I feel about those moments directly effects how I invest those opportunities. I cannot wait until their birthday to let them know I love them. I have to show them in the “Monday Moments.” I have to be faithful in the dozens of little things that present themselves throughout the day. 

The same is also true of our walk with the Lord. I don’t always get to go on a retreat to reconnect with my Creator. So, I am left with a choice. I have 24 hours today. Will I be faithful with my few, and worship God even if it’s not always glamorous or post-able? Will I love God with everything on a Monday, even when the rush of Sunday is over?  Will I be faithful, as my Heavenly Father is faithful? 

So here’s my challenge for you and for me. Let’s find God in a Monday Moment this week. Doing the dishes, driving to work, walking the dog, all of these little moments count. He is there. Even on a Monday! 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

You Belong

by Tim Howard

It’s a great feeling to be around people who embrace you when you are difficult to deal with – love you when you’re not as kind as you should be and forgive you when you mess up in a big way. They may not approve of everything you are doing but their acceptance of you as someone important and significant to them is never questioned.

Jesus offered this to people. Individuals came to Him and felt comfortable in His presence. They didn’t feel judged, condemned, alienated, or out of place. He made them feel like they belonged. He challenged them, cautioned them and even corrected them at times but always with acceptance, love and a spirit of compassion. Non-religious people loved being around Jesus. If you question this fact, check out Mark 2:15 and Luke 5:29 in your Bible.

I know people who won’t come to church or follow Christ because they don’t feel good enough or worthy. They think they must change their ways first and then Jesus will accept them. The truth, however, is just the opposite. When people came to Jesus – many were anything but religious. They didn’t change first and then come to Him, they came to Jesus who welcomed them as they were and from that encounter He changed their lives forever.

The Bible is clear – You can’t make internal and eternal changes without Jesus. You may be able to alter your behavior because of self-determination and self-help books but only Jesus can change you from the inside out. All of us have things in need of being altered!  The true answer to our challenges, however, is not: ‘change then come’ but come just as you are and He will change you. Jesus invites you to come into His presence ‘just as you are.’

Here’s the irony! You would think that religious people who claim to be followers of Christ would function the same way and have the same attitude as Christ. The opposite, however, is too often – true! The religious leaders of that day were ticked off at Jesus for embracing people who weren’t like them. They required people to believe first and then they could belong. Change your behavior and then you can fit in. Become like we are and then you will be accepted. In other words: You must believe, behave and become like us before you can belong.

Allow me to simply state: Jesus did not give us that model! Romans 5 reveals that before we believed in God, before we became anything of significance; before we changed our behavior He loved us enough to send His son Jesus to help us. He died so we could belong.

In this day and age, we can’t afford to get the cart ahead of the horse.

Do we need to behave differently? Absolutely!
Do we need to believe the truth? Positively!
Do we need to become all we were created to be? Without a doubt!

But BEFORE any of these things – You belong to Him – He is your creator – and He loves you!

You Belong in God’s presence… Warts and all!