Saturday, June 17, 2017

Charismatic

by Tim Howard

Two verses in the New Testament have amazed and confused me at the same time. The verses are found in the book of Luke chapter 15 verses 1 and 2. It says: “A lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently to his teachings. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!”

The amazing fact is that Jesus attracted so many different types of people to Himself. They came from every walk of life and enjoyed hanging out with Him. They didn't necessarily agree with Him on the issues, believe in His teaching or follow His instructions but for some strange reason, they liked HIM!

What was it about Jesus that attracted so many people? Was it His persona? His personality? His style? Some have suggested He was ruggedly handsome but Isaiah the prophet tells us there was nothing beautiful or majestic about His appearance, nothing to attract us to Him. My answer to the question can be summed up in one word: ‘CHARISMA’ but not the kind you may be thinking about right now.

The Charismatic person of today often looks appealing on the outside but lacks substance on the inside.

The New Testament word ‘Charisma' is connected to God's gifts and is founded upon the word ‘Charis' which is translated in our English language as God's Grace. Charisma, therefore, is God's grace and truth revealed through His gifts.

Maybe this acronym for the word CHARISMA can bring clarity between ‘Now’ and ‘Then.’

C  Compassion, care, and concern. People were drawn to Jesus because He really cared about them. People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. That cliché may be old but it's true! Charismatic people, today might be charming but all too often they only care about themselves.

H  Hope. A lot of charismatic people currently give people tons of hype and empty promises but the message of Christ was filled with genuine help and hope.

A  Acceptance. Jesus came not to judge but to save people.

R  Real! Jesus didn’t speak with religious rhetoric or verbiage but acted with real power to deal with real problems. He was committed to doing the work and didn’t stop with mere words.

I   Insightful. He dealt with the root problems of mankind and focused on the heart. He changed people from the inside out.

S  Simple. He speaks in terms we can understand.

M  Meekness. Humility is His trademark.

A  Action. There is no dichotomy between what He said and what He did.

Jesus didn’t influence people because He was charming, knew how to work the crowd, made promises that sounded good or displayed uncanny ability to con people. He influenced people because He was full of grace and truth. This is Godly Charisma.

The confusing fact about this narrative in scripture is the reaction of the religious leaders. They didn’t get it! Jesus came to help people in need, not hang around people who considered themselves self-righteous because they practiced their religion. 

Be very cautious of following someone who appears to be charismatic but doesn’t have character. It won’t end well!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Hello. We’re All Broken

By Candace Cortez

Happy Saturday! My husband and I just returned from our 10 year anniversary trip to Italy! On one of our tours, they explained a part of the restoration process on some of the art and buildings. The Colosseum, for example, has recently been cleaned, which you can tell the drastic difference between cleaned and uncleaned portions by looking at the layer of walls on the inside compared to the outside walls. It was shocking to see what pollution can do to stone.

I believe many of us are like those buildings. We feel like we have our lives together for the most part. We feel strong and capable. When we don’t feel those things, we have a hope we can get there eventually with enough hard work. Especially living in this culture, our independence is a trophy in itself. This feeling of self-security makes it difficult to depend on God. When we do get brave or desperate enough to surrender a part of ourselves to the Creator’s hands, we begin to see the difference between the old us, and the restored us.

My parents were dumpster divers, always finding old unwanted pieces of furniture and bringing them back to beauty and purpose. This sounds awesome, but the process was difficult. There was sanding, scraping, chemical treatments, ripping off old upholstery, and sometimes replacing parts completely. When we surrender ourselves to God, He begins to do work in and through us. The process is not always fun. Most of us live our lives feeling fine. Choosing to be fine. It is not comfortable to realize you’ve been worn out and broken this whole time. We get used to and sometimes fall in love with the things that are broken in us, and shy away from the idea of being restored.

I have missed many areas in my life that still needed work, because of this feeling of being restored enough. After years of working and surrendering the parts of me that appeared the most dysfunctional, I have noticed a slowing down of the restoration process. I do not believe this is because God has deemed me “back to new”, but because I have lost sight of the inside layers that are still filthy. Yes, the outside seems restored, but just like the inner layer of the Colosseum, the comparison from inside to outside is kind of shocking.

If we are not careful, Christians can stop at the outer layer. We can say, “ok thanks God, I look better, and I’m all ready to do whatever You want. You’ve taken away those addictions and helped me get better at using my resources wisely, I’m good to go from here.” If we get here, another scary thing can often happen. We can start to point the finger at other people who are not as shiny on the outside and determine that they need more work than we do. This is where the Pharisee’s found themselves.  This is where I have found myself so many times. But God works in a way that’s complete, comprehensive and all consuming. He doesn’t want to just make our life appear better. He wants to restore every layer back to His original design of relationship with Him.  

