Saturday, June 29, 2019

Be Careful What You Ask For!

by Tim Howard

It was a joke and I laughed when I heard it! A couple in their mid-fifties was trying to rekindle a spark in their marriage when they were approached by a “Genie.” This strange character stated that he would give each of them one wish beginning with the woman. She, without hesitation, recalled their honeymoon on the tropical island of Maui and said, please put us on that beautiful beach so we can walk together and renew our love. Instantly the beauty of a tropical paradise surrounded them. The man, after looking around and seeing other women 20 years younger than himself, asked the Genie to make his wife 20 years younger than himself. In an instant, he was 75 years old! You may be laughing like me but don’t miss the moral. It is this: Be careful what you ask for! Sometimes your request produces something quite unexpected.

The Bible makes it very clear that we can ask God for anything. If, however, you are bold enough to make a request, you better be prepared for one of four answers.

1.    If the request is wrong, God will say “No.” The apostle James in Chapter 4 tells us that it is possible to ask for things that might be detrimental to our development. Along with that fact, he also reveals that it is possible to ask for something with wrong motives. When this happens, be prepared for God to say “No.” With hindsight, I have discovered this to be a blessing rather than a curse. God has spared me from many disasters by not fulfilling my desires because what I want isn’t always what’s best for me.

2.    If the timing is wrong, God will say, “Slow.” Little children want everything “Now” and my children were no exception. They didn’t understand the phrase, delayed gratification. They have learned, however, that timing is extremely important in the journey called life. Many people miss out on a lot of things and get buried in a lot of problems because they will not choose to exercise patience and self-control. 

3.    If you are not yet ready to receive the request, God will say “Grow.” Sometimes, God wants to throw us the ball but we don’t have our heads in the game. We are distracted by many pleasures at the expense of pursuing our purpose. God graciously waits for us and speaks the truth in love so we will grow up in all aspects.

4.    Last of all, when the timing is right, you are right and the request is right, God says, “Yes, Let’s Go” I personally believe this is God’s favorite answer. He wants to say YES!

God ALWAYS answers prayer! It may not be the answer you want but it’s an answer you can accept if you know this truth: God doesn’t always give you what you want but he always gives you what you need. God loves you enough to say no, slow or grow even though it may produce some pain. Jesus wants to help you! He says: Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell Him what you need, and thank God for all he has done.  If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. If God approached you and said He would answer one prayer, what would your request be?

Saturday, June 22, 2019

What Every Kid Needs

by Sylvia Gaston

Hot off the heels of Vacation Bible School and Father’s Day brings a flood of observations and thoughts about what a kid really needs.

Surrounded by hundreds of kids this past two weeks makes me realize how we underestimate the importance of a solid adult in a kid’s life.

Before you even learn their story, it’s easy to identify a kid in foster care or a kid with parents who are not really present or a kid who wishes he had a dad in his life. They are missing something. They desperately desire that thing they don’t have. This often leads them to find a way to get the attention they crave in negative or destructive ways.

In my profession, you get to know kids in this order:
  • The troublesome kid
  • The helpful, smart kid
  • The quiet or shy kid
Early in my Children’s Ministry career, I ran across a poster that read, “The most unlovable child is the one who needs it the most.” Over the years, I have found that to be true.

All kids need a few simple things. These things cannot be bought. It isn’t elaborate trips, the latest gadgets, or the finest clothes. What kids need isn’t “things” at all but relationship.

According to Harley Rotbart, MD, parenting expert and Vice Chair Emeritus of Pediatrics at Children's Hospital Colorado, the eight things kids need to thrive are:

  1. Security: Kids must feel safe and sound: shelter, food, clothing, medical care and protection from harm.
  2. Stability: Stability comes from family and community. Ideally, a family remains together in a stable household, but when that's not possible, it's important to disrupt the child's life as little as possible. Kids and families should be a part of a larger community for a sense of belonging, tradition and cultural identity.
  3. Consistency: Parents should synchronize their parenting and make sure important values stay consistent.
  4. Emotional support: Parents' words and actions should encourage trust, respect, self-esteem and, ultimately, independence.
  5. Love: Saying and showing you love your kids can overcome almost any parenting "mistakes" you might make.
  6. Education: Make sure your kids get the best possible education for their future. This includes school, of course, but it also includes the invaluable life lessons you provide.
  7. Positive role models: You are your kids' first and most important role model. Instill your values and teach children empathy by being the kind of person you want them to become.
  8. Structure: Rules, boundaries, and limits: Without them, kids are forced to be adults before they are ready, and they lose respect for you and other adults.