Some of us have been working with God a long time letting Him restore our hearts. Some of us are just getting started. Some of us don’t even realize that we need any work. But the truth is, we’re all broken. No matter what stage of the renewing process you are in, God is still wanting to do more and the results are incredible. If you’re feeling finished today, let God reveal another layer and do His thing.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Don't Give Up, Hand Over

by Andrew Cromwell

You hear people say it all the time. “Give it up to God!” they say, and you think to yourself how you’d like to but what does that even mean? How am I supposed to give it to God? Physically hand it to Him? But He is invisible. And what if the thing being given up is non-physical to begin with, like a worry or fear or question? How do I give that to God? And what if the problem is my teenager? Just tell me how to give them up and I’m there!

And what’s more, giving up sounds awfully like throwing in the towel and quitting. So does “giving up” mean when things get difficult you quit on your marriage or your kids and just trust God to do the rest? And what about debt? Can that just be “quit” on?

We all know that “giving it up” can’t mean just quitting outright, so what are we giving up exactly and how do we do it?

First, you can give it up through prayer.

Sometimes “giving it up to God” simply means praying about it. Prayer is the process of talking with God. The Apostle Peter tells us to “cast all of our cares upon Him because He cares for us.” Imagine all of the worries of your heart like things that are heavy. These heavy weights drag you down so all your energy is sapped just by going through life.

It is helpful to think of this process as one of “handing over”. We hand over those heavy weights to someone who can carry them for us. That doesn’t mean the core issues simply disappear, but rather that God in His great strength now carries them. We give up on the belief that we can carry and handle everything by ourselves.

Second, you can give it up through silence.

Far too often, we just can’t seem to close our mouth for long enough to get clear of the things that we are carrying. Sometimes these are words we say out loud to others and sometimes they are words we say to ourselves. Either way, we usually end up stirring up more trouble, worry, fear, anger, bitterness or hurt.

Is it any wonder that the Psalmist says, “Be still and know that I am God?” To be still is to relinquish the power to control the situation through our words. There comes a point when more words don’t help. This is when a “holy” silence is needed. A “holy silence” is the kind when you shut your mouth because God is at work!

Finally, you can give up through forgiveness.

Many of the things we deal with are because we have not dealt with our heart first. Our heart is polluted with bitterness and unforgiveness. We have been hurt by others and so we have a bitter expectation that people are going to keep hurting us. Often, we fulfill our own expectation by lashing out and hurting them first.

The only way to break that cycle is to forgive. Forgiveness is Jesus’ greatest gift for us and His greatest challenge to us. 

So, what are you carrying that is weighing you down? Maybe it’s time to give it up to God!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

It’s Just a Phase

by Sylvia Gaston

If you are raising kids, or have raised kids, you know that there are distinct phases of their lives that present their own joys and challenges.

Infants bring indescribable love as well as sleep deprivation like you’ve never, ever known.

Toddlers are on the go and exploring everything around them. But this can also be when a defiant human emerges.

Preschoolers are fiercely independent and curious-er and curious-er.

Elementary – I call this the sweet spot………they still like you and are self-sufficient enough to make life just a little bit easier.

How about them Junior High and High schoolers? Hang on, parents, it’s about to get bumpy - for them and for you.

Emerging Adulthood is a whole new ball game and each child and their situation looks a little different. Parents are still vital in their lives as they explore their next steps.

Adult Children – who knew we would still do important parenting stuff through this stage, too?

Each of these phases brings the highest highs and desperate lows. No handbook, no way to prepare for the unknown, and no two kids are alike. What worked for one, is a complete fail with the other.

I remember waiting with great anticipation for the next phase, focusing on the difficulties of the current one. I thought, “If I can just make it through night feedings (or diapers, or chasing, rescuing, puberty, peer pressure, dating, you fill in the _______________), the next phase is sure to be easier.”

HA!

 Why did I ever think that? Each phase came with it’s own NEW set of challenges and struggles.

Luckily I realized early on, if I was always in a rush and looking to the next phase I would miss the beauty of the current phase. So I developed a personal habit of clicking “Kodak moments” in my head. I captured in my mind, if not on camera, the sweet moments that I never wanted to forget – the delight of each of my babies at their respective phase of life.

I created mental memory books of Bryan, Justus, Mackenzie and Seth – as well as the other children that God brought into our lives. Those kids that hung around ours, spent time at our house, and became “our” kids too – in our hearts.