I agree with Dr. Rotbart but would add two more very important things:

Time: Kids often gauge their worth by how much time they are given. It can be time spent doing the simplest of things. Time shows that you value them, love them, and like being in their company. It goes a long way in developing a strong sense of worth, sense of self, and self-esteem.

Faith: Kids need to know about God. They need to know Who created them - on purpose and for a purpose. They need to know that God loves them unconditionally and that He is their lifelong Helper through good times and bad.

You are your child’s spiritual leader. God tells us how important that is in His Word, the Bible. 

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. Always remember these commands that I give you today. Be sure to teach them to your children. Talk about these commands when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road. Talk about them when you lie down and when you get up.”             Deuteronomy 6:5-7

Life is harder and more confusing for kids today than ever. We must equip them as best we can so they can thrive as children and thrive as adults. That includes equipping them to have a life with God – here on earth and after they leave this earth.

Will you always get it right? No. I’ve made more parenting mistakes than I can count. But, despite the mistakes made, I know with certainty that my kids know how much they are loved and that my husband and I will be there to support them, guide them, and pray with them through all that life throws at them.

When they make mistakes or disappoint us (and they will), we will put relationship before being right. That keeps the door open, and the conversations going, so that we have the opportunity to give the love and influence they need. 

Love is simple and it’s what every kid needs.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Advice for Father

by Tim Howard

Happy Fathers day to all the dads! 

Fathers have a tremendous influence in the lives of their children and God designed it that way. A dad’s actions speak loudly and his words carry tremendous weight when they are guarded and guided by time-tested truth. A father, however, who chooses to be an absentee dad, for whatever reason weakens the very fabric that stabilizes the family unit.

A word of wisdom comes from a man named Moses. He was adopted by a wealthy family but after being reunited with his family of origin and becoming a father himself, he said these words to all future dads: Deut. 4:9 “… be careful and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children.” 

Great fathers can’t afford to live by this motto: “Do as I say and not as I do.” If you are going to teach something that’s worth accepting and following then be careful to follow your own advice. When someone isn’t practicing what he or she preaches – It’s noticeable.

Make sure to watch over your own lifestyle and choices in order to impact your family because teaching children is more than conveying information. You teach what you know but you reproduce who you are.

A second word of advice is a proverb and even though there is no guarantee, there is a promise. King Solomon said: Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will remember it. Kids are not always going to follow good advice but if they choose to stray, the training received from childhood can greatly help them get back on track.

When kids find themselves lost or stuck in the difficulties of life, they won’t know what to do or where to go if a moral compass hasn’t been planted within them. Parents and fathers especially have a great opportunity to plant this moral compass by training their children in the ways of the Lord. Don’t merely tell your kids what to do, coach them and show them. It takes more time to train than tell but it is worth it in the long run.

A third and final word of advice to fathers comes from the New Testament. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger…”

As a father myself, I unknowingly provoked my kids at times but learned some things along the way that’s helped me change. A dad can provoke his children to the point of frustration and anger if he chooses to dictate everything and discuss nothing! Making his view the right and only view will also infuriate kids. Trying to fix your children without really listening to them or making ‘Dad’s’ rules more important than relationships doesn’t help very much either.

Dads! As we celebrate Fathers this weekend, remember the advice God gives in His Word. It will make a good father into a great father.

May you have a Happy Fathers Day this Weekend!

Saturday, June 1, 2019

The Story of the Bible

by Andrew Cromwell

Most people know some Bible stories, but many don’t know the story of the Bible. Even if you grew up going to Sunday school, chances are you might have missed it. And if you didn’t grow up in church, then the few stories you do know often don’t make sense.

There are the stories we like to tell—like David and Goliath—and then there are some that don’t get mentioned very often—like Elisha calling down bears to maul belligerent teenagers. And without an understanding of how things fit, we can run into stories that don’t fit into our experience of reality. They seem so strange and outlandish that we can start to question the whole thing.

Some of us know people or have kids that have walked away from the faith because of something along these lines. You yourself might even be in that situation. The good news is that when you start to understand the larger story of the Bible and how the pieces fit together, then you just might discover that you don’t have to question everything just because one thing is strange.

What makes this more complicated is that the way we got our Bible is different from how we got THE Bible. Today when you buy a Bible, it is beautifully wrapped, has pretty maps in the back, is chaptered and versed, and it may even have red letters just so we don’t miss Jesus’ words. We can easily make the mistake and think that the Bible is a book where you start at the beginning and just read on through.

But the Bible is so much more than just a book. And it doesn’t actually start with Genesis. While Genesis may be at the beginning of the Bible, the truth is the story of the Bible actually begins closer to the middle with four accounts of the life of Jesus.

You see, the Bible would not even exist if it were not for something extraordinary that HAPPENED. This event was so shocking that it transformed a group of men and women who were cowering in fear, into men and women who couldn’t be shut up. It sparked a movement that produced the church and eventually the Bible. As a side note: the church didn’t have a Bible for the first three hundred plus years!

This incredible event is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Had Jesus not come back to life after being dead for three days, His followers would have probably stayed in hiding with their hearts broken. But when Jesus appeared to not just a few but to many (the Apostle Paul pegs the number at 500) over the next forty days, they were profoundly convinced that everything Jesus said was true. Because after all, you should listen to the person that predicts their own death and resurrection and then pulls it off!

And so Jesus’ followers began to write down what He had said and done while He was on the earth. Because they knew it was important. So important, that not just one person wrote it down but many. 

There’s so much more to the story! For now, it is enough to say that the real question for us all is not, “Do I have a problem with a story in the Bible?” Rather, the question we must all seriously wrestle with is, “Did Jesus really come back to life and prove everything He said was true?” That’s the REAL question!

Saturday, May 25, 2019

What Is A Savior And Why Do I Need One? (A Testimony With Lots Of Definitions)

by Sylvia Gaston

I am a “prove it to me” person. I will listen to anything you have to say but, most of the time, before I actually believe it, I will need proof.

In my young adult life, I had the same attitude about God, Jesus, the Bible, etc. I believed in God because I couldn’t fathom our existence just ‘evolved’ from nothingness. Yet, faith held no real meaning for me. I had no use for a savior to worship, and I questioned my need for religion.

By definition, a savior is a person who saves someone or something from danger. In Christianity, God or Jesus Christ is the redeemer of sin and saver of souls. I felt no danger and therefore, didn’t need to be saved from it.

Did I need a savior to redeem me from sin to save my soul? Since I didn’t have a clear definition of sin and how sin endangered my soul, I didn’t need a savior.

So, just what is sin and what is my soul?

Sin is an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law; a wrongdoing, act of evil/wickedness, crime, offense, or misdeed.

I knew that I sinned but did that really make me evil? That depends on your definition of goodness. We imagine ourselves to be relatively good but with no clear understanding of what true goodness is, we simply use our own gauge and definition. People all over the world and from all walks of life have their own self-defined scale of acceptable goodness. That’s frightening.

What is this divine law we are to live up to? Divine law is law that is from a transcendent source, such as the will of God or gods, in contrast to man-made lawDivine laws are typically regarded as superior to man-made laws, sometimes due to an understanding that their source is beyond human knowledge and human reason.

I was quite sure that I couldn’t live up to the goodness as defined by God.

And what about my soul? The dictionary defines that as: 1) the principle of life, feeling, thought, and action in humans, regarded as an entity separate from the body; 2) the spiritual part of humans regarded in its moral aspect, believed to survive death and be subject to happiness or misery in a life to come.

Following this train of thought, it seems that I DID need a savior to save me from myself. Who knew? 

You see, we were created on purpose and for a purpose. We ALL were created to worship the Creator - to worship Him here on Earth until we worship Him face to face in Heaven. Humans will always worship something.

Sin separates us from God, Who is the essence of goodness. God sent His son Jesus to us. In a plan that I don’t fully understand, Jesus sacrificed His life to make amends for my sins (and yours).

Here’s where faith, and God’s Spirit, finally got my attention. Faith, belief not based on proof, is contradictory to my personality. Yet, God continued to attract and amaze me with a series of ‘coincidences’ that piqued my curiosity about this Creator and what He wanted for me and from me.

I eventually took a step of faith and said, “OK, God, I’ll follow You and see if all of this ‘savior Jesus’ stuff is real.” (I know…my arrogance knows no bounds).

I have never looked back. Not all of my questions have been answered – there are some things that still don’t make sense to me or that my puny brain cannot yet comprehend. However, I choose to follow the God/Man who created everything, including me.

Over the years, He has proven to me in amazing, supernatural ways that He exists and is very much with me and for me. He has revealed to me that He knows me and knows my circumstances. He has guided me through good times and bad. He has called me to become something and to do some things that I did not plan for myself. He’s always there. And, oh, how He loves me!

Ironically, I still keep a mental list of questions to ask God when I see Him after my time here on earth is over. Some things never change – including my ridiculous personality.

Do you need a savior to redeem your soul? Yes – and I pray that your journey in pursuit of your savior, Jesus, begins and never ends! 

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. – Jeremiah 29:11

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Stand Your Ground

by Tim Howard

There is a flight-or-fight response that resides within all of us but it needs to be trained because fear might be based upon a ‘perceived threat’ rather than a ‘real threat.’ Yes, there is wisdom in running at appropriate times but at other times wisdom says we should stand our ground, and remain steadfast.

Discernment is a major key but knowing what to do in any given situation is not always as easy as it sounds!