Special events…*click*. Family moments…*click*. Laughter, accomplishments, struggles…*click*, *click*, *click* - our Kodak moments.

And, oh the struggles! What family doesn’t or hasn’t had them? Don’t believe your social media feed. We all present to the world the best of our family. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I, personally, think it’s OK to use social media as a personal parent brag book. But I do not fool myself into thinking that it is the whole picture of ANY family – including mine.

So what did my dear husband and I do to survive the struggles that each phase brought? We hit our knees! (Well, not really – I actually only occasionally pray on my knees J) But, PRAY, we did! And, DO!

I’ve said it before…who can survive marriage, parenthood, or life without God? I pray to the One who knows all, sees all, and still loves us all. Without Him, I would have given up long ago.

Even now, with my children in high school, emerging adulthood, and adulthood – I know that I still have much to survive (!) and much to offer them. I can’t do either of those things very well without God.

So, I pray. I confide in, cry to, seek wisdom and advice from God in Heaven who loves my kids, and the phase they’re in, even more than I do.

The Bible says, “We do not know what to do but we are looking to You for help.” (2 Chronicles 20:12)

Remember, they’re just phases…but they last our entire lifetime. Don’t try to do it alone.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Stand Your Ground

by Tim Howard

Everyone is tempted! That’s one thing all of us have in common! 

The correct question isn’t – Are we tempted – but how does a person deal with temptation? Do you say YES and yield to the strong desire within or say NO and stand your ground?

The answer you give will affect your future in a variety of ways.

C. S. Lewis made these insightful observations about temptation: “No man knows how bad he is until he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. That is an obvious lie. But only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is... Christ, because He was the only Man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only Man who knows to the full what temptation means.”

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 you something good. According to the Bible, every temptation that seeks to entice and entrap mankind is designed for ignoble purposes. It is very important that we learn to say NO when temptation comes our way.

Adam and Eve were tempted to disobey God in the Garden of Eden and set up his and her own autonomy. Guess what? They yielded to the voice of temptation by saying YES and suffered long lasting ramifications. Their disobedience ultimately resulted in death and a whole lot of pain throughout their lives.

Yielding to temptation will cost you! It will distance you from God, distract you from the goal He has designed for you and erode away the very integrity of your lives.

An article in Discipleship Journal recorded a top-ten temptation list that affects most people. They were tempted to be greedy rather than giving; Selfish rather than selfless; Lazy and not productive; Apathetic rather than caring! And let’s not forget the temptation to take the easy road rather than the right road when things get difficult. Gluttony, envy, lying and sexual lust also ranked in the top ten.

What temptations are you facing right now? Have you been sober for a few months but things aren’t going so well and a drink sounds pretty good? Are you in a marriage that doesn’t seem to meet your needs and you’re tempted to seek out another relationship? Possibly you have been caught for doing something wrong and lying seems to be the best scenario.

Whatever the temptation you’re facing, please hear the good news that’s recorded in 1 Corinthians 10:13.

“ … temptations that come into your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can’t stand up against it. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you will not give in to it.”

There is a way out for those who seek God’s best. Growth cannot happen without encountering temptation but if you are to succeed you must learn to stand your ground. The two-letter word NO may sound negative in our English vocabulary but it will produce positive, long-lasting results when used in connection with temptation. It will be the most positive thing you can say in the midst of any enticement to do wrong.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Finding Healing

by Candace Cortez

I remember about a year ago, sitting at a Christian worship conference and listening to a known, followed, and respected pastor speak candidly about his mental breakdown the year prior. I remember sitting there in tears, so thankful for his willingness to demonstrate that mental health issues, anxiety and depression are not absent within our church walls. It is scary as a leader to admit that you are struggling. It’s even scarier to admit that you needed more than prayer to get you through your dark time. But for most people, this is truth. 

Recently a series came out on Netflix called “13 Reasons Why” which has caused a lot of talk (some may say controversy) over the explicit nature in which the series displays suicide. The show follows the story of a girl in high school named Hannah who ends her own life after many instances of bullying, sexual molestation, and situational tragedies. She then depicts her process of choosing suicide and the 13 people who were involved in pushing her towards her sad end. 

I’ve watched the series and as a youth pastor I am encouraging parents with teenage students to also watch the show, ESPECIALLY if their student is already watching. I do not however, encourage young students to watch. The show has earned its rating of TV-MA for its language, drugs and underage drinking, multiple rapes, nudity, violence, and a graphic and very realistic suicide scene. 