Our staff took an ‘Active Shooter’ class presented by the wonderful Sheriff’s Department in Kings County which gave us wisdom and insight on knowing when to run and when to fight.

One key point we gleaned was: ‘To have this discernment, one must be governed by something higher than fear.’

When the army of Israel was running and hiding from Goliath because of fear – David, the soon to be King of Israel stood firm against insurmountable odds because of his faith in God. It was a time to stand firm and not run!

Faith in God is the antidote to fear. Jesus drew the connection between fear and faith when He said: “ Why are you afraid – oh you of little faith.” Simply put: If you are governed by great fear, you will have little faith but if you are governed by great faith you will have little fear.

Fear has to be broken – It must not be allowed to rule because it is shortsighted. Like our emotions – fears are valid but they don’t provide a good foundation for good decisions.

David said: “I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears.” Ps 34:4, David refused to allow his fears to trump his faith. If a person follows his example – he or she will not act upon what they want to do when fear comes but what God wants them to do.

Fear Not – is a phrase used upwards to 150 times in the Bible and it admonishes all of us to break the power of fear. The author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus came to break fear’s hold on us so we could rise up in faith.

Here are a few questions I periodically ask myself to make sure fear doesn’t rule in my life.

Are there any ‘Pink Elephants’ in my life that I don’t focus on because I fear what might happen if I actually expose them for what they really are? Is it fear that causes me to procrastinate, ignore or even deny the reality of some aspect in my life? After reflecting on my past decisions, I frequently ask: What motivated that decision? If fear was not present, what would I do?

Don’t allow fear to be your guide throughout life – Unhealthy fear will too often cause you to run when you should stand your ground.

I encourage you to make the decision I made years ago.

I will rise up in faith today and in all my days and in all my ways I will seek the Lord. If you make that decision: Faith will supersede fear and you will have the discernment needed when fear knocks on your door.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Honoring Influence

by Candace Cortez

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day! I am always grateful for the fact that we set aside days of the year to specifically honor and celebrate valuable parts of our life, faith, and community. As I sit and prepare myself to honor my own mother and mother-in-law this weekend, I try to gather the words to describe my feelings for how they have influenced my life.

Influence is a powerful thing. I believe the desire and capacity to have influence is a part of our heritage as humans. There is something universal in recognizing the desire to help, do something worthwhile, or make a change for the better. The slippery slope is when we begin to equate the amount of influence we have as the amount of value we have: if we have more influence we are more valuable. I believe the Lord thinks differently. He values us as His children. After creating Adam and Eve, God said it is “very good.” We people are the only portion of creation to receive this additional emphasis. Everything else, light, water, sky, animals, the sun and stars, we all called “good.” The crazy thing is, God called us “very good” without Adam or Eve actually stepping into their calling to influence this world. He loved them and approved of them because He made them, not because they had a massive influence on the cultivation of the plants or the naming of the animals.

None of what you just read is the point of this writing effort, but I genuinely believe we cannot hear that enough. So there it is.

Influence is a powerful thing. It’s powerful because there are people whose actions and words have had a great influence on the way I think and behave and I can guarantee that they have no clue of that influence on me. The ability to have an effect on another person can be negative or positive, known or unknown. Proverbs 13:20 reads “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” I have done some pretty dumb things at the prompting of other immature people. Gratefully I’ve lived to tell about it! I hope to become one of the wise and not the fool in this proverb. The way to become one of the wise is to recognize, honor, and gather your influence from the right people.

Recognizing positive influencers, or wise influencers is a matter of fruit and character. You will know a person’s character by watching their reactions over time in different situations. You will see a person’s fruit as the results of their effort. Sometimes, we are fooled by shiny, temporary results that are actually unhealthy fruit that takes time to reveal itself as shallow or fabricated. Be careful to not be impressed primarily by things like wealth, physical appearances, or physical talents.

Honoring influence simply means dedicating importance to that person’s behavior or words. The examples set by those you recognize as your influence is worthy of study or replication. Another step could even be giving recognition and gratitude for that person being a wise or loving example in your life. (ie: mother’s day, recognizing mom’s; some of the greatest influencers out there!)

Gathering influence sounds a bit creepy. Like storing all these amazing wise examples of humanity in my backyard or something. But really it is a phrase of proximity. If I want to be positively influenced by people I’ve recognized within my world, I need to get in places where I can hear them, witness their example, and learn from them. This could be as simple as following a podcast, to as intimate as asking for a conversation over coffee.

Ask yourself: are you influenced by the wise or the fools? And then, those who hear and see you, are they being influenced by the wise? Or a fool? Say thank you to a mom, any mom this weekend. Honor an influencer you see loving well today.