Now that that disclaimer is out of the way, I can write about what I actually want to focus on: healing. 

The Netflix series called 13 Reasons Why has brought suicide prevention to the table in a way that is being heard and received by so many. I do not believe the Church can sit this one out. We need to be in the conversation. Why? Not to gain momentum on another social platform. Not to gain favor in the eyes of the community. Not to prove that Christianity is the best way. But because love heals, and God is love. 

I believe faith is not the absence of awareness. Yes, we can pray. But we are not limited to just praying. We can do more. 

I wholeheartedly believe in the power of prayer, and that God hears when I talk to Him. But I also know He has not limited His process of healing to that one mode. As the church, we can be a part of opening the door to the several different avenues that healings manifest themselves. 

God can and does heal brokenness. Sometimes it’s the unexplainable type of healing. Sometimes healing comes through close friendship and intimacy with another of God’s creation. (I believe friendship is such a miraculous gift!) Sometimes healing comes from medicine. Sometimes healing comes from wise counsel. 

It’s ok to get help. It’s ok to seek treatment. It’s ok to pray. It’s to ask God for healing while also taking medication. 

As Christians, we need to be sensitive to the role we play in bringing light to the dark hours of the people within our circle of influence. Here are 3 simple ways we can begin to increase our sensitivity to those around us who may be struggling, so we can step in and take their hand for this journey towards health and healing. 
  1.  Pay attention! God gives the gift of discernment to see through the faces people wear when they are in public. Most people will give signs that they are struggling. Some common signs are substance abuse, social withdrawal, extreme emotional responses (either too much or too little), sudden changes in appearances or hygiene habits and excessive internet use. 
  2. Ask the question. It’s ok to ask one more question than “hey how are you?” It’s very easy to say ok and force the conversation to move on. Being in community with people means getting past the pleasantries and growing an interest for knowing others well. Especially if you suspect someone is struggling, ask and keep asking to create that open door for someone to reach out. 
  3.  Know that you are not alone. You absolutely should be praying for those who are struggling around you. A lot of people who are going through darkness will need professional help. Most people will need more than one person to be in their corner. You are a great start, but should not try to carry the burden of walking alongside someone alone. 
If you are struggling today, I am praying for you. I pray that you know the church is available to you. You don’t have to be “whole” to walk through those doors, because none of us are. We do not have all the answers, but we for sure know the One who does. 
  •   National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (suicidepreventionlifeline.org)
  •   Suicide Prevention Resource Center (sprc.org)
  •   American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (afsp.org)
  •   American Association of Suicidology (suicidology.org).
Candace Cortez is the Youth Pastor at Koinonia Church. Any comments can be sent to: candace@kchanford.com

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Get Your Mind Right

by Andrew Cromwell

Life is frustrating. Just about the time things appear to be in order, something goes wrong. Often it seems as if all we do is crisis management, running from one fire to the next, just trying to keep our head above the water. And then when everything is going smoothly, we start to worry because we know something is about to go wrong. So even the enjoyment of these moments is robbed from us.

If this describes your situation, then I have a suggestion. Instead of worrying about what could go wrong and instead of being overwhelmed by the impossible task of trying to fix and control everything in your life, give that up. Seriously. Stop trying to fix and control the things that you can’t.

We don’t like this suggestion because we generally prefer to live in the fantasy where we are able to control and carry everything. We tell ourselves that if we just keep moving, keep talking, keep working, and keep fixing, then things won’t fall apart. But we need to remember that very often we are just afraid of being still as we obsessively nag and manipulate those around us in order to create the world that we want.

Sorry if I stepped on your toes there.

So stop focusing on the things that you can’t control in the first place. Stop worrying about all the stuff you can’t even do anything about. The Bible’s advice is to take the things you are worried about and turn them into prayers and God will give you peace in exchange for anxiety:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. — Philippians 4:6-7

Instead of focusing on things you can’t do, focus on the things you can do! We often ignore the things we actually can do, failing to realize the incredible power these things have. Instead of worrying about whether or not you are going to lose your job and being paralyzed by it, you can talk to your boss, show up earlier and work your hardest. Instead of worrying about your marriage or your relationship with your kids, you can plan a date, write a note, or do something special for them. And instead of wishing things were different so you could finally do “x”, maybe it’s time do actually do something about it.

Above all, we should never think prayer is not doing something. Very often prayer is exactly the thing we need to do, but because prayer involves us slowing down and talking to God, we feel like it doesn’t really “do” anything. Prayer has the power to change both us and the situation. It is the process of inviting the supernatural into the natural.

We should never underestimate that.